In case you’re new to the Pond’s book recommendation posts, the recommendation posts are brought to you by Varian, the Pond’s very own Toadshifter who is knowledgeable in all kinds of magic! One of Varian’s ambitions is to get better at sewing, hence why whenever Varian has come up with their latest costume, they will always recommend a few books that inspired them!
With only a week left of 2020, most of us are probably looking very closely at our Goodreads goals… and for those of us who might not have reached the ambitious goal that we set out for ourselves earlier this year, maybe we’re starting to sweat a little.
But never fear! Because today, I’m going to be sharing with you some very short reads that you can read in under an hour to help you meet that Goodreads goal – because we all deserve a win, however small, right?
The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
Xiaolong: For years, we’ve asked for more ‘quiet fantasy’ and The Empress of Salt and Fortune is the lush and splendid quiet fantasy we’ve been waiting for.
- Follows Chih, a nonbinary cleric, alongside their companion Almost Brilliant, a magical hoopoe, who meets Rabbit, an elderly woman and handmaiden to Empress In-Yo, and chronicles the rise and fall of an empire.
- This is an exquisite Asian-inspired feminist fantasy that explores the power of anger in women; it’s a quiet tale of how an empire rose and fell and the orchestration of a rebellion hidden in between fortunes.
- Despite its short length, this novella delivers a guttering and emotional punch. Told in chapters, each chapter a story and a story within a story.
Hurricane Heels by Isabel Yap
Xiaolong: You may have never heard of this, but this is a 2016 gem that I still remember because of Aentee’s review. Love the sound of a novella with Sailor Moon vibes, Asian-American superheroes, and a queer relationship? Then read this!
When Alex, Ria, Aiko, Natalie and Selena met at summer camp, they never expected the goddess would ask for their help, enlisting them as soldiers to protect the world from the forces of darkness. Gifting them each with a different object of power—a bracelet, a ring, a watch, earrings, a necklace—the goddess’s grace grants the friends the weapons to fight, the ability to heal, and the magic to strike back against the Grey.
Now, over a decade later, the five best friends are still fighting. But the burden of secrecy, the inevitability of pain, and the magnitude of their responsibility to keep saving the world has left them questioning their goddess.
How much longer can they keep saving the world? Can their friendship survive if one of them leaves their fold? And can they keep it together just long enough to get through Selena’s wedding?
Princess Princess Ever After by Kay O’Neill
Sprout: Sometimes you just need to unwind with a hilarious, whimsical fairytale retelling with a big dose of sapphic princesses, and Princess Princess Ever After is precisely the book for the job. Fans of Kay’s Tea Dragon series will recognise all the signature hallmarks of Kay’s comics: the beautiful illustrations, the soft, personal narratives set in fantastical worlds, and characters with big hearts and a kind touch. This graphic novel clocks in at about 50 pages for the hardcover, and it’s categorised as middle-grade, but it’s still the perfect way to spend a cozy afternoon even if you’re a little older.
The Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire
Sprout: Friends of mine will probably know that I have become obsessed with Seanan McGuire’s writing this year, and this novella series is absolutely to blame. Let me give you the elevator pitch: what if the kids from our world who tumbled through to magical worlds like Narnia were sent back to live here, after discovering realms of magic that were designed specifically for them? How do they adjust back to mundane life? In this book, they go to Eleanor West’s home for Wayward Children. This series of novellas is very, very queer; Every Heart a Doorway features an asexual (but not aromantic) protagonist, there is a transmasc side character, and a recurring protagonist in the series is sapphic, whose love interest plays a big role in the fifth book. There are 5 released books, with one releasing in January next year and another announced for 2022—and listen. If you love portal fantasy, you will not want to miss this series.
The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho
Sprout: Zen Cho is a queer Malaysian author who writes delightful speculative Asian stories. Her standalone novella The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water was one of my absolute favorites of the year (and also has possibly one of the best book covers of all time). The Terracotta Bride is a self-published novelette with a page count of 50, following the plight of a young Chinese girl who is married to richest man in the afterlife (yes, she’s dead), who has brought home an artificial woman made of terracotta. This book is short, queer (but not in a way that you would expect!), and I loved the familiar Chinese mythology that oozes from the world. If you love the trope of the red string of fate? This book is for you.
Edit (23/12): It seems like this story is no longer available for purchase on its own, because it’s slated to be a part of a short story collection written by the author next year! How exciting! Big thanks to Amy for bringing this to our attention.
Of Kings and Roses by Melissa Marr
Sprout: A great way to find short reads for your Goodreads goals, I’ve found, is to look for SFF novelettes from magazines! There’s a roundup here on TOR.com of the best that they’ve published throughout 2020, and I’m going to be listing two on here just as a sampler of how inventive these can get. Of Roses and Kings is a retelling/continuation of Alice in Wonderland, and the catch: Alice is now the Red Queen, and has unfortunately inherited the madness and eccentrism inherent to the throne and the fabric of the world. We follow the perspective of her maid who is also, coincidentally, deeply in love with her. This one is on the weirder side of fantasy retellings, I think—but if you love truly strange stories, or if the original tale holds any nostalgia for you, this is definitely an easy recommendation. 30 pages for the ebook, but also a content warning for implied sexual content if you’re more used to MG/YA stories.
A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djèlí Clark
Sprout: If you’ve been keeping in the loop of recent SFF releases, you might know P. Djèlí Clark as the author of the widely anticipated Ring Shout that released just a few months ago! A Dead Djinn in Cairo is incredible fun—it’s a detective story set in an alternate Cairo in the 1910’s, filled with magic and fantastical entities that arrived in Egypt due to a mystical portal being opened. If you love weird portrayals of angels (think all-knowing, mechanical, and utterly incomprehensible celestials with like, tons of eyes) and eldritch entities, you’ll want to dive into this story. Its ebook clocks in at 46 pages, and it resolves pretty neatly, but if you adore the story as much as I did and want more from the world, it’s also the beginning of a series called Fatma el-Sha’arawi after the main character, culminating in a third full-length novel entry releasing in May next year!
- Have you read any short fiction this year? What were your favorites?
- As the year comes to a close, how far along are you with your Goodreads goals?