January book round-up: Fantasy, Spare & Starlight

The first month of the year is over already! What books did you dive into? Here were the three I read: a YA dystopian fantasy, a royal memoir, and a YA graphic novel.

YA Afrofuturist dystopian fantasy – Nubia: The Awakening by Omar Epps and Clarence A. Haynes.

The blurb:

For Zuberi, Uzochi, and Lencho, Nubia is a mystery. Before they were born, a massive storm destroyed their ancestral homeland, forcing their families to flee across the ocean to New York City. Nubia, a utopic island nation off the coast of West Africa, was no more, and their parents’ sorrow was too deep for them to share much of their history beyond the folklore.
But New York, ravaged by climate change and class division, is far from a safe haven for refugees, and Nubians live as outcasts, struggling to survive in the constantly flooding lower half of Manhattan, while the rich thrive in the tech-driven sky city known as the Up High.
To many, being Nubian means you’re fated for a life plagued by difficulties and disrespect. But Zuberi, Uzochi, and Lencho are beginning to feel there might be more. Something within them is changing, giving each of them extraordinary powers. Extraordinary and terrifying powers that seem to be tied to the secrets their parents have kept from them.
And there are people Up High watching, eager to do anything they can to become even more powerful than they already are. Now Zuberi, Uzochi, and Lencho will be faced with the choice—do they use their inheritance to lift their people, or to leave them behind. The fate of their city, and their people, hangs in the balance.

I picked this up from a Target store in the US while we were there for Christmas, after I had run out of books to read; a rare occurrence, but I hadn’t packed enough books in my suitcase!

Nubia: The Awakening was released in the US at the same time as the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever movie, no doubt to make the most of the Afrofuturism that links the two.

Set in New York in 2098 after the world has suffered flooding from rising sea levels due to climate change, Nubia was one of the African nations that disappeared under the sea, forcing its citizens (Nubians) to move to the US as refugees. Nubians live in the poorest area of New York, which is known as the Swamp in the book, because it regularly gets flooded and is perilously close to the sea wall, which is the only defence against the risen sea levels.

Here’s Omar Epps discussing the book on American radio:

Although set in the future, the themes running through the book are relatable to today’s society: racism, poverty, displacement, climate change, class divides, the haves vs the have nots.

It’s an enjoyable fantasy story, but there are a lot of characters that get introduced during the first half which can make it seem a little heavy-going; I found myself trying to get a grasp of each character and how they are connected to each other. However, stick with it and you will be rewarded when magical powers start to appear…

(Nubia: The Awakening is not yet available in the UK).

This book needs no introduction, but in case you’ve been hiding under a rock, here’s Spare by Prince Harry.

This isn’t the poisonous, bitter book that the media would have you believe.

Spare is Harry’s personal and compelling account of his life so far; it is a deeply moving memoir about his experience of grief, coming-of-age, and of living an impossible life as a prince being controlled by palace officials.

It is remarkable that he survived at all. This is a dark tale that reveals what life inside the royal family is really like, with having every part of your life not only commented upon but often influenced by the media.

I defy anyone to read this and not be moved by Harry’s account of losing his mother at such a young age, and the huge impact that has had on him. Heartbreaking doesn’t even come close.

Yes, there are little bits about William and Kate, and Charles and Camilla, but this is predominantly Harry’s story: his life, in his words.

I remember feeling such respect for him and Meghan when they decided to leave the UK – I mean, I would have done exactly the same if my family were relentlessly being targeted in such a toxic way by the media. After reading Spare, I greatly admire his honesty and openness, and at the very least, he deserves the right to choose how and where to live his life.

Truly remarkable.

An epic, exciting sci-fi graphic novel with romance at the heart of the story, as it explores the classic Empire vs Rebels theme, this is Across a Field of Starlight by Blue Delliquanti.

Released a year ago in February 2022, I only just discovered this book when I saw it in a Little Free Library book exchange.

Firstly, the illustrations are gorgeous; they grab your attention and don’t let go. As I was reading this, my twelve-year-old son was already asking if he could read it next because “it looks so interesting”. The attention to detail in the illustrations is amazing, and successfully whisks you away to this other world where space travel is routine, with exciting technology, against the backdrop of intergalactic war.

Yes, the whole Empire vs Rebels theme may remind you of a certain successful space opera franchise, but Delliquanti takes that theme and explores it in a totally different way.

This is the story of an against-all-odds romance between two non-binary teens, Lu and Fassen, as they navigate their lives through war. Fassen is a member of the resistance, fighting against the Empire, whereas Lu is from a more peaceful community where the focus is on science, exploration and being your true self.

What I particularly love about the characters in this book is the high level of representation. Many of them are non-binary, for example: we have people with facial hair who refer to themselves as she/her, and characters who are referred to as he/him that talk about using hormones in order to maintain a more masculine appearance. Similarly, we have characters with different skin tones, different races, different sizes. Lu, for instance, is overweight with pink dreads.

Here’s the blurb on the back:

When they were kids, Fassen’s fighter spaceship crash-landed on a planet that Lu’s survey force was exploring. It was a forbidden meeting between a kid from a war-focused resistance movement and a kid whose community and planet are dedicated to peace and secrecy.

Lu and Fassen are from different worlds and separate solar systems. But their friendship keeps them in each other’s orbit as they grow up. They stay in contact in secret as their communities are increasingly threatened by the omnipresent, ever-expanding empire.

As the empire begins a new attack against Fassen’s people–and discovers Lu’s in the process–the two of them have the chance to reunite at last. They finally are able to be together…but at what cost?

I’m very intrigued to see what my twelve-year-old thinks of it when he reads it.

So, those were my reads this month. What books did you read in January?


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