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Here are some things we really love. We hope you’ll love them, too!

The Spear Cuts through Water: One of the best of 2022

The Spear Cuts through Water by Simon Jimenez

Simon Jiminez’s The Spear Cuts through Water (2022) is one of the most vibrantly original novels I’ve read in some time, an enthralling work of creativity that even as it makes use of some familiar tropes arrives absolutely as its own unique self: richly mythic and startlingly inventive. It will absolutely land on my Best of 2022 list, even it may not be for everyone (though everyone should attempt it).

At its core, The Spear Cuts through Water is a simple quest story told unsimply. Ages ago the Moon Goddess fell from the sky and eventually became captive in the deep dungeons of the Empire. The current Emperor, aged and fearing death, is about to embark on a grand procession, but when the Goddess escapes two young men — Jun and Keema — foes at first and then allies, must escort her through a series of dangers to the coast to p... Read More

The Shadow on the House: Strange days

The Shadow on the House by Mark Hansom

For the past 35 years or so, I have been so busy trying to experience all the 200 books described in Stephen Jones’ and Kim Newman’s two excellent overview volumes – Horror: 100 Best Books and Horror: Another 100 Best Books – that I was completely unaware, until recently, that there is yet another trusted resource that horror buffs in the know have been using for recommended reading; namely, the Wagner 39 List. It seems that back in 1983, in the June and August issues of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, editor/author Karl Edward Wagner provided a list of the 39 books in the horror arena that he felt were of the highest calibre, or most in need of being discovered by a new audience. The 39 books were broken down into three categories: The 13 Best Supernatural Horror Novels, The 13 Best Sci-Fi Horror Novels, and The 13 Be... Read More

Age of Ash: The first in yet another must-read series

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

I have to say, my timing of reading Daniel Abraham’s newest novel, Age of Ash (2022), couldn’t have been better, coming as it did right after I finished the last EXPANSE novel, the series he co-wrote with Ty Franck (as James S.A. Corey). After all, while THE EXPANSE has been my favorite sci-fi series for the past number of years, Abraham was also responsible for two of my favorite fantasy series: Read More

Amongst Our Weapons: Delightful and fulfilling

Amongst Our Weapons by Ben Aaronovitch

She looked at me, her eyes wide.
“‘Am I free?’ she said.
“‘Yes,” I said. ‘And no.’” 

Amongst Our Weapons (2022) is my new favorite in Ben Aaronovitch’s RIVERS OF LONDON series, mostly because, at long last, Peter and Beverly’s progeny, the twins, make an appearance. That isn’t the only reason; the plot is good and moves quickly, and the talking foxes recruited by Peter’s young cousin Abigail are in the book just enough to keep it extra entertaining.

The talking foxes aren’t alone in this story about a religious cult and an angel of death, possibly an actual angel. Lesley May, Peter’s former partner turned nemesis, is taking an active interest in the case, and see... Read More

Spear: Go read it. Now.

Spear by Nicola Griffith

Nicola Griffith’s Spear glides effortlessly and confidently into the Arthurian cycle, while giving us a completely new character and an outsider’s perspective of Arthur, his court, Merlin, and the Holy Grail.

Published in 2022, this novella starts with the account of a young girl who lives in a cave in the woods with her mother. Their one item of value is a large cauldron in which the mother cooks their food and heats water. The girl roams the woods, learning the language of the animals, knowing how to read the plants and the seasons. She grows stronger. The girl has two names, depending on her mother’s mood. Sometimes she is a word for “gift.” Sometimes, when her mother is raving in nightmares, the girl’s name is “price.” Always, her mother is filled with fear that someone will come seeking... Read More

Last Exit: Complex, compelling, and intense

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Last Exit by Max Gladstone

Here is Max Gladstone’s recipe for a Last Exit (2022) cocktail:

One part fervent, confident intensity of young adulthood
One part fever dream (or nightmare) of magic and alternate worlds
Add bitters in the form of mid-life fears, regrets, and resignations born out of both trauma and simple aging
Splash of Mad Max
Zest of Zelazny
Stir with a rusty spoon of entropy
Pour slowly into a clear (eyed) glass filled one-quarter with the crushed ice-dreams of Americana myth and rimmed with sugar for a little bit of innocent sweetness
Serve with a shot of hope (the kind that burns on the wa... Read More

Razzmatazz: Drag kings, crime gangs, corrupt cops, and a dragon

Razzmatazz by Christopher Moore 

Razzmatazz, Christopher Moore’s fantasy/action/comedy follow-up to Noir, came out in 2022. While I recommend Noir, you don’t need to read it first to enjoy this outing.

It’s 1947, in San Francisco, and Sammy “Two-Toes” Tiffin, bartender and sometime detective, and his group of regulars are still just trying to get by, when Sammy’s friend Eddie “Moo Shoes” Shu brings Sammy to a meeting with Eddie’s Uncle Ho. Uncle Ho has a job for Sammy; recover a black dragon statuette currently in the town of Locke, California, and give it to one of the criminal tongs, or they’ll kill Ho.

Sammy has some other things on his mind; namely, where h... Read More

Nettle and Bone: A princess, a dog, and a fairy godmother like you haven’t seen them before

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher

Kingfisher’s Nettle and Bone (2022) was exactly the book I needed to read when I read it, so I am grateful to it and the writer for that. Kingfisher’s original fairy tale is a satisfying read at any time, with characters who engaged my imagination and find original ways to solve their problems.

Marra is a princess, the third daughter of a small kingdom with a deep-water harbor, nestled between two powerful warlike nations, each of whom covets the harbor. Marra’s mother marries off her eldest daughter, Damia, to the prince of the Northern Kingdom, which is the less vulnerable of the two bellicose kingdoms because it is protected by magic. Shockingly, almost immediately, Damia dies, supposedly in an accident. Marra’s next sister, Kania, marries the prince, and she lives. Kania has a child, and Ma... Read More

Siren Queen: Another five-star read from Vo

Siren Queen by Nghi Vo

2022’s Siren Queen by Nghi Vo is another 5-star read. Set in the same world as The Chosen and the Beautiful, Siren Queen looks at the magic of movies, and the exploitative studio system of the medium’s early days. In Vo’s world, the magic of movies is real magic, and that magic is often hungry.

Our main character is a Chinese American girl in Los Angeles who becomes enthralled with the magic of moving pictures. Soon, a director picks her up as an extra, and he starts using her more and more frequently. Her father disapproves, but her mother sees that the family needs the money. When our protagonist is given a line to speak in a film, she feels the magic envelope her as she speaks, and knows this is what she wants to do with her life. The question is, can she do it on her own terms? The entire system is arrayed against her. Read More

The Stardust Thief: An impressive debut

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

The Stardust Thief (2022), by Chelsea Abdullah, is one of the more impressive debut novels I’ve read lately, offering up a bevy of strong narrative elements with barely a weakness to be found and using a well-known tale (1001 Nights) not as a basis for a retelling but as the germ of something that is its own lushly original story. It wasn’t until I neared the end that I had the happy realization this wasn’t a stand-alone novel but would give me two more chances to spend time in this world.

As a child, Loulie (AKA the Midnight Merchant) was the sole survivor when her tribe was massacred, rescued from the desert by Qadir, who now serves as her bodyguard as she plies her trade of finding and selling magical jinn relics. Her unique success in that area has caugh... Read More

All the Seas of the World: A master working at the top of his craft

All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay

As I write this, it’s early spring in Rochester, and those who live in the Northeast know what that means. Cold. Clouds. Wind. The false promise of warmth. The precipitation that no longer falls in feet and inches but instead has become a more annoying (and far less pretty) alternation of rain and sleet and hail that you know has to stop soon, will stop soon, but still Just. Keeps. On. Happening. Bleak, yes. But then here it is: a new Guy Gavriel Kay book arriving like an early harbinger of spring — a shaft of sun through the cloud cover, a cardinal’s trill cutting through the wind in the bushes, a sudden spike into the sixties. And suddenly you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

At least, not for a few hours, which is how long it took me to read All the Seas of the World, because when you start a Kay novel, you don’t want to put it down. Let the worl... Read More

Dionysos: The (sadly) final installment in a brilliant series

Dionysos by George O’Connor

With Dionysos, writer/illustrator George O’Connor’s OLYMPIANS series comes to an end after 12 titles and at this point, having reviewed a third of them and read more, all’s that need be said is either now you can complete your collection or, if you haven’t yet purchased any — and really, why haven’t you? —, now you can go out and get the whole thing. Because it’s simply great, start to finish. We've reviewed these previous installments: Zeus, Ares, Artemis, Hermes.

Every book i... Read More

Dead Silence: In space, no one can hear you go mad

Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes

“I have a screw loose. Somewhere.”

S.A. Barnes’s Dead Silence (2022) is a creepy, atmospheric, compelling “haunted house in space” story, told by a character whose self-concept is deeply fractured by PTSD and survivor guilt. Barnes glides through various types of horror, driving up the fear and suspense with every new discovery a salvage team makes on the derelict luxury space liner they find.

Claire Kovalik is the Team Leader of a small crew of in-solar-system communication-web maintenance workers. The system is being upgraded, rendering their jobs obsolete. Everyone on the five-person crew is eager to head back to earth — except Claire, who seriously considers unclipping her tether and dying in space rather than returning planetside. When Lourdes, her comms person, picks up a faint distress call on an outdated frequency, Claire jumps at the... Read More

The Human Chord: “What’s in a name?”

The Human Chord by Algernon Blackwood

In his masterful collection of 1912 entitled Pan’s Garden, British author Algernon Blackwood clearly displayed his belief in the sentience and awareness of such facets of Nature as trees, snow, gardens, the wind, subterranean fires, the seas and the deserts, and of their transformative powers for those with the ability to discern them. One facet of Nature not dealt with in Pan’s Garden, however, was sound itself, and now that I have finally experienced Blackwood’s novel of two years earlier, The Human Chord, I believe I know why. The subject of sound, you see, and of its ability to transfigure and create, lies at the very heart of this novel, and is dealt with in a very ... Read More

Goliath: Sets a high bar for 2022

Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi 

Goliath (2022), by Tochi Onyebuchi, is the first 2022 book I've read and already I'm assuming it's going to be on my Best of the Year list next December. That said, while I'm obviously strongly recommending it, thanks to its structure and style, it won't be to everyone's taste (What book is?), though I certainly hope everyone gives it a shot.

The novel is set in a near-future, post-pandemic, post-natural disaster, post-man-made disaster, post-apocalyptic Earth (New Haven in particular) that has been abandoned by those with the economic and racial privilege to take up residency in the Colonies — large orbital habitats free from the environmental devastation below, a planet poisoned by radiation and pollution and wracked by climate change. A planet where some (... Read More

Pan’s Garden: A stunning collection from “The Ghost Man”

Pan’s Garden by Algernon Blackwood

By the time the renowned British writer Algernon Blackwood released his first collection of short stories, The Empty House, in 1906, he was already 37 years old and had led a life as full of adventure and incident as anyone you might possibly name. He had already worked as a dairy farmer and hotel operator in Canada, gone prospecting for gold in Alaska, been a bartender, and worked as a NYC reporter for The Evening Sun, among other things; occupations that would go to make good material for his 1923 autobiography Episodes Before Thirty. As the new century got under way, Blackwood, long interested in Buddhism, philosophy and the supernatural, joined several occult societies, including The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. His love of nature compelled him to... Read More

The Sentence: A haunted bookshop is a window into America

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

“sentence (n)1. A grammatical unit comprising a word or a group of words that is separate from any other grammatical construction, and usually consists of at least one subject with its predicate and contains a finite verb or verb phrase; for example, ‘The door is open’ and ‘Go!’ are sentences.”

I didn’t know what to expect from Louise Erdrich’s metafictional ghost story The Sentence (2021) and she still managed to surprise me. Starting with the title, Erdrich addresses a number of issues in this story, told mostly by Tookie, who works at a bookstore in Minneapolis, owned by a well-known writer named Louise. Tookie is being haunted by Flora, a (dead) customer.

Tookie served ten years of a different kind of sentence, a sixty-year sentence for movin... Read More

Black Magic: Sandy’s Favorite Read of 2021

Black Magic by Marjorie Bowen

The British publishing firm Sphere Books had a really wonderful thing going for itself back in the 1970s: a series of 45 books, both fiction and nonfiction, curated by the hugely popular English supernatural novelist Dennis Wheatley, and titled Dennis Wheatley’s Library of the Occult. This reader had already experienced seven of these novels in the natural order of things, in other editions – titles such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), Read More

The Annual Migration of Clouds: Hope gleams through a dark future

The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamad

Whether it’s writing weird horror, fantasy, science fiction or science horror fiction — a subgenre I think I just made up — Premee Mohamad is one of the best around right now, and she does great work in the novella length. Her latest example is 2021’s The Annual Migration of Clouds, a short, harrowing work set in a tight-knit community surviving after catastrophic climate change and a loss of arable topsoil.

Reid is a teenaged girl in a small, successful community. This group is egalitarian, with each person doing their part to keep things running, even though they have no farmland, no electricity, and little in the way of medicine. Reid is one of the miraculously lucky few who just got an invitation to Howse University, an enclave of pre-disaster learning and... Read More

The Human Target: A thriller about a man with a thousand faces

The Human Target by Peter Milligan (writer), Edvin Biukovic (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Robert Solanovic (letterer)

Christopher Chance is the Human Target. He is able to impersonate anybody, and he takes the place of those whose lives are in danger, often when there is a hitman pursuing them. He digs deep in his method acting to really become the person he impersonates. He is a master of disguise, but sometimes a human target can be too good at imitation, perhaps even forgetting at times that he is not the person imitated. For example, in this story, the Human Target, a white man, takes the place of a black minister who is trying to clean up his neighborhood, get drugs and drug lords out of the community. The minister has a wife and young child, and the impersonation lasts for over a month. After that long, the Human Target starts to believe he is really married to the wife and a father to the child. He wil... Read More

The Escapement: Brilliantly weird (or possibly weirdly brilliant)

The Escapement by Lavie Tidhar

Lavie Tidhar’s The Escapement (2021)is a fantastic and fantastical fever dream of a novel, a Weird Western via Lewis Carroll, Gilgamesh if had been translated and illustrated by Norton Juster and scored by Ennio Morricone, The Searchers if it had starred Buster Keaton, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had it been directed by David Lynch from a screenplay co-written by Steven King, Raymond Carver, and Italo Calvino and storyboarded by Salvador Dali. It’s a wondrous riot of imagination that veers back and forth from horrific to heartbreaking to laugh-out-loud funny to macabre to absurdist. Defying genre, defying ... Read More

Breath of Earth: Alt-history and magic in a high-stakes adventure

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Breath of Earth by Beth Cato

Breath of Earth begins a new fantastical alternative-history series from Beth Cato, in which hydrogen-filled airships dot the skies, giant beasts in the ground cause earthquakes, and Teddy Roosevelt became an internationally-renowned Ambassador rather than the 26th U.S. President. (There’s also a nationally touring opera prominently featured in a side plot; if Lincoln isn’t a sly nod to a certain massively popular Tony-winning musical, I will eat my least-favorite hat.)

In an almost-recognizable San Francisco, a permanent establishment of geomancer wardens keeps the city and the surrounding countryside safe from tremors and other manifestations of magical energy. By absorbing the earth’s power and transferring it to crystals of a special mineral known as kermanite, the wardens all... Read More

Ace of Spades: Dark academia meets Gossip Girl, and no place is safe

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Ace of Spades (2021) is Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s first novel. It’s a YA thriller and doesn’t have any speculative elements, but if you like good prose, good characterization and high-suspense thrillers this book might be for you. I was not the target audience for this book, but after the first couple of chapters, I could not put it down.

Chiamaka and Devon are students at an upscale private high school called Niveus Academy. It’s senior year, and the two are each selected to be Senior Prefects (the school, while located in the USA, follows certain British school traditions.) For Chiamaka, this simply ticks another box on her personal to-do list, which include being crowned queen of the school ball and accepted into Yale premed. Devon, a scholarship student, is stunned that he’s been made prefect, because he has no friends and k... Read More

Revelator: A high-proof distillation of horror

Revelator by Daryl Gregory

Stella Birch sees her family’s god when she is nine years old, in 1933. Her father has dropped her off in a sheltered valley, the cove, in the Smoky Mountains. He says he’s leaving her with Motty, her grandmother, while he looks for work, but he’s never coming back.

Daryl Gregory’s 2021 southern gothic horror novel Revelator trades in bone-deep horror, stunning beauty, strangeness, and acid-etched banter. Moving between two timelines, Stella’s time with Motty in the cove and her present life as a moonshiner in 1948, the novel reveals the secret of the Birch women and the god in the mountain, and includes interesting bits of history, like the creation of the Smoky Mountain National Park, which will include the... Read More

Star Rangers: One of Norton’s best

Star Rangers by Andre Norton

Star Rangers (1953) (aka The Last Planet) is the second of Andre Norton’s stand-alone novels included in Star Soldiers, an omnibus released in print by Baen Books in 2001 and in audiobook format by Tantor Media in March 2021. Star Soldiers also includes the novel Star Guard (1955). These two novels are collectively known as the CENTRAL CONTROL stories and, as I mentioned in my review of Star Guard, “I’ve read more than 20 Norton novels and these are some of my favorites. Like most of her work, they’ll be enjoyed most by teenag... Read More