2017 Hugo Nomination Thoughts: Novellas

Theme I’ve noticed this yearthe Hugo ballots more closely match the Nebula ballot than previous years (ignoring the past two years of Puppy-rigged ballots), and no more so is this the case than the Hugo ballot. I barely had anything new to read at all! This seems to speak to some amount of consensus among the “popular” and the “professional” categories of voters that make up the two awards about the best works published in 2016.

Unfortunately I was not able to finish reading all the nominations before the awards tonight (namely Penric’s Demon). (Seriously, what is up with conventions like WorldCon and RCCC occurring one month earlier than usual?) Aside from this one discrepancy, behold the novella ballot review.

  • The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle, (Tor.com Publishing)

Previously reviewed elsewhere.

  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson, (Tor.com Publishing)

Previously reviewed elsewhere.

  • Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, (Tor.com Publishing)

Previously reviewed elsewhere.

  • Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold, (Spectrum Literary Agency)

Did not finish in time; intrigued by the bit I read.

Previously reviewed elsewhere.

  • This Census Taker by China Miéville (Del Ray/Picador)

I don’t care that this is written by China Miéville, and I don’t care that everything he writes is supposed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. I have way too large a TBR pile and too little time to waste on books that bore me and my god, was this fucking boring. I gave up 70 pages in. Theoretically there’s a story buried underneath all the words put on paper to look and sound pretty and create setting, but I don’t have the time or interest to slog through and see if there is.

(I have enjoyed several of Miéville’s novels in the past, but he remains one of those authors whose writing I feel obligated to like because the Literary Establishment—both SFF and otherwise—have indicated that he can do no wrong, and even if he does do wrong it’s still brilliant anyway.)

My vote: A Taste of Honey

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2017 Hugo Nomination Thoughts: Novelettes

Next up, novelette time, aka “Emily frantically rushes to finish reading all the Hugo nominations before the actual award ceremony.”

(The Rabid Puppy slate pick is not being reviewed.)

A quiet, literary science fiction story. Emily, the head housekeeper of a hotel where a team of astronauts will be staying before leaving on a mission to settle Mars, juggles caring for her fuzzy-brained mother who she calls Moolie and imagining/researching the identity of her father. Tying together Emily, Moolie, Emily’s musings on her father, and the astronauts’ impending mission is a wonder of space and its possibilities, the momentous feeling of being part of something grand and larger than yourself, even with inevitable, costly, and deadly failures.

Nina Allen’s writing reminds me of Jo Walton’s, with a bit more of an artistic flair on the word-smithing level, with lines like “It’s all still inside, I know it—everything she was, everything she knows, still packed tight inside her head like old newspapers packed into the eaves of an old house. Yellowing and crumpled, yes, but still telling their stories.” The story has a nice homey, neighborly feel to it and the writing is lovely, but overall it’s a bit loosey-goosey for my taste. I appreciate the craft and composition more than my experience reading and having read it.

  • The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde, (Tor.com Publishing)

Previously reviewed elsewhere.

More American Southwest, desert-y world building. Set in the same universe and starring the same Grandma Harken last seen in the Nebula Award-winning short story “Jackalope Wives”, Grandma is out to determine just who or what is stealing her newly ripened tomatoes. The answer is far more complicated than it seems. To stop the thief and free those he’s trapped, Grandma Harken takes a journey across a desert containing train gods, coyotes, gila monster dragons, and more.

Ursula Vernon has a knack for writing layered world-building filled with sensory details and characters (and stories themselves) with a penchant for dry, sardonic humor. I loved the hints of desert lore intertwined with the straightforward, engaging storytelling, and I enjoyed Grandma Harken’s down-to-earth toughness and love of the simple things in life, such as tomato sandwiches.

An alien invasion story crossed with a good old-fashioned American road trip. A middle-aged itinerant driver named Avery takes a job transporting to St. Louis an alien—whose species has zero consciousness yet are far more knowledgeable than humans can ever be—and his human translator named Lionel. His and Lionel’s relationship is parasitical—on behalf of the alien. The more the alien experiences consciousness through Lionel, the more he dies.

It’s a thought-provoking story, unique and mind-boggling while grounded in the realism of small-town America and sincere questions of what it means and feels like to be conscious and have awareness. Carolyn Ives Gilman does a good job balancing the thought experiment elements with the storytelling and forward momentum of the narrative. I enjoyed trying to wrap my brain around the ideas of life with and without conscious thought, and I’d be curious to learn which and how many of the ideas and suppositions presented are based in scientific fact or reasonability.

Previously reviewed elsewhere.

My vote: Almost all of these entries are strong, and I can make a case for why each of them should or might win. My vote lies with “The Tomato Thief”, though my hunch is that “The Art of Space Travel will take the prize.

I’m going to try as hard as I can to get my post for the Hugo novellas up before the end of next week. I only just obtained a copy of This Census Taker and still don’t have a copy of the Bujold entry, so we’ll see what happens.

2017 Hugo Nomination Thoughts: Short Stories

Oof, I started this series of posts late. It’s just two weeks until Worldcon! (Not that I’m going, though I’d love to this year for Helsinki).

Better late than never though. Without further ado, the Hugo-nominated short stories.

(The Rabid Puppy slate pick is not being reviewed.)

I love this story.

No, I don’t think you understand. I LOVE THIS STORY.

A homeless black teen is gearing up to act as midwife to the city of New York, to birth it into being, and to defend it against the Cthulhu-like Enemy lying in wait to kill it. This story pulses with life and sensation and voice and imagination. The way N. K. Jemisin writes the birth of the city and incorporates the elements that make New York its one-of-a-kind self is poetry. I love the juxtaposition of someone who is one of the most disenfranchised, vulnerable people in the city is the one destined to birth and become one with a city characterized by wealth and power, but also heterogeneity. People within the city think he’s worthless—especially the cops, especially the Cthulhu-infused cops—
yet his love for New York is as big as the city itself. I loved this story when I first read last September and I loved it again reading it a second time.

Previously reviewed elsewhere.

Previously reviewed elsewhere.

Previously reviewed elsewhere.

Interesting premise—two warring peoples have recently brokered a piece. The Gaant are telepaths; the Enithi are not. Calla, an Enithi nurse and former war prisoner, goes to visit the Gaantish Captain Valk, himself a war prisoner before he became Calla’s warden in turn. Together they play a game of chess that reflects not just the differences between the two of them and their peoples, but adaptations, and communication and connection.

For a story rooted in war, it’s unusually quiet, kind, and peaceful. The Enithi’s blase acceptance of their inability to hide their thoughts, and so not attempting to do so at all, is a different take than any I’ve read before, and it inherently changes the way the Enithi and Gaant fight, but also communicate. Their differences aren’t the reason these people fought, but they open possible doors for nurturing the tentative peace that now exists between them. A thoughtful, thought-provoking story.

My vote: “The City Born Great”, no question.

2017 Nebula Nomination Thoughts: Novellas

Novellas are normally my favorite of the short fiction categories on award ballots. This year’s Nebula ballot ended up being less enjoyable for me than usual due to two reasons: 1) I had a HUGE, HUGE problem with an aspect of one of the nominees and 2) I have never read a word of Lovecraft’s fiction in my life and I couldn’t care less about his oeuvre if I tried, and there were not one, but two novellas directly inspired and in conversation with Lovecraft stories on this ballot.

Trooper that I am, I soldiered on.

  • Runtime by S. B. Divya, (Tor.com Publishing)

I read this novella about a year ago when it was first released, and I enjoyed it upon reread as much as I did the first time. The story is set in a near-future U.S. where internal and external physical augmentations are the norm and immigrants and their children are classified as “unlicensed” and denied all government services. Marmeg, an unlicensed teenager with no money and castoff/black market augmentations, competes in the Minerva Sierra Challenge, an arduous day-long race across the Sierra Nevadas, so she can win enough money to pay for college and licenses for herself and her siblings. The world-building is both prescient (sadly) in terms of social policies and intriguing with regards to norms surrounding bodies, abilities, and personal identities. Marmeg is a tough, empathetic character fighting both to win within and game against the system in order to survive. The story is tightly paced and tense, and there is so much potential for a larger story.

  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson, (Tor.com Publishing)

Kij Johnson’s novella is a reworking of “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.” In this version, Vellitt Boe, a middle-aged university professor at Ulthar Women’s College, embarks on an epic journey across the dream lands to find a wayward student who’s escaped into the waking world. After the initial plot-establishing event and immediacy established by Vellitt’s need to get the student back, the tension slacks and the novella takes on more of a travelogue-esque nature, which I would have been fine with if I hadn’t needed to already be familiar with the Lovecraft mythology, setting, creatures, etc. The story is solidly written, the imagery is great, and I loved the Lewis Carol-ized words like “glibbering” and “meep”. Otherwise I did not feel like I was the intended audience, and my overall reading experience reflected this gap.

  • The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle, (Tor.com Publishing)

Lovecraft-reworking number two! This one tackles “The Horror at Red Hook,” which, Google tells me, is a xenophobic, racist screed of a story, even for Lovecraft. This reworking follows Charles Thomas Tester, a Black man from Harlem and street musician who hustles odd jobs on the side. One of those jobs, in which he’s hired to deliver a book containing an ancient, powerful alphabet to an old woman and in doing so catches the eyes of an old, eccentric gentleman named Robert Suydam, brings him into the sphere, and then into the realm, of elder gods and chaotic magic. Compared to Johnson’s novella, LaValle’s stands on its own, as its own story, much better, though I still preferred the historical fiction portions more than the Lovecraftian horror ones. The story does some really interesting things with invisibility and facades and the power that Tommy, as a Black man in 1920s New York, uses to his own advantage and has used against him.

  • Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, (Tor.com Publishing)

Miss Eleanor runs a boarding school for Wayward Children, for those who discovered doors to magic worlds where they felt like they belonged but were unceremoniously returned years later to the “real” world, to parents who love them but think they’re broken. Nancy is recently returned from the Halls of the Dead and has just arrived at Miss Eleanor’s, where she not only finds others like her, some friendly and others not, but a murderer who is killing the students one by one.

Sigh. I love almost everything about this novella. It’s fun, it’s dark, it’s imaginative, and the world-building for the kinds of portal worlds that exist is fascinating, and full of potential. The dialogue leans overly heavy on the quippy side, but it’s still fun. Nancy, Kade, and Sumi are great characters, though dapper, mad scientist Jack is my fave.

However, this novella has a major issue, and that is the portrayal of Nancy’s asexuality.

“You’re celibate?”
“No. Celibacy is a choice. I’m asexual. I don’t get those feelings.”

“I can appreciate how beautiful someone is, and I can be attracted to them romantically, but that’s as far as it goes with me.”

I personally could have done without the 101 explanation—Nancy could have just said, “Celibacy is a choice. I’m asexual.” I realize we’re still in the “early” stages of ace representation in fiction, but I am already beyond ready to move past the “explain new queer-related terms to people who don’t have those identities” phase.

An additional takeaway from the quote above is that Nancy does not identify herself as aromantic. But then there’s this quote:

Apparently Nancy wasn’t the only one who found Kade beautiful, although she would have been willing to bet that she was the only one who found his beauty more aesthetic than romantic.

Here we have the first conflation of asexuality and aromanticism in this book. In the very first quote, Nancy says she experiences both aesthetic and romantic attraction towards other people. It doesn’t make sense here for Nancy to make the distinction that she would be the only person in the room who isn’t attracted to Kade romantically. The only thing she would not feel for Kade is sexual attraction, since she is, in fact, asexual.

It is possible to take this quote at face-value—that Nancy solely thinks Kade is aesthetically attractive, and she isn’t romantically or sexually attracted to him. But then later on when Nancy and Kade are holding hands, she thinks the following:

This was always the difficult part, back when she’d been at her old school: explaining that “asexual” and “aromantic” were different things. She liked holding hands and trading kisses. She’d had several boyfriends in elementary school… and she had always found those relationships completely satisfying…. She wanted to spend hours sitting with [Kade] and talking about pointless things. She wanted to feel his hand against her skin, to know that his presence was absolute and focused entirely on her. The trouble was, it never seemed to end there, and that was as far as she was willing to go.

So here, Nancy is romantically attracted to Kade, and is actively interested in romance/romantic activities, and in doing them with him. She even more clearly identifies herself in this quote as not being aromantic. But then why in the second quote does she firmly identify her attraction as different than that of her classmates because hers is self-reportedly not romantic?

The next quote muddles things even further:

“I don’t want to go on a date with anyone. People are pretty, sure, and I like to look at pretty things, but I don’t want to go on a date with a painting.”

So, Nancy is interested in romantic activities described in the third quote, but not in going on dates? It’s stated in-text other places that she didn’t like going on dates before she went to the Halls of the Dead because of expectations that she reciprocate sexual attraction and the desire to act on it with the other person. But here, Nancy isn’t talking about that—she’s talking about the actual act of going on a date in and of itself. By saying that she doesn’t want to go on dates with people the same way she doesn’t want to go on dates with paintings, she’s emphasizing her experiencing aesthetic attraction towards people. But dates are typical romantic activities, even when there is no expectation of sex or sexual activity. And so the text once again gives the impression that Nancy isn’t interested in romance. But the only thing Nancy has ever explicitly said she isn’t interested in is sex.

These sloppy characterizations of the kinds of attraction Nancy does and does not experience and in what manner are all the more aggravating because 1) I “should” be happy there exists another entry to add to the minute pile of books with ace protagonists and 2) it feels like everyone in the universe has been recc’ing this novella on the basis of Nancy’s asexuality (among other things). But conflating asexuality and aromanticism, even unintentionally, does more harm than good. It leads to greater misunderstandings about what it may mean for someone to identify as one or the other, or both. It’s plain old not accurate. The text even goes so far as to say there’s a difference between asexuality and aromanticism, and yet doesn’t do the work to actually demonstrate what those differences are for Nancy. For me, being both asexual and aromantic, it’s infuriating. And it makes me upset that people are upholding this book as a positive example of ace representation without realizing or understanding how it throws aromanticism and aro people under the bus because of this kind of conflation.

  • “The Liar” by John P. Murphy (F&SF, March/April 2016)

Free version unavailable

  • A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson, (Tor.com Publishing)

A second novella set in Kai Ashante Wilson’s secondary fantasy universe where gods walk amongst humans and have Arthur C. Clarke powers (i.e. “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”) that, like The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, centers around the complicated love of two men of color. Aqib bmg Sadiqi is fourth cousin to the Royal family of Olorum, both close to and far away from the center of power and influence. Upon meeting a soldier named Lucrio during a Daluçan ambassadorial visit to Olorum, Aqib falls in love for the first time. Because of the overwhelming condemnation of his family and religion and culture, Aqib and Lucrio’s love may or may not survive. Only time will tell.

I always have to take a sideways approach towards Kai Ashante Wilson’s prose—it’s written just so that I can’t smoothly read it and need to take my time with each turn of phrase and arrangement of certain words. This can make his writing somewhat off-putting for me, but that doesn’t take away from how skillfully crafted it is. A Taste of Honey further develops the already-fantastic world building in The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps and explores the contours of a lovely, angsty romance between Aqib, a man ashamed of his effeminacy and conscious of his family’s need to rise socially, and Lucrio, a sweetheart of a commoner with perceptive eyes to the truth of a thing. There’s a HUGE twist concerning the story’s structure, the passage of time, and path Aqib’s life takes, and I enjoyed those scenes less than the ones with Aqib and Lucrio. Still, the twist is ambitious, and it works for what it sets out to do. Overall, a complex, multifaceted story rooted in the down-to-earth feelings and relationships of its protagonists.

My vote: For being my personal favorite, I’d choose Runtime. For technique, craft, and prose, I’d go with A Taste of Honey.

2017 Nebula Nomination Thoughts: Novelettes

  • “The Long Fall Up” by William Ledbetter (F&SF, May/June 2016)

Free version unavailable.

A quiet, banter-y story that takes place soon after an apocalypse of some sort. The rich and famous live on vast ships out at sea and have commandeered all available resources and amenities, leaving the rest to eke out a living as they can. When an impulsive, talkative rock star from one of those ships washes ashore, she’s the first human being the taciturn, scavenger Bay has seen or spoken to in years. These two women may be like oil and water, but together they might find something they’ve each been without—connection. Like Sarah Pinker’s award-winning novelette from last year, there’s enough story and world-building and potential for a longer story that I would have preferred reading over the shorter novelette version. Otherwise this was a pleasant, engaging read.

WOW.

This story is written in one of my favorite genres: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In a far-off future, damage to the earth and environment is a thing of the past, thanks to grains that are programmed to monitor and protect the land and anchors, grain-imbued humans that act as their proxy and are rooted to the land they come from, unlike the day-farers, who are grain-free and obligated to always travel and never settle. Frere-Jones has been an anchor all her life, and she has lost her husband and son for daring to rebel against the grains’ ironclad will. Now, for protecting day-farers from the grains’ wrath, she’ll pay a terrible price—and maybe make a difference.

I loved this story. It has a unique original concept that’s excellently executed, it’s gripping and filled with tension, and has enough pathos to make you really feel it, tinted with just the right amount of hope that maybe things will change. I also loved the Golden Bough-esque world-building and the way the grains both draw their power and motivation from memories and monitor and compartmentalize them to manipulate the anchors into fulfilling their programmed goals. All of the world-building is top-notch, and Frere’s dilemma is perfectly realized within the context of the world she inhabits.

  • The Orangery” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, December 2016)

This novelette draws inspiration from the many women in Greek mythology who are turned into trees for refusing the attentions of a deity. A guardian has tended the Orangery, a sanctuary of sorts housing all the trees who were formerly women, for years on end, alone, until Apollo breaks in to take back Daphne for good. Interspersed within the main narrative are the stories of three women-turned-trees, told by a guide who used to a tree herself. It’s an intriguing take on agency and choice, and what kind of agency and options a woman has when the only way for her to escape the attentions of a man is to cease being human. A solid entry.

  • The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde, (Tor.com Publishing)

I bounced hard off this one. In a kingdom with magical jewels where royalty are known themselves as “Jewels” and have lapidaries who can hear the jewels’ voices and wield their powers, the princess Lin and her lapidary Sumi, the only ones to survive a palace-wide betrayal that left everyone but them dead, must fight to save their kingdom from a conquering army and commander before it’s too late. The neck-breaking pace of this novelette read as though the story believed itself to be a full-length novel, except it wasn’t. The result was a story jammed in to fit a length that felt way too confining, whose world-building consisted of simplistic details about how the jewels worked and repetition of the rules binding Jewels and lapidaries. Pass.

Alyssa Wong never writes the same story or kind of story twice, and each one feels distinctly unique and fundamentally hers. A weird west story about a boy named Ellis who can channel the power of the desert and resurrect the bones of the dead, Marisol, his best friend and the one he loves, the man who wants to exploit the dead for his own profit, and the thin line between death and resurrection and desiccation and rebirth. The written setting is fantastic, the prose and imagery are lovely, and the story makes similarly excellent use of pathos and hints of change as “Blood Grains Speak Through Memories”. It’s also perfect for fans of Pretty Deadly.

My vote: The story of my heart on this ballot, and my first choice, is “Blood Grains Speak Through Memories.” “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” is runner-up.

2017 Nebula Nomination Thoughts: Short Stories

It’s that (late) time of year again, in which I read through the Nebula short fiction nominees!

(I also plan on doing the Hugo’s this year, since this current ballot is not a trash fire.)

In reverse order of what I did last year, I’m reviewing the short stories first. An important caveat concerning my response to two of these stories, both of which were hugely popular upon publication, is that I am a cranky agender person who is still working through feelings about feeling obligated to relate to stories “about” “female experiences” (especially gendered violence). They’re lovely stories, but they’re not for me.

The above caveat applies. Prose-wise, “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” to be a beautifully-forged weapon of a story. Brooke Bolander is a fierce, forceful writer with a supreme grasp of how to wield words and language like a metaphysical sword.

The above caveat applies. This fairytale, which intertwines the stories, and love, of a woman condemned to walk the world until she wears through the soles of seven metal shoes and a princess self-imprisoned on top of a glass hill, is a solid entry. Amal El-Mohtar’s prose is consistently lovely and elegantly crafted.

  • Sabbath Wine” by Barbara Krasnoff, (Clockwork Phoenix 5, ed. Mike Allan)

A Prohibition-era story that amiably ambles along up to the very end, a coming-together that illuminates all that came before it. Malka, a nine-year-old Jewish girl, starts a budding friendship with David, an almost-thirteen-year-old African American boy. Despite her father’s irreligiousness, Malka invites David over the next night for Shabbat dinner, which causes her father to embark on a quest to obtain kosher wine in a time when alcohol has become scarce. An ostensibly simple, quiet story that ties together loss, racism and hegemonic brutality, and memory.

Sam J. Miller’s stories are trippy, constantly overflowing with seemingly disparate ideas and concepts and images that somehow fit together into a “this shouldn’t work but somehow it does and it feels right” kind of whole. Also like his other stories, “Things With Beards” is wholly rooted in the real world, with the speculative hiding in its very midst. A story of a white gay man who pretends to be masculine straight man, who suspects he has a monster hidden inside him, a story of New York City in the 1980s at the beginning of the AIDS crisis changing those infected from the inside out, the story of ongoing, never-ending police brutality against Black people, a story of being hidden, of monsters being hidden. It’s thinky and gut-punchy and real, it works really well, and it’s my favorite of the nominees.

A cute, brief story of a young child writing letters over the years imploring that the Gatekeeper reopen the door to a magical world where their best friend Zera lives. It’s sweet, if not substantive.

Alyssa Wong’s prose isn’t flashy or poetic—it just is. In this short story about two sisters who share powers to manipulate the weather and rearrange the future, Wong seemingly effortlessly captures the texture of grief, despair, futility, and loss as Hannah endlessly destroying the universe in order to keep Melanie alive and in this world. The story itself is ethereal, almost too much so, but damn that prose.

You have a weird rash on your arm, so you head to the medical clinic in search of a cure. In your way stand impenetrable bureaucracy, predatory aliens, nurses with a penchant for amputation, and your own mortal clock ticking towards your death. Good luck. Normally I’m not a fan of “Choose Your Own Adventure”-inspired stories. Caroline M. Yoachim’s version worked for me because it retains a somewhat linear narrative and meta-narratively taunts the reader for following—or failing to follow—the directions. A fun, quick read.

My vote: I am fully on Team “Things With Beards.” I suspect the actual outcome will be a toss-up between “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”, “Seasons of Glass and Iron”, and “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers.”

Review: Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

crossroads of canopy

Setting a fantasy novel in a rainforest is, with the benefit of hindsight, a genius idea, due to the genre’s historical love of stratified societies and hierarchical social structures.

Canopy is home to those who worship the thirteen gods and goddesses of their pantheon. Residents are closest to the sunlight, have more access to resources, and are the safest from the creatures that roam the forest, thanks to the magical barrier that separates Canopy from Understorey and Floor. This barrier also traps those who live in Understorey to the mercy of harsher, more dangerous living conditions and fewer resources. To those in Canopy, Understorians are savages fit only for slavery.

Unar, a Canopian born and bred, knows she has a powerful destiny. At the age of twelve she ran away from home to avoid being sold by her impoverished parents and gained entry to the Garden of Audblayin, the Waker of Senses and the goddess of birth and life. There she easily masters the magic that lies in Audblayin’s province, arrogant in her knowledge she was meant to serve one day as the bodyguard for her patron deity’s next incarnation.

Instead, Unar’s plan is thwarted again and again. Refused to ascend in rank in the Garden, entangled in promises and debts to a family of slaves, Unar’s destiny takes her beneath the barrier into Understorey. There she learns of another, powerful type of magic, and discovers an organized plot to overthrow Canopy—a plot that Unar has the power to aid or destroy, at the cost of everything she’s striven for.

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Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

allegedly

I was ready to give Allegedly five stars. It’s a gut-wrenching thriller that hammers with pinpoint precision at the status quo and the intersection of the criminal justice system, bodily autonomy, racism, mental illness, and child abuse, as well as the struggles and roadblocks that prevent the most vulnerable and in need of help from ever getting any. The writing is tight. The plot is gripping. All of the characters have depth beyond their first impression. Also it turned my emotions into a bloody mess.

And then the last five pages happened. And I want to unpack my response.

(This will be a SPOILERY review).

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Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

the-bear-and-the-nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale is rooted in Russian fairy tales and mythic creatures, early Russian history back when Moscow paid tribute to the Mongol Empire, and spiritual warfare between Eastern Orthodox Christianity and the Slavic pagan beliefs of the peasantry. It’s a straightforward story and a compulsive page-turner (always a plus for me these days) with an engaging storyteller voice.

Vasilisa Petronova is the last daughter born to Pyotr Vladimirovich and his first wife Marina. Independent, inquisitive, and more than a little stubborn and unruly, Vasilisa is most at home inside the surrounding forest and amongst the guardian spirits inhabiting her home and the land. Everything changes when her father brings home two additions to his household: Anna Ivanovna, his second wife, a devout Christian who fears and despises the household spirits as demons, and Konstantin Nikonovich, a priest with a magnetic presence, powerful voice, and deep-seated need for devotion. As Konstantin instills fear within Pytor’s people, the guardian spirits wither, and the village’s strength weakens. But more is at stake than just the village. Medvev, the Bear, has been entrapped for several years, but he is slowly growing strong enough to break free and gorge himself on the fear of the world.

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Review: An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

an-accident-of-stars

Sixteen-year-old Saffron Coulter’s life is changed forever when she witnesses a strange woman she met a few hours ago enter a giant portal leading god-knows-where. Almost unthinkingly Saffron follows and finds herself in a whole new world. This strange woman, Gwen, is originally from Earth but years ago became a worldwalker and made this world and its country of Kena her home.

Kena is in the midst of political turmoil. To Gwen’s eternal regret, she supported a candidate for the thorne who turned out to be a backstabbing tyrant. Now Gwen and the group of rebels she belongs to have laid their sights on forming an alliance with the neighboring country of Veksh, whose government is rife with its own set of tensions and factions. Immediately thrust into a bewildering landscape of magic, politics, and religion, Saffron comes to play an integral role in determining Kena’s future. But at what cost? And what price will she have to pay upon the day she returns home?

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