Top Ten Tuesday: Books Written Before I Was Born

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday! This is a collaborative series started by That Artsy Reader Girl, which has a new prompt for discussion and review each week. Today, we’re chatting about books written before I was born. These can be books I’ve read, books I mean to read, or just some books that I think are interesting.

Given that my reading tends to heavily skew towards the new, this prompt is especially interesting – these are books I rarely have a chance to look at or discuss. I’m excited to highlight a few books outside my usual here! It was also a very fun exercise in finding out that I’ve read a ridiculous amount of books from the year right after I was born – those, alas, will have to wait for another time. šŸ™‚

The Faded Sun Trilogy
by C. J. Cherryh

Goodreads | Bookshop.org

First published 1978

They were the mri – tall, secretive, bound by honor and the rigid dictates of their society. For aeons this golden-skinned, golden-eyed race had provided the universe mercenary soldiers of almost unimaginable ability. But now the mri have faced an enemy unlike any other – an enemy whose only way of war is widespread destruction. These “humans” are mass fighters, creatures of the herd, and the mri have been slaughtered like animals.

Now, in the aftermath of war, the mri face extinction. It will be up to three individuals to save whatever remains of this devastated race: a warrior – one of the last survivors of his kind; a priestess of this honorable people; and a lone human – a man sworn to aid the enemy of his own kind. Can they retrace the galaxy-wide path of this nomadic race back through millennia to reclaim the ancient world which first gave them life?

The Faded Sun Trilogy was one of the first hard science fiction novels I read. I was quickly captured by the fierce warrors, the kel, of mri society. This is a book about acceptance, assimilation, and the last breaths of a dying culture.

The Last Herald-Mage
by Mercedes Lackey

Goodreads | Bookshop.org

First published 1989

Though Vanyel has been born with near-legendary abilities to work both Herald and Mage magic, he wants no part of such things. Nor does he seek a warrior’s path, wishing instead to become a Bard. Yet such talent as his if left untrained may prove a menace not only to Vanyel but to others as well. So he is sent to be fostered with his aunt, Savil, one of the famed Herald-Mages of Valdemar.

But, strong-willed and self-centered, Vanyel is a challenge which even Savil can not master alone. For soon he will become the focus of frightening forces, lending his raw magic to a spell that unleashes terrifying wyr-hunters on the land. And by the time Savil seeks the assistance of a Shin’a’in Adept, Vanyel’s wild talent may have already grown beyond anyone’s ability to contain, placing Vanyel, Savil, and Valdemar itself in desperate peril…

Although The Last Herald-Mage was not my first introduction to Valdemar, that honor belonging to The Queen’s Own Trilogy, it was nevertheless the first time I had ever encountered queer characters in speculative fiction. While I did not think of it much at the time beyond having my heart wrenched at everything Vanyel had to go through, this was certainly a formative work for me in terms of normalizing queerness.

Empire Star
by Samuel R. Delany

Goodreads | Bookshop.org

First published 1966

On a habitable moon near Tau Ceti, a young man named Comet Jo encounters a devil-kitten and sees a spaceship crash land. One of the people in the spaceship tells Jo that he has to take an urgent message to Empire Star, and dies. Another collapses to form Jewel, a compact, multicolored, multiplexed crystalline entity. Empire Star is the story of Comet Jo’s journey to deliver the message, as narrated by Jewel.

While I have a full review dedicated to Empire Star and its companion novella, Babel-17, it nevertheless bears mentioning here once more. Delany’s prose is gorgeous, his characters shockingly progressive – or, perhaps, not so shockingly given that Delany was a Black author in the 60s. Empire Star riffs off of pulp cliches while simultaneously introducing new, fresh ideas. I also adore the animal companion – a six legged devil kitty!

Camber of Culdi
by Katherine Kurtz

Goodreads | Amazon

First published 1976

Camber was the greatest of the Deryniā€”that race of men who were gifted with arcane mental powers that set them above normal humans. In later legends, he was to become a figure of mystery, known as both the defender of humanity and the patron saint of dark magic. But now he sought only retirement on his family estates.

His dream of justice and amicable relations between the races had turned to ashes in his mind. The medieval kingdom of Gwynedd groaned under the tyranny of Imre and his sister and mistress, Ariella. Normal humans were savagely persecuted by the king, whose Deryni ancestors had seized the throne from the rightful human Haldane line a century before. Camber could not even save his own son from the murderous treachery of Imre.

When Camber learned that Cinhil Haldane, a descendant of the previous kings, still lived, he realized that the only hope for the kingdom lay in overthrowing Imre and restoring Cinhil to the throne. But Cinhil was a cloistered monk, hidden under his religious name in one of many monasteries, unaware of his heritage, untrained in politics. Could he be persuaded to leave the only life he knew and take on the leadership of a rebellion? And lacking the Deryni powers, could he hope to overcome the magic of the king?

Grimly, Camber set out to locate Cinhil and spirit him from the cloister into a struggle that seemed doomed from the start.

And behind came the minions of the kingā€”for Imre was already aware of the plot and bent on destroying all involved in it.

I’ll confess, this book did not work terribly well for me. The plot felt slow, the prose was dry, and it was difficult to care about any of the characters. It wasn’t bad, per se, but it simply didn’t manage to draw me in. I finished the book, but do not intend to continue the series.

The Hero and the Crown
by Robin McKinley

Goodreads | Bookshop.org

First published 1984

Aerin could not remember a time when she had not known the story; she had grown up knowing it.

It was the story of her mother, the witchwoman who enspelled the king into marrying her, to get an heir that would rule Damar; and it was told that she turned her face to the wall and died of despair when she found she had borne a daughter instead of a son.
Aerin was that daughter.

But there was more of the story yet to be told; Aerin’s destiny was greater than even she had dreamed–for she was to be the true hero who would wield the power of the Blue Sword…

Although I think I would have appreciated this novel more if I had read it as a child instead of as an adult, I nevertheless enjoyed it thoroughly. I was impressed by how ahead of its time it was in some respects. In a rather socially progressive manner, the protagonist falls in love with not one, but two men – and has meaningful relationships with both of them. There is no love triangle, and there is never a competition for her love. I found it to be rather refreshing, especially considering that she’s never once shamed for her feelings towards either man nor for having feelings for two men. They are, admittedly, in completely separate spheres of her life, but I think it’s nice to see a YA novel recognize that a woman can love two men for different reasons and in different ways even when both are romantic.

Charmed Life
by Dianna Wynne Jones

Goodreads | Bookshop.org

First published 1977

Cat doesn’t mind living in the shadow of his sister, Gwendolen, the most promising young witch ever seen on Coven Street. But trouble starts brewing the moment the two orphans are summoned to live in Chrestomanci Castle. Frustrated that the witches of the castle refuse to acknowledge her talents, Gwendolen conjures up a scheme that could throw whole worlds out of whack.

I read this as a young child, probably around middle school age. The edition I read had been shelved with the adult SFF at the library, and it had a cat on the front as it was a collection of the first several books in the Chronicles of Chrestomanci series. I was desperately disappointed that it wasn’t actually about cats, DNF’d it, and did not pick it up again for several years.

Once I DID finally give it a proper shot, Dianna Wynne Jones quickly became a favorite. Her books are always a comfort read.

A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L’Engle

Goodreads | Bookshop.org

First published 1962

Out of this wild night, a strange visitor comes to the Murry house and beckons Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe on a most dangerous and extraordinary adventureā€”one that will threaten their lives and our universe.

Winner of the 1963 Newbery Medal, A Wrinkle in Time is the first book in Madeleine L’Engle’s classic Time Quintet.

Ostensibly a children’s book, A Wrinkle in Time is one of those novels that has appeal to all ages and backgrounds. It is delightfully strange, surreal, and clever. It is a twisty read with dragon, mitochondria, and disturbingly uniform suburban homes.

The White Dragon
by Anne McCaffrey

Goodreads | Bookshop.org

First published 1978

Jaxom, a rebellious young aristocrat, and Ruth, his white dragon, fly into another time to retrieve the queen’s stolen egg, thereby averting a dragonrider war, and find their planet threatened once again by a Threadfall.

I am around 90% sure this was the book that awoke my love of dragons. I read the Pern books far earlier in life than I perhaps should have, but I can’t say that they disappointed. Many aspects have not aged well, particularly anything to do with sex and sexuality, but they still hold a special little place in my heart. The White Dragon is a particular favorite; I’m a sucker for ostracized rejects who go on to save the day and prove to everyone that they were valuable all along.

Alanna: The First Adventure
by Tamora Pierce

Goodreads | Bookshop.org

First published 1978

And so young Alanna of Trebond begins the journey to knighthood. Though a girl, Alanna has always craved the adventure and daring allowed only for boys; her twin brother, Thom, yearns to learn the art of magic. So one day they decide to switch places: Thom heads for the convent to learn magic; Alanna, pretending to be a boy, is on her way to the castle of King Roald to begin her training as a page.

But the road to knighthood is not an easy one. As Alanna masters the skills necessary for battle, she must also learn to control her heart and to discern her enemies from her allies.

Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, Alanna’s first adventure begins – one that will lead to the fulfillment of her dreams and the magical destiny that will make her a legend in her land.

One of the few books I read as a child that was actually age appropriate! Kudos to young me. I read, reread, and re-rearead the Song of the Lionness Quartet when I was young. Alanna’s adventures will always be ones I look back on fondly.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld
by Patricia McKillip

Goodreads | Amazon

First published 1978

Sixteen when a baby is brought to her to raise, Sybel has grown up on Eld Mountain. Her only playmates are the creatures of a fantastic menagerie called there by wizardry. Sybel has cared nothing for humans, until the baby awakens emotions previously unknown to her. And when Coren–the man who brought this child–returns, Sybel’s world is again turned upside down.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a stunningly mythic original fairytale. It is steeped in poetry and atmosphere. It’s the sort of book that makes you think that perhaps you’ve simply forgotten a story. The Black Cat Moriah, Gild the Dragon… they’ve never existed before these pages, but they feel as though they’ve been around forever.

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4 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Books Written Before I Was Born

  1. Very similar memories of a lot of these books. Dragondrums was my favourite Pern book growing up, but The White Dragon was cool. Agree on Camber’s dryness, and found it the same in the other book of Kurtz’s I read. Vanyel was my first experience of queerness and I think I felt very similar to you.

    Found Alanna when I was a bit older than ideal for it but enjoyed it and keep meaning to revisit. Only found Cherryh recently and loved what I did. Going to try McKillip this year. Anyway, really enjoyed reading the list.

    Also thanks gods you’re (probably) not that much younger than me…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad it wasn’t just me where Kurtz is concerned! I’d seen so much praise for her previously – I really went in expecting to like that one. I think Alanna is definitely a book you have to read at the right age to enjoy, so that’s not too surprising. McKillip is a *joy*, so you will be in for a treat on that one.

      Liked by 1 person

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