Reviews, October 2019

This Old and Empty House

The Twisted Ones — T. Kingfisher

T. Kingfisher’s 2019 The Twisted Ones is a standalone horror novel.

Rather than saddle her elderly father with the job, Melissa — Mouse to most folks — accepts the task of sorting through her late grandmother’s North Carolina home. In life, the old lady was malicious and cruel. Nobody much misses her. Even in death, Mouse’s grandmother gets one last joke at her relatives’ expense: she was a hoarder. The house is full of detritus and poor Mouse must sort through it.

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Burn Brighter Than The Sun

War Girls — Tochi Onyebuchi

Tochi Onyebuchi’s 2019 War Girls is a MilSF novel.

The Western powers — the oyinbo — gave the world the gifts of climate change and nuclear war. In the aftermath of the war, nations like America and Britain established glittering space colonies. Many nations succumbed to fallout. Nigeria, on the border of the uninhabitable zone, home to mineral riches, fell back on the familiar habits of civil war: Biafra’s Igbo against everyone else.

Young Onyii is already a seasoned veteran; the loss of an arm has only strengthened her desire to see Biafra free of Nigerian and oyinbo interference. Her only distraction from patriotic fervour is her adopted sister Ify, whom Onyii rescued after Ify was orphaned as an infant. The two sisters live in a camp hidden from Nigerian sensors.

But not hidden well enough.

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Art to Enchant

Hild — Nicola Griffith
Light of the World, book 1

2013’s Hild is the first volume in Nicola Griffith’s Light of the World historical series.

Hild is the second daughter of Prince Hereric Yffing. Alas, Hereric was Hereric the Hapless. He was deposed, exiled, and poisoned, leaving his widow and children in an awkward position. Their existence makes them a potential threat to the ruler who deposed and exiled the former king: Edwin Snakebeard. Hild’s uncle.

Flight would be a chancy strategy. Hild chooses to submit to the new king and make herself useful. Young Hild becomes the king’s seer.

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Holding Out For a Hero

A Hero Born — Jin Yong
Legends of the Condor Heroes, book 1

1957’s Shediao Yingxiong Zhuan is a wuxia novel by Jin Yong (Louis Cha). 2019’s A Hero Born is Anna Holmwood’s English translation of the first part of the work, collectively known in English as Legends of the Condor Heroes.

Everything is going swimmingly in Southern Song era China, provided one is not a Southern Song era Han Chinese. In the north, Jin is slowly encroaching on the remnant of China left after the Jin crushed the Northern Song in the previous century. To the west, the Mongols, long divided into contending tribes, have a leader ready to unite his nation into one unparalleled force.

In the South, the Han Chinese have to prevail against foreign raids and flamboyantly corrupt officials. It is up to heroes like Ironheart Yang and his best friend Skyfury Guo to defend the Chinese against the Jin, the Mongols and most importantly, the Chinese.

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Yet In My Dreams I’d Be

Cults of Prax — Steve Perrin & Greg Stafford

Steve Perrin and Greg Stafford’s 1979 booklet Cults of Prax is a source book for the venerable RuneQuest roleplaying game. It was, I believe, the second publication in the RuneQuest line. Cults of Prax outlines the religions found in Prax, a wasteland adjacent to the Dragon Pass region featured in the original rule set. This booklet fleshed out the backstory to the world of Glorantha, the setting used for most (but not all) editions of RuneQuest.

The somewhat dry material was spiced up with comments from a wandering trader with long experience of the peoples of the Prax region.

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Standing in the Dark

Vampiric: Tales of Blood and Roses from Japan — Heather Dubnick

2019’s Vampiric: Tales of Blood and Roses from Japan, edited by Heather Dubnick, is a translated anthology of Japanese vampire stories.

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Those Schoolgirl Days

A Blade So Black — L. L. McKinney
Nightmare-verse, book 1

L. L. McKinney’s 2018 A Blade So Black is the first volume in her Nightmare-verse urban fantasy series.

Teenage Alice has a full plate: a father struck down by heart disease, an over-protective mother, and a secret life as a monster-hunter.

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Blinded Me With Science

Tales from the Society for the Preservation of Preposterous Absurdity — Shane Darke

Shane Darke’s 2019 Tales from the Society for the Preservation of Preposterous Absurdity is a collection of absurdist science fantasy tales. All of the stories feature the head of the Society, Dr. Martin Smotheringale, and are related by his greatest fan, Dr. Martin Smotheringale.

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All The Best

Gideon the Ninth — Tamsyn Muir

Tamsyn Muir’s 2019 Gideon the Ninth is the first volume in a space opera series that may be as yet unnamed (a sequel, Harrow the Ninth, will be out in 2020).

Gideon Nav, of poorly documented parentage, has been indentured to the Ninth House since she was an infant.

The Ninth House is known by other names: the Keepers of the Locked Tomb, House of the Sewn Tongue, and the Black Vestals, for example. Nowhere are the houses of necromancy given any names that would suggest the they are fun places to live. No, they are not fun. Gideon has been scheming escape ever since she was old enough to form the thought of leaving. None of her efforts have succeeded … yet. Why let a 100% failure rate keep her from trying?

As the story begins, Gideon is preparing another escape attempt, one that will surely succeed!

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A Fly On Your Wall

Danny Dunn, Invisible Boy — Raymond Abrashkin & Jay Williams
Danny Dunn, book 13

Raymond Abrashkin and Jay Williams’ 1974 Danny Dunn, Invisible Boy is a juvenile SF story. It is the thirteenth (and third last) novel in the Danny Dunn series.

Scolded and humiliated when his paper airplane bounces off his English teacher mid-class, Danny Dunn wonders if his life would be better if he could be invisible at will. He discusses the matter with his chums Irene and Joe. Joe, who has been reading mysteries, suggests that misdirection is the best way to attain practical invisibility. Danny would prefer true invisibility, but is willing to give misdirection a try. The trio tries to use misdirection to steal cookies under the nose of Danny’s mom; they fail abjectly.

But Mrs. Dunn’s scientist employer, Professor Bullfinch, uses the distraction provided by the trio’s attempt to actually steal some cookies. Crumbs on the professor’s shirt give the game away.

This gives Danny to think. It reminds Danny that his mom’s boss is a brilliant if impractical genius. If anyone could figure out true invisibility, surely it would be Bullfinch


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Come Back Even Stronger

Magical Women — Sukanya Venkatraghavan

Sukanya Venkatraghavan’s 2019 Magical Women is a speculative fiction anthology that showcases a few of India’s best women writers.

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Legend in My Living Room

Demons of Shanghai — Hiromu Arakawa

Hiromu Arakawa’s 2000 Demons of Shanghai (Shanghai Yōmakikai) was a short-lived urban-fantasy manga.

Shanghai in 2050 is a thoroughly modern city with thoroughly modern amenities. Alas, it is also home to more traditional beings: gods, demons, and other supernatural entities. Such creatures are more than the city officials, even the police, can manage.

For those, the city has no choice but to reluctantly call on the Demon Taoists Corporation.

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Make Thee Mightier Yet

Johannes Cabal the Detective — Jonathan L. Howard
Johannes Cabal, book 2

2010’s Johannes Cabal the Detective is the second volume in Jonathan L. Howard’s Ruritanian fantasy steampunk series.

Detained by the Mirkavians on a specious pretext, amoral necromancer Johannes Cabal finds himself drafted into Count Marechal’s bold plan to elevate the Mirkavian Empire from a minor historical footnote to a modern reality. For that to happen, the Count needs the King of Mirkavia to make an inspiring speech. Too bad that the king is dead. The Count orders Cabal to revive the king just long enough to deliver a speech.

What could go wrong?

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