Nov 282023

Library Journal:  It’s Dinios Kol’s first murder case as the junior assistant to the brilliant, irascible, and much senior investigator Ana Dolabra. Din has been magically engineered to retain every single detail of everything he sees and hears, which should be a boon in his work. But not when the victim is dead as the result of a tree growing out of his lungs. Ana uses Din’s observations to determine not just whodunnit but how this uniquely gruesome murder was accomplished. Her investigation, however, discomfits the rich and powerful even as the monstrous climate impedes the search and destroys the evidence. Bennett’s (Locklands) series opener introduces readers to a conspiracy of murder and skullduggery as seen through the eyes of a naive junior investigator who is forced to grow up fast and hard as his boss and mentor, the rather Sherlockian Ana, threads her way through a complex conspiracy of murders.

Nov 212023

Publishers Weekly: An 11-year-old navigating friendship troubles, mercurial blended family dynamics, and questions surrounding his sexual identity wishes to disappear—and abruptly does—in this heartwarming adventure by Hutchinson (Howl). Hector Griggs, who attends St. Lawrence Catholic School for Boys, isn’t a sports star like his older stepbrother. Instead, Hector prefers solitary activities such as reading, playing piano, and hanging out with his only friend, Blake. But Blake’s new pals constantly bully Hector, and when a major fight puts Blake and Hector’s friendship on the outs, Hector discovers that he can turn himself invisible at will. Now undetectable, he encounters invisible classmate Orson, who everyone believes has been missing for three years. As rumors of ghosts and rampaging monsters start swirling around school, Hector must save Orson and win back Blake from his unsavory new crew, all while evading frightening creatures. A subplot involving an undercover agent from a supernatural organization is somewhat thinly developed. Hutchinson nevertheless populates this optimistic novel with an organically diverse cast that helps to ferry insightful lessons about empathetic listening and problem-solving, broadening one’s horizons, and dealing with bullies, delivered via an entertaining series opener. 

Nov 162023

Publishers Weekly: Bennett (the Founders trilogy) brilliantly melds genres in this exceptional mystery-fantasy, the first in his Shadow of the Leviathan series. Dinios Kol has been tapped to serve as the new assistant to Ana Dolabra, an eccentric investigator with a reputation for solving cases blindfolded and without leaving her home. Dolabra’s recently been reassigned from the Khanum Empire’s richest enclaves to a dull backwater, where she and Kol get a knotty problem to untangle. Kol, whose prior experience consists of investigating pay fraud in the Khanum military, is dispatched to the scene of an unnatural death at the estate of the Haza clan, one of the wealthiest in the land, who mysteriously maintain a house out in the sticks. Commander Taqtasa Blas was found in a guest bedroom with some leafy trees sprouting through his body. Blas, a friend of the Hazas, had a reputation for harassing the estate’s female staff. Kol uses magic fluid to “engrave” the crime scene, impressing every detail on his mind to relate to his superior. Dolabra is intrigued by the apparently supernatural killing and sets about using her superior deductive skills to identify the killer. The worldbuilding is immediately involving, Bennett’s take on a classic detective duo dynamic feels fresh and exciting, and the mystery itself twists and turns delightfully. Readers will be wowed.

Nov 102023

Booklist: Anna sees an alien casually dining in Central Park’s Turtle Pond. On a lark, she confronts the alien and thus begins a relationship, and soon an NSA operative and his lifelong colleague in quasilegal intrigues take her back to her birthplace in Tawakul, Kurdistan. The Exordia have set off electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) all over Earth, taking most of the world back to the eighteenth century. But humanity isn’t entirely helpless. Canadians were the first to reach the site of a huge alien artifact that the Exordia wish to claim or destroy. Then the Ugandans arrived, then the Chinese, and Russians, and each group suffered losses. When the Americans arrive, they join forces with the remnants, but by bringing Anna, they’ve brought her renegade Exordian friend. Another alien operative is also on the ground, opposed to Anna. Now, the humans have 14 hours to activate the artifact or the Exordia battlecruiser will start nuking cities. Dickinson brings the same richness of characterization that made his Baru Cormorant series (The Traitor Baru Cormorant, 2015) so compelling, but this one reads like a Michael Crichton thriller on psychedelics—in a good way.

Nov 092023

Booklist: Get ready to travel to the French Quarter for a wild weekend. In Lynch’s latest, originally published as an e-book in 2022, Rosalee is excited to marry the man of her dreams and can’t wait to celebrate her upcoming nuptials in New Orleans. Her best friend, cousin, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and fiancé’s friend will all stay the weekend at a fancy historical mansion. The six will indulge in extravagant meals and a night on the town drinking and dancing. What could go wrong? As tensions begin to run high, the weekend will end in murder, and Detective Nina Smalls will be called upon to solve the crime. Rosalee must survive her bachelorette party in order to make it to the altar. This locked-room mystery is filled with nasty characters with sinister motives. Lynch explores themes of revenge, classism, and domestic violence. Readers will not see the twists coming in this thriller perfect for fans of Ruth Ware, Lucy Foley, and Shari Lapena.

Nov 072023

Publishers Weekly: After a lengthy hiatus, bestseller Butcher returns to his Cinder Spires series with an explosive second installment (following 2015’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass), again starring aeronaut Capt. Francis Madison Grimm. In a world grown uninhabitable, humanity resides in several autonomous spires rising above the planet’s surface. Now war is brewing between Grimm’s home, Spire Albion, and Spire Aurora. The story opens with Grimm and the crew of Predator on a mission to a colony spire—only to discover that the human colony has been wiped out and in its place is a colony of kittens. These sentient felines make an agreement to reveal what awesome force destroyed the colony in return for a new home for their clan. From there, one plot thread follows Spirearch Guard Commander Benedict and Sgt. Bridget Tagwynn on a mission to secure territory from another cat chieftain. Meanwhile, the Predator accompanies a diplomatic mission to a trade conference on Spire Olympia. Spire Aurora has sent the duelist Rafe Valesco as part of its delegation, and Grimm has been assigned to keep his combative friend, Commodore Bayard, from dying on Valesco’s sword. Conflict and etherialist magic soon escalate, and Butcher tops everything off with a dash of romance and plenty of steampunk airship combat. Fans will find this is worth the wait.

Nov 062023

Kirkus: When bullying triggers Hector’s unsuspected ability to turn invisible, it seems like a superpower—but he’s not invisible to the monster lurking at school.

At home, sixth grader Hector faces bullying stepbrothers and a stepfather who values sports over piano. He was reconciled to his Catholic boys’ school thanks to best friend Blake—until Hector asked Blake to be his boyfriend, and Blake (despite having two moms) turned into a homophobic bully. After Hector discovers his power of invisibility while hiding from Blake, he encounters former pupil Orson, who’s been stuck there for years being invisible and pursued by the tentacled gelim, who entraps vulnerable students and feeds on their fears. As a gay boy and a Black boy (respectively) in a predominantly white school, Hector and Orson are easy targets. Wanting to save Orson and defeat the gelim, Hector finds allies in school librarian Mr. Morhill and Samantha, Mr. Morhill’s niece, a fellow student others perceive as a boy; Orson is also an active participant who supports Hector. Throughout his ordeals, Hector still hopes Blake will return to normal. This well-structured story is threaded with themes of misjudgment, misunderstanding, forgetting, and forgiveness. Both the visible and invisible worlds are evocatively described, and the characters are believably flawed. Despite mitigating circumstances, Hector’s swift forgiveness of Blake may sit uneasily with some readers, and while the gelim is suitably terrifying, the convoluted details about how it functions may be confusing.

Invisibility offers no protection in this well-paced, multilayered horror story.

Nov 012023

Interzone:Premee Mohamed’s debut collection…eschews genre fidelity with gleeful abandon – No One Will Come Back for Us (Undertow Publications, 2023) is a melting pot of horror, dark fantasy, sci-fi and the gloriously weird – but retains nonetheless a subtle but definite thematic thread. Mohamed’s microcosms are meticulously crafted little snowglobes populated by believable, interesting characters, and more often than not, utterly and cosmically indifferent gods. This theme runs the gamut from explicitly Lovecraftian (‘The Adventurer’s Wife’, which is nothing that you expect it to be) to the more folk horror flavourings of ‘Below the Kirk, Below the Hill’.

Another favourite story, ‘Four Hours of a Revolution’, spotlights the absolutely magnetic Whittaker, a punk-soul rebel fighting a civil war of some kind. Our POV character is Death – though, in a brilliantly imaginative twist, Death is merely one of a great many Deaths, a faintly corporate conglomerate of reapers whose job is the dispassionate dispatch of those whose time is due. It’s pacey, exciting and the worldbuilding strikes a beautiful balance between giving just enough information, and leaving you to intuit the rest. Mohamed says this story makes every mistake in the book; if that’s the case, perhaps more people ought to make mistakes more often.

Her craft and ability are without question, as is her ability to meld genres; title tale ‘No One Will Come Back For Us’ straddles horror, sf, the weird and even a little thriller for good measure. An oddly optimistic tale despite its near-apocalyptic cosmic horror setting, Mohamed seems to be asking whether sometimes, it is simply enough to survive. There’s also something wonderfully wry in the little digs at imperialist attitudes given cosmic horror’s tendency towards xenophobia; a truly twenty-first century take on the genre which I think is well warranted.

Premee Mohamed has staked her claim as one of the most versatile writers I’ve encountered in recent years. Her ability to evoke vividly a wide range of settings and write a wide range of characters whilst maintaining an integral authenticity and believability is remarkable. The bottom line is: Mohamed tells a cracking story, and this collection is as enjoyable a read as you are likely to find in any given bookshop, especially if you like your tales painted across a broad spectrum. The gods may be indifferent, but by the end of this book, I was anything but.

Oct 262023

Publishers Weekly: Drawing heavily from Trinidadian folklore, Palumbo packs her debut collection of 12 uncanny shorts with love, longing, and death. A recurring motif is a woman mourning a life with a lover that she has to leave, as in “The Pull of the Herd,” in which the shape-shifting protagonist has left her herd of doe to live as a human with her mate, but is called back to the wilderness by her doeskin. In “Apolepisi: A De-scaling,” the mermaid protagonist’s lover transforms from mermaid to human. At times these repeating plots can feel a bit redundant, though the stories are beautifully told. The collection really solidifies in its latter half, in which the tales move from Canadian settings to the Caribbean and draw a deeper influence from local legends. The standout closer, “Douen,” is a harrowing yet touching account of a dead child who just wants her mother to see her again, written entirely in dialect (“Mama wipe she own tears and stop crying den. But she smile was spoil”). Palumbo proves masterful at taking material from folklore and making it personal, letting those things that are meant to terrify speak for themselves. Readers are sure to be impressed.

Oct 252023

Booklist: After the events of Fugitive Telemetry (2021), Murderbot, ART, and their colleagues remain on the alien-infected planet on the other side of the wormhole, combating the infection and trying to convince the planetary colonists to leave their world for their own safety. But corporate interests oppose their efforts, and it turns out there are more people on the planet than they realized. Meanwhile, Murderbot is having some issues and isn’t operating at full capacity. How are they supposed to successfully navigate everyone through a potentially hair-trigger standoff when they’re not sure they even know what they’re doing? This installment of the Murderbot Diaries is more a tale of political intrigue than violent action. Not that there aren’t pulse-pounding fights aplenty, but the balance has shifted. While Murderbot remains the main character, narrating their snarky take on every situation, Wells continues to build this universe. It’s a compelling setting, both in the conflicts that arise from the culture of the Corporation Rim and the deep history Wells has established. At the same time, she continues to evolve Murderbot in interesting directions. Readers won’t miss the wall-to-wall action that defined the series from its beginning. The characters and the world building remain engrossing and rewarding.