The sun’s shining, the barbecue’s lit, and every insect known to man crawls out of the ninth circle of Hell to invade my personal space.
I wouldn’t say I hate the summer. Hate seems too strong a word for summer when people like Donald Trump exist, but it’s definitely my least favourite season. I love the sunshine and I love being able to go outside without putting on a jacket, but being hot and sweaty and sticky is my worst nightmare.
So for those of you who are also in the northern hemisphere and can’t wait for the colder weather to arrive, I’m here today to recommend you some novels with lovely, chilly settings to cool you off until then!
The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher
When Gerta’s friend Kay is stolen away by the mysterious Snow Queen, it’s up to Gerta to find him. Her journey will take her through a dangerous land of snow and witchcraft, accompanied only by a bandit and a talking raven. Can she win her friend’s release, or will following her heart take her to unexpected places?
This fun, tongue-in-cheek retelling of The Snow Queen is the perfect read for those of you who like to consume a book in one sitting. If you’re spending the day at the beach (in any shady patch you can find) this is the kind of novel you could read in its entirety in a few hours, and there’s plenty of snow to distract you from all that sand…
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
1867, Canada: as winter tightens its grip on the isolated settlement of Dove River, a man is brutally murdered and a 17-year old boy disappears. Tracks leaving the dead man’s cabin head north towards the forest and the tundra beyond. In the wake of such violence, people are drawn to the township – journalists, Hudson’s Bay Company men, trappers, traders – but do they want to solve the crime or exploit it?
One-by-one the assembled searchers set out from Dove River, pursuing the tracks across a desolate landscape home only to wild animals, madmen and fugitives, variously seeking a murderer, a son, two sisters missing for 17 years, a Native American culture, and a fortune in stolen furs before the snows settle and cover the tracks of the past for good.
Perhaps you prefer a good old fashioned mystery novel, in which case this historical novel set in 19th century Canada at the height of winter is the book for you. This novel essentially follows a woman searching for her son with the help of a First Nations man after he’s suspected of murdering one of their neighbours, but really it’s a novel about the town as a whole and the history of the relationship between North America’s indigenous people and its white settlers. I read this novel over three years ago and still think about it regularly.
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.
Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.
Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.
I’m never going to miss an opportunity to gush about one of my favourite novels. The Goblin Emperor takes place during winter – there’s even a winter ball – but it’s a book I tend to associate with the summer because I first read it back in August 2015. Ever since then I get an itch to re-read it each summer! If you’re the kind of reader who reaches for high fantasy during the summer, this is one that will help you forget how hot it is outside.
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.
Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.
If you’re travelling this summer, it can be fun to read about someone else travelling, too. In the first book of The Memoirs of Lady Trent, aspiring dragon naturalist Isabella manages to secure her place on an expedition to the cold mountains of Vystrana to study the dragons there, and she’s not afraid to remind you just how cold she is. If you’re a fan of audiobooks, I’d highly recommend the audio versions of this series narrated by the wonderful Kate Reading!
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.
But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth–especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.
I couldn’t miss another opportunity to gush about my book of the year so far, the retelling of Rumpelstiltskin with three amazing heroines I’ve been waiting my whole life for. Moneylender Miryem ends up striking a bargain with the king of the Staryk – fae creatures that essentially read like winter elves who love the cold – and even when spring comes, the Staryk have the power to keep the land covered in snow. This is one of those novels you have to experience for yourself – it’s nothing short of a masterpiece.