content by

Alex Brown

“Blood Follows Vein”: Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart

In alternating points of view, Witches Steeped in Gold centers on two antagonistic young women, Alumbrar witch Jazmyne Cariot and Obeah witch Iraya “Ira” Adair. As the only daughter and heir to Aiyca’s matriarchal throne, Jazmyne has been preparing to become doyenne her entire life. Her mother, a cold woman so obsessed with political strategy that she has no room left for relationships, sees Jazmyne not as her child but as a tool to continue her power even after she’s gone. Locked away in a dungeon for the last decade, Ira is the last living heir of the former Obeah rulers of Aiyca, the ones deposed and murdered by Doyenne Cariot. Sent to train as a guard, Ira is constantly foiled in her attempts at resistance.

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Them Relies on Brutality Over Nuanced Social Commentary

Them, Amazon Prime’s newest horror anthology series, has a lot of potential. The premise—escaping violence in the South, a Black family relocates to East Compton in the 1950s when it was still an all-white enclave and horror ensues—is intriguing. In the wake of other television shows like Watchmen and Lovecraft Country that also took Black history and twisted it with fantastical elements, there was a real opportunity to explore different aspects of racial violence: redlining, white flight, and blockbusting. Unfortunately, Little Marvin, who created Them and wrote four episodes, fails to live up to the potential of his own premise.

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Fractured Reflections: The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore

Anna-Marie McLemore’s latest young adult novel transports Hans Christien Anderson’s The Snow Queen to San Juan Capistrano, an old town on the Southern California coast. It’s best known for its Spanish mission, which kept thousands of Acjachemen within its stone walls between its founding in 1776 and secularization in 1833, and the annual cliff swallow migration. Tourists come from all over to celebrate the birds’ arrival, and it’s against this backdrop that McLemore set their story.

Content warning for discussion of sexual assault.

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Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: February 2021

This year, I thought I’d do something a little different for my February short speculative fiction spotlight. Instead of a general round-up, I’m going to feature new works by Black writers. And because there were so many great pieces to choose from, I even added a couple extras as honorable mentions. Enjoy these talented creators as we dip back into Black History Month for one last hurrah.

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Sequels and Standalones: New Young Adult SFF for March and April 2021

This is quite the spring! We’ve got a nice mix of pandemic-delayed sequels, unseasonably creepy standalones, and energizing new series. Not a whole lot by way of science fiction, but there’s a decent batch of horror and dark fantasy to spice up the stacks and stacks of fantasy fiction. It’s all good, as far as I’m concerned. Now if only I had time to actually read all of these…

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A Mature Ending: Soulstar by C. L. Polk

Everything Miles, Tristan, Grace, and Avia have worked toward comes to a head in Soulstar, the third and final book in C. L. Polk’s thrilling Kingston Cycle trilogy. The witches are free, but the damage has been done, both to Aeland and its people. With the true evil of Queen Constantina’s asylums now revealed, Robin Thorpe steps in to help out—and to rescue her own spouse, Zelind, a nonbinary witch who has been imprisoned for the last two decades. Robin brings Zelind back to Clan Thorpe, a large compound housing sixty-odd Thorpes, and there the two try to figure out how to continue a marriage that never had a chance to start.

Complications and interferences quickly pile on, from Zelind’s belligerent mother to a king with ulterior motives to election interference to police brutality. A spy infiltrates her activist group, a political leader is assassinated, citizens are being burned alive in their homes, and Robin is trapped in the middle of all of it. Pushed into a role she doesn’t feel ready for, all Robin wants to do is step back into the background. Aeland is ready for change. Someone needs to lead the people in the fight against the powers that be, and Robin just might be that someone.

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A Nostalgic Watchlist for the Stressed Out Millennial

When I first pitched this piece last spring, I was desperately attempting to stay the covid doldrums by binge watching movies from my childhood. It was lockdown and I couldn’t go to work, couldn’t visit family and friends, and only left the house once a week for a hasty, sanitizer-drenched trips to the grocery store. Nostalgia (and steamy romance novels) was pretty much the only thing keeping me functioning. Then the lockdown was lifted and a lot of us went back to work, and forgot all about this pitch. What was the point? We’d be done with this virus thing by fall, surely, winter at the latest.


Almost a year later and time is a flat circle and my brain feels like the “this is fine” dog in the room of fire. So I figured why not go back to this little listicle of ten supremely nostalgic movies from the 80s, 90s, and early 00s and share it with the world. These are not the billion dollar blockbusters or the movies that have become a part of our cultural language, but the forgotten, the deep-cut cult classics, and the weirdly silly.

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Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: January 2021

Ah, January! The start of a new year. Hope springs, life goes on, and new short speculative fiction appears in my inbox like magic. We have some returning favorites in this month’s spotlight and some brand new names. Lots of creepy fantasy and some distressing science fiction. Sorry to those looking for light and fluffy. This month, my ten picks are deep and dark.

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Cyberpunk Freedom Fighters: Rise of the Red Hand by Olivia Chadha

After World War III nearly wiped out all of human existence, the remaining civilizations united together under the banner of the Planetary Alliance Commission (PAC). People were divided into sealed provinces rather than nations and left generally to their own devices with one big caveat: financial backing comes from PAC. To earn it, a province must demonstrate its value to PAC, prove its worth through feats of scientific discovery or social engineering. How they achieve that is left up to the provinces.

Ashiva grew up in the slums of the South Asian Province. With the development of a powerful AI called Solace, citizens of the SAP were separated, the genetically desirable moving up into the elite towers and the rest condemned to a slow death by governmental neglect in the Narrows. With her cybernetic arm—courtesy of a scientifically gifted Narrows dweller—she scrounges and steals and scrapes by. Secretly, she works for a group of freedom fighters scattered to the winds but waiting for the signal to reunite and overthrow the corrupt leaders of the SAP.

Which brings us to the beginning of Olivia Chadha’s new cyberpunk young adult novel Rise of the Red Hand. Kid Synch, the rebellious son of an Uplander, gets embroiled in the middle of a massive conspiracy at the heart of Solace. He teams up with Ashiva and her adoptive sister Taru to stop mecha soldiers, skeezy scientists, and a virulent pandemic from destroying the Narrows and everyone in it. These three teens must choose who lives and who dies, or have the choice made for them.

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Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: December 2020

So long 2020. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. 2020 may have been a trash fire of epic proportions, but at least the short speculative fiction was good. These ten science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories were some of my favorites of the end-of-the-year crop. Genderqueer knights, resurrections, people made of fungi, sentient robots, it’s all here, and then some.

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Truth as Fiction: When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

There was a moment toward the end of The Empress of Salt and Fortune where Chih learns the truth about the new empress when I realized just how supremely talented Nghi Vo is. I experienced that realization again in When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, the second book in her Singing Hills Cycle, with the resolution of the story of the foxes. Tiger proves that all the praise thrown her way is warranted.

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