Welcome to Book Bites! This is a series focused on highlighting multiple titles in a more concise format. Rather than looking at a book in depth, I’ll be focusing on the most important thing: why you should read it! Today, we have three miniature reviews – On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu, Drowned Country by Emily Tesh, and The Seventh Perfection by Daniel Polanksy! I enjoyed all three of these, and The Seventh Perfect was particularly interesting and experimental.
Thank you to the publishers for providing these ARCs in exchange for honest reviews!
On Fragile Waves by E Lily Yu
I initially picked up On Fragile Waves due to the publisher: Erewhon Books. Erewhon has been picking up interesting new voices, and is a major up and comer in the small press world. Recently, they released The Midnight Bargain by C. L. Polk, a novel I’m looking forward to digging into.
In On Fragile Waves, the fantastic elements are blended seamlessly into reality, creating a magical realist narrative steeped in cultural heritage. It follows a family of Afghani refugees attempting to make their way to Australia, where they hope to start a new life. Yu unflinchingly depicts the hardships refugees face both during the journey and while waiting for approval in refugee camps. Firuzeh finds herself haunted by those she lost along the way, and faces challenges that are foreign to those of us fortunate to have been born into stability.
While I had minor quibbles with the writing style and sometimes felt as though it was a little on the nose, this is an important story that rarely finds its way into mainstream media. Even rarer is to find a story that is so perfectly equipped to tug on your heartstrings and help you not only know the facts of life as a refugee, but also understand the emotional journey each and every seeker of shelter embarks upon.
Drowned Country by Emily Tesh
Drowned Country is the gorgeous sequel to the much-vaunted Silver in the Woods, completing the Greenhollow Duology. The two novellas feature a romance between a young man and a ancient being of the forest as they find love in between the spaces of their small, daily interactions.
Tesh has gorgeous, lyrical prose that makes it hard to tear yourself away from the page. She creates a vast, fairytale-esque landscape where the hills are poems and the trees are verse. It would be difficult not to adore her writing.
I’ll confess that I enjoyed Silver in the Wood slightly more than I did Drowned Country. Although I loved the prose, writing, and character, the pacing sometimes felt slightly off. Drowned Country suffered from an issue common to novellas: it ought to have been a novel. Where Silver had just the right amount of plot for its pages, Drowned Country cannot say the same.
That said, it is still very, very much worth your time if you enjoy queer fantasy romances with lush, gorgeous prose.
The Seventh Perfection by Daniel Polansky
This is a fascinating, experimental novella. It is told in pseudo second person; our protagonist is silent, nameless, and only we only know them through the observations of others. Polansky has given us half a conversation, but a whole story.
It touches on broad themes, such as the fragility of empire, the role of propaganda, and the sacrifices inherent in learning hard truths. The main character both accomplishes her goal and becomes what she fears and hates most, all in one fell swoop.
The worldbuilding is deft and seamless. Each little tidbit we’re granted pulls ten times its own weight when it comes to creating a sense of atmosphere and grounding. While it’s temping to label it dreamlike, oneiric, that would do poor justice to the sense of existence that Polansky manages to convey.
I would highly recommend this novella to fans of KJ Parker’s novellas. It has the same sense of irreverence and experimentality.