Hello! Today I’m writing a recommendation post that is somewhat unusual, at least by my standards. I started out with the idea to write a post in the vein of “if you liked this, try that”, but the issue with that kind of format is that one of the two books needs to be more well-known than the other.
For most comparisons I came up with, it wasn’t always easy to determine which of the two people would be more familiar with, so I came up with something a little different – books that match. They’re not necessarily similar, but they may have some elements in common, like atmosphere or character types or the general mood; they may work really well in a conversation with each other, or if read close together. Maybe it almost feels like they complete each other.
#1: The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders and Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang
- quiet, unhurried, introspective science fiction full of social commentary
- focusing on the main characters’ loss of faith in the system
- each explores the dynamics between two societies who both believe their way of living is the way of living
- about the dangers of nationalism, cultural exceptionalism, and lack of open-mindedness
This is the pairing that inspired this post. I read Vagabonds not long after The City in the Middle of the Night, and I kind of felt like they were in a conversation with each other while not being similar at all. They both engage with what it means to be free by talking about different societies’ ideas about freedom, comparing individualism and collectivism, comparing societies where rules are taken to the extreme or disregarded, talking about the tyranny of the market or the tyranny of rush. They both follow characters who are not neatly part of one culture, giving insight into that as well. Despite all of this, they don’t focus on the exact same questions, and when they give answers they give very different ones: I feel like they complete each other.
- The City in the Middle of the Night involves aliens later on, while Vagabonds feels more like an attempt at a prediction of the future
- Vagabonds is set on Mars, while the other is set on a fictional, tidally locked planet (one half is always day, one half is always night)
- The City in the Middle of the Night is queer and explores a toxic relationship blurring the boundaries between friendship and romance; Vagabonds is very much not but talks far more in depth about family
#2: Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist and The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake
- contemp-set YA focusing on mental health & unfortunate family legacies
- following a bisexual girl who has to solve a mystery while falling in love with a girl in the process; ghosts may or may not be present
- about finding your people, if in different ways
- also more of a coincidence than anything else but in both the main character has a shaved head
These are two of my favorite contemporary-set F/F books I’ve read in the last year, and thinking about it, they have a lot in common, especially in the way they talk about mental health, mental illness and trauma (also with a focus on what’s passed down from one generation to another). One is a paranormal mystery and one is a contemporary with a small mystery aspect, so the overall mood is different – on this list, this is probably the pairing with more differences between the books – but their heart isn’t. Both follow complicated queer girls who are allowed to be messy and “too much” and all the things a girl isn’t allowed to be while still being likable, and I appreciated them a lot for that.
- The Last True Poets of the Sea is a story about found family, while Missing, Presumed Dead is about climbing out from isolation, in a way
- while neither are light reads, Missing, Presumed Dead has a far gloomier atmosphere, also because of the paranormal aspect the other book doesn’t have (as much?)
- The Last True Poets of the Sea has a beautiful, far more relaxed atmosphere and it’s set in a small town on the coast of Maine; Missing, Presumed Dead is set in Los Angeles and it’s… far from relaxed, just very exhausted
#3: Never-Contented Things and You Must Not Miss
- stories about teenagers failed by the adults around them
- dealing with abuse and sexual assault
- contemporary-set, with a dark speculative twist involving a parallel world
- following queer and trans characters
If we want to talk about books that felt as if they were in a conversation (…despite probably having nothing to do with each other), this is another example. In both of these, a teen is driven to their breaking point by the failures of the adults around them, by the lack of a support system; this breaking point involves a dark, maybe-not-so-fictional world that ends up interfering with their daily lives. However, the paths these books choose are completely different, one being about self-love in the face of deep self-loathing and years of abuse, the other being about escape and revenge fantasies. Completely different answers to a not-so-different premise.
- Never-Contented Things is more firmly horror than You Must Not Miss, being dreamlike in a nightmarish way, and involving horribly cruel fairies; the second one feels like a YA contemporary for most of the story
- Never-Contented Things is overall much darker but also has more of a romance than You Must Not Miss;
- both involve sexual assault in the backstory, but Never-Contented Things deals with escaping incestuous abuse, while You Must Not Miss deals with having an alcoholic parent and being assaulted at a party while intoxicated.
#4: Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas and The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett
- YA fantasy heavy on the political intrigue, with a mystery subplot
- following a reluctant, inexperienced, aspiring-scientist queen
- with a good helping of murder!
These two very under-the-radar YA fantasy books are so similar in the beginning that when I started The Winter Duke I felt like I was having a flashback of Long May She Reign, but then they take completely different directions, which is perfect for this post. While both focus on the heroine’s attempt to rule while trying to solve the mystery that devastated her royal family, one is a story about growing into your role and turning your weaknesses into strengths, while the other is a story about disentangling from a thorny situation by trusting the people who care about you instead of following the trail of power, the legacy of violence of your family. They’re maybe not great to read back-to-back (too many similarities) but the experience of reading one is enriched by having read the other.
- Long May She Reign is a story with almost no magic and a lot of chemistry, while magic has an important role in The Winter Duke and science takes a backseat.
- The first takes place in a country inspired by France, the other is set in a winter country over an icy, magical lake with a secret city in its depths
- neither have a prominent romance, but The Winter Duke is F/F and Long May She Reign is an unnecessarily straight book.
#5: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust and The Never-Tilting World by Rin Chupeco
- F/F YA fantasy set in a world inspired by ancient West Asia
- main character trapped & manipulated by her mother because of her power
- reaching towards the darkness and the forbidden to escape
These books aren’t similar at all, actually! That’s what happens when one is a quiet single-PoV fantasy and the other is a four-PoV book full of action, but I specifically want to draw a comparison between Soraya’s PoV in Girl, Serpent, Thorn and Odessa’s in The Never-Tilting World, as both feature an F/F romance and what looks like a set-up for a “descent into darkness” arc, but take completely different directions upon that; if one is about self-acceptance, the other is about the greed driven by insecurity, the addicting nature of power and righteous anger. In both cases, however, the weakness comes from the same place: the lies of a parent, and having endured growing up in forced isolation from the rest of the world.
- as I said, The Never-Tilting World has at least two PoVs that have nothing to do with Odessa, so take that into account, and it has an unnecessary amount of action scenes
- Girl, Serpent, Thorn is inspired by Zoroastrian beliefs and ancient Persia, The Never-Tilting World by ancient Mesopotamian religion
- Girl, Serpent, Thorn is self-contained and fairytale-like; The Never-Tilting World is the beginning of a duology and feels bigger in scope.
Have you read any of these? Have you ever found that some books matched each other?