The Nature of a Pirate, by A M Dellamonica

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – December 6, 2016

Summary: The third novel in the Stormwrack series, following a young woman’s odyssey into a fantastical age-of-sail world
Marine videographer and biologist Sophie Hansa has spent the past few months putting her knowledge of science to use on the strange world of Stormwrack, solving seemingly impossible cases where no solution had been found before.

When a series of ships within the Fleet of Nations, the main governing body that rules a loose alliance of island nation states, are sunk by magical sabotage, Sophie is called on to find out why. While surveying the damage of the most recent wreck, she discovers a strange-looking creature—a fright, a wooden oddity born from a banished spell—causing chaos within the ship. The question is who would put this creature aboard and why?

The quest for answers finds Sophie magically bound to an abolitionist from Sylvanner, her father’s homeland. Now Sophie and the crew of the Nightjar must discover what makes this man so unique while outrunning magical assassins and villainous pirates, and stopping the people responsible for the attacks on the Fleet before they strike again.

Review: I’ve said before that I have yet to read anything by Dellamonica that I dislike. Her latest novel, The Nature of a Pirate, fits firmly into my expectations, and I think is the best of the series so far. It doesn’t quite have the magic that the first book held for me, the wondrous discovery of a new world, but the story really comes to a head, and this was a real page-turner and such an amazing read for me.

Sophie Hansa is firmly set on dragging Stormwrack into the age of curiosity, introducing greater scientific procedures into the world, at least in regard to forensics and crime-solving. She studies samples of animals and plants, trying to figure out this world that is slowly unfolding before her. Culture and politics, however, are still a lost art to her, and she makes plenty of missteps along her journey, but it’s the science of things she’s primarily interested in, the biology and forensics. So when she’s thrown into the middle of a mystery involving ships that bleed, forbidden magical constructs, and the possibility of it all leading to war, she goes to the task like any mildly obsessive and headstrong person would.

And I love reading Sophie for those traits. She’s in that excellent position to allow the reader a bit of ignorance and explanation, because Sophie herself isn’t familiar with Stormwrack in the way that those who have grown up there are. Cultural missteps are bound to happen. Lack of historical or legal context. That sort of thing. Sophie being from this world, called Erstwhile, has a distinctly modern approach to things, and that works well to ground the reader, making it easier to ride on Sophie’s shoulder as she encounters new things and sees them similarly to how we ourselves would, in all their baffling glory. And her penchant for brutal honesty, calling things how she sees them, is great to read.

I have great respect for the level of detail that Dellamonica put into this novel — the whole series, really, but here it just seemed so overwhelming to keep track of, from a writer’s perspective. Writing a secondary world is always a complicated affair when you’re trying to make it stand out from the crowd, and Dellamonica definitely succeeds in that regard. But it’s more than just an Age-of-Sail world. There are multiple nations, all with their cultural idiosyncrasies that are expressed and considered in the text. Not only that, but Sophie’s efforts to bring modern science into Stormwrack when Stormwrack doesn’t have facilities and technology that we consider modern means improvising, researching early breakthroughs in certain fields and recreating old methods and refining them along the way. Some of my favourite parts of the novel involve Sophie and Bram trying to figure Stormwrack out, and devise experiments and modifications to see how things work and what can be done. It’s creative, it’s impressive, and it speaks to a whole load of behind-the-scenes work that all comes together to create a breathtakingly detailed and realistic story.

Every time I write a review for these books, I find the story very difficult to describe. Not because it’s loose and all over the place. The writing’s tight, the direction clear, and it’s a thrill ride to be on with the characters. No, it’s hard to describe because there’s so much of it. Sophie’s project to introduce fingerprint records to Stormwrack. The frights that are destroying ships. Sophie’s ongoing issues with her birth father. The mystery behind a slave she suddenly owns. So many plot threads intertwine and play off each other, some important, some less so, some seeming unimportant until they zoom to the forefront halfway through the novel. Another point in Dellamonica’s favour; for all that the story has a lot of elements to juggle, not once does it get overwhelming of confusing, beyond the confusion you’re supposed to feel because characters themselves haven’t figured out exactly what’s going on either.

Stormwrack is a world I could constantly — if you’ll excuse the pun — dive into and never be bored reading about. I love the characters, from Sophie’s headstrong intelligence to Garland’s reserved politeness to Verena’s desire to prove herself. They’re whole people, able to stand on their own and tell their own stories. I love the cultures built in the flooded world. I love the little linguistic quirks that get thrown in, pieces of a puzzle to solve. Dellamonica is a fantastically skilled writer, at the top of her game, and I can’t imagine her coming down from those heights any time soon. Do yourself a favour and pick up this series soon if you haven’t already. It’s absolutely worth the time you’ll spend reading it.

 

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Invisible Planets, translated by Ken Liu

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Translator’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – November 1, 2016

Summary: Award-winning translator and author Ken Liu presents a collection of short speculative fiction from China. Some stories have won awards; some have been included in various ‘Year’s Best’ anthologies; some have been well reviewed by critics and readers; and some are simply Ken’s personal favorites. Many of the authors collected here (with the obvious exception of Liu Cixin) belong to the younger generation of ‘rising stars’.

In addition, three essays at the end of the book explore Chinese science fiction. Liu Cixin’s essay, The Worst of All Possible Universes and The Best of All Possible Earths, gives a historical overview of SF in China and situates his own rise to prominence as the premier Chinese author within that context. Chen Qiufan’s The Torn Generation gives the view of a younger generation of authors trying to come to terms with the tumultuous transformations around them. Finally, Xia Jia, who holds the first Ph.D. issued for the study of Chinese SF, asks What Makes Chinese Science Fiction Chinese?.

Review: I want to start this review by saying that I am absolutely thrilled to be able to get my hands on sci-fi like this. More and more I become aware that my own view of the world is a very limited one, narrow and specific, and the chance to broaden my horizons and be able to read great stories by people who have experienced life entirely differently than I did is something I appreciate a lot. The more I read things like this, the more I become aware of, if nothing else, the myriad ways growing up in the culture I did has influenced me; I wouldn’t be the same person had I grown up in another country, another culture, another time. And though it’s a selfish way to begin this review, I think it bears saying. Invisible Planets takes Western readers outside a comfort zone they may not have even realized they were in, dropping them into the middle of futures imagined by people whose lives were shaped in different ways than our own.

Invisible Planets contains stories and essays from a variety of Chinese SFF writers, and all of them are good (despite one being the kind of story that I couldn’t quite wrap my head fully around, I could still at least recognise the quality of it). Though even by the end of it I wouldn’t be able to answer the question of what makes Chinese sci-fi Chinese, I can at least say that the stories in Invisible Planets had a feel to them that I very rarely encounter in Western-based sci-fi, even if I couldn’t put my finger on it and say, “This. This is what Chinese sci-fi reads like.” But even if I can’t properly identify it, I still enjoy it, enjoy the cultural and perspective shift that comes with reading something so firmly rooted in a culture I didn’t experience and absorb; Invisible Planets has a lot of that.

It’s at this point that I wish I was better equipped to dissect the stories and their origins more deeply. I feel like there’s a lot that could be said — and indeed should be said about the collection I just devoured, but I’m no authority on it, and I think half the things I might say might be influenced not only by my experience with reading the stories but also with my own cultural blindspots when trying to interpret another culture. Translator Ken Liu pointed out a few times through his notes in the book that it would be so easy to interpret some stories in certain ways that play to North American ideas of what China is, was, and might be like, but that’s not always a good idea. In one of the essays at the end of the book, author Liu Cixin comments that a North American author once tried to clarify some differences between Chinese sci-fi and the sci-fi we’re more familiar with here in Canada and America, but missed some points and fell short of the mark.

That said, though, my experience with this book, as someone who is admittedly ignorant of much of Chinese history and culture, is probably closer to what most readers will experience than those with more familiar backgrounds. Most readers of this anthology aren’t going to be able to pick out a dozen and one subtle cultural aspects that influence and make up the inspiration behind the stories told here. They’re just going to appreciate them for the stories they are. And there’s not necessarily anything inherently wrong with that, so long as readers at least go in with an open mind and don’t expect to find stories exactly like the ones an American would write, nor something so outside our sphere of experience that we can’t understand it.

As with any anthology, some stories stand out to me more than others, the ones that made their mark a little deeper and that I’ll probably go back and read again in the future. Chen Qiufan’s The Year of the Rat is the story of young men attempting to combat mutant rats who have gotten out of control, and in the end is a story about genocide and uncertainty. Ma Boyong’s The City of Silence is one of the most chilling possible futures I’ve ever read about; when the State controls everything, including what you can and can’t say, where do people turn to express their humanity, and how far does either side go in pursuit of their goals? Liu Cixin’s The Circle is similar to one of the scenes from The Three-Body Problem that has always stuck in my mind, the creation of a human computer, moving from simple binary commands to more complex reactionary coding, in order to compute the digits of pi. And Hao Jingfang’s Folding Beijing was a true gem in this collection, in which economic castes are separated from each other by time, and one man will go to great lengths to assure his daughter a decent place in the world.

Folding Beijing was one that struck me very deeply. There are pieces, in each section of the city that Lao Dao visits, where people talk about how much money they make. Throwaway lines, worked into dialogue naturally, but they make a good point. While visiting Second Space, Lao Dao talks to someone who makes about 100,000 yuan a month. Lao Dao thinks to himself that in Third Space, where he lives, he makes a standard 10,000 yuan a month. While in First Space, a woman offers him 100,000 yuan, and comments offhand that she earns that in about a week. It reminded me so much of a previous job I had, working contract for a section of a credit card company where my clients all possessed the 2nd most prestigious card the company offered, and sometimes when things didn’t go their way, they’d complain of being treated like second-class citizens and how it was outrageous that they were being charged so much. These people, just in order to have the card, had to earn as much in a month as I would make in an entire year at that job, and I was earning almost 50% above minimum wage at the time. So Folding Beijing flashed me back to that time, talking with people who thought little about spending as much on 2 nights at a hotel as I would spend on an entire month’s rent, and it really was like we were from completely separate worlds that never would really touch. I felt that connection to Lao Dao, because in such a situation, what can you really say, when someone says that something utterly beyond you is no big deal for them?

Invisible Planets is absolutely a sci-fi anthology that I recommend, and to pretty much everyone who reads SFF. The perspective shift is refreshing, the stories top-notch, and the essays enlightening. Ken Liu has done a fantastic job in translating them for English-speaking audiences, and the whole experience has made me hungry for more. Go and pick this book up as soon as you’re able; I guarantee you won’t regret it.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Fix, by Ferrett Steinmetz

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – September 06, 2016

Summary: “America’s long sent its best SMASH agents overseas to deal with the European crisis. As of today, they decided dismantling your operation was more important than containing the Bastogne Broach. Now you’re dealing with the real professionals.”

Paul Tsabo: Bureaucromancer. Political activist. Loving father. His efforts to decriminalize magic have made him the government’s #1 enemy – and his fugitive existence has robbed his daughter of a normal life.

Aliyah Tsabo-Dawson: Videogamemancer. Gifted unearthly powers by a terrorist’s magic. Raised by a family of magicians, she’s the world’s loneliest teenager – because her powers might kill anyone she befriends.

The Unimancers: Brain-burned zombies. Former ‘mancers, tortured into becoming agents of the government’s anti-‘mancer squad. An unstoppable hive-mind.

When Paul accidentally opens up the first unsealed dimensional broach on American soil, the Unimancers lead his family in a cat-and-mouse pursuit all the way to the demon-haunted ruins of Europe – where Aliyah is slowly corrupted by the siren call of the Unimancers…

Review: When you read the books in this series back to back, you end up torn apart by the end, after the rollercoaster ride of emotions and tension and revelation. It took me a while, after finishing Fix, to pick myself up and put myself back together. The story is tight, the surprises keep coming, heartstrings keep getting tugged…

Dammit, Steinmetz, how do you keep doing this?!

Fix takes places years after the events in The Flux. Aliyah is now 13, and together with Paul, Imani, Valentine, and Robert, the group seek to find a place where Aliyah can be herself and be safe. Paul, especially, wants Aliyah to experience life as a typical American teenager, the joys and sadnesses that most people experience, instead of the constant battle against her magical inclinations.

But all doesn’t go according to plan when Aliyah gets carried away and accidentally does ‘mancy in front of her new friends, and the ensuing chaos causes a broach. SMASH and the Unimancers get into the mix, demanding that Paul give up and give himself over to them. Paul refuses, of course, because who would want their personality tortured away in order to become part of a vicious magic-hating hive mind? But when Aliyah finds herself bound to the Unimancers, the whole world flips on its head, and nothing — absolutely nothing — is what anybody thought it was.

Some books in a series, even final books, you can go into without having read the previous entries. This isn’t the case with Fix. Even if somebody explained the backstory to you, there’s so much you’d miss out on by skipping right to the end, so many subtleties and other assorted pieces that aren’t essential to understanding the story as a whole, but that add so much. You’d miss out entirely on the impact of the Valentine/Robert romantic subplot. You’d miss the terror of Paul’s decline, since you wouldn’t see just how he started out in the first place. Definitely a case where I’d say the ‘Mancer series is much more than the sum of its parts, and Fix is a glorious ending to the trilogy that’s open-ended enough to leave the possibility for more stories while still capping off the main storyline.

I wondered, at some parts, how many people would read Fix and cry out that it’s horrible because Steinmetz dared to even mention certain things. (“There’s a lesbian here; stop shoehorning gay people into my fiction!” “A trans character gets mentioned; ugh, that’s just terrible!” “You mentioned a functioning triad; you’re trying to bring down traditional marriage values!”). Aside from the fact that it’s good sometimes to even have a couple of throwaway lines that imply yes, people do come in all shapes and sizes and behaviours and flavours of being, claiming such things would entirely miss a huge point that gets brought up multiple times throughout Fix: there are multiple ways of doing things, no one way is absolutely right for everybody, and sometimes the best way to heal the world is to adapt to the new things that occur rather than trying to force it back to the old way. I can’t say for sure that Steinmetz was going for that kind of social commentary during the novel’s final scenes, but it’s certainly applicable, and I, for one, appreciate that.

It was interesting, in that regard, to see a different strategy evolve for taking care of broaches. Paul’s way worked initially, to convince the universe to follow the rules that kept it stable before, rules that Paul believed in even without knowing what those specific rules were because he believed in rules and order so very deeply. But that way only worked for him sometimes, and when confronted with a bigger change to the world — the European broach — there was need for a different strategy that involved adaptation rather than reform. That tied in well with the idea that one way of life, one way of thinking, didn’t always work for everyone, such as Aliyah finding her place within the Unimancers even when Paul didn’t like their way of doing things.

Overall, Fix takes a lot of preconceptions and gleefully tears them to shreds, scattering the confetti of old beliefs and daring characters to figure out what to do now. ‘Mancy forces the universe to bend to new rules, and now it’s like the universe is fighting back, not with broaches and the destruction of physical laws, but by taking mundane occurrences and forcing broken characters to adapt. How well do you handle it when your daughter falls in love with another girl? How do you cope when your partner regains emotional stability (and loses their ‘mancy) when you’re still proud of the way you’re so powerfully flawed? What do you do when you can’t protect those you love? Things that can happen to anyone, regardless of magical ability, regardless of time or place, but that can knock you for a loop regardless. Fix is a novel of push-and-pull, give-and-take, figuring out where you fit in the world, or whether you have to carve out your own place. Whether you’re Paul losing control over his life because you keep losing what you had, or whether you’re Aliyah finding out that you fit best in a place those who love you would never want you, or you’re an uncertain Valentine who needs to be needed, the world pushes back at you and sometimes you have to bend and sometimes you have to tell the universe no, this is where you are, and this is where you’re staying. Honestly, for all the heartache I felt while reading Fix, for all the times the subject matter hit extremely close to home in a painful way, it’s a very hopeful novel, because in the end what matters is the ability to adapt and find your place.

So do I recommend this series? Hell yes! To one and all! It’s a powerful story, a take on magic and obsession that crosses boundaries and paints new pictures of a reality that could have been and could yet be. It’s a brilliant piece of urban fantasy, and adventure that stays with you long after the last page has been read and the cover closed, and Steinmetz has done something great here. The characters are beautiful and flawed, the writing tight, the story fast-paced, the whole thing evocative and emotional. And I love it. It’s the kind of urban fantasy that doesn’t come along often, a diamond in the rough, and Fix was the best possible way to end it all.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

The Obelisk Gate, by N K Jemisin

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – August 16, 2016

Summary: This is the way the world ends, for the last time.

The season of endings grows darker, as civilization fades into the long cold night.

Essun — once Damaya, once Syenite, now avenger — has found shelter, but not her daughter. Instead there is Alabaster Tenring, destroyer of the world, with a request. But if Essun does what he asks, it would seal the fate of the Stillness forever.

Far away, her daughter Nassun is growing in power – and her choices will break the world.

Review: It’s probably no surprise to anyone to see me rate this book so highly. After all, I loved The Fifth Season, so there was every chance I’d love its sequel just as much. Especially with it being a book by N K Jemisin; I don’t think I’ve read anything of hers that I haven’t loved. I had high hopes for this novel when I started it, and I wasn’t at all disappointed.

If you thought the story in The Fifth Season was complex, just wait until The Obelisk Gate picks up steam. It’s not hard to keep track of events and new information, but there’s a lot of it, and it comes at the reader as hard and fast as it comes at the characters. There’s a lot to take in, a complex and changing world, characters having their previous way of life turned on its head, and everything they knew turns out to be deeper and more twisted than they could have imagined.

The story continues with Essun, living in a community of orogenes and non-orogenes together, trying to weather the beginnings of the Season that looks like it will utterly destroy everything humanity has accomplished, trying to learn from her dying mentor what she needs to do in order to set things right before he dies. She hasn’t forgotten her goal to hunt down the man who killed her son and kidnapped her daughter, Nassun.

Nassun, on the other hand, is still with that man, who drags her all the way to a place he heard about where orogenes can be cured of their terrible and dangerous affliction. But that’s not exactly the case, as Nassun learns, and as her power grows, she uncovers a great deal about the world, its history, and its potential future.

And that, my friends, is probably the worst description you’ll ever read of this book. it doesn’t do it justice. But to say more would include spoilers. I could talk about how orogeny is revealed to be a kind of magic, or how a group of stone eaters seem to want humanity wiped out and are working to accomplish that goal, or how the moon is coming back and somebody has to orogenically catch it and return it to a stable orbit, and that may save the world or destroy it, or any number of amazing aspects to this story that are worth talking about, but every one of the amazing things that hooked my attention would ruin bits of the story for those who haven’t read it yet, and this book is one that’s truly worth not being spoiled in advance.

Fortunately, there’s more than can be talked about that won’t spoil anything for anyone. For instance, the parallels of how orogenes are treated to how people of colour have been and still are treated in various parts of the world. It’s hard to hear characters call someone a rogga, or a rogga-lover, and not think back to a certain word that begins with ‘N’ that’s used in similar ways. It’s hard to read some of the quotes from in-universe books that refer to orogenes being inferior, inhuman, and only good so long as they’re used like slaves, and not draw some comparisons from our own history. It’s painful, and difficult to be confronted with, because it talks about racism without talking directly about racism. The analogies are there for all to see, but sometimes people are only open to something when it’s couched in other terms. I can’t say for sure that it was Jemisin’s intent to have all of it sink unconsciously into readers’ brains, or whether she just intended to draw analogies and let that be the end of it, but from personal experience, I’ve noticed that people seem more willing to accept something when they’ve accepted that thing in another form.

Morality comes into play, unsurprisingly; specifically, shifting morality. The world is different during a Season. That much is established from the beginning. Animals and plants change in response to catastrophe, or else they don’t survive and they die off. But that has nothing to do with morality. The way humans act does, or so it can be argued. What’s unthinkable in one circumstance might be accepted in times of crisis. Cannibalism is treated as a thing that nobody really wants to do, for instance, but when there are people are starving and you’re trying to last for as long as you can, it become acceptable, just a part of life, to eat your own kind in order to survive. One less person eating from stores of food, and their body nourished you for a time. To kill someone when they become too a big a drain on resources. Brutality becomes an everyday thing, distanced from thoughts of cruelty and disgust, because these things that are unconscionable in one time become necessary in another. It was an interesting thing to explore, placed into the story in little pieces, bits of dialogue here and there, and the way characters treated it was realistic and sad at the same time.

Similar to this was the running thread that sometimes cruel things must be done for a person’s own good. Or at least, the idea of it, rather than the veracity of it. How many of us haven’t argued against someone doing something for their own good when it’s not actually what you want or need? Is it right or wrong to demand a change of someone’s identity that will make it easier for them to get by in the world? Is it better or worse to remove someone’s pain if it also means removing their strength? Save a flawed world, or destroy both the bad and the good within it? Questions with no good answer, a dozen arguments for against each side, and they come up time and again in The Obelisk Gate. I loved reading about how different characters dealt with these ethical dilemmas, the arguments that they made, and what that revealed about them as people.

I also, and possibly especially, loved seeing Nassun’s growth. She goes from somebody who needs rescuing, a somewhat nebulous goal in The Fifth Season, to a powerful person with a growing sense of individuality and purpose as The Obelisk Gate progresses. She manipulates her father in order to save herself, still feels some affection for him while fearing him and his anger. She learns things that orogeny can do, including things she’s already been taught it’s not supposed to do that it actually can. Her relationship with Schaffa is a complicated one on both sides, with mixed honesty and deception, and it made all of their interactions that much more interesting. Honestly, after a while I began reading Essun’s sections of the story with a bit of impatience, because I wanted things to shift back to Nassun’s perspective so that I could see more of her development. It wasn’t that Essun wasn’t interesting, but more that Nassun held more potential in my mind, and I wanted to see how her part in the story all plays out.

As expected, Jemisin’s poetic writing shines in this book, stark and evocative and beautiful. That perfect bled between stream-of-consciousness and complete narration, which I think it something of a signature style by this point. Difficult to pull off, but brilliantly effective and hooking readers when it’s done right; and by damn, does she ever do it right! She tells such wonderfully creative stories in such a unique way, and the two aspects come together and become something breathtaking, transformative and important.

I can’t recommend this enough. It’s not one you can jump into without having read The Fifth Season, or else you will be utterly lost, so if you haven’t read the first book yet, then definitely do so before picking this one up. It’s a powerful story that takes you on an incredible journey of destruction and survival, struggle and hope, and after finishing this only yesterday, I already can’t wait to see how the rest of the story continues in the next book. To say that I enjoyed it would be an understatement. Jemisin is a creative genius, and I eagerly anticipate what she does next.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

An Accident of Stars, by Foz Meadows

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – August 2, 2016

Summary: When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war.

There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.

Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic.

Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?

Review: Before this, most of what I’d read by Meadows consisted of insightful blog posts and amusing interactions on Twitter. But that was enough to know that we agree on many different standpoints, and that she’s a good writer capable of delving into many complex themes, and so chances were good that I would enjoy reading An Accident of Stars.

The story starts off with Saffron, in school, unfortunately experiencing harassment that those in charge are unwilling to put a stop to. A strange woman, Gwen, comes to Saffron’s rescue, and later, when Saffron attempts to find her and thank her for what she did, it turns out that Gwen isn’t exactly from this world, and Saffron stumbles after her through an interdimensional magic portal.

Oops.

Saffron now finds herself in an entirely different world, one with magic and unfamiliar cultures, and she gets herself tangled in a dangerous political plot with consequences far more far-reaching than anyone could have anticipated.

The only way I can describe Meadows’s worldbuilding properly is to say it’s Jemisin-esque. It’s so complete, so entirely itself. The rich detail of multiple cultures, and the people shaping and shaped by those cultures, is exquisite, and a real treat to dive into. Even though we primarily see the world unfold from two different viewpoints, both of whom are outsiders to various degrees (Saffron has newly arrived, and though Gwen has been worldwalking for some time now, she still views things from a unique “between both worlds” angle), the new cultures that are presented to them — and us, as readers — are never judged by the standards of the person’s original world. Or perhaps it better to say that the two worlds are never played against each other, with no subtle written bias that one way of doing things in superior to another. They are what they are, and Saffron in particular has no leisure to sit and think about her world being better or this new world being better. The worlds stand on their own.

This is also the kind of novel that ticks just about every box that certain people will rally against and decry and “needlessly PC” and “message fiction.” Characters that are gay, bisexual, polyamourous, aromantic while not being asexual (which is a combo that, weirdly, a lot of stories don’t touch on that often), transgender (though she gets magic to help with transitioning), a female protagonist, people of colour, people with disabilities, people who are sick and tired of dismissing sexual harassment with the old “boys will be boys” attitude. In short, this book is pretty much the epitome of everything these people say makes for bad fiction when you include it, and yet despite that, somehow, it’s astoundingly great! It’s rich and complex and features so many characters whose stories interest me, who contribute and observe and participate in the tale as it moves along, and at no point did I ever feel bored or preached to or like this was some terrible morality play underneath it all.

(Then again, I’m exactly the kind of person who thinks that there needs to be more SFF like this, not less, so I’m hardly a convert to the idea that diversity and representation are good things.)

And the important thing is, none of the characters felt like they were there because someone was ticking boxes on some diversity checklist. Gwen wasn’t aromantic because the story “needed” a character who enjoys sex but isn’t into romantic relationships. None of the characters or cultures needed to be white or not white. I don’t get the impression that the author sat down and went, “Oh, right, I need a bisexual character in here or else people will accuse me of being narrow-minded; ugh, fine, I’ll make this character bi, just to shut them up.” There is no tokenism at work here. These things are woven into characters’ personalities, giving them additional depth and different experiences in the world around them, but they add to the characters rather feeling like an addition to the characters.

I flat-out adore the world that Meadows created here, with its rich unique cultures and language and clothing styles. I want to read more things set in it, to spend more time there with characters I’ve grown to know and appreciate. The story is phenomenal, a brilliant fantasy with fascinating characters and an overarching plot that’s full of action and intrigue and the world being on a precipice, on the knife-edge of revolution while the reader sits on the revolutionaries’ shoulders. Meadows is on par with the modern fantasy greats here, and this is a spectacular novel that you can’t afford to miss.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

The Geek Feminist Revolution, by Kameron Hurley

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – May 31, 2016

Summary: The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of essays by double Hugo Award-winning essayist and fantasy novelist Kameron Hurley.

The book collects dozens of Hurley’s essays on feminism, geek culture, and her experiences and insights as a genre writer, including “We Have Always Fought,” which won the 2013 Hugo for Best Related Work. The Geek Feminist Revolution will also feature several entirely new essays written specifically for this volume.

Unapologetically outspoken, Hurley has contributed essays to The Atlantic, Locus, Tor.com, and others on the rise of women in genre, her passion for SF/F, and the diversification of publishing.

Review: If you’ve followed Kameron Hurley on social media for any decent length of time, you know she’s pretty outspoken about many issues relating to feminism, prejudice, equality, and the like. Aside from the fact that she’s written some great books, this is one of the reasons I keep following her. She’s got some good perspective on many issues that, sadly, often earn the ire of people who would rather keep to the status quo and not change things or work to end problems that result in unfair discrimination against various groups of people. She has a lot of things to say, and they’re worth listening to.

Which is why I love that some of her best essays were collected and published as a book. It’s a way to reach out and spread that word to those who maybe aren’t so big on social media, or just those who are browsing the bookstore one day and go, “Huh, I wonder what this is about.” Admittedly, it will probably have more appeal to those who are already fans of her writing, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t the chance that somebody in need of her words will stumble across it and have their thoughts rearranged a little bit.

Hurley talks about a variety of subjects in The Geek Feminist Revolution, ranging from how women are perceived and treated in the public eye, to healthcare, to relationship abuse, to racism, to how to react when someone calls you out on a screw-up (hint: it’s not to launch a long diatribe about why everyone else is wrong). I will say this right off the bat: some of these essays are not easy to read.

I will follow that with: every single one of them is worth reading.

Here’s the thing: the world is not a comfortable place. It’s less comfortable for those who are marginalized. And Hurley talks about that unflinchingly. She talks about nearly dying thanks to illness and poverty, and the subsequent high cost of just staying alive (something that, to one who lives in Canada, is so out of my realm of experience that I can only imagine what it must be like). She talks about myriad tiny ways that society expects certain things of women and punishes them when they fail to live up to ideals. She talks about perseverance when everything seems stacked against you, how you keep going when you have passions and goals because anything less is personally unacceptable, even when people seem to make it their mission to make you stop.

So no, this isn’t a comfortable book to read. But, like so much that needs to be said, it isn’t meant to be comfortable. It’s meant to give you a perspective other than your own, to bare unpleasant truths.

This book provoked a lot of thoughts in me. I could probably write an entire series of articles based on what entered my mind while reading this (though none of them would be as good as what Hurley said). Aside from visceral rage at some of the things Hurley has endured in her life, what struck me over and over again was the running thread of hope, even through the anger. You push on, because that’s how change happens. You stand up and speak out, because that’s how change happens. Nothing happens by doing nothing.

And in that, Hurley is inspirational. After finishing this collection of essays, I felt the following two things: 1) better educated, and 2) galvanized to work harder on my own projects, however much opposition I meet. It may seem like a selfish thing to take away from a book like this, but I can’t deny that I felt it. She makes me feel like I have a shot of achieving my dreams, of getting somewhere I want to be, if I just persevere.

This is the kind of book that opens up a wider world, even if it’s often a dark and painful one, to those who are willing to go into it with the understanding that they may read things that aren’t comfy and pleasant all the time. It’s a phenomenal collection of experience, of pain and triumph, suffering and success, and it’s one I fully intend to reread in the future, because Hurley has plenty to say that deserves more than a single look. Break out of your comfort zone with this highly-recommended set of essays! You’ll be a better person for it, in the end.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

The Chimes, by Anna Smaill

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – May 3, 2016

Summary: After the end of a brutal civil war, London is divided, with slums standing next to a walled city of elites. Monk-like masters are selected for special schooling and shut away for decades, learning to write beautiful compositions for the chimes, played citywide morning and night, to mute memory and keep the citizens trapped in ignorance.

A young orphan named Simon arrives in London with nothing but the vague sense of a half-forgotten promise, to locate someone. What he finds is a new family–a gang of scavengers that patrols the underbelly of the city looking for valuable metal to sell. Drawn in by an enigmatic and charismatic leader, a blind young man named Lucien with a gift for song, Simon forgets entirely what originally brought him to the place he has now made his home.

In this alternate London, the past is a mystery, each new day feels the same as the last, and before is considered “blasphony.” But Simon has a unique gift–the gift of retaining memories–that will lead him to discover a great injustice and take him far beyond the meager life as a member of Lucien’s gang. Before long he will be engaged in an epic struggle for justice, love, and freedom.

The Chimes is an impressive work of speculative fiction, an imaginative adventure elegantly told. The Chimes reveals the human capacity to create both beauty and terror, in art and in life.

Thoughts: Imagine a world without memory. Imagine waking up in the morning and knowing the people around you, their names, what they do, how they react, but not being able to remember meeting them. Things are how they’ve always been. Muscle memory gets you by, habits born of repetition rather than decision. Imagine a time where the idea of before and after are anathema; there is only today, only now.

This is the world of The Chimes. A world in which memory is destroyed on a daily basis, in which music is communication, and the world in which Simon lives. We see him in the beginning, fleeing to London, and shortly after arriving he cannot remember being anywhere else. He has a bag of objectmemories that prompt him, that tell him that there really was a before, but so much of his life relies on patterns of habit. And everywhere there is music. Tunes to teach maps, to put down patterns into someone’s mind. The music of the Order, those privileged people who compose the Chimes and who are, for all intents and purposes, the ruling elite. This is Simon’s world.

Simon is special. When he touches those objectmemories, he sees what was, as clearly as if he was living it again. Most people can’t do that. Most people keep objectmemories as reminders of the fact that there was once a thing to remember, a piece of comfort from a time that is both gone and never was to begin with. He keeps a lot of this to himself, since memory — anything to do with before — is forbidden, but Simon’s talents do not go unnoticed by Lucien, blind boss of the mudlarking gang that Simon found himself in after his arrival in London. And Lucien himself has a secret history, one that connects to the Order, to the music they make and the effect it has on people. And he’s not about to miss an opportunity when he sees one.

I found myself captivated by The Chimes, in no small part for all the subtle details that Smaill weaves into the narrative. Musical terms are peppered through the text casually: presto, lento, all good terms for describing ways to play and what music sounds like, because music is such an integral part of the world that language has changed around it. How it’s written in 1st person and so the descriptions sometimes become like a stream of consciousness, poetic and chaotic but still clear. The plays on words like blasphony and turning palladium into the Pale Lady. There are times when Simon sees writing that comes across to readers as perfectly legible, but he can’t understand it; it’s “code” and useless, meaningless, and ultimately forbidden by the Order because it came from before and was a way of storing memory.

Things like this were what revealed Smaill’s talent for storytelling, piece by tantalizing piece. Reading The Chimes doesn’t just involve sinking into a new story. It involves having to restructure the way you think about thought and communication. To live without memory is to live without context; without context, so much lacks meaning that we now would give to it. The line about writing being a way of storing memory really stuck with me, because it’s true. At any moment I can write down what I did, a thought I had, and revisit it at any time. In the same way that oral storytelling in preliterate cultures connects them to the past and shapes the way they interact with the world, so too does reading and writing for us. It’s integral, to the point that most of us think little of it because we do it by reflex. The idea that the past can be stolen, effectively erased by a sonic weapon that acts daily to take away the chance of someone forming contextual ideas and thoughts about the world around them, is frankly terrifying.

Simon’s personal growth as the story advances is subtle but obvious in hindsight. Thought the narrative is beautifully written, there’s something about the early parts of the story that feel almost dull and hazy, a little bit unformed. This contrasts well with later parts of the book, as Simon slowly explores his talent with holding memory and gains more context of himself and awareness of the world around him. The imagery is the same, but it feels so much more clear later on, and I loved that touch. His growing affection for Lucien… Well, let’s just say that I caught that spark pretty early on, and spent more than half the book wondering if anything would come of it or whether I was just grasping at straws. You see Simon grow up, from an unaware boy to a young man with a sense of righteousness. This doesn’t happen over years, but over a much shorter span that, as I said, has more to do with his growing memory than the passage of time.

Looking at the progression of the story, in which Simon recognizes his talent with memory and becomes a part of Lucien’s drive to overthrow the forgetful tyranny of the Order, discovering a secret group dedicated also to doing that same thing, it would be easy to read reviews and think that this book is trite, derivative of so many “young man takes on the world” stories. But to see it that way does it a great disservice. The Chimes is evocative, poetic, and above all set in a brilliant future that is at once cautionary and compelling. Even if the story had been lackluster (and it wasn’t), the level of detail in the setting would have drawn me in and on.

Beautifully ironic for the subject matter, The Chimes is one of the most memorable books I’ve read this year. It’s poignant, breathtaking, full of passion and discovery and a refreshing variation on a common theme. It is, in short, one of those all-important novels that you need to experience, to let change you. I simply can’t recommend this one enough.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Regeneration, by Stephanie Saulter

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – May 3, 2016

Summary: The gillungs – waterbreathing, genetically modified humans – are thriving. They’ve colonised riverbanks and ports long since abandoned to the rising seas and the demand for their high-efficiency technologies is growing fast.

But as demand grows, so do fears about their impact on both norm businesses and the natural environment. Then, a biohazard scare at Sinkat, their colony on the Thames, fuels the opposition and threatens to derail the gillungs’ progress. But was it an accident, or was it sabotage?

Detective Sharon Varsi has her suspicions, but her investigations are compromised by family ties. And now there is a new threat: Zavcka Klist is about to be released from prison – and she wants her company back.

Review: Since first being utterly blown away by Gemsigns, I’ve been a huge fan of this series. The way it explores what it means to be human, the way people fear and hate what they don’t understand, the injustices done to people who are often just trying to live their lives peacefully but who don’t fit societal standards of normalcy… All of it strikes chords and resonates deep within me. On the surface it may seem like just a story about genetically modified humans and the future of humanity after a catastrophe, but so much of the series has its ties in what’s happening today, and what has happened in the past. The story of humanity repeats itself a dozen times over.

Saulter took us through gems gaining independence and no longer being slaves to the companies that made them. She took us through the early days of that independence, and the ups and downs of having to hold their own in a hostile culture. And now she lets us jump ahead to a time when Gabriel is an adult (or near enough to), to a time when gems are moving forward and working on projects that make the best use of their unique abilities, and to a time when certain people will go to any lengths to stop gems from holding the ground they’ve fought for inch by inch.

Business as usual, then.

Most of Regeneration focuses on the development on Thames Tidal, a gillung-developed power plant that aims to use the power generated by the natural flow of water through the Thames river, storing it in quantum batteries and releasing it as needed. It’s new tech, advanced and poorly understood by most, and so unsurprisingly there’s some opposition. The fact that gems are heading the project ruffles no few feathers, either. But as the setbacks keep mounting, it becomes clear that somebody has taken it upon themselves to sabotage not just the project but to endanger all those associated with it. The bulk of the story is something of a corporate espionage mystery, something that normally I think I’d find little interest in, but I suppose this just goes to show that most things can be made interesting with the right tweaks. Show me a story with a modern-day setting where the story involves a corporate espionage plot between Picrosoft and Gapple, and meh, I doubt I’d be too interested. Set the story in a power plant from the future and have the cast be genetically modified humans trying to adapt to a culture that still doesn’t much like them? Sold!

The Thames Tidal plot isn’t the only one, of course, because where would a story be with no subplots to keep interest going? You see more of Gabriel now, grown up and employed, keeping a rein on his telepathic abilities and trying to unravel what’s behind a smear campaign. Zavcka Klist has been released from jail and is under house arrest, but that certain won’t stop her from doing what she thinks needs to be done to protect her investments and regain some traction for her own agenda. Eve, a precocious little girl with far too much arrogance, hides much from her parents and becomes the focus for a group attempting to uncover Klist’s secret of immortality. It all comes together quite wonderfully, since everybody’s really tied up in the main plot one way or another, and every character is one I could quite happily read an entire novel starring and I doubt I’d be bored for a moment.

It’s really the characters that make it all come alive for me, as it has been in the trilogy’s previous books. I love the themes of social justice, of adaptation, of fighting to be acknowledged as worthy of respect and rights that others take for granted. I love that these themes are so relatable and applicable to current events but aren’t put across in a heavy-handed way. (As I said previously, it’s just the story of humanity repeating itself once again, not just a thinly-veiled metaphor for only what’s happening nowadays.) But as great as these themes are to discuss and explore, some explorations just fall flat on their faces if they don’t have a great cast of characters to move the plot along. The world can be on the brink of great chance, and if you’re writing about people who just sit back and let it all happen, chances are you’re not going to engage many readers. But all of the characters Saulter writes about are active, engaged, and whether or not you agree with them, you can’t deny that they’re all part of that great force for change, for good or ill, and you know that every one of them is playing or will play a part in how the future in written. Gabriel was remarkable as a child for his telepathy, something that shouldn’t be able to occur even with genetic modification, but as an adult, he’s remarkable for his tenacity and ability to spot patterns and to do what needs to be done when it needs doing.

That’s what I find so very interesting about the characters in these books. They have abilities above and beyond what most humans can do, and while these things often come with severe drawbacks, they’re practically poised to be superheroes, to turn what was done to them into something that thrives on vigilante justice, clandestine meetings and thwarting great enemies at every turn. And yet, they don’t. They strive to live, not to become superheroes. They’re remarkable for their gem-related traits, but they’re amazing for all the things they go that have nothing to do with those enhanced abilities. That they overcome a boatload of opposition, both from social views and from carving out a place in a world that wasn’t built to accommodate them, adds to their stories, but it doesn’t define them, it doesn’t reduce them to caricatures or stereotypes.

Even Zavcka Klist, someone who I alternately feel pity for and then want to strangle because she embodies so many things that I hate about ruthless abusive people and companies, someone who could do easily just remain a token villain in Regeneration, shows far more development and compassion toward the end of the book that I expected, so much growth that really only shows when something she’s passionate about might be taken away. As the antagonist, she was interesting. As the human being we’re made to confront near the end, she’s somebody that prompts reexamination, conflicted emotions. She’s still very much herself, but who we see her as has changed to a degree. I really have to give Saulter some praise for pulling that scene off in a very realistic way that still left me going, “Wait, did I read that right?” Making me reconsider what I thought I knew about what a character might do is definitely worthy of note.

As always, I feel like I could go on at length with my praise. But Regeneration — the whole series, really — is something best explored for yourself. It’s the kind of future that makes you think twice about the things you thought you knew, changes how you look at the world around you, and does so in a way that’s phenomenally entertaining and brilliant. The characters are wonderful, the story is compelling, the pacing and development smooth and fascinating; it all comes together as a rich tapestry that draws you in and doesn’t let you easily. The ®Evolution series has left its mark, and its influence will be felt for years to come.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

The Second Death, by T Frohock

Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – March 29, 2016

Summary: For Diago Alvarez, that’s the choice before him. For unless he wants to see his son Rafael die, he must do the unthinkable: Help the Nazis receive the plans to the ultimate weapon.

And while Diago grows more comfortable not only with his heritage, but also with his place among Guillermo’s Los Nefilim, he is still unsure if he truly belongs amongst them.

In a frantic race to save the future of humanity, Diago is forced to rely on his daimonic nature to deceive an angel. In doing so, he discovers the birth of a modern god—one that will bring about a new world order from which no one can escape.

Review: Frohock has entertained us previously with her other two novellas in the Los Nefilim series, stories of immortal beings standing between angels and daimons, of Diago and Miquel and their relationship in 1930s Spain, and the events that surround and complicate their already complicated lives. Now the third installment of the series, The Second Death, picks up really only hours after the previous novella finished, throwing readers immediately back into the action and not giving the characters even a chance to catch their breath.

You’ve really got to feel sorry for Diago here, with his life seeming to get worse rather than better after having pledged his loyalty to Los Nefilim. Now both he and his son are kidnapped, Rafael held hostage to ensure that Diago complies with Engel’s commands to acquire a weapon that reputedly could put an end to all wars. Seeing members of Los Nefilim go rogue convinces Diago that this time he’s really on his own, that he alone must foil Engel’s plans and escape with Rafael, before the balance of divine power shifts entirely.

Action and intrigue and the names of the game here, and the pulse-pounding pace barely lets up for a second. Happily, Frohock starts off the whole thing by giving a bit of a recap on what happened previously in the series, so as short as they are (only a little over 100 pages per novella), readers don’t have to go back and do a reread to ensure they know where everyone stands. Very beneficial in a story that’s as complex and full of twists as this one, and far better than having characters awkwardly do recaps along the way.

Though to be honest, I’m not opposed to rereading such a wonderful series at any point, and the story is one that has stuck firmly in my mind since I read the first one so many months ago.

One thing that stands out to me every time is the way the power and magic works through song. The descriptions are beautiful, breathtaking, and so easy to picture and feel. Maybe this is in part because I’m somewhat musically inclined myself and I find it very easy to envision the colours of notes and the way sounds can play powerfully off each other, but mostly I think it’s a testament to Frohock’s clarity of writing. Reading her work, I rarely find an unclear scene or fuzzy descriptions. It’s so easy to get lost in such vivid writing.

I can’t be sure, but I certainly hope that the series will continue in the future. A few plot threads have been left dangling, in particular the whole situation with Moloch and Alvaro and the whole “new god” issue. I’m definitely interested in seeing how that develops and plays out. In addition, there’s also the power play going on between Principalities, divine guardians (of a sort) of different countries, which is part of what led Engel to make his move and for Garcia to be so willing to between Guillermo and follow Engel in the first place. Knowing the time and place of the story makes it easy to see parallels to the lead-up of the second World War, but adding the angels and demons and the like makes it all the more interesting, provides a different perspective and additional layers to the whole tumultuous situation, and I, for one, want to see it all play out.

Long story short, if historical dark fantasy is your thing, if you enjoy plays and twists on Judeo-Christian mythology, if you want a wonderfully complex story that demands little but delivers much, then the Los Nefilim series is one you should definitely seek out. It’s hard for me to pick my favourite, because they all have appealed to me on various levels, and I’ve enjoyed them all equally and highly. The Second Death deals more with the forgiveness than the previous two, and justice versus vengeance, neither of which come across as heavy-handed or peachy, but even if you find yourself disagreeing with the conclusions that characters arrive at, there’s no end to the dark entertainment in the pages. Most definitely recommended to fans of dark fantasy!

(Received for review.)

Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – April 5, 2016

Summary: No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things.

No matter the cost.

Review: Seanan McGuire is a name you can’t really avoid when it comes to urban fantasy. And yet, I don’t think I’d actually read anything of hers until now. I knew the name, but not the works, and after having read and adored Every Heart a Doorway, I have to say that I’m a bit disappointed in myself for not making the time to do so sooner.

What we have is the story of Nancy, and let me take a moment to just right in with the praise because Nancy is one of the few asexual characters I have ever found in fiction. There have been a few, but often when present, authors fall back on explaining a character’s asexuality away as a result of trauma or that it was traded away for something (usually a religious something). McGuire is quick to mention that there’s a difference between celibacy and asexuality, that someone who’s asexual can absolutely have romantic feelings for someone, and in only a few short lines, scattered here and there throughout the novella, eradicate many of the assumptions that people often have about ace individuals. So many thanks to McGuire for improving visibility and representation for people like myself.

Anyway, this is Nancy’s story. And Nancy now finds herself at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, after having disappeared for a time into a different world, and when her parents have no idea how to bring back the person she used to be. But Eleanor’s establishment isn’t just a rehab place for emotionally unstable teens, as Nancy suspects. It’s actually for people just like her, people who has crossed over into other worlds and have been changed for the experience. Bit by bit Nancy learns that she’s not alone in her experiences, that everyone at Eleanor’s has traveled elsewhere at some point in their lives, and that there are countless worlds, all different but all, in their way, quantifiable. Although Nancy can’t return to the world that gave her such comfort for a time, it seems her life might be starting to look up.

That is, until the murders begin.

The story that follows has Nancy and her newfound companions attempting to catch the culprit and figure out why they’re killing off teens at the house. McGuire does a great job of building suspense and laying out the mystery piece by piece, leaving the reader narrowing down the list of suspects as events unfold. It wasn’t so much a case of “Is it this person? No? How about that person?” so much as it was, “It could be these people. Okay, now I know it can’t be that one… Or that one…” And so on. It’s not always a comfortable story. The characters are not your typical teens, even by urban fantasy standards. There are gruesome circumstances, frank talk of death and dismemberment, and sometimes you end up liking characters even as they frustrate and repulse you. But it’s still a fantastic story with a fantastic cast (one of whom is a well-presented trans guy, and yes, there is some antagonism from some of the other students over it all, because people are people and that means they can be ignorant sometimes), and I loved sinking into it all.

On a personal level, this story resonated with me in a far deeper way than I expected it to. Each of the characters who had gone to different worlds found that the new world suited them on a soul-deep level, that however much they had to change and learn new behaviours, there was something right about it, even when it was difficult. And I’d be lying if I said I’d never had that kind of experience myself. It was a long-ago dream, but in it I went somewhere else, somewhere out of time, where I didn’t have to worry about mundane problems, where I had an endless amount of books to read and video games to play, where I could stay always, and the proviso is that I had to stay silent. People there had an hour a day to interact, to talk quietly with each other, but for the most part, we stuck to ourselves, passing endless time in silence, happy because that was what suited us. I told my friends about that dream, how it felt so comfortable for me, almost ideal, and it worried them rather than intrigued them, because, well, most healthy people don’t dream about leaving everything behind and being silent forever. And I guess I can see that. But to me, it was still comfort. A place to go to in my mind that was still and peaceful and had no worries with it, and it was mine.

That was years ago. I still think of it, and I still remember the peace that came along with what I eventually just called the Silence.

And then along comes Seanan McGuire, writing about a bunch of people who found worlds that fit them as well as the Silence fit me, and so you might be able to understand why reading this hit me so hard.

Anyway…

The ending of Every Heart a Doorway is a bittersweet one, one that I didn’t know if McGuire would do. On one hand, Nancy desperately wants to return to the Halls of the Dead, though she’s told it’s highly unlikely she’ll ever be able to do so. Few people return to their worlds. On the other hand, you do see her form bonds with people in this world, bonds that she would have to give up if ever she did return. So no decision is without its drawbacks, and without giving away too much of what happens at the very end, I have to say that I think the author handled it well. As I said, it was bittersweet, full of calm-but-deep emotion, and as satisfying as it could get.

This is a novella for the misfits, the people who don’t belong, the people who hope that there’s a place for them out there, even if it’s a strange and fantastical place that nobody else understands. It’s a story for the curious and the brave, for those who enjoy urban fantasy and magical realism but who are looking for a different flavour in their reading. It’s short and wonderful, it’s an adventure in both clarity and obscurity, and I know that I’ll be rereading this one again in the future. In all, an amazing introduction to McGuire’s writing!

(Received for review from the publisher.)