Yes, my book has a tag now! And yes, I am going to be attempting it. To make up for the fact that I don’t read and am therefore unable to make super insightful recommendations, I’ve added a
probably misguided fashion component, which I hope you enjoy!
1. THE SWORD OF KAIGEN – Pick your favorite fantasy standalone or self-published book.
Going to open here by being a loser and repurposing my Pride Month rec, In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard. This sapphic beauty and the beast retelling takes place in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world inspired by Vietnamese folklore.
In all honesty, this is the only standalone fantasy I’ve read in recent memory, but it really is a good one. The characters were earnest and likable, and the setting reminded me of the delightfully weird sci-fi stories I enjoyed in high school. But with dragons!
2. TAJAKA – Since tajakalu draw power from their emotions, pick a book that was an emotional rollercoaster.
Going to reach back into my childhood for this one and go with The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins, the story of a boy from New York who discovers an underground world of intelligent, 6-foot-tall rats, 3-foot-long cockroaches, and translucent-skinned human warriors who do battle on the backs of giant bats.
This series is either YA or the goriest most grimdark MG ever to grace the shelves of a middle school book fair. Gregor the Overlander and its sequels were, for me, the kid version of Game of Thrones in that the characters were complex, compelling, and ALL constantly at risk of graphic disembowelment (I think, there’s at least one devastating prominent character death per installment, which, given the length of these books, is quite a lot).
I pulled my first all-nighters racing through this series with my stomach in knots, certain I was going to have a heart attack because I was that worried for the characters I loved. Those lovable characters and that sense of danger are obviously among the reasons Collins’ better-known Hunger Games books became such a success. While I liked The Hunger Games fine, Gregor, his bat Ares, his rat mentor, Ripred, and his baby sister Boots will always have my heart.
3. FONYAKA – Since fonyakalu control wind and wind is associated with change, pick a book with a fantastic character arc.
Going to go WAY off-brand and cliche here… Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. In general, I hate romance for romance’s sake. Can’t read it, can’t watch it, can’t stomach it. But you know what I love? Clever dialogue and characters who grow out of their misconceptions, so Elizabeth and Darcy’s romance holds the distinction of one of my favorite (mutual) character arcs in fiction. In my opinion, their courtship does the best thing a fictional relationship can do: forces introspection and development from both parties.
I do have to confess to being extra nostalgic about this story, thanks in large part to the BBC adaptation (the 1995 miniseries, not the 2005 movie. I love Keira Knightly but Elizabeth is not a Victoria’s Secret model, she’s a decent-looking smart person who sparkles because of her wit and I will fight you. Also, baby Colin Firth).
4. JIJAKA – Since jijakalu can only use their power when calm, pick a character you think would stay calm in the face of danger.
I struggled with this one mainly, I think, because characters who are calm all the time are not very interesting and therefore haven’t stuck in my memory. I eventually settled on the one (however unoriginal) that did stick, that being Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling.
As an adult, I’ve come to dislike Dumbledore, but when this book came out, I was fifteen (a year younger than Harry, as I’ve always been) and the Hogwarts headmaster was still a symbol of power, warmth, and wisdom. I can’t remember another character staying so persistently calm during a stretch of story that had me so distressed. So, you win this one Dumbledore.
But my magic school is still better than yours.
5. ADYN – Pick a protagonist who has to rely on their wits instead of enhanced abilities.
For this one, I’m going with Kestrel from The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski. There aren’t actually supernatural abilities to be had in the world of TWC, but Kestrel is defined by the fact that she is a weak fighter but a strong tactician born into a militant culture reminiscent of the Roman Empire. While YA is full of heroines who claim intelligence, physical incompetence and often both, the way these traits come into play in Kestrel’s story is uniquely genuine and satisfying to me.
On the whole, I have a lot of problems with this trilogy (mainly with the third book, which was my least favorite read of the year so far) but I’ll still happily recommend the first installment as a solid slow-burn story about oppression, class, and relationships. The concepts in The Winner’s Curse are refreshingly ambitious – I think, in the end, too ambitious for a YA trilogy locked into its own romancey ending, but its most thought-provoking questions are all in the air through books 1 and 2. They don’t land with a disappointing thud until book 3. Okay, rant over. Sorry this answer got away from me a bit.
6. THEOTYPES – Pick a book with a unique magic system.
For this one, I picked Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. There’s more than one magic system in the series, but the main one and the one I enjoy the most is Allomancy.
It’s not just that I love the idea of superpowers based on ingesting metals, but I think Sanderson does a singularly good job easing the reader into what might otherwise be a very confusing magic system. The process of coming to understand and engage with the magic is handled better in Mistborn, I think, than in any of the other Sanderson I’ve read. For that reason, I’m glad that I started reading Sanderson’s books with Mistborn and would recommend that anyone else just getting into the Cosmere or high fantasy in general do the same.
7. MISAKI – Pick your favorite female sword-fighter.
My 12-year-old heart says Alanna from The Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce. My 20-year-old heart says Brienne of Tarth from A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.
Neither of these are very original, nor do I remember the books very well (Alanna’s sword was called Lightning, which at the time was the coolest thing in the world, but that’s all I got) so we’re just going to move on like this didn’t happen.
8. MAMORU – Pick a character who adapts well after having their life turned upside down.
This one goes to Hank Morgan, the titular Connecticut Yankee from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain. It’s been over ten years since I read this book, but I still love it to the extent that it was a contender for a few of these prompts and would have beaten out Pride and Prejudice for best character arc of it hadn’t fit this one so well.
The premise of Connecticut Yankee is in the title, but the protagonist’s development from there is so much more brutal and interesting than the one-off joke that title implies. I grew up on Mark Twain books and I love his works of American historical fiction for the cultural classics they are, but Connecticut Yankee is the only one that made me laugh, made me cry, made me scared, and left me chilled.
9. MATSUDA HOUSE – Pick your favorite fictional family or house.
Contrary to what The Sword of Kaigen might suggest, I’m personally not into bloodlines as some sacred all-important thing. You know what I AM into though? Superheroes and found family. So, my pick for this one is the Bat Family, consisting of Bruce Wayne (Batman) Dick Grayson (Robin/Nightwing), Jason Todd (Robin/Red Hood), Tim Drake (Robin), Damian Wayne (Robin), Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle) and others, depending on the continuity… oh, and Alfred, of course.
I’ll never tire of the idea of the hardened loner with a soft spot for troubled orphans, nor will I ever tire of the dynamics between crime-fighters ranging in age from 12, to teenaged, to 20 and moved out of the house, to jaded dad. It’s all gold.
I’m kind of cheating here since, while there are many Batman comics that might qualify as books for this book tag, my favorite version is the animated show from the ’90s. Not to knock other continuities. There are few takes on Batman that I dislike entirely and there are so many great versions that it’s easy to pretend the bad ones don’t exist 🙂
10. WHISPERING BLADE – Favorite fantasy weapon.
Well, we started this tag weak and, folks, we’re gonna end it weak by repeating an author. Yes, we’re going with Nightblood from Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker and Stormlight Archive.
Here’s my thing with talking swords, speaking as someone who adores talking swords and has experimented with writing them: the personality really matters. Now, I realize that sounds obvious. Personality matters for any character, human or otherwise. But consider that a sword lacks a face, appendages, clothing, all the stuff humans use to express themselves without speaking. Given this disadvantage, a character who is a sword really needs to sell himself on dialogue alone, and in order to do that, he needs a big, distinctive personality that shines in every line. Nightblood has that sharp, shiny personality and therefore my vote for best sword.
Note that book-wise, I would recommend the Stormlight Archive series over Warbreaker. While Nightblood is more prominent in Warbreaker, I don’t think Sanderson had quite hit his stride yet, especially with the female characters… plus Stormlight has shardblades everywhere, so it’s stronger overall on the sword front. Doesn’t matter, just read all of them, they’re all good!
Don’t forget to tag myself and Philippa if you decide to do the tag yourself. I’d love to see recs from people better read than myself. Happy reading and nyama to you!