Today's recommendations are by Sharon Shinn. Sharon Shinn has published 24 novels, one collection, and assorted pieces of short fiction since her first book came out in 1995. Among her books are the Twelve Houses series (Mystic and Rider and its sequels), the Samaria series (Archangel and its sequels), the Shifting Circle series, and the Elemental Blessings series. In 2010, the Romantic Times gave her the Career Achievement Award in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category, and in 2012, Publisher’s Weekly magazine named The Shape of Desire one of the best science fiction/fantasy books of the year. Three of her novels have been named to the ALA’s lists of Best Books for Young Adults (now Best Fiction for Young Adults). Her newest Shifting Circle book, The Turning Season, will be published in November.
- The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall
In the serene Land Between the Mountains, all the small people known as Minnipins are pressured to conform, particularly as the twelve villages compete with each other to win the prestigious Gammage Cup given out to the most perfect village. But five quirky individuals in Slipper-on-the-Water refuse to dress in boring colors or stop speaking in silly rhymes, so they’re banished while the competition is under way. It’s while they’re out in the wild, trying to survive on their own, that they spot the evil Mushrooms trying to breach the mountains and invade the valley. Relying on their courage and their friendship, they defeat the Mushrooms and save the Land Between the Mountains—and win the trophy for their village.
This was my first exposure to the trope of a band of misfits who take on great evil and save the world, and I never got over it.
- The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton
Edward and Eleanor live with their eccentric aunt and uncle in a wonderful old house in Massachusetts. They discover a hidden room high in a turret, and they learn that, long ago, two children disappeared one night while sleeping in this very room. There’s a poem etched into the window glass, and when they start spending the night in the tower, the events of their dreams match the verses of the poem. They soon realize they aren’t dreaming after all, but chasing after those missing children and having real adventures—which put them in real danger. If they don’t solve all the clues in the poem, they too could disappear.
In one chapter, Eleanor and Edward are trapped inside a giant nautilus shell on a beach as the tide starts coming in. They make their way from the smallest chamber to the next biggest one and the next biggest one, but each time the door between chambers only opens when they do something worthy. Tell a riddle, solve a math puzzle. Their accomplishments must get bigger each time a chamber gets bigger. They’re finally in the very largest chamber—but they can’t think of anything momentous enough to free themselves. And then a wave comes in and lifts the shell and almost carries it out to sea…
I will never forget my fear and excitement the first time I read that scene. To me, this book is about the potential for magic all around us, all the time. I’ve never stopped looking for my own poem full of clues and mysteries.
- Enchantress From the Stars by Sylvia Louise Engdahl
A spaceship full of operatives from an advanced civilization makes a stealthy approach to the primitive world of Andrecia—which has just been invaded by a third civilization not quite as advanced as the first one. Elana is on the first spaceship with two other team members, and their goal is to save Andrecia from the invaders, without letting the inhabitants know that extraterrestrials actually exist. Elana lands on Andrecia and takes the role of an enchantress who devises nearly impossible quests for the bravest of men, and when they succeed, she gives them magical devices to help them slay the “dragon” that has started to destroy their world. Of course, the devices are really high-tech tools and the “dragon” is really giant machinery brought by the invading forces.
The book alternates between the self-aware science fiction narrative of Elana’s voice, and the fairy-tale style of Georyn, a brave Andrecian who wins magic from the enchantress’s hands. "At the edge of the Enchanted Forest there lived a poor woodcutter who had four sons…"
I read this book before I ever watched an episode of “Star Trek,” so this is where I learned the basic tenets of the Prime Directive. It made me think differently about fairy tales, history, and space exploration, and introduced me to the idea that two different people will have vastly different takes on the same events. And it’s a love story. It has so many elements that have stuck with me forever.
Stay tuned for the next post where we get more reading recommendations!