Sleeps With Monsters: Forthcoming (Queer) Novels Starring (Queer) Women


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A few days before I sat down to write this post, I asked a wide range of my acquaintance on the hellsite known as Twitter whether there were any novels or novellas featuring f/f relationships or starring queer women that they knew and were looking forward to in the second half of 2019 or definitely earmarked for 2020. It turns out that there are quite a few—forty-odd, in fact.

Progress is a fine thing.

Some of these novels were personally recommended to me by people who’ve previously had good form on telling if I’d like something. Some of them are sequels to novels that I deeply enjoyed, or from authors with a track record of writing things I enjoy. And some of them I know almost nothing about, besides their cover copy and the news that they’re queer. A handful I’ve already read. I’ll make it clear which is which, ...

Trouble on Silicon Isle: Waste Tide by Chen Qiufan


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Chen Qiufan is a Chinese science-fiction author whose works have won a number of awards. His short fiction has appeared in translation in Clarkesworld and Lightspeed, among other publications. His first novel, The Waste Tide, was published in China in 2013. As Waste Tide, it’s now been translated into English by Ken Liu, whose translation of Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem won the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel, and whose fiction has won awards in its own right.

Chen grew up near Guiyu, a place in China that’s now home to the world’s largest e-waste recycling centre. Waste Tide sets itself in a location that appears to have strong influences from reality: in a near-future world, “Silicon Isle” receives electronic waste from all over the world. Three local clans—lineage associations that on Silicon Isle operate a little bit like the mob—control the e-waste business and ...

More Trouble to Come: Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse


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Rebecca Roanhorse burst onto the SFF writing scene in the last couple of years. Her “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience” (Apex, 2017) took home the Nebula and Hugo Awards for Best Short Story, and she has also won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her debut novel, Trail of Lightning, came out last year to wide acclaim. It has the distinction of being a post-apocalyptic novel by a Native American author about Native American (Navajo, or Diné) characters. The same is true for the sequel, Storm of Locusts, which strikes me as a stronger, leaner novel.

Where Trail of Lightning reminded me, tonally, of a late nineties/early 2000s urban fantasy novel (before that genre became very much intertwined with the structures and tone of romance), wearing its hard-bitten noirish thriller influences plainly on its sleeve, its pacing and structure were less accomplished than ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Forests, Kingdoms, and Secrets


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This week I want to talk to you about two very different books: Joan He’s debut fantasy Descendant of the Crane, set in a world which draws inspiration from Chinese history and culture; and Jaime Lee Moyer’s Brightfall, a fresh new approach to the Robin Hood mythos set in a medieval Sherwood Forest filled with Fae lords and magic.

Descendant of the Crane, guys. Guys. This is a gorgeous novel, full of tension and incident. Hesina is our main character. She’s a young woman who believes her father was murdered. Her father was the emperor, and she’s first in line to inherit. But her kingdom isn’t the land of fairness, justice, and good laws enforced by uncorrupted people that she’s been raised to believe it is (and has always wanted to believe it is). There are deep fault lines in her society, going all the way back ...

A Satisfying Conclusion: The Unbound Empire by Melissa Caruso


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It’s no secret that I thoroughly enjoyed the first two novels in Melissa Caruso’s Swords and Fire trilogy, The Tethered Mage and The Defiant Heir. When I tell you The Unbound Empire is even better than Caruso’s earlier offerings, then, you should be aware I may be biased by my existing delight. But The Unbound Empire builds on everything that came before it, mounting to a stunning conclusion—one that more than pays off three volumes of character development and political shenanigans. I don’t often use the term tour de force. Most of the time, it makes me suspicious when I come across it as a description. But when it comes to The Unbound Empire?

As far as I’m concerned, it fits.

In The Defiant Heir, Amalia learned how terrible an enemy she and her city had in the Witch Lord Ruven, and how ruthless she could be in order ...

Compelling Contemporary Fantasy: Ragged Alice by Gareth L. Powell


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I’m much more familiar with Gareth L. Powell’s science fiction than with any work he’s previously done in the fantasy vein. Embers of War and Fleet of Knives are his most recent work, part of an interesting space opera trilogy, and although I haven’t read his Ack-Ack Macaque, its BSFA-Award-winning status offers some endorsement as to its quality.

Ragged Alice is a low-key contemporary fantasy. DCI Holly Craig has had a successful career with the London Metropolitan Police, albeit one marked by her isolation from colleagues, her lack of meaningful relationships, and her alcoholism-as-coping-method. Orphaned young, she was raised by her grandfather in the small Welsh coastal village of Pontyrhudd, a place she left as soon as she could—a place where a brush with death-by-drowning on the eve of her departure for university gave her the ability to see the shadows on people’s souls. (An ability she never wanted ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Two Uneven SF Sequels


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This week I’m going to talk about two sequels, one of which I liked a lot better than the other. Part of this is down to my enjoyment of the characters, but part of it, too, is that one of the novels is advertised as the second part of a duology, but it closes on a note that raises as many questions as it answers. The other novel makes no claims to completing its series arc, but it finishes in an emotionally satisfying place, even if it does leave a wide-open door for “further adventures”—and terrible threats.

Jaine Fenn’s Broken Shadow concludes the duology which began in Hidden Suns. (“Concludes” feels to me like a generous word: I do not feel emotionally satisfied at all.) In Broken Shadow, the reader is offered confirmation of what I suspected, reading Hidden Suns. This is not a fantasy universe, but a ...

Aftermath of a Revolution: Amnesty by Lara Elena Donnelly


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Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough series, which began in 2017’s Amberlough, continued with last year’s Armistice, and concludes (it seems) in this latest volume, Amnesty, has always focused on complicated people whose ethics are at best extremely flexible and at worst practically non-existent. None of these characters are good people: most of them are fundamentally selfish, frequently ambitious, and guided primarily by what they want, rather than any idea of their responsibility to other people. (Even their love affairs are, at root, fundamentally selfish.)

So it’s quite a triumph of craft that, nonetheless, Donnelly is able to make many of her characters understandable, relatable, and even sympathetic. Donnelly’s good at showing ordinary people—people who just want to get on, get ahead—caught and ground up in the gears of movements, moments, and politics that are bigger than they are.

Amberlough focussed on spy Cyril DePaul, his lover Aristide ...

Rich and Complicated Survival Horror: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling


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The cover copy of The Luminous Dead, Caitlin Starling’s debut novel, makes it sound like a pretty piece of science fiction horror. The mines of Cassandra-V produce profitable minerals, but the planet itself is no garden world. Expeditions into the planet’s caves to find new mining sites are extremely dangerous. Aside from the usual hazards of caving (a dangerous occupation at the best of times), the caves are home to Tunnelers, a native species that’s drawn to heat and sound, and whose behaviour can change the topography of a cave system—also they’re deadly and nigh-unstoppable.

Gyre, an inexperienced (but competent) caver, has lied her way onto an expedition that’s offering a big payout—a payout big enough to get her off-planet. She thought she’d be working with a skilled surface team to monitor her suit and environment, and help keep her safe and sane in the dangerous, isolating dark. But ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Brief and Complementary Tales


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I’m sitting here, friends, trying to think of how to frame this week’s column. Because sometimes you read two books that seem complementary, but you’re not sure if you can put the reasons behind that feeling into words. For all its variety and flexibility, language occasionally falls short when it comes to articulating intangibles.

Rude of it.

On the face of things, Fran Wilde’s time-travel fantasy novella The Fire Opal Mechanism and Iona Datt Sharma’s debut short fiction collection, Not For Use In Navigation, are nothing alike. One is a single story of connection, resistance, longing and hope in an information dystopia, an ongoing argument about the relative importance of a diversity of information sources vs. the accessibility of information written in elegant prose and set in a fascinating world.

The other is a collection of elegiac, wistful, eloquent pieces of short fiction, elliptical and haunting, about ...

A Shaky Resolution: Luna: Moon Rising by Ian McDonald


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Award-winning author Ian McDonald began his Luna trilogy in Luna: New Moon, and continued it in Luna: Wolf Moon. Now, in Luna: Moon Rising, the trilogy reaches its conclusion as the war that has raged between the Five Dragons of the Moon (and now has drawn representatives of Earth into the fray) enters its newest stage.

There’s just one major problem with Luna: Moon Rising: it doesn’t feel like a conclusion. It feels, in fact, a lot more like a prologue, like the end of an opening act of some much larger arc. For every thread that’s brought to some kind of conclusion, another one spreads its wings.

Let me state for the record that Luna: Moon Rising is not a good book to read out of sequence. It doesn’t stand alone. I’ve read the two preceding volumes in order (and lost a little detail to memory, as ...

A Shaky Resolution: Luna: Moon Rising by Ian McDonald


This post is by Liz Bourke from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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Award-winning author Ian McDonald began his Luna trilogy in Luna: New Moon, and continued it in Luna: Wolf Moon. Now, in Luna: Moon Rising, the trilogy reaches its conclusion as the war that has raged between the Five Dragons of the Moon (and now has drawn representatives of Earth into the fray) enters its newest stage.

There’s just one major problem with Luna: Moon Rising: it doesn’t feel like a conclusion. It feels, in fact, a lot more like a prologue, like the end of an opening act of some much larger arc. For every thread that’s brought to some kind of conclusion, another one spreads its wings.

Let me state for the record that Luna: Moon Rising is not a good book to read out of sequence. It doesn’t stand alone. I’ve read the two preceding volumes in order (and lost a little detail to memory, as ...

A Shaky Resolution: Luna: Moon Rising by Ian McDonald


This post is by Liz Bourke from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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Award-winning author Ian McDonald began his Luna trilogy in Luna: New Moon, and continued it in Luna: Wolf Moon. Now, in Luna: Moon Rising, the trilogy reaches its conclusion as the war that has raged between the Five Dragons of the Moon (and now has drawn representatives of Earth into the fray) enters its newest stage.

There’s just one major problem with Luna: Moon Rising: it doesn’t feel like a conclusion. It feels, in fact, a lot more like a prologue, like the end of an opening act of some much larger arc. For every thread that’s brought to some kind of conclusion, another one spreads its wings.

Let me state for the record that Luna: Moon Rising is not a good book to read out of sequence. It doesn’t stand alone. I’ve read the two preceding volumes in order (and lost a little detail to memory, as ...

An Explosive Debut: The Perfect Assassin by K.A. Doore


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K.A. Doore’s The Perfect Assassin is a priceless gift of a book.

Or so it felt to me, anyway. I’ve been finding it difficult to enjoy reading lately, to concentrate on how the words fit together into the pattern of a narrative, to see what works and what doesn’t and find pleasure in it. The Perfect Assassin is easy to enjoy, sharp and clean without being straightforward, a debut novel invested in being both good and fun.

Ghadid is a desert city. It’s built above the jaan-haunted sands—jaan, improperly treated spirits of the dead, can torment or even possess the living—and its water comes from old technology. Water—or the counters that make the city’s fountains disburse water, at least—is the city’s currency, and at the end of every season, before the rains come, that currency runs short. The city is ruled by drum chiefs, either men or women, who ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Intimate Space Operas


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Ever since I read E. K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued By A Bear, I’ve been a fan of her quiet, understated approach to narrative. The work of her books is, as far as I can tell, closely circling thematic resonances, interpersonal tension, and character development, rather than the splashier and more obvious tensions and drives of action-led novels: thrillers, adventures, capers and heists. Even when her novels include such action, it’s always in service to the development of the character arc. The stakes are always intensely personal.

It’s fascinating, then, to watch her deft hand at work in Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow, one of the latest novels set in a rebooted galaxy far, far away and following the life of Padmé Amidala after she has stepped down as elected Queen of Naboo and in the first stages of her appointment as a Republic Senator, but well ...

A Sharp Noir-ish Thriller: The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson


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Award-winning author Tade Thompson’s Rosewater was first published in the US by small press outfit Apex in 2016. I reviewed it here last year, when it was republished by Orbit as the first novel in a trilogy. The Rosewater Insurrection is the second novel in that trilogy, and although it’s as interesting and hard-edged as the first volume, it’s a very different book to its predecessor.

Rosewater focussed on Kaaro, a sensitive working for the Nigerian special services, whose ability to read and affect minds came about as a result of his affinity with the “xenosphere.” The xenosphere is a creation of the alien organism known as Wormwood, which emerged in Nigeria in the middle of the 21st century and manifests as an impenetrable dome which opens infrequently. At those openings, things occur that are impossible for human science: the dead return to a sort of zombie life, the ...

Space Battles, Secrets, Refugees, and Dying Suns: The Vela


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The Vela is the latest in Serial Box’s slate of speculative fiction offerings. This one’s space opera, with an approach to politics ever so slightly reminiscent of James S.A. Corey’s Expanse. Its concept is credited to Lydia Shamah, Serial Box’s director of original content, but its execution is down to an award-class writing team: Becky Chambers, Yoon Ha Lee, Rivers Solomon, and S.L. Huang. All of their individual talents combine to make The Vela a potent brew.

There are multiple habitable planets in the star system—or there were, before the government of Khayyam began mining the sun. Now the sun is dying, slowly, and the outer planets are dying faster. Eratos, Hypatia, Gan-De, Khayyam, and Khwarizmi are all doomed, but the killing cold means that refugees are fleeing the outermost planets, Eratos and Hypatia, faster. The one planet further out than Eratos is dead. Eratos is dead. Hypatia ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Intrigue, Espionage, and Capers


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I’ve been waiting for a follow-up to Amanda Downum’s Kingdom of Dust for years. Downum’s first three novels, The Drowning City, The Bone Palace, and Kingdom of Dust were rich, detailed works involving plenty of magic and even more intrigue. Now she’s published The Poison Court, an excellent novel of murder and palace intrigue, and it’s every bit as good as I’d been hoping for.

The Poison Court isn’t a sequel to Kingdom of Dust. Instead, it’s a direct follow-up to The Bone Palace, and instead of starring Isyllt Iskaldur, its main character is Savedra Severos, first introduced in The Bone Palace‘s intrigue-riddled court. Savedra is the king’s mistress in Erisín, and secretly, the biological parent of King Nikos’s heir—thanks to Savedra’s dalliance with Ashlin, Nikos’s queen. Nikos and Ashlin know, but if their enemies did, it could destabilise their reign.

Savedra has also ...

Fun, Messy Time Travel: Alice Payne Rides by Kate Heartfield


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I’m coming to the conclusion that Kate Heartfield may be the author whose work proves the exception to my “time travel stories never satisfy me” rule. Time travel is messy, and in a story where time travel is the focus, a classic linear narrative never quite works out. But in Heartfield’s Alice Payne novellas—first in last year’s Alice Payne Arrives, and now in its sequel, Alice Payne Rides—the mess is part of the point. The false starts, the paradoxes, the putative dead ends: these are part of the time war that the characters are either fighting or have got themselves caught up in.

Alice Payne, 18th century woman of colour, sometime highwaywoman, and lover of the scientist Jane Hodgson, is at the centre of Alice Payne Rides: her presence is the motivating force the way that Prudence Zuniga proved to be in Alice Payne Arrives. Alice, Jane, and ...

Standalone Fantasy Short on Complexity: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon


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The last standalone epic fantasy of significant length I read was Jacqueline Carey’s magisterial Starless (2018), a novel told from the perspective of its sole narrator, and one so deftly paced that it seems precisely as long as it needs to be, and no longer. Samantha Shannon is a younger and less experienced writer than Carey, and The Priory of the Orange Tree is her first published epic fantasy and her first published standalone novel. It may be unfair of me to judge them by the same standards, but while The Priory of the Orange Tree does eventually get its legs underneath it for a satisfying endgame, it remains something of an unbalanced, unwieldy beast.

In plain terms, it might have been a better book for being, oh, let’s say three-quarters of the book it actually is. Its eight-hundred-odd pages spend a long time establishing character and setting, with occasional ...