Apr 092021
 

Library Journal: Preservation Station was supposed to be a low threat-assessment, but the SecUnit named Murderbot finds itself standing in front of a dead body, facing a mysterious murder. Mensah asks Murderbot to help investigate the death and find out if GrayCris was involved, even though both sides have little trust for each other. Murderbot attempts to work with Senior Officer Indah and her agents, but identifying the dead is the least of their problems. Deceptions and more deaths lead them to smuggling secrets that could expose Preservation to more problems, so of course Murderbot will have to help the humans deal with it. Except this murderer may be as smart as Murderbot, or—Murderbot would never admit—even smarter. Wells’s (Network Effect) flair for balancing Murderbot’s at-length internal monologues with its external voice and decisive actions creates a main character who is addictive. VERDICT Back in novella form for a sixth outing, Murderbot continues to bring intelligence and acerbic commentary on humanity to the forefront.

Apr 072021
 

Publishers Weekly: A famously haunted Japanese mansion is the wedding venue of choice for an adventurous couple in this hair-raising novella from Khaw (These Deathless Bones)—and the local spirits are not the only obstacle to marital bliss. Five childhood friends with a metric ton of baggage between them fly to Japan to witness the union of two of their own—but old hurt and stubborn grudges cast long shadows within their group, and the social drama takes center stage, even as an ohaguro-bettari, the ghost of a bride buried beneath the palace centuries ago, demands a sacrifice for hosting them. When the modern day bride-to-be is taken hostage by the spirit, the remaining friends are left to piece together the offering she demands while facing their own grievances head-on. Khaw’s prose oozes dread as malevolent creatures from Japanese mythology swarm the pages and the characters’ interpersonal relationships crash and burn. Horror readers and folklore fans will find this tale of terror to be brutally satisfying.

Apr 052021
 

Booklist: In Drayden’s Escaping Exodus series, humans carve out lives in the bodies of space creatures called the Zenzee, capturing a new home whenever an old one wears out. In the first volume ( Escaping Exodus, 2019), the matriarchal, polyamorous society realized their Zenzee had consciousness, and committed to respecting and restoring their world as much as possible, living with minimum negative impact. This second volume starts with now-ruler Doka and his wife, Seske, fighting for this new reality, which has made many unhappy, leading to political stagnation. Meanwhile, they are uncovering new secrets and issues that introduce even more turbulence. Drayden’s novel trades off humor with dark reality, connecting this sf world to our own questions of cooperation, gender inequality, and, most of all, our relationship to our planet. While some major plot points or character developments can feel rushed, Escaping Exodus: Symbiosis is, at its core, rooted in a fascinating world that presents intriguing questions to its readers, as well as driven, complex, and often queer characters.

Mar 262021
 

Library Journal: As a member of the Sisterhood of Aytrium, Elfreda Raughn is part of a magical bloodline that preceded her, from her mother to her grandmother and generations back. But it is the same bloodline that forces Elfreda into eventual pregnancy and unavoidable death. Hoping for a way to escape her fate, Elfreda finds a mysterious group, those who believe the power of the Sisterhood has gone too far. Acting as their spy, Elfreda infiltrates a world of opulence and cunning, as drought and rationing affects the rest of Aytrium. With her closest friends by her side, Elfreda discovers that freedom could come at great cost, for the Sisterhood has made many sacrifices to keep its power, and Elfreda could find she is the next to pay. Systemic power structures built on the back of a dead god, ritualistic cannibalism, and magical disease are balanced with emotional themes of love and regret.

VERDICT Hall’s (The Border Keeper) solid worldbuilding and strong prose create an utterly gripping novel that blends the boundaries of horror and fantasy.

Mar 102021
 

NPR: Machinehood takes its rightful place alongside the work of William Gibson, Malka Older, Isaac Asimov, Pat Cadigan, Vandana Singh, and Rudy Rucker as it engages with many of the topics we are wrestling with already, from bodily autonomy and privacy, to 24/7 news, invisible labor, influencer culture, disability, and political and military decisions based on assumptions forged in the past, rather than looking forward. This is an ambitious goal, and one that Machinehood achieves without losing touch with its humanity.

Mar 012021
 
Publishers Weekly: Mohamed’s thrilling, intricate sequel to Beneath the Rising picks up a year and a half after the events of the first book. Nick Prasad, driven by hatred for his former best friend, genius inventor Joanna “Johnny” Chambers, has joined the mystical Ssarati Society to help monitor magical threats against Earth. Mohamed’s lush, intense prose bewitches as Nick volunteers to spy on Johnny at the unveiling of her new reactor. When the party is overrun by monsters, Nick’s convinced that the eldritch horrors known as Them are back, having found a way to bypass Johnny’s spell that destroyed the gates between their worlds. Now Nick coerces Johnny to let him help her uncover how They are getting through. Johnny’s scientific theories can be difficult to parse, as their quest takes them through chaotic alternate dimensions, but they result in one of the more convincing scientific frameworks for the existence of magic. New readers won’t want to jump in with this volume, but existing fans will be thrilled as Mohamed builds to an exhilarating finale. Expertly melding sci-fi, horror, and literary elements, this is an astounding examination of a shattered friendship.
Feb 162021
 

Publishers Weekly: Barrett debuts with a delightful office romance for the #MeToo era…. Barrett expertly captures both the frenzied intensity of sex as distraction and the awkward drop back into reality as Corrine and Wesley face the limitations of their situation, but it’s the personal growth of both protagonists that really set this rom-com apart. This is a winner.

Feb 122021
 

Library Journal: Born to serve and protect, Warlord Princes are sworn to their Queen. Daemonar Yaslana has always been bossy and protective, but he has reached an age where his behavior walks a fine line, and an emotional attack on his sister by a young Queen results in Daemonar beginning a new set of lessons under Witch, the Queen that many think of as old myth. When a curse is revealed to be rising in Kaleer, Daemonar along with his uncle and father, the High Lord and Demon Prince, respectively, must use his skills to uproot the stain before it sets too far. For Warlord Princes are their Queen’s weapons, and they will destroy any enemy—even if it wears a beloved face. Bishop (Wild Country) leans into references and characters from past books to build a century-spanning saga, tying together pieces of plot and creating new stakes that could break hearts and power. VERDICT The latest “Black Jewels” novel (after The Queen’s Bargain) continues to deliver dark fantasy with lush worldbuilding, strong characters, and high-stakes action.