By Meg Wheeler
Now that the longest month of the year is over (goodbye, January!), I’m excited to welcome February, and with it Black History Month. For February’s Reading Challenge, we’re focusing on speculative fiction written by Black Canadian authors. The selected titles for this month offer something for everyone: a poetry chapbook, the first in an epic fantasy series, an intergenerational saga, and a fantasy novel complete with supernatural demons.
From Toronto-based poet Terese Mason Pierre comes Manifest, a gorgeous speculative/fantasy-filled journey to the outer limits of human desire. Mason Pierre’s romantic, dreamy, and ethereal language stops time: and in that held moment, we are transported to lands, beaches, and worlds that may only exist in our collective unconscious, but that move us toward a profoundly intimate understanding of what it means to be human.
Cybelle teaches English in a small city in Japan. Her contract is up for renewal, her mother is begging her to come back to Canada, and she is not sure where she belongs anymore. She faces ostracism and fear daily, but she loves her job, despite its increasing difficulties. She vows to do her best — even when her sleep, appetite, and life in general start to get weird, and conforming to the rules that once helped her becomes a struggle.
Meanwhile, yokai feast and cavort around Osaka and Kyoto as the barrier between their world and the human world thins. Zaniel spends his nights walking the dream world and serving his demon “bodyguard,” Akki. But there is a new yokai on the scene, and it has gotten on Akki’s bad side. When Cybelle gets caught up in the supernatural clash, she has to figure out what is real and, more importantly, what she really wants … before her life spirals out of control altogether.
3) Butter Honey Pig Bread, by francesca ekwuyasi
An intergenerational saga about three Nigerian women: a novel about food, family, and forgiveness.
Francesca Ekwuyasi’s debut novel tells the interwoven stories of twin sisters, Kehinde and Taiye, and their mother, Kambirinachi. Kambirinachi feels she was born an Ogbanje, a spirit that plagues families with misfortune by dying in childhood to cause its mother misery. She believes that she has made the unnatural choice of staying alive to love her human family and now lives in fear of the consequences of that decision.
Some of Kambirinachi’s worst fears come true when her daughter, Kehinde, experiences a devasting childhood trauma that causes the family to fracture in seemingly irreversible ways. As soon as she’s of age, Kehinde moves away and cuts contact with her twin sister and mother. Alone in Montreal, she struggles to find ways to heal while building a life of her own. Meanwhile, Taiye, plagued by guilt for what happened to her sister, flees to London and attempts to numb the loss of the relationship with her twin through reckless hedonism.
Now, after more than a decade of living apart, Taiye and Kehinde have returned home to Lagos to visit their mother. It is here that the three women must face each other and address the wounds of the past if they are to reconcile and move forward.
In the ancient city of Bassa, Danso is a clever scholar on the cusp of achieving greatness—only he doesn’t want it. Instead, he prefers to chase forbidden stories about what lies outside the city walls. The Bassai elite claim there is nothing of interest. The city’s immigrants are sworn to secrecy.
But when Danso stumbles across a warrior wielding magic that shouldn’t exist, he’s put on a collision course with Bassai’s darkest secrets. Drawn into the city’s hidden history, he sets out on a journey beyond its borders. And the chaos left in the wake of his discovery threatens to destroy the empire.