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?
Brother’s Ruin by Emma Newman. ★★★★
Brother’s Ruin is the first in a planned series of historical fantasy novellas.
Charlotte Gunn is the daughter of a lower middle income family in 1850 England. Her father barely scrapes by as an illustrator, but Charlotte has her own secret artistic career that she’s using to help her older brother pay for engineering school. Then disaster strikes – Charlotte finds out that her father is in debt and doesn’t have the money to pay and is facing debtor’s prison or worse.
In addition to her own career as an illustrator, Charlotte has another secret – she has significant magical abilities.
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.
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.
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.
Iron Cast by Destiny Soria. ★★★★1/2
I loved this book a lot more than I ever could have predicted. If you have any interest at all in a YA historical fantasy with a focus on female friendship, you should read this book.
Ada Navarra and Corinne Wells are best of friends who preform together at the Cast Iron nightclub in Boston, the year of 1919. But their performance is no usual routine, for Ada and Corinne are hemopaths – people who’s afflicted blood gives them magical abilities based on the arts. Ada can affect people’s emotions with her music and Corinne can use her poetry recital to craft illusions. But it’s not easy to be a hemopath in Boston of 1919. Performances have been outlawed and while the club still performs illegally, Ada and Corinne have been running cons to make ends meet. At the beginning of Iron Cast, Ada has been captured and imprisoned in one of the institutions designed to be the “humane” solution for the hemopath “problem.” But that’s only the start of the pair’s trouble.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. ★★1/2
Trigger warning – rape
The Bear and the Nightingale is one of those books that everyone seems to love… except me.
Vasya’s grandmother was a wild woman with strange powers, and Vasya has inherited some of her ability. She can see and speak to the spirits of the hearth and home, even as the rest of the village begins to turn against the old ways at the urging of a new priest. But a battle is coming as an ancient force within the woods awakens… and Vasya may be all that stands between her village and destruction.