Tor.com content by

Liz Bourke

Sleeps With Monsters: Queens of Ice and Fire

I first heard of Sarah Fine’s The Impostor Queen in a blogpost about forthcoming books featuring queer main characters. (That blogpost wasn’t talking about The Impostor Queen, but rather its companion novel, The Cursed Queen, which has only just come out.)

The Impostor Queen is an entertaining tale of a young woman, raised to believe she will inherit the magic that keeps her people, the Kupari, safe—but when that doesn’t happen, the priests who raised her turn on her. Elli is forced to flee in order to save her life. She ends up with a ragtag group of outlaws and rogue magic wielders, and discovers that the priests who were raising her, and—she thought—teaching her, were actually using her and all her predecessors as Valtia (that is to say, magic queen) for their own ends. Elli’s the subject of a prophecy—the most powerful Valtia ever is supposed to be born in her generation. But it turns out that Elli is only half the Valtia of her generation. She can balance the powers of ice and fire that magic-wielders hold, and that the Valtia is supposed to simultaneously carry, and she can amplify them: but on her own, she can’t light a candle or freeze a raindrop.

[Read more]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: War and Revolution and Hope

I saved Kate Elliott’s Poisoned Blade, the second volume in her Court of Fives trilogy, for a day when I really needed a good read: a book that would take me out of myself and into a world where, although terrible things may happen, the protagonist retains her humanity and has friends, family, and acquaintances who respect her.

Court of Fives, the first novel in the trilogy, introduced us to a nation divided between Patrons and Commoners: Commoners being the native Efeans, who were conquered a few generations back by the invading Saroans—now the ruling Patron class in Efea. Jes, daughter of a Patron man and a Commoner woman, always wanted to compete in the athletic challenges known as the Fives. But she gets entangled in politics, partly due to her father’s sudden elevation to the rank of general—and his just-as-sudden repudiation of his daughters and their mother—and partly due to Prince Kalliarkos, her rival on the Fives court, who also becomes her friend.

[Read more]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Fascism Tomorrow But Cabaret Today

I read Lara Elena Donnelly’s debut novel Amberlough in the throes of an insomniac night. It didn’t help me sleep: it’s a really compelling novel, with an intense sense of place and a glittering array of interesting characters.

It’s also a novel about the rise of a fascist regime where one of the main characters turns collaborator and efficiently facilitates the work of a fascist party, so it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Yet, on the way to the iron fist of the fascist police state closing around the throats of its citizens, the novel provides an extraordinarily entertaining ride. It has an amazing voice, and its spy-thriller plot holds strong contemporary relevance—all the more so as it’s partly about how human weaknesses and human selfishness lead people to work for goals that are going to hurt them.

[Read more]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Spring Space Opera Medley

I feel like 2017 is going to be the year that international politics depresses me into a small, muddy pit in the ground, in which the mud is occasionally dried-out by the failure of domestic politics to screw things up as badly as they could have done. (Are we ever going to take our Paris Accord obligations seriously, Ireland? No? No? Please?)

This is making the presence of really good books in my life all the more important to the preservation of my mental health. And also the presence of not-so-really-good-but-lots-of-fun books. I want to share a few of them with you today.

[Read more]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Magic and Other Weird Bollocks: The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch

I read Ben Aaronovitch’s The Hanging Tree on a very gloomy weekend. It turns out that The Hanging Tree is a book I really needed to read: it made me noticeably less gloomy.

The Hanging Tree is the sixth and latest volume in Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, following on from Foxglove Summer. Young Metropolitan police constable Peter Grant is one of only two police officers in London (in the entire UK) with the training to address magical crime. The other is his mentor, the exceptionally long-lived Detective Inspector Nightingale. The police force as a whole is not entirely keen on magic—or “weird bollocks,” as some of them prefer to call it—but the ones who’ve gotten most involved in Peter’s cases before are prepared to deal with it.

[Read more]

Sleeps With Monsters: Magical Secrets in The Witch Who Came In From The Cold

Prague, 1970. The Cold War is at its height, and the KGB and the CIA deal in tradecraft and secrets in the nominally independent Czechoslovak Soviet Republic. Espionage and the occult collide on the streets and rooftops—and cafés and bars and diplomatic soirées—of mid-century Prague.

Created by Max Gladstone and Lindsey Smith, with a writing team including Gladstone, Smith, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis, and Michael Swanwick, The Witch Who Came In From The Cold is one of several excellent serials produced by Serial Box. Its first season is thirteen episodes long, and its second season launches in February, with at least one new addition to the writing team.

[Read more]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Superheroes with Substance: Dreadnought by April Daniels

This book, guys. This book. I’ve said before—I keep saying—I’m not normally a fan of superhero narratives, and then I find an exception that grabs me by the throat and makes me love it.

Dreadnought is one of those exceptions. April Daniels is a debut author, but this is a very accomplished debut, one that bids fair to open a promising career. Dreadnought builds a world that strongly resembles our own, except for the presence of superheroes, and casually drops in little nuggets of worldbuilding: why the US government doesn’t control American superheroes, why superheroes don’t police the government, political differences among superpowered individuals (or individuals with “special abilities”) and the spectrum of “capes” from white through grey to black. It’s the kind of worldbuilding that many superhero stories pass lightly over, but its presence in Dreadnought makes the world feel substantial, makes the world feel real, and allows me to enter fully into caring about the characters that inhabit it.

[Read more]

Old-Fashioned SciFi: Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn

Martians Abroad is a new stand-alone novel from Carrie Vaughn, the author most famously responsible for the Kitty Norville, werewolf radio host series. Set in the not-so-far future, it features a solar system where humans have habitats on the moon, colonies on Mars, and habitable stations further out, but Earth is still the wealth-and-culture capital of everything.

Polly Newton is the teenaged daughter of the director of Mars Colony. Her one dream in life is to be a pilot, and she has her future planned out. When her mother decides to send her and her “twin” brother Charles to the exclusive Galileo Academy on Earth, though, Polly’s plans are derailed. Unlike Charles—a genius and a manipulative wee asshole—Polly doesn’t adjust well to the new environment. Isolated and homesick, things aren’t going too well for Polly even before a string of dangerous accidents starts putting her powerful and well-connected classmates at risk. Something is rotten in Galileo Academy, and with their next class trip taking Polly, Charles, and their classmates to the moon, another accident may kill them all.

[Read more]

Sleeps With Monsters: Magical Girl(Friends)

Something happened in the tail end of 2016: I started saying I love you to my friends more often than I had before. There are a lot of things that feel both more precious and more fragile than they once did, to me, and friendship is one of those things.

That makes Isabel Yap’s Hurricane Heels (Book Smugglers Publishing, 2016) hit closer to home, and to hit more powerfully, than it might have otherwise. Hurricane Heels is—I want to call it a mosaic novel, since its constituent parts are so tightly knitted into a whole: a set of five linked novellas or novelettes that are, at heart, about the friendship and love and determination between five young women.

[Read more]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Ghost Town: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

Coming in at just under 200 pages in the paperback version, I’m not sure whether Seanan McGuire’s Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day counts as a long novella or a short novel. It feels like an edge case: a liminal length for a story sliding elegantly across the edges of multiple subgenres, a story about liminal things.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is a ghost story, and a story about surviving suicide—or not, as the case may be. It lurks on the borders between urban fantasy and horror, neither committing to urban fantasy’s generally consolatory outlook nor to horror’s conviction of the inescapable malice of an uncaring (or inimical) universe.

[Read more]

The Aimless West: Laura Anne Gilman’s The Cold Eye

The Cold Eye is Laura Anne Gilman’s second novel in her “The Devil’s West” series, following on from Silver on the Road. Isobel of Flood, the Devil’s Left Hand, is still riding the devil’s Territory in the company of her mentor on the road, Gabriel Kasun. Her job is to protect the Territory, and the devil’s Agreement that keeps the peace between the land, the native peoples, and the white settlers.

Isobel survived her first real trial as the Devil’s Left Hand in Silver on the Road, stopping a nasty pile of magic and malice stirred up by Spanish priests to whom the devil is an eternal foe instead of a creature of power bound by his own rules. But scant time has passed before Isobel is faced with her next problem: The Cold Eye opens with dead buffalo and a sense of wrongness that draws Isobel from the Road that winds through the devil’s territory. In the hills, the land shakes, and the animals have fled. There’s trouble there, and Isobel’s connection to the bones of the Territory—and Gabriel’s talent for finding water—is disrupted by it.

[Read more]

Sleeps With Monsters: Certain Things Are Dark, Like Winter

It’s winter in the northern hemisphere, dark within four hours after noon, and all the news is bad. It’s a surprise that a novel called Certain Dark Things could cheer me up—but that’s exactly what it did.

I didn’t love Signal to Noise, but Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s first book received no small amount of praise for a debut novel. Her second novel, Certain Dark Things, is a hell of a lot more to my tastes. So much more to my tastes, in fact, that I’m not sure I’m accurate in calling it a “more accomplished” work, or if it just accomplishes more for me.

[Read more]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Fires, Werewolves, and More Fires: The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman

It’s difficult for me to review novels right now. Fortunately, Genevieve Cogman’s The Burning Page is a delightful pulp adventure, following on from her The Invisible Library and The Masked City. It’s sharp, snarky, funny, and generous—and it takes the reader on a fast and entertaining romp of a story.

With a little frisson of darkness underneath.

[Read more]

Sleeps With Monsters: Superhero Hope

I started to watch the first season of Supergirl just as I was reading CB Lee’s debut superhero-pulp YA novel Not Your Sidekick, so superheroics are a little on my mind. Even if I haven’t made it to the end of Supergirl’s endless optimism and antics yet. (I’m savouring it. It’s gorgeous fluff with problems and great dialogue. And Kara Danvers is—there is no other phrase for it—an adorable dork.)

For me, superheroes are a problem. Fundamentally, they’re unaccountable: violent vigilantes who frequently see themselves as better than everyone else and, because of their abilities, are beyond the power of the law to discipline when they—inevitably—ignore things like the right to due process, and, you know, the importance of not murdering people or locking them up indefinitely on mere suspicion of wrongdoing. Superheroes are might makes right personified and given narrative support.

[Fortunately, Not Your Sidekick isn’t a traditional superhero story.]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters