Every chapter in Medieval Bodies (W.W. Norton, $29.95) could be its own book, but art historian Jack Hartnell does a fantastic job of presenting facts, analysis, and context in a way that is both detailed and succinct. This book is more than just a look back at medieval medical practices; it connects arts, stories, and religious thought of the era to paint a rich picture of how bodies and their functions were perceived at the time. Hartnell successfully demonstrates that the Middle Ages were quite far from the mistaken idea that they were purely a time of darkness, pain, and poor dental hygiene. He is a great advocate, versed in both art history and the scientific practices of the time. The volume is also richly illustrated, making it one of the most beautiful and unusual histories published this year.
Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth (Tor.com, $25.99) is science fiction, fantasy, a locked creepy castle mystery, an aesthetic, and a dozen Halloween costume ideas, all in one. This mashup might seem too wild to be good, but Muir perhaps possesses her own brand of magic, an ability to disregard any and all genre conventions and combine all these elements into something truly incredible. Gideon the Ninth is about a solar system of political intrigue, necromancers, secret knowledge, and martial arts. It is intricately wrought, with a full mythology behind it. It comes with wonderful characters and complex relationships, including the central one between Gideon and Harrow that will bring you both tears and joy. The dialogue is a giddy mix of modern-day language, stupid jokes, sarcasm, dark humor, and sharp comebacks. This is the perfect gift for that friend who thinks Halloween should be a year-round holiday. Or perhaps, if your soul is cynical, morbid, and queer, this is the perfect book for you.
Finally, someone has combined all my interests in one book: queer longing, death, kinky art, and taxidermy. Mix in grief and big questions about how one loves and fits in with their family, and you have Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett. This is a visceral (often with actual viscera) and physical book, filled with bodies and intimacy. And yet this physicality only serves to show that achieving emotional intimacy and openness is often much more difficult than creating a perfect peacock mount.