Booklist: Longtime genre fiction readers will know exactly what they’re getting in this omnibus. Bear covers a lot of ground, from strange, magical westerns to near-future science fiction to the fantastic world of the Steles of the Sky trilogy—all with her characteristic style and attention to detail. The collection begins with the fascinating and haunting tale of a serial killer in “Covenant” and ends with the recent “Erase, Erase, Erase,” a haunting look at responsibility, identity, and memory. Notable in between are a tale of a literal rock god (“Hobnoblin Blues”), a visit with Doc Holliday (“Faster Gun”), even a murder mystery with unexpected and far-reaching consequences (“Dolly”). Even the shortest and lightest of these stories are ambitious in their scope, and the volume is sizable enough to offer something for fans of every aspect of Bear’s storytelling. The breadth makes it an excellent starting point for readers new to Bear, as well, and in this book will keep all readers occupied for quite some time.
Library Journal: Dame Grace Hensley assisted her brother Miles to undo the aether network just 14 days ago. Now Aeland is without power, filled with ghosts, and faced with an incredible set of winter patterns that could destroy what is left of the country. All Grace wants to do is make sure her family in Kingston is safe, but circumstances place her in the middle of the growing conflict between stubborn Queen Constantina, reparation-seeking Amaranthines, and the mages imprisoned throughout the land. Revolution is coming and soon Grace will be forced to choose sides, with her family divided. A young photojournalist, Avia Jessup, is close to discovering the truth and sharing it with the nation. Grace finds Avia both infuriating and intriguing as all the storms come to a head. VERDICT Polk’s sequel to Witchmark continues to unwrap an intriguing world of magic, political intrigue, and alternate-Edwardian times. Familiar and favorite characters support the young woman who takes center stage, while Polk’s charming prose frames an original and witty story filled with action and romantic tension.
Booklist: Drayden’s latest (after Temper, 2018) is a sweeping, smart, stunning story that dazzles brighter than a star system. Seske Kaleigh is the young heir to the command of a starship that is comprised of the insides of a whale-like space beast. Adalla is her best friend and lover of a lower caste. The young girls are among the descendants of Africa, who resettled among the stars and rely on whale-like space beasts to keep them alive. They carve out cities within the interior body cavern of the beasts and make a home there until the beast begins to die. Then, they move on, catching and carving up the next beast in order to ensure their continued survival. When their clan’s newest excavated beast is assailed with violent tremors, the girls embark on a journey to unearth the cause and save their people’s new home. The premise of Escaping Exodus is a biology lover’s dream, with an animal’s bones being used for building material and its circulatory system for mass transit. Yet, Drayden excels in writing the tech in a way that will reach out and ensnares every reader—not just biology geeks. She has created a whimsical, complex, rich setting whose world is the literal anatomy of a beast. Interwoven with the body horror, environmentalism, and classism that Drayden artfully explores is a love story between two Black girls from different castes, making Escaping Exodus a true gem to be treasured.
NPR: Readers may want to start with the first book in the series (this is the second), though starting here doesn’t get in the way of enjoying this otherworldly mystery, gorgeous writing and slow burn of a romance with a man who truly understands a woman, ghosts and all.
Locus: One of the most irreverent characters I’ve encountered in a long time, Gideon Nav wants only to escape the House of the Ninth, a dark place populated by the dead and the few living necromancers that control them. Gideon, no necromancer but an enthusiastic swordswoman, keeps trying to escape and join the military Cohort, but her plans are continually foiled. Then she’s offered something new—if she accompanies the Lady of the Ninth House, the much-loathed necromancer Harrowhark, on a mission. The Emperor, the King Undying, has called for each house to send their first (Harrowhark) and their cavalier to be tested as potential Lyctors. The problem is the Ninth’s cavalier is unwilling, so Harrowhark drafts Gideon, and the two are off to another world where they end up in an incomprehensible contest against the other eight houses in a decaying, mazelike complex. Foul-mouthed Gideon is a joy to watch as she attempts to pass as a cavalier, falls for one of the competition, and basically spends a hell of a lot of time trying to figure out what’s going on—gradually learning to work with Harrowhark, and maybe even coming to appreciate her…Muir’s impressive first novel offers a heady and macabre mix of science, necromancy, constant danger, and a healthy dollop of Gormenghast-like weirdness like no other.
Kirkus: From the award-winning author of The Red-Stained Wings (2019, etc.), a collection of 27 tales published between 2005 and 2019, spanning most of Bear’s career. Readers familiar with Bear’s novels soon learn to expect the unexpected, with characters, worlds, and ideas eyed from drastically skewed perspectives. Who else would dream up a lactating vampire to whom the sun is no enemy, as Bear did in “Needles”? Or imagine a mortal Loki, banished from the Norse pantheon, as a god of rock music, as in “Hobnoblin Blues”? Mark Twain makes a guest appearance in a chewy murder mystery, “The Body of the Nation,” set in the author’s remarkable New Amsterdam universe and featuring the splendid Detective Crown Investigator Abigail Irene Garrett. We’re offered an early yet highly effective glimpse of the universe that will evolve into the stunning Steles of the Sky series, “Love Among the Talus,” while “Okay, Glory” shows us a reclusive, solipsistic genius forced to reinvent himself and the AI that’s imprisoning him. Elsewhere, “The Bone War,” Bear’s wry commentary on the real-world Bone Wars between 19th-century paleontologists O.C. Marsh and E.D. Cope, evokes a wide grin. Two tales would wring tears from a stone: “Tideline,” about a dying battle machine whose last purpose is to memorialize her dead crew members, and “Orm the Beautiful,” an exquisitely fashioned fable of the last dragon—that’s also, possibly, a genuflection to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea tales…While Bear doesn’t preach or hector, there’s a message implicit in much of the work here: As individuals and as a species, we adapt, or we die. Eclectic and insightful, mostly, and well worth dipping into.
Locus: [THE LUMINOUS DEAD] is a survival story, a psychological thriller, and some of the best SFnal horror I’ve ever read. It’s a hell of a debut, and I can’t wait to see what Starling does next
Shelf Awareness: In the smart, extraordinary world that A.J. Hackwith has created, The Library of the Unwritten makes for an irresistible waking dream… Clever and full of sly, bookish humor, [it] is a delightful paean to knowledge and its power…. Funny, insightful and wildly magical, The Library of the Unwritten is sure to charm many readers, even those who don’t often venture into fantastical realms.
Publishers Weekly: The 27 intimate, thought-provoking stories of this doorstopper collection span over a decade of Hugo Award–winner Bear’s illustrious career. Though many of these offer glimpses into vast, intricate worlds, all are grounded in deep human feeling and small, interpersonal dramas, as with “Two Dreams on Trains,” which is set in a complex, futuristic vision of New Orleans and focuses on the clash between a mother’s hopes for her son and the boy’s goals for himself. In the emotional standout “Tideline,” a sentient war machine named Chalcedony, who was not programmed to feel emotion, uses her last reserves of energy to scour a beach for sea glass to turn into mourning jewelry in honor of her fallen human platoon. Bear’s protagonists range from machines (the living spaceships of “Boojum”) to the human (the tired homicide cop in “Dolly”) to the monstrous (the discontented vampire of “Needles”), but she crafts them all with huge helpings of empathy and heart. This excellent collection offers readers the chance to immerse themselves in Bear’s singular imagination.