The Witch Who Came in from the Cold by Lindsay Smith, Max Gladstone, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis, Michael Swanwick.★★★★
The Witch Who Came in from the Cold mixes Cold War intrigue with urban fantasy to create a fantastic and original story.
Before I say anything else, I should note that The Witch Who Came in from the Cold is a Serial Box story. Serial Box is a fairly new company that releases “episodes” of serial stories that together make up a “season.” Basically, a written story told in a format more akin to weekly television. Each Serial Box story brings in multiple writers who work together to create the season.
In Prague, both KGB and CIA agents scheme on behalf of their respected countries. But there’s another divide that lies beneath the feuding nations: the magical organizations of Ice and Flame. The Flame wants to see the world burn and built anew from the ashes. The Ice wants to prevent this happening. And magicians loyalties to the Ice or Flame are greater than any national divide. Whether KGB or MI6, Ice agents will cooperate to stop the Flame. Tanya Morozova is a KGB operative and sorceress for the Ice, but she’s beginning to wonder how much the Ice can be trusted. Gabe Pritchard is a CIA operative, but he’s beginning to realize there’s more to the world. Something happened to him in Cairo, and nothing’s been right since… But when he seeks help, he’s directed towards Tanya Morozova. They are enemies in one conflict and allies in another.
The Blazing Star by Imani Josey. ★★
By the end, reading The Blazing Star was painful. If I weren’t intending to review this one, there is no way I would have finished. I was seriously considering quitting when I only had twenty percent of the book left.
Portia White has always dwelt in the shadow of her genius twin sister, Alex, and a rift is starting to grow between them. Then Portia picks up an ancient Egyptian artifact and is transported back into the past, her sister and another girl unwittingly brought along with her. In ancient Egypt, Portia will find her own chance to shine, discover that magic is real, and maybe even heal the wound between her and her sister.
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.
Gilded Cage by Vic James. ★★★1/2
Gilded Cage is a compulsively readable YA fantasy dystopia. I’ll admit, I was wary of picking it up. I haven’t had the best experiences with the YA dystopian genre, and at this point it feels like there’s a certain sameness to most of the books. But when Imyril over at x + 1 gave it a positive review, I reconsidered. As it turns out, I am glad I did.
Gilded Cage takes place in an alternate version of England where the ruling segment of the population, the Equals, posses immense magical skill. The vast majority of the population are commoners, who are utterly without magic or power. They have to give up ten years of their lives to serve as slaves for the Equals, a modern update on medieval fiefdom. Abi and Luke Hadley are commoners, and they’re about to begin their slave years. But due to Abi’s genius and hard work, she’s gotten their family a place at the Jardine estate instead of the sweatshops of the slave town. But as the day arrives, something goes wrong and Luke instead finds himself being sent to Millmoor, the aforementioned slave town. There he finds something entirely unexpected: revolution. Meanwhile, his sister Abi begins to wonder if she’s made the wrong choice by having the family serve the Jardines, for she soon finds that they can be heinously cruel in their power.
Dreadnought by April Daniels. ★★★1/2
Trigger warning: Transphobia, emotional abuse
Dreadnought is an #OwnVoices YA superhero novel about a young lesbian trans girl.
Fifteen-year old Danny Tozer is secretly painting her toenails behind the mall when two meta-humans get in a fight right in front of her. Thus she’s the only person around when Dreadnought, the greatest superhero of them all dies… and so she receives his powers. But not only does she get superpowers, her body also transforms into the one she’s always wanted. Now everyone knows that she’s a girl. Unfortunately, this includes her emotionally abusive father, who’s always tried to make her into a “manly man.” Oh, and the super-villain who killed Dreadnought is still running around. Danny’s life just got complicated.
In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle. ★★★
As a new unicorn story by the acclaimed Peter S. Beagle, I had high expectations for In Calabria. Unfortunately, this novella didn’t do much for me.
For many years, Claudio Bianchi has lived alone on his farm in Southern Italy, writing poetry and tending to his three cows and other animals. Then one morning, he discovers a unicorn has arrived at his farm. The arrival of the unicorn will change Claudio’s life forever.
The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley. ★★★★
The Stars Are Legion is quintessentially Kameron Hurley: violent and feminist. This stand alone science fiction novel is as dark as I’ve come to expect from Hurley, but it has an optimistic heart.
Zan wakes with no memory of who she is. She’s told that she’s a great general and the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, the mysterious world ship that’s capable of leaving the legion of artificial planets. She knows there’s a lot she’s not being told, especially by Jyn, a woman who claims to be her sister.