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Liz Bourke

Romance Found Unseen: A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Kai Ashante Wilson’s short novel A Taste of Honey is just as beautiful and peculiar and painful as his much-lauded The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. A Taste of Honey is set elsewhere in the same world, and while it doesn’t share the same characters or themes, it touches—slantwise—on some of the same concerns.

Aqib bmg Sadiqi is a fourth cousin to the royal family of Great Olorum, younger son and chosen heir to the Master of Beasts. An embassy from Daluça has lately come to Great Olorum, and Aqib finds himself caught up in a scandalous—and dangerous, for in Great Olorum sexual relationships between men are forbidden, as against the Saintly Canon—whirlwind romance with a handsome Daluçan soldier called Lucrio. They have met only ten days before Lucrio will return home with the rest of his embassy: how can their romance possibly last?

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Sleeps With Monsters: Fun’s Important

If you follow my Twitter feed, you might have noticed me talking about my mental health in the last while. Sometimes, things get bad. It can be sudden and unpredictable: one week I’m rolling along, perfectly all right, and the next I’m besieged by visions of walking into traffic.* (Or my throat closes up with panic, or I feel exhausted and worthless. Or I can’t make decisions, because everything is too much. Things like that.)

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Wings Gleaming Like Beaten Bronze: Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky Trilogy

Welcome back to the eBook Club! October’s pick is Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts, book 1 in the Eternal Sky epic fantasy trilogy.

“Better a storm crow than a carrion bird.”

This is not a review. The Powers That Be here at have asked me to write about Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy as a whole now that it’s available in its entirety for your reading pleasure. Because I love it, you see. I love it so much, now that it is done, that the small criticisms I may have had for the middle book fade into insignificance: it has the kind of conclusion that raises up everything that has gone before, that adds fresh meanings to previous events in the light of new knowledge, new developments, new triumphs and griefs.

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Betrayal and Revenge: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Crooked Kingdom is Leigh Bardugo’s fifth novel. It’s also the second volume of the Six of Crows duology, following on from last year’s well-received Six of Crows. Six of Crows was part travelogue and part caper—in its travelogue, reminiscent of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books, albeit without the sex; in its caper, a more murderous Leverage or Hustle.

Crooked Kingdom ditches the travelogue in favour of locating itself firmly within the city of Ketterdam, an analogue of Early Modern Amsterdam where commerce is quite literally the highest god, and where criminality is just as common among the wealthy as among the poor. Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off the heist of their lives, but they were double-crossed by their employer, who’s only one of many people who want to get their hands on the boy Brekker’s crew kidnapped/rescued—and the knowledge in his head.

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Same Old Kingdom: Goldenhand by Garth Nix

Garth Nix has had a long career as a writer of Young Adult novels, and one that has deservedly won him many plaudits. His “Old Kingdom” novels have many adherents, particular among SFF readers. Goldenhand is the fifth novel in this series, providing a direct sequel to Abhorsen. (Clariel, its immediate predecessor in publication order, takes place some several hundred years previously.)

So let’s talk about the “Old Kingdom” novels, for it’s difficult to discuss Goldenhand without at least touching on what has come before. The “Old Kingdom” is a place of magic, threatened by Free Magic creatures and by the Dead, and separated from Ancelstierre—an unmagical country that resembles interwar England—by a well-guarded wall. In the Old Kingdom, the power of the Charter tames Free Magic. Without the Charter, life would be even more dangerous.

[Spoilers ahead.]

The Battle After Victory: Impersonations by Walter Jon Williams

Several years ago—don’t ask me exactly how many: dates are a little fuzzy—I came across a fascinating space opera trilogy. “Dread Empire’s Fall,” it was called, set in a rigidly hierarchical empire where humans were just one of many alien species, and where status outweighed competence every single time. At least until civil war (the Naxid War) broke out in the Praxis, as the empire was called, and it became just a little important to have people who could win battles, when there were battles that needed winning.

Walter Jon Williams’ Impersonations takes place after the events of the “Dread Empire’s Fall” trilogy. The Naxid War has ended, partly due to the actions of Captain the Lady Caroline Sula. Winning a battle against orders didn’t exactly endear Caro to her superiors, though, so Captain the Lady Sula finds herself exiled to a backwater planet with neither military nor economic importance: a nowhere posting. That posting is Earth, with whose culture Caro has long been fascinated. For her, it’s not the hardship post it might otherwise be.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Fran Wilde Answers Nine Questions

Fran Wilde made history with her debut novel, Updraft. It was the first novel to be nominated for both the Nebula Best Novel Award and the Andre Norton Award. It went on to win the Norton, and also to win the Compton Crook Award—a pretty impressive start to a novel-writing career.

I really enjoyed Updraft. I enjoyed its sequel, Cloudbound (just out from Tor Books) even more. But if you’re not yet ready to give them a chance, well, the author herself has graciously agreed to answer a few questions about books, wings, writers, and shenanigans…

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Where to Start with the Works of Elizabeth Bear

Welcome back to the eBook Club! October’s pick is Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts, book 1 in the Eternal Sky epic fantasy trilogy. A prolific writer, Bear has written in a number of other genres, from Lovecraftian to steampunk—so where do you want to start?

Elizabeth Bear is a frighteningly prolific writer. In a novel-writing career that’s just about to enter its second decade, she’s published twenty solo novels, three novellas and mosaic novel in her New Amsterdam series, one trilogy co-authored with Sarah Monette, and two collections of short fiction—which do not, by the way, collect all her extant short fiction. She’s collected a John W. Campbell Award and two Hugo Awards for her fiction, putting her in a fairly small club…

…and she keeps writing more. Which means if you haven’t been reading her stuff all along, you might feel a bit daunted trying to figure out where to start. Because the thing about Bear? She’s not just a prolific writer. She’s a writer who jumps subgenres, and sometimes styles, from book to book and series to series, and absolutely in her short fiction. She’s always trying something new.

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Finding the Humanity in Epic Fantasy: Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

Welcome to the eBook Club! October’s pick is Range of Ghosts, the first book in the Eternal Sky trilogy. You have until Sunday, October 9th to get your FREE ebook copy—but first, here’s what makes this epic fantasy series stand out from the pack!

I said once—probably more than once, actually, but at least once where it’s written down—that Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts was the epic fantasy I’d been waiting my whole life to read. And never knew that I’d spent my whole life lacking it until I read it at long last.

The epic fantasy I grew up reading was Raymond E. Feist and Robert Jordan, Janny Wurts and Star Wars tie-ins (I account them epic fantasy, by style), Stephen Donaldson (I wince to look back on my desperation) and Terry Goodkind (who did have female characters, which when I was thirteen made up for a number of his other flaws). When I say grew up reading, I mean that period between age eleven and age fifteen, or thereabouts: the period during which I formed a lot of my impressions, conscious and subconscious, of what epic fantasy was and what it could be. At the time, I didn’t have reliable (or, until I was fourteen, any) access to the internet, and Irish bookshops didn’t exactly stock a vast range of SFF genre fiction. The epic fantasy I read in those days, though I only realise it now I look back, left me oddly unsatisfied: left me with an itch that needed scratching. So I kept looking for the next author, the next book, the next thing that would finally, finally scratch that itch.

[And then, Range of Ghosts.]

Uncanny Southern Gothic: The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

The Family Plot is the latest novel from Cherie Priest. It’s a Southern Gothic horror set in Chattanooga, and it marks Priest’s return to Southern Gothic sensibilities. Her first three novels (Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Wings to the Kingdom, Not Flesh Nor Feathers) bore some of the hallmarks of the genre, before she spread out to explore zombie steampunk (the acclaimed Boneshaker and its sequels), Lovecraft meets Lizzie Borden (Maplecroft, Chapelwood), and Young Adult (I Am Princess X). Priest has never entirely left horror behind, since most of her work stirs a frisson of uncanny dread, or plays with horror tropes. (Like, for example, zombies.) But The Family Plot wholly embraces the inexplicable and inimical uncanny.

Horror’s never really been my cup of tea, but this is a really good gothic haunted house story. Until the very end, but I’ll get to that.

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A Woman Without a Past Shouldn’t Be This Compelling: Cold-Forged Flame by Marie Brennan

Reviewing a novella is often, I find, a challenge. They’re long enough to spread their wings into worldbuilding, nuance, the taste of complexity in ways that short stories cannot quite manage. But compared to novels—and particularly the modern SFF novel—they’re brief and pointed things, unusually disciplined and sharp.

Marie Brennan is, at this point, probably best known for her Memoirs of Lady Trent series, which began in 2013 with A Natural History of Dragons. The Memoirs of Lady Trent have a rich, retrospective, Victorian-influenced voice, and a measured—indeed, sprawling—approach to pace.

Cold-Forged Flame is a beast of an entirely different stripe. Stylistically, it’s much more similar to Brennan’s Onyx Court series (Midnight Never Come, In Ashes Lie, A Star Shall Fall, With Fate Conspire), but with a crisper, more modern voice. Ninety-nine pages in its paper version, it’s as punchy as it is brief, and it has the flavour of the sword-and-sorcery subgenre without falling into sword-and-sorcery’s major pitfalls—the largest of which is predictability.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Sometimes the Book Equivalent Of A B-Movie is Exactly What You Want

I seem not to be reading really good books lately. But I also seem to be really enjoying a certain cracktastic flavour of book—I’m thinking of them as the equivalent of a B-movie, the book that’s either trying with all its heart to be more than pulp, or that embraces its pulpiness and basically revels in it.

[Pirates! Sea monsters! Lesbians!]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Everfair by Nisi Shawl: A Gorgeous, Complex, Thinky, Epic “What if?”

The history of the Belgian Congo (the Congo Free State, 1885-1908, and its successor colonial administration, the Belgian Congo) is a history of humanitarian disaster and genocide that rivals in scope some of the worst murderous excesses of the 20th century. Across a twenty-year period, the excesses of the Congo Free State were, in fact, so bad that they came under (however ineffective) international scrutiny.

Everfair is a book that takes the Belgian Congo and asks: what if? What if a group of Fabian Socialists joined forces with African American missionaries to buy land from King Leopold II of Belgian, the “owner” of the Congo, with the aim of founding a state on the model of Liberia? What if their encounter with the indigenous leadership of the Congo—as well as with Leopold’s colonial authorities—is mediated through that settler utopianism? What if the settlers joined forces with the indigenous leaders, developing airships and steam technology and defending themselves against the unrestrained violence of Leopold’s colonial administration? What happens if, over decades, both the indigenous inhabitants of the Congo and the settlers of the land they call “Everfair” try to built a state that can stand on its own, while having competing ideas of what that state is, and what it means?

I’ve never read any of Nisi Shawl’s short stories, as far as I know—but based on this, her debut novel, I’ve been missing out. Everfair is an incredibly ambitious, fascinating novel. Words like “complex” and “multifaceted” are appropriate; sprawling and dense.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Foz Meadows Answers Eight Questions

Today, we’re joined by Australian author, critic, and award-nominated writer Foz Meadows, whose recent novel An Accident of Stars is a gorgeously epic portal fantasy.

If you haven’t picked up An Accident of Stars yet, you should. It’s a story all about costs and consequences and the families you make, or choose. It’s one of my favourite books of the year, so I’m really happy that Meadows agreed to answer some questions…

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters