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STARRED REVIEW

Our top 10 books for March 2024

The best new books of the month include highly anticipated follow-ups from Sloane Crosley, Sasha LaPointe and Juan Gómez-Jurado.
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Book jacket image for 49 Days by Agnes Lee

49 Days is an unusual, profoundly moving graphic novel whose elegance belies its complexity and whose emotional impact only grows upon rereading.

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Book jacket image for All That Grows by Jack Wong

In All That Grows, Jack Wong evokes the soft haze of childhood summers where a small stand of trees might be seen as a huge

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Book jacket image for Black Wolf by Juan Gomez-Jurado

The Antonia Scott series is hands-down the best suspense trilogy to come along since Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.

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A lushly crafted tale of a Maine fishing village cursed by a mermaid, The Moorings of Mackerel Sky is a debut to submerge yourself in.

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Book jacket image for Mrs. Gulliver by Valerie Martin

In Mrs. Gulliver, Valerie Martin offers us an idyll, perhaps even a comedy. All’s well that ends well. We hope.

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Book jacket image for The Phoenix Bride by Natasha Siegel

Natasha Siegel’s beautifully written The Phoenix Bride pushes readers to reconsider what happily ever after looks like.

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Book jacket image for Thunder Song by Sasha LaPointe

Thunder Song is an essay collection full of sensitive meditations and powerful observations from Coast Salish author Sasha LaPointe.

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Book jacket image for The Unclaimed by Pamela Prickett

Gripping and groundbreaking, The Unclaimed investigates the Americans who are abandoned in death and what they tell us about how we treat the living.

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Book jacket image for The Great Divide by Cristina Henriquez

Cristina Henriquez’s polyvocal novel is a moving and powerful epic about the human cost of building the Panama Canal. It’s easy to imagine, in these

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Novelist, essayist, humorist and critic Sloane Crosley shows a remarkable willingness to face the dark questions that follow a suicide.

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Recent Features

Recent Reviews

The best new books of the month include highly anticipated follow-ups from Sloane Crosley, Sasha LaPointe and Juan Gómez-Jurado.
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STARRED REVIEW

March 19, 2024

3 marvelous, watery fantasies to dive into

These sweeping, magical novels draw from traditional tales of rivers and oceans.

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Tiankawi may be a city half-submerged in water, but like so many cities, it is divided between the haves and the have-nots. The haves, who inhabit Tiankawi’s sweeping spires, are nearly all human. Some of the have-nots are too, but the majority of the city’s dispossessed are of the fathomfolk diaspora: people of the sea who have been forced out of their underwater havens by pollution and human-mediated destruction. Mira straddles both worlds. The first half-siren captain in the border guard, she wants to make a difference in the lives of those who she grew up with—if anyone will let her. Mira’s way of making change is slow and methodical, often relying on her well-connected water dragon boyfriend to help push for better legislation and provide an image of a model minority. Her boyfriend’s sister, Nami, has other plans. Banished to Tiankawi for her rebellious ways, she begins to associate with groups who view violence as necessary for revolution. As she bonds with these new friends, she begins to realize that their methods may be questionable, and soon both Nami and Mira will be forced to grapple with the fallout.

A modern urban fairy tale, Eliza Chan’s Fathomfolk pairs futuristic cityscapes with fantastical races and real-world politics. The folk are in many ways climate refugees, feared by their hosts and forced to wear bracelets that suppress their powers and prevent them from harming humans, even in self-defense. While it is tempting to draw parallels between the central struggle for the rights of fathomfolk and the rights of refugees in general, Chan’s focus on the intersectionality of issues within Tiankawi makes it satisfyingly difficult to draw a straight line between our world and hers. Chan shows the divisions among the folk, from species-based class divisions among the sea dragons, kappa and kelpies to a distaste for families of mixed heritage. But she also shows that a society bent on oppressing one group will surely not stop there: Tiankawi’s slums are as full of humans as they are full of folk, and its draconian policies harm everyone. This message, both obscured and amplified by the fantasy elements of the story, makes Fathomfolk a nuanced, powerful and complex parable, one that raises questions that linger far after the novel reaches its conclusion.

Set in a city that’s half aboveground and half underwater, Eliza Chan’s Fathomfolk pairs fantastical races and real-world politics.
Review by

Mackerel Sky hasn’t had a good fishing season in centuries. Not since its founder betrayed the mermaid who captured his heart, and she cursed the Maine fishing village in retaliation. That grand tragedy begat many others, but no curse is absolute, even one cast by the most vengeful scion of the relentless ocean. And as young Leo Beale’s alcohol-fueled rebellion against his opiate-dependent mother leads him to the shelter of town elder Myra Kelley; Manon Perle quilts her way out of the miasma of grief over her daughter, born with her legs fused together like a mermaid’s tail and dead far too young; and the local high school’s star pitcher, Derrick Stowe, falls clandestinely in love, the mermaid’s magic may finally be at an ebb.

The Moorings of Mackerel Sky is a book to submerge yourself in. Debut novelist MZ’s storytelling does not flow in straight lines. Rather, it eddies, lingering in tiny moments in the present before transporting readers back to the story’s headwaters, hundreds of years ago. She explores the past in loving detail, filling every page with lushly crafted, often poetic prose. The backstory seems, at times, irrelevant to the modern-day plotline, inserted more for world building than narrative necessity. However, MZ does nothing without purpose. Every half-finished historical anecdote and ancillary encounter contributes to the larger story, like a school of fish following an insistent current.This nonlinear structure is unified by an underlying theme of foreignness. Humans are creatures of the land, whose trespasses on water are tolerated at the mermaids’ whim, while the mermaids themselves are antithetical to land. At its core, The Moorings of Mackerel Sky is both a tragedy and a romance, a tale of humans and merfolk struggling to live and love in each other’s domains, and how they all end up moored to the liminal space of the shore.

A lushly crafted tale of a Maine fishing village cursed by a mermaid, The Moorings of Mackerel Sky is a debut to submerge yourself in.
Review by

Without any career prospects after grad school, Alicia finds her dead-end retail job tolerable only because of two co-workers she sort-of calls friends: bright, bubbly Heaven and jaded, focused Mars. After a rare appearance at one of Heaven’s parties, Alicia tries to return to the Toronto apartment she shares with her mother only to be waylaid by River Mumma, the ethereal Jamaican spirit of the water. Somebody has stolen her comb, and if Alicia doesn’t return it to her in 24 hours, River Mumma will leave this world and take all her waters with her.

Unmoored by the request, Alicia sets off to find the thief. But as visions from her ancestors begin to overwhelm her, and wicked spirits called duppies start to chase down her and her friends, Alicia will need to choose a path, step into her family legacy and go where the river takes her.

Millennial ennui and Jamaican legend intertwine in Zalika Reid-Benta’s propulsive debut novel, River Mumma. Alicia’s quest rests on folk medicine and the oft-buried spirituality of diasporic communities, which Reid-Benta juxtaposes against modern issues of social media and poorly organized subway lines, but also uses to lend a mythic tone to her tale of young people struggling to find their purpose in a big city. 

The robust cast of characters, from Heaven’s spiritualist friend, Oni, to the creepy Whooping Boy duppy, keep the story feeling fresh as Alicia catapults between past and present, though River Mumma rightfully takes center stage with each appearance. “Water heals, water nourishes, water has power,” as Heaven declares, and Alicia’s family ties to the water spirit offer her a guiding light through the choppy seas of her late 20s. Ultimately, Alicia, Heaven and Mars learn to embrace the fullness of life over the apathy that helped them survive a mundane day to day. While these themes get lost on occasion, especially in the chaos of duppy attacks, the adventure along the way is worth a sometimes bumpy ride.

For those entranced by folkloric fantasy, and for fans of N.K. Jemisin and Kat Howard, River Mumma will be a must-read.

Millennial ennui and Jamaican legend intertwine in Zalika Reid-Benta's propulsive debut novel, River Mumma.

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These sweeping, magical novels draw from traditional tales of rivers and oceans.
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Ever since the mysterious disappearance and reappearance of her aunt and childhood guardian, Hester, Ellie has been determined to be as unremarkable as possible. Interesting people, she thinks, go missing. She’s content with her life working as a librarian and taking care of her aging aunt—with the occasional trip to Pittsburgh for dates with women she rarely sees twice. But when an impeccably dressed, impossibly handsome woman appears in the library sipping a cup of tea, Ellie’s world is set off its carefully controlled tracks. After a near-death experience involving an unfortunately placed cow, Ellie learns that she has magical powers and is teleported to the city-state of Crenshaw, where the strong are required to stay and learn to control their abilities, and the weak are often stripped of their magic and cast out. Despite the draw of Prospero, the mysterious witch in the library, Ellie wants nothing more than to go back to her ordinary life. There’s just one problem: She’s also the solution to a prophecy concerning the salvation—or destruction—of Crenshaw itself.

 

Melissa Marr’s Remedial Magic is a satisfying addition to the magic school subgenre. Crenshaw is a witchy community college-cum-commune that exists somewhere outside of normal existence. It’s equal parts melting pot and pressure cooker, where people with disparate goals and fears collide with sometimes electric effects. Marr highlights the friction by hopping among the perspectives of Ellie and a variety of other Crenshaw inhabitants, like Maggie, a lawyer and mother desperate to get back to her son, and Dan, for whom magic provides an escape from cancer. While Marr’s shifting points of view does mean that Remedial Magic unfolds slowly, the variety keeps the novel from feeling like it has leaned too far into the “chosen one” trope. From the twists and turns of its sapphic romance to Crenshaw’s internal politicking, Remedial Magic is an excellent series starter that combines the aesthetics of a classic fish-out-of-water story with the sensibilities of a book for and about adults.

Melissa Marr’s Remedial Magic is a satisfying addition to the magic school subgenre—written for and about adults.
Review by

Without any career prospects after grad school, Alicia finds her dead-end retail job tolerable only because of two co-workers she sort-of calls friends: bright, bubbly Heaven and jaded, focused Mars. After a rare appearance at one of Heaven’s parties, Alicia tries to return to the Toronto apartment she shares with her mother only to be waylaid by River Mumma, the ethereal Jamaican spirit of the water. Somebody has stolen her comb, and if Alicia doesn’t return it to her in 24 hours, River Mumma will leave this world and take all her waters with her.

Unmoored by the request, Alicia sets off to find the thief. But as visions from her ancestors begin to overwhelm her, and wicked spirits called duppies start to chase down her and her friends, Alicia will need to choose a path, step into her family legacy and go where the river takes her.

Millennial ennui and Jamaican legend intertwine in Zalika Reid-Benta’s propulsive debut novel, River Mumma. Alicia’s quest rests on folk medicine and the oft-buried spirituality of diasporic communities, which Reid-Benta juxtaposes against modern issues of social media and poorly organized subway lines, but also uses to lend a mythic tone to her tale of young people struggling to find their purpose in a big city. 

The robust cast of characters, from Heaven’s spiritualist friend, Oni, to the creepy Whooping Boy duppy, keep the story feeling fresh as Alicia catapults between past and present, though River Mumma rightfully takes center stage with each appearance. “Water heals, water nourishes, water has power,” as Heaven declares, and Alicia’s family ties to the water spirit offer her a guiding light through the choppy seas of her late 20s. Ultimately, Alicia, Heaven and Mars learn to embrace the fullness of life over the apathy that helped them survive a mundane day to day. While these themes get lost on occasion, especially in the chaos of duppy attacks, the adventure along the way is worth a sometimes bumpy ride.

For those entranced by folkloric fantasy, and for fans of N.K. Jemisin and Kat Howard, River Mumma will be a must-read.

Millennial ennui and Jamaican legend intertwine in Zalika Reid-Benta's propulsive debut novel, River Mumma.
Review by

Tiankawi may be a city half-submerged in water, but like so many cities, it is divided between the haves and the have-nots. The haves, who inhabit Tiankawi’s sweeping spires, are nearly all human. Some of the have-nots are too, but the majority of the city’s dispossessed are of the fathomfolk diaspora: people of the sea who have been forced out of their underwater havens by pollution and human-mediated destruction. Mira straddles both worlds. The first half-siren captain in the border guard, she wants to make a difference in the lives of those who she grew up with—if anyone will let her. Mira’s way of making change is slow and methodical, often relying on her well-connected water dragon boyfriend to help push for better legislation and provide an image of a model minority. Her boyfriend’s sister, Nami, has other plans. Banished to Tiankawi for her rebellious ways, she begins to associate with groups who view violence as necessary for revolution. As she bonds with these new friends, she begins to realize that their methods may be questionable, and soon both Nami and Mira will be forced to grapple with the fallout.

A modern urban fairy tale, Eliza Chan’s Fathomfolk pairs futuristic cityscapes with fantastical races and real-world politics. The folk are in many ways climate refugees, feared by their hosts and forced to wear bracelets that suppress their powers and prevent them from harming humans, even in self-defense. While it is tempting to draw parallels between the central struggle for the rights of fathomfolk and the rights of refugees in general, Chan’s focus on the intersectionality of issues within Tiankawi makes it satisfyingly difficult to draw a straight line between our world and hers. Chan shows the divisions among the folk, from species-based class divisions among the sea dragons, kappa and kelpies to a distaste for families of mixed heritage. But she also shows that a society bent on oppressing one group will surely not stop there: Tiankawi’s slums are as full of humans as they are full of folk, and its draconian policies harm everyone. This message, both obscured and amplified by the fantasy elements of the story, makes Fathomfolk a nuanced, powerful and complex parable, one that raises questions that linger far after the novel reaches its conclusion.

Set in a city that’s half aboveground and half underwater, Eliza Chan’s Fathomfolk pairs fantastical races and real-world politics.
Review by

Mackerel Sky hasn’t had a good fishing season in centuries. Not since its founder betrayed the mermaid who captured his heart, and she cursed the Maine fishing village in retaliation. That grand tragedy begat many others, but no curse is absolute, even one cast by the most vengeful scion of the relentless ocean. And as young Leo Beale’s alcohol-fueled rebellion against his opiate-dependent mother leads him to the shelter of town elder Myra Kelley; Manon Perle quilts her way out of the miasma of grief over her daughter, born with her legs fused together like a mermaid’s tail and dead far too young; and the local high school’s star pitcher, Derrick Stowe, falls clandestinely in love, the mermaid’s magic may finally be at an ebb.

The Moorings of Mackerel Sky is a book to submerge yourself in. Debut novelist MZ’s storytelling does not flow in straight lines. Rather, it eddies, lingering in tiny moments in the present before transporting readers back to the story’s headwaters, hundreds of years ago. She explores the past in loving detail, filling every page with lushly crafted, often poetic prose. The backstory seems, at times, irrelevant to the modern-day plotline, inserted more for world building than narrative necessity. However, MZ does nothing without purpose. Every half-finished historical anecdote and ancillary encounter contributes to the larger story, like a school of fish following an insistent current.This nonlinear structure is unified by an underlying theme of foreignness. Humans are creatures of the land, whose trespasses on water are tolerated at the mermaids’ whim, while the mermaids themselves are antithetical to land. At its core, The Moorings of Mackerel Sky is both a tragedy and a romance, a tale of humans and merfolk struggling to live and love in each other’s domains, and how they all end up moored to the liminal space of the shore.

A lushly crafted tale of a Maine fishing village cursed by a mermaid, The Moorings of Mackerel Sky is a debut to submerge yourself in.
Review by

In Three Kinds of Lucky by Kim Harrison, author of the bestselling Hollows series, magic has its own specialized sanitation service: Sweepers, who pick up a byproduct of magic called dross. If left unattended, dross can attract shadow, a dangerous, somewhat intelligent life-form that can easily kill mages, sweepers and normal humans alike.

Harrison wastes little time getting down to business; the story kicks off in St. Unoc, a fictional city set east of Tucson, Arizona, where mages congregate to learn, research and test their skills at St. Unoc University. While tackling a messy dross cleanup, our narrator and protagonist, sweeper Petra Grady, discovers she has the rare ability to manipulate shadow itself. Petra is soon drafted into a research project on dross that could upend everything she thought she knew about St. Unoc. 

Three Kinds of Lucky revolves around its distinct class system: The magical equivalent of janitors, sweepers cannot use magic, and most mages ignore or sneer at them. However, unlike mages, the sweepers can directly handle dross with no ill effects. Harrison uses Grady to personify this complicated interplay. Her struggle to balance her pride in her work with the fact that some people would rather spit on her than acknowledge her is a key pillar of the story. What’s more, jealousy over the mages’ ability to craft and manipulate magic has always burned in Grady’s heart, despite her sense of duty as a sweeper. As her role in St. Unoc evolves, she learns more about the origin of the two separate classes, discovering sins so old that the mages don’t remember their existence.

Three Kinds of Lucky will immediately pull readers in with its fast pace and efficient storytelling; the entirety of its nearly city-shattering events all happen within a few days. Sometimes, however, the character development fails to keep time with the speed of the plot, resulting in frustrating moments where one wishes that Grady and her companions would adapt more quickly to what’s happening around them. However, the mechanically intricate magic system and complex world Harrison has created makes this series opener well worth the read.

Kim Harrison’s Three Kinds of Lucky is an immediately compelling urban fantasy with an intricate magic system and complex world.
STARRED REVIEW

Top 10 books for February 2024

Beloved and buzzy authors such as Tia Williams, Francis Spufford and Katherine Arden took new and exciting directions in February!
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The author of the marvelous Winterlight trilogy makes her grand return to historical fantasy with this haunting tale set during World War I. Former nurse

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Book jacket image for A Love Song for Ricki Wilde by Tia Williams

Tia Williams broke out in a big way in 2021 with her emotional second-chance romance, Seven Days in June, and her follow-up novel sounds like

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Book jacket image for The Last Stand by Antwan Eady

Antwan Eady, author of the lovely Nigel and the Moon, unites with Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey! The acclaimed sibling duo wrote and illustrated This Old

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Book jacket image for Martyr! by Kaveh Akbar

It’s a special gift when a favorite poet writes a novel. Martyr! is Kaveh Akbar’s fiction debut, after poetry collections Calling a Wolf a Wolf

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In 1911, 12 Black men were delivered to the forest in rural Maryland and began building their new residence, the State Hospital for the Negro

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Award-winning author Amber McBride teams up with acclaimed poets Taylor Byas and Erica Martin to curate an electric, extraordinary lineup of contemporary and classic Black

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Book jacket image for City of Laughter by Temim Fruchter

Temim Fruchter’s remarkable debut novel is a book full of belly laughs, intergenerational wonder, queer beauty, Jewish history and storytelling that reshapes worlds.

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Book jacket image for Cahokia Jazz by Francis Spufford

Visit an alternate America where European colonization never took place in this intricately plotted police procedural from Francis Spufford.

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Book jacket image for The Gardener of Lashkar Gah by Larisa Brown

Larisa Brown’s The Gardener of Lashkar Gah tells the harrowing story of the Afghan aid workers that NATO left to their fates when the Taliban

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Book jacket image for The Cancer Factory by Jim Morris

Jim Morris’ urgent, heartbreaking The Cancer Factory traces how a known toxic chemical destroyed the health, happiness and lives of Goodyear factory workers.

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Recent Features

Recent Reviews

Beloved and buzzy authors such as Tia Williams, Francis Spufford and Katherine Arden took new and exciting directions in February!
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The legacy of Sherlock Holmes is a wide one, spanning genres. The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles and The Tainted Cup give two vigorous nods to Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic mysteries while embodying radically different tones: While the first is a cozy sci-fi whodunit with romance sprinkled in, the other combines the classic Holmesian ethos with the sort of existential threat epic fantasy can provide. Both novels, however, are tightly constructed celebrations of the mystery form.

The second in Malka Older’s Investigations of Mossa and Pleiti series, The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles rejoins Investigator Mossa and her paramour, the botanist Pleiti, as they investigate a series of disappearances around Valdegeld, the university community on the rings of Jupiter in which Pleiti makes her home. As they search for 17 missing students, staff and faculty, Pleiti and Mossa travel from the habitable platforms that surround the planet to Mossa’s childhood home on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons. All the while, the specter of their last case looms large in Pleiti’s mind, the conclusion of which shook her faith in both the university and herself. The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles is a delightful cozy mystery: engaging, concise and as focused on its characters’ relationships as it is on the puzzle itself. If that wasn’t enough, Older delivers a world that is detailed enough to be believable but sidesteps away from distracting technical issues that could bog down the story. While lovers of hard sci-fi might feel frustrated by some of the implausibilities of Older’s depiction of life in Jupiter’s rings, the fantastical backdrop not only enables a clever mystery, but also serves as a subtle reminder of what might be in store for humanity if we can’t get our act together about climate change and income inequality.

Despite those faint warnings, The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles is ultimately a warm hug of a book. Robert Jackson Bennett’s The Tainted Cup, however, is a shot of distilled paranoia. The city of Daretana is under persistent threat of magical contamination and attack from the massive Leviathans that stalk the waters outside its sea walls. When an officer of the imperial engineering corps dies in a way that is both gruesome and horticulturally intriguing, famed investigator and notorious eccentric Ana Dolabra is pulled onto the case. Ever wary of engaging directly with the outside world, she sends her new assistant, the young Dinios Kol, in her stead. Magically engineered to remember everything he ever experiences, Din becomes Ana’s eyes and ears, and as they dig into the engineer’s death, they find a trail of intrigue that threatens the safety of the empire itself. The mystery within Bennett’s latest novel is slow and methodical, unspooling subtly throughout its 400-plus pages. True to the promise of its epic fantasy backdrop, the novel spins the consequences of the murder into something bigger than any could anticipate. Bennett expands the scope of this story in a way that feels both natural and occasionally surprising, dazzling readers with both his imaginative world building and perfect pacing.

As with many homages to Sherlock Holmes, both The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles and The Tainted Cup are told not from the perspective of their singular investigators, but from the perspective of their assistants. Just as with Conan Doyle’s John Watson, both assistants are in many ways far more three-dimensional than their partners. Older’s Pleiti spends as much time thinking about her research and her budding relationship with Mossa as she does on the case itself. And Bennett’s focus on Din and his occasional misgivings about Ana are often more compelling than any depiction of Ana’s antics.

But even as both novels focus on the everyman features of their investigative assistants, they also continue the tradition of the idiosyncratic, possibly neurodivergent, investigator. Both Ana and Mossa are singular entities, their intellects unmatched by their peers and just as quixotic as Sherlock Holmes himself. While neither wakes up the neighbors at all hours of the night playing the violin, each will worm their way into readers’ hearts in similarly unlikely ways, whether it’s Ana’s tendency to question visitors about the smell of their urine or Mossa’s encyclopedic knowledge of every food stall in the greater Jupiter area. Their lineage is clear, and their prowess is unquestionable.

The Great Detective’s heirs take to the stars and tangle with magical murders.
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On December 6, 1917, a cargo ship exploded in the harbor of Halifax, Nova Scotia, after a minor collision with another ship started a fire on the deck. The blast was the largest ever human-made explosion at the time, flattening an entire district of the city. About a month earlier, one of the most horrific battles of World War I, the Battle of Passchendaele, had staggered to a close. These things really happened.

However, Laura Iven, a decorated Canadian army nurse who recently lost both of her parents, one in the Halifax explosion, was not a real person. Neither was her brother, Freddie, declared dead on the Western Front after Passchendaele; Hans Winter, the German soldier Freddie finds himself trapped with; or Penelope Shaw, a beautiful widow who lost her only son to the war. And while the First World War was certainly hellish, there were no actual devils wandering the wounded Flemish countryside.

In The Warm Hands of Ghosts, these carefully chosen fictions amplify the facts to render a gorgeously written, brutally honest portrait of the unremitting horror of trench warfare. Author Katherine Arden (The Winternight Trilogy) deliberately frames the story in apocalyptic terms, opening each chapter with a quote from the book of Revelations and portraying Laura’s resistance to her parents’ messianic belief in Christian prophecies of the End Times. Arden knows that her heroes cannot end the Great War. Their battles are smaller: Laura and Penelope travel to a Belgian field hospital seeking news of their lost loved ones, and Freddie and Winter seek to save each other. Arrayed against them are chateaux-dwelling generals playing Risk with real lives; the deliberate, protective myopia of countries coping with years of trauma; and the mysterious Faland. A Stygian violinist haunting the battlefields, Faland offers his victims a choice: Will they keep their memories, or hand them over to his safeguarding? Since humankind persists in creating an Armageddon, Faland argues that his deviltry is, in fact, merciful.

Not all the heroes succeed. The Warm Hands of Ghosts is not one of those war stories where a brave soldier snatches their comrades from the jaws of certain death before riding off into the sunset with a medal for their trouble. But each of Arden’s protagonists chooses their own fate. And as she argues in this exquisitely researched, heartbreaking book, that small revanchism is enough when the world ends.

Exquisitely researched, gorgeously written and utterly heartbreaking, Katherine Arden’s The Warm Hands of Ghosts is a triumph of historical fantasy.

Heather Fawcett’s second installment in the Emily Wilde series is a cozy read sure to entrance fans of fantasy and romance alike. A charmingly cantankerous and brilliant Cambridge professor, the titular Ms. Wilde might be the world’s foremost expert in faerie lore. She traces the history and habits of the Hidden Folk, and she’s recently written the first encyclopedia about them. In Emily Wilde’s Map of the Otherlands, while working on the titular map, Emily is faced with a number of challenging and life-altering adventures—which are complicated by the presence of her former academic rival and now lover, Wendell Bambleby. 

The first book in the series, Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faerie, revealed that Bambleby is an exiled faerie king, which means Emily’s commitment to him is a high-stakes endeavor. His dangerous and powerful mother is trying to find him, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to discover a portal back to his realm. Most stress-inducing of all, if Emily commits to Bambleby’s proposal of eternity together, she’ll be giving up her quiet and predictable existence as a humble professor. The two lovers are the very definition of opposites attract, and their every interaction, whether awkward or fiery, delights and excites.

Fawcett’s melodic writing style immediately transports readers to early 20th-century Cambridge, beckoning them to stride down cobblestone streets, stroll along the scenic River Cam and sit saturated in old-book smell in gothic university libraries. This immersion into English academia is heightened by Emily’s narration, as she’s unable to compose any sort of writing without a smart peppering of footnotes and references. Each clever addition is a tiny showcase for the character’s dry humor, quick wit and wealth of wisdom. 

The intimately close perspective allows Fawcett to highlight how Emily blooms and grows as she and Bambleby pursue their goals. Love can change a person—or a faerie—in the most unexpected of ways, and it’s impossible to walk alongside Emily on her journey of scholarship, mapmaking and true love without rooting for her.

Emily Wilde’s Map of the Otherlands immerses readers in a cozy and magical 20th-century Cambridge while reuniting them with the wry and clever Professor Wilde.
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It’s impossible to read The Parliament without thinking of Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds,” a 1952 short story that was famously adapted on film by Alfred Hitchcock. The Parliament is similar on its surface, if considerably more visceral in its avian brutality. But it is far from a simple retread of old territory.

Author Aimee Pokwatka concocts a cast of law students and nonbinary theater kids, regimented librarians and apple-juggling cosmetic chemists, all trapped in the historic Elmswood Public Library, where Madigan “Mad” Purdy is teaching a class on how to make bath bombs to a group of preteens. Unfortunately for all of them, a horde of tiny owls have inexplicably determined that everyone in or near the library is food.

However, The Parliament truly separates itself from its forerunner in the “horror with beak” tradition by two things: the depth, detail and intelligence of its characterization; and Pokwatka’s choice to wrap bloody, terrifying scenes (such as a woman being skeletonized by hundreds of thousands of owls like a wounded capybara in piranha-infested waters) around a fairy tale. A fictional book titled The Silent Queen lies at the heart of The Parliament, a story that brings to mind Patricia McKillip’s oeuvre or a Guillermo del Toro reimagining of a Disney fairy tale. In it, all 8-year-old girls are brought to the Mountain every year, where the Monster lives. The Monster takes something from each of them in payment for an Enrichment, anything from a beautiful singing voice to the ability to heal any wound. Queen Alala rules her domain from the top of a vast tower, her voice the price she paid the Monster for her own peculiar boon. Mad reads Alala’s journey to her students to hold them together, while each of them struggle with their own demons and wonder if any of them will survive the night.

Pokwatka manages to tell two remarkably compelling, detailed stories. Both are in completely different genres, and both could easily stand on their own, but Pokwatka renders them inseparable. Queen Alala might as well be in that library herself, or Mad could be out questing to find her voice. This master class of intelligent and beautiful writing transforms The Parliament from simply a tale of murderous animals into the kind of captivating novel that comes along all too rarely.

Far more than simply “‘The Birds,’ but with owls,” The Parliament is the kind of captivating novel that comes along all too rarely.
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Danger, intrigue and a hell of a lot of blood are splashed across the pages of Carissa Broadbent’s gripping fantasy romance, The Serpent & the Wings of the Night.

The first entry in Broadbent’s Crowns of Nyaxia duology, The Serpent & the Wings of the Night grants more nuance than usual to vampires, casting them as something closer to the elves of high fantasy than the monstrous figures of horror novels. Rescued by the Nightborn King, Victor, as a baby, Oraya has lived every moment of her life as a sheep among wolves, the only human in a court of vampires. She’s trained herself to be deadly and to trust no one except Victor, and she yearns for the day she can shed her humanity. Luckily, a chance to do just that arrives in the form of the Kejari, an ancient tournament with an incredible prize: a chance to request anything from the goddess Nyaxia. Raihn, a new vampire to the court, offers her an alliance, which Oraya cautiously accepts. But can Raihn be trusted as he and Oraya try to survive the trials of the Kejari?

Oraya’s first-person perspective fills the pages with her suspicion, ruthlessness and loneliness. That sense of dread is balanced by the fact that Oraya is somewhat of a badass: There are fight scenes galore in this book, and it’s easy to root for Oraya as she swirls her swords against foe after foe. It’s no wonder that Victor nicknamed her “little serpent.”

Broadbent wisely allows Oraya’s walls to come down one brick at a time, especially when it comes to her interactions with Raihn. A yin-and-yang relationship slowly develops between the two as trust heals old wounds and their odds of winning the Kejari becomes more real. Broadbent uses the looming threat of a war between the vampire kingdoms to add heft, a decision which elevates the stakes of the tournament and grounds the story in a real crisis.

Fans of The Hunger Games or Red Rising will enjoy this bloody twist on the tournament trope, and just about any reader will love Oraya and Raihn’s relationship.

Fans of The Hunger Games and Red Rising will enjoy The Serpent & the Wings of the Night, Carissa Broadbent’s action-packed vampire romance.

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