Fantasy fiction

The Night Tiger

Author: 
Choo, Yangsze

An utterly transporting novel set in 1930s colonial Malaysia, perfect for fans of Isabel Allende and Min Jin Lee

Quick-witted, ambitious Ji Lin is stuck as an apprentice dressmaker, moonlighting as a dancehall girl to help pay off her mother’s Mahjong debts.

But when one of her dance partners accidentally leaves behind a gruesome souvenir, Ji Lin may finally get the adventure she has been longing for.

Eleven-year-old houseboy Ren is also on a mission, racing to fulfill his former master’s dying wish: that Ren find the man’s finger, lost years ago in an accident, and bury it with his body. Ren has 49 days to do so, or his master’s soul will wander the earth forever.

As the days tick relentlessly by, a series of unexplained deaths racks the district, along with whispers of men who turn into tigers. Ji Lin and Ren’s increasingly dangerous paths crisscross through lush plantations, hospital storage rooms, and ghostly dreamscapes.

Yangsze Choo's The Night Tiger pulls us into a world of servants and masters, age-old superstition and modern idealism, sibling rivalry and forbidden love.

But anchoring this dazzling, propulsive novel is the intimate coming-of-age of a child and a young woman, each searching for their place in a society that would rather they stay invisible. (From the publisher.)

Discussion Guide: 

1. The novel’s title evokes the story of the were tiger, "a beast who, when he chooses, puts on a human skin and comes from the jungle into the village to prey on humans." What is the significance of that Malayan folktale in the novel? What does it represent for the different characters?

2. Discuss the structure of the novel, alternating between Ren’s and Ji Lin’s perspectives. How do their narrative styles and worldviews compare? Do you prefer one to the other? How would the novel have been different had it only been from one perspective?

3. Discuss Ren’s relationship with Dr. MacFarlane. Does Ren’s desire to bring the finger to his former master’s grave come from a place of love or fear? How is Ren’s life shaped by the masters for whom he works, and how does he determine his own fate?

4. As a surgeon in Batu Gajah, William Acton straddles two worlds, that of the locals and that of the foreigners. What is his relationship to the local people, specifically the young women he sleeps with? Do you think his impact on the community is ultimately positive or negative? What does this novel have to say about race and class more generally?

5. Ji Lin is a more talented student than her stepbrother, Shin, but because she is a girl, she isn’t allowed to continue on to medical school with him. How does this novel portray gender dynamics in colonial Malaya? How do Ji Lin, Lydia, and the other women in the novel either conform to or rebel against societal expectations? What parallels do you see with today’s world?

6. At the beginning of the novel, Ji Lin leads two different lives—one as a dressmaker’s apprentice and one as "Louise," a dance-hall instructor. What are the pros and cons of each role? Does she find a way to reconcile these two sides of herself by the end of the novel?

7. Ji Lin reflects, "When people talked about being lucky, perhaps they simply wanted to feel powerful, as though they could manipulate fate." Discuss the role of superstition in this novel, in which the supposed luck of certain numbers in Chinese tradition motivates many of the characters. What about in your own life? Do you consider yourself to be superstitious?

8. While speaking with Ji Lin about the other Confucian Virtues, Yi notes, "there’s something a bit wrong with each of us." How do each of these characters—Ji Lin(knowledge), Ren (humanity), Shin (integrity), Yi (righteousness), and William/Lydia (ritual)—stray from their namesake values? At the end of the novel, are they more"right" or "wrong"?

9. In Chinese culture, the five Confucian Virtues are considered a matched set. Ji Lin reflects: "I had the odd fancy that the five of us were yoked by some mysterious fate. Drawn together, yet unable to break free, the tension made a twisted pattern. We must either separate ourselves, or come together." Discuss the tension between independence and dependence for these characters.

10. In his conversations with Ji Lin, Yi hints that the Confucian Virtue Li, meaning order or ritual, has been disrupted. What are some examples from the novel of characters, relationships, and other elements that are seemingly out of order or unconventional?

11. Discuss Ji Lin’s relationships with the men in her life. How do her experiences at the dance hall shape her views of men, in particular Shin? At the end of the novel, she wonders, "Had I managed to catch up to Shin, or had he, by playing a cool and patient game, ensnared me instead?" What does she mean, and what do you think the answer is? Do you think Ji Lin and Shin will ultimately get married?

12. Why do you think Yi disappears from Ji Lin’s and Ren’s lives at the end of the novel? What previously unfinished business does he complete? Discuss how the supernatural twines through this novel. Do you believe that the dead can continue to communicate with the living, as Yi does?

13. Although Lydia is proven to be a murderer, she also works hard to improve the lives of Malayan women. Does her charity work at all redeem her in your eyes? Do you think she is in part a victim of her circumstances?

14. The novel ends with Ji Lin, Shin, Ren, Ah Long, and Rawlings all headed to Singapore. What do you think the future holds for them? Are you glad the ending leaves open the possibility of a sequel?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

The Starless Sea

Author: 
Morgenstern, Erin

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a rare book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues--a bee, a key, and a sword--that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to a subterranean library, hidden far below the surface of the earth. What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians--it is a place of lost cities and seas of honey, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction. Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a beautiful barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose--in both the rare book and in his own life-- Provided by publisher.

Discussion Guide: 

1. Talk about the underground realm of the Starless Sea. How would you describe the library to someone who has never read the book?

2. Three of the book's most prominent symbols, in a book full of them, are a sword, a key, and a bee. What is the role each symbol plays in the book and what does each signify, or represent?

3. One of the novel's central ideas is that we are our stories. How does this theme unfold during the course of the story?

4. (Follow-up to Question 3) In what way is this book about Zachary's life story—that as a child he made a choice not to open a magical door? What does he learn throughout this book about how that decision altered his life? What about turning points in your own life. Do you think back on some of them and wonder how a different decision might have led you on a completely different path?

5. (Follow-up to Question 4) The novel asks the question, if a single decision can alter the direction of our lives, to what degree are we in charge of our own stories/lives? Are our lives subject to fate, or destiny?

6. In what way is The Starless Sea also about how stories take over our lives? Zachary, for instance is presented with "a labyrinthine of tunnels and rooms filled with stories." How can he (or we) not be drawn in? 7. Morgenstern has packed her novel with literary allusions. Even Zachary's own name contains three of them. Can you unpack others: consider works by Lewis Carroll, Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling. J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Jules Verne. Can you identify others? Are the literary references clever "affectations," or do they actually affect the plot of the novel?

8. Which of the mysterious characters were you most puzzled by… intrigued by… or drawn to? Take any one of the following, for instance: Rhyme, the Keeper, Mirabel (is she Fate…or is she the Moon?), Allegra, Eleanor, and Simon. Any others?

9. Zachary observes at one point that reading a novel is like "playing a game where all the choices have been made for you ahead of time by someone who is much better at this particular game." Care to comment on that statement?

10. What was your experience reading The Starless Sea? Was it what you had hoped for? More than you'd hoped for? Less? Did you find yourself entering a world of enchantment… or a cluttered, confusing world? In other words, were you pleased or disappointed? How would you compare this book to Morgenstern's first, The Night Circus?

(Question by LitLovers)

The Handmaid's Tale

Author: 
Atwood, Margaret

In the world of the near future, who will control women's bodies?

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read.

She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable.

Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now.

Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid's Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force. (From the publisher.)

Discussion Guide: 

1. The novel begins with three epigraphs. What are their functions?

2. In Gilead, women are categorized as wives, handmaids, Marthas, or Aunts, but Moira refuses to fit into a niche. Offred says she was like an elevator with open sides who made them dizzy; she was their fantasy. Trace Moira's role throughout the tale to determine what she symbolizes.

3. Aunt Lydia, Janine, and Offred's mother also represent more than themselves. What do each of their characters connote? What do the style and color of their clothes symbolize?

4. At one level, The Handmaid's Tale is about the writing process. Atwood cleverly weaves this sub-plot into a major focus with remarks by Offred such as "Context is all, " and "I've filled it out for her," "I made that up," and "I wish this story were different." Does Offred's habit of talking about the process of storytelling make it easier or more difficult for you to suspend disbelief?

5. A palimpsest is a medieval parchment that scribes attempted to scrape clean and use again, though they were unable to obliterate all traces of the original. How does the new republic of Gilead's social order often resemble a palimpsest?

6. The Commander in the novel says you can't cheat nature. How do characters find ways to follow their natural instincts?

7. Why is the Bible under lock and key in Gilead?

8. Babies are referred to as "a keeper, "unbabies, " "shredders." What other real or fictional worlds do these terms suggest?

9. Atwood's title brings to mind titles from Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Why might Atwood have wanted you to make that connection?

10. What do you feel the "Historical Notes" at the book's end add to the reading of this novel? What does the book's last line mean to you?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

The Time Traveler's Wife

Author: 
Niffenegger, Audrey

A dazzling novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare's passionate love affair endures across a sea of time and captures the two lovers in an impossibly romantic trap, and it is Audrey Niffenegger's cinematic storytelling that makes the novel's unconventional chronology so vibrantly triumphant.

An enchanting debut and a spellbinding tale of fate and belief in the bonds of love, The Time Traveler's Wife is destined to captivate readers for years to come. (From the publisher.)

Discussion Guide: 

1. In The Time Traveler’s Wife, the characters meet each other at various times during their lifetime. How does the author keep all the timelines in order and “on time”?

2. Although Henry does the time traveling, Clare is equally impacted. How does she cope with his journeys and does she ultimately accept them?

3. How does the writer introduce the reader to the concept of time travel as a realistic occurrence? Does she succeed?

4. Henry’s life is disrupted on multiple levels by spontaneous time travel. How does his career as a librarian offset his tumultuous disappearances? Why does that job appeal to Henry?

5. Henry and Clare know each other for years before they fall in love as adults. How does Clare cope with the knowledge that at a young age she knows that Henry is the man she will eventually marry?

6. The Time Traveler’s Wife is ultimately an enduring love story. What trials and tribulations do Henry and Clare face that are the same as or different from other “normal” relationships?

7. How does their desire for a child affect their relationship?

8. The book is told from both Henry and Clare’s perspectives. What does this add to the story?

9. Do you think the ending of the novel is satisfactory?

10. Though history there have been dozens of mediums used for time travel in literature. Please site examples and compare The Time Traveler’s Wife to the ones with which you are familiar.
(Questions issued by publisher.)

Ready Player One

Author: 
Cline, Ernest

At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, Ready Player One is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake ... A quest for the ultimate prize ... Are you ready? (From the publisher.)

Discussion Guide: 

1. The OASIS becomes a part of daily life for users around the globe. What virtual realms (Google, Facebook, iCloud) do you depend on? What is at stake in the war against IOI, the internet service provider that wants to overturn Halliday’s affordable, open-source approach? Is it dangerous to mix profit and dependence on technology?

2. Explore the question of identity raised in the novel. What do the characters’ avatars tell us about their desires and their insecurities? In reality, does our physical appearance give false clues about who we really are? How does Parzival, transformed into a celebrity gunter, become Wade’s true self?

3. With a narrator who vividly captures the human experience, Ready Player One delivers a world that is easy for us to imagine. In the novel, what was at the root of the grim downturn for Earth’s inhabitants? Could your community start looking like the stacks by the year 2044?

4. How does love affect Wade’s rational mind? Would you have given Art3mis the tip about playing on the left side to defeat the lich (page 99, chapter ten)? Did you predict that she would turn out to be a friend or a foe?

5. How does public school in the OASIS compare to your experience in school? Has author Ernest Cline created a solution to classroom overcrowding, student apathy, and school violence?

6. In his Columbus bunker, Wade puts on so many pounds that he can no longer fit comfortably in his haptic chair. How would you fare in his weight-loss program, described in chapter nineteen, featuring a simulation gym, coaching from Max, and a lockout system that restricts his diet and forces him to exercise?

7. Wade’s OASIS pass phrase is revealed on page 199, at the end of chapter nineteen: “No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful.” What does this philosophy mean to him at that point in his life?

8. How is the novel shaped by the 1980s backdrop, featuring John Hughes films, suburban shows like Family Ties, a techno-beat soundtrack, and of course, a slew of early video games? Did Halliday grow up in a utopia?

9. Discuss Bryce Lynch’s financial situation, rigged so that Wade could infiltrate IOI. When does Wade become willing to “die trying”? How did you react to the image of debtors being forced into indentured servitude?

10. Wade doesn’t depend on religion to make moral decisions or overcome life-threatening challenges. What does the novel say about humanity’s relationship to religion? What sort of god is Halliday, creator of the OASIS universe?

11. Despite their introverted nature, the book’s characters thrive on friendship. Discuss the level of trust enjoyed by Halliday and Og, and among Wade, Aech, Art3mis, Daito, and Shoto. How is true power achieved in Ready Player One?

12. In the closing scenes, Halliday’s reward proves to be greater than mere wealth. What is Halliday’s ultimate prize? How did the rules of Halliday’s game help him determine the type of player who would likely win?

13. In his quest for the three keys, Wade is required to inhabit many imaginary worlds, including movies, video games, and a simulation of Halliday’s childhood home. Which of these virtual realities appealed to you the most? What sort of virtual reality is provided by a novel?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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