Happy Halloween, all! I hope everyone had a great time either dressing up, seeing all the kiddos dressed up, or simply indulging in a wide variety of candy and other treats. Personally, I ended up celebrating at home avoiding the drunken crowds with some dirt cheap Chinese food and Netflix… but both my cats are black, and therefore Halloween themed – so I think I’m good.
October, as usual, had some greats and some flops. See below for the highlights!
Last Month’s Reads
Uncrowned by Will Wight – FULL REVIEW
Cradle is so much fun, y’all. While Uncrowned is not perhaps my favorite novel in the series to date (this honor still goes to Underlord), I still had a dang good time with it. Will Wight is a machine who churns out about one novel per year, and I have yet to be disappointed. Uncrowned is book 7 in the Cradle series.
These books are light, easy progression fantasy reads. If you’re not the kind of person to be entertained by watching giant flaming turtles fight sea dragons and having a main character “level up” and gain new abilities, this is not the series for you… but if those things do sound good, saddle up, sunshine, we’re going for a ride.
A Lush and Seething Hell by John Hornor Jacobs – FULL REVIEW
This book stunned me with the beauty of its writing and the horror inherent in its content. A Lush and Seething Hell is a duology of two novellas, The Sea Dreams it is the Sky and My Heart Struck Sorrow, the latter being closer to a novel in length. However, neither of these two books feel like novellas. It is shocking to think back and realize how short they actually were. It is an illusion, a conceit, but never a façade. They are so well-crafted that they have the feel of length due to their depth. They are two very different stories, yet they complement one another perfectly. The expectations set up in the first novella are subverted and twisted in unexpected ways, almost a sucker punch to the reader.
I ADORED this book, and highly highly recommend it. The cosmic horror elements are frankly seamless. Lovecraftian horror too often becomes overly ambiguous and surreal. Jacobs walks the tightrope between the cosmic and the mundane, bringing the reader to a close that feels just strange and uncanny enough to satisfy without being overly opaque and impossible to parse.
Duchamp Versus Einstein – FULL REVIEW
One of the things I adore most about Angry Robot as a publisher is that they’re willing to give books that are just a bit off-beat a fair shake. They’ve got unicorns in space with Space Unicorn Blues, stuffed triceratops detectives in The Imaginary Corpse, and soldiers who travel at light speed by becoming light in Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade. Angry Robot is the home of books that push the boundaries that might be a little further out than other traditional publishers are willing to go, and they often find some wonderful hidden gems by doing so.
Unfortunately, this also means that some of the books they take a chance on fall a bit flat. For me, Duchamp Versus Einstein fell into this category.
Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko, Translated by Julia Hersey – FULL REVIEW
Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko is difficult to compare to other books without giving an incorrect impression. While it is a book set in a magic school, it is dissimilar to most everything else I’ve encountered in the magic school subgenre. The students sit under constant threat of severe retribution should they fail to perform – up to and including the deaths of their loved ones. They are assigned strange and esoteric mental exercises, forced to run until they can’t any more, even forced to prostitute themselves. It is a book without chapters, without clear plot or goals. Were I forced to compare it to another, The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan comes closest… yet even it has markedly different content. If this is Harry Potter… it’s Harry Potter without Voldemort, without Dumbledore, and on acid.
Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden – FULL REVIEW
I love weird, squishy, biological scifi, and I was impressed by how perfectly Escaping Exodus delivered on this front. When I originally read the premise on Goodreads – “a city-size starship carved up from the insides of a space-faring beast” – I knew I had to get my hands on this book. I’ll admit that I came in feeling a hint of trepidation: what if the beast is relegated to being in the background? What if it’s a normal spaceship that’s only “alive” when it’s plot convenient? Etc., etc. Fortunately, we were wading through ichor and entrails from the very first page. My worries were utterly baseless. Nicky Drayden embraced every bit of icky organic goodness right from the start.
The Deep by Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes
The Deep is a compelling novella focused on the importance of history as a part of cultural identity, specifically within the black community. This short tale is focused, coherent, and was written to convey its message clearly and concisely: even if the past is painful and full of trauma, it is key to understanding our modern identity both as individuals and as a larger cultural group. Our past leaves an indelible imprint on our present.
The premise of the book is rooted in the brutality of the Atlantic slave trade, viewed through a surprisingly optimistic lens. Where the slave trade caused irreparable harm, new opportunities for community and identity have been born. The wajinru, a mermaid-like race living in the sea, are the sea-born offspring of pregnant black slaves who have been tossed over the side of slave ships to die. The wajinru live with the opportunity to live a life grounded not in their past, but rather in the present: each of the wajinru is possessed of a memory that blanks out the pain of the past. Yetu, however, is the exception to this. She is the wajinru’s Historian, who holds all the generational memories that are too painful for her culture as a whole to hold. They overwhelm her, subsume her, until she simply can’t take it any longer. The past begins to blur with the present, and the imbalance between the two is too much for anyone to handle.
Fortuna by Kristy Merbeth – FULL REVIEW
Fortuna’s premise snagged me in an instant – a whole family of space smugglers! Devastating massacres! A young, roguish captain vying for power! How could I resist? Yet, while it didn’t disappoint… neither did it impress. Advertised as “Perfect for fans of Becky Chambers and Catherynne M. Valente,” I came in expecting both a fascinating, non-conventional setting combined with a cast of truly lovable and kind characters. Ultimately, the characters were decent, the setting cliche, and the plot mostly straightforward and with a few straggling ends. Many interesting ideas, such as recovery from child abuse/neglect, were only touched on briefly at best and stranded high and dry at worst.
Our Bloody Pearl by D. N. Bryn – FULL REVIEW
This book was super cute and super fun. Our Bloody Pearl sits on the cusp between YA and adult fantasy, somewhat similar in this regard to authors like Mercedes Lackey or Brandon Sanderson – albeit completely different in terms of themes and style. If you want an easy weekend read featuring murder mermaids (!!!), a kind and caring found family (!!!!), and an adorable ace romance (!!!!!), then this is absolutely the book for you! All of these things are completely my catnip, and I’m so, so happy that the author reached out to me offering a review copy since it might not have made it onto my radar otherwise. There’s even wonderful representation of disability and disability accommodations!
Los Nefilim by T. Frohock – FULL REVIEW
So nice I reviewed it TWICE! This was my second time reading this novella collection, and I have to say: it absolutely lived up to every wonderful memory of my first read. There were many small flourishes and touches that passed me by the first time, and it was a joy and a pleasure to notice and appreciate them this go around. Although I initially planned to read and review Where Oblivion Lives, the first full Los Nefilim novel, for October, I decided to push it into November to allow for another read of the novellas. Keep an eye out for my review of Where Oblivion Lives sometime mid November… and an ARC review of the second Los Nefilim novel, Carved from Stone and Dream, in January!
I’d be hard pressed to point to a single thing I disliked in any of these novellas. T. Frohock has created an outstanding world with even better characters. This book is one that’s filled with good, genuine people who all do their best to stand by one another even in impossible circumstances. I would recommend it to absolutely anyone.
November is looking absolutely fantastic. Some of the books you can expect to see on my blog this month include:
Where Oblivion Lives by T. Frohock
Series: Los Nefilim #1
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release date: February 19th, 2019
Originally set to be reviewed last month, I decided to push this one out so that I’d have time to reread the prequel novellas before diving into the first full Los Nefilim novel! The novellas do not need to be read first, although they are excellent.
A lyrical historical fantasy adventure, set in 1932 Spain and Germany, that brings to life the world of the novellas collected in Los Nefilim: Spanish Nephilim battling daimons in a supernatural war to save humankind.
Born of daimon and angel, Diago Alvarez is a being unlike all others. The embodiment of dark and light, he has witnessed the good and the horror of this world and those beyond. In the supernatural war between angels and daimons that will determine humankind’s future, Diago has chosen Los Nefilim, the sons and daughters of angels who possess the power to harness music and light.
As the forces of evil gather, Diago must locate the Key, the special chord that will unite the nefilim’s voices, giving them the power to avert the coming civil war between the Republicans and Franco’s Nationalists. Finding the Key will save Spain from plunging into darkness.
And for Diago, it will resurrect the anguish caused by a tragedy he experienced in a past life.
But someone—or something—is determined to stop Diago in his quest and will use his history to destroy him and the nefilim. Hearing his stolen Stradivarius played through the night, Diago is tormented by nightmares about his past life. Each incarnation strengthens the ties shared by the nefilim, whether those bonds are of love or hate . . . or even betrayal.
My Beautiful Life by K. J. Parker
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Release date: November 30th, 2019
As the ironic title indicates, Parker’s latest tells the story of an individual life that takes extraordinary turns. As the story begins, the nameless, dying narrator takes us back to his childhood home in a remote corner of the ubiquitous Empire. The second of three sons, he lives there with his mother in a state of unrelieved poverty. Life eventually becomes so dire that the mother — who can only find work as a prostitute — is forced to sell one of her children. The oldest son, Nico, volunteers to be sold in order to protect his family, and that decision sets in motion everything that follows. Nico’s journey takes him, in time, to the heart of the Empire and the very center of power. Over time, he acquires considerable power of his own and uses it to bring his younger brothers into the circle of his influence, changing their lives forever. Under Nico’s guidance, the middle brother — our nameless narrator — achieves a destiny that will alter not only his own life, but the life of the Empire itself.
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
Series: Lady Astronaut #1
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: July 3rd, 2018
On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process.
Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too.
Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.
Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade
Series: The Shroud of Prophecy #1
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: November 5th, 2019
The Shroud of Prophecy tests fate to discover what happens when the path of good and right, the triumph of light over darkness, the only path to salvation… fails.
Everyone loves Mathias. So naturally, when he discovers it’s his destiny to save the world, he dives in head first, pulling his best friend Aaslo along for the ride.
Mathias is thrilled for the adventure! There’s nothing better than a road beneath his feet and adventure in the air. Aaslo, on the other hand, has never cared for the world beyond the borders of his sleepy village and would be much happier alone and in the woods. But, someone has to keep the Chosen One’s head on his shoulders and his feet on the ground.
It turns out saving the world isn’t as easy, or exciting, as it sounds in the stories. Mathias is more than willing to place his life on the line, but Aaslo would love nothing more than to forget about all the talk of arcane bloodlines and magical fae creatures. When the going gets rough, folks start to believe their only chance for survival is to surrender to the forces of evil, which isn’t how the stories go. At all. To make matters worse Aaslo is beginning to fear that he may have lost his mind…
The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North
Series: Stand Alone
Release date: November 12th, 2019
South Africa in the 1880s. A young and naive English doctor by the name of William Abbey witnesses the lynching of a local boy by the white colonists. As the child dies, his mother curses William.
William begins to understand what the curse means when the shadow of the dead boy starts following him across the world. It never stops, never rests. It can cross oceans and mountains. And if it catches him, the person he loves most in the world will die.
Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender
Series: Stand Alone
Release date: November 12th, 2019
Sigourney Rose is the only surviving daughter of a noble lineage on the islands of Hans Lollik. When she was a child, her family was murdered by the islands’ colonizers, who have massacred and enslaved generations of her people—and now, Sigourney is ready to exact her revenge.
When the childless king of the islands declares that he will choose his successor from amongst eligible noble families, Sigourney uses her ability to read and control minds to manipulate her way onto the royal island and into the ranks of the ruling colonizers. But when she arrives, prepared to fight for control of all the islands, Sigourney finds herself the target of a dangerous, unknown magic.
Someone is killing off the ruling families to clear a path to the throne. As the bodies pile up and all eyes regard her with suspicion, Sigourney must find allies among her prey and the murderer among her peers… lest she become the next victim.
The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith
Series: Vine Witch #1
Release date: October 1st, 2019
Black Forest Basilisks is EXPANDING! The Vine Witch review will be written by as a guest post by @captainthumbs.
For centuries, the vineyards at Château Renard have depended on the talent of their vine witches, whose spells help create the world-renowned wine of the Chanceaux Valley. Then the skill of divining harvests fell into ruin when sorcière Elena Boureanu was blindsided by a curse. Now, after breaking the spell that confined her to the shallows of a marshland and weakened her magic, Elena is struggling to return to her former life. And the vineyard she was destined to inherit is now in the possession of a handsome stranger.
Vigneron Jean-Paul Martel naively favors science over superstition, and he certainly doesn’t endorse the locals’ belief in witches. But Elena knows a hex when she sees one, and the vineyard is covered in them. To stay on and help the vines recover, she’ll have to hide her true identity, along with her plans for revenge against whoever stole seven winters of her life. And she won’t rest until she can defy the evil powers that are still a threat to herself, Jean-Paul, and the ancient vine-witch legacy in the rolling hills of the Chanceaux Valley.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Are you looking forward to any of the next month’s line-up in particular?
Let me know in the comments below!