In Her Skin: Sealed by Naomi Booth


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Climate change is no longer something that can be denied by anyone at all. In Naomi Booth’s sharp, savvy second novel Sealed, the world has become hotter, and there’s a strange new disease that seems to be making people grow new skin over different orifices, eventually killing them by sealing them up inside their own epidermis.

Cutis, it’s called, and while the authorities claim it’s just one more thing to add to the nonchalant list of worries that people already have, from polluted fruit to smog to wildfires, pregnant Alice fears the worst. She’s obsessed with Cutis, and starts collection information not just about it, but also about what she thinks may be it, or what may have started the outbreak. She’s certain her mother died of it, she’s certain numerous people have died of it, far more than the authorities are admitting to, particularly those housed in relocation ...

Earnest Voices: New Suns, edited by Nisi Shawl


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Though New Suns is simply presented as an anthology of short fiction by people of colour, without any over arching theme, a great many of the stories in the collection focus on what it means to be the other—or become the other. But of course they do. This comes as no surprise, though some readers may be slightly disappointed when many of the stories don’t quite push at this enough, holding back just that little bit that stops from deeper exploration of their narrative.

For some, it is that the short story format isn’t quite long enough to explore what they’re thinking (and so some of the stories come across as excerpts, which isn’t necessarily a negative aspect). For some it’s just a matter of undeveloped skill at addressing heavier, more complicated themes in equally complicated settings. Regardless, New Suns is an earnest compilation of voices from many ethnicities and ...

I Tell You True: Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James


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Until recently, Jamaican born writer Marlon James was known best for wining the Man Booker prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings, but his latest novel, the sprawling epic fantasy Black Leopard, Red Wolf, is going to very much take place of what the writer is most associated with—there is no doubt.

“I wanted to reclaim all the stuff I like—court intrigue, monsters, magic,” James told The New Yorker last month, “I wanted black pageantry.” And that’s exactly what he’s achieved with this story of Tracker, an angry young protagonist who is known for his nose, and uses this power (alongside his ability to not be harmed by anything ‘born of metal’), to find what no one else can. Tracker, similar to the protagonist of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, has a most powerful sense of smell—he can smell below the surface to detect emotion; he ...

Strange Lands: The Kingdom of Copper By S.A. Chakraborty


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We leap in to The Kingdom of Copper right where we left off with The City of Brass (if we can recall just where we left off), and then quickly jump to five years later, when Nahri and Muntadhir are married and living under his father King Ghassan’s rule: Muntadhir keeping up with his harems, following in his father’s methods, and Nahri working as the only Nahid, the healer for the djinn. Alizayd is in a village far away, helping irrigate the dessert with his new abilities of ‘finding’ springs, and Dara is with the original Nahid, training an army to take back Daevabad. Each character is caught up in their own plot, each plot is built up and interwoven with the others as the narrative progresses.

Chakraborty seems to be continuing her exploration of the ideas of colonisation, genocide, and the racial and ethnic biases that fueled The City ...

Wishes as Curses: The Curses by Laure Eve


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Picking up soon after the events of The Graces, The Curses follows the Grace siblings and their two closest “friends” as they try to recover from the strange events that have occurred (events that will remain vague for the purposes of avoiding spoilers for those who have not read the earlier novel). Laure Eve now changes perspective to that of Summer, the youngest of the Graces and the first to have befriended River, the unreliable narrator of the first novel. Summer’s understanding of previous events and her recollection of them sets her up right away as an honest, straightforward narrator—more so, as one who is determined to get to the truth of many matters, especially that behind the curse that plagues the magical family.

“Truth was not a cure, but it was a damn good start,” Summer tells us. “Something fundamental had been broken, collapsing the fine webbing of ...

The Voices in Our Heads: Someone Like Me by M.R. Carey


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In M.R. Carey’s latest thriller, Someone Like Me, we first meet sweet, docile single mother Liz, as she tries to assert herself yet again to her aggressive ex-husband. After years of enduring an abusive marriage, Liz was finally able to divorce her husband and keep her children safe from what she feared would be potential danger to them, too. But the shared custody of the two children still causes much friction, with Liz’s ex Marc often pushing boundaries.

(Warning: the novel [and review] include scenes of domestic violence.)

On one such night, when he brings the children home much too late and Liz complains, he lashes out at her physically once again, with more aggression than before. But this time, unlike all the other incidences Liz had submissively borne, she feels something within herself break free, something stronger and more violent, and she is able to defend ...

Of Epic Girl Gangs: The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke


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Set in an alternate Scandinavia, The Boneless Mercies has been touted as a gender-swapped quest fantasy loosely based on Beowulf. But given it’s a loose reinterpretation and the original may not be familiar to many YA readers, let’s leave that aside, because The Boneless Mercies exists very much as its own unique narrative, set in its own unique world and with its own intriguing cast of female characters. Beowulf was very much a man’s story—its female characters were either monsters or trophies. But here, Tucholke ensures that her female characters are everything: heroes, killers, witches, leaders, lovers, warriors. And yes, even beasts. 

Young women who belong nowhere else band together to form the Boneless Mercies, a group who are hired for mercy killing—whether it be for a terminally ill loved one, or an abusive partner, or even, at times, an assisted suicide. The women travel across Vorseland, living off ...

Rewrite the Book: Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand


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Sixteen- year-old Marion arrives at Sawkill Island with her mother and her elder sister, all three of them still in shock and traumatised after the death of Marion’s father. Marion became the de facto rock of their little family, tethering their mother and Charlotte together. But Sawkill, which was meant to be a sanctum for them, turns out to be everything but. Sawkill Island is “like this thing, perched out there on the water. A beetle. A monster. Some magical lost place.” The magic, however, isn’t the fun kind.

Marion’s mother has been hired as housekeeper for a large estate, Kingshead, which is ruled over a steady line of Mortimer women over generations, who raise prize winning horses and somehow never have any significant men in their lives—no husbands, lovers, sons, brothers. The Mortimer women are magnetic, as Marion soon finds out, when the teen daughter of the ...

The War on Women: Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls


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Briseis of Lyrnessus is the teenage queen taken as Achilles’ trophy when his army destroys her town on their way to Troy, after he murders every male in her family—her husband, her father, her brothers, all brutally murdered in front of her. Every women is taken by the army and later distributed amongst the soldiers as spoils of war, with Briseis being given to Achilles, to whom she is expected to submit in every way. Later, there is an argument between Agamemnon and Achilles, which ends with Briseis being taken by Agamemnon as part of his winnings. Women, Pat Barker makes it clear in her new novel The Silence of the Girls, are nothing more than things men use to wield their power.

There have recently been a couple of books about Ancient Greek history written from a female point of view—Madeline Miller’s Circe, and now Barker’s The ...

Hunting a Legend: And The Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness


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In an upside down, topsy turvy yet familiar world in the depths of the ocean, a war has been raging for generations between two species who have always, it seems, hunted one another.  Bathsheba the whale is part of the formidable Captain Alexandra’s pod, part of this endless hunt. But the Captain bears a violent obsession against one particular enemy: the mighty Toby Wick, a man, a monster, a myth and quite possibly the devil himself. Wick has killed countless pods, and has never been found, but Captain Alexandra is certain that she is the one who will end him.

Patrick Ness’ new illustrated novel And the Ocean Was Our Sky is a gorgeous, richly imaginative take on Moby-Dick, with the narrative focus shifting to the perspective of whales hunting humans. “Call me Bathsheba,” begins the story, immediately echoing one of the best known opening lines in literature. ...

Unweaving a Fairy Tale: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik


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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 ...

Of Djinns & Things: The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty


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A young hustler on the streets of 18th Century Cairo, Nahri lives by her wits and has always done so alone, using certain special abilities that help her get by. She can, most of the time, tell if someone is sick, or what ails them. She has “yet to come upon a language she didn’t immediately understand,” can sometimes help those who are unwell, and seems to be able to heal quickly herself. Nahri uses her strange abilities to take what she can from whom she can, trying to build up a little store of cash so she may one day train to be a real healer.

But one ordinary day, what should be a run of the mill fake exorcism ends up going horribly wrong when the young girl Nahri is pretending to help turns out to be actually possessed by a djinn—an ifrit who recognises something special in ...

Improper Magic: The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia


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The Beautiful Ones is entirely different beast than Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s last book, the narco-vampire thriller Certain Dark Things. The Beautiful Ones is a historical romance set in a world inspired by the Belle Epoque, and is a story of longing, love and loss, and what betrayal can do to drive a person to becoming fully who they are.

Antonina (Nina) arrives in Loisail for her first Grand Season, where she is to debut as a young socialite with a fortune in search of a suitable husband. Unlike the other girls of Loisail, Nina has been brought up in the country and isn’t as interested in the societal proprieties of the city as she should be, according to her far more socially elevated and beautiful cousin-in-law, with whom she is staying. Valerie was once the belle of each ball, and made a fortunate match with Nina’s well-off and well-connected cousin, and though their ...

Is It Any Wonder: Neil Jordan’s Carnivalesque


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Neil Jordan’s Carnivalesque gets straight to the point: 14-year-old Andy goes to the carnival with his parents. They haven’t really been getting along, things can be stressful but everything is about average in their lives—they don’t seem to be particularly special and at this point, neither does Andy. In the Hall of Mirrors, though, something strange happens—the mirrors seem to be portals of sorts, and Andy is sucked in through them, and trapped. No one knows he’s missing, because a doppelgänger of him walks away from the mirror, joins his parents, and goes off home, leaving Andy behind in this strange new world. Andy remains stuck inside the mirror until one of the carnival’s aerialists, Mona, somehow pulls him out, names him Dany, and fairly seamlessly absorbs him into her carny family. Mona looks like a teenager, but of course in the carnival, nothing is quite what it seems, and ...

The Trouble With Being Queen: Heartless by Marissa Meyer


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heartless-cover Marisa Meyer is known for her Young Adult fairy tale retellings. Her first novel was the NaNoWriMo phenomenon Cinder, the story of a cyborg sort-of Cinderella and the start of the Lunar Chronicles sequence, which includes new versions of Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meyer’s work, however, is very loosely based on the fairy tales—she develops new worlds, brings in new characters and does not use the classic familiar plot lines. With Heartless, her first stand alone novel, Meyer takes us back to when the violent, furious Queen of Hearts was a warm, sweet young girl who wanted something more—albeit smaller, simpler and full of sugar and butter—than what was on offer for her. Catherine is just another young well to do girl with hopes and dreams. Society demands that her hopes and dreams be specifically about getting married to the wealthiest man she can, ...

Midnight in Karachi Episode 69: Sami Shah’s “Fire Boy Interlude C”


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Photo Credit: Nariman Ansari Welcome back to Midnight in Karachi, a weekly podcast about writers, publishers, editors, illustrators, their books and the worlds they create, hosted by Mahvesh Murad.
This week’s episode is a reading of a story from the world of Fire Boy—an urban fantasy set in contemporary Karachi, and writer and comedian Sami Shah’s first novel. Sami’s memoir I, Migrant, was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Award and the Russell Prize for Humour Writing. You can find more of his writing here.
 

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Midnight in Karachi Episode 68: Naomi Alderman


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karachi-alderman Welcome back to Midnight in Karachi, a weekly podcast about writers, publishers, editors, illustrators, their books and the worlds they create, hosted by Mahvesh Murad. Zombies Run! co-creator and one of Granta’s Best of British Novelists Naomi Alderman is on the podcast this week to talk about her new novel The Power, in which women develop the ability to electrocute at will. She talks about Sultana’s Dream, whether violence is gendered, writing both games and ‘literary’ fiction, Bob Dylan and the Nobel, and that permanent question—The Patriarchy: why?  

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Midnight in Karachi Episode 67: Fran Wilde


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wilde-cloudbound Welcome back to Midnight in Karachi, a weekly podcast about writers, publishers, editors, illustrators, their books and the worlds they create, hosted by Mahvesh Murad. Andre Norton award winner and Nebula Award nominee Fran Wilde joins the podcast this week to talk about her Bone Universe novels, Updraft and Cloudbound. Both are available now from Tor Books—you can read excerpts from each novel here.  

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BoneUniverse

Sam Spade Vs Cthulhu: Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw


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HammersBone_outline

< p class="p1">What does it take to hunt demons and monsters gone mad? A bigger monster, of course.

John Persons is a private investigator in modern day London. In the way of the best PIs in noir fiction, he’s caustic, bitter and jaded. But even he’s surprised when eleven year old Abel walks into his office with a loaded piggy bank and asks Persons to kill his stepfather, ‘because he’s a monster’. Though Persons a PI, not an assassin for hire, Abel is certain he’s the only man for the job, ‘because you’re a monster too’. What does Abel know about Persons that we don’t? A lot, it seems, because Persons isn’t an ordinary man, he’s something else, something older and much more frightening than man.

McKinsey, the stepfather in question, is a nasty piece of work. He, too, is more than what he seems to be, something Abel has picked up on ...

Midnight in Karachi Episode 66: Genevieve Valentine


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Karachi-Valentine Welcome back to Midnight in Karachi, a weekly podcast about writers, publishers, editors, illustrators, their books and the worlds they create, hosted by Mahvesh Murad.
Genevieve Valentine—writer of Catwoman, Xena, The Girls At the Kingfisher Club, Persona, and Icon—is on the podcast this week, talking about constructed relationships, killing off characters, weaponised young women, Taylor Swift, and whether red carpet fashion is fantasy or not.
 

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