The first novel in P. Djèlí Clark’s “Dead Djinn” universe, A Master of Djinn is an utter delight. An incredible feat of world-building with a wonderfully diverse cast of (mostly female) characters, it's set in an alternate universe of 1920s Cairo, where a tear in the veil between realities has unleashed djinn into our world. Clark interrogates imperialism, gender, and class, all while offering up an action-packed detective story which, in all earnestness, is the definition of a rollicking good time. This is for anyone who loves steampunk and mysticism and fierce protagonists uncowed by either godlike power or casual sexism.
I wasn’t sure I’d be one for the “updated fairytale” sub-genre, but Nettle & Bone won me over completely. Marra is the third daughter of a royal family struggling to maintain independence between more powerful nations. Her two older sisters have been married one after another to the prince of one of these countries, in hopes of establishing long-lasting peace, but after Marra learns that her eldest sister’s shocking death was no accident, and her remaining sister faces a similar fate, she takes it upon herself to kill the prince and save her sister--in the process gaining the assistance of three other strange souls: a witch who commands the dead, a fallen knight rescued from a goblin market, and the aforementioned fairy godmother. And, of course, a delightful dog made of bones. Highly recommended for anyone in search of a nuanced, charming homage to epic quests and unlikely heroes saving the day.
Sometimes there’s a book every bookseller evangelizes for and this year it’s Benjamín Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World. Nominated for the Booker International and the National Book Award for translated literature, this is a true nonfiction novel about math and physics and faith that brilliantly slips between fiction and fact to humanize some of our greatest mathematical breakthroughs. Labatut beautifully illuminates the horror and transcendence of science in the last century through the lives of some it’s most recognizable geniuses; Werner Heisenberg, Fritz Haber, Alexander Grothendieck are characters in a narrative that resonates acutely with a time when we question the ethics of scientific discovery and confront the knowledge that improving some lives may come at the expense of others and of the planet itself. The most strangely compelling book I’ve read in a long time.