James Nicoll Reviews

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Books Received, May 13 — May 19

20 May, 2023


A Stranger in the Citadel

A Stranger in the Citadel by Tobias Buckell (October 2023)

From the powerful storyteller Tobias Buckell (Crystal Rain, The Tangled Lands), a complex novel of humanity’s passion for the written word. At the revolutionary crossroads of magic, betrayal, and long-forgotten truths, a naïve, compassionate royal and a determined, hunted librarian discover a dangerous world of mortal and ancient menaces. Lilith has heard an oblique warning all of her life: Thou shall not suffer a librarian to live. The life of the youngest musketress of Ninetha has been one of hard training. But Lilith’s days have also contained many pleasures, the royal privileges of her family’s guardianship of the Cornucopia, a mystical source of limitless bounty. Lilith has never seen a book, and she never expects to encounter one within in the safety of the citadel. When Ishmael, an outcast librarian, shows up outside the Afriq Gate, Lilith saves him from immediate execution by her father’s second-in-command, the zealot Kira. As Lilith’s curiosity draws her to the Ishmael, she lets slip her family’s most dangerous secret to Kira, sparking a deadly rebellion and an unexpected journey full of stunning revelations. 

Labyrinths Heart

Labyrinth’s Heart by M. A. Carrick (August 2023)

Lush, engrossing and full of mystery and dark magic” (BookPage), Labyrinth’s Heart is the thrilling conclusion to M. A. Carrick’s Rook & Rose trilogy, in which a con artist, a vigilante, and a crime lord become reluctant allies in the quest to save their city from a dangerous ancient magic. May you see the face and not the mask. Ren came to Nadezra with a plan. She would pose as the long-lost daughter of the noble house Traementis. She would secure a fortune for herself and her sister. And she would vanish without a backward glance. She ought to have known that in the city of dreams, nothing is ever so simple. Now, she is Ren, con-artist and thief. But she is also Renata, the celebrated Traementis heir. She is Arenza, the mysterious pattern-reader and political rebel. And she is the Black Rose, a vigilante who fights alongside the legendary Rook. Even with the help of Grey Serrado and Derossi Vargo, it is too many masks for one person to wear. And as the dark magic the three of them helped unleash builds to storm that could tear the very fabric of the city apart, it’s only a matter of time before one of the masks slips – and everything comes crashing down around them. 

Children of Doro

Children of Doro by M. L. Clark (May 2023)

Have you ever made a ship’s AI proud? Really, truly proud?

Captain Alastri has.

She’s a child of Doro, a frontier world governed by a temperamental AI that represents the thoughts and feelings of all its citizens.

Never heard of it? Well, it did get destroyed, which is where her ship’s AI steps in, to regale us with how Alastri’s past led directly to this catastrophe.

When Alastri was 17, she witnessed a failed mediation between the ever-wronged citizen Ceres and Doro’s governing AI. That day didn’t just reveal a range of competing philosophies. It also led to treason, the loss of her ship, and the destruction of her home 25 years on.

Connecting the dots from that day is the only way Alastri can hope to prevent further disaster for her system. And yes, this she does, most splendidly — at least, if you can believe a ship’s ridiculously proud AI. 

The Feast Makers

The Feast Makers by H. A. Clarke (March 2024)

After restoring their powers, Sideways just wants to get on with senior year. But the covens have convened for the trial of Madeline Kline. When this stubborn, independent witch begs the Scapegracers to save her from a cruel and unusual punishment, Sideways knows they have to get involved. It’s the right thing to do, even if Madeline did steal their soul and wear it for a time. Right?

Making an example out of Madeline seems, strangely, just as important to the most powerful covens as divvying up the Scapegracers amongst themselves. Sideways, Jing, Daisy, and Yates are reluctant to abandon what they’ve built together, but as the college acceptances (and rejections) roll in, the offer of a magical family beyond Sycamore Gorge becomes increasingly tempting.

Unfortunately, choosing a new coven will have to wait: witchfinders are gathering in town, and some of these visitors make the Chantrys seem tame in comparison. Every witch — Scapegracer or not — is about to be in grave danger.

And on top of all that, Sideways thinks they just might be in love.

In H. A. Clarke’s signature raw and explosive style, The Feast Makers brings the indie-bestselling Scapegracers trilogy to a dynamic end as Sideways, Jing, Daisy, Yates, and Shiloh struggle with college acceptances, queer romance, and the meaning of justice in an ever-challenging world.

The Dead Take the a Train

The Dead Take the A Train by Richard Kadrey & Cassandra Khaw (October 2023)

Bestselling authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey have teamed up to deliver a dark new story with magic, monsters, and mayhem, perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill. Julie Crews is a coked-up, burnt-out thirty-something who packs a lot of magic into her small body. She’s been trying to establish herself in the NYC magic scene, and she’ll work the most gruesome gigs to claw her way to the top. Julie is desperate for a quick career boost to break the dead-end grind, but her pleas draw the attention of an eldritch god who is hungry for revenge. Her power grab sets off a deadly chain of events that puts her closest friends – and the entire world – directly in the path of annihilation. The first explosive adventure in the Carrion City Duology, The Dead Take the A Train fuses Khaw’s cosmic horror and Kadrey’s gritty fantasy into a full-throttle thrill ride straight into New York’s magical underbelly. 

Joanna Russ Novels Stories LOA 373 The Female Man We Who Are About to on Strike Against God the Complet E Alyx Stories Other Stories

Joanna Russ: Novels & Stories by Joanna Russ (October 2023)

Rediscover one of America’s best SF writers in a definitive hardcover edition gathering all her finest work together for the first timeA LGBTQIA+ pioneer joins the Library of America seriesAn incandescent stylist with a dark sense of humor and a provocative feminist edge, Joanna Russ upended every genre in which she worked. The essential novels and stories gathered in this definitive Library of America edition make a case for Russ not only as an astonishing writer of speculative fiction, but, in the words of Samuel Delany, one of the finest – – and most necessary – – writers of American fiction” period. Here is her now-classic novel The Female Man (1975), in which four remarkable women – – Jeannine, Janet, Joanna, and Jael – – traverse alternate histories and parallel worlds (including the brilliantly imagined all-female utopia, Whileaway) in a multi-voiced, multidimensional voyage that continues to alter readers’ sense of gender and reality. 

We Who Are About To … (1977), recounting the fate of a misfit band of space-tourists stranded on an alien world, challenges golden age” expectations about civilization, in what becomes an allegorical thriller. 

In On Strike Against God (1980), her incisive, darkly comic, and ultimately joyous final novel, Russ returns to Earth to explore LGBTQIA+ and feminist themes and the unfamiliar territory of coming out” and lesbian romance. Russ’s Complete Alyx Stories” – – which feature her inimitably sly, resilient, and stone-cold heroine Alyx, who is plucked from a life of petty crime in ancient Phoenicia to serve as adventurer-for-hire for the Trans-Temporal Authority, and which reinvent the sword and sorcery genre for a postmodern era – – are presented in their entirety here for the first time, and newly restored to print. 

Also included are her unforgettable tales When It Changed” and Souls,” the former a 1973 Nebula Award winner and the latter the recipient of the 1983 Hugo and Locus Awards. 

The Midnight Kingdom

The Midnight Kingdom by Tara Sim (August 2023)

The second book in Tara Sim’s sweeping dark fantasy series, in which the four heirs to four noble houses — each gifted with a divine power — must defy their gods in a fight for the fate of the world. A cataclysmic battle to save the city of Nexus has left the four noble heirs scattered across the four realms. Taesia, the shadow-wielding rebel of House Lastrider, and Nikolas, the solider son of House Cyr, have been cast into Noctus, the realm of night. But they are not alone. The dangerous and unpredictable god of light has traveled with them, and he will do anything in his power to destroy Noctus once and for all. Risha, the peace-loving necromancer of House Vakara, has finally found her way to Mortri, the realm of death. But she still cannot help the wayward spirits trapped in Vaega, nor does she have any idea how to get herself and her friend Jas home. All she knows is that no mortal can survive for long in Mortri. And the creatures that walk the realm of death don’t take kindly to the living. Angelica, the stubborn elementalist of House Mardova, finds herself alone in Vaega. With the other three heirs vanished, it is up to her help keep the city of Nexus from unraveling. But Angelica secretly suffers from a sickness that her goddess left in her veins. And when she is sent on a delicate diplomatic mission, she knows that any sign of weakness will have disastrous repercussions for her family, her city, and her dreams of the throne. All will encounter old friends and new enemies as they attempt to restore the balance of the world. But as the gods grow stronger, they’ll need more than their powers and their wits to survive.