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Alex Brown

An Old Story Made New: C.T. Rwizi’s Scarlet Odyssey

A mother who became an obsessive. A boy who became a mystic. A woman who became a warrior. A machine who became a man. A survivor who became an abuser. A princess who became a king. An enemy who became a lover. An ally who became an adversary. The stories of people who defied tradition and social order to live according to their own rules overlap and intertwine in C.T. Rwizi’s commanding new epic fantasy Scarlet Odyssey.

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Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: May 2020

While the rest of the country seems hellbent on reopening in the middle of a pandemic, I intend to continue hiding in my house as much as humanly possible. Fortunately, there is a lot of excellent speculative short fiction to keep me occupied. These stories, full of ghosts and mythological beasties and mechas and brain implants, make up ten of the best science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories I read this past May.

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Raise Your Voice: Bethany C. Morrow’s A Song Below Water

Here’s what I know. Four days after Breonna Taylor was murdered, my county effected a shelter-in-place mandate. My second book was delayed, then undelayed, then delayed, then released in April, but all my signings and events were canceled. I watched the body count get higher and the list of people being laid off get longer and the disregard and disdain from those who remained blissfully unaffected get deeper.

The day George Floyd was murdered, I finished reading Bethany C. Morrow’s A Song Below Water. It filled me with love and righteous fire and I couldn’t wait to write my review. Hours later I was doubled over in pain worse than anything I’d felt before. I couldn’t sit, couldn’t stand, couldn’t lay down.

The day Tony McDade was murdered, I was laying in a hospital bed waiting on test results. The peaceful protests and brutal police retaliation erupted, and I could only watch, feeling helpless and enraged at the same time. A few days later as others were being beaten and arrested and shot at, I went home to recover from surgery. I had my family by my side. Taylor, Floyd, and McDade did not.

And now after a week of protests, change is happening in fits and starts. I cannot march in a protest, and I only have so much money to donate, but what I do have is a voice, a platform, and a love of Black young adult speculative fiction. I don’t know what I can say that hasn’t already been said by activists more informed than I, but I can use this opportunity to honor our culture and the people doing the work. Lately, every moment of my life is swallowed up in Black pain, so I want to take a moment to celebrate Black joy. To do that, we need to talk about A Song Below Water.

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Clones, Sirens, and Dragons: New Young Adult Speculative Fiction for June & July 2020

The pandemic may have put a dent in the spring publication schedule, but the June and July releases are barreling forward full steam ahead. Lots of new and returning series, lots of debuts, and lots of fresh and exciting work from long-time authors. My bookshelves are already protesting all the titles I’m about to add to my TBR.

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Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: April 2020

March seemed to drag on for an eternity while April was gone in a flash. Normal no longer exists. Time is a flat circle. Hell is empty, and so on and so forth. Speculative fiction cannot save the world, but if my experience is any indication it can at least make sheltering in place a little less soul-crushing. We were graced with a lot of great short horror, fantasy, and science fiction this past month, and these are ten of my favorites.

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“You’ve the feel of destiny about you.”: The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

In a world of colonizers and pirates and survivors making desperate choices, two teens fight back against the darkness. Florian and Evelyn could not be any more different, but in Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s stunning young adult debut The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea they will unite under common goals: stop the Nameless Captain, save the captured mermaid, and break free from society’s chains.

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Friendship and Magic in Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky

Sanja’s life is small. There are few opportunities for a townie with an overbearing father, dismissive brothers, and a body she has been taught to feel ashamed of. Though she wanders the countryside, Lelek’s life is just as narrow. Alone, betrayed, and stripped of much of her magic, she scrapes by on deception and theft. A chance encounter sends the two young women on the road together after Sanja agrees to teach Lelek how to fight with a sword in exchange for the witch no longer using her powers to cause harm.

At first the girls meander through villages and towns looking for witches to fight as a way to earn fast cash and help Lelek practice her magic skills, but soon their journey becomes a quest as they search for the magic stolen from Lelek by her former teacher. Figures from the girls’ pasts turn up in tragic and painful ways, and an act of reckless violence threatens the fragile relationship they’ve built. To become whole, these broken young women must find the pieces of themselves that were lost or taken from them and learn to love their imperfect selves.

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Queer Witches and Doomed Princesses: New Young Adult SFF for April & May 2020

Things are terrible. It feels like the desolate abyss of shelter-in-place is closing in, and not even feverishly checking social media for updates can sate the endless, gasping void. Sometimes it’s the little joys that help beat back the overwhelming dread, and for me that usually means adding new books onto my TBR pile. Times are uncertain, but at least we have these upcoming young adult science fiction and fantasy books to look forward to. And if you can help these authors out by pre-ordering from your library or local bookstore, even better.

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Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: March 2020

In these trying times, you might as well treat yourself to some fantabulous, mind-bending short speculative fiction. Reanimated corpses meet alchemical androids, sea monster siblings go up against dark magic witches, and futures full of death and hope are plotted by pensive thinkers. Here are ten of the best short science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories I read in March.

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Will the Circle Be Unbroken?: Sword in the Stars by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

I wish I had Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta’s Once & Future and Sword in the Stars when I was a teenager. This duology would’ve changed my whole life in myriad ways if it fell into my hands in high school. I needed a book full of badass, racially diverse, queer, feminist teens taking on fascism and the patriarchy like Arthur needed Excalibur. Although I’m almost two decades away from my teen years now, I’m still so, so, so happy I get to have this series in my life.

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Honoring Self and Culture: A Phoenix First Must Burn Anthology

A Phoenix First Must Burn, edited by Patrice Caldwell, is a collection of #OwnVoices stories sprung forth from the minds of some of the best and brightest Black women and gender nonconforming authors. These sixteen science fiction and fantasy young adult tales run the gamut in terms of settings, creatures, style, and identities, but all are united in respecting and honoring self and culture.

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Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: February 2020

February brought a treasure trove of awesome short speculative fiction, including ones about a golem, a robot nanny, a mermaid, a witch, a dead bride, and more. There are some big names on this list as well as some lesser known writers, and, as always, a wide range of identities represented. But best of all, these ten stories will make your heart sing and your body shiver.

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Magic Teen Warriors: Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco

Tala Warnock is stuck. She can’t wait to get out of the small, conservative, magic-immune town in Arizona where she grew up. Out beyond the city limits is a world just begging to be explored. It’s been over a decade since the kingdoms of Avalon and Beira nearly destroyed each other during a toxic war that erased Wonderland off the map. Beira sealed its borders and Avalon was encased in ice. Today, the Royal States of America pays top dollar for dangerous spelltech as authoritarianism ramps up. The only things that make life manageable for Tala are her many nearby relatives, her supportive parents, and her best friend Alex, a somewhat closeted gay boy who also happens to be the exiled heir to the throne of the lost kingdom of Avalon. Like him, Tala has a secret: She has the ability to neutralize other people’s magic.

Her parents, a Scottish immigrant and a pre-contact mythological being from the Philippines known as Maria Makiling, are teaching her how to control and use her powers for defense and offense. But before she can complete her training, her hometown is invaded, first by ICE agents looking to illegally imprison anyone with magic regardless of citizenship, and then by operatives of the wicked Snow Queen of Beira. Joined by a powerful magical creature and a gang of magically-inclined teenage warriors, Tala and Alex head out on a quest to save Avalon and defeat the Snow Queen once and for all.

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A Historical Fairy Tale: The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu

Most people in Western society know the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The clavier child prodigy composed dozens of pieces that torment fledgling pianists and violinists to this very day, but in the 18th century his fame was less secure. Known for his eccentric and mercurial moods, Mozart often struggled to keep his finances—and ego—in check. His elder sister, Maria Anna, was nearly as musically accomplished as her brother but has largely been ignored by history. In her latest young adult historical fantasy novel, The Kingdom of Back, Marie Lu attempts to give Maria Anna her due. This is the story of Mozart…the other Mozart.

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