Keeper of the Dawn by Dianna Gunn. ★★★★
I loved this fantasy novella! I picked it up mainly because I heard the protagonist was asexual (true), and I ended up with a novella that was beautiful in so many ways and really resonated with me.
Lai’s mother and grandmother before her have been priestesses, and Lai can’t imagine any other life for herself. In order to become a priestess, she must win through the trials, for only one girl can be selected by the gods as the next priestess. But what about after the trials? What will happen to the friends she’s in competition with? And what if… she fails?
Final Girls by Mira Grant. ★★★
I’ve read some of this author’s work under the name Seanan McGuire, but I’d never read one of the stories she wrote as Mira Grant. I had very little idea of what to expect going into Final Girls. I knew that it involved a virtual reality program being used for therapy, that it focused on sisterly bond between two women, and that it may involve horror aspects. All of those were true, but it also turned out to be a novella. So I read this one a lot quicker than I expected!
Dr. Jennifer Webb has invented the method and technology for using virtual reality for therapy. To heal her clients of old wounds, she’ll send them through a virtual reality horror simulation, where they’ll feel completely immersed in the narrative. This therapy is usually used to rebuild strained family bonds, but she’s giving journalist Esther Hoffman an exclusive look at her techniques, which include Esther taking a trip via Dr. Webb’s proprietary VR tech. Esther has built her career debunking fraudulent therapy techniques, and she just can’t wait to disprove Dr. Webb. However, as she and Dr. Webb undertake a VR journey, events in the outside world influence them in ways they could never have expected.
This Other World by A.C. Buchanan. ★★★★
What a lovely science fiction novella! It’s a quiet story, and a short read (I read it in under an hour). Because of that, this review will be a bit shorter than normal.
Vonika’s an autistic engineer who chose to immigrate to an alien planet. She has built a career and life for herself there, complete with a marriage to an alien woman. In Temia, older citizens go through a process where they transition away from individuality and towards a group consciousness. Vonika is still deciding whether or not she’s willing to go through the process when she begins to get flashes of memories that don’t belong to her… At the same time, Temia is on the brink of war with a neighboring country, so Vonika’s life may be changing in more ways than one.
This Other World is intimately focused on Vonika’s life. While she is effected by larger events and affects them in turn, This Other World is no the sort of story that has a large scope or a heavy focus on action. It’s the sort of book I’d imagine would be perfect for curling up with a cup of tea on a cold day.
Vonika never felt like she fit in on Earth, and she still doesn’t really fit in in Temia. But as one of the only humans in the nation, her differences are presumed to be a feature common to her species and she finds herself more readily accepted. I can’t speak as to how her autism is portrayed, but I’ll note that this is own voices – the author is autistic as well.
I suggest This Other World for anyone looking for charming sci-fi novella with a bit of a mystery element.
The Last Witness by K.J. Parker. ★★★
I’ve been hearing a lot about K.J. Parker, and I figured this novella would be a good way to try out his work.
The narrator of The Last Witness has the ability to go into people’s heads and remove memories. Once he has removed a memory, it becomes his own, as vivid to him as if he had actually lived it, and his victims have no idea that the memory even exists. The narrator uses his talent to earn money – his clients hire him to have memories removed, either something that happened to them that they’d rather not remember, or something they want someone else to forget. As a result, the narrator becomes the last witness to a large number of crimes.
Sunset Mantle by Alter S. Reiss. ★★★1/2
Sunset Mantle is a solid work of high fantasy. What’s most fascinating about it is that for all it’s battles and political intrigue, it’s less than 200 pages long. That’s right ya’ll. This is a high fantasy novella.
Cete is a wandering solider for hire. He knows that Reach Antach is about to be on the losing side of a war and that the smart thing to do would be to move on… but somehow, he just can’t bring himself to do so. When he sees a beautifully embroidered mantle made by a blind craftswoman, he becomes inspired to stay and to risk everything for the town of Reach Antach.
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.
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.