• Emily

Fantasy and Sci-fi: Piranesi, Hench, The Once and Future Witches

Updated: Jan 11

What a great group of books from this autumn.


Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

This book blew my mind. I almost didn't read it. The reviews sounded completely unappealing; it sounded like allegory, which I dislike intensely. But the reviewers liked it, and I really liked her other books, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and The Ladies of Grace Adieu.

I went into this book thinking, I'll just drop it if I can't get into it within 30 pages or so, but I think I was hooked within 10. I kept staying up past my bedtime to read, even though I know that gives me headaches. I couldn't figure out what was going on, and it kept dropping all these little mysteries...


***Spoilers ahoy***

I loved the main character so much. He was so hopeful and caring and optimistic. I immediately began to feel very protective of him, and to suspect the Other. The first time he said "Goodbye! Goodbye!" It just broke my heart. Why is saying "goodbye" a second time so sad? He was so sweet and enthusiastic. And then when he got his shoes... I wanted to reach into the book and strangle the Other. Ugh!

I loved the amount of mystery. I would start to figure something out, and here's another clue. It doled out the info and made it nearly impossible to stop reading.

And to think I almost gave it a pass! This is one I'm sure I'll come back to again someday. I like to re-read something mysterious when I know the outcome, so I can slow down.


I had to look up the name, Piranesi. It's a spoiler, so I won't say what I learned.


Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

The whole idea of the book is that it's in a comic book world in which there are heroes and villains with super-powers. The main character works a henchman, or "hench" on a freelance basis. She's a red shirt for the bad guys, someone who's supposed to stand in the background and crumple over bloodlessly if she's taken out by a good guy, but when she's caught in the crossfire of a battle, it isn't bloodless. (I wouldn't say this is a spoiler; it happens pretty early on and is really the impetus of the story.)

I liked the descriptions of the work she did as a hench. It was just funny sometimes and it really sounded like a great job! (Of course, I wouldn't do it, not being a villainous type, but...) It wasn't written as if all the heroes were perfect and, even though it is a comic book-style setting, the villains aren't comic book villains, doing outlandish evil often for no real reason while cackling wildly. There's outlandish behavior on both sides!

***minor spoilers***

This book has such an interesting premise. I really liked it until the end- the final battle. The carnage is.... probably indescribable if you haven't read the book. Even though I got squeamish at the end, I really did like this. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a sequel, although I haven't heard anything, and if so, I'll probably want to read it. I'm also interested in DOOM: Love Poems for Supervillains, as I assume that it's set in a similar world.


The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Another great read by Alix E. Harrow. This one is better than The Ten Thousand Doors of January, to my thinking.

In this book, the witchcraft in Salem at the time of the trials was real, a power handed down mother to daughter and among female friends. When it was stomped out, it was thought that magic was ended, even though most people knew a few household spells. When a group of suffragettes hold a rally in New Salem in the 1800s, magic begins to come back, centered around three estranged sisters. Alongside the re-emergence of magic, there are very real issues like the difficult life of mill workers and the different levels of danger that one white, female main character is in compared to a Black woman.


***minor spoilers***

It can be so frustrating to read stories about women that are set in the past because their legal and social status are so different than what we have now, but this book was about the women taking back their power. I loved the way that the magic was handed down in fairy tales and nursery rhymes. I tore through this book so fast. I loved it.


Even though it was original, while I read it, I kept thinking of Alice Hoffman's Magic Lessons and Annalee Newitz's The Future of Another Timeline. (Stay with me, I'm going somewhere with this.)

Magic Lessons has more obvious similarities; it is dealing with witches in Salem, with mother-daughter relationships, with trying to live in a theocracy. Both books have women trying to protect themselves with spells handed down from other women. But they really are very different books; I recommend both!

The Future of Another Timeline is a different genre. Instead of magic, it has time travel. The similarity here is that in both books, women are matching wits against men who are trying to keep them down. In Future, people can travel in time using a machine that is never really explained, but people can go back and make "edits" to change history. The MC is in a group of women who are trying to protect women's rights, and they become aware over time that some of the edits that they are discovering are connected, part of one plan. It was one of my favorite books that I read last year. There's an element of suspense shared with this book and The Once and Future Witches, as groups of women are fighting not only for their immediate safety, but for rights and safety for future generations.


Also read:

Storm Front and Fool Moon, books one and two of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

These books were OK. I doubt I'll read any more of the series, but I'm glad that I had them now. I needed something short and easy to read in the lead-up to and aftermath from the election. I was so relieved when the election was called for Biden that when the election stress left me I was drained. A couple of monster mayhem paperbacks were just what I needed. I don't read many series; I don't like the repetition. I may revisit the TV series, which I know I watched a few episodes of... it was on a long time ago and I don't really remember it. I bet that they had to edit ALOT of stuff out for the TV show. Lot of naked dead people. Some naked alive people. Ripped-open torsos, and so on.

The premise is that Harry Dresden is a professional wizard living in modern-day Chicago and working as an investigator. I mean, his title is "wizard", but he works with the police as a consultant. Both of these books have multiple mysteries and magical battles. I'm not wild about the main character, who is well aware that his attitudes towards women are old-fashioned and he calls himself a chauvinist more than once in each book, I believe. I am curious to see if that has evolved, because this series is still going strong. I may skip forward and read the latest one, just to see if it has changed much.

The second one has werewolves and is a bit gory.


I'd love to hear if anyone else was as surprised by Piranesi as I was....


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