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Alex Brown

“There Is Juju in This Book”: Exploring Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch series

Hey you! Yeah, you. C’mere and take a seat. I’m about to tell you about a fantastic middle grade/young adult series by the amazing Nnedi Okorafor. The Akata Witch series is an electrifying tale about an inspiring African girl. It’s gorgeously written and filled with magic, excitement, and even a little romance. It beats the Chosen One trope at its own game with the help of West African deities and socio-cultural traditions. I know I always say “you need to read this,” but you really need to read this.

[“My name is Sunny Nwazue and I confuse people.”]

Pull List: Jem and the Holograms Is Truly, Truly, Truly Outrageous

Usually I reserve Pull List for new or ongoing comics, but this time I’m bucking the trend and featuring a series that just ended because Jem and the Holograms just too good to not talk about. Also, this is my column and rules are made to be broken and whatevs, man, I do what I want. And the series is technically kinda still going with the dual miniseries “Infinite” so I guess it still works. Anyway. Jem and the Holograms is great and you should buy it.

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Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper Series and the Magic of Social Justice

Every librarian has those select few books they recommend to just about everyone. Books that hit a lot of marks and can appeal to a variety of people even as they tell very specific stories. Books that are well written with evocative layers, truthful and realistic depictions, and characters from diverse backgrounds. I am constantly handing people copies of G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel, Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, and Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti novella series. And inevitably they come back begging for more.

Of course, also high up on that pile of librarian-approved recommendations is Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper series. If ever there was a Must Read about Brooklynite Latinx teenagers using magical graffiti to battle evil, this is it.

[“People always tell you who they are. At some point, you gotta listen.”]

Fall 2017 TV: What’s New, What’s Old, And What’s Best Forgotten

And we’re back with’s annual television schedule! covering premieres of science fiction/fantasy and adjacent shows. The 2017-2018 television season is short on SFF that doesn’t have ghosts in it or isn’t related to a comic book. Given the current state of American society right now, it’s no wonder the fall television season is loaded up with (caped) crusaders, procedurals, and thrillers. If you don’t have cable and several streaming services, you’re out of luck for most of these shows. Network TV seems to have lost interest in SFF, but it’s still going strong on the premium channels/sites.

New shows are in bold.

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New Young Adult Fiction: Fairytales, Dystopias, and Life Lessons

How amazing is the 2017 fall/winter young adult science fiction and fantasy lineup? If I had my way, this master list would be 18 pages long. But sadly, the Powers That Be said “no” to that. So while Kristin Cashore’s unsettling Jane, Unlimited, Leigh Bardugo’s gorgeous Language of Thorns, and Kali Wallace’s haunting Memory Trees aren’t on here, you should still get them into your To Read queue forthwith.

The trend this fall seems to be an increase in dystopias, as well as a lot more male leads. Teen girls continue to rule high fantasy, usually as princesses/queens or the Chosen One. But overall, the amount of high quality of stories coming out this fall—including everything from the writing to the range of settings to the kinds of characters portrayed—is wonderfully high.

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Pull List: The Rebirth of Nightwing

Pull List is generally a pretty positive column. It’s my chance to sing the praises of such-and-such new series and indulge my comic book nerditry. This month, not so much. I mean, of course you should at least check out Nightwing. If you loved Grayson, this won’t fill that hole but it’ll suffice. But within the context of Rebirth, it just doesn’t work for me. I have months worth of pent-up grumbling to do about the not-a-reboot, so strap in, kiddies. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

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Invasion of the Heart: The Tiger’s Watch by Julia Ember

Tashi is only sixteen, but they’ve spent most of their young life training as an inhabitor, a spy with the magical ability to jump into the mind of an animal to whom they’re bonded. When their homeland of Thim is invaded by the warmongering Myeik, the inhabitors are scattered from their temple. Tashi and their best friend Pharo barely escape with their lives, but the when the monastery they seek refuge in is conquered by the enemy, they’re stuck in the heart of danger.

Leading the invading army is Xian, a boy not much older than Tashi but with more blood on his hands than anyone his age should ever have. Xian takes Tashi as his unwilling servant, the perfect position for some subterfuge and espionage. The more Tashi gets to know Xian, the less evil he seems. And the longer Tashi stays in the monastery, the more secrets and lies they uncover about who the inhabitors really are and what they’re capable of. The world is falling apart and Tashi has to choose: love or loyalty.

[“Today was the first day I’d ever truly felt trapped.”]

You Had Me At “Queer Demon Hunters”: Margaret Killjoy’s The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion

GAAAAAAHHHHHH!! Margaret Killjoy’s The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, y’all. I mean. I can’t even. Like. It’s so good. It’s sooooooooo good. It’s very existence is a tonic for my troubled soul. And now having read it (twice!) it’s my everything. Open a new tab and buy this novella RIGHT. NOW. I’ll wait. ……… Done? Good. Now let’s talk about how awesome it is.

When Danielle Cain finally makes her way to the squatters’ settlement of Freedom, Iowa, it seems like a queer punk traveler’s home sweet home. It’s anarchy with structure, a free-for-all community run by shared responsibility. Or so they say. There’s a reason Danielle’s best friend Clay killed himself after abandoning Freedom. Just as there’s a reason suspicion, doubt, and mistrust saturate the town.

[“What hand dare seize the fire.”]

Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a Feisty Delight

Oh, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. It’s young adult historical fiction set in the Georgian period. It has just enough magic to entertain the magic geeks but not so much to turn off the fantasy naysayers. It’s a will-they-won’t-they romance disguised as an adventure fic with a helping of family drama. And best of all it’s diverse, inclusive, feminist, and wonderfully queer. In case you can’t tell, I absolutely adored this book.

It may only be August, but there’s a strong chance Gentleman’s Guide is going to end up being one of my favorite YA SFF books of the year. It’s the queer YA historical fantasy adventure you’ve been waiting for.

[“Fortune favors the flirtatious.”]

Midnight, Texas Is Magical Trash

Midnight, Texas, is a small town in the middle of nowhere. It’s a safe haven for people (or “people”) who can’t live anywhere else or don’t want to. It also may be sitting on top of a hellmouth, if that ominous glowing red light coming up through Manfred Bernardo’s (François Arnaud) floorboards is any indication. Speaking of the possibly-fake-but-probably-real psychic, Manfred flees Dallas for Midnight at the behest of his dead grandmother Xylda (Joanne Camp) to escape her determined creditors. He couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Within a few hours of Manfred’s arrival he encounters the corpse of Bobo Winthrop’s (Dylan Bruce) missing fiance, hits on Creek (Sarah Ramos) the daughter of a very overprotective father, has his life force sucked out by vampire Lemuel (Peter Mensah), steals holy water from a creepy reverend (Yul Vazquez), witnesses Fiji (Parisa Fitz-Henley) go all The Craft on a couple of cops, is beaten up by Olivia the hitwoman (Arielle Kebbel), and summons a host of very pissed off ghosts and maybe a demon. At least he doesn’t see Joe (Jason Lewis) sprout wings or hear Fiji’s cat Mr. Snuggly (Joe Smith) talk. Gotta save something for the second episode…

[“You’ll be safe in Midnight.”]

Pull List: The Body-Swapping, Fantasyland, Awesomeness of Crosswind and Moonstruck

Oh Image, how I’ve missed you! It’s been ages since the biggest name in indie publishing has released something new that really excited me. Sure, a lot of their ongoings are permanent staples on my shelves, but I was more ready for something brand spanking new than I realized. That drought is at long last over. This summer, Image Comics has delivered two fantastic new ongoing series, Crosswind and Moonstruck.

Within moments of hearing about these two series, I had an order into my local independent comic book shop. Now that I have them in my grabby little hands, I can assure you my untameable eagerness was well worth it. Both take new tacks on old tropes, both are gorgeous to look at and wickedly fun to read, and both will leave you begging for the next issue.

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Five Murders: Adam Christopher’s Killing Is My Business

Ray Electromatic, the robot hitman, is back in the latest entry in Adam Christopher’s pulpy murder mystery series, Killing Is My Business. It’s been a while now since Ada, his former secretary now boss who also happens to be a room-sized super computer, reprogrammed Ray from a run-of-the-mill metallic detective to a murderer for hire. Business is booming and the cash is piling up. Ray is eerily good at what he does.

Ada sends Ray on a cryptic stakeout, which leads to an even more cryptic hit and a series of increasingly convoluted and seemingly counterproductive cons, schemes, and shenanigans. The less Ada reveals, the more Ray suspects something’s up, and the deeper he’s pulled into the tangled web of the Italian mafia, Hollywood high rollers, and conspiracy coverups.

[“We’ll make a detective out of you yet, chief.”]

Destiny Schmestiny: Aditi Khorana’s The Library of Fates

Princess Amrita of Shalingar has it made. Her wealthy kingdom of Shalingar is ruled by her compassionate father, and she’s surrounded by kind people who love her more than anything. That is until Emperor Sikander from the distant empire of Macedon demands her hand in marriage in exchange for peacefully taking control of Shalingar. At first Amrita agrees to the scheme, but when all hell breaks loose she finds herself on the run from Sikander.

But she’s not alone. Joining her is a teenage oracle, Thala, enslaved and drugged for most of her young life. Together, Thala and Amrita set off for the Library of All Things, a mythical place where they can both rewrite their destinies. The journey is long and arduous, but they must not fail. The fate of the world rests on their shoulders.

[“The Library, maybe it really is the only way…”]

Sin Versus Salvation: Victoria Schwab’s Monsters of Verity

Victoria Schwab’s Monsters of Verity duology is my new everything. The story hooks you from word one and never lets go, not that you’d want it to anyway. The characters are fire and ice; they bite and fight and delight all at once. The series is dark and tragic yet hopeful and honest. Schwab never pulls her punches, condescends, or sugarcoats. She knows what teenagers are capable of and what her teenage readers can handle, and she brings both right to the very edge of comfort. Not to mention the inclusive diversity.

[“It was a cycle of whimpers and bangs, gruesome beginnings and bloody ends.”]

Practical Victorian Magic: Ami McKay’s The Witches of New York

Seventeen year old Beatrice Dunn has had it with her small town. She leaves her limited prospects in Stony Point for the wilds of New York City following a job notice in the newspaper for a “Respectable Lady” who is “well versed in sums, etiquette, tea making, and the language of flowers.” Beatrice is particularly keen on the last line of the advert: “Those averse to magic need not apply.” Tea and Sympathy is a magical tea shop catering to high society ladies run by a witch named Eleanor St. Clair and her fortune telling BFF Adelaide Thom. As Beatrice settles into her new digs, her magic flourishes beyond her wildest expectations and she learns to communicate with the dead.

Each of the women encounter a man that will change their lives. When Eleanor’s secret relationship with an engaged woman ends upon her marriage, the new husband seeks to punish Eleanor for her proclivities. Adelaide, having sworn to remain single, finds herself increasingly attached to a former army doctor who wants to use science to explain magic. Meanwhile, a reverend with a little too much time on his hands and an obsession with the Salem Witch Trials decides to “cure” Beatrice. On the edges lurk sinister supernatural forces with their sights set on the trio.

[Think Practical Magic with Victorian twist…]