Mya Alexice

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After a lifetime as an archetypal fantasy hero—embarking on quests, slaying monsters, collecting loot, etc.—Viv the orc is ready to settle down. Inspired by a revolutionary gnome creation called coffee, all she wants is to open a cafe in the bustling city of Thune. Starting a brand-new business, however, is a lot harder than it looks, even for someone in possession of a legendary artifact and a sack full of silver. A mafia-esque group is looking for a “monthly involuntary donation” from every business on the block, figures from Viv’s past life as a warrior keep popping up and, worst of all, students are taking up the seating without even buying a cup of coffee. Ugh. Thankfully, Viv has buddies Cal, Tandri and Thimble to help her on her most arduous journey yet.

This cozy slice-of-life adventure (which was originally self-published and quickly went viral on BookTok) is Stardew Valley meets Dungeons & Dragons; it’s perfect for fantasy fans who don’t always want their stories grimdark and bloody. Legends & Lattes keeps a sedate pace as it follows the rise of Viv’s cafe, letting the reader spend quality time in its endearing world while Viv tries out various strategies to introduce a populace to a drink they’ve never heard of and get them to come back for more. In the process, Baldree casts a light on the lesser-seen elements of a fantasy world: its everyday citizens and more commonplace happenings that deserve attention just as much as high-born heroes and epic quests.

Some readers may find Viv’s adventures a little too low stakes and the plot predictable, but that’s part of Legends & Lattes’ atmospheric allure. It feels like a book to read by the fireplace (especially if that fireplace happens to be at an inn where heroes rest on their way toward the next stage of a quest). Those looking for a more peaceful story set in a world reminiscent of the fantasy landscapes they love will adore Legends & Lattes—and keep an eye out for Baldree’s next charming tale.

Legends & Lattes, Travis Baldree’s cozy slice-of-life adventure, is Stardew Valley meets Dungeons & Dragons.
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In Sarah Gailey’s latest thriller, a woman returns to her childhood home and comes face to face with the trauma of her youth.

Just Like Home opens with Vera Crowder returning to the house her father built to care for her ailing mother. Daphne Crowder—who insists Vera call her Daphne, not Mom—is barely alive, a pale imitation of the strict mother figure readers get glimpses of through Vera’s flashbacks: “The cold authority had drained out of Vera’s mother like brake fluid from a cut line.”

It is immediately apparent that something violent and bizarre, something far worse than standard mother-daughter tension, has ruptured Vera and Daphne’s relationship. When people recognize Vera in town, they react with horror, and when her past is revealed at work, she loses her job almost immediately. Just Like Home reveals the facts of the Crowder House tragedy early on but unearths the emotional fallout of the events expertly and slowly, meditating on the possible culpability of everyone involved.

In addition to being an excellently crafted thriller, Just Like Home is scary enough to satisfy horror fans, particularly those who revel in disturbing images and suffocating settings. Gailey lends the Crowder House all the intensity of a living being as claustrophobic scenes unravel within its dilapidated walls.

An excavation of tense and toxic family dynamics, Just Like Home uses atmospheric scenes of supernatural horror to unpack the impact of a traumatic event. And Gailey goes even further, observing throughout their terrifying tale that any of us could be haunted—whether by gender ideology, the weight of secrets or the actions of our family members—while bravely refusing to offer clear-cut answers about the nature of good and evil.

An excavation of toxic family dynamics, Sarah Gailey's Just Like Home uses atmospheric scenes of supernatural horror to reveal the terrors that haunt us all.
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On the island of Skyros, trans women are given safe harbor. When Wrath Goddess Sing begins, Achilles is hiding out on this island from those who wish her ill. She was a “wild spider of a boy-girl” when she first arrived but now has a cherished lover and an accepting community. All of that is threatened when Odysseus and Diomedes arrive, searching for the hero they know as the “prince” and “son” of the goddess Athena to help them win back the stolen Helen of Troy. Achilles herself would rather die than be forced to serve as a man in war, but Athena grants her another option: to fight with the body she’s always wanted. Due to her talent in combat, Achilles proves herself in Troy to be a valiant soldier. But the gods have endless secrets and machinations, and Achilles is now at the center of a deadly, divine game.

Author Maya Deane’s prose is lyrical without venturing into purple territory, poignantly guiding readers through Achilles’ internal and external trials. Take this moment, when Achilles contemplates returning to war as a man: “It would be worse than death—the death of her self, the inexorable corrosion of her soul, until even her name was forgotten and nothing was left but the shell of a man she never was.”

Why Maya Deane reimagined Achilles as a trans woman.

Some prior knowledge of the Iliad will maximize the enjoyment of this novel, if only to provide some context for Deane’s beautifully realized Mediterranean landscape and her depiction of the Greek gods as vivid, often malicious beings. Deane’s descriptions of these entities are utterly entrancing: Athena, for instance, has eyes “so unnaturally large [they were] too enormous to turn in their sockets—owl’s eyes.” Her vivid imagination also extends to the Iliad’s cast of complicated, iconic human characters, whom she brings to life with confidence and skill.

Wrath Goddess Sing is a mythic reinvention for the ages that asks questions about topics such as trans identity, passing and the politics of the body.

Wrath Goddess Sing is a mythic reinvention for the ages that follows a trans, female Achilles as she faces down divine machinations.
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In Manhunt, author Gretchen Felker-Martin highlights the people that gender-based dystopias (think Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go or Naomi Alderman’s The Power) generally gloss over. When a new plague washes over the globe, it specifically targets those with high levels of testosterone, turning them into uncontrollable creatures who only live for sexual violence and murder.

Fran and Beth are trans women who’ve been surviving by mutilating these creatures and eating their organs, which are valuable sources of estrogen that keep the deadly testosterone at bay. This way of life is risky business, and if not for Robbie, a trans man who Beth quips is “the last man on earth,” they would have met certain death at the hands of a ravaging pack of feral men. Together, the three of them find a sanctuary from the apocalypse that looks a little too good to be true: an underground bunker ruled by an eccentric billionaire with ulterior motives. If only a militant and well-armed group of TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) would stop trying to gun them—and everyone else who doesn’t fit into a biologically essentialist narrative—down.

Felker-Martin’s prose thrives in this world of intense bodily preoccupation. She describes everything from the DIY removal of a character’s broken tooth to an enthusiastic sex scene with a character on their period. Consider this description of the feral creatures at the book’s center: “Seams of [raw flesh] glistened like meaty lava flows between the shifting tectonic plates of their hides.” Felker-Martin revels in both the disturbing and the erotic, crafting a picture of a dangerous world where one’s own body can either kill you at any moment or give you intense catharsis in the midst of a crumbling society. Manhunt explicitly depicts harrowing scenes of rape and bodily harm, but it is also at times incredibly tender, as in this line where Robbie contemplates the fate of other trans men in this dystopia: “They were out there, making their own manhood in the wreckage of the world.”

Original and unabashed, Manhunt is unafraid to be messy as it cultivates a flawed and intriguing cast of characters, centering voices that have been previously unheard in dystopian fiction.

Original and unabashed, Manhunt is unafraid to be messy as it highlights the people that gender-based dystopias generally gloss over.
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M.J. Kuhn’s fantasy heist caper Among Thieves introduces readers to the world of Thamorr. Its five kingdoms have lived in harmony for years, all thanks to the subjugation of Adepts, magic users forced to live in slavery due to their superhuman abilities.

Kuhn efficiently introduces several memorable and distinct characters: Ryia, a deadly mercenary known as the Butcher of Carrowwick; Nash, a smuggler for the notorious crime boss Callum Clem; Tristan, a swindler paying off his never-ending debt; Ivan, a master of disguise; and Evelyn, the disgraced former captain of the king’s guard. Through various circumstances, secrets and plots, they’re thrown together in order to steal a mystical artifact from the most powerful man in Thamorr. The heist that ensues veers quickly off course, but the makeshift crew is determined to see it through to the end, each for varying reasons.

Though Kuhn employs a large cast, she effortlessly maintains each character’s clear-cut perspective and continues to balance their motivations and backstories with grace. Ryia in particular is a thunderbolt of a protagonist, brimming with intrigue as flashes of her cruel upbringing come to light.

Kuhn builds out her world with a deft hand, never falling into info-dump territory but remaining detailed enough that Thamorr feels tangible and lived-in. Among Thieves’ central heist mechanism is energizing, too, and rarely lets the novel’s stakes fall even an inch. Kuhn’s writing shows immense promise, often offering gems such as, “If Callum Clem was a change in key, the Butcher of Carrowwick was a dissonant chord” and, “He read like an old poem; everything could be expected to have three meanings or none at all.” The novel’s ending ties up plotlines while hinting at the possibility for more stories in the same universe, which plenty of readers will be clamoring for after finishing this fabulous debut.

M.J. Kuhn’s fantasy heist caper Among Thieves introduces readers to the world of Thamorr. Its five kingdoms have lived in harmony for years, all thanks to the subjugation of Adepts, magic users forced to live in slavery due to their superhuman abilities.

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Nicole Jarvis’ debut fantasy, The Lights of Prague, welcomes readers into an arresting and vivid historical fantasy world.

Set in 19th-century Prague, Jarvis’ careful and effective world building suggests an abundance of research and showcases her descriptive skill. In her version of the culturally rich European city, creatures from Czech folklore haunt its streets and endanger its citizens. Pijavice—vampiric monsters consumed by bloodlust—are particularly terrifying to those who walk alone at night. The Lights of Prague follows Domek Myska, an earnest member of the lamplighters, who in this world are also a monster-hunting secret society that keeps these creatures at bay, and Lady Ora Fischerová, a charming widow with her own ties to Prague’s supernatural underground.

The two protagonists’ paths cross and uncross as they each unravel the threads of a conspiracy that threatens the safety of the city, each bringing their own skillset to the fight to save Prague from doom. Their interactions exude chemistry when Ora’s playful flirtations bounce off Domek’s endearing shyness, a dynamic bolstered by how tangible and layered both characters feel when they are apart from each other. As the many secrets of her past unfold, Ora becomes especially engrossing. An intriguing cast of supporting characters surround the central duo, from a sentient and manipulative will-o’-the-wisp to an aristocratic pijavice who feeds on unwitting servants in his looming castle. Everything feels real, from the intriguing lore to the communities of people (and not quite people) who make up the gothic, powerful city.

The story unfolds at a measured pace, submerging the reader into moments of reflective exposition or lush descriptions of Prague. The book clocks in at more than 400 pages, and some of these passages can drag. Readers hoping for a fast-moving adventure might be left a bit wanting, but those interested in a story that’s meditative will enjoy spending their time in the world Jarvis has built. The Lights of Prague is an impressive and mature feat from a debut novelist.

Nicole Jarvis’ debut fantasy, The Lights of Prague, welcomes readers into an arresting and vivid historical fantasy world.

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