Aug 052021

The Times: Nikolai South is a policeman working for StaSec, the state security organ of the Caspian Republic. Covering roughly the territory of present-day Azerbaijan, the republic is a last, lonely redoubt of undigitised humanity, but it’s hardly the beacon of freedom its founders intended. The novel opens with South’s inspection of two suicides. The young, especially, are killing themselves in an effort to transfer their consciousnesses out of the half-starved, authoritarian republic and into the digital Ah! Sea (a too-good-to-be-true emerald cyber-ocean dotted with floating castles).

South is tasked with minding a visitor from beyond the republic’s borders — a world transformed by artificial intelligence, where more than half of humanity lives in cyberspace. His visitor, an AI in a cloned body, is not even strictly human. And, as if South’s chalice were not poisoned enough already, the visitor is the spitting image of his wife, dead these 20 years.

One misstep will kill him, as South tries to protect and understand his charge, ducking and diving all the while through internal struggles within StaSec and its longstanding rivalry with ParSec, the security organ of the totalitarian New Humanist Party.

Neil Sharpson’s debut is adapted from his stage play, The Caspian Sea. It mixes Cold War nostalgia with smart thinking about artificial intelligence and spiritual identity. There’s many a wry nod to the writings of Christian anarchist Jacques Ellul, but while the homework’s impressive, what really matters is South’s lugubrious, Smileyesque odyssey through present bread queues and past disappointments.

Aug 032021

Bookpage: A stunning and heart-clenching novel that represents the best of what both the horror and thriller genres have to offer…. A perfect fit for fans of Stephen King and modern true crime classics like Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Come With Me both awes and terrifies from beginning to end.

Jul 192021

Kirkus: A 16-year-old Lipan Apache girl from Texas and a cottonmouth person from the spirit world connect when both need help.

When Nina was 9, her Great-Great-Grandmother Rosita told her a story in Spanish and Lipan Apache. Using dictionaries to painstakingly make sense of the garbled transcription app results, Nina uncovers a mysterious story about Rosita’s sighting of a fish girl in her well, long after the joined era when animal people still lived on Earth. Nina uploads her musings about her family’s stories to the St0ryte11er video platform. In the Reflecting World, innocent Oli, a cottonmouth snake person, reluctantly leaves home, settling down and befriending ancient toad Ami, two coyote sisters, and a hawk. Animal people can shift between their true and false (humanoid) forms and are able to visit Earth; Nina’s and Oli’s lives intertwine when he and his friends travel to Texas seeking help after learning that Ami is dying because the earthly population of his toad species faces extinction due to human environmental destruction. They in turn help Nina with the suspicious man lurking near her Grandma’s home, an impending tornado, and her Grandma’s unexplained illness whenever she leaves her land. Little Badger (Lipan Apache) alternates between two distinct, well-realized voices—Nina’s third-person and Oli’s first-person perspectives—highlighting critical issues of language revitalization and climate change. The story leads readers through two richly constructed worlds using a style that evokes the timeless feeling of listening to traditional oral storytelling. A coming-of-age story that beautifully combines tradition and technology for modern audiences

Jul 162021 Kerstin Hall’s Star Eater is a stunner of a novel. As debuts go, it’s up there with Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead, A.K. Larkwood’s The Unspoken Name, and Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire, and—to me, at least—a little reminiscent of all three. Hall’s prose is precise and striking, her characters compelling, and her narrative—well, damn. Damn. To say nothing of the worldbuilding: the bloody, visceral, deeply embodied queerness of its reified metaphors, the personal and political freight borne by the control and regimentation of the female body and its reproductive and generative potential, flesh consumed to fuel a society built on a fundamental act of theft… there are layers here. This novel has teeth and claws and it’s not afraid to use them—but it’s also a lot of fun, and undergirt with a generous helping of kindness. It’s absolutely fantastic. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Jul 152021

Locus: Polk draws political developments as deftly as they do personal ones…. Soulstar is a fast, gripping, engaging, and thoughtful read. It’s a worthy and satisfying con­clusion to the Kingston story.

Jul 092021

Tor: Engrossing, horrifying, and vivid, Kerstin Hall’s debut novel Star Eater is a hard one to talk about. This is in part simply because there’s so much there there—so much inventive worldbuilding, so much carefully structured power, so many things I want to exclaim over.

Star Eater is a magical consideration of what it means to destroy a power structure. It’s an intimate, gripping exploration of what people are willing to do to maintain the systems that they believe maintain the world; it’s also a story that asks what doors might be opened if we could truly envision a world unlike the one we live in now.. Hall mixes her unique worldbuilding with familiar tropes—the chosen one, the love triangle(ish), the conspiracy, the mentor figures, the loss of a mother—and the combination creates a book that feels both familiar and unnervingly strange.

Jul 082021

Library Journal: The universe is controlled by the Conversation, a hive of AI minds who refuse to let what’s left of humanity take it back. The planet of Dimmuborgir is mostly legend, hiding a secret superweapon that will make whoever controls it supremely powerful. The Dirty Dozen, a diverse mercenary group, was once feared throughout the universe, but 40 years ago their last mission ended in a tragedy that still binds them together, yet apart. Now Rita and Maya are bringing the Dozen back together—kicking, screaming, dying, reviving—for one last mission: to find the secret of Dimmuborgir before the sentient spaceships do. They also need to recover one of their own who’d been thought dead. But when you’re made of clone tissue, uploaded sequences, and modified tech, can you ever die? Filled with emotional trauma, some body horror, and abusive relationships, this can be a difficult read. Yet it’s enthralling too, as it mashes and blurs the lines separating human from machine; the commanding prose brings to mind Tamsyn Muir’s “Locked Tomb” trilogy. VERDICT Khaw’s (Hammers on Bone) first full-length novel is a sensory deluge of language and action that will sweep readers away in a flood of joyful, violent abandon.

Jun 292021

Kirkus: When magic and illusion collide, anything is possible.

Sixteen-year-old Jack, magician’s assistant and pickpocket, is ready to steal the show—and anything else he can get his hands on—when the Enchantress, aka Evangeline Dubois, magician, con artist, and his guardian, sets her eyes on the 1909 Seattle World’s Fair. At the same time, 16-year-old Wilhelm, a boy with the ability to magically transport himself and others, is forced to perform there by Teddy, his abusive captor. Teddy has plans to use Wil’s gifts to pull off the ultimate heist, and his desire for notoriety results in a plan in which the two masquerade as a magician and his assistant, causing Jack’s and Wil’s worlds to collide. With the help of street-smart dancer Ruth and clever Jessamy, the boys examine the abuses they suffer and work to build a stable life together. Like all good magic acts, the novel will keep readers on the edges of their seats as they follow the twists and double-crosses that fill the lives of con artists and magicians. The book flawlessly combines magic and suspense in a well-crafted heist story that’s sweetly sprinkled with queer romances. A final unanswered question hints at a sequel and will have readers shouting for an encore. Ruth is Black; all other main characters are White. Jack, Wil, Ruth, and Jessamy are openly queer.

A delight.

Jun 282021

Publishers Weekly: In gorgeous prose, Mohamed (Beneath the Rising) conjures a post–climate apocalypse future in which “the chain of knowledge and study” has broken and humanity “live[s] in the scattered links that remain.” With few resources left, survival hinges on collective collaboration. So when 19-year-old Reid receives an acceptance letter from a college many believe to be a myth, she’s equally elated and guilt-ridden: how can she leave her community and ailing mother for a place that may not even be real? Complicating her decision is the Cad, a “semi-sapient” fungal parasite that lives beneath her skin. It lies dormant for years before “going off,” and there’s no cure for it and no guarantee as to how it will affect those infected. As Reid argues with her mother about her future and navigates her changing relationship with her best friend, she begins to fear that the Cad is controlling her actions. Mohamed grounds her complex, chilling vision of the future in accessible human drama, keeping a tight focus on Reid’s difficult decision and the tension it creates in her relationships. It’s an impressive feat of worldbuilding made stronger by the sensitive, nuanced characters and urgent questions about what people owe to each other. This packs a punch.