Stephen King's The Dark Tower series (be warned, there are spoilers):
I recently read all the Dark Tower books; the first 4 I'd read before but mostly forgotten, and the last 3 were new to me. While the series was long (and as usual for King could have been edited down), it is the best work I've read by him in ages.
The mix of fantasy with a multi-verse of recent 'earths' was well done. King's use of his past works and tales we grew up with (Oz in particular) as stories within the story gave the series deeper roots than I expected. A lot of that may be that one of the first "horror" novels I read was Salem's Lot, in I think sixth grade, and I grew up reading his older books alongside Beowulf and Oedipus; Homer, Tolkien, Baum, Heinlein, Shakespeare and Herbert, etc.
The world of mid-realm and the Tower reminded me of The Territories in The Talisman to some extent, but the dead/useless technology and the mythical wild-west tone kept things fresh. I was pleasantly surprised by how well the various stories and worlds intertwined.
And then I got to book 7, The Dark Tower, and King both angered and impressed me. The sections on "keystone" earth in the north-east and stopping the breakers felt rushed yet over detailed. I thought King brought in too many new characters this close to the end. And using his own personal life as a plot point pissed me off; I almost put the book down and left it unfinished when Jake died again. But I wanted to know what happened to Susannah enough to keep reading, and King redeemed himself at the end.
There are a few quote worthy passages that follow Jake's death, as the tale winds down that I want to keep:
... Perhaps later he could indulge in hysteria-or even irina, the healing madness-but not now. He would not break now. ...
Time flies, knells call, life passes, so hear my prayer.
Birth is nothing but death begun, so hear my prayer.
Death is speechless, so hear my speech.
This is Jake who served his ka and his tet. Say true.
May his life on this earth and the pain of his passing become as a dream to his waking soul, and let his eyes fall upon every lovely sight; let him find the friends that were lost to him, and let every one whose name he calls call him in return.
This is Jake, who lived well, loved his own, and died as ka would have it.
Each man owes a death. This is Jake. Give him peace.
And later, Susannah travels to another New York, and is reunited in a way with Eddie and Jake.
And will I tell you that these three lived happily ever after? I will not, for no one ever does. But there was happiness.
And they did live.
Elizabeth Bear's Bone & Jewel Creatures (more spoilers, but I'm not giving away the ending):
This is literally a jewel of a book in my opinion. The printing is gorgeous, the story short yet rich and full of wonder, and the characters - well, I'll get to those in a minute.
Bear gives us a small corner of a world, a city-state ruled by a powerful man who is none-the-less limited by his council. The population ranges from ordinary men, women and animals, to priests/priestesses of multiple Godesses and Gods, to the wizards of life and death and their creations. The three main characters, Bijou, Emeraude, and Brazen are wrapped up in a tale of magical craft and set against a necromancer, Kaulas, in a battle which will determine whether Messaline becomes a city of dead thralls or remains a city of the living.
I've been reading Bear's books for a long time, and this novella clearly illustrates how much she's "leveled up" as a writer since her early work, especially in terms of character development. She seems to have the art of showing without too much telling, a degree of skill that many authors never reach.
Bijou is so beautifully written it hurts; an aging Artificer, a wizard who turns bone, wire and (semi-)precious stones into filigreed creatures capable of understanding and completing the most delicate tasks. She struggles with her limitations, the way aging has slowed down her body, her gait, her hands. But she is still a strong woman, one who refuses to back down, who knows death is coming and races to finish as much as she can before being taken. Bijou would clearly rather burn out than linger, so she pushes herself constantly to do more.
Emeraude is a feral child, abandoned because of a deformed hand and raised by jackals. Brazen brings her to Bijou when his staff finds the girl injured and near death, hoping Bijou can save her and will take her as an apprentice. Bijou must amputate her lower arm/hand to save her life, but uses the bones to create an artificial hand that is more deft than the deformed one she removed.
Emeraude does not speak (although she does make sounds and gestures that allow her to communicate with her jackal pack), but she is fiercely intelligent and loyal, and both Bijou and Brazen believe she may be magically gifted. As she heals under Bijou's care, she rapidly discovers ways to assist her "old-mother" and begins to think of Bijou's bone creatures as a second pack; ultimately bringing her jackal family to Bijou's workshop so they become in many ways one pack.
Brazen is another Wizard/Artificer, although his creatures are animated with tiny gears and steam-driven machinery. He is Kaulas' son, but was mostly raised by and apprenticed to Bijou. He is the least interesting of the trio to me, but that may be because of his ostentatious style and "loud" voice. None-the-less, he's a good man with a troubled past, and he does all he can to determine Kaulas' intentions and thwart his plans.
There are no-doubt many things that I missed in Bear's tale, but for me this book hit home on a lot of personal levels, clarifying things I have yet to learn. I felt strong connections to both Bijou and Emeraude and their characters' paths. Bijou's tenacity and ability to work through pain is a skill I'm slowly developing, while Emeraude's ability to adapt and accept change is a something I need to learn to do.
Much like Isabelle Allende's The House of Spirits - particularly the story of Alba - gave me a new way to view my own story and helped me heal, I think Bone and Jewel Creatures will help me sort through some of my impairments and cope with them more creatively.