James Nicoll Reviews

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Books Received, June 17 — June 30

1 Jul, 2023


To Shape a Dragons Breath The First Book of Nampeshiweisit

To Shape a Dragon’s Breath: The First Book of Nampeshiweisit by Moniquill Blackgoose (May 2023)

The remote island of Masquapaug has not seen a dragon in many generations — until fifteen-year-old Anequs finds a dragon’s egg and bonds with its hatchling. Her people are delighted, for all remember the tales of the days when dragons lived among them and danced away the storms of autumn, enabling the people to thrive. To them, Anequs is revered as Nampeshiweisit — a person in a unique relationship with a dragon. Unfortunately for Anequs, the Anglish conquerors of her land have different opinions. They have a very specific idea of how a dragon should be raised, and who should be doing the raising — and Anequs does not meet any of their requirements. Only with great reluctance do they allow Anequs to enroll in a proper Anglish dragon school on the mainland. If she cannot succeed there, her dragon will be killed. For a girl with no formal schooling, a non-Anglish upbringing, and a very different understanding of the history of her land, challenges abound — both socially and academically. But Anequs is smart, determined, and resolved to learn what she needs to help her dragon, even if it means teaching herself. The one thing she refuses to do, however, is become the meek Anglish miss that everyone expects. Anequs and her dragon may be coming of age, but they’re also coming to power, and that brings an important realization: the world needs changing — and they might just be the ones to do it. 

Shield Maiden

Shield Maiden by Sharon Emmerichs (October 2023)

Having grown up hearing tales of her uncle, the great King Beowulf, Fryda’s one desire is to become a shield maiden in her own right. Yet a terrible childhood accident has left Fryda disabled – thus, she believes, thwarting her dream of becoming a warrior-woman for good. But still, somehow, she feels an uncontrollable power begin to rise within herself. 

Meanwhile, a great celebration of Beowulf’s reign is underway, and Fryda’s house is soon overrun with foreign kings and chieftains. Amidst the drunken revelry, a discovery is made that threatens the safety of Fryda’s entire clan – and her own life. Enraged, Fryda resolves to fight for her people, no matter the cost… and all the while, her powers seem only to grow stronger. 

But she is not the only one to feel its effects. For, buried deep in her gilded lair, a dragon is drawn to Fryda’s untamed power, and is slowly awakening from a long, cursed sleep…

These Burning Stars

These Burning Stars by Bethany Jacobs (October 2023)

A dangerous cat-and-mouse quest for revenge. An empire that spans star systems, built on the bones of a genocide. A carefully hidden secret that could collapse worlds, hunted by three women with secrets of their own. All collide in this twisty, explosive space opera debut, perfect for readers of Arkady Martine and Kameron Hurley.

Jun Ironway — hacker, con artist, and occasional thief — has gotten her hands on a piece of contraband that could set her up for life: proof that implicates the powerful Nightfoot family in a planet-wide genocide seventy-five years ago. The Nightfoots control the precious sevite that fuels interplanetary travel through three star systems. And someone is sure to pay handsomely for anything that could break their hold. 

Of course, anything valuable is also dangerous. The Kindom, the ruling power of the star systems, is inextricably tied up in the Nightfoots’ monopoly — and they can’t afford to let Jun expose the truth. They task two of their most brutal clerics with hunting her down: preternaturally stoic Chono, and brilliant hothead Esek, who also happens to be the heir to the Nightfoot empire. 

But Chono and Esek are haunted in turn by a figure from their shared past, known only as Six. What Six truly wants is anyone’s guess. And the closer they get to finding Jun, the surer Chono is that Six is manipulating them all. 

It’s a game that could destroy their lives and devastate the stars. And they have no choice but to see it through to the end.

Octavia E Butler The Last Interview

Octavia E. Butler: The Last Interview from Melville House (September 2023)

Octavia E. Butler’s work broke innumerable barriers and helped open the field of science fiction to writers and readers it had never had before. As the first Black writer to win the coveted Nebula and Hugo Awards, her courage and vision left a peerless legacy for fans not just of science fiction, but of American literature. In this collection of 10 interviews, 3 of them never published, Butler speaks with candor and openness about her work, her imaginative mission, and the barriers she faced as a Black woman working in a genre dominated by white men. The book features an original introduction by science fiction legend Samuel R. Delany, in which he discusses his personal relation with Butler, providing unparalleled insight into her work and life. 

The Fractured Dark

The Fractured Dark by Megan E. O’Keefe (September 2023)

Naira and Tarquin have escaped the pull of a dying planet, and are now bound together to find the truth behind the all-powerful Mercator family and the blight that has been killing habitable planets. But the Mercator secrets are buried deep, and Tarquin’s father, the head of Mercator, knows the revolutionaries are on his tail. When Tarquin’s father disappears, taking the rest of his family and the universe’s remaining supply of starship fuel with him, chaos breaks loose between the universe’s ruling families. And Naira’s revolution must be put aside for the sake of humanity’s immediate survival. 

Burn Rate

Burn Rate by K.B. Spangler (June 302023)

Rachel Peng, cyborg liaison to the Washington D.C. police, is trying to catch another killer, but this time the murders are personal. Two of her OACET siblings died on her watch, and Rachel can’t remember how. Fighting against grief and her fears that their deaths were her fault, Rachel has to catch a skilled arsonist who has visions of a master race with no space for anything he considers less than human … and she’s sure he’s not working alone. 


Pirate Borg by Luke Stratton & Limithron (June 2023)

A scurvy ridden, rules light, art heavy RPG based on M\xc3\xb6rk Borg. Inspired by history, fantasy, horror, and rum. Your cutlass & flintlock won’t save you from hordes of skeletons and ghost ships…