River of Teeth by Sarah Gaiely. ★★★★
River of Teeth is more awesomeness than I thought could ever be packed into one novella. This little book is sheer fun!
I’ve been wanting to read this novella ever since I saw Sarah Gailey’s tweets about the history behind it. Basically, in 1909, America was facing two problems: a meat shortage and invasive plants in the Mississippi. Well, one U.S. congressman had a bright idea. We could import hippos to live in the Mississippi. They’d eat the invasive plants and provide a source of meat. Brilliant, right? The rest of Congress certainly thought so. The motion failed by only one vote. Presumably because someone finally pointed out that hippos are the most dangerous African mega-fauna. But if the vote had gone another way, what would America have been like? River of Teeth is a story of the American Hippo, although set earlier than the real world history that inspired it.
Black Wolves by Kate Elliott. ★★★★
Trigger Warning: Rape
This may be my favorite read yet from Kate Elliott, and I have the feeling that this trilogy will become one of my all time epic fantasy series. If non-Western epic fantasy with loads of ladies who do things sounds like something you’d like, then you need to read Black Wolves.
The first hundred pages of Black Wolves introduce many of the central characters, but everything then changes after a forty-four year time skip. King Anjihosh saved the Hundred from demons and conquered it in the process. The story starts with Kellas, a captain of the Black Wolves, the king’s elite unit of soldiers and spies. The king’s son, Atani, learns of a family secret and soon after disappears. Kellas is tasked with his retrieval. The first section ends soon after. In the time skip, Atani both became king and was murdered on one fateful night still shrouded in questions and mysteries. Now Atani’s son is king, and he fears that no one around him can be trusted. His aunt Dannarah enlists a now elderly Kellas to return to safeguard her nephew and his kingdom.
Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler. ★★★★
Trigger warning: Sexual assault
Parable of the Talents somehow manages to be even darker than the first book, Parable of the Sower. Of course, I knew it’d be dark. Octavia Butler’s work is always intense. But even prepared for it, Parable of the Talents was difficult to read in places.
Like it’s predecessor, Parable of the Talents follows Lauren, a young woman driven by her religious revelations of something she calls Earthseed. At the end of Parable of the Sower, Lauren had formed Acorn, a small community based around Earthseed. Six years later, the world is a less chaotic place than it was during Parable of the Sower. Things are still bad, but they’re bad in a different way. Mobs of arsonists and looters are no longer the main threat to Acorn. The danger is instead in growing religious intolerance and the rise of a far right Christian group, Christian America, that wants to make “America great again.” And by “great,” they mean their type of Christianity.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. ★★★★
I’ve heard a lot about Parable of the Sower. I only narrowly missed out on reading it in high school — the freshmen English teachers began teaching it when I was a sophomore. I’ve also heard people say that it’s eerily accurate to the United States after November 2016. I’ll come straight out and say it: I was scared to read Parable of the Sower. Octavia Butler’s books are always intense, and I didn’t know if I had the emotional fortitude to deal with Parable of the Sower.
Lauren’s gated community is an island of safety in a sea of chaos. Her father is a minister and college professor who mostly works from home — venturing out beyond the gated walls is dangerous. A wrecked economy and exorbitant prices for food and water have left many people poor and desperate. To make matters worse, a new drug that compels its users to start fires is gaining in popularity. Lauren’s community may have walls, but they are far from wealthy. They are the remnants of the middle class, and they are struggling to get by. And Lauren knows that it can only get worse. Eventually, their walls will fail and the hoards of impoverished thieves and drug addicts will descend on them.
Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee. ★★★★
Last year, I read and loved Ninefox Gambit, a stunning military space opera. This year, I had the pleasure of reading the sequel, Raven Stratagem, and may have loved it even more than the first book. I highly encourage you to read these books, but they need to be read in order. If you haven’t read Ninefox Gambit, you may want to skip the rest of this review, since I’ll be mentioning spoilers from the first book.
General Kel Khiruev is leading a fleet to stop the advance of a neighboring enemy, the Hafn, when she loses control of her own fleet to Shuos Jedao. She and all of her officers are frozen, unable to resist due to programmed obedience to authority… except for Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan, who suddenly discovers he’s a crashhawk. Can either of them trust Jedao? And if not, is either capable of regaining control of the fleet?
Monstress: Awakening. Writing by Marjorie Liu and art by Sana Takeda. ★★★★
Monstress is a darkly enchanting story told in comic book format. I read a bound version that collected the first six issues into something more akin to a graphic novel. I’m not generally much of a comic book reader (although I’ve picked up a bit of Ms. Marvel), but I just kept hearing such wonderful things about Monstress. And once I read it, I knew it was something I needed to review.
Monstress is a fantasy story, set in a world divided between two principal groups: the humans and the Arcanics. The Arcanics are the half human children of the immortal ancients, grown so numerous in number that they make up their own distinct group, gifted with some of the powers of their parents. Humans have no magic and are under the sway of the Cumaea, a group of priestesses who preach the purity of the human race and cannibalize Arcanics for the magic in their bones. Before the start of Monstress, the humans and Arcanics were at war, but now a tenuous peace exists.
Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho. ★★★★
Spirits Abroad is a delightful collection of short stories by Zen Cho. I’d previously enjoyed her novel The Sorcerer and the Crown and a couple of her short stories (specifically “Prudence and the Dragon” and “The Perseverance of Angela’s Past Life“). Zen Cho is a Malaysian fantasy author who often combines English fantasy tropes with Malaysian life and folklore. While many of her stories deal with serious topics (such as Angela disconnecting herself from her heritage and repressing her bisexuality in “The Perseverance of Angela’s Past Lives”), they are often humorous at the same time. Zen Cho is an immensely talented writer, and I enjoyed this collection to no end.