In the tradition of Jane Eyre, Gemma Hardy is a strong-willed, determined orphan living in Scotland who endures the kinds of trials only orphans in literature can endure before growing into the young lady that we would all love to be. Livesey explores many of the tropes of this type of tale, but includes surprising detours, including Gemma’s exploration of her heritage in Iceland, a kindly lesbian couple who show her kindness andrefuge at a particularly low moment in her life, and a development of her character that goes far beyond the genre and into a more realistic growth. Margot Livesey writes beautifully and while her story of the orphan mistreated by her adopted parent who escapes to boarding school only to be disappointed by the harsh cruelties of growing up is familiar, she avoids the melodrama that often accompanies these tales. Her settings are unique and fascinating, and her characters rich and fully drawn. In a different year, this one would be near the top of this list. This book is due out at the beginning of February.
Gregory Maguire wraps up his epic Oz series with a grand, complex journey centered around Rain, grand-daughter of the famous? notorious? Elphaba, self-styled Wicked Witch of the West. As usual, Gregory weaves Baum’s original tapestry into his work, while commenting with insight on politics, morality and human nature. The cast of characters is large, with just about all the players from the previous three books making appearances again, but Gregory skillfully brings them in without your having to go back and reread the books from years past to remember what’s going on. His Dorothy Gale is a strangely ridiculous and heroic character all at once. It’s a tour de force, and it’s a very satisfying conclusion.