Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Old Influences and New Impressions

I may be a sucker for a good Dr. Watson, or maybe Claire O’Dell (an open pseudonym for Beth Bernobich) has just written a hell of a good novel, because A Study in Honor (Harper Voyager, forthcoming July 2018) turns out to be one of those books I find impossible to put down. I want the sequel immediately.

I’m going to have to wait. (I don’t want to have to wait.)

SFF as a genre has often been attracted to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. (Many in SFF fandom are also fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous and enduring characters.) Just this year, Aliette de Bodard’s The Tea Master and the Detective from Subterranean draws heavily on those influences. A Study in Honor, even more than de Bodard’s novella, is explicitly influenced by Doyle’s famous duo.

It’s the middle of the 21st century. The USA has been divided by a new civil war, and O’Dell’s Dr. Janet Watson (a black queer woman) is returning from its battlefields with a badly-fitted prosthetic arm that means she can’t return to her career as a surgeon. In Washington D.C., she finds an underfunded Veteran’s Administration that’s reluctant to help her, no job, and few prospects. At risk of homelessness and wrestling with despair, she finds her circumstances change—at least a little—when a friend introduces her to mysterious, abrasive Sara Holmes (a woman of colour who is also some variety of queer). Holmes wants a housemate, and Janet’s willing to put up with more than a few peculiarities in order to have a decent living situation.

It turns out, though, that Janet’s rather underestimated Holmes’s peculiarities: a state of affairs that becomes clear when Janet, now working as a medical technician for the V.A., sees one of the patients die of uncertain causes. With Janet’s life at risk and a potential conspiracy that might reach the highest levels of corporate, military, and political life, Janet has to make a choice. Does she trust brilliant, uncompromising Holmes or not?

A Study in Honor is a tense, gripping story, excellently paced, and Janet is an amazingly compelling narrator. This novel is really hard to put down, and I’m looking forward to the sequel with great anticipation. I want to read many more stories about O’Dell’s Holmes and Watson: many, many, many, many more.

Alex Wells’s Blood Binds the Pack (Angry Robot) is the sequel to their first-rate debut Hunger Makes the Wolf. (Which, if you haven’t read it, you should go read it now. Seriously. I’ll wait.) Blood Binds the Pack is nearly everything that you might expect from a sequel to Hunger Makes the Wolf, and also damn near impossible to discuss at all without going into detail about the first book.

On Tanegawa’s World, Hob Ravani’s small band of biker mercenaries faces the unremitting hostility of the interstellar company that runs the world like a feudal fiefdom. So does Hob’s best friend, Mag, whose labour organising among Tanegawa’s World’s miners is bearing fruit even as the company becomes more determined to exploit and enslave their workforce. All this is complicated by the nature of the resources extracted from Tanegawa’s World, and the fact that some people—like Hob, like Mag—develop unusual powers after sufficient exposure to the planet’s air, dust, and water.

Blood Binds the Pack is a hell of a space western. It ramps to an explosive conclusion—one whose resolution comes a little bit out of nowhere. But on the whole, this is an enormously fun book, and I sincerely hope to see many more books from Alex Wells in the future.

What are you guys reading right now? What are you looking forward to?

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

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