Typically, my preference is contemporary fantasy, though I’m still a fan of great sweeping, epics. But when it comes down to stories that have taken hold of my heart and rattled that bastard a little bit, it is both American Gods and Boneshaker that left me a bit verklempt.
There is no secret handshake, no furtive glances of knowing that can conceal my love for Gaiman and with American Gods, I found my writing bible. The story of Shadow Moon perfectly marries the traditions of the past and the elegant manner by which these traditions are past on through generations; particularly when those traditions are the treatment and care of long-forgotten gods.
Dipping back through tradition, holding it in your palm for the world to see, then flipping it on its ear is what makes American Gods a standout among contemporary fantasy fiction. There are no lush, fictional landscapes full of dragons or multiple Tolkien-esque battles colored by the fantastic, the sublime surreal found only in the pages of a made-up world. There is simply a common man, the architecture of the American traveler and the perfectly cast struggle Shadow endures on his journey. With his fiction, Gaiman attempts to tell a great story. American Gods isn’t a great story; it’s what writing fantasy is supposed to be.
Cherie Priest also forges a paradigm with her quintessential steampunk novel, Boneshaker. The first in her Clockwork Century series, Priest gives us Seattle in the throes of a catastrophic Civil War that has not died down and that has introduced weapons of mass destruction that birth zombies onto the unsuspecting American public.
There are dirigibles, steam powered everything, men and women fight the blight and the blight affected and a woman searching for her son and an end to the ghosts of the past. Folks told Priest that steampunk had to be Victorian, it had to be in England. Thank God she didn’t listen. Not only is Boneshaker the paradigm of how to write steampunk well, it is a bar set high leaving aspiring fantasy and sci-fi writers eager to catch its shiny brass, steam-powered rings.