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Zhao presents a rich fantasy world of high stakes and adventure in this YA novel based on Chinese mythology and the xianxia genre. After witnessing her mother’s murder as a child, Lan escaped and was rescued by an elderly shopkeeper, who found her a home in Madam Meng’s Teahouse, where she works as a song girl. Years later, she’s confronted by her past and magical inheritance when her shopkeeper friend dies, and a man assaults her. With soldiers on her heels, eager to capture the magic her mother gifted her at her death, Lan flees the city with Zen, an undercover magical practitioner who is just as haunted by his past as Lan. In the last few years, several fantasy novels steeped in Chinese mythology, history, and the xianxia and wuxia genres have been published, such as Daughter of the Moon Goddess, She Who Became the Sun, and The Empress of Salt and Fortune. Song of Silver, Flame Like Night is an enthralling addition to this growing and much-welcome trend. The audiobook narrated by Annie Q is an engaging listen.
Elfhame fans prepare yourself: Black returns to the Elfhame world in this all-consuming first book in a new YA fantasy duology starring characters from the previous trilogy. Eight years after the Battle of the Serpent, Suren — child queen of the Court of Teeth and granted power over her mother by Jude — hides in the human world, spying on her former human family and saving mortals from fae bargains. She is deeply lonely, longing for the life she had before her mother reclaimed her, yet unwilling to reveal herself to the human family that rejected her. Then Prince Oak, heir to Elfhame and Suren’s former betrothed, rides out of the darkness with his soldiers and forcibly takes her. Oak needs Suren’s help to defeat her mother, who has reclaimed the Ice Needle Citadel and discovered a magical object that allows her to build an army of twigs and ice. Oak isn’t the carefree, kind boy Suren remembers; instead, he wears a charming, manipulative mask, and Suren knows she must constantly be on guard in case she becomes as bewitched as the poor mortals she helps. Full of dark magic, angsty feelings, and complicated characters, this book is everything I wanted from an Elfhame spinoff.
This utterly delightful historical fantasy is the perfect book to get cozy with this winter. No one understands faeries better than Cambridge professor Emily Wilde, as she frequently records in her diary, except for her rival and fellow Cambridge professor Wendell Bambleby, and that fact alone infuriates her. Where Emily is constantly disgruntled, ill-liked by everyone, and avoids social niceties like the plague, Wendell is charming, loved by everyone, and masters every social situation as easily as breathing. She hates him, yet he can’t seem to take the hint. Emily has nearly completed her work on a grand encyclopedia of faeries. She has one more location to investigate, the remote, snow-laden village of Hrafnsvik, where people report dark stories of the fae, yet no fae academic has studied them. She’s ensconced herself with her massive dog in a derelict cabin to learn more about the fae when, lo and behold, Wendell arrives, charming the villagers where she had failed, and pointing out all of Emily’s faults. However, it is Emily who first meets and bargains with the fae in Hrafnsvik. The curmudgeon meets the cheerful charmer is my favorite romantic vibe, and I just love everything about this one, from the character dynamics to the world building.
The second book in Bardugo’s dark academia adult fantasy is as addictive as the first. Now a sophomore at Yale, Alex has taken over her mentor Darlington’s position as Virgil in Yale’s Lethe House, which oversees the magical rituals held by the campus’s many secret societies. Alex is determined to save Darlington, but doing so will require a trip into Hell and, even more perilously, back. Lethe House forbids Alex to attempt a rescue, so she secretly assembles a team and begins researching the path into and out of Hell. Her own past secrets as a former drug dealer start haunting her when her former supplier shows up demanding favors. Then faculty members begin dying in mysterious ways, and Alex knows it must be part of something sinister. With a propulsive plot and clever, complex characters, readers of the first book will not be disappointed.
The women’s rights movement is gaining momentum in the kingdom of Ramsawa, based on a fantastical version of Egypt. Waterweaver and aristocrat Nehal dreams of learning more about her magic at the Weaving Academy, but women must have a man’s approval before joining the academy, and her father isn’t about to let Nehal join. Instead, burdened by debt, her parents marry her off to the son of a wealthy merchant, Nico. Nico doesn’t want the marriage any more than Nehal. He loves poor bookseller Giorgina, who has three secrets that could get her killed as a woman in a patriarchal culture: she’s an earthweaver, she’s had an abortion, and she’s an active participant in the Daughters of Izdihar, a women’s rights organization. When Nehal finds out about Giorgina and Nico’s affair, she makes a deal with Nico and has him sign off on her papers allowing her entry into the Weaving Academy. Meanwhile, Giorgina gets Nehal involved in the Daughters of Izdihar, where Nehal starts having feelings for its leader. This debut fantasy is an impressive feminist feat, with immersive world building, fascinating, complex characters, and a plot that hooked me from start to finish.
In this moving YA novel-in-verse, Whimsy enters a psychiatric hospital for her depression, which began after her brother disappeared when she was a child. In the hospital, she meets Faerry, who also has depression. The two immediately bond over their love of fairytales and their shared Blackness in a primarily white community. However, as they learn more about one another, and as Whimsy pushes against her memories, revelations have her questioning her brother’s disappearance and her possible involvement. She’ll only learn the truth if she ventures into the forest and confronts Sorrow, a Baba Yaga Whimsy built from her childhood trauma. The author bases this beautiful, surreal novel steeped in fairytales on her own experiences. She also narrates the lyrical, mesmerizing audiobook.
This dystopian novel is a thought-provoking, inventive examination of queer motherhood, forgiveness, redemption, punishment, surveillance, and so much more. In a near future, the government attaches an extra shadow to anyone who commits a crime, with or without a trial, and places cameras in every residence. Anyone with extra shadows is called a Shadester. The narrator, Kris — who addresses the book to her deceased wife — is a Shadester. Kris’s wife dies after giving birth to their daughter, and the infant is instantly blamed for the death and given a second shadow. Now Kris must raise the infant alone while grieving for her wife and while dealing with a society that increasingly discriminates against Shadesters like herself and her daughter. It’s a brilliant, disturbing read, yet full of heart, love, and found family.
Destry is a ranger for the Environmental Rescue Team (ERT) in this fascinating ecological science fiction. Her mission is to slowly terraform the planet Sask-E into an Earth-like ecosystem, and she’s accompanied by her sentient moose, Whistle, in this mission. When she discovers a city hidden within a volcano on the planet and meets the people living there, everything she thought she knew about the ERT and their mission is uprooted. Now she and her predecessor Misha centuries later must grapple with how to save the planet’s environment from capitalism. With an intriguing mixture of AI, intelligent animals, cyborgs, and humans, Newitz depicts a complex but hopeful future where environmental consciousness and people’s rights take precedence.
In Salem, the Maiden, Mother, and Crone — the CEOs, or coven engagement oracles, of VenCo — are on the hunt for the witches who will claim the prophesied seven spoons and bring about a new era that will restore women’s magical powers. In Toronto, Lucky St. James, who is Métis, has just found out that she and her grandmother Stella, who has dementia, are being evicted from their apartment, where Stella has lived for most of her life. While doing the laundry in the apartment’s basement, Lucky discovers a hidden tunnel where she finds a spoon with the word Salem buried in the dirt. Finding the spoon sets off a series of events that lead Lucky and Stella on a quest from Toronto to Salem to New Orleans, where Lucky is tasked with finding the witch who will claim the seventh spoon. In the meantime, she learns more about her Indigenous magical heritage. This is a gripping, witchy romp of a novel. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Lucky and Stella.
Chokshi’s adult debut is a gorgeously executed and sensual contemporary fairytale gothic about two girls who could be sisters, a mansion that hides a magical world, and a romance based on lies and secrets. The Bridegroom, an academic researching fairy tales, first meets the beautiful heiress Indigo Maxwell-Casteñada in his search for rare fairytale texts that will explain why he can remember a brother his parents insist wasn’t real. Indigo and the Bridegroom are drawn to one another for similar reasons — their penchant for fairytales and myths and the strangeness of their pasts — but when they marry, Indigo insists the Bridegroom promise never to ask questions about her past. When Indigo receives news that her aunt is near death, she and the Bridegroom travel to the mansion Indigo grew up in, and the Bridegroom begins to wonder about Indigo’s mysterious past. In alternating chapters, a girl named Azure befriends the young Indigo, and the two, despite vast differences in wealth, become as close as sisters. Indigo shows Azure the mansion’s hidden magical garden, and the two promise to one day leave their world of hardship and journey to the world of magic together, but first, they must make themselves worthy. Steve West and Sura Siu beautifully narrate the audiobook.
I was a bit dubious though very intrigued when this was pitched to me as a cozy, queer Mad Max, but that is precisely what this delightful dystopian novel is. Transgender salvager Valentine Weis dreams of moving to Salt Lake City, wearing dapper suits, and receiving proper transgender medical care. However, citizenship in the city is costly. He and his bad-tempered partner Ace, who also wants to live in Salt Lake City, use Valentine’s van to take on perilous jobs in the wastelands to try to earn the money needed to buy their citizenship. Salt pirates plague them on every scavenging job. After one such run, Osric, an AI trapped in an android human body, meets them, informing Valentine that his employer in the city would like to hire them. Like Valentine, Osric struggles to understand the body he’s been forced into. He longs to return to his true purpose in the feed. Hess uses a postapocalyptic setting to study themes of identity, gender, autonomy, technology, and more, yet it’s also a profoundly charming, funny, romantic, and endearing read.
As in When Women Were Dragons, Barnhill explores themes of motherhood, feminism, and flight in this fantasy horror novella, but in an entirely different setting — a climate-ravaged future — and with an altogether different, unsettling tone. In the Japanese fairytale “The Crane Wife,” a crane transforms into a woman to convince a man to marry her. Barnhill gender swaps the tale, and instead a single mother is seduced by an abusive man who transforms into a crane every night. The 15-year-old narrator has been caring for her mother, younger brother, and the farm since her father died of a terminal illness years earlier. While her mother makes art, she finds buyers for the art online and keeps up her mother’s social media presence. She immediately sees the crane for who he is — an abusive monster — and is desperate to try and keep herself and her family safe. It’s a powerful, consuming read.
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In this detective novella set on Jupiter, an academic aids her former flame turned detective in a murder investigation. Earth has been devastated by climate change, and Pleiti studies classic literature in an attempt to recreate ecosystems and rehabilitate Earth. Investigator Mossa used to study with Pleiti, but their lives have long since separated. When a man disappears, Mossa’s investigations lead her to the prestigious university where Pleiti works. To get to the bottom of the disappearance, Mossa needs Pleiti’s help infiltrating the university. As the two work together, Pleiti begins to hope for a resurgence in their former romance. The world building is fascinating in this cozy sci-fi.
This first book in a new fantasy trilogy by the best-selling author of The City of Brass is an action-packed, Sinbad-esque tour de force about the famed female pirate Amina al-Sirafi. After a notorious career as a pirate, Amina al-Sirafi has officially retired to a crumbling, remote home, where she’s been raising her daughter for the last ten years. She is determined to keep herself well hidden and never take to the seas as a pirate again. However, when an elderly, wealthy woman with a connection to her past offers Amina a million dinars to bring home her 16-year-old kidnapped granddaughter, Amina finds herself too tempted to say no, despite her reservations. On this one last job, Amina defeats demons, comes up against poisoners and sorcerers, and discovers a plot far more intricate than a mere kidnapping. It’s a sparklingly written, witty, character-driven romp set in a medieval Islamic-inspired world.
In the second book in the Magic of the Lost trilogy — a gritty military fantasy that examines the brutality of empires and colonization — Luca’s uncle is doing everything he can to undermine Luca’s right to the Balladaire throne. The Qazali rebels have won the war against the empire, but unless Luca can claim her rightful place as Queen, Balladaire will likely continue its colonization efforts. Meanwhile, in Qazal, Touraine faces suspicion and ridicule from the Qazali council as a former Balladaire soldier, despite her importance to the rebellion. She has been ignoring Luca’s letters despite desperately missing her. She and Pruett are attempting to train Qazal’s deficient military, but when Luca requests Qazali presence in Balladiare, the council decides to send Touraine. As the two former lovers are thrown together once more, Touraine and Luca find themselves fighting not only for Qazal and the Balladaire throne but for one another. It’s just as intense as book one, The Unbroken.
In this charming xianxia-inspired paranormal adventure, Elle — an immortal descendant of the Chinese god of medicine — crushes on Luc — a half-elf security agent. Though Elle is a powerful magical calligrapher and healer, she hides her powers to protect herself and her older brother from their evil younger brother. Instead, she works as a low-level magical calligrapher for a temp agency and rarely leaves her home, hoping her younger brother will never find her. Luc is a regular customer at the agency, and despite only taking on menial magic jobs, Elle finds herself putting in more effort on Luc’s orders, charmed by how handsome and sweet he is. When one of her glyphs saves Luc’s life, he convinces her to help him with a custom order on his newest job — to track down Elle’s evil brother. His request isn’t entirely practical; like Elle, Luc harbors feelings for Elle, but he also has his own baggage to deal with first. It’s a lovely, absorbing read with wonderful characters, a perfect romance, and an action-packed plot.
In this intriguing and gruesome debut novel by nonbinary South Korean artist and writer Dolki Min, a shapeshifting alien fleeing from war crash lands on Earth. The alien takes on a human shape as they search for food, though they soon find that humans are the only food they can consume. To lure human prey, the alien uses a dating app and shifts their form to match their target’s sexual preferences, striking when their prey is most vulnerable. Their existence is both exhausting and lonely as they spend every day hunting food and shapeshifting. Themes of gender, identity, and cultural alienation are all explored in this surreal, compelling, and utterly unique novel.
This deftly written fantasy quest novella based on Nigerian folklore can easily be devoured in a single sitting. Tutu lives in the City of Lies, where water is scarce. The Ajungo Empire requires all youth of thirteen years to have their tongues cut off, and in return for the tongues, they provide water. As Tutu approaches his thirteenth birthday, and when his mother succumbs to dehydration, he decides that instead of remaining in the City of Lies, he will go on a quest to find a source of water for the city. The city’s oba agrees to provide Tutu with traveling supplies and water for his mother until he returns. However, the truths Tutu finds in his search for water threaten to upend all of Tutu’s beliefs about the world and how it works.
Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author Pinsker’s fascinating second speculative short story collection combines previously published and new fiction exploring surreal, fantastical, and often eerie moments. In the haunting opening story, “Two Truths and a Lie,” when Stella agrees to help an old friend clean his deceased hoarder brother’s home, she discovers old VHS tapes of a local children’s television show, one where both she and the hoarder appear in many episodes, and yet she has no memory of them. Other stories delve into the world of silent films, creepy folk ballads, the New York City music scene, skateboarding, and more, all in fantastical or uncanny versions of reality. It’s an excellent collection.