Wednesday, October 5, 2016

K. V. Johansen

K. V. Johansen is the author of The Lady, The Leopard, and Blackdog and numerous works for children, teens, and adults.

Her new novel is Gods of Nabban.

Recently I asked Johansen about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve got quite a stack of things I want to read, and am about to read -- some of which I now realize, looking at them, I’ve been ‘about to read’ for a year now -- but the book that I currently am reading is Patricia A. McKillip’s Kingfisher, which I first read last winter and am now reading again, because it’s That Kind of Book. I’ve been an admirer of McKillip’s writing since reading Riddle-Master of Hed when I was a kid, and her later stuff is amazing -- reading her is like being submerged in a poem, or a painting that is very intricate and detailed and yet rendered with a very light hand. Her worlds are full of possibilities and potential; nothing is ever quite what you expect; her characters are infinitely surprising in what they do, how they think, and what they can become. Kingfisher is built on the bones of the Fisher King motif and the Perceval Romance, and set in a fantasy west coast kingdom where knights still train formally with medieval weapons but also use various futuristic technologies and roam the land on motorcycles and in big chauffeur-driven touring cars. The king and queen are estranged and yet still caring for the land together, a god and goddess are in conflict through their devotees, there’s fog and fish and a sorceress who can quietly obscure a chunk of the landscape from maps and memory, a shapeshifting father, a restauranteur whose dishes would have you starve, and an ancient land of lost magic underlying the kingdom, which is still awash in its own everyday magics. It’s quite breathtaking.

Over the past year or so I’ve read some other things that have resonated with me in one way or another and really stand out as things I want to read more than once, if I haven’t already done so. A year ago I read all of Anthony Ryan’s Raven’s Shadow epic fantasy trilogy, followed with his science fiction detective noir stories published in one volume as Slab City Blues, then this past spring the first in his new fantasy world, The Waking Fire. I love his people and his worlds and the stories he tells, but what particularly drew me to him first of all was his prose style. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why, but I read, I think, the first four pages of Blood Song and ordered the rest of the trilogy just because of the writing and how he was telling the story, with the frame of the ‘present’ enemy historian wrapped around and woven through both the told and the remembered-but-untold youth and the journey to the point of captivity and the conversations with the historian.

Another book I read that I really loved and intend to read again is Tom Lloyd’s Stranger of Tempest. Both his previous worlds I’ve really found to be places I can immerse myself in -- the world of Stormcaller especially -- but in this new series, though the world is fascinating, with some really interesting and original elements -- remnants of dead gods as ammunition, for starters -- and it has lots still to be discovered in it, what grabs me most of all is the main character, Lynx. He’s just a great guy. I want to hang out with him. A freed POW from a fairly awful, intolerant, we-are-the-superior-beings conquering culture, wandering through the lands that finally defeated his people, as a book-loving, good-food-seeking, soldier of fortune who is quietly a member of a semi-secret philosophical order that basically sets itself the task of being thoughtful, humane people -- and the story he gets pulled into when he joins Anatin’s mercenary company and they in turn end up enmeshed in whatever games the agent Toil is playing ... It’s full of humour as well as action and great characters and a world to explore.

Dave Hutchinson’s Europe in Winter is another great thing I was fortunate enough to read already this year. It comes out later in the autumn of 2016. Winter is the third in a science fiction series that starts off seeming like a near-future spy thriller, but gradually unfolds to reveal more and more science fictional aspects and more of what you could read as satire or commentary not so much on the state of Europe as on the urge of all human societies and groupings to keep narrowing definitions and hiving off into rigidly defined and exclusionary enclaves. Kind of like wine evoking other flavours and scents, it reminds me of reading Len Deighton and, both in the hiving off not of societies but of geography, and in never quite being able to see where it’s going to end up, Diana Wynne Jones. Part of the appeal is that the two main characters, Rudi and Rupert, are really likeable, ordinary-seeming men who have to keep being out of the ordinary just to keep their heads above water, and so grow into people who are shaping the fate of many others who never know of them.

There are three mystery novels I’ve read this year that really stood out, too. One is Fred Vargas’ Debout les Morts. The English translation is called The Three Evangelists. It’s a good contemporary mystery set in Paris in the nineties, very enjoyable and well-crafted, but what really makes it exceptional are the main characters, who are three 30-something historians, a medievalist, a pre-historian, and a First World War specialist, none of whom, in hard academic times, are working in their own field, though they keep up their scholarship with passion on their own. They’re sharing an odd little four-storey house with the uncle and godfather of one of them, who’s a disgraced but utterly unrepentant police officer. The characters are so great, so matter-of-fact in their eccentricity but entirely real (and quietly heroic at need), that I’d read a lit novel that was just them going about their lives and talking with one another, without the mystery to hang it on. (I’ve read it in both the original and the translation, and would recommend the original, of course, if you can. There’s an important clue that really makes a lot more sense in French than in how they had to fudge it to get something halfway sensible in English. There are also a few translation choices that struck me as odd.)

The other two mysteries I wanted to mention are by Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold, Death by Silver and A Death at the Dionysus Club. These are fantasy-mysteries set in an alternate Victorian London with a very thoroughly worked out system of scientific magic. The main characters are two men, a consulting detective and his friend, who is a licenced metaphysician; they’re also lovers, and in this 19th century that’s just as much a sin and a crime as it was in ours. Part of the appeal of the characters is the evolution of their strong but difficult, occasionally mutually-baffled, occasionally tender, relationship. The mysteries are excellently crafted; the magic of the world is an integral part of both the crimes and the solutions, not merely an interesting background setting. I’d like to read more of these.

So that’s what’s stuck with me most vividly from what I’ve been reading over the past year.
Visit K. V. Johansen's website.

Coffee with a Canine: K.V. Johansen & Ivan.

The Page 69 Test: Gods of Nabban.

--Marshal Zeringue