So, last week I intended to do a review of Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, or maybe Tessa Gratton’s The Lost Sun. I had Bookstore Plans.
This did not happen because I live in Colorado, on the Front Range, and ever since last Wednesday we’ve been having floods so destructive and deadly that the term ‘thousand-year flood‘ has been thrown around.
Now, I’m lucky. I live on the second floor of a building that doesn’t leak, so my biggest problem this weekend was watching the highway behind my apartment turn into a muddy torrent and shoveling the rain off my doorstep to keep it from creeping under the door. That, and being trapped. Many people are bailing water out of their houses and ripping up carpet to beat the rot. Some people are missing. Some people are dead.
Technically I had very little to do, but it’s super-hard to concentrate on Latin translations when your street is being slowly swallowed by water. So instead I turned to some old comfort reading: the Kiesha’Ra series, by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes.
I freely admit that this series is not perfect. The prose can get odd at times, the dialogue occasionally flops, and the worldbuilding, while fantastic, would have worked better if it was set in a secondary world. But it has a lot of things that make it perfect for comfort reading. Which got me thinking about what, exactly, I look for in a book when comfort is what I want, so here are a couple of things that make the Kiesha’ra books good comfort reading for me:
1. They’re familiar to me. Probably not as important to other people, but I reread things pretty much constantly because I do not have the funds to feed my reading habit otherwise. I have read these books in particular a thousand times over. They are not going to surprise me. They’ll behave exactly how I expect them to, which is a very, very good thing when the rest of the world is going to hell. Plus, to me, rereading a really familiar book feels kind of like coming home. Which is nice when your town is nearly unrecognizable.
2. You can get lost in the world. One thing these books do very well is to immerse you fully in another place and time. There are two (later three and four) distinct cultures involved, and all of them have complex heritage, as well as different values. (And yeah–there are absolutely cultural stereotypes at play, although I like to think they improve a bit over the course of the series.) The secondary language is created so well that you can see the cultural influence on the way the language has evolved. The gods or concepts–whatever you want to call them–that are referenced have complex and varied meanings, and by the end of the series you understand them fully. In the end it all makes absolute and total sense to you, so much so that you really feel like you’re somewhere else–it’s fantastic escapism.
3. Really bad things happen but they turn out okay in the end. The series starts out fairly innocently, with two leaders of warring factions trying to end the war. Simple, right? Except that by the end of the series you can’t imagine how they could ever have been so naive because there are a thousand complicated factors they didn’t know about and all of a sudden the ENTIRE FREAKING WORLD IS AT STAKE. People who were little more than background names are suddenly screwing around with everybody’s futures, all the myths that nobody paid much attention to are coming to life, and everything we thought was familiar is suddenly changed in ways we could never have guessed at. It’s nice to see these things turn out okay in the end, because life–especially in a disaster zone–has no such guarantees.
4. Also I have an unabashed reader-writer-crush on the main character of Wyvernhail. She’s awesome.
After I finished Kiesha’ra I started in on Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles, which are comfort reading for entirely different reasons: they’re benign, they’re lighthearted, and they’re fun. They poke absurd amounts of fun at fairy tales and take unashamed delight in flipping tropes on their heads. They are so genre-aware and meta that it should break suspension of disbelief into tiny, tiny pieces, and instead I always end up being entirely absorbed anyway. Obviously comfort reading comes in many different guises.
So I’m curious: are there any books you return to when you’re tired or stressed or life is hard? What characteristics do you like in comfort reading?