James Nicoll Reviews

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Books Received, May 18 — May 24

25 May, 2024


Lies We Conjure

The Lies We Conjure by Sarah Henning (September 2024)

Knives Out meets The Inheritance Games with magic in this standalone supernatural thriller by Sarah Henning: thirteen witches, a locked-room murder, and two non-magical sisters trapped in a deadly game of Clue

Ruby and her sister, Wren, are normal, middle-class Colorado high school students working a summer job at the local Renaissance Fest to supplement their meager college savings.

So when an eccentric old lady asks them to impersonate her long-absent grandchildren at a fancy dinner party at the jaw-dropping rate of two grand — each — for a single night… Wren insists it’s a no-brainer. Make some cash, have some fun, do a good deed.

But less than an hour into the evening at the mysterious Hegemony Manor, Ruby is sure she must have lost her mind to have agreed to this.

The hostess is dead, the gates are locked, and a magical curse ensures no one can leave until they solve both her murder and the riddles she left behind — in just three days. Because everyone else at this party is a powerful witch. And if the witches realize Ruby and Wren are imposters? The sisters won’t make it out of Hegemony Manor alive. 

Model Home A Novel

Model Home by Rivers Solomon (October 2024)

Welcome to Rivers Solomon’s dark and wondrous Model Home, a new kind of haunted-house novel. 

The three Maxwell siblings keep their distance from the lily-white gated enclave outside Dallas where they grew up. When their family moved there, they were the only Black family in the neighborhood. The neighbors acted nice enough, but right away bad things, scary things — the strange and the unexplainable — began to happen in their house. Maybe it was some cosmic trial, a demonic rite of passage into the upper-middle class. Whatever it was, the Maxwells, steered by their formidable mother, stayed put, unwilling to abandon their home, terrors and trauma be damned. 

As adults, the siblings could finally get away from the horrors of home, leaving their parents all alone in the house. But when news of their parents’ death arrives, Ezri is forced to return to Texas with their sisters, Eve and Emanuelle, to reckon with their family’s past and present, and to find out what happened while they were away. It was not a natural” death for their parents … but was it supernatural?

Rivers Solomon turns the haunted-house story on its head, unearthing the dark legacies of segregation and racism in the suburban American South. Unbridled, raw, and daring, Model Home is the story of secret histories uncovered, and of a queer family battling for their right to live, grieve, and heal amid the terrors of contemporary American life. 

Gods Below

The Gods Below by Andrea Stewart (September 2024)

The Gods Below begins a sweeping epic from fantasy’s newest master world-smith Andrea Stewart, a story of magic, betrayal, love, and loyalty, where two sisters will clash on opposite sides of a war against the gods.

A divine war shattered the world leaving humanity in ruins. Desperate for hope, they struck a deal with the devious god Kluehnn: He would restore the world to its former glory, but at a price so steep it would keep the mortals indebted to him for eternity. And, as each land was transformed, so too were its people changed into strange new forms — if they survived at all.

Hakara is not willing to pay such a price. Desperate to protect herself, and her sister Rasha, she flees her homeland for the safety of a neighboring kingdom. But when tragedy separates them, Hakara is forced to abandon her beloved sister to an unknown fate.

Alone and desperate for answers on the wrong side of the world, Hakara discovers she can channel the magic from the mysterious gems they are forced to mine for Kluehnn. With that discovery comes another: her sister is alive, and only the rebels plotting to destroy the God Pact can help rescue her.

But only if Hakara goes to war against a god. 

Alien Clay

Alien Clay by Adrian Tchaikovsky (September 2024)

From Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author Adrian Tchaikovsky comes a far-future epic that confirms his place as a modern master of science fiction, in which a political prisoner must unlock the secrets of a strange and dangerous planet.

The planet of Kiln is where the tyrannical Mandate keeps its prison colony, and for inmates, the journey there is always a one-way trip. One such prisoner is Professor Arton Daghdev, xeno-ecologist and political dissident. Soon after arrival, he discovers that Kiln has a secret. Humanity is not the first intelligent life to set foot there.

In the midst of a ravenous, chaotic ecosystem are the ruins of a civilization, but who were the vanished builders and where did they go? If he can survive both the harsh rule of the camp commandant and the alien horrors of the world around him, then Arton has a chance at making a discovery that might just transform not only Kiln, but distant Earth as well.