Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Rachel Neumeier

Rachel Neumeier started writing fiction to relax when she was a graduate student and needed a hobby unrelated to her research. Prior to selling her first fantasy novel, she had published only a few articles in venues such as The American Journal of Botany. However, finding that her interests did not lie in research, Rachel left academia and began to let her hobbies take over her life instead.

She now raises and shows dogs, gardens, cooks, and occasionally finds time to read. She works part-time for a tutoring program, though she tutors far more students in Math and Chemistry than in English Composition.

Neumeier's new novel is Winter of Ice and Iron.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Somehow in 2017 everything that made the biggest impression on me had a strong historical component, though the works I have in mind ranged from almost-secondary-world fantasy to straight historical.

Earlier this summer, I read an older trilogy by a new-to-me author, Naomi Kritzer: Freedom’s Gate, Freedom’s Apprentice and Freedom’s Sisters. Here we have fantasy where history has been altered enough the resulting world is hardly recognizable. In Kritzer’s world, Alexander the Great lived a long life and conquered the world, or near enough. Now a long-subjugated people is edging toward revolution while enslaved djinni complicate matters. Magic is powerful, but practitioners inevitably develop bipolar syndrome, which is shown realistically although not in modern terms. Through the whole trilogy, complicated ethical dilemmas are fundamental, even more so than physical conflict. This is also a story where romance is minimal while other kinds of relationships are of central importance. A great favorite of mine for the year, everything about it worked for me – I can’t think of a single thing I wish Kritzer had done differently.

Then this fall I read Walk on Earth a Stranger, Like a River Glorious, and Into the Bright Unknown, by Rae Carson. I love long stories that give the reader a day-to-day look at ordinary life in historical settings. This trilogy does a wonderful job with that. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like reading an immersive story about the wagon trains and the westward migration to make the reader appreciate the conveniences and comforts of modern life.

Lee, the protagonist, is a gold dowser – which is practically the only touch of magic in a trilogy that is nearly straight historical. Lee’s a thoroughly sympathetic protagonist because of her own sympathy for everyone around her. Her concentrated effort to view everything charitably from the other’s point of view sets her apart even more than her gift for gold dowsing, and her viewpoint draws a convincing portrait of the people and places of that era. A memorable story I’ll be glad to re-read in a year or two.

Right after that, I finally had a chance to read the recently released final book in Alan Smale’s debut Alternate History trilogy: Clash of Eagles, Eagle in Exile, and Eagle and Empire. Here Romans from a Rome that never fell discover the Americas – and then meet the Cahokian mound builders. This is a story filled with adventure, battles, tense alliances, a little bit of romance, a lot of complicated personal relationships, and lots and lots of the most amazing hang-gliders. Definitely a must-try for fans of history twisted around and tilted sideways.

Most recently, I finally read a standalone novel that’s been on my radar for a while: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine. This one’s a straight historical novel -- but with added depth from echoes of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. There’s a tiny bit of romance in this novel, but primarily it is about family – a father gone terribly wrong, a helpless and absent mother, and most of all sisters who are each other’s friends, allies, and defenders.

From all this you might get the idea that I really prefer historical fantasy, which isn’t actually the case – though I do like historical depth, in fantasy and mysteries and romances and so on. But what I actually like best is any story with a well-drawn setting, historical or secondary world or contemporary, but also with complicated personal relationships, especially relationships involving family and friends rather than, or at least in addition to, an important central romance. That’s what every book on this list provides. Probably every book that has ever made it to my personal top ten list, or ever will, offers that.
Visit Rachel Neumeier's website.

My Book, The Movie: Winter of Ice and Iron.

The Page 69 Test: Winter of Ice and Iron.

--Marshal Zeringue