Tade Thompson – Rosewater

Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless – people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored healing powers.

Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn’t care to again — but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future.

Tade Thompson’s Rosewater is hard to categorise. Is this dystopia? Horror? Post-apocalypse or a slowpocalypse? Or a strange, unique amalgamation of all of them? I’m still having a hard time pinpointing it, yet it doesn’t really matter what to call it; what matters is that it is an interesting and complicated book. Rosewater tells a story that both grabbed me and didn’t let go, but also made me really uncomfortable.  Read More …

Rena Rossner – The Sisters of the Winter Wood

In a remote village surrounded by forests on the border of Moldova and Ukraine, sisters Liba and Laya have been raised on the honeyed scent of their Mami’s babka, and the low rumble of their Tati’s prayers. But when a troupe of mysterious men arrives, Laya falls under their spell — despite their mother’s warning to be wary of strangers. As dark forces close in on their village, Liba and Laya discover a family secret about a magical heritage they never knew existed. The sisters realise the old fairy tales are true … and could save them all.

Rena Rossner’s debut novel The Sisters of the Winter Wood arrived as a surprise on my doorstep and — based on the description and the absolutely gorgeous cover — I immediately looked forward to reading the book. I’d expected it to be a fairy tale retelling given the description, but instead it was a retelling of Christina Rossetti’s poem Goblin Market.  This was pleasant surprise, since while I always struggled with poetry at university, I loved Rossetti’s poem and the Pre-Raphaelites are some of my favourite artists.  Read More …

Nicholas Eames – Bloody Rose

Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listen to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.

When the biggest mercenary band of all rolls into town , led by the infamous Bloody Rose, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It’s adventure she wants — and adventure she gets as the crew embarks on a quest that will end in one of two ways:  glory or death.

Nicholas Eames’ Bloody Rose is a textbook example of a coming of age fantasy novel. Except where in my youth the tone was much more positive, this keeps in line with current fantasy trends and is grimmer and does not use the standard tropes. The story follows Tam Hashford, a girl who wants to join a band of adventurers and live the life of the famous. Her parents were both adventurers, so you might say it is in her blood. She is very much a fan when joining the company of Bloody Rose and is starstruck as hell. We follow their adventures from her point of view and see her turning from a teenager into a competent adventuring adult.  Read More …

Jonathan French – The Grey Bastards

Jackal is proud to be a Grey Bastard, member of a sworn brotherhood of half-orcs. Unloved and unwanted in civilized society, the Bastards eke out a hard life in the desolate no man’s land called the Lots, protecting a frail and noble human civilisation form invading bands of vicious full blooded orcs. But on the heels of the ultimate betrayal, Jackal will start to question where his true loyalties lie…

As soon as Jonathan French’s The Grey Bastards came through the mailbox, courtesy of Orbit, I had this tagged as a must read. Sword and Sorcery is really my thing and this one peaked my interest. It was refreshing to see a high fantasy novel done from the perspective of a half-orc, although, with their crass behaviour and sex jokes you could more readily dub it Low-Fantasy. Actually it really is sword and sorcery.  Read More …

Annalee Newitz – Autonomous

Earth, 2144. Jack is an anti-patent scientist turned drug pirate, fabricating cheap medicines for those who can’t otherwise afford them. But her latest drug hack has left a trail of lethal overdoses.

Hot on her trail is an unlikely pair: Eliasz, a deadly military agent, and his indentured robotic partner, Paladin. As they race to stop Jack, they begin to form an uncommonly close bond that neither of them fully understands.

And underlying it all is one fundamental question: is freedom possible in a culture where everything, even people, can be owned?

Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous was a challenging read. Not because it was a slog to get through, or because I couldn’t connect to the characters, but because it posed so many questions to chew on. There are political and environmental quandaries, there was commentary on academic practices and the way research is commercialised. But perhaps more importantly to me, it made me consider my thoughts on gender identity and on power differentials in (sexual) relationships. Read More …

Tyler Whitesides – The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn

Another review by Wiebe, who nicked my review copy for this title the moment it came in. The review is short and sweet, but he had his reasons for that.

Ardor Benn is no ordinary thief. Rakish, ambitious, and master of wildly complex heists, he styles himself a Ruse Artist Extraordinaire.

When a priest hires him for the most daring ruse yet, Ardor knows he’ll need more than quick wit and sleight of hand. Assembling a dream team of forgers, disguisers, schemers, and thieves, he sets out to steal from the most powerful king the realm has ever known.

But it soon becomes clear there’s more at stake than fame and glory – Ard and his team might just be the last hope for human civilization.

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn is good fantasy that differs from the norm, as it is all about the con, or ruse in this case. Tyler Whitesides story reminded me most of the British TV series Hustle or The Lies of Locke Lamorra by Scott Lynch, without being derivative. All three feature a cast of gifted individuals who are so good at what they do, that they can pick and choose whom to con. That leads them to take from the wealthy and criminals, making them way more likeable than if they were fleecing old grannies. The Robin-Hood like approach to the characters makes it easier to like them. And boy, are the characters well written. With a good dose of gallows humour, and a fast pace I was thoroughly entertained.  Read More …

Sam J. Miller – Blackfish City

After the climate wars, a floating city was constructed in the Arctic Circle. Once a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering, it has started to crumble under the weight of its own decay — crime and corruption have set in, a terrible new disease is coursing untreated through the population, and the contradictions of incredible wealth alongside deepest poverty are spawning unrest.

Into this turmoil comes a strange new visitor — a woman accompanied by an orca and a chained polar bear. She disappears into the crowds looking for someone she lost thirty years ago, followed by the whispers of a vanished people who could bond with animals. Her arrival draws together four people and sparks a chain of events that will lead to unprecedented acts of resistance.

Sam J. Miller wasn’t an unknown name to me when Blackfish City arrived on my doorstep. I’d heard some of his short stories on the Clarkesworld podcast (read by the inimitable Kate Baker) and they were great, so I was excited to read a novel from his hand. And that excitement turned out to be completely justified. Because spoiler alert: I LOVED IT. Blackfish City may be my favourite read of the year thus far. I will try to not gush and fangirl too much, but that might prove hard with this one.  Read More …

Kate Elliott – The Spiritwalker Trilogy

Wiebe returns with a short review of the entire Spiritwalker trilogy, which if I had to summarise it is basically: “Mieneke, why haven’t you read this already?”

My wife, the lovely Fantastical Librarian, recommended this series to me after I read The Potion Diaries and a discussion of alternative history and romance in fantasy. Based on that discussion, she posited that The Spiritwalker Trilogy by one of her favourite authors, Kate Elliot, would be right up my alley. The titles of the trilogy are Cold Magic, Cold Fire, and Cold Steel. Picking up these three chihuahua killers of the shelf, I was wondering what in the heck would you need three trade paperbacks and more than 2000 pages for, to write some romance?  Read More …

Josiah Bancroft – Senlin Ascends

Mild-mannered headmaster Thomas Senlin prefers his adventures to be safely contained within the pages of a book. So when he loses his new bride shortly after embarking on the honeymoon of their dreams, he is ill-prepared for the trouble that follows.

To find her, Senlin must enter the Tower of Babel — a world of geniuses and tyrants, of menace and wonder, of unusual animals and mysterious machines. He must endure betrayal, assassination attempts and the long guns of a flying fortress. And if he hopes to ever see his wife again, he will have to do more than just survive — this quiet man of letters must become a man of action.

I went on somewhat of a journey with Josiah Bancroft’s Senlin Ascends. When I first read the description on the back of the book, my immediate reaction was: “Oh, I hope this isn’t another case of a fridged partner.” Because ugh — but it sounded really cool, so I decided to give it a try anyway. And while Marya disappears, which is Senlin’s motivation to progress up the Tower, she is no damsel, from the glimpses we have of her, has agency of her own and hopefully become an active character in her own right in future books. And in the end, I’m glad I took that chance, because I had a great time with it.  Read More …

Fonda Lee – Jade City

Jade is the lifeblood of the city of Janloon – a stone that enhances a warrior’s natural strength and speed. It is mined, traded, stolen and killed for, all controlled by the ruthless No Peak and Mountain families. When a modern drug emerges that allows anyone — even foreigners — to wield jade, simmering tension between the two families erupts into clan war. 

A modern, secondary world fantasy novel is not something I’ve run across before as far as I can remember. Usually fantasy in a modern setting is set in our own world — with a twist, obviously — but it is certainly, recognisably our own and quite often shelved under urban fantasy. And while Fonda Lee’s Jade City is certainly urban and fantasy, it isn’t what you’d expect when picking up a novel that has been categorised as such. It is a novel that combines intrigue, politics, action, and drama in a setting that feels East Asia-inspired. In short, it was literal catnip to me.  Read More …