RaveLocus... brisk and fun without being so lightweight it simply floats away. It’s the perfect book for a harrowing week/month/year because it only wants to entertain you ... No, it’s not a deep plot—but the characters and setting are so entertaining that it doesn’t matter. Leda and her best friend Niki have the makings of a Lucy-and-Ethel style comedy powerhouse. Merritt has enough of a backstory to be believable. There are hat tips to other adjacent pop culture, like Leda’s Klairvoyant Karaoke act that owes a nickel to Angel. Priest’s Seattle is its own character—and one of its main traits is the inability to frustrate anyone who drives a car. Not only is the book itself great fun, so is seeing this side of what Priest can do. While churning out light whodunnits is unlikely to be her new all-the-time gig, it is a lovely change of pace—and I’d be shocked if it’s a one-off.
Jennifer Marie Brissett
RaveLocus... a book that sneaks up on you. If you can make it through the disorienting (somewhat intentionally because there is a lot of world building to do) first couple dozen pages, the reward is vast. Brissett has built a story that the 21st century needs, while never forgetting its roots in the Afrofuturism of a previous generation ... What makes Destroyer of Light such compelling reading is all of the other layers Brissett adds. This is a book about monsters and saviors—and how thin the line can be between the two. It’s about power and colonialism; mother and daughters; the cost of safety. It’s about Blackness and blackness and what both might look like under different circumstances.
PositiveLocusThe Last Graduate is really not the book to start with, should an unsuspecting reader pick it up by accident. For this book to make sense, you need to know how brutal the school is, especially when you are a young wizard with no alliances and a lot working against you, like our protagonist El ... While there are moments where Novik bogs down a bit in the nuts-and-bolts of how the Scholomance works and details about the many mals who can kill, the story is one that rips along like a force of nature. In the abstract, this is a story about relying on others—but in the concrete, it is about how to survive when the odds are against you. As she did with the first book, Novik changes the game again with the very last line.
PositiveLocusCarrie Vaughn uses the formula of the hero’s tale to craft a layered story about the difference between what is real and what is true. Her Addie Cox is a competent woman whose PTSD and related grief stand in the way of her owning her heroic-ness. Questland lifts unrepentantly from nearly every fantasy trope out there but does so in a knowing way that shows why these tropes work so well. The structure of Vaughn’s story is familiar, yes, but simultaneously fresh and new.
MixedLocusAt times, Architects of Memory fires on all cylinders. The story is clear, as are the characters’ motives and the stakes. At times, though, this clarity of purpose wanders away or gets mired in scenes that don’t seem to fit with the story Osborne is telling. This is Osborne’s debut work of full-length fiction...and it is a capable, if at times uneven, step into a new part of the field.
RaveLocus... not a Harry Potter-esque feel-good story about a school for witchcraft and wizardry. Mind, you will feel good afterwards, because it is so very good, and it does take place in a magical high school. But that is where the comparisons stop ... What this book has is a fully realized world where magic works and where three-quarters of what a person who can do magic comes into contact with wants them dead ... Yes, a book about dead kids seems harrowing (and it is, in spots) but Novik’s light touch, dark whimsy, and sense of humor make it hard to put down. Once she sets up main character Galadriel, a third-year student whose magical affinity could lead her to a dark place, and shows the daily operations of the Scholomance, the tone is perfectly set. Add to that a story that never stops moving while always remaining focused on developing the characters of both the people and the school itself – and A Deadly Education builds momentum that can’t help but drive the reader to its end. And the end sets up the next book – this is the first in a trilogy – stunningly.
MixedLocusJohnson’s story has a built-in engine where the stakes are always high ... After a strong start, though, the energy dips in the middle third – and that dip makes some of the inconsistencies in the worldbuilding more evident. That isn’t to say there aren’t inconsistencies in every built world, just that they become more evident when the story loses momentum. Johnson pulls it back together again with a lovely last third, mind, but the inconsistency makes it hard to lean into The Space Between Worlds that she has created.
Mary Robinette Kowal
RaveLocusIt isn’t only inherent tension of a mystery that makes The Relentless Moon such a compelling read. First, that mystery is set mostly in a place where the stakes could not be more high ... What really kept me reading well past my bedtime, because I wanted to know what was going to happen, was that there is an epidemic on the moon. Reading about counteracting polio in a small fictional population while responding to a COVID-19 outbreak in my own small town was gripping—and a reminder that none of this is new ... Kowal offers assurance that it is a problem that can be solved, if her characters use their brains to work it. Hopefully the same will prove true in real life.
PositiveLocus... the plot of Goldilocks isn’t what you’d anticipate. Yes, it is about a heist and its repercussions. It’s also a thriller, sort of, and a mother-figure-and-daughter drama. There’s a virus-related part of the plot that eerily echoes what’s going on right now. It’s also very meditative, given all that it is trying to do ... Lam weaves all of these types of stories into a cohesive narrative. At times, the characters feel a little hollow, particularly those around the Naomi-Valerie axis. There are some twists that don’t quite work—but all of these small missteps are forgivable when the writer has taken such a big swing. The narrative of Goldilocks isn’t what you expect it to be, and that is what makes it work.
David Foster Wallace
RaveBook SlutWallace’s prose has never been effortless for the reader. You have to ferret the meal of the story from beneath a silo full of words. There are sentences, like one in \'Good Old Neon,\' that literally runs the whole page and requires careful attention in order to find its point. But once you do, the impact is like a boot to the head, but in an enlightening way ... The true stand-outs, however, are \'The Soul is Not a Smithy\' and \'The Suffering Channel\' ... My only Foster Wallace-ian complaint is how his stories end, which they don’t do so much as simply stop. I’m sure their abruptness is all part of some larger scheme, but, personally, I’d like more closure. That may stem more from a need to feel like these are finished tales, rather than those whose deeper rhythms are still shifting, both in my mind and in my culture’s heart.
PositiveLocusLike any story, The Starless Sea has a beginning and an ending. It also has a middle – a lot of middle. Morgenstern crams about a billion ideas – including but not limited to game design, folk tales, cocktails, and bees – into the endless-feeling middle. Some of them open up her tale in interesting ways; some don’t live up to their promises. She takes a big, admirable swing but doesn’t completely connect. Still, it’s a book full of beautiful moments, even if they don’t all work in concert.
RaveLocusIf you are a fan of Lev Grossman’s Magicians series or Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, odds are much better than even that you’ll fall headfirst into Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House and not want to ever emerge again ... Not only is Bardugo’s world beautifully built, so are her characters ... Even though Ninth House is well-plotted (and given how Bardugo flips around in time, it needs to be), it never feels like it’s being forced. Like the best moments by Grossman and Gaiman, Bardugo’s storytelling is full of life and crackles with energy. It’s one that you’ll read in great gulps but never want to see end.
Gareth L. Powell
MixedLocusRagged Alice packs so much story into its short length that it wouldn’t have been unwelcome to add a few thousand more words to let it breathe a little. As it now stands, the killings come so close together that it breaks our willing suspension of disbelief, because the regional office doesn’t seem too upset about the speed and quantity of them. A few thousand more words would have fleshed out Craig, her partner, and a few of the denizens of this moody little town in satisfying ways. While the story as it stands is interesting enough, Powell is welcome to stick around for a while to tells us more about it.
PositiveLocusWolff’s imagining of how medicine works in the future is definitely not the main point of his work, even if it twists nicely with Sam’s elixir quest. On the whole, Wollf’s The History of Living Forever is a touching tale about fathers and sons and love that hovers on the divide between literary and genre fiction. He breaks expectations about what literary fiction should be in engaging ways—there are recipes, for example—and creates fully formed (and frequently difficult) characters. He’ll also make you think about the idea of living forever and why you’d want to in the first place.
PanLocusThere might be a fascinating, intricately connected, intergenerational story about the intersection between humans and computers in here somewhere, but it’s hard to find. While Stephenson appears to be examining how much detail our brains would need in some far future when our consciousness can be uploaded at the point of our deaths, he simply buries his point under hundreds and hundreds of words that obscure rather than clarify ... The book follows two paths after this moment: one that shows Dodge...building the digital world, and one that shows what is happening in the actual world. The latter is marginally more interesting. Stephenson’s gift for projecting how humans and technology might interact is fully present there ... But the Dodge parts: oooof. It’s clear that Stephenson is telling a creation story, one that includes the battle between good and evil and the poor luckless souls who get in the way. There is epic poetry and mythic beasts. And, again, it might have been fascinating if Stephenson hadn’t fallen so in love with Dodge, whose every action the author must laud and embroider. Evil Elmo Shepherd is a melodramatic villain whose defeat can be predicted from the moment he gets sideways with Dodge. All of their dick-swinging comes at the cost of more complicated characters like Sophia, Zula, and Corvallis, whose stories might have made this big book an immersive, propulsive read rather than a punishing one.
PositiveTor.comIvy makes for a compelling narrator, even if some of the twists are too well telegraphed. No matter, really, because Gailey’s voice, which burns brightly in her American Hippo stories, carries the action well. It feels like this book could kick off a new series, which would be a welcome addition to the magic schools universe.
PositiveLocusWith Scalzi...a tight plot is a given, as is sharp dialog and snappy sentences. With this book, however, a dependable system’s accurately predicated collapse maps nicely against our real-world changing climate—not in terms of the math but in terms of how people react to that fact. There is a welcome sharpness to this book and its lack of patience for those who can’t see beyond increasing their own profit, no matter how much suffering they cause. It’s a fun book, mind, but it’s also an angry one.
Mary Robinette Kowal
MixedLocusIn the novelette, we meet the Lady Astronaut in question, Elma York, already on Mars and nearing the end of her life. The Calculating Stars, the first of two books, takes us to the beginning of her space career. It opens in March 1952, moments before a comet crashes into the Eastern seaboard and changes everything ... The Calculating Stars occasionally feels like a preflight checklist, where we have to make sure we know about, say, Elma’s experience learning about the structure of racism and bias, just so the theme is adequately explored. It can feel manipulative rather than organically motivated ... Still, there are more scenes that fire on all cylinders than those that feel performative. The back third of The Calculating Stars is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying – and nicely sets up The Fated Sky, which is the second half of Elma’s story.
PositiveLocus\"Confessions of the Fox sounds like it could be a dry dissertation on philosophy and economic justice, especially once Spinoza is casually mentioned, but, instead, it is wry and lewd and fun. Rosenberg explodes narrative expectations repeatedly while never forgetting to make us care about the characters. And the end, as the kids say, is a kick right in the feels.\