RaveTor.com... a phenomenal, creepy, significant novel—but it’s a hard read, and wrestling with its implications is harder. The twisting, remorseless plot seamlessly combines domestic thriller with cutting-edge science fiction, dragging the reader along as the Caldwells’ secrets are unearthed one at a time. Sarah Gailey’s incisive prose lends to the suffocating atmosphere that pervades the book, maintaining a heightened state of discomfort that is magnified by thematic explorations of spousal abuse, cloning ethics, and straight-up murder ... I can’t overstate the importance of Gailey’s handsome, precise use of language ... a brilliant, scouring novel that left me productively upset and unsettled. Grappling as the story does with abuse and trauma; with questions of how much our desires are created through those experiences; and with problems of control and consent…to do less than cause profound discomfort would, I think, disrespect the seriousness and complexity of those issues.
RaveTor.com...at once smothering with grim nastiness and a breath of fresh air in the broader series, which is approaching an ultimate end soon ... while it might sound challenging to leap from our usual cast to a group of fresh faces, the structure of Dead Lies Dreaming makes the leap simple. It’s a heist novel, so by nature, it is contained and delimited within a set of time-restricted events. That’s also part of why it does, as I said, feel like a necessary and entertaining breather from the overarching plot of the series. The introduction of a crew of lovable thieves and their loathsome adversaries, plus all the crosses and double-crosses and scheming, vaults over the barrier of “getting to know a whole new cast” by hooking the reader onto a plot with a breakneck pace, excessively high stakes, and the general inherent fun of heists.
Sam J. Miller
RaveTor.com... one of the best books I’ve read in 2020. Miller’s prose is phenomenal: sometimes dripping with malice, sometimes warm with affection, sometimes quiet in solitude or misery. Seriously, it’s so good I regularly paused to luxuriate over specific lines, but it’s more than just handsome writing. Miller has crafted a mature, thoughtful, and challenging novel that tackles the problem of being ethical in the world. No one is a good or bad person, because those aren’t the measures we need to be using ... The Blade Between deserves praise on the craft level, but also for the work being done under the surface of that technical brilliance. The meditation on the messily-human trouble of ethics pairs with a mature exploration of the weight of transformation/restoration—for people, communities, histories—in a discomfiting but vital story that throbs off of the page. I’m going to be sitting in thought with this book for awhile, and for that, I’m grateful.
Aoko Matsuda, Trans. by Polly Barton
RaveTor.comWhere the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda (translated by Polly Barton) collects a set of linked short stories reimagining Japanese folktales in contemporary settings, shot through with exceptionally witty societal critique ... Matsuda writes these tales of spirit(ed) women and dispirited men with impeccable comedic timing and a deceptively urbane tone that also carries biting commentary, while Barton’s translation maintains the rhythm of her prose with grace. The book is described as exuberant on the back cover, and the same word kept occurring to me. Wildness is dangerous but exuberant; these monstrous ladies are the same ... Where the Wild Ladies Are is a fantastic book, and I’m holding myself off from talking endlessly about each story inside it ... Matsuda has done a stellar job of rendering her ghostly characters human and understandable, even the spookiest ones. Her human protagonists are also thoroughly relatable, whether depressed by the job market, their dating lives, or other pressures to fit in that are constricting them in their ability to desire.
emily m. danforth
RaveTor.com... the book plays luxurious games with the reader, nesting stories within stories (within stories) as the hauntings unfold. Whether it’s the straightforward gothic of the 1902 plot(s) or the compulsive, prickly-sexy contemporary film production’s messy queer attractions, Danforth nails each beat. Plain Bad Heroines is scary, witty, and darkly taunting—without ever losing the core of heart inside the ghoulish cleverness of the prose ... I fucking loved this book. Readers whose genres of choice are gay novels, gothics or horror, and tricksy metafiction will be satisfied… but so will folks who appreciate the painful, beautiful stories of loss and dissatisfaction that run through the book. Plus it’s genuinely frightening or upsetting at points as the hauntings build, which is worth a lot to me in a spooky novel. From the chapter headings to the grimly sketchy illustrations provided by Sara Lautman that interrupt the text, the book is an experience, and I luxuriated in it ... Historical time feels as relevant as contemporary time, no matter which section of the book the reader is immersed within. The characters and plot are doing the most, too, through Danforth’s controlled but exuberant prose. It knows how fun of a book it is, as the narrator’s constant manipulative asides to the reader make clear ... written in the tradition of the gothic with all the punishment, death, and fear of women’s desire one might associate with the genre… but it’s also steeped in metafictional self-reflexivity that tells the audience how to read it ... a gothic that leaves them (and us) haunted, changed, but whole together. Ghosts and all.
RaveTor.comI had no reason to soften my expectations for Harrow the Ninth, because Muir smashes through them with seemingly-effortless, somewhat deranged intensity ... Harrow the Ninth works as an independent novel with a provocative, break-neck plot, but it also serves well as the gripping, rising-action-middle of a larger narrative ... By layering mysteries on top of mysteries on top of immediate threats of violence, all trapped within the contained space of the Mithraeum, Muir drags the reader along at a constant what next, what next? pace ... without a doubt, a powerhouse second book both for Muir and for the Locked Tomb series as a whole. Rather than crumbling under the pressure of the debut, this book doubles down on structural cleverness and total commitment to its (sexy, weird) necromantic aesthetic. I read the damn thing in almost one sitting, then read it again ... it’s gay, it’s rambunctiously violent, and it’s got a real heart beating under all of that.
RaveTor.comFirst and foremost: the prose of Girl, Serpent, Thorn is sprawling, luxurious, and handsome without ever sacrificing the fast-paced narrative tension it constructs via constantly evolving intrigues. Bashardoust combines evocative, mythopoetic description with an intimate point of view that links the personal, emotional experiences Soraya has to the wider world she inhabits ... I’m pleased with this novel’s willingness to engage ethical complexity, the labor of atonement, and the damage well-meaning people do to one another ... a delicious tale of desire, mistakes, anger, violence, and growth ... Women don’t get to be this kind of messy often in fiction ... Girl, Serpent, Thorn balances a raw, human core of emotion with a fast-moving, intriguing plot that draws fresh inspiration from Iranian culture past and present. Soraya is a fascinating protagonist whose approach to the world is always-engaging, even as her constant missteps drive the novel forward.
RaveTor.com... a lush stand-alone fantasy inspired by the courts and lore of ancient Persia. Woven through with conflicts of desire and power, loyalty and self-interest, the novel presents a coming-of-age tale that is subversive, queer, and rife with danger ... the prose of Girl, Serpent, Thorn is sprawling, luxurious, and handsome without ever sacrificing the fast-paced narrative tension it constructs via constantly evolving intrigues. Bashardoust combines evocative, mythopoetic description with an intimate point of view that links the personal, emotional experiences Soraya has to the wider world she inhabits ... Bashardoust distinguishes the type and feeling of desire Soraya experiences between the genders of her partners while emphasizing that each is legitimate, something I suspect many bisexual readers will appreciate. It’s worth noting that while Soraya reaching for her desires does cause strife in the novel, the resolution also turns on fulfilling desire, except with more attention to other people. That’s a delicate balance to strike, one that allows for emotional complexity as well as struggle to determine what’s right and wrong for Soraya, whose life has been challenging from the start. While the initial conflict comes out of Soraya’s desire to fix herself, the conclusion involves her accepting herself in her whole monstrous glory—thorns and all ... I’m pleased with this novel’s willingness to engage ethical complexity, the labor of atonement, and the damage well-meaning people do to one another ... balances a raw, human core of emotion with a fast-moving, intriguing plot that draws fresh inspiration from Iranian culture past and present. Soraya is a fascinating protagonist whose approach to the world is always-engaging, even as her constant missteps drive the novel forward. I also want to reemphasize how significant it is to read a novel about a queer young woman in a Middle Eastern-inspired setting pursuing men as well as women—and ending up in a relationship with another monster-woman. For so many of us who grew up identifying with villains, challenged by the desire to get a little revenge (or a lot), Soraya provides a beautiful touchstone.
RaveTorThe most common relationship arc that one finds in fiction tends to be a fresh meeting that grows toward a romantic or, less often, platonic pairing-up. It’s exceedingly rare to read about the other kind of process, where a romantic relationship has already dissolved and the involved parties are trying to hash their way into a friendship—but that’s the thoroughly satisfying path Cipri has taken with Ava and Jules in Finna ... as a queer reader, I’m soothed and delighted simultaneously to see this fraught and feeling-full experience reflected as the significant emotional arc of such a rambunctious, socially critical romp of a novella ... The deeply queer content and context of Finna isn’t just about Ava and Jules, either. Instead, the queerness of the novella is reflected in its way of thinking, of approaching life, of being friends and being critical. It’s not window-dressing but life-blood. Cipri’s approach to labor, love, politics, and potentiality are all imbued with a wondrous sense of complexity and questioning. This sense of possibility also drives the fast pace of the plot without losing any of the illustrative, rich political background ... Cipri writes a wild chase through universes...while giving us a substantially realized emotional arc that crosses several characters as well as critiquing the crushing state of labor and neoliberalism in the background. Finna is doing a lot, and it’s doing that ‘a lot’ very well—tightly written, elegantly described, and comedic without ever losing its serious attention on the all-too-human experience of heartbreak and the changeable self.
PositiveTor.comThe feeling of losing something and being unable to move on, both a literal person and a way of life, comes through with powerful clarity ... Trina also skillfully articulates the tension between building solidarity around difference and a liberal collapse or erasure of difference. While the ethical and political context behind this argument is deliciously complicated, and always requires individual effort for critical engagement, Porter’s protagonist makes it real to us through the body and relationships ... Structurally, though, The Seep is not necessarily a total success. The third and final section of the novel feels underdeveloped ... The book itself reads more as a novella or otherwise-luxurious piece of short fiction, lacking enough of the flesh that might stabilize its deeply interesting, thoughtful bones. With Trina’s personal revelation and the rescue of the Compound boy at the conclusion, the threads are all tied-off neatly but, to extend the metaphor, perhaps with a handful of dropped stitches preceding ... Despite the sense of unfinished or unrealized narrative space, which I did leave the book itching over, the emotional and thematic sketches Porter draws in her strange soft-apocalypse future also fill up the reader’s brain for later perusal. The simplicity of her work is delightfully deceptive ... Trina is a refreshing protagonist, radiating the calm steadiness of an older queer woman even through her own progressive breakdown and her disillusionment with the Seep’s changing world ... contains gorgeous ideas and images in conflict, as well as in concert, that are worth carrying out of the text to admire further: who are we, and what are our bodies, made up as they are of experiences and histories?
PositiveTor.comWhile Dead Astronauts is a companion novel to Borne—returning to the three titular dead astronauts at the city crossroads—it functions as a standalone text. There are calls to narrative moments in the other book, and images certainly, but it’s entirely possible to read as a cohesive work all on its own ... It feels almost lazy, at this stage of the game, to toss out the word ‘hallucinatory’ for a Jeff VanderMeer novel—and yet it’s often the right word, particularly for sections of Dead Astronauts ... not what I would call a simple read. It’s quite purposefully challenging ... It twists the mouth, a little, but it also feels good; it feels unexpected yet expected ... overall the function of the novel isn’t traditionally structural. What it is, is affective. There’s a reason half of the book relies on poetic structure rather than narrative, and that’s emotion and animality ... While Dead Astronauts is extreme, occasionally becoming a nightmare that crosses the limits of imagination and hallucination, it’s also deeply rooted in the now.
RaveTor.com... an ideal (and mildly haunting) October read. The pieces included are innovative and introspective at turns, often open-ended but evocative in their exploration of liminal spaces in homes, families, and the world at large ... While this approach to narrative, fabulist and often resistant to the expectation of \'closure,\' offers and asks certain work of the reader… it’s remarkably good at setting a tone for a collection, a shared liminality and uncertainty that borders (in the spookier stories) on the uncanny in a way I appreciated. While not every story stands powerfully on its own, the ones that do are stunning, and the others serve more to weave a sensation or expectation of the overarching vibe. All the pieces serve a purpose, despite or because of their individual wonders and flaws. This sort of strange, calm, meditative work is something I like to sip from and I like to see exist in the field, filling out the shadowed edges of how we talk about belonging and being together in our stories (and who gets to belong: in this case, queer folks across the board).
RaveTor.comThe Future of Another Timeline is an absolute tour de force that wholeheartedly embraces the radical potential science fiction holds as a political genre ... The book is a good book, in terms of craft and execution, but it’s also a fucking important book—an urgent book, a clear-seeing book, a book with ethics to argue as well as the passion to do so ... Newitz’s comprehensively intersectional engagements with feminist activism are made real ... The Future of Another Timeline is multifaceted and unbelievably thorough in representing resistance. Gender, class, race, ethnicity, and ability are all influences on a given individual’s approach and understanding. The portions of the novel set at the Chicago Midway in 1893 are some of the most vibrant in their grappling with the problems of activism ... Newitz balances the terrors of living as a woman under patriarchy with the blistering, relentless, revolutionary possibilities of collective action ... There is hope, though, and a fight to be fought. The novel’s arguments come to rather glorious light through that process of struggle ... On all possible levels, The Future of Another Timeline succeeds: as an illustrative argument about intersectional feminist alliances, as a treatise on activism and coalition-building across time and culture, and as a work of precise, finely constructed, beautiful science fiction.
RaveTor.com... weird-wild-and-wonderful ... fun. To reflect the tone of the book itself: it’s fun as fuck. Muir had a grand ol’ time writing this fast-paced, darkly funny, spookily horrific novel and that shines clear through each line. Gideon is a protagonist after mine own heart. It’s her voice and her perspective that brings the book to vibrant life. Muir balances comedic timing with creeping monstrosity, body horror against mad science, intrigue against friendship against alliance against affection. And, somehow, all of the tropes and sly asides to them work in concert to create a perfect mélange of action, fright, political machinations, and romantic tension ... a fine example of the ways in which a familiar pattern can be used to bring rambunctious life into a plot ... The plot itself is, of course, also great fun ... With one debut book, Muir has leapt up the list of continuations I’m eagerly awaiting—so, while we wait for the next installment of lesbian necromancers, snippy hilarious dialogue, and violent political intrigue, I’ll keep thinking about Gideon the Ninth.
Alix E. Harrow
RaveTor.comMetafictional strategies in a novel often serve to distance the reader...However, while The Ten Thousand Doors of January is certainly a book engaged with its bookness and with the whole genre of the portal fantasy (as well as a long history of feminist works in sf)… the underlying tender hopefulness Harrow imbues in January’s story, even in its moments of violence and exclusion, closes the gap of that metafictional remove ... Though the novel features a great deal of conflict, struggle, and trauma, it maintains a quite-purposeful softness toward the potentiality of the world and the work stories can do ... The potential that vibrates off the page is the potential of youth, of a certain form of imagination… but also present are the things elided from those earlier children’s stories, like ethnicity and class ... sits on a threshold of audience given its prose and style, with the appeal of nostalgia to adults who need to remember the power of stories as well as young people who need to remember the heady potentiality of optimism—but then also vice versa, too, for all of us. An argument can be made from a place of tenderness and basic belief that, maybe, the world can be good. Harrow does that, gently, with an attention to real hurts but also a hope for healing them.
RaveTor.com... an absolute behemoth of an anthology, with all pieces minus three reprints original to the book ... The sheer volume of work Datlow has collected in Echoes fills out the nooks and crannies of the theme with gusto ... allows the reader to compare and contrast expectations of genre as well as the shapes the ghost stories take given those expectations, which is especially fun when they’re all tucked next to each other. The stories are also individually of a high caliber, surprisingly varied though most of their narrative arcs bear certain similarities in tone and structure. Datlow delivers a compelling and satisfying collection of pieces that are either doing something new or doing the old thing just right ... a balanced book as a whole, though, and remains readable throughout its hefty length, never growing stale or repetitive despite the shared theme. While I wouldn’t recommend making a go at reading the entire thing at once, it maintains its tension through uninterrupted stretches of reading, buoyed along through Datlow’s skilled editorial arrangement to keep the pacing and approaches variable. As a fan of ghost stories I was immensely satisfied by the big tome, and I’d recommend it for anyone else who wants to curl up around a spooky yarn—some of which are provocative, some of which are straightforward, all of which fit together well.