Sleeps With Monsters: Feeling and Faith in The Wonder Engine by T. Kingfisher

I’ve only ever read a handful of books that treat the question of religion in fantasy with any serious weight. The presence or absence of gods and their powers, the (un)knowability of divine things, the question of whether or not one can get, or understand, an answer from a god—the question of whether, if you’ve given your fealty to a god, it matters if you understand the use said god makes of you—is not a question that fantasy in general deals with in great detail, even—or perhaps especially—in those works that take the existence of gods for granted.

Until now, my short list has generally included Lois McMaster Bujold’s Five Gods works (The Curse of Chalion, Penric’s Demon) and not much else. But now I find—in the middle of a grimly humorous story that reminds me of nothing so much as a really fucked up Forbidden Realms adventuring party—that T. Kingfisher (otherwise known as Ursula Vernon) has a revelatory scene in her The Wonder Engine, second and final book in the Clocktaur War duology.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Reading The Wheel of Time: Mistrust Fractures the Fellowship in Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World (Part 5)

Robert Jordan has talked about how he intended for The Eye of the World to include some reference and homage to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and since these resemblances have often been remarked upon (sometimes positively, sometimes less so) by readers, it seems fitting at this moment to circle back around to the themes I addressed in the first week of this read. Then, we talked about questing stories and the formation of a fellowship. Now, it is time to talk about what happens when that fellowship is inevitably broken.

[Let’s get to the recappin’.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Visting Hours Are Over, Jessica Jones

It’s easy to forget at times that Jessica Jones is a show about superpowers, because of the heavy genre focus on crime investigation/noir, not to mention the lack of spandex. But one of the big questions that runs through various superhero narratives (and Marvel comics/cinematic works in particular) is that of superhero law and order.

How do you police people with powers? What new laws do you need to deal with them? How do you incarcerate them without removing their human rights?

Do they even get human rights?

We see this play out practice in these episodes where it’s previously been theoretical: Alisa is incarcerated, and she’s a prison fatality waiting to happen. But is she going to be the killer or victim?

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Wonderblood Sweepstakes!

We want to send you a galley copy of Julia Whicker’s Wonderblood, available April 3rd from St. Martin’s Press! Read the first chapter here.

Wonderblood is set in a barren United States, an apocalyptic wasteland where warring factions compete for control of the land in strange and dangerous carnivals. A mad cow-like disease called “Bent Head” has killed off millions. Those who remain worship the ruins of NASA’s space shuttles, and Cape Canaveral is their Mecca. Medicine and science have been rejected in favor of magic, prophecy, and blood sacrifice.

When traveling marauders led by the bloodthirsty Mr. Capulatio invade her camp, a young girl named Aurora is taken captive as his bride and forced to join his band on their journey to Cape Canaveral. As war nears, she must decide if she is willing to become her captor’s queen. But then other queens emerge, some grotesque and others aggrieved, and not all are pleased with the girl’s ascent.

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Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: A Civil Campaign, Chapter 2

On Barrayar, you come home, you get flowers, and you make plans. This week, it’s Kareen Koudelka’s turn. Kareen is returning from a school year on Beta Colony. This situation is somewhat more complicated than she had anticipated when she left. Beta Colony is very open about sexual matters. Barrayar, by contrast, is a place where it is very difficult to say things like, “I spent a large part of the year knocking boots with your old friends’ recently discovered clone son.”

I would love for Kareen’s family not to care who she knocked boots with, as long as everyone involved was having a good time, but they DO care. It’s not initially clear whether they care because of Barrayaran cultural mores, or if they just want the hot gossip.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

All of Us Are in Search of An Author: Lacking Character by Curtis White

Lacking Character is author Curtis White’s first work of fiction in fifteen years. The veteran surrealist has written books including Metaphysics in the Midwest, Memories of My Father Watching TV, and The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers—ranging from short fiction to novels to essays. His new outing is a novel-adjacent philosophical exercise. What counts as character? How do we delineate one individual from another? What divides man from beast, guinea pig from feral infant? Lacking Character dresses these questions up in thought experiments, humor, sex, and some really hilarious literary parodies, and like the best of these types of books, never comes to any conclusions about the state of the human mind—instead White lets readers draw their own conclusions.

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Series: Genre in the Mainstream

It’s a Boy’s Universe After All: Andre Norton’s Plague Ship

The second installment in the Solar Queen series reads as straightforward young-male-adult adventure, vintage 1956. It’s got all the elements: Rocket ships with fins and shiny hulls. Weird alien planets with equally weird alien life. Desperate crisis that only the kids can solve. Plenty of action and derring-do.

Plague Ship is one of the most tightly plotted Norton novels I’ve reread so far. It canters along at a good clip, each action and reversal following in logical fashion. It’s clear how it will end, but it’s great fun along the way.

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Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is Smarter and More Insightful Than You’ve Been Told

Let me just say something right at the start, because it needs to be said: I love Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

Normally, I wouldn’t have to thrust such a declarative statement at the top of my post; but, the thing is, what started as a simple review of the book leading up to the movie has turned into a defense, strangely. Because at this point in time, it’s impossible to talk about Ready Player One without acknowledging the chatter surrounding it. And there’s a lot of chatter.

Now, far be it for me to tell people what opinions they should and shouldn’t have. I certainly don’t want to argue someone down from their own conclusions. What I’m writing here is my take on the book—particularly why I enjoyed it so much, and why, to me, it’s an important book for our time. Is Ready Player One a nostalgia-fueled, reference-laden, nerdgasm of a story? Yup. To the nth degree. But it’s more than that—so much more than that—and once you strip away some of the more superficial elements, you find a story that speaks to a generation’s loneliness with great profundity and heart.

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Betrayal and Compromise: Stone Mad by Elizabeth Bear

In 2015’s Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear introduced us to Karen and her compelling, colloquial storyteller’s voice. Stone Mad follows on from that story, with Karen recovered from her injuries and enjoying a nice dinner out at a fancy hotel with her lover and partner Priya before they move into the farmhouse they’ve bought together. But events, in the form of a pair of travelling Spiritualist sisters, rather intervene…

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Announcing The Kitschies’ 2017 Shortlists

The Kitschies, the annual tentacle-themed prize for works containing elements of the “speculative and fantastic,” have released their shortlists for the most “progressive, intelligent, and entertaining” fiction of 2017.

This year’s shortlists have been narrowed down from 142 submissions, coming from over 48 different publishers and imprints. Award Directors Glen Mehn and Leila Abu El Hawa praised the pool of books from which the judges chose the shortlist:

Every year brings challenges, excitement, and something new: this year was no different. We’re thrilled to see the return of some old favourites as well as voices that mightn’t be considered speculative fiction. The breadth of all three lists is stunning.

We are pleased to have two Publishing titles nominated for Golden Tentacle: JY Yang’s The Black Tides of Heaven and Liz Ziemska’s Mandelbrot the Magnificent. Congratulations to all of the finalists—we can’t wait to see who will take home the coveted, hand-crafted squid statue!

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Enter the Ninth House: Announcing Tamsyn Muir’s Debut Trilogy

I’m thrilled to announce the acquisition of a debut novel trilogy from Tamsyn Muir. The Ninth House trilogy—Gideon the NinthHarrow the Ninth, and Alecto the Ninth—is an epic science fantasy that blends necromantic theory and thrilling swordplay with a wicked, sacrilegious sense of humor; a modern mix of Dune, Riddick, and Gormenghast.

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Old and New Tongues: Constructed Languages and The Wheel of Time

Ninte calichniye no domashita, Agelmar Dai Shan,” Moiraine replied formally, but with a note in her voice that said they were old friends. “Your welcome warms me, Lord Agelmar.”

Kodome calichniye ga ni Aes Sedai hei. Here is always a welcome for Aes Sedai.” He turned to Loial. “You are far from the stedding, Ogier, but you honor Fal Dara. Always glory to the Builders. Kiserai ti Wansho hei.

With’s new “Reading the Wheel of Time” series working its way through the Eye of the World, it seems like now would be a good time for a refresher on how the Old Tongue works in Randland. If you haven’t read The Wheel of Time, there might be spoilers below. Go read the books now, maybe! I’ll still be here in a year. (For clarity’s sake: There’s a weak spoiler for book nine, a strong spoiler from seven, and definite spoilers for the first three books).

[See? Totally simple and straightforward…]

The Merry Spinster Sweepstakes!

We want to send you a copy of Mallory Ortberg’s The Merry Spinster, available now from Henry Holt and Company!

From Mallory Ortberg comes a collection of darkly mischievous stories based on classic fairy tales. Adapted from their beloved “Children’s Stories Made Horrific” series, The Merry Spinster takes up the trademark wit that endeared Ortberg (who recently announced their transition to Daniel) to readers of both The Toast and their best-selling debut Texts From Jane Eyre. The feature has become among the most popular on the site, with each entry bringing in tens of thousands of views, as the stories proved a perfect vehicle for Ortberg’s eye for deconstruction and destabilization. Sinister and inviting, familiar and alien all at the same time, The Merry Spinster updates traditional children’s stories and fairy tales with elements of psychological horror, emotional clarity, and a keen sense of feminist mischief.

Readers of The Toast will instantly recognize Ortberg’s boisterous good humor and uber-nerd swagger: those new to Ortberg’s oeuvre will delight in their unique spin on fiction, where something a bit mischievous and unsettling is always at work just beneath the surface.

Unfalteringly faithful to its beloved source material, The Merry Spinster also illuminates the unsuspected, and frequently, alarming emotional complexities at play in the stories we tell ourselves, and each other, as we tuck ourselves in for the night.

Bed time will never be the same.

Comment in the post to enter!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States and D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec). To enter, comment on this post beginning at 3:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on March 16. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on March 20th. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor:, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.