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Zachary Ying doesn’t want to stand out, a difficult task when he’s usually the only Asian kid in his school. He wants to finish summer classes and play Mythrealm, an augmented reality game that blends elements of Pokémon GO and trading card games like Yu-Gi-Oh! with classic mythology. Zack never learned a lot about Chinese myths and history from his mother, who had complicated feelings regarding their homeland. It comes as quite a shock when a Chinese transfer student, Simon Li, introduces himself and explains that Zack’s likely a direct descendent of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. Before he knows what’s happening, the spirit of his ancestor has possessed him, or rather, his portal-lens, the AR headset he wears to play Mythrealm.

Qin Shi Huang is on a mission, and he needs Zack’s body to do it. The long-dead emperor has to seal a portal to the Chinese underworld to prevent all manner of demons and spirits from flooding out into the human world, and the clock is ticking. Zack needs to get to Qin Shi Huang’s tomb in China, and he needs to strengthen the bond between himself and the emperor’s spirit, or his mother’s soul may be devoured. Zack has to learn as much as he can about the Dragon Emperor and his exploits so that he can channel the magic necessary to close the gap between the realms.

Qin Shi Huang isn’t the only dead emperor setting out to save China. Simon is possessed by the spirit of his own ancestor, Tang Taizong, and he’s partnered with Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor, hosted by her own descendent, Melissa Wu. Together, the three kids and their spirit partners navigate an escalating series of heists and battles with mythological figures and monsters. If they fail, China—and the rest of the world—are doomed.

Xiran Jay Zhao has crafted a most excellent middle grade adventure here. They’ve taken some of the best bits of Yu-Gi-Oh! (which I’ve loved since seeing the first episodes land in English back in 2001) and wrapped it in an intense love of Chinese history and myth, with an end result that will satisfy readers of all ages and make the folks at Disney jealous that they didn’t pick this one up for a Rick Riordan Presents title. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is fun, fast-paced, and clever. It’s out tomorrow, May 10th.

My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

And my additional thanks to Xiran for their signature on a copy of Iron Widow and a selfie with them back in April!

Selfie of me, Philip (he/they), standing in front of Xiran Jay Zhao (they/them), the author of Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor as well as Iron Widow.

I’m late to the party, I know.

I saw so many of my twitter friends talking up a new fantasy novel earlier this year. Something outside the traditional realm of sword and sorcery, but embracing the roots of the genre and crafting it into a drastically different form.

I’m talking, of course, about Travis Baldree’s debut novel, Legends & Lattes. I don’t remember which author I saw first promoting it, but it caught my attention almost immediately. What’s not to love about the premise? An orc adventurer finally tires of the life she’s led and decides to cash out after one final score, wherein she claims a legendary artifact that’s believed to bring great luck to the one who owns it. Viv leaves her old group of companions (let’s not pretend that they’re all friends) and settles down in the city of Thune to found a business the likes of which no one in the area has ever seen: a coffee shop.

Putting years of earnings from monster hunting to use, Viv transforms an old livery into a bustling café. She befriends numerous locals, especially the succubus Tandri, who quickly learns the trade as Viv’s first official hired barista. Not everyone is thrilled with her success, however, and Viv’s past has a way of catching up with her at the least opportune times. Between jealous former partners, a local protection racket, and the fact that literally no one in Thune knows what coffee is, she’s got her work cut out for her. Still, she might just have found exactly the place and the people to help her leave her old life behind once and for all.

Legends & Lattes is ridiculously cute, y’all. It’s a fantasy adventure with a great heart, and without the fate of the world at stake. It’s a wonderful reminder that, as Viv herself says, “Things don’t have to stay as what they started out as.” Take a chance on it. You’ll be glad you did.

I was in middle school the first time I saw the word “kaiju” in print. I was on a Godzilla kick, because I was in middle school, and Godzilla books had been readily available for a few years at that point, thanks mostly (I guess) to Roland Emmerich’s 1998 film. I had been to my parents’ bookstore and found a couple of mass market paperbacks of other Godzilla titles, and started to learn my way around the other residents of Monster Island. A love of the giant creatures was born that has persisted to this day, across films like Pacific Rim and the films and comics within the Godzilla franchise. Now imagine my joy when one of my favorite sci-fi writers announced an upcoming novel titled The Kaiju Preservation Society.

John Scalzi is a remarkably fun writer to read, and since it’s been a while since the last time I read one of his books, I’d forgotten that. TKPS is a ridiculously fun ride. When Jamie Gray loses his job in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, he turns to delivering food around New York in an attempt to keep up with his bills. This brings him into contact with Tom, an old college friend who tells Jamie that he has a job opportunity for him with a group that does preservation work for large animals. What Jamie was not expecting was for that job to be on the other side of a dimensional barrier separating our Earth from an alternate one populated by nuclear-powered creatures the size of apartment buildings.

Jamie emerges on the other side of the barrier to find a small scientific research base, where he will serve as a gofer for the numerous scientists studying the kaiju that inhabit this parallel world. He quickly makes friends and becomes acclimated to the bizarre biology of the local populace, learning what a threat virtually everything on that side of the barrier is (in short, everything will either kill you or try really hard to do so). Rapidly changing circumstances lead Jamie to understand, however, that not everyone associated with The Kaiju Preservation Society is as well-intentioned as he is, as an impending disaster threatens everyone and everything on both sides of the rift.

This was a fast-paced, very fun novel, that reads like a mashup of Pacific Rim and Jurassic Park. My only complaint is that we don’t get to spend a lot of time in the world, and I would love to see Scalzi release a sequel at some point down the line. The Kaiju Preservation Society is out in stores tomorrow, March 15th. Go get yourself a copy asap. My utmost thanks to Macmillan/Tor and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Gallant is the tale of a young orphan girl named Olivia Prior, and the ghouls that she can see. Olivia lives at Merilance School for Independent Girls in London, and she has no idea who her parents were, or why she was left there. Her only connection to her heritage is a journal that once belonged to her mother, filled with notes that seem to slowly veer into madness as they go on. “I’m so sorry I don’t know what else to do…you will be safe as long as you stay away from Gallant.”

Born without a voice, Olivia communicates via sign language (and occasionally writing, but she rightly refused to wear a chalkboard around her neck). Her inability to speak and the refusal of others to learn to sign has caused her more than a few conflicts with the other students and the matrons at school. Her only real companions at Merilance are the ghouls, partial shades of the dead who linger in our world. While she’s the only one at the school who seems to realize they’re there, they do not speak to her, and vanish from her view when told to go away.

Then one day, everything changes when a letter from an unknown uncle arrives for Olivia. “You are wanted. You are needed. You belong with us,” it reads. She is whisked away from Merilance by a driver who was sent to take her to the family home, Gallant, far from London. There, she meets her cousin, Matthew, and finds that her new home is also filled with ghouls. Ghouls that look like the family portraits hanging in the hallway. And there’s the issue of the mysterious, crumbling wall at the back of the garden, and the iron door that is set in the middle of it. There are many secrets held by Gallant, and Olivia’s mother’s journal ended with warning her to stay away.

The far side of the wall has more in store for her than she ever could have imagined, for there, Olivia finds a dark echo of the grand house. This shadow of Gallant is crumbling, and the master of the house is hungry for something only a Prior can provide. “Do you know what you are, Olivia Prior? You are amends. You are a tithe, a gift, and you belong to me.”

Gallant is an absolutely phenomenal Gothic fantasy, showcasing Schwab’s talents at writing for younger audiences. I loved every minute of it, and I’m very grateful to NetGalley and HarperCollins for the eARC in exchange for an honest review. It’s out in the world as of March 1st, so go grab a copy!

Wow.

I mean.

Where do you start a review for a book like Manhunt? I’m going to have to say it starts like this, because I’ve literally never read a book like Manhunt before.

The world has ended, at least for cis men. A virulent plague has torn through humanity, attacking people with higher levels of testosterone and turning them into violent, feral monsters. The survivors do what they can to get by, rebuilding where they can. Beth and Fran navigate through the New England wilderness, tracking and killing the men and harvesting their testicles and kidneys to bring back to their friend Indi. She processes hormones for the two trans women so that they can prevent the disease from transforming them into mindless beasts as well. Together, they might be able to hold on.

However, the wild men aren’t the only threat to Beth and Fran in this remade world. Militant TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) are sweeping the eastern seaboard, killing anyone who isn’t a cis woman. Their leader, Teach, is out to leave her own mark, and she’ll destroy anything or anyone who might even consider helping trans folks.

Gretchen Felker-Martin has crafted a horrifying, violent apocalypse that skillfully wraps its way around gender and sexuality. She blends beautifully erotic scenes with the grotesque, and leaves you terrified, but somehow still wanting more. Manhunt showcases the power of found family, even in the face of utter destruction. “Community is when you never let go of each other. Not even after you’re gone.”

This book is definitely not for the faint of heart or the delicate of stomach, but it was an absolute blast. It’s out now. My thanks to Tor Nightfire and NetGalley for an eARC of the book in exchange for an honest review.

It’s October, and the month that I spend in celebration of Hallowe’en is one of my favorite times of the year. Nearly five weeks of spooky stories, movies, games, all building up to a night spent in costume asking strangers and friends alike for candy? I’m 100% in.

This year, one of the best scary stories that I had the pleasure of reading was Cassandra Khaw’s new novella, Nothing But Blackened Teeth. I’m a big fan of horror novellas, as I love seeing how an author can build suspense over shorter texts, and Khaw absolutely shines here. They skillfully blend Japanese myths and history with a modern setting, leaving me wanting so much more.

Nothing But Blackened Teeth is the story of a group of friends, horror fans all, who have overcome their intertwining pasts to gather at an ancient Heian-era mansion so that two of them can get married. Why not have a destination wedding in a haunted house? After learning about one of the spirits that is said to occupy the grounds, the friends soon find that their planned night of drinking and telling ghost stories may have gone a step too far. An ohaguro-bettari, the ghost of a bride-to-be, has claimed one of them as a replacement for the man who died before he could become her husband a thousand years ago.

Khaw presents us with a group of protagonists who are clearly genre-savvy, but their own interpersonal connections have grown strained, and may prove to be their undoing. “This is the problem with horror movies: Everyone knows what’s coming next but actions have momentum, every decision an equal and justified reaction. Just because you know you should, doesn’t mean you can, stop.”

I loved Nothing But Blackened Teeth, and devoured the novella in a couple of hours. It’s available for you to buy today!

My sincere thanks to NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

So, you’re planning a trip to England.

You’ve watched Midsomer Murders from start to finish, and read every Agatha Christie. You know what to expect.

Or so you think… Maybe there’s one more thing you should read first. Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village is a short but brilliant tongue-in-cheek book, preparing you for your inevitable demise in, well, Tongue-in-Cheek, or whatever little town you’re preparing to visit on your holiday. Maureen Johnson presents a very quick read with Gorey-esque illustrations provided by Jay Cooper. The guide introduces you to the titular village and its denizens and their various quirks (beware the vicar) before moving on to the nearby manor and the residents therein.

I loved this book. It took me maybe 30 minutes to read from beginning to end, but I vastly enjoyed every minute of it, spending a large portion of the time stifling my laughter so as to not wake my sleeping family members. Johnson’s humor is spectacular, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s out in the world today. Go find it. Just… Maybe don’t go to the little bookshop in the quaint English village to pick up a copy.

My utmost thanks to NetGalley for an eARC of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Okay, y’all. This was one weird book, and I absolutely loved it.

When Rainbow wakes up, she doesn’t remember anything. She doesn’t know who she is, where she is, or how she got there. She finds herself in a video game-like world, with memories slowly being returned to her. In order to fully regain her memories and (maybe) return home, she has to complete a quest. Chad01, the warrior assigned to escort her, is tremendously upset about being paired up with a Nobody, a character without an assigned class. They reluctantly set out across a bizarre world full of nightmarish creatures and magic that no one seems to fully understand.

Rainbow manages to retrieve some more of her memories along the journey, leading her to remember her time with her brother CJ and her struggles with her own mental health and suicidal ideation. The quest to find herself may be more destructive to her than she initially would have expected.

Sean McGinty has crafted a unique story here, with some parallels being drawn to The Wizard of Oz as far as a quest within a questionable reality. It’s a difficult story to describe, and a difficult one to read, but it pays off pretty well. 4/5 stars. It’s out in the world as of *oops* yesterday, so go check it out.

My most sincere thanks to NetGalley and Clarion Books for an eARC of Rainbow in the Dark in exchange for a fair review.

Évike lives in a small pagan village surrounded by walking trees. Like all of the villagers, she lives in constant fear of the Woodsmen of King János Bárány. Every two or three years, the Woodsmen have come and taken one of the wolf-girls of the village so that her gift of pagan magic might be put to use by the king. The women never return. When Évike was a young girl, her own mother was taken, leaving her to be raised by the village seer, Vírag. Now 25, Évike remains the relative outcast of the village, as she never developed any of the four magic talents possessed by the women of her home. She can’t spark a fire with a word, she can’t forge a blade with a song, she can’t heal the injured, and she has no gift of foresight. Blame falls on her father, an outsider who left the village again before her mother was taken.

When Vírag receives a vision that the Woodsmen will soon return to the village, a drastic decision must be made. She knows that the king has sent them to retrieve Katalin, one of Évike’s peers, and a burgeoning seer herself. Fearing the fate of their village left with only one, elderly seer, Vírag calls Évike to her hut. Quickly disguising Évike and Katalin as one another, Vírag tricks the Woodsmen into taking the one wolf-girl without a hint of magic. Évike is understandably bitter, as Katalin was one of those who bullied her the most in their youth. Now she must pretend to be her as she’s taken away to the capital.

The wild forest around Évike’s village isn’t the only threat along the path to the capital, however, and monsters are very real. Soon all but the captain of the Woodsmen group sent for her are killed. Her deception is revealed, but instead of killing her for the lie, the Woodsman reveals one of his own. He isn’t a mere Woodsman. He is Gáspár Bárány, firstborn son of the king.

Évike and Gáspár forge an uneasy truce. If she helps him find the turul, a powerful source of magic that could save the king from the manipulations of his second son, he will help her search the capital for her own father and protect her people. Time is short, and the journey will be perilous, but it may be that their growing tolerance for each other hides something more…

Ava Reid has provided us with a masterful debut novel, a blend of Eastern European and Jewish history and folktale that is sure to delight older fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. Magic, monsters, and romance fill the pages, and the characters resonate with real-world people and events fantastically.

The Wolf and the Woodsman is available today.

My utmost thanks to NetGalley and Avon & Harper Voyager for an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

Kas worked her ass off to get to go off-world with the Scholarium’s archaeology survey. The chance to go see old Earth and study some ancient mech programming code was a once in a lifetime opportunity for a third-wave scholar. She was expecting to be cut off from network connectivity while on Earth, thanks to the toxic malware datasphere surrounding the planet. She was expecting to spend her week there helping the first and second-wave scholars like Gneisin collect data. She was expecting to see mech pilots using the ancient combat suits they had come to study to do battle in the Drome.

She was not expecting Zhi.

Zhi caught her by surprise, tricked Kas into using the Scholarium’s credit line to place a bet on a mech battle she was competing in. The young pilot had debts to cover, and a rich-looking off-worlder was a perfect mark for her plan. Bet big, beat Custis and his shitty slow DreadCarl, and use the profits to get parts to improve her own mech. Nothing to it. It’s just that the House will force her to pilot mechs for them for the rest of her life if she loses this time.

Now Kas and Zhi’s fates are intertwined. Kas can’t afford to lose the Scholarium’s money, and Zhi can’t afford to lose her next fight. The two young women must pool their skills and knowledge, with everything hinging on a piece of technology that hasn’t functioned in hundreds of years. Winning against Custis and taking down the House will take everything they have, and they’ll not survive to get a second shot.

Hard Reboot is a fast-paced novella from Django Wexler, author of The Forbidden Library series. The worldbuilding is incredibly deep in a handful of paragraphs, with hints about what happened to the Earth in the intervening centuries. The mech battles have a weight to them that lets you feel each collision. The development of the bond between Kas and Zhi is spectacular, too, with neither of them knowing how to interact with each other at the outset. I raced through the book in a couple of hours and was left hungry for more.

Django Wexler’s Hard Reboot is available on May 25th. My utmost thanks to Netgalley and Tor.com for the eARC in exchange for a fair review.