My poem “The City That Changed Hands,” originally published in Strange Horizons, has been nominated for the Rhysling Award (Science Fiction Poetry Association)!
“The Maelstrom” has been accepted for Pole to Pole Publishing’s Jules Verne tribute anthology, 20,000 Leagues Remembered.
STRANGER ON THE HOME FRONT, a middle grade novel dealing with the impact of the Hindu-German Conspiracy Trial and the nationalism of WWI-era America, will appear from Jolly Fish Press on September 1, 2020. I love my half-Punjabi protagonist, Margaret, who slowly learns to stand up for her beliefs, and her German-American best friend Bettina who’s dealing with her own issues that Margaret can’t see. And of course, it was a pleasure to delve into a less famous aspect of the Indian independence cause.
You can preorder from Amazon here. Here’s the summary:
It’s 1916, and Europe is at war. Yet Margaret Singh, living an entire ocean away in California, is unaffected. Then the United States enters the war against Germany. Suddenly the entire country is up in arms against those who seem “un-American” or speak against the country’s ally, Great Britain. When Margaret’s father is arrested for his ties to the Ghadar Party, a group of Indian immigrants seeking to win India’s independence from Great Britain, Margaret’s own allegiances are called into question. But she was born in America and America itself fought to be freed from British rule. So what does it even mean to be American?
I have had the privilege of reading this book in successive drafts, and it has only gotten better.
Based on the story of the Women’s Battalion of Death in WWI Russia, it follows Katya, an officer’s daughter who volunteers for the regiment. Amber Lough, the author, is a veteran of the Iraq War and writes clear, compelling battle sequences as well as fleshing out the characters so that their travails break your heart. The friendship between Katya and her buddy Masha, as well as Katya’s relationship with her deserter brother Maxim, stands out as extremely well done, and the historical figure of the regiment’s leader and founder, Maria Bochkareva, becomes a compelling character as well. I had a few quibbles with some of the political setting in terms of the Russian Revolution (as usual, not enough screen-time for non-Bolshevik socialists), but the character of Sergei, a Bolshevik activist who wants Katya to desert for both personal and political reasons, was also very well done.
The ending and the last line broke my heart, as they should have.
I had issues with the book recommendations at the end–Richard Pipes wrote the single worst book on the revolution that I have had the misfortune of reading, and it is recommended here–but Lough’s research is strong. Katya’s political confusion is realistic for the era and her age, although I wasn’t quite sold on some of her contradictory actions.
I want a sequel very badly but also can’t bear the thought of these characters living through the brutal Russian Civil War, so I would say Lough did a great job in both telling a compelling story and attaching me to the characters.
I’ve got a review of Philip Boehm’s translation of Darkness at Noon over at the LA Review of Books! Thanks, Boris Dralyuk, for letting me have a crack at this!
Here’s a look at some of the YA books I’m most looking forward to in 2020.
1. Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena
After A Girl Like That, the story of an Indian half-Parsi orphan growing up in Saudi Arabia, I will read anything Bhathena writes. This Indian-inspired epic fantasy dealing with class and politics looks like a lot of fun.
2. Open Fire by Amber Lough
I had the privilege of reading a draft of this take on the Women’s Battalion of Death, a Russian Revolution-era all-female military unit. I can’t wait for the rest of the world to meet patriotic-but-increasingly-conflicted Katya and follow her journey in WWI.
3. Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran
This fantasy novel from a debut Irish author features a romance between an idealistic new queen and her female spymaster, as well as plenty of political intrigue.
4. Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore
A fantasy retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes,” tying it to the the dancing plague in 15th century Strasbourg and the persecution of the Romani people. Sounds super interesting, and McLemore’s previous work, though I haven’t read it, is highly praised.
5. All the Days Past, All the Days to Come by Mildred D. Taylor
We (for values of we that mean Americans of my generation) all read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry growing up. I’ve always wondered what happened to Cassie and her brothers and friends after The Road to Memphis, and now we finally get answers in this story of grown-up Cassie in the Civil Rights Movement.
6. The Silence of Bones by June Hur
A teenage girl in 1800’s Korea is an indentured servant working for a police detective. Together, they investigate the murder of a noblewoman. This one certainly has a unique setting and premise! I don’t think I’ve read any YA set in Korea before the Japanese occupation.
This is another short novel in the mode of Wein’s earlier Firebird, following an East European female pilot in WWII. In this case, the protagonist is a Polish girl, Kristina, who serves as a liaison pilot in the Polish Air Force and escapes in a small plane when her airstrip is taken over and her brother killed by the German army.
Except there’s a passenger she didn’t expect. Julian, an eleven-year-old Jewish orphan, has snuck onboard her plane and is determined to get to England, sometimes coming into conflict with Kristina, who wants to join the rest of the Polish Air Force in France. Julian is probably the most vivid character in the book, resilient, a bit sneaky, confident, and ultimately very, very young.
With a combination of Julian’s language skills and Kristina’s flying abilities, they cross much of Europe, encountering a variety of people along the way, from Hungarians who help them on the supposition that Julian is an Austrian Boy Scout to an Italian who tries to rape Kristina. Ultimately they make it to France, but will Julian get to England as his murdered father wanted him to?
Compared to Firebird, there was no first-person narration or clever structure, but it was a lot more plausible (no Anastasia myth here!). I liked that Kristina and Julian aren’t instant buddies, but have a hard-earned friendship across cultures and age difference after flying across Europe together. They each have to rely on the other for the skills they don’t have, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.
I also liked that this book brought attention to the women who fought for Poland in WWII and the Polish war effort generally. An afterword notes the real-life contributions of Polish exiles in the war effort.
This book was printed specially for dyslexic readers, which involved changing some of the Polish spellings. Lwów becomes Lvov, Krystyna becomes Kristina. This was a little distracting (especially having Polish characters using the Russian name Lvov) but it was probably necessary for the format.