RaveBookPageThe Spear Cuts Through Water is beautifully, lovingly crafted...Simon Jimenez’s writing is dense and poetic, suffused with a sun-bleached elegance that is wholly at odds with the nightmarish and gruesome world it depicts...The Spear Cuts Through Water is, to be clear, a very disturbing book...Turning each page is more likely to reveal an abattoir than anything else—albeit one painted in mythic prose...But scattered throughout are moments of peace and realization, brief tableaux in which the love story that was promised peeks out...Despite this being a tale of gods and demons, of psychic tortoises and a Moonless sky, Jimenez never forgets the pair of humans struggling along at its heart.
PositiveBookPagePenelope successfully blends a folkloric sense of the supernatural with a Gatsby-esque vision of the Roaring \'20s in Washington, D.C\'s ‘s African American community ... a fascinating blend of the real and imagined ... In Penelope\'s hands, the glamour of all-Black masquerade balls, where bootleggers mingle with politicians and opera stars, is an act of defiance, both of the racial power structure of the day and of stereotypical depictions of African American life during this era ... The most effective aspect of The Monsters We Defy is how Penelope portrays the Black experience on its own terms. Even the magic is derived from a combination of African mythology and traditions from the African diaspora, particularly hoodoo. The result is a novel that is both a well-crafted fantasy romp (with a healthy dose of happily-ever-after romance) and a work of revisionist fiction that elevates a vital, oft-overlooked slice of history.
Sam J Miller
PositiveBookPageThe stories in Sam J. Miller’s debut collection are unified by two core sensibilities: a keen awareness of the power of narrative and a morality that is radical in its compassion ... for all the variety of its stories, Boys, Beasts & Men is still a cohesive whole ... In large part, this is due to Miller’s distinctive voice and how his narratives all revolve, in some way, around love ... In these memorable pieces, Miller wields his efficient, unpretentious prose to create indelible impressions of moments, characters and twists. None of these characters or settings ever feel stale; none of the plot points hang around longer than they’re welcome. Miller deliberately leaves narrative gaps, inviting readers to imagine for themselves what fills those spaces while also encouraging them to find beauty even in the most harrowing times. Through every timeline, every cinematic reference (of which there are many) and speculative monstrosity, Boys, Beasts & Men is a reminder that stories matter, especially the ones we tell ourselves.
Guy Gavriel Kay
RaveBookPageay’s fictional worlds, while beautiful, are defined by this bleak inertia; his characters see their homes fade from the map and their own lives taken for the pettiest of causes. This perspective allows Kay to address serious topics within the framework of a fantasy adventure novel, but he never tips into the sort of grimdark cynicism that would cheapen his insights ... All the Seas of the World is a story of resilience winning out, of these two individuals finding a way to vanquish their demons in spite of all the powers arrayed against them. A master of telling small stories in a big world, Kay reveals spots of hope amid the cold cynicism of history.
PositiveBookPageFor a book with such a melodramatic premise...The Atlas Six is curiously matter-of-fact, dispensing with on-page relationship drama and coasting through tense fight scenes with brevity. Likewise, instead of providing flowing backstory, Blake communicates personalities through lighthearted conversations and depicts the world outside the Library’s magically warded walls entirely through the scars it left on her protagonists. The Atlas Six is stingy with its exposition, with the lengthiest passages being debates between characters on topics such as the nature of time and the conservation of magical energy. But in Blake’s hands, these tracts are engaging and often very, very funny. This duality—an extremely pulpy plot married with smart and nimble writing—is the core of The Atlas Six’s appeal.
RaveBookPageTreating it as a philosophical treatise or a searing critique of contemporary politics would discount the fact that it’s also a riveting romp of an adventure ... Battle of the Linguist Mages reads like Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler conceived a metaphorical child while high on LSD and blasting Skrillex in a basement. It is hilarious and irreverent, and it relishes the intrinsic ridiculousness of real-life mages and superheroes training in a video game that’s a cross between Kingdom Hearts and Beat Saber. In blindingly inadequate words, Battle of the Linguist Mages is, conceptually, very dense ... the most fascinating element is the deftness with which Moore crafts a fantasy epic about characters who role-play fantasy epics. Lying beneath endless music puns, pointed re-creations of Angeleno excess and cynicism about the modern-day celebrity cult is an impressive narrative self-awareness, an acknowledgment of every trope that Moore uses to render the reasonably straightforward core plot (discovery of magical talent, training montage, quest to save the world) as subversive.
Ryan Van Loan
MixedBookPageVan Loan puts his own stamp on this familiar territory, ably incorporating the romantic tension between Buc and Eld and fusing the setting with steampunk tendencies that feel necessary to the story, rather than merely tacked on for flavor ... although they occasionally veer into cliché (in particular, Van Loan’s descriptions of Buc’s attempts at romance trend this way), they nevertheless remain convincing. Both Buc and Eld are well-written protagonists with complex morals and motivations. Van Loan excels at writing unexpectedly dark stories with quick, high-energy prose, propelling the reader through this fairly convoluted plot with a twisted kind of brio ... This speed contributes directly to what is, initially, The Justice in Revenge’s most infuriating aspect: Van Loan hides information from the reader by, well, just skipping things and filling them in later. Most of the time. Some gaps are never filled, so readers who want their novels to leave no questions unanswered should beware. But these spaces are never accidental, and the loose ends still dangling on the last page are clearly intended to be there. Van Loan carries off this stylistic choice with conviction, even starting the story in the middle of a plot that is not really explained for several chapters. It is a welcome reprieve from excessive exposition, as well as an incredibly effective hook. However, this lack of exposition means that The Justice in Revenge relies even more heavily on the reader’s familiarity with its predecessor than most fantasy sequels already do ... may not be especially innovative, and it requires a lot of attention to read without getting horribly lost in Servenza’s labyrinthine subplots. But it is a lot of fun.
RaveBookPageAcclaimed young adult and romance author Zoraida Córdova’s first adult fantasy novel, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina, is strongly influenced by the Latin American literary tradition of magical realism. Córdova weaves the story of Orquídea’s childhood with that of her family’s struggle in the present, masterfully synchronizing revelations in both timelines. In the process, she successfully casts those who mistrust or are suspicious of magic as irrational and unwilling to believe their own eyes. After all, magic is everywhere in Córdova’s enchanted reality, both the endemic sort of magic found coursing through rivers and creeping up trees and more alien varieties. Magic is an absolute cornerstone of this world, and Córdova evokes it beautifully.
RaveBookPage... the perfect length. If it were shorter, it would be unsatisfying. But if it were longer, its meditative tenor might have become unsustainable, even with Chambers’ sense of whimsy shining through as frequently and naturally as it does. Introspection and humor are perfectly balanced, to the point that these two tones literally bracket the novella ... duality is characteristic of Chambers’ work, and A Psalm for the Wild-Built admirably demonstrates how it can translate beautifully into shorter formats ... a worthy addition to Becky Chambers’ already burgeoning oeuvre. It distills her established interest in moving the grand conflicts of genre fiction to the background, in favor of more inspiring personal stories infused with beauty and optimism.
RaveBookPageNghi Vo perfectly strikes that balance of the new and the familiar ... the familiar contours of Fitzgerald’s tragedy are warped with a hazy dash of demonic and earthly magic. The result is an utterly captivating series of speakeasies, back-seat trysts, parties both grand and intimate and romances both magical and mundane, all spiraling through a miasma of Prohibition-era jingoism and entitlement toward its inevitably tragic conclusion. Vo is a remarkable writer whose talent for reviving Fitzgerald’s style of prose is reminiscent of Susanna Clarke channeling Jane Austen in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. But it is Vo’s additions to Gatsby’s original plot that truly shine. By foregrounding Jordan’s and Daisy’s perspectives rather than Nick’s, she recasts a story about the consequences of male overreach as one about the limitations of female and non-white agency ... The reader will likely know how Daisy’s story ends, but Jordan is in the spotlight here, and her story is just as captivating, if not more so. By putting her in the foreground, and highlighting the voice among Fitzgerald’s core characters that was the least heard, Vo has transformed The Great Gatsby utterly.
RaveBookPageClark introduces characters as if they’re old friends, trusting the reader to infer the connections between Touraine and her fellow soldiers. Although this feels jarring at first—for the first several chapters, the reader almost constantly feels as though they have missed something—it quickly becomes one of The Unbroken’s greatest strengths. As the book submerges the reader in this way, it gives the story a unique urgency and drive, and it persuades the reader that if you just keep going, the answers will reveal themselves ... Clark presents a searing and unflinching view of European colonization in North Africa, and of Africans’ struggle against it, and she refuses to soften any of the harshness or resolve any of the complications inherent in those events ... for all the disturbingly plausible grime, gore and occasional horror that coat every surface of this tale, The Unbroken is not a dark fantasy. There is a current of optimism that flows throughout.
RaveBookPage... themes have evolved in complexity, diving deeper into an intrigue about the very nature of life and death. The central cast is as appealing as ever, and the cats..are a delightful addition ... Martine’s debut showcased her consummate skill and perfect blend of narrative, humor and world-building; her second effort highlights her thematic ambition, and her abilities as a writer are more than equal to the task. Desolation is the kind of book that crouches in your mind, waiting for a quiet moment. It is hard to read slowly, but demands to be savored, lest you miss some of the cleverest and most elegant foreshadowing in modern science fiction ... carries its own distinctive melody ... Arkady Martine’s first book was a deserving Hugo winner. Her second might eclipse it.
J. S. Barnes
RaveBookPageIn Dracula’s Child, Barnes portrays vampires at their most sinister. They do not sparkle, nor do they enjoy shopping; rather, they hunger, and only the eldest and most disciplined among them can control the urge to feed. The gothic, almost oppressively macabre atmosphere is enhanced by Barnes’ revival of Stoker’s epistolary form. Not only is it an effective allusion to the original material, but telling this new story through diary entries, letters and newspaper clippings also forces the reader to experience the events almost in real time. There are no hints of omniscience; instead, Barnes is downright miserly with foreshadowing, offering only hints of what is to come. The result is both an admirable blend of horror and dark fantasy and an accurate reconstruction of the original’s mood.
PositiveBookPageUnlike most of his peers in the Western science fiction scene, whose worlds frequently comment on fundamental human failings or the dystopian struggles of an inconsistently ethical society, Liu’s work is suffused with an understated optimism. To Hold Up the Sky is no different ... Throughout To Hold Up the Sky, Liu brings his collections of ice sculptors and poets and computer scientists and military engineers teeteringly close to oblivion. He does so knowing that the crisis is finite, and that humanity in its feeble entirety will either survive, learn and grow, or simply...stop. And he insists that there is beauty either way. I am not certain if I agree with this sentiment. It is both too cynical and too idealistic for me. (See? Yet another contradiction!) But either way, Liu is far too good a writer for me to put this book aside.
K. S. Villoso
PositiveBookPage... fast-paced to say the least. It transitions from the dark political fantasy of the first book to an apocalyptic epic reminiscent of Terry Brooks’ The Elfstones of Shannara at breakneck speed. There are almost too many plot twists and new developments to track, which would be confounding were it not for the strength of Villoso’s portrayal of Talyien. The queen is clearly in the same boat as the reader as she struggles to keep up with the sheer pace at which her world is being turned inside out. Perhaps the most compelling subplot is Talyien coming to terms with the nature of leadership and what it means to rule. The Ikessar Falcon also includes some fascinating developments in Talyien’s relationships, especially those with Rayyel, Agos and Khine. Villoso’s clear talent for characterization is as evident as ever ... compresses weeks of travel across oceans and continents into gaps between chapters. Although the characters are as compelling as ever, these shifts move Villoso’s series closer to the typical epic fantasy, and results in a much broader writing style than the tightly constructed, setting-specific voice of the first book ... retains the excellent characterization and intrigue of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro while expanding both its world and the plot at a head-spinning rate. It does everything the middle book of a trilogy should with an uncommon degree of authorial skill, and is a thoroughly entertaining read in its own right.
RaveBookPage... begs to be devoured slowly, in courses that may be individually savored and committed to memory. Walton’s prose is kin to chef Fabio Picchi’s carrots, or maybe the porcini mushroom soup: excellence wrought from the most prosaic of elements. It even includes something like Maria Cassi’s political comedy: There are anecdotes about the abstract nature of Victorian women’s legs, Canadian threats and biblical inerrancy. A rather lengthy paragraph on the Canadian emigration system is especially, ah . . . poignant. But for those (like me) who have only experienced Firenze in books, this is likely not the most effective route to explain this book. Let me try again ... Walton’s snark keeps any potential mawkishness at bay, and the result is a thoroughly memorable story about magic, meddling gods, learning to love properly and all the ways the worlds we create can save us in the ones we’re born into ... It’s a worthwhile reminder that creativity has value and that the proper standard of value is rarely monetary. Or What You Will is the literal manifestation of escapism, but it also may be among escapism’s most effective champions. Walton’s Firenze is an island of charming dysfunction in a world whose dysfunction more often frightens, and its fictional analogue, Thalia, is a theatrical idyll. Walton’s narrator is equal parts Melpomene and the archangel Michael, though he denies the latter. It is fantastical, but tangible all the same, less escapist than transporting, and suffused with joy and the tacit hope that maybe, just maybe, the salvation Sylvia finds in crafting her books might be attainable for the reader as well.
RaveBookPageK.S. Villoso’s The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is a fascinating read, driven by a well-drawn cast of characters in a beautifully imagined world. None of the main characters is lacking in complexity, and Villoso gives each of them rational motivations ... Although both Jin-Sayeng and Zirinar-Orxiaro are built on a magical bedrock, the realistic characters within them lend The Wolf of Oren-Yaro a bite that even the darkest of grimdark fantasy often lacks ... Villoso palpably renders the moral grime and corruption that pervades almost every scenario ... The superb world building combined with the well-built dramatic structure of the novel draws the reader on in a way that solely ramping up the tension would not. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro tops it all off with a battery of cliffhangers involving Talyien’s past and the nature of magic itself that bodes well for the rest of the series.
PositiveBookPage... just as gritty as its predecessor. Harris’ prose is blunt and uncomplicated, matching Lizbeth’s general sensibility, and lending the novel a welcome readability. This straightforward style meshes well with the first-person narration, implying that the protagonist is relating events in her own words as she remembers them. Each character is filtered through Lizbeth’s biases, resulting in a refreshingly direct story, albeit one in which everyone uses roughly the same cadence and vocabulary and some of the plot twists are foreshadowed into predictability ... The most remarkable aspect of A Longer Fall, though, is the fluency of Harris’ alternate history. Her fractured United States features references to Alexei Romanov’s hemophilia, Russian and Coptic Orthodox theology and the racial dynamics of the Reconstruction-era American South, to name a few.
W. L .Goodwater
PositiveBookPageIt would be easy, perhaps, to draw an analogy between Goodwater’s magically infused Cold War and other arcanely altered histories. Historical fiction with a dash of magicians is increasingly common, as evidenced by books authored by such luminaries as Susanna Clarke, China Mieville and Guy Gavriel Kay. Revolution falls squarely in this domain, but unlike the work of those writers, it is defined almost wholly by its taut, compelling plot, rather than by stylistic elements like Clarke’s flowery, Austenesque prose. Goodwater’s writing is direct and efficient, ideally suited to the thrillers he crafts, and adroitly gets out of its own way to allow the story itself to shine through ... Karen O’Neil’s travails in Cuba are great fun, bringing to mind an Indiana Jones adventure with a little more moral ambiguity, a lot more incantations and much stronger female characters. Without exception, the women are smart, capable and independent, while the men tend towards greedy, corrupt or inept, which is a more than welcome change from the genre’s status quo ... Goodwater’s ventures into Spanish names and dialogue leave some verisimilitude behind, but this is a quibble, and does not distract from the book’s overall narrative drive.
RaveBookPageThese footnotes are the clearest implementation of Rowland’s notable skill at tailoring her prose to the character in this work ... a fascinating meta-literary experience, made all the more compelling by the moments when the nameless editor appears in the narrative itself ... Setting aside Rowland’s technical skill, her plot and characters are compelling as ever. She continues to offer tantalizing slices of a comprehensive, well-designed world ... should be on the reading list of any fan of darkly comic fantasy. Preferably just below its predecessor. Stories should be told in order, after all.
PositiveBookPageWhat does hope look like in an increasingly dystopian reality? ... a collection of well-crafted, frequently terrifying and sometimes beautiful visions of America’s future.
PositiveBookPage\"Receptor’s sole failing is that its plot can move a touch too quickly, rushing through relationships and romances in ways that limit their credibility. But Glynn’s dramatic instinct is maintained throughout ... Glynn unfailing obeys the rule of showing rather than telling, and does so with memorable elegance. Perhaps his chief accomplishment in Receptor is his ability to shift the language of his dialogue ... All told, for anybody who... wants a fast-paced thriller that still has time to question the morality of medical enhancement, Receptor would make an excellent choice.\
MixedBookpageIn An Easy Death, Charlaine Harris’s fictionalized mid-century North America is enticingly familiar. Although she will win no prizes for eloquence, her blunt prose serves the first-person narration, as it matches Lizbeth’s personality and language. Seen through the gunnie’s eyes, what used to be the American Southwest is brutal and remorseless, but draped in a kind of honesty the reader is forced to respect ... The plot is predictable, sure, but it’s honestly refreshing to read an alternate history that doesn’t try to score any philosophical points and focuses on telling a complete story.
Cixin Liu, Trans. by Joel Martinsen
RaveBookPageBall Lightning is, in fact, a genuine mystery in contemporary physics and atmospheric science. However, none of the myriad theories proposed to explain it go quite as far as Liu’s speculation, which breaks the tenets of particle physics ... Ball Lightning establishes Liu as a dominant force in so-called \'hard\' science fiction ... Liu populates Ball Lightning with logical, well-crafted individuals and manages to conjure a compelling conflict out of a cast of characters who are all trying to do the right thing ... At its core, Ball Lightning is an emotionally compelling and well-written story hiding within a shell of detailed and thoroughly researched quantum mechanics.
RaveBookPageMuch of City of Lies’ appeal lies in Hawke’s writing style, and the depth and narrative potential of its world and characters. But the most interesting aspect is its approach to conflict. Unlike most typical fantasy works, Hawke presents both sides of a religious war as sympathetic. This is a plot that seems to be full of antagonists, but is actually populated with basically decent people who cannot communicate with each other, either because they do not understand each other’s concerns or because their complaints are too deeply held to be negotiable. Even the real masterminds are merely selfish rather than evil. As a result, City of Lies is a story that resonates beyond its pages without overtly moralizing, which is a rare achievement in any genre. All told, Sam Hawke’s debut is an engaging, tense and deeply relevant story within an intriguing world that lends itself well to further exploration.
PositiveBookPageSylvain Neuvel is an engaging and atypical writer. Like the rest of the series, Only Human is told entirely in transcripts of conversations, interviews and news reports, and Neuvel handles this challenging storytelling medium extremely well. The story he tells is interesting and compelling, in large part due to the complexity of the supporting cast ... The familiarity of that plot at times makes Only Human the literary equivalent of a cover band of a cover band composed of better musicians than the groups they mimic ... Its plot may cover previously trodden ground, but its narrative technique and character depth make it worth the reader’s time.
Catherynne M. Valente
RaveBookPage\"Although Catherynne M. Valente’s delightful sense of humor is the most constant aspect of her prose, it is not the most memorable. Although her comedic talents are reminiscent of Douglas Adams at his best, Valente’s palette is far larger. Her prose is always quick and engrossing, but the content ranges from a glitzy, sometimes profane satirization of the music industry and its larger-than-life characters, to dead-serious flashbacks and a genuinely moving finale. That ability to fluidly tie real-world tragedy together with psychedelic hilarity is perhaps Space Opera’s most impressive attribute. Valente’s writing here is as strong as anything taught as \'good prose,\' although the rock and whimsy will keep it from finding its way into the traditional literary canon anytime soon. And that’s a shame. It takes confidence, skill and talent to craft a tragic disco ball metaphor, and Valente has all three in spades. At the end of the day, Valente’s fiction of a high-stakes, sequined Intergalactic Idol ably addresses what it means to be human and what it means to love someone, while being ever-entertaining and, crucially, being the kind of book that makes you want to dance. It’s got soul, after all.\