Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Engaging Fantasy Thrillers

How’s 2019 treating you so far, friends? I’m personally finding the onslaught of new and excellent books a little overwhelming.

Into that overwhelming (but excellent) category fall the two novels I want to talk about this week, Michelle Sagara’s Cast in Oblivion and Claire O’Dell’s The Hound of Justice (forthcoming in July from Harper Voyager).

Michelle Sagara has been writing her Chronicles of Elantra series for going on fifteen years now. Cast in Oblivion is the fourteenth novel in the sequence, after last year’s Cast in Deception. While many of the early Elantra novels are fairly forgiving of new readers—they follow the form of fantasy police procedurals—the later ones have built up a context, and a cast, of increasingly epic proportions. And Private Kaylin Naya of the Elantran Hawks (the city police force) has only become more and more involved in politics and matters of note.

Kaylin didn’t go to the West March to start a war. But she did go, with the only surviving female Dragon—and she brought back nine Barrani, immortals much changed by their experiences at the so-called heart of the green. Dragon-Barrani politics are touchy at the best of times. Internal Barrani politics are murderous. The Barrani Consort—the mother of her race—tried to imprison or kill Kaylin’s now-houseguests. She didn’t trust their changes to be good ones for the survival of all life, or of her particular charge. But now she wants their help, and Kaylin’s.

Beneath the Barrani High Halls, a Shadow lurks. It eats Barrani names. It is the High Halls’—the Consort’s, and the High Lord’s—duty to keep that Shadow bound, but the cost is the loss of the true names that give Barrani their longevity, when any of the Barrani fail the “Test of Name.” Now the Consort wants Kaylin’s houseguests, and Kaylin herself, to try to vanquish this threat lurking at the High Halls’ heart.

This is a fast, fun novel, a worthy continuation to a very fun series. I’m already looking forward to the next installment.

The Hound of Justice is the second volume in Claire O’Dell’s Janet Watson Chronicles, after 2018’s solid and entertaining A Study in Honor. O’Dell takes inspiration from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes and Watson for these near-future science fictional novels starring Dr. Janet Watson, former army surgeon with PTSD and a prosthetic arm, and her mysterious benefactor and difficult friend, espionage/undercover agent Sara Holmes.

Watson, a queer woman of colour in an America struggling with a second civil war, is beginning to rebuild her life and career on foot of A Study in Honor. Two months into her new job with Georgetown University Hospital, she’s frustrated with the slow pace of her adjustment to her new prosthetic. Then she’s in the vicinity when an extremist faction called the Brotherhood of Redemption causes dozens of casualties in Washington, D.C. Holmes begins to investigate, then disappears. When a message reaches Watson that Holmes needs a surgeon—needs Watson—Watson has the opportunity to join Holmes and test her new prosthetic in the field.

The Hound of Justice, like A Study in Honor before it, is less a mystery novel than a thriller, fast-paced and intense. But it’s a thriller that’s closely focuses on Janet Watson and her personal struggles. She doubts her capacities. She tentatively reaches out for joy. She deals with Holmes—infuriatingly high-handed, as every incarnation of Holmes has ever been—and discovers within herself untapped reservoirs of strength.

I found it an engaging and ultimately deeply satisfying novel, and I can’t wait for what O’Dell does next.

What are you guys reading lately?

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, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award in Best Related Work. Her Sleeps With Monsters column here at Tor.com was nominated for the BSFA Best Nonfiction Award in 2019. 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, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

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