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It’s no secret that I love Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe series. I’ve reviewed his books before, and I even had the honor of meeting him in person earlier this fall.

Photo of me (left) with Neal Shusterman (right) at a local book signing.

Now I was surprised partway through Thunderhead when I learned that the series wasn’t a duology, but in fact had a third book announced just a few days prior. I was even more excited when I found out that he was returning to the setting with a new collection of short stories. Gleanings hit store shelves yesterday, and folks, it is fantastic.

It feels so good to be back in this dystopia. Shusterman’s worldbuilding is second to none, and even through brief snippets of poetry and prose, it all came rushing back. A planet full of immortals, a small order of people who can render others permanently dead (and in fact are required to do so), and an artificial intelligence that oversees everything but doesn’t interfere with the business of Scythes: all of these components are now familiar. This anthology presents a wide array of new stories, from Scythe Curie’s first conclave after her apprenticeship and her earning of her legendary title to a Halloween party that echoes Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death. Shusterman and his various co-authors are bringing even more depth to an already expansive world. I can’t thank NetGalley and Simon & Schuster enough for an eARC in exchange for a fair review. Gleanings is out on shelves as of yesterday. Enjoy!

Last July, fans of Tamsyn Muir’s delightful Locked Tomb books were informed that they wouldn’t be getting Alecto the Ninth in the fall of 2021 as they had previously expected. Instead, the Locked Tomb trilogy was going to be expanded into four books, with Alecto still set as the final entry, and Nona the Ninth filling in a gap in 2022.

So we waited, albeit not particularly patiently, for an extra year and a half. Three days ago, that wait came to an end, and last night I finished my preliminary time with Nona. Y’all.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first, okay? This is the 3rd book in a series, and as such, some spoilers for books one and two (Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth, respectively) are unavoidable. You have been warned.

SPOILERS FOR GIDEON THE NINTH AND HARROW THE NINTH MAY FOLLOW BELOW:


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Okay. Ready? Here we go.

Nona is an unexpected character, headlining an unexpected, but long-awaited book. The book opens a few months after the end of Harrow the Ninth and the destruction of the Mithraeum. John “God” Gaius has vanished following His betrayal by two of His Lyctors. Gideon the First has been lost to a Resurrection Beast, and his cavalier, Pyrrha Dve is now the sole inhabitant of his body. Camilla Hect has been trading time in control of her body, swapping with the soul of her necromancer, Palamades Sextus (last seen possessing his own skull, which was transformed into a hand by Harrow in Book 2). Together, Pyrrha, Camilla, and Palamades watch over Nona and try to avoid direct conflict with Blood of Eden, a group that stands in opposition to God and the Nine Houses. But who exactly is Nona?

On the outside, Nona is Harrowhark Nonagesimus, whose body was last seen alongside Pyrrha Dve as Augustine the First threw the entirety of the Mithraeum into the River in an attempt to kill God. But the River is full of lost souls, and something happened to the soul of Gideon Nav, who was piloting Harrow’s body. While Harrow’s own soul appeared to have made its way through the River to the Locked Tomb back in the Ninth House at the conclusion of Harrow the Ninth, her body didn’t go along for the ride. Now the body, Nona, has woken up on the world of New Rho. She and her guardians/teachers are busy trying to figure out just which soul (or souls) reside within her. Is she a necromancer? Is she a cavalier? Is she neither or both?

Right now, Nona is a girl looking forward to her first birthday party; a toddler’s attitude in a teen’s body, new to the world and learning quickly about how complicated her life actually is. She’s working as a teacher’s aide at her school, trying to make friends and to fit in with the students. She walks the science teacher’s six-legged dog, Noodle. She loves Noodle. She’s unbothered by the blue light in the sky that seems to be wreaking havoc on any necromancers who wander outside, and she heals almost instantly from any wound, but she shows no aptitude for any other necromancy. She practices with a sword, but has none of a cavalier’s familiarity with the weapon.

Meanwhile, Camilla, Palamades, and Pyrrha are trying to find the rest of the Sixth House, who fled from their former home in an attempt to evade God’s wrath and are now being held captive somewhere on New Rho. Blood of Eden is threatening to destroy a Cohort facility and kill the soldiers and necromancers of the Nine Houses who have taken shelter there. Tensions are rising, and time is running out. Solving the mystery of Nona’s identity is the key to everything, but no one is making it easy. Will God return to New Rho? Will the Resurrection Beast lurking nearby destroy the planet? What other characters will get cameo appearances this time around? Will Nona get to celebrate her first birthday? Is Noodle a good boy? So many questions, so little time.

Nona the Ninth is beautiful and heartbreaking. It’s a perfect addition to The Locked Tomb series. Tamsyn Muir continues to weave plotlines, juggle bodies and souls, and blend humor and horror in a way that boggles my mind. While the finale is still (hopefully only) a year away, Nona is a wonderful treat for readers. Plenty of twists and turns will keep everyone guessing right up until the end, and then the wild theories can begin again! I can’t wait for Alecto, but I’m so glad to have Nona to keep me company between now and then.

I’m going to go read it again.

How far would you go to protect your children?

For Devon and her son, Cai, there doesn’t seem to be a limit. She’s prepared to leave every other member of her extended family behind, betraying everything she’s ever known to ensure that her son will be able to live. She’s even willing to bring strangers home for Cai to feast on when he’s hungry. See, Devon and her son aren’t quite human, despite their appearance. They’re members of a species known as Book Eaters. They are sustained not by food and drink, but by paper and ink. Devour a book and immediately know all of the contents of it. Memorize a document in seconds by digesting it. And Cai? Cai’s not a standard ‘eater. Unlike most members of his species, he craves memories and personalities eaten directly from a victim’s brain.

The Book Eaters are endangered, though, with girls being rare. Women in the Six Families of Book Eaters are married out of their manors into arranged weddings in order to provide genetically viable heirs. Two births per mother, then they can live a comfortable existence in one of the family manors. That’s the way it has to be. But Devon’s separation from her first child left her traumatized, and she was unwilling to go through that pain again.

When Cai is born, it’s expected that he’ll be drafted into the family’s enforcement division as a “dragon” after his limited time with his mother passes. Instead, Devon takes her young son and flees the other Book Eaters, hoping to find a source of a drug that will allow Cai to subsist on books as she does. How long can she make it when a team of dragons is chasing her? How will she cope knowing that her own brother is leading them? You’ll have to read Sunyi Dean’s The Book Eaters to find out.

The Book Eaters is out in stores as of yesterday. My utmost thanks to NetGalley and Tor/Forge for an advance copy in exchange for a fair review.

Y’all.

I love steampunk.

I love alternate history, and steampunk has been a favorite genre of mine for almost twenty years. Today, I get to tell you about my new favorite steampunk novel, and it’s part Star Wars, part Ocean’s Eleven.

In Lucas J. W. Johnson’s The Clockwork Empire, Rome never fell. Instead, the Roman Empire continued to grow and expand its grip around the world. Almost all of Europe lives under their control, and over the centuries, they’ve only gotten more powerful with the development of new technologies. People who are injured can be remade, with clockwork prosthetics being grafted on. Airships hover over cities, and Legionaries patrol the streets.

Julian was remade. Forced into slavery, he was experimented on and left with a clockwork heart—the first of its kind, and something the Empire desperately wants to keep secret. Shortly after the process was completed, however, he managed to escape from the scientist who had enslaved him. Now he seeks to reunite with his lost love, Gaius, and plan his revenge against those who are corrupting the empire for their own benefit.

Lia was a Praetorian, a member of the Emperor’s own guard, and one of the best soldiers to be found. When she and her comrades got too close to the truth about the goals of an overly ambitious senator, they were all disavowed and forced to go on the run.

After a chance meeting in a small caffè, Julian & Gaius find themselves teaming up with Lia’s crew. The realization that they have a mutual enemy in Senator Vivarius spurs them to action. What ensues is a grand adventure across the Roman Empire in a stolen airship.

So, let’s see. Big cast of queer characters? Check. Prosthetics technology that would make Winry Rockbell swoon? Check. Smashing fascism? Check. Train heist? Check. I really don’t know what else I could need.

My most sincere thanks Lucas J. W. Johnson for crafting an incredible story, and to Fireside Fiction (specifically Brian J. White) for providing me with a copy in exchange for a fair review.

The Clockwork Empire is out in the world today. Go get it.

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.

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.

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.

 

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!