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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.

Lord of the Flies is a classic piece of literary history documenting the rapid descent of a group of English schoolboys into chaos after being stranded on a tropical island.

Fyre Festival was a disaster of a different sort, with many promises being made to the would-be attendees about an island music festival that would never actually happen.

Goldy Moldavsky’s new YA novel, Lord of the Fly Fest is a beautiful and terrible blend of these two, otherwise unrelated things. Our protagonist, Rafi, is a young and (hopefully) upcoming podcast host with a show called “Musical Mysteries.” She’s staked the success of her show’s second season on snagging an interview with River Stone, the hottest musical act to ever come out of Australia, and also a bad murderer, maybe. His former girlfriend, Tracy, disappeared, and he was the last person to have seen her. So Rafi spends every last dollar she has to be at Fly Fest, an upcoming music festival that everybody who’s anybody on the internet has been promoting. Arrival on the island quickly proves that everything involved with the preparation for the event has gone wrong. There’s no staff to welcome the guests, few tents for shelter, and nothing but an abandoned shipping container full of inedible “cheese” sandwiches for food. Worst of all? None of the musicians who were slated to appear have shown up. None, that is, except for River Stone.

So now, Rafi is faced with a quandary. Does she band resources together to contact the outside world and summon rescue? Or does she let things drag out in the hope of getting that exclusive interview with River, getting the big celebrity shot her podcast needs to get the big endorsement deals (and, y’know, maybe some justice for River’s dead [again, maybe] girlfriend, Tracy). She’s got to navigate an island full of upset social media influencers and makeup gurus to make her plan work, one way or another. But what if getting River out on an island without contact with the mainland is exactly what he needs to kill again? What really lies beneath the surface of Fly Fest?

Lord of the Fly Fest is brilliant, combining the satirical takes of Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens (I’m looking at you, fictional influencer/musician Hella Badid, and bland interchangeable Paul and Ryan) with the atmospheric tension of Agatha Christie. My utmost thanks to NetGalley and MacMillan for an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

Babel, or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution is not only a hell of a title, it’s a hell of a book. Author R.R. Kuang (The Poppy War) has produced a brilliant alternate history in which The British Empire rose to power utilizing magic based on silver and linguistics. In the 1820s, a young man from Canton (Guangzhou) is taken from his life on the docks where he picked up bits of language from sailors and raised in London by a man named Professor Lovell. Re-named Robin Swift by his own love of English literature, the boy is drilled with lessons on Greek and Latin, preparing him for a new life at Oxford University.

When Robin arrives at Oxford to take his place at the Translation Institute, however, nothing is what he expected. His neighbor, Ramy, is immediately welcoming (perhaps because they’re both outsiders by virtue of their foreign birth), while the rest of the residents of their hall are less so. A dark conspiracy seems to be building involving a looming war between England and China, and Robin’s skills in the languages of both nations will play a part, whether he wants them to or not.

Kuang’s latest work is a brilliant novel exploring the dark sides of academia and colonization. Robin’s conflict between his heritage and his upbringing mirror the greater struggle between England and China. Class warfare and linguistics blur together as Robin navigates a world that is simultaneously much larger than he knew and much smaller than he could have imagined. You’ll have to read it to believe it.

Babel is out on store shelves as of yesterday. Check it out.

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

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.

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.

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.