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Liz Bourke

Too Many Voices: Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley

Empire Ascendant is Kameron Hurley’s fifth novel. The second volume of her epic fantasy “Worldbreaker Saga” from Angry Robot Books, it follows last year’s The Mirror Empire, and builds upon the grim and terrible events of that novel to depict a world facing cataclysmic events. The invading Tai Mora have suffered a minor setback, but their legions still pour through rents in the world. The country of Saiduan has already been torn apart. Now the Tai Mora are pouring into Dorinah and the land of the Dhai—and worse is yet to come, because the dark star Oma is not yet fully risen.

To be honest, I wanted to enjoy Empire Ascendant more than I did.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Jaime Lee Moyer Answers Seven Questions

The third volume in Jaime Lee Moyer’s debut trilogy, Against A Brightening Sky, comes out this month. It brings to a close the sequence begun in Delia’s Shadow and continued in A Barricade in Hell. Full of ghosts and consequence, and set in San Francisco in the early 1920s, it’s a fun ride. With murder in.

I thought it might be interesting to ask Jaime a few questions about genre, murder, history, and her attraction to ghost stories. She graciously agreed to answer them.

Onwards to the questions!

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Old, Familiar Tropes: Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer

Last Song Before Night is Ilana C. Myer’s debut novel, out last month from Tor Books. It is a novel of music, magic, and a darkness at the heart of a kingdom. Unusually among debut fantasy novels with an epic bent, it stands alone. And I wanted to like it a lot more than, it turns out, I actually did.

Maybe it’s just that I’m getting more jaded as I get older. Maybe it’s that Last Song Before Night feels like a version of a story I’ve seen many hundreds of times before: a more adult and more elevated version of one of those Mercedes Lackey novels with bards and evil magic. There’s nothing particularly wrong with writing a new story that uses old tropes in familiar configurations. Indeed, in many cases I’m quite fond of them, and Last Song Before Night is confidently written, with a solid touch for evoking believable characters.

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Ruth Frances Long Answers Six Questions

Ruth Long is an Irish author (and Dublin native) who’s written romantic fantasy as R.F. Long and YA as Ruth Frances Long. Her latest novel, A Hollow in the Hills, is the second in a YA trilogy (the first, A Crack in Everything, came out last year) set in Dublin, and starring a cast of mythical beings—and Izzy Gregory, the teenager who gets mixed up with them.

In the spirit of national chauvinism and because she bought me a drink, I decided to ask Ruth a few questions this week.

Well, okay. Also because I rather appreciate her YA novels.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: I’m Still Behind On My Reading, Send Help

There’s an appalling sense of guilt associated with my to-be-read pile at this point. It’s only going to get worse, especially since I appear to have signed up to read an extra hundred books between now and next March. (Don’t ask. It seemed like a good idea at the time…)

So this week, let me tell you about two books and a short story. I was going to write about a couple of novellas as well, but I ran out of time to read them. Time appears to be in strikingly short supply—Anyway!

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: More Books To Talk About Than There Is Time To Read

There are so many books by brilliant authors that I want to talk about, and I can’t read fast enough to keep up. This is immensely frustrating. Just the to-read pile has at least a dozen recent or forthcoming novels (Loren Rhoads, Karina Sumner-Smith, Lisa Goldstein, Nnedi Okorafor, Angélica Gorodischer, Laura Anne Gilman, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Alyx Dellamonica, AND STILL MORE), while the to-read shelves are groaning under the ambitions of my backlog. (Cecelia Holland’s Floating Worlds, Monica Byrne’s The Girl In the Road, more of the Foreigner novels by C.J. Cherryh, oh, mountains and mountains of things.)

[This week, I want to tell you about just three books…]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

In the Belly of the Beast: Dragon Coast by Greg van Eekhout

Dragon Coast is the third and—for now, at least, it seems—the last novel in the series that began with last year’s California Bones and continued in Pacific Fire. Greg van Eekhout’s trio of capers are really entertaining and dramatic fantasy heist novels. Set in a California divided into two competing kingdoms, where consuming magical creatures (and people) gives osteomancers power, and mages command the power of water, Dragon Coast picks up almost directly where Pacific Fire leaves off.

Therefore be on the lookout for spoilers, since it’s impossible to discuss Dragon Coast without talking about its predecessors. And I think it should be noted that while it might be possible to read Dragon Coast solo, without the context of its predecessors—depending on your tolerance for landing in medias res—it would hardly be ideal. That context provides nearly all of Dragon Coast‘s emotional heft and impact: without it, it would seem a shallow novel indeed.

[Spoilers included. Contents may settle during transit.]

Defying Categorization: Dragon Heart by Cecelia Holland

Cecelia Holland has a lengthy career behind her, including the acclaimed 1976 science fiction novel Floating Worlds. Most of her works are historical fiction, but Dragon Heart, her latest, marks a return to the SFF genre. It is also the first of her novels I’ve read, and her easy, engaging style is effortlessly readable: impressively clear. I admire it wholeheartedly.

My emotional engagement with Dragon Heart, on the other hand… oh, that’s going to be complicated to explain.

[Contains spoilers. Fairly detailed ones, mind.]

Sleeps With Monsters: Stephanie Saulter Answers Six Questions

Stephanie Saulter‘s debut ®Evolution trilogy—Gemsigns, Binary, and Regeneration—is an excellent bit of social science fiction. Regeneration has recently come out from Jo Fletcher Books in the UK, and I believe Binary has lately come out in the US. If you haven’t read them yet… well, what are you waiting for? Go and give them a try.

Born in Jamaica, Stephanie earned her degree at MIT and now lives in London—and she’s graciously agreed to answer a few questions for us today.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Literary Sword-and-Sorcery: The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

Kai Ashante Wilson’s The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is, if you haven’t been paying attention, the very first novella to emerge from Publishing. As to be expected from the author of “The Devil in America,” it’s complex, powerfully written piece of work, with an ending whose ambiguity only adds to its curious impact.

I say novella—but let’s be honest, the ARC I have clocks in at 208 pages. We’re really talking something closer to a short novel. And Kai Ashante Wilson has packed those pages with the worldbuilding of a much longer work. The world of The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps feels big. It feels deep. It feels like we’ve barely scratched the surface: There’s as much depth of field here as there is in many trilogies, for all that the narration stays tightly focused on one character.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Melanie Rawn Answers Five Questions

Today we’re joined by Melanie Rawn, who graciously agreed to answer a few small questions. Her most recent novel, Window Wall, came out earlier this year. Her earlier novels have been the subject of a reread series here by Judith Tarr, which I encourage you all to go and read.

If you haven’t read any of her work, there’s never been a better time to start. If you have?

Well then, you already know what a treat they are.

On to the questions!

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Falling in Love with Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Archivist Wasp

This book. This book. In the past few years, there’ve been a handful of books I count it a privilege to have read—a handful of books with which I fell instantly and deeply in love. It’s a short list: Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword; Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor; Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory. I might spot you one or two others, depending on the day, but these are the ones that hit me right on an emotional level, where pleasure in the quality of writing combines with a straight shot to my narrative hindbrain: this is our stuff! This is OUR THING!

Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Archivist Wasp has added itself to that list. I didn’t expect it to: at a brief glance, it sounded a little too peculiar. But then I came across Amal El-Mohtar and Ana Grilo (of The Booksmugglers) discussing its merits on Twitter—and when people like that recommend a thing, I try to take notice.

[And wow, am I glad I did.]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Approachable Epic Fantasy: Cold Iron by Stina Leicht

Cold Iron is Stina Leicht’s third novel. With it, Leicht moves away from urban fantasy and towards epic in the new gunpowder fantasy mode. Cold Iron is the opening volley in The Malorum Gates series—and to judge from the amount of ground this novel covers, it’s a series that’s going to do a lot of epic in a relatively short space of time.

It is also a rather better, and strikingly less boring, book than its opening pages portend.

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What Do You Reread For Comfort Or Escape?

Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape? The moneylenders, the knownothings, the authoritarians have us all in prison; if we value the freedom of the mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can.

–Ursula K. Le Guin, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction (1979: 204).

I haven’t been reading very rapidly this year, and especially these last couple of months. So I thought I’d make a virtue of necessity, and talk about the books I read again and again, for comfort, and why; and the books that stay with me for years. The books that, for lack of a better word, sustain me.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Civics Class Has Never Been Better: Last First Snow by Max Gladstone

Last First Snow is the fourth in Max Gladstone’s “Craft Sequence” novels. (In internal chronological order, it’s first: Gladstone has taken an unusual approach to numbering his novels. It’s not nearly as brain-bending as it sounds, because so far all the novels including this one stand alone perfectly well.) And it’s a great book.

It takes place some twenty years before Two Serpents Rise, and some four decades after the God Wars. In the city of Dresediel Lex, the King in Red and a consortium of investors have plans to redevelop an impoverished area of the city: the Skittersill, an area whose wards were laid down by gods, not practitioners of Craft. They are opposed in this by an alliance of locals and community leaders, of whom the most influential is Temoc: a former Eagle Knight and one of the last remaining priests of the old order, and a veteran of the God Wars who is now striving for a peaceful future for his people—including his wife and son. Before civic protest degenerates into civil unrest, Elayne Kevarian, associate in the Craft firm of Kelethras, Albrecht, and Ao—and retained by Dresediel Lex’s present powers-that-be to bring the Skittersill project to a workable conclusion—attempts to facilitate a negotiated solution to the stand-off between community and capital.

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“Which self should she aspire to know?” Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman

I can’t say I’ve ever heard a bad thing about any of Carolyn Ives Gilman’s work. Dark Orbit is the first of her novels that I’ve read, and it certainly lives up to its reputation. And to the promise of its first two lines:

“In the course of Saraswati Callicot’s vagabond career, she had been disassembled and brought back to life so many times, the idea of self-knowledge had become a bit of a joke. The question was, which self should she aspire to know?”

Dark Orbit is a striking work of science fiction, and knowledge—self-knowledge, and how the knowledge of other people can shape a person—is at its heart. It is sharp and glittering and rather more interested in the philosophy of its physics than it is in the science. It’s also a novel about First Contact and the limits of science’s ability to classify data that cannot be seen. And damn, is it one hell of a novel.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Go Watch Sense8

I have just seen the first six episodes of Sense8. And I may be in love.

My constant refrain as I was watching it was how can this be so good? Because on the face of it this is a show I should’ve struggled to enjoy: it doesn’t have nearly as much murder and/or explosions as I normally enjoy in a television show. (Although it does have at least a little murder.) What it has, instead, is a long slow build of an interesting conspiracy, and characters worth the price of entry.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters