Brimstone by Cherie Priest. ★★★
I’ve been following Cherie Priest’s work for years, so it was with not a little anticipation I picked up this newest outing from her. Unfortunately, I was expecting and desiring a historical fantasy story, but I found Brimstone to be more horror with a Southern Gothic twist.
Alice Dartle is descended from a long line of witches, but she has no idea how to use her clairvoyant abilities. The town of Cassadaga, Florida, a community of similarly gifted people seems to hold the answer. But as she draws closer to the town, she keeps having dreams of fire and trenches. She knows that these are not her own dreams, and she believes that she can help the dreamer.
Tomas Cordero came back from World War I to find his wife dead of influenza. He continues to operate his tailoring business, but he’s haunted by the memories of his wife. Since his return, inexplicable fires have hounded him. Could they be messages from the beyond?
The Lifeline Signal by RoAnna Sylver. ★★★1/2
In Chameleon Moon, RoAnna Sylver introduced the dystopic city of Patrol, who’s citizens lived a precarious life above eternally blazing fire, governed by the nefarious Eye in the Sky. Oh, and most of these citizens also had some form of superpower – the reason they were trapped within Patrol.
In this sequel, Slyver takes us outside the city of Patrol. But as it turns out, the world beyond isn’t all sunshine and happiness. A poisonous wasteland named Tartarus has infected much of America with noxious fumes and eerie ghosts. Three teenagers will have to brave this danger zone to bring hope to Patrol.
The Voices of Martyrs by Maurice Broaddus. ★★★1/2
In these stories, Maurice Broaddus speaks with the voices of martyrs – past, present, and future. The anthology is divided accordingly into these sections. All or almost all of these stories involve some fantasy or science fiction element. Personally, I found I liked the future stories the best.
The collection begins with “Warrior of the Sunrise Rite of Passage,” the tale of a woman warrior in a long ago Africa, battling strange and ferocious monsters. From there, the collection moves to areas of the past that are more easily pinpointed in history books. “Rite of Passage” tells of the Atlantic Slave Trade. In “Ah Been Buked,” a young woman survives slavery in the American South. “A Solider’s Story” is narrated by a vampire who witnesses the unspeakable destruction of a town’s black community. And in “Shadow Boxing” an up and coming boxer fights against segregation. I’m not one hundred percent sure if “Rite of Passage” and “Shadow Boxing” had speculative elements, but they’re the outliers in that regard.
Lotus Blue by Cat Sparks. ★★★
Centuries ago, wars ruined the earth, destroying cities and wrecking the environment. But humanity remains as people struggle to survive in the harsh world that remains. But an ancient and powerful war machine, Lotus Blue, has awaken in the desert, and what’s left of the world may be at risk.
Lotus Blue has a variety of POV characters, but the protagonist is clearly Star, who has far more sections than anyone else. Star and her sister Nene live and travel with a caravan of traders, heading up and down the Sand Road. But unfolding events have a cataclysmic effect upon the caravan, drawing Star into the quest to stop Lotus Blue.
Long Hidden edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older. ★★★ 1/2
Long Hidden is a speculative fiction anthology focusing on the those marginalized by history – people of color, queer people, disabled people, women, ect. The stories are set in different periods and locals throughout Earth’s history, and all of them involve some fantastical element.
Long Hidden was of fairly average quality when it came to short story collections. There’s a number of stories I liked, a lot that left me cold, and a few that I struggled with. I doubt it will take long for me to forget the vast majority of the stories in Long Hidden. The one exception is my favorite story of the collection, Ken Liu’s “Knotting Grass, Holding Ring,” a dark tale of two women struggling to survive as their city is invaded. For all its brutality, “Knotting Grass, Holding Ring” also managed to create some beauty.
Clean by Alex Hughes. ★★★
It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that managed to give me so many mixed feelings!
The narrator of Clean is a drug addicted telepath. After getting kicked out of the Telepath’s Guild, he makes a living by working for police, mainly by using his telepathic powers to tease information out of suspects during interviews. But his routine begins to fall to pieces when a new killer starts stalking Atlanta and he’s called upon to help investigate. All signs point to the killer having some form of psychic powers, but otherwise clues are sparse.
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages. ★★★ 1/2
Trigger warning: Suicide
Passing Strange is an enchanting tale of queer women and their love in 1940 San Francisco.
This novella begins in the modern day, with an elderly woman named Helen retrieving a piece of artwork she had secreted away in an abandoned building. We soon find that the drawing is the almost legendary final piece of the famed pulp artist Haskel. But what’s the story behind this artwork? The narrative then skips back to the year 1940 and a circle of friends revolving around the lesbian club Mona.