MixedTorHell Bent is a great “hell heist”, as one of the characters puts it, but it doesn’t have anything meaningful to say about anything. Alex and the others touch on grief and fighting back against one’s abusers, but these are personal demons not systemic oppressions. Where Ninth House had a thesis statement, Hell Bent comes off more like a popcorn movie ... Even though it didn’t scratch the same itch the first book did, Hell Bent is an entertaining novel that I generally enjoyed. As a dark fantasy, it’s fun and frightening in equal measure. The worldbuilding is spectacular and the characters are all kinds of intriguing ... [Bardugo] is both heavy handed and too superficial ... Without even knowing who the author was, it would be immediately apparent that a white person wrote this book. The characters of color lack an awareness, a sense of lived experience, an understanding of how they sit inside and outside of their community. What is it like being a biracial Latina at an ivy league? This series not only doesn’t have an answer but hasn’t even asked the question.
C. L. Polk
PositiveTorExcellent worldbuilding. The novella may be short—under 150 pages—but it isn’t shallow or hollow. Readers get a good sense of the world these people live in, the magical systems, and enough historical background to give context to the present ... Some of the characters are sketched too thin, but Helen is a fascinating antihero ... The mystery is a little too easy to figure out and the ending is a little too pat, but overall it’s a thrilling, charming novella.
RaveTor... take history and imbue it with elaborate yet grounded fantasy that feels at once shocking and intimate. No matter how strange or frightening, it still feels real in that curiously contradictory way only speculative fiction can manage ... Vo delicately threads that needle, managing to make the reader sympathize with Luli without sugarcoating or simplifying her ... Nghi Vo is the kind of writer who starts off remarkable yet somehow gets better and better with each book. Her short speculative fiction made her mark on fiction, her novellas demonstrated her sheer talent, and her novels have taken alternate history to new heights. Siren Queen is the best thing she’s written thus far.
RaveNPRJames once again shattered my expectations. As awed as I was by Tracker\'s story in the first book, Sogolon\'s tale makes this a rare sequel that is better than the first ... Told in a mesmerizing dialect that scoffs at the very notion of Standard American English grammatical rules, Moon Witch, Spider King is a breathtaking book, one that functions as well as a standalone as it does a sequel. James toys with the common traits of epic fantasies, giving readers a journey with no destination, an ending that isn\'t an ending, and characters who stand in direct opposition to the traditional hero\'s journey. Where the first book reveled in the brutality of humankind, the second is about resistance. No matter what strikes Sogolon, she always stands back up, collects her fallen weapon, and dives back into the fray ... Like its predecessor, this is a novel that begs to be read in one sitting — though it is nearly impossible to do so without coming out the other end feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. But make no mistake, this series is absolutely a must-read.
RaveTor.comGoliath is not your average science fiction novel. Onyebuchi jumps through first, second, and third POV, from a traditional Western narrative structure to documentary footage to nonfiction journalism articles. Time is nonlinear here, with some stories happening in the past, others in the characters’ presents, and others in their futures. It is somehow simultaneously epic yet intimate in scope, with a large cast of characters spreading across several states and many years, most of whom are connected to each other by one man ... Goliath reminds me of Angela Mi Young Hur’s devastatingly good 2021 speculative novel Folklorn. Content-wise, the books couldn’t be more different, but in terms of the way they made me feel, both while reading and afterward, they are very much alike. The two books are dense in plot and background and play with time, space, and knowledge in frighteningly clever ways. They’re emotionally heavy and intellectually layered to the point where multiple reads are required for full understanding. Neither are easy weekend reads by any means, and you’ll probably feel more like you just ran a marathon when you turn that last page rather than feel peaceful satisfaction ... Whatever Goliath is, however you interpret and experience it, it’s clear that Tochi Onyebuchi is one hell of a writer. This is a visceral and bracing text, as layered as an archaeological dig.
RaveTor.comVo has always demonstrated a talent for vivid and imaginative descriptions, a skill she turns up to eleven in The Chosen and the Beautiful ... exquisite. It fits perfectly with the era. It feels like something Fitzgerald or Evelyn Waugh might have written, minus the sexism, racism, and colonial mindset. The language is sumptuous and a little bit florid, like a flapper dress studded in crystals and beads. What Nghi Vo does with The Chosen and the Beautiful is nothing short of phenomenal. The novel dazzles as much as it cuts. Vo does The Great Gatsby far, far better than Fitzgerald ever did. Might as well reserve a spot on next year’s award ballots now, because this one will be hard to beat.
P Djèlí Clark
RaveTor.com... did not disappoint ... Clark takes a fascinating premise and extrapolates the reactions and consequences to the rest of the world. Against this inventive alternate history backdrop he sets up a clever crime and even cleverer detective ... True to form, Clark weaves in nuanced discussions of colonialism, the patriarchy, white feminism, sexism, racism, misogynoir, and blackface, among other issues. I especially appreciated the way he explored the way Westerners utilized racism and Egyptians colorism to denigrate and oppress ... builds on the momentum of not just the rest of the series but the Clark canon. It’s his most complex work to date, full of all the wit, imagination, and incisive socio-cultural critique fans have come to expect. At least a third of the pages of my review copy are dogeared, marking important passages and startling lines, interactions, and scenes worth coming back to. I could easily write three times as much as I have now and still only scratch the surface of this outstanding novel. This will be at the top of my To Recommend list for a long time coming.
Suyi Davies Okungbowa
PositiveTor.comThe whole novel is strong all around, but Son of the Storm does two things very, very well: worldbuilding and character development. The world in the Nameless Trilogy feels multilayered and, well, epic. Inspired by pre-colonial West Africa, Okungbowa infuses his landscape with vivid descriptions of tastes, scents, textures, sounds, and sights. Danso and Esheme don’t just walk through the city streets; we experience it with them. The amount of detail he puts into each scene is impressive ... this is a story where the reader expects certain tropes and is surprised with some killer twists ... Son of the Storm falls into some frustratingly common tropes about biracial people. For example, Danso and other Shanshi are treated like they’re half of this and half of that but somehow still less than both, a thing I, a biracial person, am deeply tired of seeing in speculative fiction. I long for the day when we drop that from the collective trope lexicon. But I think overall Okungbowa does a solid job of showing how Danso’s difficulties as a biracial person are not caused by anything he’s done but by the oppressive caste system ... a great first book in what looks to be an exciting trilogy.
PositiveTor.comThe setting is more than an interesting backdrop. The behaviors, objectives, and motivations of the characters aren’t rooted in a Western/white mentality but a South Asian diasporic one ... The rest of the worldbuilding is just as fascinating ... Chadha does a good job of dispensing [...] information out in such a way that it allows the narrative to breathe without slowing down the plot ... There were a few elements I struggled with ... We don’t get much cyberpunk in young adult fiction these days, despite the obvious need. Wouldn’t it be nice if Rise of the Red Hand kickstarted a new trend?
RaveTor.comAnother year, another installment of Seanan McGuire’s brilliant Wayward Children series. Everything you love about the series is on full display in Across the Green Grass Fields, from children discovering new identities to inexplicable worlds full of strange creatures ... the pinnacle of Horse Girl literature, and I’m not being sarcastic (okay, maybe just a little sarcastic) ... This novella is the lightest of the Wayward Children series in terms of action and plot. While McGuire doesn’t devote as much intensity to the plot, the messaging and subtext are thrumming with energy. Across the Green Grass Fields is an excellent book in an excellent series. Even if you’re like me and have little interest in horses, you’ll still enjoy following Regan on her quest to become the best version of herself.
RaveRonslate.comSi-yu doesn’t tell her own long-winded stories, but what she says, coupled with Chih’s internal addendums, fill out more of the vast history of Ahn. But it’s not just the nation whose stories are revised. For the reader, Chih is our only example of a monk, but as Si-yu points out, they aren’t the ideal model. Life on the road has forced Chih to compromise on the rules and regulations. Their own story is full of revisions and edits and cuts ... the novella grows, the pieces coming together to create both an intimate portrait of a tigress and her human lover and a hazy landscape of life in Ahn ... Ultimately, there is no \'truth\' and there is no \'fiction;\' there is only truth as fiction and fiction as truth ... The Singing Hills Cycle isn’t just free of Eurocentric constraints, but actively pushes against them. Queerness – in sexual, romantic, and gender identity – exists by not existing. By that I mean that there is no cishet versus queer. People are people. They express themselves in whatever way best suits them and their needs. No one comments on two women being lovers anymore than they would a woman and a man. Chih is nonbinary, but it isn’t a plot point or topic of conversation. No one hems and haws over grammar or intentionally misgenders them. That’s not to say Ahn is free of bigotry and prejudice, but it’s so refreshing to have a world in which the white cishet patriarchy isn’t the default. A nearly perfect example of a novella done well, where the author truly gets the medium, how to work within its structure while also expanding beyond its limits.
A. Deborah Baker
RaveTor.comIf you’ve read a lot of classic children’s books, Over the Woodward Wall will feel very familiar. Sprinkled throughout are hints of the Chronicles of Narnia, the Oz books, Alice in Wonderland, and others, even McGuire’s own Wayward Children series. As short as it is, it rambles in the way the best classic children’s portal stories do, where it’s more about the experience than the plot ... How many times can I write “this book is awesome, it’s beautifully written and broke my heart into a million pieces, OMG go read it right now”? Because all of those things are true about Over the Woodward Wall. It is as wonderful and charming as you expect a Seanan McGuire book to be, yet straightforward enough to appeal to middle grade readers. This is the perfect book to read to a child right before bed, a chapter a night to keep the thrill going. And older readers will delight in it as well, even without having read Middlegame first. Honestly, what more is there to say? This book is awesome. OMG go read it right now!
RaveTor.comThis book is going to be a tough one for some people. For one thing, it doesn’t follow the same protagonist as the first book ... King of the Rising is also very heavy on description—Løren describing to the reader what he sees in other people’s memories or experiences through their kraft—and light on dialogue. The ending, while absolutely the right one for this story, will leave some readers feeling frustrated and unmoored. Western fiction readers are trained to expect a certain kind of ending from books like this, and Callender does an excellent job turning those expectations inside out. Personally, I loved all of these aspects. They were the best choice, craft-wise, for this story ... Kacen Callender has once again demonstrated why they are one of the best writers in the business. From middle grade to young adult to adult, they are somehow able to take stories I’ve seen before and tell them in wholly original and emotionally devastating ways. The Islands of Blood and Storm duology isn’t an easy series to read, but it’s a powerful one. It’ll sweep you away if you let it.
P. Djèlí Clark
RaveTor.comRing Shout, the latest historical fantasy novella by the ever-brilliant P. Djèlí Clark, achieves what the TV show Lovecraft Country couldn’t manage: to do something entirely new with H.P. Lovecraft. Twisting and twining racial violence with supernatural horror is old hat, but Clark has never been an author to settle for what’s expected ... Choosing to parallel Klan rallies with ring shouts is genius-level work on Clark’s part ... Each book from P. Djèlí Clark is better than the last. And that’s saying something when they are all absolutely fantastic. Ring Shout is exactly what I wanted from Clark doing cosmic horror in a historical fantasy setting. It is simultaneously unrelenting, eviscerating, and unflinching. There is no one quite like P. Djèlí Clark and no story like Ring Shout. Get this book in your hands immediately.
C. L. Polk
RaveTor.comIf you’ve read Jane Austen, Polk’s novel will feel familiar ... Polk plays in historical settings of opulence and industry without ignoring the oppressions that facilitate that opulence and industry. Her closest literary cousin besides Jane Austen is probably Zen Cho. Both found the gaps in Austen’s work (and the subsequent deluge of remakes and adaptations) and filled them with meditations on racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia, colonialism, and queerphobia ... I relished how Polk (and Cho) expanded on Austen’s work. No, not expanded: enhanced. She makes explicit what her predecessor left implicit or didn’t even consider in the first place ... It’s tempting to want to breeze through The Midnight Bargain. It has a clever conceit and a charming style that makes you want to sit down and read the whole thing in an afternoon. However, I recommend not doing that. Slow your roll and really savor the words, the characters, the story. This is a novel begging for a second or third read-through to pick up the nuances and whispered references you missed the first time around. If this is your first time reading something by C. L. Polk, know that she is a deliberate writer, a writer who plays with subtext and subtlety; what she doesn’t say is just as important as what she does. Let yourself sink into her story and you’ll come out of it with a richer experience and deeper understanding. I’ve only scratched the surface here. I’d need a thesis dissertation to discuss everything in the book ... .L. Polk has already become one of my favorite authors of historical fantasy fiction. The story is old and new at the same time, full of classic tropes done in invigoratingly original ways. There are a lot of must-reads this fall in speculative fiction, and The Midnight Bargain is near the top of that list.
RaveLocusEvery subsequent chapter, from the moments of quiet reflection to the scenes of frantic action, lived up to the high expectations set by the first ... may be Rebecca Roanhorse’s first work of epic fantasy, but the skills she honed writing her four previous novels and more than a dozen short stories have led to this brilliant work of art. The cast of characters is huge and varied, the worldbuilding vast yet detailed, the magic complicated yet grounded ... It’s clear Roanhorse spent a lot of time researching Indigenous cultures. Although she picks and chooses from a wide range of pre-contact societies from across the Americas and Pacific Islands, she does so with awareness and respect. It feels like showcasing Indigenous cultures rather than appropriating. Observant readers can spot the influences from Cahokia, ancient Polynesia, etc., but she has added enough layers of fantasy to them that the fictional societies don’t feel like replicas of the real ones ... Roanhorse’s new mythology base has refreshed a well-worn subgenre. I hope this book leads to a wave of Indigenous epic fantasies, because I will auto-buy every single one. Hear that, publishing industry? It’s time to put your new diversity initiatives to work.
RaveTor.comMaster of Poisons is rich in worldbuilding yet intimate in details. It is a sprawling saga that covers years and worlds but still feels deeply personal. Hairston’s magical system here is highly inventive and unlike anything else I’ve read before. It is complicated and I’m not sure even now I fully understand it, but I liked the density and confusion ... If I had to complain about something, it would be that the structure of the chapters clashed with the pacing of the plot. Chapters were generally short, two or three pages at most, which, when paired with the expansive time frame and gradual pacing, made the story feel like it was barely moving. As in I felt like I was breezing through chapters yet making little progress through the narrative. One of the selling points of epic fantasy is its breadth and depth, so your mileage may vary. And it certainly wasn’t enough of an obstacle to ding my enjoyment of the novel as a whole. Epic fantasy readers, you’re about to read your new favorite book. With its large cast of characters, stunning worldbuilding, gorgeous prose, and fascinating magic, Master of Poisons will shake you to your core. Andrea Hairston has done it again. All hail the queen.
RaveTor.comThe history of the three towns in Inglewell is so unsettling and strange that it can only be told as if it were a fantastical story. But those fairy tales also shift the narrative around Tina, Trish, and Gary. As they live through their own fairy tale, the myths and legends they grew up hearing take on new relevance ... isn’t just about three teens on a magical quest and the bone horses and bird boys they encounter along the way. It is a mythologizing of a painful reality ... Jennings has crafted a fairy tale with its bones in the Old World and its blood and viscera from Down Under ... magnificently written and feels like a folktale both old and new. Jennings’ use of language is as uncanny as it is gorgeous. It’s the kind of story where you can smell the macadam baking in the sun and hear the crackle of dry grass ... a nearly perfect novella. It sings with pain and roars with power. Although it is short, it is neither spare nor unfulfilled. Kathleen Jennings has a voice unlike any other, and I long for more.
RaveTor.comThe Year of the Witching is Alexis Henderson’s debut novel, but you’d never know it. It’s so well crafted and her point of view so well honed it feels like it should be her third or fourth book. The story is enchanting, enticing, enthralling, enigmatic ... Locations make manifest the existential horrors the characters experience. It’s a good thing, then, that Alexis Henderson is so damn good at it ... It’s impressive work that reels you in ... Unfortunately, the book’s ending doesn’t quite live up to everything that precedes it. Henderson lets certain characters off the hook and doesn’t demand as much from others as she needed to ... With a keen eye and a sharp tongue, Henderson breathes new life into an old trope. Alexis Henderson is a fresh new voice in dark fantasy, and I look forward to hearing more from her.
PositiveTor.comDefying genre expectations, [A Peculiar Peril] is at once epic fantasy, contemporary fantasy, historical fantasy, and portal world fantasy ... a big book full of strange turns of phrase, stranger characters and settings, and a nagging sense that by the time you finish you will both know too much and not enough ... Suffice it to say, the plot is straightforward but the execution is wholly Jeff VanderMeer ... It took me a little bit to settle into A Peculiar Peril. At first the story alternates between Jonathan and Crowley, but VanderMeer soon throws in other characters that expand the world in fascinating ways but also slow down the narrative. Jonathan occasionally feels sidelined in his own story. There is clearly more to him than meets the eye, but because we spend so much time with everyone else (and because this is a duology that needs to save some secrets for the second book) we don’t get much in the way of answers. That’s fine, though. Part of the fun of a VanderMeer novel is VanderMeer himself. His writing style is so unique and compelling that I get as much enjoyment from the act of reading as I do from the actual story ... Besides the bonkers elements, there are lots of little moments of heart, soul, and truth ... If you want a weird and refreshing summer treat, A Peculiar Peril is exactly the book for you. I never knew what to expect, and each new development was as delightful as it was unusual. This isn’t the kind of book you blow through in an afternoon. It demands careful attention and a solid time commitment. But it is so worth it.
RaveTor.comThrough a clever conceit, sparky characters, and sheer force of will, their latest novella expertly tweaks the Western and dystopian genres ... Gailey often touches on the themes of identity and found families in their work, and never has it been more stripped down and authentic. The setting and plot are a little more bare bones than usual, but the tradeoff is a far more in depth exploration of a young woman on the verge of both finding what she’s been missing and losing everything ... Upright Women Wanted is as gritty as a Western, as oppressive as post-apocalyptic, and as idealistic as hopepunk. It’s so well-written, its characters so well-developed, and its world so compelling that it feels longer than it is. As much as I dream of future novellas to expand the series, I am wholly satisfied with just this single entry. It takes a strong, competent hand to be able to tell such a profound story in only 176 pages. Sarah Gailey continues their streak of awesomeness.
C. L. Polk
PositiveTor.comIn the first book, Polk asks the hard questions and in the second she answers. There are many who don’t like the questions and reject the answers, but we can’t expect the future to be better without examining the past and present ... What I find so fascinating about C.L. Polk’s Kingston Cycle is how layered it is. You can, as many have, read it as a cute queer romance in a sweeping, vaguely historical setting. You can also read it as a dense fantasy series with hints of action-adventure and political thriller. Or you can read it like I did: as a subtle, sly commentary on the ways in which Western society relies on oppression and exploitation and what we can do as individuals to not just resist but rebel and reconstruct ... wonderfully written and teeming with characters that defy tropes and demand attention.
RaveTor.com... a damn good story ... To call Riot Baby \'dystopian\' is to undersell it ... For BIPOC in a white supremacist society, the dystopia is past, present, and future. And that’s what makes Riot Baby so impressive. Onyebuchi shows a world that is frightening only if you’ve been exempt from mass oppression. For those of us dealing with it every moment of every day, Riot Baby isn’t so much of a warning about what might happen if we aren’t more vigilant and more of a thinkpiece about where we’re already headed ... Onyebuchi could have ended the story on a note of desperation and cynicism; instead he opts for hope. Well, it’s hopeful if you’re BIPOC. Maybe not so much if you like being in power ... With an eviscerating and eloquent style, Tochi Onyebuchi tells a profound story about resistance. The narrative moves from South Central to Harlem to Rikers to Watts and jumps between Ella and Kev as they grow up. This allows Onyebuchi to tell two vast stories with the same concise theme. It’s a clever trick that manages to give this novella a novel-like breadth ... As much as I love his young adult fiction, I hope this is not Tochi Onyebuchi’s only excursion into adult fiction. Riot Baby left me gasping for air and ready to take to the streets.
RaveTor.comCallender’s fantasy world is unique but familiar, with kingdoms to the north, west, and east, each with varying degrees of slavery, abolition, and culpability ... Too often, stories about racial violence and slavery break people into white and POC, colonizer and colonized. With Sigourney and Løren, Callender explores the in between. Sigourney is both colonized and colonizer ... As much as Sigourney considers herself a keen strategist, she is in truth frustratingly passive ... makes for an occasionally challenging read. As a reader, I want to delve into the mysteries, not hang around their edges. The result is teasing a mystery then denying the reader the opportunity to solve it ... Fortunately, that was the only element I struggled with. Everything else was nothing short of remarkable ... it absolutely must be read.
Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes
RaveTor.com... inspired by and at the same time something new. In a way it feels like Afrofuturism with a folklore twist ... The Deep’s slim page count disguises the depth of the work within. Rivers Solomon conjures a vast world in her latest novella, one where history and present day collide and love can change lives. The text is ever-changing as the ocean itself. Shifting from third person to first person plural, at times it feels as lyrical as the song from whence it came. The story unbalances and redefines. It will trail in your wake long after you finish it. Yetu is a force to behold, and I for one am immensely grateful that Solomon allowed us to witness her story.
RaveTor.comThis is more than just a fun little novella about scary monsters and nasty humans killing each other....Burrowed between the bones are hints of commentary on climate change and environmental exploitation, racism, homophobia, privilege and power, and capitalism. This isn’t a novella about social justice issues, but like any good work of speculative fiction, it fully embraces and eagerly examines the larger social context of which it is a part. Jennifer Giesbrecht’s subtext is both subtle and sharp; it cuts deep and the wound lingers long after the last page ... I wish the story had been a wee bit longer...On the other hand, the story is so steeped in brutality that if it were any longer it would teeter over the edge from delightfully grotesque to unnecessarily perverse. At novel-length, the violence would be nearly unbearable, but as a novella it is much more manageable ... Giesbrecht’s vivid descriptions help ease some of the violent tension. Often poetic, occasionally lurid, the way she depicts and describes Elendhaven, its inhabitants, and the world beyond is truly wonderful. Sentences dance across the page in a display that is equal parts sumptuous and practical ... when Giesbrecht applies all that talent to worldbuilding and exploring its mythology, the results are thrilling ... better than good. It’s frakking great.
RaveTor.comSecond books in trilogies are frequently weaker than their predecessors or successors. They are bridges between what was and what will be, and that often leaves them wanting in terms of plot and action. Fortunately for you, A Kingdom for a Stage was written by the immensely talented Heidi Heilig, so you don’t have to worry about this novel being filler. This is the kind of young adult fiction that makes the whole category look good. Heilig injects OwnVoices and anti-colonialist sentiment into YA fantasy in an evocative and powerful way. Packed with intense action and deep introspection—as well as scenes from plays, newspaper clippings, letters, and sheet music!—it more than lives up to the greatness of A Kingdom for a Stage. I’m genuinely not sure how I’m going to last another year before the third and final book comes out.
RaveTor.com... hard sci-fi that feels soft. Musings on philosophy, theology, and morality get as much airtime as descriptions of the mechanics of the living ship and the scientific context for space colonization. Why characters act the way they do is as crucial as how they move from place to place. Each character, from the nuns to their enemies to the hardscrabble denizens living on the outskirts of society, feels realistic and fully realized ... Lina Rather squeezes in more worldbuilding in under 200 pages than many authors do in a multi-book series but it never feels overwhelming. Rather gives us just enough history and science for the plot and character development to make sense and feel impactful but not enough to distract from the point. In a story this short, that’s a fine line to walk and all the more impressive that she managed it ... This is the kind of story that sticks with you long after you finish it.
RaveTor.comI like Leigh Bardugo the young adult fantasy author, but I absolutely LOVE Leigh Bardugo the adult fantasy author. Everything I felt was missing from her young adult work is all over her adult book. In my review copy, I must have dogeared every other page to mark a meaningful quote or scene. Things she’s only hinted at in her young adult work is dredged up from the depths, cut open, and exposed to the world ... By far, Ninth House is the best novel Leigh Bardugo has ever written, and definitely one of the best of 2019. If I gave stars to my reviews, it would get 10 out of 5. It is a clarion call for accountability, a summoning spell for \'girls like us\' who cannot fight back, and a battle cry for those working to dismantle the system.
RaveTorIn the great Chuck Wendig tradition, Wanderers doesn’t just settle for a plot twist or two. He plot twists the plot twist then plot twists the plot twist’s plot twist. Reading his books is like standing super close to a painting and seeing only the smudges of paint then taking a step back to see those brushstrokes form a flower. Step back again and now you see the flower is in a vase. Another step back and the vase is in a room. One more step and the room is in a house and the house is on fucking fire and there’s blood everywhere and people are running and screaming. Wendig is a master at turning the screw and twisting the knife past what most authors would dare but not so much that he jumps the shark (metaphors!). It takes serious skill to ramp up tension without letting it overwhelm the story, yet Wendig makes it look easy ... If, after all my lavish and effusive praise, you still aren’t convinced if you should read Wanderers, let me leave you with this: the book is 800 pages and I read it in two sittings. I forgot to eat. Twice. I sat on the couch enraptured by the story. It’s that good. No, it’s that incredible.
RaveTor.comStorm of Locusts might be the rare sequel that’s even better than the first. Roanhorse spends as much time building out the physical world as much as she does the characters ... It’s clear Roanhorse spent a lot of time thinking about how the west and southwest would function in the aftermath of the apocalypse, the collision between Indigenous cultural attitudes, religious fervor, and the lawless wild wild west of Hollywood myth ... Rebecca Roanhorse delivers another tense tale of betrayal and revenge set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic American southwest. Maggie Hoskie is everything I’ve ever wanted in a protagonist, and watching her grow as a person is thoroughly enjoyable. There’s nothing else quite like the Sixth World series and I never want it to end.
PositiveTor.comDuckett offers her protagonist agency and voice ... within the bounds set by Shakespeare and our own modern interpretations of Elizabethan femininity and sexism, Duckett’s Miranda stands out ... Duckett takes Shakespeare’s already somewhat critical take on the patriarchy and overlays it with contemporary feminism, not so much that it breaks the story but enough that it feels more grounded in reality than the original play ... I wish Duckett had explore race a little more in the story. Most of the racially relevant questions she poses are left unanswered to such an extent that it does a disservice to the thematic elements ... Miranda in Milan is a delightfully charming and dreadfully suspenseful novella.
RaveTor.com\" ... tackles misogyny, colonialism, racism, and classism head on ... It’s not often fantasy fiction gives readers that kind of nuance with people of color, where the author demonstrates the harsh reality of the different levels of privilege afforded to people from similar spheres ... Women sacrificing themselves for the greater good is old territory in fiction, but yet again Cho pushes past the tropes to something unexpected. She calls them out on their self-sacrificial behavior ... Written with wit, charm, and heart, this is the perfect follow-up to a perfect debut novel. Although this go-round feels a little less like Jane Austen and a little more like Susanna Clarke, it’s still beautiful in every way. Filled with exciting adventures, death-defying feats, unshakable bonds, and simmering romance, The True Queen delights from every angle. The wait for this novel was long, but oh so worth it.\
Tehlor Kay Mejia
RaveTor.com\"In the beginning, We Set the Dark on Fire feels deceptively simple, almost easy. While the setting is unusual, the premise is well-worn and the characters seem to be more trope than personality. But once Daniela and Carmen meet their shared husband, Mateo Garcia, at his compound, it’s as if Tehlor Kay Mejia pulls her finger out of the dam and lets the flood waters rush in ... We Set the Dark on Fire is dystopian YA as you’ve only dreamed it could be. Tehlor Kay Mejia’s story is specific yet universal, intricate and vast; it’s fire and smoke and the phoenix rising from the ashes. This is a powerful, personal novel, and Mejia is a fierce writer with a sharp eye for subtlety. I read the whole thing in two sittings, not because it was a quick read but because I just couldn’t put it down. With a debut like this, I can’t frakking wait to see where Mejia will go next—and I can guarantee that I’ll be there for every single book.\
P Djeli Clark
RaveTor.comFor years now, P. Djèlí Clark has quietly been cranking out short fiction that is as fantastical as it is attuned to social justice. Through captivating characters unlike any we’ve ever seen before and sumptuous worldbuilding that twists the familiar into something exciting and new, Clark works his own magic ... In young adult science fiction and fantasy, the trend of POC authors deconstructing colonialism has been gaining traction recently, but it is still fairly uncommon in adult SFF. Here’s hoping Clark is only the tip of the iceberg ... If last year’s stellar novella The Black God’s Drum hadn’t already solidified P. Djèlí Clark as one of the best under-the-radar writers today, The Haunting of Tram Car 015 will. In just over 100 pages filled with monstrous creatures and fanciful magic, Clark critiques the patriarchy, imperialism, and Westernization under the guise of a slight plot about a haunted public transit trolley. This book should be on every recommendation list of the best fantasy fiction for 2019. I can’t wait to see what he writes next.
RaveTor.comI can’t write a review about Roshani Chokshi’s The Gilded Wolves. What’s there to say? It’s great, a marvel, lightning in a bottle. It’s an extremely well-written and tightly plotted series opener jam-packed with captivating dialogue and mesmerizing description. Not putting it at the top of your TBR pile would be a travesty. There, review done.
PositiveTor.com\"The Winter of the Witch feels a bit like three novellas in one ... the segmented structure does throw off the pacing. Time jumps erratically ... Arden writes crisply and evocatively, with a harsh sense of urgency seeping through the lines ... Reading The Winter of the Witch was a huge challenge not because it was poorly written (it most certainly was not) but because it was so hard to put down ... Brimming with magic and myth, The Winter of the Witch, is the perfect conclusion to Katherine Arden’s lush series. As effervescent as it is foreboding, this is a series that will be on recommendation lists for years to come.\
PositiveTor.com\"Historical fiction often does a pretty poor job of representing diversity in a realistic way. I could easily see a book like this being written by any number of authors, none of whom would even come close to what Sharma Shields achieves with The Cassandra ... The Cassandra is a challenging novel. It’s a weird, discomfiting book of epic poetry and intimate prose that grows both more and less fictional with each passing page. Sharma Shields’ novel is a relentless rush, a distressing re-envisioning of one of the darkest points in world history where everyone comes out the other end worse than they were when they started. Yet it’s also utterly compelling and beautiful in unexpected ways.\
RaveTorBlack Leopard, Red Wolf is set in a fantasy version of Africa that is, as James described it, \'a little bit Dark Ages in Europe…sort of after the fall of Rome, but before the rise of Florence.\' In the real world, while Europe was struggling to survive, the African continent was awash with expansive empires and wealthy kingdoms. For epic fantasy to focus almost exclusively on Western Europe and the British Isles means ignoring a treasure trove of storytelling opportunities—opportunities James eagerly takes on ... Fantasy has exploded with diversity in recent years, especially in Young Adult fiction. With epic fantasy, the tide is turning more slowly, but QPOC authors are turning the stodgy old subgenre inside out. If Charles R. Saunders’ Imaro series opened the door to new ways of telling epic fantasy, and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy leapt over the threshold, then Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf just ripped the whole damn door off its hinges.
RaveTorCassa, Alys, Newt, and Evander had a plan. It wasn’t a great one, but it would do. And then Vesper, the fifth member of their rebellious little group, betrayed them all ... On the surface, Beneath the Citadel is an action-adventure novel that’s part heist and part teenage rebellion. But beneath its tropey top layer is a catacomb of heavy topics and social commentary. Hard truths lurk in the shadows of each word sentence, in the dark corners of each page, in the caverns of each chapter. You’ve read other YA fantasies just like this one…until suddenly you realize there’s nothing else quite like it ... A novel about corrupted and selfish power, about the voiceless speaking out demanding change, about the marginalized creating a better future in spite of a system set up to crush them, well, if that isn’t apropos of our current political climate then I don’t know what is. Beneath the Citadel was the perfect read for election season.
RaveTor.comJane Yolen is one of the all-time greats. She is one of the biggest voices in young adult fiction and has helped guide and shape it into the juggernaut it is today. Her books are creative, unique, and deeply moving. So too is her latest YA novella ... remarkable ... Finding Baba Yaga is like a forest in a snowstorm: harsh, bleak, romantic, and breathtaking. Obviously Yolen knows her Russian folktales because this feels very, very Russian in the best possible way. I hope this isn’t the last time Yolen mixes young adult fiction, folktale adaptations, and poetry. Read it, then read it again.
PositiveTor.comNever lets up on the tension ... Lila Bowen demonstrates once again how adept she is as writing difficult characters ... I’m not entirely convinced the way the conflict was resolved is strong enough to close out the series. There was a lot of bringing back old characters and coming to terms with things, but upon reflection, Treason of Hawks felt less like the climax of four books worth of mounting tension and more like tying up loose ends ... Overall, Treason of Hawks is a strong story that soars when it finally gets around to dealing with issues that have been piling up throughout the series. With high octane action and irresistible characters, the Shadow series is one of the best weird west fantasies out there. I’m sad to see Rhett go, but I’m glad that his final story is as good as this one.
V. E. Schwab
RaveTorV.E. Schwab is one of those authors you just have to read...She is a literary force to be reckoned with, a writer who packs more punch into a single chapter than most do in a whole series. With each new book, Schwab’s already finely honed skills get sharper and fiercer, and Vengeful is no exception. Five years have passed since the terrible events of Vicious . Five long, hard, painful years. Sydney Clarke brought Victor Vale back to life after Eli Ever was captured and imprisoned, but because her gift is also a curse, she brought him back wrong. Victor keeps dying. Again and again, each spell lasting longer than the last. In order to stop his ongoing deaths, Victor is forced down a path he once rejected. He can either be principled and dead or alive and a hypocrite. For Victor, the choice is obvious ... Emotionally eviscerating and coldly calculating, Vengeful weaves a gusty, gory tale with an ending you’ll never see coming.
MixedTor.comI want to tell you that Before She Sleeps by Bina Shah is well-crafted feminist dystopian science fiction. In many ways it is. But it fails for me in two key areas: queerness and authorial intent ... Before She Sleeps is deeply, frustratingly, and inexplicably focused on cisnormativity and heteronormativity. The characters do not refute, scrutinize, or criticize how Green City constructs gender roles, identities, or expressions ... Frankly, I think it’s a shame Sabine was written as cishet. Her storyline would have had so much more social commentary with some queerness folded in. But Shah still could have used the background narrative to venture beyond the rigid rules of cis/heteronormativity even while keeping the protagonists cishet ... That by the end of the novel I know more about Green City’s malls than I do its queer community is disappointing to say the least ... A lot of people are going to love this novel no matter my objections. It will appear on lists of the best feminist and dystopian fiction for years to come. And maybe it should. Although the overarching context of Before She Sleeps didn’t work for me, I was still captivated by Bina Shah. She concocted a moving tale about a frightening future that could all too easily come to pass. As much as I was concerned by what Shah left out, what was on the page was beautifully written.
C. L. Polk
RaveTor.com...a masterful debut about a magical Edwardian-esque world still reeling from a deadly world war ... Her talents at worldbuilding are equally as impressive. Aeland and its inhabitants felt real. The magic is well-explained and interestingly explored, as is the social hierarchy ... But what pushes Witchmark from very good to great are the deep undercurrents. This isn’t just a story about cool magic and those who abuse it. Under the surface is a painful discussion of slavery, exploitation, and colonialism ... If Tor.com had a rating system, I’d give Witchmark 10 out of 5 stars.
MixedTor[Where] the whole love at first sight thing falls apart is that it’s usually based on physical attraction, and the relationship part where they get to know each other on a deeper level never really happens ... [which] makes it hard for me to buy into [the prtagonsits\'] romance in the first place and therefore makes the inevitable obstacles less devastating. None of this is Pérez’s fault, of course. The original story offers only so much leeway ... Sweet Black Waves is a beautiful if overstuffed novel. Kristina Pérez’s writing is evocative and immersive. She pulls you into the medieval British Isles with lush, florid prose and surrounds you in a sweeping romance. Pérez deftly tightens the screws until it’s almost too much, forcing her characters into heartbreaking circumstances with no good options. It’s not a perfect novel, and not everything she attempts is successful, but on the whole it’s inventive and intriguing.
RaveTor.comDread Nation is the perfect example of why we need more diversity in the YA author pool. Only a Black American woman could write Dread Nation. The true history of Western civilization is etched into Black bones. It is passed down through the generations not as object lessons but as fragments of memories imbued with subtext. A single sentence carries with it a tone of respectability and the implication of revolution ... Ireland tapped into our collective knowledge of the past and dreams for the future and poured it into Dread Nation. She revealed the truth of the real America by rewriting the fictional one. I didn’t just love Dread Nation. I felt it down to my core. It moved me in ways I didn’t expect.
RaveTor.comRebecca Roanhorse is an author to watch. She knows her stuff, how to twist the knife to make it hurt so good and how to turn the screw to make it almost too stressful to handle ... Roanhorse takes the time to show the repercussions of Maggie’s experiences. What grounds her, what makes her a relatable character isn’t just what she goes through, but how she faces it and how it haunts her anyway. In the real world we can’t wave a magic wand over our pain, and neither can Maggie. In Maggie we see the vast extent of damage trauma inflicts on survivors ... While Roanhorse doesn’t hold your hand through the culturally-specific bits, she does offer the reader enough context to figure it out on their own ... It’s rural fantasy at its finest ... a frakking awesome novel and a fantastic prelude to what is sure to be a thrilling series.
RaveTor.comAs good as Head On is, I absolutely loved how it picks apart socio-cultural responses to disability and gender both within the novel’s world and the reader’s ... Over and over again in Head On we hear how non-Hadens are turning on Hadens. Able-bodied people and Hadens privileged enough to gain access to the abled community see Haden’s Syndrome as an obstacle. The world had to be rebuilt around the needs of Hadens, but as any minority will tell you, the majority hates having to bend to the will of those it deems lesser ... With Head On, John Scalzi proves once again what an exciting storyteller he is. He deftly explores gender and disability through a rollicking science fiction crime thriller. It’s fun, fresh, and layered with meaning and interpretation. I enjoyed the hell out of it. Head On will be high on my recommendations list for years to come.
RaveTor.com...harrowing yet beautiful ... As Emezi peels back Ada’s layers, she exposes the culture clash between Indigenous beliefs and Western colonialism ... Deciding if Ada’s story is reality or imagination—or if Freshwater itself plays more toward fantasy or fiction—misses the point. The whole book is liminal space upon liminal space, a threshold between the past and the future, truth and lies. The narrative is as non-traditional as it is non-linear; Emezi and Ada are not beholden to Western rules and systems ... At 226 pages, I should’ve been able to breeze through Freshwater in an afternoon, two if I was feeling lazy. Instead, it took me nearly a week of consuming it in small portions. Racing through it felt disrespectful ... For a debut novelist, Akwaeke Emezi has successfully pulled off what many longtime writers only dream of doing. It’s an astonishing, haunting, stunning piece of work.
RaveTor\"...[a] harrowing yet beautiful novel ... Freshwater is the kind of novel that deserves, no, demands immersion and focus. Every sentence left me reeling, every paragraph on the edge of my seat, and every chapter begging for more. I could’ve spent hundreds of pages more in Emezi’s lush creation ... For a debut novelist, Akwaeke Emezi has successfully pulled off what many longtime writers only dream of doing. It’s an astonishing, haunting, stunning piece of work. I hate how good it is and I love that I had the opportunity to read it.\
RaveTorAt first glance it’s hard to see how the pieces fit together. NOS4A2 is broken into several volumes each full of a bunch of chapters (Hill continues to toy with the definition of a chapter and how it should be structured) that exist in different eras, locations, and populations. Gradually the puzzle begins to fill in, and the bonds between the seemingly unconnected characters develop and tighten … Like Neil Gaiman, Diana Wynne Jones, China Miéville, and G.K. Chesterton, Joe Hill has the rare talent of being able to manipulate the English language in ways you never before thought possible, and in ways that are wholly unique to him. Every sentence, every phrase, every adjective, every grammatical and editorial choice all have meaning within the bigger picture, oftentimes several competing and contradictory meanings.
RaveTorHorns pits God and Satan against each other through their earthly pawns, though it isn’t quite as direct as that. Neither deity make a literal appearance, but their influence stains Ig’s world like blood or bleach … There are layers secreted behind layers buried beneath layers entombed within layers. It’s a painful and deeply sad book about lost lovers and broken hearts, or a darkly tragicomic tale about a the pleasures and vices of sin and virtue, or a moral about seething sibling rivalries and friendly competition gone sour, or a horrific fable about meddling deities who delight in tormenting their worshippers, or an editorial diatribe railing against heartless conservatism and religious indoctrination, or whatever else you happen to feel at any given moment.
PositiveTorEven with my colossal disinterest I will gladly acknowledge that The Wanderers truly is a beautifully written novel. Each character shines as unique and realistic creations with complex, tangled lives. Explorers really are a special brand of human, and those traits, quirks, and flaws are dragged to the fore here. There isn’t much of a plot because the action is all character study. This renders the pacing slow; for some the gradual turn will be just right while for others (like me) interminably glacial. As a study of a particular branch of humanity, The Wanderers is striking, a dominating and domineering critique of the people who leave and the ones left behind. No, the real problem is that it was marketed as Station Eleven meets The Martian. Other than its vaguely science-fictional trappings and being contemplative with scattered moments of humor, it’s really nothing at all like either novel.
RaveTor\"Gaiman brings all of that awe to Norse Mythology, and you’ll be hard-pressed to finish it and not feel just as inspired ... While the stories are ancient, Gaiman makes them fresh and lively, as if the antics of the gods and giants only just happened. He revives the myths not as stories to be read but as tales to be told, read aloud to rapt listeners just as they would’ve been done long ago ... Those familiar with the storytelling techniques of traditional folklore and myths will immediately get where Gaiman is coming from. Norse Mythology deftly blends ancient and contemporary literature styles, paying homage to the former with the flair of the latter ... When I first picked up Norse Mythology, I only planned to read a few chapters, but the deeper I got the more I felt like as if I was sitting in a Viking longhouse by a roaring fire and a cup of mead listening Gaiman recite mythic poetry ... quite simply breathtaking.\
Ben H. Winters
PositiveTorWith Underground Airlines I enjoyed a fun science fiction book but I am disappointed in the author and publishing industry’s selfish intent yet I’m also moved to tears by the visceral reaction to seeing my people’s stories being told, no matter who is doing the telling ... I didn’t just love this book; I felt it. Victor tunneled into my brain and heart. It’s been almost a week since I finished it and my thoughts keep turning back to Victor’s ordeal. Few books have burrowed under my skin like that, but this is definitely one of them ... The end of the book wanders into some pretty heavy science fiction, but it’s rooted in reality. Winters hasn’t entirely succeeded in his goal, but he clearly thought through the most of the ramifications of his alt-history.