As I promised earlier in the week, I’m sharing guest blogs from the women who have books in the Women in Fantasy Storybundle that’s available until February 23. First up, Katharine Eliska “Cat” Kimbriel. Cat hit the field with a large bang. She was nominated for the John Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1987. To get that nomination, you need to make a huge impression when you arrive on the scene, which she did. She ran into health problems, however, which derailed her writing for a while.
She’s back now, with a vengeance. Her latest novel is Spiral Path. She’s making her backlist available through Book View Café. Currently, her novels in the science fiction series Chronicles of Nuala and the historical fantasy series Night Calls are all available. You can find her novel Night Calls in the Storybundle. Cat is working on a new Alfreda novel and charting an urban fantasy based in Austin, TX that has roots in an old curse.
In the marvelous essay that follows, she shares two series that she absolutely loves.
By Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
I taught myself to read when I was something like six years old, and I never looked back. The eyeglasses happened because there were not enough stories in my young world, so I had to go looking for them. When I was asked, “Write about your favorite woman fantasy writer” my first thought was “My favorite? Do you mean this week, last month, over the last year?” There are walls of books in my possession. A huge percentage of them were written by women fantasy and SF writers.
Our planet is wide enough to handle a multiverse of new worlds and peoples, and make me care about all of them. Women excel at that.
Right now I have been bouncing back and forth between two series, and two (or is it three?) authors. Writing this essay made me realize what I needed from each of them right now, and where they walked the same path. Let me introduce you to Martha Wells and Ilona Andrews, authors I think you should investigate. They are what we call hybrid authors, both selling books to New York publishers and also self-publishing, so they are part of the brave new world of publication. (Yes, Ilona Andrews is two people, but Ilona and Gordon are not only writing but raising two daughters. If ever a man has gotten a clue about women, it’s Gordon.)
Have you discovered the Books of the Raksura? Martha Wells is three novels and many short stories into her books about the Three Worlds, and I wish that everyone could try them. A lifelong interest in anthropology means that Wells is meticulous in her world building. In her Raksura books, she has sneakily spliced dozens of wonderful aliens into a magical setting, and Raksura fans cannot get enough. She brings us into the Three Worlds through The Cloud Roads and the adventures of Moon, a young orphaned male adrift in a world not his own. He can pass, for the most part, among the bipedal people he lives with, but he hides a dangerous secret. He is a shapeshifter, and his other form can fly. A strong resemblance to a dangerous flying species called the Fell has caused him catastrophic problems in the past – and nearly gets him killed again.
But this time, someone chooses to save him – a man who also bears a strong resemblance to him. It’s another, much older shifter. Stone claims to know what he is, and where he belongs. Moon is not a child—by his count he’s had forty years; he’s been alone since his mother and siblings’ death thirty-five turns of the seasons before. He’s heard that “You are…” story once, and it was a lie. He stopped looking for his own people decades ago. After all this time, have they finally found him?
Stone’s “court” needs warriors to help fight the Fell. Will Moon come and help? It will allow him to see if he wants to live among his own people, or continue seeking a group that will accept him. Moon figures he can always pack up and leave, if necessary, and he agrees. But Moon finds a blended people on the edge of disaster, some winged, some not, ruled by a matriarchy—Queens who can control the ability of shifters to change. And he finds out that he is not merely a winged warrior of the Raksura—he’s a Consort, a fertile male, normally a protected and cherished minority in the courts. And there’s a young queen who wants him.
In short, in Raksuran society he is supposed to be everything Moon has no memory of ever being. Consorts are never alone, unless they have done something horrible and been evicted from their court. As an orphan who cannot prove his history, Moon faces both trials and triumphs in the days ahead. He arrives in Indigo Cloud court like a hurricane, and nothing will ever be the same again.
This series has many different sub-themes. It builds a believable matriarchy that has just enough outliers to make room for someone as accomplished as Moon. It shows friendship between different people (who in this book are literally different creatures), the need to belong, alliances with Others for mutual benefit and protection, fairly equal sexual partnerships, and fighting for life and freedom – but the strongest thread in the weaving is Moon’s search for self and a place to call home. The Raksura are more interested in your skills, not your sex, and a combination of talents and whether you’re winged or fertile are what determine how strange Raksura will respond to you. There are intrigues and alliances along with the lingering mystery of where Moon came from, and what happens when his own court finally does find him.
I adore this series, and its personalities, and like Moon, I realize that I am on a continuing journey seeking home. As it turns out, that may also be the bottom line for Ilona Andrews’ Indie series, the Innkeeper Chronicles. In a galaxy of myriad species and civilizations, Earth has an interesting position. It’s one of the few neutral places oxygen and nitrogen-breathing species can pause in transit. On Earth are many Inns and Innkeepers, and they have two major goals—the safety and comfort of their guests, and keeping the Inns and their inhabitants a dead secret from the people of Earth.
Dina DeMille is an Innkeeper, daughter of Innkeepers, now running her own small inn. The Gertrude Hunt Inn was an old, dormant inn before Dina’s magic woke it to life again. But Red Deer, Texas is no longer upon a busy crossroads—the inn needs magical guests to survive, and to get them, Dina has to accept some chancy propositions (like dealing with dangers off the inn grounds) and dangerous guests (like a peace summit of multiple species trying to kill each other.) Dina is driven by the health of her inn, an empathic entity of powerful magic capable of extending branches to other worlds, and by the mysterious disappearance of her parents and their entire inn six years before.
All this gives her roots of her own. She had the choice to wander the universe, and did for a time, seeking her parents. But no place was home—so Dina found one, and tends it well. In Sweep in Peace, when three powerful, aggressive peoples accept an Arbitrator and a peace summit, Dina does her best to keep them calm, comfortable, and alive. This is contemporary fantasy of a kind I love. We get a dash of humor, of mystery, of romance—Like Wells’ series, we get a blend of fantasy and SF that does not jar us, and we get the skillful weaving of both plot and world building the Andrews are known for. Each faction at this summit is sure they know what drives the others. They are all wrong, and even Dina is wrong at first. But ultimately it is her empathy and intuition plus the calculated plans of the arbitrator that give this disastrous war and distant planet a chance at peace.
Guests come, and they leave. Someday one of them will recognize her parents in the picture hanging on the wall, and Dina will begin her hunt again. But her search will happen around the home she has woven for herself and her few permanent guests, aliens who have no other home but the Gertrude Hunt Inn. Once again we have alliances, tolerance, friendships and betrayals, cultures alike and cultures so different only an Innkeeper can help them understand each other. And we have magic—magic that makes us laugh and moves us to tears. There are aliens who are frightening, and aliens we want to befriend.
We have people seeking home, protecting home, and making a home. For so many of us, that’s a theme worth finding. I have read many books by both Wells and Andrews, but today I recommend these two series to you.
Because it seems that every reader needs a home away from home.