Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

My reaction on finishing Riot Baby can be summed up with two simple words: Holy shit. This is a novella that I will have to reread at some point. Riot Baby is a humbling, visceral collage of two lives and the system that exists to crush them at every turn. It is a battle cry, a scream, and a sob for the black community. When people talk about #OwnVoices, this is what they mean. 

Black Flowers Blossom by Vina Jie-Min Prasad

If you ever wanted a love story across multiple reincarnations between an occult detective and a demon, well, here you have it folks. This is a beautifully realized, off-beat love story between two people with quite unusual tastes. As they connect and reconnect across their lives, their love grows ever deeper and ever stronger – two halves of the same rather unusual whole. 

The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez

When I began reading The Vanished Birds, I was unsure what to expect. The blurb didn’t prepare me for the book’s content, and hardly brushed the primary themes. Jimenez explores not just the idea of a found family, but, more importantly, discusses the ways we can be driven to hurt those we love. He has written a severe, yet tasteful, critique of the idea that the ends can ever justify the means. 

The Shadow Saint by Gareth Hanrahan

The Shadow Saint is a devastatingly brilliant new installment in the Black Iron Legacy series by Gareth Hanrahan. Although the initial book, The Gutter Prayer, had a few weaknesses in the character development department, these were beautifully resolved and a complete nonissue in this sequel. Eladora is the primary focus of this novel, with Cari as a side character. Several new characters are also introduced: Alic, the spy, and Terevant, a man of Haith. As the Godswar closes in on Guerdon, the goals and aims of these three will align in unexpected ways. Fans of the worldbuilding from the previous novel won’t be disappointed; the expanded scope brings in a great deal of new information and helps fill in the cracks from the previous book. 

Witchmark by C. L. Polk

Miles is the son of a politically connected mage who sits atop the secret magical hierarchy that keeps Aeland stable and functioning, but he is reluctant to “do his duty” to the family and take his place as a Secondary to his sister. In Aeland, Secondaries are mages who have less obvious talent despite having a large pool of innate magic; thus, they are magically bound as glorified thralls to their Primary mage. Witches, low-class mages, are “known” to go mad and are sent to insane asylums in the countryside. Given that Miles has shucked off his connections to his family name, he risks just that fate if anyone at his psychiatry practice discovers his magical aptitude. Although his family would protect him if he were found out, it would mean becoming his sister’s magical slave.

Triton by Samuel R. Delany

Triton, also published under Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia, by Samuel R. Delany is one hell of a trip and surprisingly relevant to modern day discourse on gender and sex. Originally written as a response to Le Guin’s The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia, Delany explores what it might be like to experience a progressive, open society as a very traditional, masculine male with conservative ideas about the roles and capabilities of men and women. Where Le Guin explored life as someone who is LGBT+ in a predominantly straight “utopia,” Delany explores the inverse.

The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan

The Gutter Prayer is a somewhat challenging review for me. On one hand, there were tons of things about this book that I adored. The city of Guerdon has been lovingly, hauntingly crafted. Ghouls roam the streets and rule the crypts, slowly growing fat on the souls of the dead, guarding the gates that hold back a tide of shapeless horrors. The Crawling Ones create strange half-lifes for those who choose to give themselves over to the worms. The Stone Men battle against their plague every day, fighting calcification and seeking one more – just one more! – shot of alkahest to keep the stone at bay. And yet, despite all this… it didn’t quite click. I struggled to connect to the characters, rendering major climaxes and gut punches emotionless. 

Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear

My first introduction to Elizabeth Bear was on the fantasy side with The Stone in the Skull, which I loved. I came in with high expectations for both prose and character development, and I’m pleased to say that Ancestral Night lived up to all my hopes on both counts! Where The Stone in the Skull had multiple points of view and broad-spanning political themes, Ancestral Night keeps things closer to home by following only one character: a traumatized young engineer named Haimey, who is part of the crew on a space salvage rig with a shipmind AI called Singer, a rather unfairly good-looking pilot, and two absolutely delightful cats named Mephistopheles and Bushyasta. 

Christmas Advent: Short Story Edition! (Part 1)

For the month of December, Short Fiction Friday is being upgraded to feature daily stories as part of an advent calendar exchange I’m running with a friend! Every week, Black Forest Basilisks will be shining a spotlight on each of the short stories, novelettes, or flash fics that we exchanged for each day of advent. All of these stories will be available online for free.