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Warning: This review may contain spoilers for Gideon the Ninth, the first book in the Locked Tomb trilogy.

Seriously.

It’s really hard to talk about Harrow the Ninth without major plot reveals from Gideon, though I will do my best. If you haven’t read it yet, well…

First things first. Gideon the Ninth was probably the best book that I read in 2019. Like, hands down. I went all out to try to track down a first printing.

2nd.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Y’all.

Like.

Y’all.

Harrow’s back, but she’s not altogether all together.

She passed the Emperor’s test back at Canaan House. She survived the trials, and solved the mysteries of Lyctorhood. She succeeded, as only the genius Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House could do. She gained supreme necromantic power.

And she lost her mind.

Unless she didn’t.

Now she finds herself on board the Emperor’s space station, preparing for a war the likes of which she never could’ve imagined. God himself is there, the Necrolord Supreme, with the rest of his remaining Lyctors, helping to train Harrow in the use of her newfound abilities. But something, or someone, is stalking Harrow through the halls, bypassing every layer of protection she can come up with. Her talents with skeletal constructs alone will not be enough, and if she can’t fully tap into her Lyctor powers, she will die. Not even God can help her if she can’t acknowledge the reality she faces.

But…

Now she finds herself at Canaan House, arriving for the first time to begin her training to become a Lyctor. The heirs to the other seven houses are there as well, and Teacher bids them welcome as they begin studying the ancient arts of necromancy that will help them to unlock their greatest power. Familiar and wrong as the same time, most seems well until something, or someone, begins to track them, killing them off one by one. Harrow’s cavalier stands as bravely as he can beside her while… wait…

He?

Where’s Gideon?

Tamsyn Muir skillfully ties her timelines together, blending Harrow’s present-day trauma to that of her past, leaving readers to spend much of the novel pondering the necromancer’s reliability as a narrator. Muir provides a much wider view of the world of the nine houses and the magic blending life and death that powers so much of it. New characters and old try their best to help Harrow navigate a vast universe in which she may well be her own worst enemy. Harrow the Ninth is just as difficult to put down as its predecessor, and it left me yearning for the release of Alecto the Ninth, currently scheduled for 2021.

“Are you sure this is how this happened?”

 

“One for the Emperor, first of us all;
One for his Lyctors, who answered the call;
One for his Saints, who were chosen of old;
One for his Hands, and the swords that they
hold.
Two is for discipline, heedless of trial;
Three for the gleam of a jewel or a smile;
Four for fidelity, facing ahead;
Five for tradition and debts to the dead;
Six for the truth over solace in lies;
Seven for beauty that blossoms and dies;
Eight for salvation no matter the cost;
Nine for the Tomb, and for all that was lost.”

Harrow the Ninth is available for purchase tomorrow, August 4th. Gideon the Ninth is available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and digital.

My utmost thanks to NetGalley for providing an eARC of this book in exchange for a fair review. It made 2020 bearable.

Stephen Graham Jones wrote one of the creepiest novellas I’ve ever read, Mapping the Interior. Naturally, I leapt at the opportunity to grab an eARC of his new novel, The Only Good Indians. I’m glad I did, too.

Ten years ago, four young Blackfeet men went on their last hunt together. One last chance to get an elk before winter. Ricky, Lewis, Gabe, and Cass. It was supposed to be their shot to prove that they weren’t the screw-ups that so many folks on the reservation thought they were. One opportunity to prove that they were good Indians. Only it all went wrong, didn’t it? They weren’t supposed to be hunting in that part of the reservation. They would pay the price.

Ricky died the next year. “INDIAN MAN KILLED IN DISPUTE OUTSIDE BAR,” the headline had read. But he’d run from home. Left the reservation after his little brother overdosed, looking for work. He never made it to Minneapolis like he’d planned. But what if the headline didn’t get it quite right? What if there was more to it than a handful of roughnecks getting drunk and angry in a parking lot? More than a lone elk wandering into the lot, trashing the men’s pickups, leaving them to believe that Ricky had been causing the damage?

Now the tenth anniversary of their hunt is coming up, and Lewis is trying to find the courage to tell his wife the truth of what the four men did that day in the snow. The truth about the elk they killed, and the fate that they sealed for themselves with each rifle round. Lewis left the reservation too, though he never went as far as Ricky tried. But lately, Lewis hasn’t been feeling quite right. He’s been seeing things, impossible things. A cow elk dead in his and Peta’s living room. Dead? Or was her eye following him as he climbed the ladder? And it couldn’t be the same cow. Lewis killed her that day. Distributed her meat to the reservation elders. Still has her skin balled up in his freezer. Was it an elk that he saw? Or was it a woman with an elk’s head?

Meanwhile, Gabe and Cass are still at home on the rez, preparing a sweat lodge for a friend’s kid who needs to get put back on a proper path. A classmate of Gabe’s daughter, Denorah. The sweat will be a chance for Gabe and Cass to embrace their heritage, and pay respect to Ricky’s memory. Teach the kid, Nathan, a little too. Maybe a little bit of atonement for their elk hunt, now a decade back. At the very least, the kid’s dad will throw Gabe some extra cash that he can use to buy something for Denorah. But then, Lewis is in the headlines too…

Something survived that day, ten years ago. Something vengeful. Something patient. Something with horns.

Elk, the Blackfeet elders say, have a long memory.

The Only Good Indians is a fabulous novel. Stephen Graham Jones did not disappoint with this heartbreaking work. Part contemporary commentary on Native American lives, part slow-burning horror, it’s everything I could’ve wanted.

Happy publication day at long last, Mr. Jones.

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

 

When I found out that Gene Luen Yang was going to be writing a Superman story for younger readers, I was ecstatic. Imagine my joy to learn that the book was titled Superman Smashes the Klan. Yang is an exceptional cartoonist, and no stranger to writing stories for DC Comics. His New Super-Man series was one of my favorite things to come out of the Rebirth line, and American-Born Chinese was brilliant as well (Boxers and Saints are still in my to-read pile).

Superman Smashes the Klan is a phenomenal adaptation of an early Superman radio serial, in which a Chinese-American family, the Lees, moves from Metropolis’ Chinatown to the suburbs, pursuing a new, better life. Roberta and Tommy and their parents are adapting to the changes, and meeting new people. Daily Planet cub reporter Jimmy Olsen is quick to befriend the young Lees and introduce them to other kids their age.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for the Lee family to draw the attention of the Klan of the Fiery Kross. The Klan does not take kindly to a Chinese-American family settling in any part of Metropolis, let alone outside of Chinatown, and make their hatred known by burning a cross on the Lee family’s lawn. The Daily Planet sends Lois Lane and Clark Kent to investigate, and soon, Superman is on the case as well. With help from Roberta and Tommy, Superman must face off with the Klan and show them that Metropolis and America have no place for their bigotry and violence.

Gene Luen Yang’s story seamlessly weaves the updated tale of the Lee family (this version gives names and characterization to all of them!) and a younger Superman, still coming into his own powers (no flight, no heat vision, and no super-breath yet, for starters) and finding his own place as an outsider. Clark flashes back to his early years in Smallville, learning the truth about his origins as an alien. Yang effortlessly manages the most difficult part of any Superman story, too, in making both Clark Kent and Superman relatable and fun to read. Roberta serves as the primary narrator for the Lee family, trying to fit in with a new group of friends in a new part of town. Ostracized by her old friends from Chinatown now that she’s living in the “better” part of of Metropolis but not fully welcomed in her suburban neighborhood, she struggles to establish herself. Her keen observation skills make her an essential ally in Lois and Clark’s investigation of the violence aimed at her family.

This is an incredibly timely book, and Yang nails the importance of narratives in which immigrants are welcomed, not hated. Superman Smashes the Klan is the type of Superman story that America needs in 2020. I’m grateful to NetGalley for providing the eARC copy in exchange for a fair review.

“This looks like a job for Superman.”

I like comics, and I like horror stories, and I absolutely love when they come together well. James Tynion IV’s latest project nails that blend. Something is Killing the Children first hit comic shops in single issues starting in the fall of last year, and my attention was immediately drawn to the series. I first discovered Tynion’s writing on Detective Comics back at the beginning of the Rebirth arcs, and quickly shifted to his and Rian Sygh’s Backstagers series. Tynion’s a versatile writer (with series published under BOOM!, BOOM!Box, and DC), with a real skill for subtle, underlying horror themes. Something is Killing the Children is a much more overt horror, and it shines because of that. And unlike Backstagers, Something is Killing the Children is definitely not for the younger readers out there.

Our first chapter opens with a group of four young boys playing truth or dare at a sleepover, and a story about a monster living in a nearby ravine quickly draws scorn. They set out to investigate, just in case. We soon learn that three of those boys are now dead, and the 4th, James, is under suspicion for the deaths. Almost a dozen kids in town have died recently, with another dozen or so missing over the course of the two previous months. James is struggling to understand what happened, because what he saw that night in the ravine should’ve been impossible.

It’s only when Erica Slaughter arrives in town that James finds someone who believes his story. Erica knows that there’s a monster somewhere nearby, and she’s here at the behest of her mysterious boss to kill it before any more kids go missing. As the only known survivor of any encounters with the creature, James is going to be able to provide Erica with some much-needed intel before she sets out after it with a chainsaw.

Erica Slaughter

Meet Erica

Who is Erica, and where did she come from? Why does she carry around a stuffed octopus? Why can none of the adults seem to see the monster when it’s right in front of them? Something is Killing the Children is a dark, gory blend of Locke & Key (some bizarre things happening that adults seem weirdly oblivious about) and Stranger Things (monsters chasing teens), and I am 100% here for it. Werther Dell’Edera’s art is beautifully disconcerting, a perfect match for Tynion’s brilliantly paced writing. I’m compelled to track down more of his work now, because he’s crafted images that are going to linger in my head for days after reading this book.

The print version of volume one of Something is Killing the Children is due in stores on May 26th. The book contains the first five chapters of one of the best new horror comics I’ve picked up in years. It’s really no surprise that I loved this first volume, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. If you’re a horror fan, do yourself a favor and give it a read.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for an eARC of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Emily Skrutskie has a knack for queer YA sci-fi, and Bonds of Brass, out today, is no exception. This novel starts with a bang and builds up to the first kiss.

Seven years ago, the Umber Empire crushed the Archon Empire in a victory that shattered the capital world of Rana. As a way of cementing their hold on the planet, the Umber Empire established a military academy there. Two years ago, an Archon survivor named Ettian joined the academy, quickly rising through the ranks to become the top pilot in his class. His roommate (and crush), Gal, is a decent pilot himself, but tends to have his mind elsewhere.

Ettian’s world comes crashing down around him (and not for the first time) when, in the middle of flight exercises, 2/3 of his squadron abandons their planned formation to attempt to shoot Gal out of the sky. During a desperate attempt to save his best friend, Ettian learns the truth of Gal’s identity: he is the heir to the Umber Empire’s throne. Forced to flee the academy, Ettian and Gal begin to piece together a plan to return to the Umber capital, but there are lots of secrets both young men have been keeping from the other. If they’re going to survive long enough for Gal to take the Umber throne, they’re going to have to start talking.

Bonds of Brass is a strong first entry in a planned trilogy, with loving nods to Star Wars (the obvious parallels to Finn and Poe), Firefly, and more along the way. Skrutskie’s love of these characters is evident, and her action sequences and humor blend seamlessly. I eagerly look forward to the next entry.

 

Thank you to NetGalley for providing the eARC of Bonds of Brass in exchange for a fair review.

So, Chris Kluwe wrote a novel. And you know something? It was pretty damn good.

I picked up an eARC of Otaku a while back, courtesy of the fine folks at NetGalley, and I was very impressed by Kluwe’s fiction debut. While it wasn’t the first time he’d published a book, Otaku was a bold step in a new creative direction.

In a world ravaged by the Water Wars (or the Dubs), only one thing keeps the general public entertained: Infinite Game. Infinite Game is the ultimate virtual reality experience, fully immersive, played in a full-body haptic feedback suit. Players strive for physical fitness because real world skills transfer one-to-one into gameplay. And in the world of Infinite Game, one guild stands above the rest: the Sunjewel Warriors. Their leader, Ashura the Terrible, is one of the top-ranked players in the world, and people in-game and out are willing to do whatever they can to stop her. Threats of death and sexual violence follow her everywhere.

Ashura, aka Ashley or Ash, lives in Ditchtown, a series of massive towers that soar above the raging waters where Miami used to be. Her dad hasn’t been in the picture for years, and her mom was never the same after her time fighting in the Dubs. Most of Ash’s income goes to paying for her mother’s treatment. Then there’s Kiro, Ash’s younger brother. A newbie in Infinite Game, Kiro is struggling to find his own place, outside of his sister’s long shadow. She’s doing well enough in Infinite Game, with her streams bringing in viewers (and revenue) like never before, but things are still hard. So, to supplement her game income, Ash occasionally engages in real-world operations. Working through some members of her mom’s old unit, she puts her Infinite Game skills to the test, flying drones, conducting recon missions, and so on. No one needs to know.

Things take a drastic turn when one of Ash’s guildmates, Brand, vanishes, only to reappear on the opposing side of one of Ash’s less-than-public missions. Sent to infiltrate a supply shipment, Ash finds haptic suit components that override the gamer’s own control, leading them out into the real world while still believing themselves to be immersed in Infinite Game. Soon, people are dying, and Ash and the rest of the Sunjewel Warriors are “recruited” to find out who is trying to turn gamers into their own private army.

Reminiscent of Ready Player One and Snow CrashOtaku is a great debut novel, full of clever technology, intense action, and badass women setting out to save the world. While Kluwe’s prose is not as strong as it has the potential to be, he’s off to a good start. His own experiences in online gaming (in World of Warcraft, League of Legends, etc.) and social media definitely shine through. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

My thanks to NetGalley for providing me with the eARC in exchange for a fair review.

“In the myriadic year of our Lord—the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death!—Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.”

Or, that was the plan.

Eight houses have sent their necromancers to the First House, that they might undergo special training to better serve the Emperor. For the first time in ten thousand years, he is summoning the heads of the lower houses to prove that they are worthy to become his new lyctors. They are summoned, and so they arrive.

From the Second House, Judith Deuteros and her cavalier, Marta Dyas. They’re professionals, elite military leaders, with a necromantic focus in draining and redirecting energy from one living being to another.

From the Third, Coronabeth & Ianthe Tridentarius and their cavalier, Naberius Tern. The Tridentarius twins are the Crown Princess and the Princess of their house, respectively, and are the trendsetters of the system. They specialize in drawing energy from the dead.

From the Fourth, Isaac Tettares and his cavalier, Jeannemary Chatur. The Fourth House serves on the front lines of the Emperor’s wars, and Tettares focuses on an aspect of necromancy that allows him to turn the dead into high-yield explosives through fission.

From the Fifth, Abigail Pent and her cavalier and husband, Magnus Quinn. A house of tradition, frequently looked to by other houses for their stability (as demonstrated by a husband and wife serving as cavalier/heir). The Fifth speak to the dead, and hear their voices.

From the Sixth, Palamades Sextus and his cavalier, Camilla Hect. The House of Librarians, the Sixth are the record keepers and historians. In keeping with their theme, their specialty is psychometry, reading the energy left behind by the living and the dead alike.

From the Seventh, Dulcinea Septimus and her cavalier, Protesilaus Ebdoma. The The Seventh specializes in preservation of both body and soul after death.

From the Eighth, Silas Octakiseron and his cavalier and uncle, Colum Asht. The Eighth serves as the Emperor’s judge and jury, their fervor knowing no bounds. Octakiseron practices a form of necromancy which siphons his cavalier’s soul from his body, using him as a conduit to power his magics.

And from the Ninth House, Harrowhark Nonagesimus. Necromantic specialty: skeleton constructs. Harrow is a genius of her art, capable of generating full skeleton constructs from a single fragment of human bone, unmatched in her field by any necromancer in generations. She does bones. Also, Gideon Nav. Not really a cavalier, but faking it pretty well so far. Gideon is one of the greatest fighters alive, albeit far more comfortable with her two-handed longsword than with the lightweight rapier favored by the official cavaliers. However, if she’s going to maintain the facade that she is the official cavalier of the Ninth House, she has to adjust and adapt. After all, Harrow has promised Gideon full freedom and enrollment in the Cohort to serve the Emperor on the battlefields ishe helps Harrow become a Lyctor.

The First House is devoid of almost all life when the necromancers and their cavaliers arrive, save for Teacher and his two cohorts. All services are provided by a staff of skeletal constructs, and the new guests quickly find that they have no way to leave, save for solving the mysteries of the House itself. Teacher provides them each with a single rule. “We ask,” began Teacher, “that you never open a locked door unless you have permission.”

Harrow swears Gideon to silence as they begin their exploration of the First House, seeking to unlock the secrets of Lyctorhood that lie within. Not all of the House’s secrets, however, are benevolent, however, and the other necromancers and cavaliers are eagerly searching for answers as well. Some may be willing to do whatever it takes to triumph over the challenge and win the Emperor’s favor.

In short, y’all, I fucking loved this book. Easily in the top 3 novels I read in 2019. I cannot wait until Harrow the Ninth comes out this summer. I’ve already pre-ordered it. Do yourself a favor and give it a read. My only regret is that it took me so long to finish writing the review I felt it deserved.

Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series has been one of my favorites for a couple of years now, and I leaped at a recent opportunity to check out Come Tumbling Down, the 5th novella. Warning: Some spoilers for earlier books in the series follow.

*************************************************************************************

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is a school for children who have ventured to other worlds and come back again. The school has three rules. No solicitation. No visitors. No quests.

Rule #3 gets broken a lot.

Some time ago, Jack Wolcott killed her twin sister, Jill, in order to protect the other students at Eleanor’s school. With Jill in her arms, Jack returned through their door to the Moors, where Jack intended to resurrect Jill and maintain the balance of power there. At the outset of Come Tumbling Down, Christopher (a fellow student, and a bit of a musical necromancer), has moved into Jack’s old room in the basement, and is suddenly interrupted by a lightning storm that generates a door from the Moors. Through the door steps Alexis, Jack’s beloved, bearing a Wolcott twin in her arms. Which Wolcott twin is slightly more complicated, and where our quest begins.

With the aid of Cora (a mermaid doomed to life ashore unless her own door returns for her), Christopher quickly rallies Kade (the Goblin Prince in waiting) and Sumi (the future savior of the world of Confection) to travel to the Moors. There, they plan to defeat Jill and her vampire Master, save Jack, and restore the now-disrupted balance of the world. That is, of course, if they all survive the many other monsters that dwell there.

Seanan McGuire continues to weave an incredible tale across the many worlds of the Wayward Children series. Come Tumbling Down is no exception to the brilliance. This latest novella is just as tightly paced, filled with a diverse cast and McGuire’s signature snarky humor. I loved this book just as much as I’ve loved the rest of the series to date, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

“New things are the best kind of magic there is.”

Thanks to NetGalley and Tor.com for an e-arc of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Hey y’all. It’s been a while since my last book review, so I’m going to talk to you for a minute about Neal Shusterman’s Thunderhead. Minor spoilers for Scythe will likely occur throughout, given that this is book #2 in trilogy.

Thunderhead is set in a future world of plenty, where death and poverty and illness and war have been eliminated by the Thunderhead, an artificial intelligence developed from what we currently call “the cloud.” Every human has nanites in their blood that reduce pain from any injury, and slowly repair any damage. And if by some unfortunate accident, you happen to die, a drone will recover your body and take you to the nearest facility where you can be revived (your first one’s free!).

However, in order to curb overpopulation, the Thunderhead allows for the Scythes. Scythes are an order of highly skilled assassins (of sorts) who exist to keep humanity’s numbers in check. They maintain a quota of gleanings, permanent deaths for a chosen few to remind people of the mortality that the entire race once faced. Anyone who is gleaned by a Scythe earns immunity for their family for a year.

Book one in the series, Scythe, follows Rowan and Citra, two young teens who are chosen as apprentices to Scythe Faraday, who intends for one of them to become his successor. Their training leads to the widening of schisms within the Scythedom, and soon they find themselves pitted against each other over the right and wrong ways to go about their duties of gleaning.

Thunderhead picks up several months after the events of Scythe, with Citra now serving as Scythe Anastasia, and Rowan operating in the shadows, gleaning other Scythes who he deems to be immoral and corrupt. Dubbed Scythe Lucifer, he lives a life on the run while Anastasia is honored for her rather benevolent take on gleaning (giving her victims a month’s warning, and allowing them to choose the means by which they will die).

This book introduces more perspectives from the Thunderhead itself, giving the reader powerful insight into the all-powerful AI’s thoughts and concerns. We also meet Greyson Tolliver, a young man who has devoted his entire life to serving the Thunderhead, and has his loyalty tested to the extreme. While this can feel like it’s drawing attention away from Rowan and Citra, it contributes to the worldbuilding. And while Scythe had a phenomenal dystopian feeling, there were many questions left unanswered that are picked up in these chapters and monologues.

Now Anastasia and her current mentor, Scythe Curie, have been targeted by a mysterious attacker who seems intent on ending them both permanently, while Rowan grapples with the consequences of his actions as Scythe Lucifer. The Thunderhead muses on the Separation of Scythe and State, lamenting its decision to refrain from interfering with the actions taken by members of the Scythedom, finding clever ways to work around the various safeguards that it has installed in society (and maybe finding out more than it was ever meant to know).

All in all, Thunderhead is a powerful followup to Scythe, a worthy companion and, to my simultaneous joy and rage, the second book in a trilogy. Book three is due in 2019, and I can’t wait to see how this all wraps up.

This has been a hectic year for me, as evidenced by my rather sporadic posting schedule. Despite this, I’ve been attempting to take in as much literature as is humanly possible. That means that I’ve been tackling a lot of novellas. Tor has been publishing loads of new novellas over the last few months, and I’ve loved every one that I’ve read this year.

Among my favorites:

The Builders by Daniel Polansky
Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones
River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

The Builders is a revenge story at heart, about a group of friends attempting to overthrow a corrupt leader and identify the member of their group who betrayed them the last time they tried. It’s gritty, violent, and dark, and it’s fabulous to watch the team come back together. Why? Because they’re all animals. That’s right. The Builders is essentially Redwall crossed with your favorite grim western film.

Mapping the Interior starts humbly, introducing the reader to a young Native American boy whose mother, following the suspicious death of their father, has moved him and his younger brother into an off-reservation trailer house. Junior sleepwalks, and one night he sees someone while in the middle of his wandering. His father. It’s a haunting story in the truest sense, and the voice is one that’s sorely missing in much of contemporary literature.

River of Teeth hooked me on premise alone. A debut piece from Sarah Gailey, River of Teeth is an alternate history of the Deep South, a what-if tale in which hippos were imported to the bayous of Louisiana to be bred for meat in areas that were too swampy for cattle. Much like The Builders, this one is a tale of revenge featuring a motley crew of adventurers, trading the galloping stallion of the more traditional western for the lumbering but ferocious hippopotamus as a mount. This one has a sequel, Taste of Marrow, that picks up immediately where the first leaves off, and I can’t wait to read it.

Next in line to read: All Systems Red by Martha Wells, book one in a series called The Murderbot Diaries. I’m hooked!

Do you have a favorite novella? Tell me about it in the comments!