I got a new ipod charger, now catching up on the podcasts I missed.
Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
This is an amazing book. The worldbuilding is so inventive and even though I'm not very big on maps at the start of books (I know, bad fantasy fan) the one here was immediately intriguing. It's primary world/alternate history, which looks and feels like a secondary world and the world itself is more inventive and distinct than many a secondary world fantasy. As far as I can tell it's set in a world where the Carthaginians won the Punic wars, meaning Rome was only a land-based empire and never became a naval power in the Mediterranean.* Also there's (still?) an ice age, so Britain is linked to Europe by land and Scandanavia is largely covered with ice. Also there's magic and a second (at least) sentient race. Besides all that (if that weren't enough) the story itself works really well, with strong charcateristaion and a compelling emotional throughline that is complemented by the pace and action. The story is about a young woman called Catherine, who was orphaned as a child and raised by her aunt and uncle. Her world is thrown into disarray when she is unexpectedly married off to a haughty cold-mage and taken away from everything she has always known. Ripped away from her home and her beloved cousin, Cat tries to find her feet as everything she knew about her life is called into question. Her supernatural senses prove useful, as do unexpected allies from the spirit world. Catherine's relationship with her new husband starts cold and goes through various changes as she learns how he too is trapped by familial ties in the machinations of the powerful. Despite this similarity both have their own needs and conflicting agendas. The relationship between cousins Catherine and Beatrice is wonderful, and the various relevations and tribulations deepen their bond as each looks out for the other. Their kinship extends beyond bloodlines to a true, deep friendship.
The way that society is contructed in this book is wonderful, and such a refreshing change from the standard Medieval-ish European monoculture, which has little basis in any history older than a century or so. At some point in this world's history people from wealthy West African nations (which are rooted in real-world history) were driven north from their homes by a supernatural threat and they settled across Europe and merged with the Celtic peoples. This means that there's a broad variety of people and cultures across the stretch of Western Europe that is featured in the book, with mentions of the wider world and deeper history than that which immediately affects the characters. The rural village characters who are essentially slaves, have a different culture to those from cities. Within the citites there are peoples who have their own histories and beliefs, initially shown by Catherine having been raised in a culture that wroships Phoenician gods and has a strong history of being traders and spies, and rather looked down on by other groups. The novel is set in roughly the nineteenth century and has early industrialisation, showing how mills exploited workers, but there are also airships from America and fluffy trolls who are solicitors and polytheism seemingly as standard. I could go on about this for a while, but possibly not very coherently, but if you are looking for fantasy that does something properly different with history and worldbuilding, this is a great example.
What You're Missing by Allison Mulder (Cast of Wonders 303, narrated by Melissa Bugaj)
This story about a girl who senses something is missing, is intriguing and ends up rather creepy. She lives in a society where everything is observed and recorded, and the feeling of missing something is strongest when she's in a secret spot that's outside community observation. There's also the family pcitures on the stairs, something is missing there too, but what, or who. This stroy has a strong warning about surveillance culture and what could happen when community and healthcare are used to remove individuality.
Midnight Blue by Will Mcintosh (Escape Pod 630, narrated by Paul Haring)
Flashback Friday, not one I'd encountered before. Feels like it could be on Podcastle or Cast of Wonders (though the latter wasn't part of the Escape Artists family then).
Charms used to be everywhere, different colours granted different abilities. Now they're a rare and expensive commodity, and the poorer kids at school can't afford them. Then a preteen lad from the wrong side of the tracks finds the rarest one of all, and has to bargain in a way even adults would find difficult. Along the way he thinks about his place in the world, what he wants from life and the unfairness inherent in the system. It's an amazing coming of age story.
Fire Rode the Cold Wind by Aimee Ogden (Escape Pod 626, narrated by Peter Adrian Behravesh)
A story about a woman from the sky who crashes down into a society of ice people, told from the point of view of one who falls in love with her. This is a very emotional story, and one which shows the difference between these two groups of people who live in very different environments and have such a wide cultural gulf misunderstdandings are easy, but undertsanding can also come. The worldbuilding is very strong, the ice people feel primitive, but their way of life seems sturdier and more settled than that of the spacefolk that we never see. It's also the story of a man and his desire and how he tries to reconcile both wanting and being wary of someone. Wanting to be someone different yet being terrified of change. The feelings here are very strong, and almost overwhelm the very evocative worldbudiling, as the viewpoint character is used to this world.
* While doing my degree I did a literature review on the early Roman navy, as part of a seminar series on ancient North Africa, so although it's now a bit fuzzy in my mind the idea of the Punic Wars going a different way is very intriguing to me.