Sep 172020
 

Booklist: This book pulls apart what a book is, what a book could be, and gets to the soul of what it means to tell a story, all while delivering queer chemistry and intricate worldbuilding.

Sep 102020
 

New York Times: THE SPACE BETWEEN WORLDS is Micaiah Johnson’s debut, but that word is utterly insufficient for the blazing, relentless power of this book, suggesting ballroom manners where it should conjure comet tails.

The multiverse is real, and Adam Bosch has figured out how to move people among 382 versions of Earth; his company, Eldridge, extracts information and resources from those worlds. The only catch: You can’t travel to an Earth on which a version of you is still alive. The only people who can become “traversers,” then, are those whose existence is so precarious that they’ve survived in just a few worlds. “They needed trash people,” says Cara, our protagonist, gripping my heart and squeezing. In all the hundreds of Earths Eldridge can access, Cara’s alive in only eight.

Cara is a resident of Wiley City, a walled compound in a postapocalyptic world ground down by numerous wars. In the comfort of its controlled atmosphere and artificial sunlight, citizens and residents enjoy the benefits of a robust social contract, have access to housing and medicine, and enjoy a prosperity bolstered by resources stolen from alternate worlds. Cara’s originally from Ashtown, beyond Wiley City’s gates: a loosely knit community of laborers, scavengers, religious commune members and sex workers, leading hardscrabble lives in an unforgiving desert ruled by an onyx-toothed Blood Emperor and his runners. It takes 10 years of residency in Wiley City before one can apply for citizenship; Cara’s been there for six. But once Eldridge develops the technology to extract information across worlds remotely, traversers will be obsolete and Cara will be banished back to Ashtown. Unless she can make herself indispensable first.

As a metaphor for neoliberal imperialism, this tale is profoundly satisfying; as a work of art, it’s even better. Cara is so mesmerizing a character that I was helpless before every twist and turn of plot, riveted by her pain, love and secrets. The book remained two steps ahead of my imagination, rattling it out of complacency and flooding it with color and heat.

Everything is hard. The news vacillates between horror novel and undisciplined television drama from one hour to the next. But “The Space Between Worlds” and “Dance on Saturday” make me feel profoundly grateful to exist in the same world and at the same time as their authors — to bear witness to the furious compassion and generosity of their power.

Sep 042020
 

Publishers Weekly: Muir (Gideon the Ninth) showcases her distinctive voice in this playful page-turner that flips fairy tale archetypes on their heads. A witch traps Princess Floralinda at the top of a tower, explaining “you have butter-coloured curls and eyes as blue as sapphires. The moment I saw you, I knew a tower was crucial. Witches are all slaves to instinct.” Each of the tower’s 40 floors houses a different type of monster, and the dragon guarding the ground floor is so fearsome that none of the princes coming to rescue Floralinda have been able to make it past. After the princes stop trying, Floralinda discovers the diary of the tower’s previous occupant, another princess who eventually became so despondent she jumped out the tower window to her death. Desperate to escape, Floralinda endeavors to get past the goblins on the floor below her. She succeeds only with the help of Cobweb, a fairy she captures. Together, they make their way down the tower, and along the way Floralinda learns to fight, ask questions, and think for herself—none of which a princess is “meant” to do. Told with the humor, whimsy, and innocent romance of a children’s story, this adult fairy tale is a winsome enchantment.

Sep 032020
 

School Library Journal: In the alternating viewpoints of cool Dre and uptight Dean, Hutchinson takes us into a relationship with more complications than most. Both teenage boys are the only children of vying Presidential candidates and, fittingly, they first meet in an election event green room. Dre, the son of the liberal Latino candidate, is comfortably out to his family and his friends, while Dean’s conservative mother, the opposite candidate, is not gay-friendly and Dean himself, who is white, is only beginning to admit to himself that he’s somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum. The blossoming friendship between the boys occurs in crossing paths on the campaign trails, in private app chats, and phone calls. Hutchinson imbues all the minor as well as main characters with credible personalities and provides a thoughtful depiction of how different kinds of interpersonal relationships within and beyond families shape individuals and friendships.

VERDICT This is more than just an election year story and will have staying power in high school and public library teen fiction collections.

Aug 312020
 

Publishers Weekly: Hugo Award winner Bear’s spectacularly smart space opera, set in the same universe as 2018’s Ancestral Night, begins with the dispatch of an ambulance ship from the immense medical habitat Core General to respond to a distress signal. The signal originates from a vessel docked aboard a lost generation ship that was launched from Earth centuries earlier, before humans overcame their self-destructive impulses and joined a multi-race, interstellar civilization called the Synarche. When rescue specialist Dr. Brookllyn Jens arrives on the scene, she finds the crew of the generation ship sealed in cryogenic containers, with only Helen, an anxious and rather threatening android, conscious. Meanwhile, the crew of the docked ship that sent out the distress signal in the first place are all comatose and the huge machine they have on board looks suspiciously like a combat walker. In addition to untangling the history of these ships, Jens is deputized to investigate increasingly destructive incidents of sabotage at Core General, leading her to question her faith in the hospital’s ideals. Bear’s vivid tale, narrated by the wry, almost painfully self-aware Jens, bristles with inventive science and riveting action scenes. With this outstanding work, Bear proves her mastery of the space opera genre yet again.

Aug 272020
 

Shelf Awareness: Harrow the Ninth has a tough act to follow in 2019’s deranged, electrifyingly fun Gideon the Ninth, but the middle chapter in Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb Trilogy is every bit as wild and weird as its delightful predecessor. Following the events of the first book, Muir shifts protagonists to follow the necromancer Harrowhark as she joins a cohort dedicated to assisting the godlike Emperor in fighting strange cosmic entities.

Muir has not lost her penchant for throwing readers in the deep end, and some incomprehension is to be expected on their part. In fact, Harrow the Ninth is purposefully disorienting even, or perhaps especially, for diehard fans of the first book: the novel bounces back and forth in time, retelling events from the first book with noticeable differences that grow more glaring over time. Whereas Gideon the Ninth welded the structure of a locked-room mystery to its saga of necromancers and their sword-wielding escorts in an ancient, crumbling space-tomb, Harrow the Ninth plunges confidently into a mind-bending puzzle box structure. There is plenty of satisfaction in piecing things together, but it’s not just an exercise in cleverness: Muir has much to say about denial and the dangers of suppressing grief, building to an emotional conclusion that will melt the hardest of hearts.

Harrow is very different from Gideon, more interior and decidedly less raunchy. That does not mean the series has suddenly become strait-laced or lost any of Muir’s sardonic wit. Muir likes to puncture her own odd and highly detailed worldbuilding with a quip, as when one character explains: “A stele is eight feet tall, covered in the dead languages by special Fifth adepts, and continually bathed in oxygenated blood…. The type of thing where, if there is one on board, you say quite soon, ‘Oh, look, a stele!’ ” Plus, Muir continues her streak of best-in-class fight scenes, pushing the limits of her necromantic imagination to disgusting new heights.

Harrow the Ninth carries over all the strengths of its predecessor, in other words, including the verbal sparring and ever-entertaining insults: “you bursting organ, you wretched, self-regarding hypochondriac and half-fermented corpse with the nails still on.” Harrow the Ninth delves even deeper into the vulnerabilities of Muir’s damaged characters, whose posturing can’t hide their hang-ups and death wishes and terrible regrets. Few books can be this funny, sad and romantic all at the same time.

Aug 262020
 

Publishers WeeklyWorld Fantasy Award winner Polk (Witchmark) delivers sharp social commentary in this excellent Regency-flavored fantasy. Sorceress Beatrice Clayborn must marry well or her family will plunge into poverty. But marriage means submitting to a collar that blocks women from access to magic, so Beatrice plans to prove herself as a Mage before anyone can propose, hoping her magical skills will enable her to earn money of her own, making marriage unnecessary. When the Lavan siblings, the equally marriage-averse Ysbeta and her handsome brother, Ianthe, steal Beatrice’s spell book, Beatrice summons Nadi, a luck spirit, to help her get the grimoire back. In exchange, Nadi demands the chance to live vicariously through Beatrice, hoping to experience cake, dancing, and kissing. With Nadi’s help, Beatrice befriends the Lavans and is soon leading a double life: practicing secret magic with Ysbeta, while falling in love with Ianthe over a series of heated debates about structural injustice. To survive the social tightrope, Beatrice summons Nadi more and more frequently, and it becomes her most trustworthy friend, even as its presence in her life puts all her plans at risk. Polk expertly balances propulsive pacing, a rich multicultural world, and a vivid and subversive cast of characters. Readers will be swept away by this powerful and passionate fantasy.

Aug 202020
 

Bookpage: In an alternate Texas where major cities have Fairy Ring Transport Centers and the university offers an invasive monster program, Ellie, a Lipan Apache teenager, just wants to reincarnate prehistoric fossils and teach her ghost dog new tricks. Then her cousin visits her in a dream, says that a man named Abe Allerton murdered him and asks her to protect his family from further harm.

Together with her parents and her friend Jay, Ellie travels to Willowbee to uncover the truth about Abe Allerton, who by all external appearances has led a virtuous life. As Ellie gathers evidence, pieces together clues and retells the myth-tinged adventures of her six-generations-back great-grandmother, whom she calls Six-Great, it becomes clear that the cousin’s murder is part of a larger secret. With Willowbee’s bicentennial just days away, the time is right to vanquish a horror that’s preyed on Native people for far too long.

Darcie Little Badger’s Elatsoe is a clever mystery narrated by a teen whose voice radiates with wonderful self-confidence. Six-Great’s stories highlight the importance of storytelling in Ellie’s world, and observant readers will delight in the setting’s sociopolitical details: Same-sex marriage is unremarkable, as is Ellie’s asexuality, and the villain is marked in part by his environmentally unfriendly overuse of disposable eating utensils.

Like the self-published comics Ellie regularly devours, Elatsoe presents readers with a strong heroine, a supernatural mystery and a unique and powerful Native American voice.

Aug 142020
 

Locus: Five years ago, I was privileged to review, in the online wing of this fine publication, Seth Dickinson’s debut novel, The Traitor Baru Cormorant. I praised his prose as “deft and forceful,” while deeming his characters “all built to clever and deep dimensions, with fully human qualities and motives.” Finding his novel to be a tasty blend of C.J. Cherryh’s early planetary romances and Samuel Delany’s revisionist Nevèrÿon fantasies, I concluded by saying that Dickinson had succeeded “in building and exploring a morally treacherous world populated with exotic characters whose hearts nonetheless align with ours.”

Of course, I had no way at the time of foreseeing what refinements or surprises or critical illuminations subsequent volumes would bring. But now that I’ve caught up with book two, The Monster Baru Cormorant, and now that book three has arrived, I discover that while I stand by all my earlier assessments, I have to add a few fresh notes, and, of course, evaluate the newest entry and the series as a whole.

First, I want to observe that while Traitor struck me as somewhat mannerpunk in its elaboration of ceremonies and politesse, the series has definitely gone grimdark.

Also, I did not give enough weight to Dickinson’s rich and exotic worldbuilding and culture-minting. This universe hangs together organically, and the distinct societies are multiplex and deep.

Thirdly, we could entertain some useful comparisons with elements of Robert E. Howard’s landscapes and figures, or those of Fritz Leiber’s more sophisticated sword and sorcery tales. Although utterly postmodern, this series revels in pulp tropes and vigor.

And finally, with the huge scope of the tale now revealed, we can evaluate Dickinson’s skills at plotting and managing a huge narrative arc.

[…]

Dickinson can construct a five-page fight scene that never falters, and then turn around and describe that emotionally charged parental reunion with some tenderness. He tops himself with a vision that Baru has towards the end of the book, after all the dust has settled and she’s achieved a mixed victory: she sees the future she’s ensured as a kind of glittering utopian reward for all the suffering people of the Empire. But will it come to pass, given the mystery embedded in a small coda that posits more challenges just ahead?