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Alex Brown

“We Are Each Other’s Harvest”: Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Before Jam was born, the world went to war. Not against each other but against monsters, people who did terrible things to others and those who permitted them to operate. A few people, later called angels, led the revolution and destroyed or locked up the monsters, often having to act monstrously themselves. Now there is peace and happiness.

In the town of Lucille, Jam, a selectively mute transgender Black girl grows up believing everything is perfect. After all, the town slogan is “We are each other’s harvest. We are each other’s business. We are each other’s magnitude and bond,” taken from Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem Paul Robeson. There is no hatred, no bigotry, no abuse. Or so they say. But Lucille isn’t a utopia for everyone. For some it is a monster’s playground, for others their own private hell. The monsters aren’t gone, they just learned to hide.

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The Worst Is Yet to Come: Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron

Much to her disappointment, Arrah has no magic. Every year she attends a ritual that should reveal her powers, and every year she leaves as magic-less as she arrived. Her father, Oshe, is a skilled herbalist and potion-maker and her mother, Arti, is the third most powerful person in the kingdom. Her father’s love and her witchdoctor grandmother’s compassion make bearable her mother’s seething disgust at her daughter’s shame, as does the affection shared between her and Rudjek, the son of the king’s right hand also known as her mother’s nemesis.

Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, Arrah’s world is shattered. Children have been disappearing, and fear and distrust is spreading across the city. The temple priests cannot locate them and the orishas—the gods her people worship—are not responding to prayers. When a friend of Arrah’s is taken, she makes the ultimate sacrifice and trades years of her life to cheat her way into possessing magic. What she discovers next propels her down a path she cannot escape from and a destiny she is ill-prepared for. The Demon King, believed to have been killed by the orishas millennia ago, is rising once more and Arrah’s fate is tied to his. Before this is over, she will lose everything and everyone she loves, maybe even herself.

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Sing Me a Song: Makiia Lucier’s Song of the Abyss

Eight years ago, Reyna was nearly killed. Although she was only a child, she helped her older friends King Ulises, Lord Elias, and Lady Mercedes stop a deadly conspiracy and rescue those believed lost and gone. Now at seventeen, she has almost completed her training as a cartographer and has her sights set on making her mark on the world. Adventure comes when she least expects it and brings with it the threat of death and danger. One late night her ship is besieged by a murderous menace and his singing companion. Reyna barely escapes and washes up on the shores of the kingdom of Lunes where she meets the grumpy yet loyal Prince Levi. Someone has been attacking ships in the Sea of Magdalen for months, and the Lunesians are somehow involved.

Soon, she’s back at sea, this time with her closest friends and newest allies in tow. They must battle hungry sea monsters, explore a land no foreigner has set foot on in several lifetimes, and root out the evil hiding in plain sight. Dark secrets and wicked betrayals haunt the mysterious kingdom of Miramar. Prince Levi joins her on her quest, as do her del Marian friends Blaise, who dreams of becoming a doctor, and Jaime, who wants to find his own place in the world. With Lady Mercedes laid up with a difficult pregnancy and Lord Elias and Jaime captured by sinister forces, it’s up to Reyna to save her compatriots and stop the villain before it’s too late…and maybe fall in love along the way.

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Hugo Spotlight: The Devastating Alternate History of Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation

In the lead-up to the 2019 Hugo Awards, we’re taking time to appreciate this year’s novel, young adult, and short fiction Finalists, and what makes each of them great.

2018 was a damn good year for young adult fantasy. Granted, it was also a really bad year for letting Black women authors tell their own stories. Of all the YA fantasy published last year, only four—FOUR!—were by Black women. Lucky for you, three of them, The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton, Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, and Dread Nation by Justina Ireland, are nominated for the Hugo Award’s Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book. The fourth, A Blade So Black, is frakking great and you should go read it right after you finish reading this. Until then, let me squee at you about how much I loved Dread Nation.

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Hugo Spotlight: The Ambitious Risk-taking of Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone

In the lead-up to the 2019 Hugo Awards, we’re taking time to appreciate this year’s novel and short fiction Finalists, and what makes each of them great.

After I finished reading Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone for the first time, I had to stop and release the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. The first book in the Legacy of Orïsha series is an ambitious, audacious young adult fantasy novel. With it’s intense action sequences, lush descriptions, compelling characters, and creative take on Nigerian culture and Yorùbán beliefs, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. Apparently others feel the same since it’s now nominated for a Lodestar Award.

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Hugo Spotlight: The Subtle Revolution of Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles

In the lead-up to the 2019 Hugo Awards, we’re taking time to appreciate this year’s novel and short fiction Finalists, and what makes each of them great.

I literally cheered out loud when I heard that Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles was nominated for a Lodestar Award. What can I say about it to explain my excitement? I could tell you that it’s masterfully written, that the dialogue is pitch perfect and the descriptions evocative. Or I could hype up the fascinating characters and the subtle ways Clayton uses them to explore and shatter tropes. Maybe I’ll talk about how Clayton breaks down how Western beauty standards can be used as both a tool and a weapon, depending on who is dictating the standards and whether or not another person can meet them. Eh, I’ll keep it simple and just say “it’s absolutely amazing.”

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Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: July 2019

I can’t tell you how to while away the long summer days and hot, sweaty nights, but reading some short speculative fiction is an excellent use of your time, if I do say so myself. You could read a story about a faerie market or a murderous enslaved girl or little green aliens or robots or a ton of other intriguing premises. There were a lot of great stories this month, and choosing only ten to feature was quite the challenge. Here are some of the ten best science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories I read in July.

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Prepare Yourself For Marvel’s Phase Four with These Must-Read Comics

After that super exciting San Diego Comic-Con Marvel panel—Jane as Thor! Bisexual Valkyrie! Mahershala Ali! Monica Rambeau! Shang-Chi! Lauren Ridloff! Kate Bishop! X-Men!—comics nerds are understandably going through a period of very intense emotions. If you aren’t particularly well versed in Marvel lore or just need to brush up a bit, the following list should help you out. For each forthcoming MCU movie and TV show, here’s are my comics reading recommendations, plus a little background info on characters that non-comics readers may not be aware of. Don’t worry, you still have plenty of time to catch up!

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War, Betrayal, and Dark Secrets in This Summer’s Upcoming Young Adult Speculative Fiction

With the MASSIVE amount of amazing YA science fiction, fantasy, and horror dropping in July, August, and September, I might as well give up on trying to get my TBR queue under control. We’ve got sequels and anthologies, epic journeys and small town horrors, and all kinds of goodies to while away the hot summer nights and long sunny days.

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The Toll by Cherie Priest Is the Southern Gothic Horror Novel of the Summer

Like so many other small manufacturing cities across the country, Staywater, Georgia, began its slide into irrelevance in the mid-20th century and never recovered. But being overlooked works just fine for the residents, both the living and the dead. Vintage mannequins swap clothing when no one’s looking. Dolls locked in an abandoned house chatter to themselves. A long-dead townie hangs out at the local bar every night. Two old cousins, Daisy and Claire, guard their young charge, Cameron, with spells and wards. And out in the nearby Okefenokee Swamp, a monster lurks.

Titus and Melanie don’t know any of this when they make the mistake of driving through the swamp on the way to their honeymoon. After driving across a bridge that shouldn’t be there, Titus wakes up lying on the ground. Melanie has vanished. As Titus’ search for his missing bride intensifies, Dave, a bartender who also woke up on that road thirteen years before, decides once and for all to solve the mystery of what happened to him that day. A selfish girlfriend, a reckless teenage boy, a concerned cop, and a grieving mother push and pull Titus in too many directions. In the end, everything comes down to a pair of secretive yet determined old ladies. They’re in for the fight of their lives.

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On the Road Again: Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

One morning, a teenage girl named Nessie leaves her house and walks. She doesn’t know where she’s going. She doesn’t know anything. Nessie is the first walker, but others soon join her. As Nessie’s sister Shana and their father tag along to protect their walker, a community of people calling themselves shepherds form around them. They watch over the flock of walkers and protect them from those who would do them harm. Over time other, stragglers attach themselves to the ever-growing group of pilgrims. A washed up rock star uses the herd to get attention and stroke his ego and an ex-cop with severe head trauma finds relief from her chronic pain. CDC scientists Arav and Cassie follow the herd as they desperately seek a cure.

Looming over everything is Black Swan, an artificial intelligence device used to detect and predict outbreaks of disease. It brings in Sadie, its handler, and Benji, a doctor who wants to rehab his reputation after being fired from the CDC years before. Eventually the shepherd and flock conflict with white supremacists and far-right fascists using the coming apocalypse for their own nefarious purposes. A parallel epidemic of a colonizing fungus arises, but are the walkers and the fungal infection a coincidence or is something more sinister going on?

That’s the premise, but the meat of the story is the journey across America. Political instability and virulent bigotry exacerbate the sleepwalker problem, and unmitigated fear cause seemingly decent people to act in unpredictable and explosive ways. This is a story about the end of the world but it’s really about us, about the things we do to each other when we think we can get away with it and what we do to the world when we think we have no other choice.

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Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: June 2019

Summer is officially upon us, and with it comes a whole new set of amazing short speculative fiction stories. There’s a little something for everyone in June, from a horror-filled family beach vacation to a sinister fairy tale to the perils of Martian exploration to marine biology in the age of climate change, and everything in between. Here are some of the ten best science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories I read in June.

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Love, Hate, and Everything Between: Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

Young adult urban fantasy gets a jolt of diversity with Wicked Fox by Kat Cho. In this K-drama inspired tale, two teens fight against a host of magical odds, a task made more difficult as they develop feelings for each other. People they trust betray them, and their enemies might not be opponents after all—nothing ends up being as straightforward as they initially thought. Action? Check! Mystery? Check! Romance? Triple check!

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Celebrating 10 Great Parents from Young Adult SFF

Every so often someone laments the lack of good parents in young adult fantasy and science fiction. This is usually followed up with the claim that good parents make for poor YA fiction because good parents don’t let their kids go off on dangerous adventures to save the world. To which I usually reply that they clearly don’t read enough YA SFF. Parents—yes, even the good ones—have a long history of involvement in young adult science fiction and fantasy, a trend that has actually been increasing in recent years.

In that vein, here are ten YA SFF novels where the parents are very much alive, are good people, and in some cases who even join the teen protagonist on their quest. There are, of course, a zillion more, so please add your recs in the comments!

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