Aug 272019

Publishers Weekly: This grim but brilliant sequel to The Grey Bastards follows the Bastards’ new leader, half-orc/half-elf Fetching, as she takes charge of her cohort (or “hoof”) of half-orcs and the humans who rely on them. Fetch and her fellow “mongrels” face off against famine and starvation, cavaleros from neighboring Hispartha, another band of half-orcs who feel that Fetch is unworthy to lead, and a mysterious, enormous orc (large enough to pick up a horse and throw it like a baseball) and the oversized hyenas that he commands. The woes that face the Bastards are unrelenting, and Fetch isn’t sure she can count on their supposed allies: the other hoofs, the cultish human Unyars, the elven mountain-dwellers, and the newly arrived foreigners called Zahracenes. But by the novel’s end, Fetch has secured real connections and support for the surviving Bastards. French’s half-orcs are an uncouth lot but fiercely loyal to one another and those they protect, and Fetch herself is prepared to endure unimaginable pain to secure safety for her people. The many cultures are richly detailed, adding depth. This installment will more than satisfy fantasy readers who like deadly battles balanced with intricate worldbuilding and skilled characterization.

Aug 202019

Cover of The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson.Booklist Readers: While for Good Omens protagonists, Aziraphale and Crowley, the apocalypse is set to start after teatime, for Elena Mendoza, it begins at Starbucks. She just wanted to talk to her crush, Freddie. But then the siren from the Starbucks logo starts speaking to Elena, and Elena saves Freddie from a gunshot wound, and before you know it, Elena is a certified miracle worker. In fact, the voices she hears want her to work more miracles, and they want her to ignore the fact that when she does, people disappear in a beam of golden light. It would be really nice if the troll dolls—and the bossy voices that appear in a variety of other objects—would just stop talking to her. But what if the disappearances tied to Elena’s miracles have the power to save people from a terrible future?

Aug 152019

SFX Magazine: Shadows Of The Short Days offers something old and something new. Set in an alternative Iceland, it follows Smundur and Garün, former lovers turned dissidents against a repressive regime. Smundur’s experiments with magic have outraged the respectable magic institutions, but he’s determined to push ever further. Garün, meanwhile, is taking the law into her own hands. Part human, part-huldufólk (a race of extradimensional beings), she’s using magic to sow sedition in the city.

The urban setting, focus on politics and gritty tone are more than a little redolent of China Miéville’s breakout, Perdido Street Station. Like that book, Vilhjálmsson’s prose is full of a vibrant, punk energy But there’s also a sense of history, the book rooted in the myth and folklore of Iceland. His fantasy creatures feel convincingly ancient and strange—we particularly liked the Náskári, a race of jabbering ravenfolk.

Some will be put off by the reliance on Icelandic words. There is a glossary at the back, but they come so thick and fast that you’re probably best off just diving in and letting them wash over you. That could be said for the book as a whole. It’s complex, occasionally opaque, but vividly imagined and compelling.

Aug 092019

Kirkus: This debut novel, the first of a projected trilogy, blends science fiction, fantasy, gothic chiller, and classic house-party mystery. Gideon Nav, a foundling of mysterious antecedents, was not so much adopted as indentured by the Ninth House, a nearly extinct noble necromantic house. Trained to fight, she wants nothing more than to leave the place where everyone despises her and join the Cohort, the imperial military. But after her most recent escape attempt fails, she finally gets the opportunity to depart the planet. The heir and secret ruler of the Ninth House, the ruthless and prodigiously talented bone adept Harrowhark Nonagesimus, chooses Gideon to serve her as cavalier primary, a sworn bodyguard and aide de camp, when the undying Emperor summons Harrow to compete for a position as a Lyctor, an elite, near-immortal adviser. The decaying Canaan House on the planet of the absent Emperor holds dark secrets and deadly puzzles as well as a cheerfully enigmatic priest who provides only scant details about the nature of the competition…and at least one person dedicated to brutally slaughtering the competitors. Unsure of how to mix with the necromancers and cavaliers from the other Houses, Gideon must decide whom among them she can trust—and her doubts include her own necromancer, Harrow, whom she’s loathed since childhood.

This intriguing genre stew works surprisingly well. The limited locations and narrow focus mean that the author doesn’t really have to explain how people not directly attached to a necromantic House or the military actually conduct daily life in the Empire; hopefully future installments will open up the author’s creative universe a bit more. The most interesting aspect of the novel turns out to be the prickly but intimate relationship between Gideon and Harrow, bound together by what appears at first to be simple hatred. But the challenges of Canaan House expose other layers, beginning with a peculiar but compelling mutual loyalty and continuing on to other, more complex feelings, ties, and shared fraught experiences. Suspenseful and snarky, with surprising emotional depths.

Aug 082019

Publishers Weekly: [An] excellent debut… Hackwith builds her world and characters with loving detail, creating a delightful addition to the corpus of library-based and heaven vs. hell fantasies.

Aug 072019

Kirkus Review: The story is filled with relentless action and powered by a cast of adeptly developed and emotionally appealing characters….

Fans will be overjoyed not only with the return of some beloved characters, but also with the novel’s conclusion, which sets up the storyline for a much larger adventure to come. Imagine an outlaw biker gang of half-orcs riding giant war pigs and you’ve captured this saga’s gloriously dirty soul.

Aug 062019

Library Journal: In her first novel, Hall surprises and perplexes with spellbinding yet simple dialogs that raise more questions than they give answers. The mysterious, dark, and often violent worlds envelop readers in a cacophony of mystery and fantasy. Even the identity of the female lead is foggy as her form shifts over time, taking possession of new bodies. As the title reveals, someone protects the border, and from the first few chapters we glimpse demons reminiscent of Haitian worshippers possessed by Gede, the spirit of the dead. Shapeshifting and underworld realms take center stage. The characters eventually grow, becoming stronger as plots progress, expressing extreme power and weakness. Life and death feel mutable in the imaginary arena of Mkalis. Points of contact are elaborately visualized, boundaries normally fixed dissolve within the pages, terrifying and wild apparitions manifest and recede just as quickly as they appear, resulting in wonder. VERDICT For fans of occult-tinged speculative fiction.

Aug 052019

Washington Post: Popular girl Cameron prioritizes honesty over kindness, which earns her a certain reputation. To win back the approval of her crush, she embarks on an apology tour to repair the havoc she has carelessly wreaked. The authors use “The Taming of the Shrew” as an effective framing device to examine modern ideas of feminism, which leads to a profound character arc and the essential message of how to claim your mistakes and do better.

Aug 012019

Library Journal: The Unwritten Wing in Hell is home to all stories unfinished by their authors. Claire is the head librarian. Sometimes she must chase down and return characters who have escaped from their pages. When one such hero heads to Earth to find his author, Claire, her current assistant and former muse Brevity, and the demon Leto try to capture him. The trio are attacked by the angel ­Ramiel, who thinks they are looking for the same tome he is: the Devil’s Bible. Deliberately lost on Earth for centuries, the Devil’s Bible could put the power of either heaven or hell in control. Claire and her companions must find it before the two realms decide to declare war over the missing book, which could destroy Earth in the process. The group journeys through realms of the dead and discovers the secrets and truths of all involved as they work to save everyone’s stories. ­

VERDICT Elaborate worldbuilding, poignant and smart characters, and a layered plot make this first in a fantasy series from Hackwith (also writing as sf romance author Ada Harper) is an ode to books, writing, and found families.

Jul 162019

The Guardian: There are no everyday elements to Kerstin Hall’s debut novella The Border Keeper. It begins on the outskirts of the spirit world, before moving to the weird realm of the underworld, Mkalis, where demon beasts and macabre gods are in constant battle. The grieving Vasethe has come to petition the eponymous border keeper: he wants her to guide him through Mkalis in search of his dead lover’s soul. What follows is a phantasmagorical picaresque through a lushly realised underworld, populated by a grotesque bestiary of fantastical creatures, with danger dogging our protagonists’ every step. This twisty example of the new weird genre examines love, loss and loyalty, packing skilful world-building and a powerful emotional punch into a little over 200 pages.