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Esther’s best friend is dead.

She’ll blame herself, no matter what. See, Esther’s best friend, a young woman named Beatriz, was engaged to be married. She didn’t love her fiance, Silas, though. She loved Esther. That was something that the world would not allow. Esther loved Beatriz too, of that, there was no question. When Beatriz was caught with unapproved materials, she refused to deny who she was, and so she hanged. Rather than be forced to marry Silas herself, Esther fled from her home and stowed away with the librarians.

Soon, her presence among the supplies is uncovered, and she tells her story to Bet, Leda, and Cye.

Much to Esther’s shock, the librarians are not what she expected them to be. Bet and Leda are a couple, a relationship that the government would definitively not approve. Additionally, Cye is non-binary, only presenting as female while in towns, to avoid trouble. Cye takes Esther under their wing, an apprentice to the apprentice. Esther soon learns that the librarians are more than she ever would’ve guessed. 

Ostensibly, their mission is to distribute Approved Materials across the West, but the Librarians carry much more than that. Bet, Leda, and Cye have a mission to transport three women safely to Utah, home of a large group of Insurrectionists who are revolting against the oppressive state rule. Now, it’s Esther’s mission too, and it’s not going to be an easy ride. 

Sarah Gailey’s writing is always a damn fun time, and their latest novella, Upright Women Wanted, is no exception. This novella is full of classic western action: horseback chases, gun fights, and more. It’s a fast-paced read, and left me wanting to know so much more about Esther’s world.

You’ve met Addie LaRue. You’ve met her a thousand times, and you’ll meet her a thousand more, and you’ll never remember her.

You might hang on to a trace of her. Some faint, lingering tune she hummed in the hours you spent together will come back to you, and you’ll have no idea where it started. You’ll paint a picture of a girl with seven freckles on her face, a constellation that you know you never saw in the night sky, but a pattern that tiptoes around your brain for the rest of your life.

You know Addie LaRue, though you never heard her name. She goes by so many, she can’t even keep track of which one she told you. It doesn’t matter. You’ll turn away from her for a split second, and when you see her again, it’ll be as if she never existed to you before. Out of sight, out of mind.

Addie LaRue can be seen, but not remembered, even by film. Addie LaRue is a living ghost. Addie LaRue… is cursed.

When she was young, Addie LaRue was engaged, but she was not in love. Fleeing from an arranged marriage, Addie pleaded to whatever gods might have heard her. In her desperation, she made a mistake. “Never pray to the gods that answer after dark,” she had been warned. But night had fallen, and her prayer was heard, and a bargain was struck.

Now, three centuries have passed. Addie has traveled the world, learning to survive on her own. Three centuries with no one able to say her name, save for the dark being who came to her on that darker night, and who returns on occasion to see if she is tired of being forgotten. Three centuries to live as little more than a fleeting shadow.

From the fields and cities of France, Addie eventually made her way to New York, a bustling place just perfect for her to blend into. She grew comfortable there, pushing at the delicate edges of her curse to leave seed ideas in the minds of artists. “She has scattered herself like breadcrumbs, dusted across a hundred works of art.” Still, the real Addie was just as easily and quickly forgotten.

Until she wasn’t.

One day, Addie met Henry, a young bookseller. Against all odds, and in defiance of everything Addie had come to learn in 300 years, Henry remembered her. Somehow, he remembered her, and her carefully built world twisted beneath her. Soon, she is falling for Henry, and wondering if this might be what love feels like.

But Addie isn’t the only person in the world to have made a desperate plea, and she’s not the only one to have had it answered in an unexpected way. Now, everything is poised to change forever, and Addie must decide how much she is willing to risk in order to save man who remembers.

Victoria Schwab has crafted another fantastic world, equally as wondrous as the myriad Londons explored by her other heroines. This book has had my heart for months, and now it can have yours as well.

Today, Addie belongs to the world. Go find her. May you never forget her. I know I won’t.

My most sincere thanks to NetGalley for an eARC of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue 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.

 

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.

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.

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.

So. Overwatch.

It kind of snuck up on me, not going to lie. I remember seeing a few bits and blurbs about it a while back, and getting pretty excited by the sheer variety of the characters (an article about Zarya’s addition to the game really pulled me in). The last new video game I bought for myself (not as a gift for someone else) was Minecraft last summer. Every other game I’ve purchased within recent memory was a used Wii game or a “new” game for my NES or Super Nintendo. My playthroughs of the Arkham Asylum games and Injustice were facilitated by my local library rather than dropping money I didn’t have on a game I didn’t need. But there was something about Overwatch that just called to me. Maybe it was the comparisons to things like Team Fortress 2. Maybe it was the promise of something so drastically different coming from the folks at Blizzard.

So yeah, I’ve been playing a lot. Not so much as some of my friends, but I waited almost two weeks after it came out to start. It arrived as a belated birthday gift, and I’ve been loving it. There’s not a lot of change from one gametype to another. You’re attempting to capture or defend a series of points on the map or escorting/defending a moving payload or capturing/defending a point and then escorting/defending a payload. It’s fairly straightforward, but with each player on either side being able to choose from any one of 21 unique heroes, it’s never the same match twice.

A lot of the joy is in that variety. You can change heroes any time you choose, so long as you’re willing to return to a spawn point (you can also switch at respawn), and so you’re never lacking a character who can counter an enemy’s strengths or offset an ally’s weaknesses. Because of this, it’s really in your benefit to learn to play as many of the different heroes as possible, or at least one for each category (offense, defense, tanks, and supports).

Lucio’s great fun for me. Speed, healing, and a knockback effect let him excel at holding a point when you’re near ledges. Being able to self-heal puts him at the top of the support list for me, even though he lacks Mercy’s oomph as a healer. He’s agile, and in the right hands can harass an enemy team just as well as Tracer. His speed boost can be used from the beginning of the round to get your entire team to the objective sooner, too.

Hanzo. You’ve got to love a sniper with a bow and the ability to climb over a lot of the obstacles in his way. His mobility is second really only to Genji. His ultimate is devestating to anyone who can’t get out of the way. I know that he’s a defensive character, but he’s mobile enough to be valuable to attacking teams as well, depending on the map, especially since his sonic arrow provides enemy recon faster than Widowmaker’s ultimate (albeit for a shorter time and over a smaller area).

Pharah is my go-to offense hero. I’m learning Tracer, and Soldier 76 is ridiculously straightforward for anyone who has ever played an FPS, but Pharah’s range and power maker her one of my favorites. On an open map, she can rain down rockets on an enemy team, with her hover ability rendering her very difficult for most heroes to accurately hit. She can also make good use of her rocket launcher from the ground, saving her jump jet for an emergency escape.

I’ve never been big into MMOs, and so my experience with tanking is rather lacking. Still, Winston makes for a great introductory character to the role. He lacks range with his weapon, but it auto-hits anything in range. Combine that with his leaping, and you can catch a lot of squishier heroes off guard. He can easily be used to clear of room of Symmetra’s turrets by combining his cannon and shield.

And then there’s Junkrat. Stupid fun. I love TF2’s Demoman, and Junkrat takes all of the grendade launcher goodness and adds a pseudo-stun with his steel trap. If I’m on defense, and there’s not already a Junkrat on the team, he’s a sure pick at some point in the match.

So, yeah. I’m learning more of the heroes, because everyone has a place somewhere in the game. Finding which hereos work best together is a lot of fun, and Blizzard is already talking about DLC heroes, maps, and gametypes in the future.

Now I’m going to try to get some actual story writing done. Until then!