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.
Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly. ★★★★
The best comparison I can make for Amberlough is that it’s a cross of Orwell’s 1984 and Kushner’s Swordspoint. It’s fantasy without magic, set in a world based on Weimar Berlin and experiencing the rise of fascism. Oh, and the three central characters are a gay spy, his smuggler lover, and a stripper who acts as his beard. Amberlough is both dark and somehow delightful.
Amberlough City is a corrupt but cultured city, the bustling heart of Gedda. But the One State Party (“Ospies”) want to unite Gedda’s four provinces into one centralized, socially conservative nation, and they are making increasing strides in shaping Gedda to their vision. Cyril DePaul is a spy who’s masters are growing concerned with the Ospies’s rise, but when Cyril’s cover is blown, he makes the decision to work with the Ospies for his own survival and that of his lover, smuggler Aristide Makricosta. Into this delicate dance of politics and survival, Aristide brings Cordelia Lehane, a dancer and drug dealer who works alongside him at the Bumble Bee club. As their way of life is threatened, these three will have to decide what they are willing to do to ensure their own survival and at what costs.
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.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells. ★★★★1/2
All Systems Red was truly a delight. A snarky robot with a TV addiction? Who can resist that!
All planetary missions must be supplied by the Company and they must rent a Company supplied SecUnit, an android security guard. The narrator of All Systems Red is one such SecUnit, but it has hacked into the governor module and is now secretly autonomous. It refers to itself as Murderbot, and it really doesn’t care about it’s job — guarding a team of scientists on a remote planet where there shouldn’t be problems anyway. Murderbot much prefers to hack into a satellite and gain access to 35,000 hours of entertainment media. This works out perfectly fine for Murderbot until a neighboring mission goes dark and their own humans may be in danger.
King’s Dragon by Kate Elliott. ★★★★
Trigger warning: abuse, sexual assault
King’s Dragon is the first book in a completed epic fantasy series by noted fantasist Kate Elliott.
King’s Dragon focuses on two young people in the Kingdom of Wendar, a fantasy nation that seems to be based on medieval Germany. On the large scale, Wendar is facing a civil war, with the current king’s sister raising an army to contest his rule and place herself on the throne. At the same time, the kingdom is under attack from raiders that seem like a cross between orcs and Vikings.
However, it takes a while for our protagonists to become involved in events of international importance. Both Alain and Liath have their own problems. For his entire life, Alain’s been promised to a monastery, although he yearns to see the world. Just when it is time for to enter a cloistered life, the monastery is destroyed by raiders and his life is saved by a goddess, the Lady of Battles, in return for dedicating his life to her. Meanwhile, Liath and her father have been traveling her entire life, running from something her father won’t explain to her. When her father dies, Liath is arrested for his debts and sold as a slave an abusive man.
The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis. ★★★1/2
The Guns Above is not easy to describe. It’s sort of like a cross between steampunk and military fantasy, without any magic. It’s a military focused novel that takes place in a whole different world that includes plenty of airships.
The kingdom of Garnia is perpetually involved in warfare. Due to shortages of men, the military has reluctantly allowed women to serve in “auxiliary” positions aboard airships. Auxiliary Lieutenant Josette Dupris turns the tide of a battle and is rewarded with a promotion, becoming the first female captain of an airship. However, this decision is not popular with a highly placed general, who is determined to discredit Josette and see her removed from service. To this end, he sends his layabout nephew, Lord Bernat, to keep an eye on her. But the routine first training mission ends up becoming something more than anyone could have anticipated…