James Nicoll Reviews

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Books Received, October 23 — October 29

30 Oct, 2021



Spear by Nicola Griffith

Breathtaking. Nicola Griffith knows what she’s doing.” —Jo Walton / Mesmerizing, epic, and immersive.” —Malka OlderA spellbinding and subversive queer recasting of Arthurian myth by the legendary author of HildThe girl knows she has a destiny before she even knows her name. She grows up in the wild, in a cave with her mother, but visions of a faraway lake come to her on the spring breeze, and when she hears a traveler speak of Artos, king of Caer Leon, she knows that her future lies at his court.And so, brimming with magic and eager to test her strength, she breaks her covenant with her mother and, with a broken hunting spear and mended armour, rides on a bony gelding to Caer Leon. On her adventures she will meet great knights and steal the hearts of beautiful women. She will fight warriors and sorcerers. And she will find her love, and the lake, and her fate.Nebula and Lambda Award-winning author Nicola Griffith returns with Spear, a glorious queer retelling of Arthurian legend, full of dazzling magic and intoxicating adventure

Azura Ghost

Azura Ghost by Essa Hansen

An exceptional debut.… reads like a Becky Chambers novel crossed with Firefly” Michael Mammay, author of Planetside on Nophek Gloss A sucker punch to the sense.… A killer story with real heart and soul.” Alastair Reynolds on Nophek Gloss In the second book in this highly imaginative new space opera trilogy by debut author Essa Hansen, a young man on the run finds himself on the wrong side of his former best friend’s gun in an action-packed adventure perfect for fans of The Expanse and A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.​Caiden has been on the run for ten years with his unique starship in order to keep his adversary, Threi, imprisoned. But when an old friend he’d once thought dead reappears, he is lured into a game of cat and mouse with the one person whose powers rival Threi’s: Threi’s sister Abriss. Now with both siblings on the hunt for Caiden and his ship, Caiden must rescue his long-lost friend from their clutches and uncover the source of both his ship’s power and his own origins in order to stop Abriss’s plan to collapse the multiverse. But his old friend has changed far more than Caiden could have ever imagined, and if he wants to save her, he’s going to have to call on his old crew to help him get her back. But what if she doesn’t want to be saved? Praise for the series: Gripping and inventive, Nophek Gloss will delight even as it breaks your heart” Megan E. O’Keefe, award-winning author of Velocity Weapon A strong, rollercoaster of a debut” Gareth L. Powell, author of The Embers of War Bursting with strange characters and powerful SF action” Rob Boffard, author of Adrift 

And This Is How to Stay Alive

And This Is How to Stay Alive by Shingai Njeri Kagunda

In & This is How to Stay Alive by Shingai Njeri Kagunda, Nyokabi’s world unravels after her brother Baraka’s death by suicide. When an eccentric auntie gives Nyokabi a potion that sends her back in time to when Baraka was still alive, it becomes her only goal to keep him that way. Nyokabi learns that storytellers may be the carriers of time, but defying the past comes with its own repercussions. Praise: A beautiful and rending look at family, loss, and grief, all while sharply dissecting time travel tropes and delivering a powerful message about memory, storytelling, and responsibility. It’s a story that hurts in the best of ways, confronting death and healing without losing its sense of humor or its impulse for rebellion. – Charles Payseur, author of The Burning Day and Other Stories & This is How to Stay Alive is a powerful manual for recovering from grief, exploring intergenerational trauma, and traveling through time. Kagunda’s prose is intense and relatable; you’ll feel like you’re jumping through time with these characters. The perfect read for anyone and everyone. – Eboni Dunbar, author of Stone and Steel Highly inventive and brilliantly crafted. Kagunda pushes the envelope in this exceptional novella, playing with time and form as she explores grief and the drama of the human condition. – Tendai Huchu, author of The Hairdresser of Harare Rich with the beauty and harshness of life. – Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of Friday Black 

Red Spider

Red Spider White Web by Misha

In the sealed city of Mickey-san the skies are still blue. There is no crime. No pollution. No one is unemployed and entertainment is the primary industry. In the tunnels below lies Dogton. Hard, dirty, industrial and restless with a subterranean rage, it’s nightlife neon and garish. But surrounding all is Ded-Tek, grim, violent and predatory, with survival being the sole occupation of its inhabitants, and The Market its only hope.

Amidst this city of outcasts is Tommy Uchida, enigma, god, a mind too brilliant for his artificially enhanced body: and Kumo, trickster chimera, living by her wits and for her art, trying to assert her humanity. All are interconnected by the uncertainty of their future: fifteen minute viruses, a cold blistering sun, savage police wire-dogs’, offbeat cult groups, roving gangs of rich boys, and the punishment of the Bell Factory’, and the spectre of a brutal murderer, a foreshadow of a change that none of them can comprehend.


51 by Patrick O’Leary

With 51, Patrick O’Leary (The Gift) delivers a witty, unpredictable novel that upends one of the best-kept secrets in American history: the strange events at Area 51. What if the infamous Roswell site contains something so weird that it bears little resemblance to UFOs, aliens, or the most intricate conspiracy theories? The implausibly plausible explanation, ranging over sixty years, entangles estranged real-life friends, their not-quite-imaginary friends, and some very confused U.S. presidents. “[O’Leary’s] voice is fresh and funny.” –New York Times Adam Pagnucco is just trying to help out a stranger who’s down and out. He has no idea that man is Winston Koop, his exceptionally talented, ex-best friend from college. Koop and Nuke had been inseparable, but then life happened. Nuke finally quit drinking, and Koop – well, Koop disappeared into such a massive conspiracy that the government faked UFOs just to cover it up. After removing the memories of hundreds of people, Koop is still hiding something crucial from Nuke. Time is running out for the real inhabitants of Area 51. Can Nuke find a way to forgive but not forget? In his long-awaited new novel, Patrick O’Leary (Door Number Three) deftly navigates the invisible currents of secrets, age, and forgiveness. Gripping, profound, and utterly unique, 51 is sure to please fans of fans of smart paranormal nostalgia, such as the X‑Files, Old Man’s War, and Stranger Things. 

The Might

The Might by Siri Pettersen

THE MIGHT is the furious conclusion to the fantasy epic THE RAVEN RINGS and is about the search for one’s own roots, prejudices, power struggles, arrogance and love.I loved (Odin’s Child) deeply from the first to the last word, and was instantly and thoroughly immersed. — Laini Taylor, bestselling author of Daughter of Smoke and Bone. …The story examines and upends everything its characters believe in, including their world, their history, their faith, and themselves, while intertwining elements of politics and Norse mythology with a side of forbidden romance. Kirkus Reviews Blood magic, blackmail, and battle rock a rich world of fading magic to its core in this internationally bestselling Norwegian epic fantasy. Publishers Weekly The intrigue, scope, and depth of His Dark Materials, set in an immersive Nordic world as fierce and unforgettable as its characters. Rosaria Munda, author Fireborne/Flamefall — Aurelian Cycle The world building is stupendous. MidWest Book Review HIrka has been sent to the world of the blind, a powerful and immortal people whom she has been taught to fear since infancy – and who now see her as their only chance to reignite a thousand-year-old war. The blind will use Hirka’s ability to travel between worlds to return to Ym, the land where Hirka grew up and where the blind were betrayed all those years ago. And this time, they will prevail. Hirka is torn between her loyalties to the people who birthed her and the people who raised her, between the savior she is expected to be and the individual she wants to be. And every choice she makes pulls her further away from Rime, the love of her life, who is doing everything he can to stop Ym from falling to pieces all around him. A million things stand between Hirka and Rime. But only together can they stop the end of the worlds. But the stillborn’s thirst for the gift, life energy, is so great that a war between the camps seems inevitable… 

The Secret Skin

The Secret Skin by Wendy N. Wagner

The Secret Skin by Wendy N. Wagner is a sawmill gothic that begins with June Vogel’s return to Storm Break, her family’s estate. Things in the great house aren’t what they used to be. Doors slam in the night. Faucets turn on, untouched. Something is always watching, whatever June does. And when her brother returns with his new bride, deceit and betrayal threaten to destroy everything she loves.