Impractical Magic: Lily Anderson’s Undead Girl Gang

Mila Flores is miserable. She’s an outcast at school because she’s fat, grumpy, and Mexican American in a town of skinny white people. She abides by Wicca instead of Christianity, much to the chagrin of her community. She is drowning in a sea of unrequited love for a boy who barely notices her. But mostly she’s miserable because her best friend Riley is dead. It was not, she’ll have you know, a suicide, no matter what the incompetent police say. They also declared the hangings of two other schoolmates, June and Dayton, to be suicides as well, despite the suspicious circumstances. No, someone killed Riley, and Mila is going to find out who no matter what it takes. Especially if that “whatever” means raising her BFF from the dead.

With the help of a creepy grimoire and her heretofore undiscovered magical abilities, Mila casts a spell that brings Riley back…and ...

Magical Hypocrisy: Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

Sebastien de Castell’s first fantasy series, the Greatcoats (Traitor’s Blade, Knight’s Shadow, Saint’s Blood, and Tyrant’s Throne) was well-received. Unaccountably, I don’t seem to have read them already, and Spellslinger—the opening volume in a new series—makes me suspect that I’ve been missing out.

Spellslinger was first published in hardcover in 2017 by UK outfit Hot Key Books, along with sequel Shadowblack. The third novel, Charmcaster, came out earlier this year, and a further volume is scheduled to appear in the autumn. Now Orbit Books is releasing a paperback edition of Spellslinger, with sequels soon to follow.

Spellslinger features a main character who’s just about to turn sixteen. Kellen is a young man in a society ruled by magic. His parents are among the most powerful mages of their generation, and his younger sister bids fair to be just as strong. But Kellen’s ...

A Collaboration Made in Faerun: The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins

The Adventure Zone started as a family endeavor: three grown-up brothers and their child-at-heart dad set out to play a game of Dungeons & Dragons, and to share it with the internet. Magnus the human fighter (Travis McElroy), Merle the dwarf cleric (Clint McElroy), and Taako the elf wizard (Justin McElroy)—and of course their brave and longsuffering DM, Griffin McElroy—took on gerblins, evil scientists, and fashionable ghouls, and in the course of it all became heroes and master storytellers. That (the podcast ; The Balance Arc) was chapter one. Then there were the follow-up campaigns, the fanart, the cosplay, the live shows and the Reddit theories, original music, bonus episodes, and crossover events—a lot for one tabletop-game-turned-podcast. This week, the McElroys, under the care and pen of still another player, artist Carey Pietsch, have added a podcast-turned-comic to the mix. And it does not disappoint.

If you’re here for the ...

Every Day was Another Body: Apocalypse Nyx by Kameron Hurley

Apocalypse Nyx cover crop

Nyxnissa so Dasheem—ex-soldier, ex-assassin—is a disreputable and legally questionable bounty hunter, hurtling toward her own demise by way of as much whiskey and as many poor choices as she can manage. Apocalypse Nyx collects five original stories about her, four of which were previously published on Hurley’s Patreon for subscribers. All of the stories in Apocalypse Nyx take place prior to the events of God’s War (2011) and often gesture toward latter events in the Bel Dame Apocrypha series, sometimes with grim foreshadowing.

The world of the Bel Dame Apocrypha is as compelling as ever: biotechnological warfare, magic-oriented bugs on all surfaces, collapsing social order, matriarchal control, the list goes on. These novellas, however, are more concerned with action-adventure than continued development of the milieu—each follows one job that Nyx takes on for herself and her crew, from start to finish.

Apocalypse Nyx is a niche project. The expectation for ...

Paradise Crossed: The Cloven by Brian Catling

Adventurers, archaeologists and adherents alike have long sought—only to be stymied in their search for—the site of the Garden of Eden, that portion of paradise where many people believe humanity took root. In his phenomenal first novel, the poet, painter, and performance artist Brian Catling posited that it might at last be located in the Vorrh, a vast (albeit fictional) forest in the heart of Africa. In the ambitious if middling middle volume of what in 2017 turned out to be a trilogy, he expanded the scope of his suggestive story substantially, to take in characters from Bedlam in London, the colonial compound of Essenwald and a retirement home in Heidelberg: a litany of lost souls that would only be found, finally, in or in relation to the good woodland.

The Cloven closes the book on those disconsolate characters at the same time as advancing the overarching narrative of ...

The Thin Line Between Monster and Warrior: Maria Dahvana Headley’s The Mere Wife

Hwaet!

Maria Dahvana Headley’s The Mere Wife has finally been loosed upon the world. I say finally because I think the world needs this book. In Headley’s hands, Beowulf is revealed to be the perfect story to bring forward from the depths of Western history. Headley has turned it over, poked its squishy underbelly, asked it a bunch of questions, and come out with an entirely new version of the tale, exploring new perspectives and revealing truths new and old.

It’s also a great, heart-wrenching read.

If you’ve read Beowulf you probably remember the basic story, but maybe not the ending. The hall of Hrothgar, mighty king, is being besieged by a monster named Grendel. The mighty warrior Beowulf comes, pulls Grendel’s arm off, and he dies. Grendel’s mother, also a monster, comes in vengeance. Beowulf slays her, too. The people love him and feel safe, and ...

Steeplejack’s Final Stand: Guardian by A.J. Hartley

Ang has always been on the outside looking in. At home, she is the arrogant girl that betrayed her family by moving to the city. In Bar-Selehm, she is a Lani streetrat, barely worth a second glance. Even with her benefactor and his family, she can’t be sure of her place: did the progressive politician Josiah Willinghouse hire her as a spy in order to advance his political career, or because he truly cares for the poor and the oppressed?

When Willinghouse is accused of killing the prime minister, throwing the city to the brink of a racial civil war, Ang is forced to take a stand. Belonging can be a complicated thing. But when it comes to resisting violent oppression, knowing who your allies are becomes a matter of life and death.

A.J. Hartley’s Guardian brings the author’s Steeplejack trilogy to a thrilling and hopeful conclusion. If 2016’s ...

City-State Fantasy: City of Lies by Sam Hawke

One of the debates I’ve had with myself and others over the years I’ve been reading and reviewing fantasy is the question of the definition of “urban fantasy.” This mainly gets into the idea of secondary world fantasies and whether or not a story is set in a secondary world city, where the city is as much a character and changing and evolving place as any of the sentient characters. Are the Ankh-Morpork novels of Terry Pratchett urban fantasy? Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories, primarily set in the fascinating city of Lankhmar? The novels of Marshall Ryan Maresca, set in the Archduchy of Maradaine, and showing us an increasing number of facets of his city-state from different points of view and different social classes? Is there a good way to define novels that take this space and make it their own by calling them something better than ...

Building A Family: Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys

Winter Tide, Ruthanna Emrys’s accomplished and astonishing debut novel, was an intense and intimate subversion of the Lovecraftian mythos, told from the point of view of Aphra Marsh, the eldest of two survivors of the United States’ genocide of Innsmouth. In Winter Tide, Aphra made reluctant common cause with FBI agent Ron Spector (though not with his suspicious colleagues) and accidentally accreted a family around her. Winter Tide is a novel about the importance of kindness in the face of an indifferent universe, and I love it beyond reason.

I may love Deep Roots even more.

Aphra and her younger brother Caleb carry the scars of internment camps and genocide with them. Aphra’s come to terms—hard-won, a bitter peace—with the government that destroyed her people on land. Enough, at least, to reach out to Spector and ask him to help her and her “confluence”—a family of choice, bound ...

Home is Where the Horror is in Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World

Who doesn’t want to spend a summer vacation in a cabin, far removed from the outside world? Forget a mere vacation; how about every day free from breaking bad news, social media scream-fests, and stressful jobs?

Well, after reading Paul Tremblay’s latest page-turner, The Cabin at the End of the World, you might want to be careful what you wish for. As the besieged family at the center of this page-turner soon learns, isolation can make you more vulnerable than you’ve ever been and even your own loved ones might have no choice but to betray you.

But you should certainly read The Cabin at the End of the World anyway, because, though it may not be the lightest of reads, it’s one of the summer’s best.

Tremblay continues to excel at a familiar horror set-up—demonic possession in his 2015 breakout novel A Head Full of ...

Inverting the Antihero: Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg

“It is productive to think about utopia as flux, a temporal disorganization, as a moment when the here and the now is transcended by a then and a there that could be and indeed should be,” writes the late, much-missed queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz in his 2009 survival manual Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. Queer time, Muñoz suggests, is a strategy for demanding queer possibilities from straight retellings of the past in order to bridge the gap between the material conditions of the present and the longing for a radically utopian future. And if ever a novel has succeeded in explicitly making flesh the possibilities of queer futurity, Confessions of the Fox is that book.

At least on its surface, Jordy Rosenberg’s debut1 novel is an exuberantly polyphonic take on the life and times of the “real”-life English folk hero Jack Sheppard, a minor ...

Rewriting the Classics: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss

In addition to winning the Locus Award for Best First Novel, Theodora Goss’s debut, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, made the list of Nebula Award finalists. It’s garnered a great deal of praise, and given Goss’s track record as an award-winning author of short fiction, that should come as no surprise.

In The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Mary Jekyll, daughter of the infamous Dr. Jekyll, follows a thread of mystery in her mother’s will that leads her to a younger sister (Diana Hyde), and to several other young women who were created as experiments in biological transmutation, including puma woman Catherine Moreaux, the literally poisonous Beatrice Rappacini, and living dead woman Justine Frankenstein. These young women, with the occasional assistance of Sherlock Holmes, learn that their “fathers” were members of a scientific organisation called the Societé des Alchimistes (SA), and that the SA are ...

Unweaving a Fairy Tale: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Miryem is the daughter of small town Jewish moneylender who isn’t very good at his job. Her father, while “terrible with money,” is “endlessly warm and gentle, and tried to make up for his failings: he spent nearly all of every day out in the cold woods hunting for food and firewood, and when he was indoors where was nothing he wouldn’t do to help.” But living as they do in a tiny town, “unwalled and half nameless,” where “the cold kept creeping out of the woods earlier and earlier,” where the townspeople look down upon them as pariahs, Miryem’s family is pushed to the edge of poverty, as her father eventually lends out all his wife’s dowry and is incapable of bringing any back. While Miryem’s family are on the verge of starvation, and her mother increasingly unwell, the rest of the town fares well on their borrowed ...

Gods, Monsters, and Wicked Men: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

When the sea levels rose and the world was flooded, the Diné built a wall around what once was the Navajo reservation, now called Dinétah. As the Fifth World was drowned by the Big Water and the Sixth World rose up, so too did creatures from Diné legend. That wall keeps enemies out, but monsters in. Which is where Maggie Hoskie comes in. She takes on the monsters terrorizing her people using her clan powers, the speed of Honágháahnii (“one walks around”) and the killing prowess of K’aahanáanii (“living arrow”). When we first meet Maggie, she’s stuck in stasis. Abandoned by the man she loved and her only family dead, she’s alone and pretending not to be lonely. She’s hired to rescue a young girl and finds instead a whole new breed of monster.

Maggie cautiously accepts the help of Kai Arviso, the grandson of Tah, the only person in ...

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Political Upheaval in Shannara: The Skaar Invasion by Terry Brooks

I’ve written at length about not only what Terry Brooks means to the epic fantasy genre, but to me personally as a reader. His books blew the doors off the world I first discovered via Tolkien, but it was his generosity and kindness towards a young writer at Surrey International Writer’s Conference that set me on the path I travel today. Brooks is one of fantasy’s most prolific novelists, having written over 30 novels. Since 1996, he’s produced a novel a year—the release of which has become something of an event for me. Despite some inconsistency in quality over the years, I eagerly look forward to his new books, especially the Shannara novels.

Last year’s The Black Elfstone, which was the start of a new Shannara sub-series, The Fall of Shannara, was notable for many reasons. To begin with, it was promised to be the opening volume ...

Surreal SFF That Explores Humanity Through Language and Memory

The nature of identity is at the heart of an abundance of speculative fiction. It can be one of the best ways of exploring what makes a person unique and what sits at the heart of a particular person’s identity. In some fiction, this can be approached via heated philosophical discussion or rich metaphors; in the realm of science fiction and speculative fiction, these questions can be approached far more literally.

This year has brought with it a trio of books—two new, one in a new edition—that use surreal and speculative takes on memory and language to explore fundamental questions about the nature of humanity. The imagery and language in these books sizzles with uncanny takes on the nature of life and consciousness, but as far from the mundane as they go, their concerns remain deeply rooted in primal anxieties. Who are we? What makes us us? Is there a ...

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Surreal SFF That Explores Humanity Through Language and Memory

The nature of identity is at the heart of an abundance of speculative fiction. It can be one of the best ways of exploring what makes a person unique and what sits at the heart of a particular person’s identity. In some fiction, this can be approached via heated philosophical discussion or rich metaphors; in the realm of science fiction and speculative fiction, these questions can be approached far more literally.

This year has brought with it a trio of books—two new, one in a new edition—that use surreal and speculative takes on memory and language to explore fundamental questions about the nature of humanity. The imagery and language in these books sizzles with uncanny takes on the nature of life and consciousness, but as far from the mundane as they go, their concerns remain deeply rooted in primal anxieties. Who are we? What makes us us? Is there a ...

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A Different Shade of Magic: Witchmark by C.L. Polk

Welcome to Witchmark, C.L. Polk’s masterful debut about a magical Edwardian-esque world still reeling from a deadly world war. One of those battlefield survivors is Dr. Miles Singer. In the war he experienced terrible acts of violence, and perpetrated a few of his own. Now back home, he treats injured veterans at a local hospital. Did I say treat? I meant cure. With magic. Miles is a healer, although no one is supposed to know. Years before, he was a recalcitrant Secondary, a second-class mage destined to be magically bound to his magically superior sister. Grace is a Storm-Singer and she and the other elite mages use magic to keep Aeland temperate and fertile. But Miles ran away, escaped from a live of captivity and servitude. And he might have remained undiscovered if Nick Elliot hadn’t died in his arms.

Something terrible is driving vets to kill their ...

Beyond the Psychedelic: Taty Went West Heads for Parts Unknown

Taty Went West book review Nikhil Singh

Sometimes a narrative begins in a familiar place: with someone embarking on a journey, for instance. Nikhil Singh’s novel Taty Went West is like that—the first sentence of the second chapter seems to usher the reader into familiar territory. “The piggy bank bought her a bus ticket to nowhere fast,” Singh writes, tapping into a longstanding tradition of young people venturing out into parts unknown. (As if to make this more explicit, Singh includes a nod to the Beat Generation later in the novel.) Taty is a young woman frustrated by suburban life, tuned in to her favorite songs on her Walkman. She’s in search of something bigger, a larger and more compelling world. This is a familiar story, right?

It’s not a familiar story. That bus ticket’s bought in the second chapter. The one before that sets up an altogether stranger milieu, and one that hints at the ...

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Falling in Love with the Enemy: Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Pérez

When she was little, Lady Branwen’s life was blown apart when her parents were murdered by Kernyv raiders. The king and queen took her in and raised her as one of their own. Now at nineteen, she a lady-in-waiting to her cousin Princess Eseult. Essy is fiesty yet fragile, a girl determined to live a life she chooses even if it means disregarding all her responsibilities. Branny, on the other hand, is content to be in her cousin’s shadow, but beneath her wallflower attitude is a fire waiting to be lit. The boy with the match is Tristan, a Kernyvman who washes up on Iveriu’s shore. After Branwen saves his life, the truth of his past comes out and threatens the passion welling up between them.

For years, longer than anyone can remember, Kernyv and Iveriu have been enemies, but Tristan’s arrival and the message he brings from his king ...