content by

Alex Brown

Comin’ Straight From the Underground: Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

It’s fitting that Tochi Onyebuchi’s first adult novella, Riot Baby, comes out the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The roots of activists like MLK run deep through the story, not the sugar-coated, hand-holding, civil rights Santa Claus version the majority likes to champion but the impassioned preacher who wrote fiery words decrying those who stood in the way of progress. Onyebuchi’s story is a clarion call for action and an indictment of pacifism. And it’s a damn good story, too.

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The Iron Will of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee Hits Hard and Fast

Genie Lo is an overachieving, academically focused senior at a college prep school in San Francisco. She’s also the Shouhushen and Divine Guardian of the Protectorate of California on Earth. Yeah, a lot has happened since cute Quentin—aka the teenage version of the Monkey King Sun Wukong—pounced on her in The Epic Crush of Genie Lo. And things are about to go from chaotic to uncontrollable. A great evil threatens Earth and the Jade Emperor refuses to lift a finger. Soon, several gods challenge him for the throne, but the only way to win is to defeat the Big Bad.

All Genie wants to do is sort out her feelings for her charming but sometimes annoying boyfriend, learn more about her powers, and maintain the truce between the humans and the yaoguai. Oh, and graduate and get into a top college, of course. But all that will have to wait until she gets back from an epic quest. If she gets back, that is. She, Quetin, the bodhisattva Guanyin, and assorted other companions must do battle with seemingly unbeatable forces and take on the most powerful beings in the cosmos. Their very survival depends on it.

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In Anna-Marie McLemore’s Dark and Deepest Red, Identity Is Dangerous and Magical

The examination of identity—especially race, gender, and sexuality—appears in all of Anna-Marie McLemore’s books. Lace becomes the thing she fears the most and must rewire her old perceptions. The Nomeolvides women live in a garden that is both a blessing and a curse because others fear their power and brown skin. Blanca and Roja reject the identities placed upon them by others and forge their own. Samir wants to be someone he isn’t while others try to force Miel to change who she is. All of these strands are braided together into something harder and stronger in Dark and Deepest Red.

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Mechanical Dragons, Heavenly Quests, and Graffiti Magic in This Season’s Young Adult SFF

It’s my favorite time of the year: my quarterly round up of new young adult speculative fiction releases! We’re starting the new decade off right with a killer list of books teeming with diversity. I don’t know about you, but I’m about to max out the holds list on my library card.

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The End Is Only the Beginning: Shadowshaper Legacy by Daniel José Older

If Shadowshaper, the first book in Daniel José Older’s brilliant trilogy, is about a young woman discovering her power and the second, Shadowhouse Falls, about her struggling to keep it, then the third, Shadowshaper Legacy is about taking control. Ever since she first learned about shadowshaping and the Deck of Worlds, people have tried to keep her down, to keep her from knowing just how powerful she truly is.

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The Monster at the End of This Book: Seanan McGuire’s Come Tumbling Down

Things are quiet at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Cora and Christopher still long for their doors, Onishi Sumi is still alive, and Kade still rules the roost. And then a door made of lightning appears in Christopher’s basement dorm room, delivering a twice-resurrected Alexis and an unconscious Jill Wolcott. No, not Jill. Jack. Having been dead before, the Master cannot turn his beloved Jill into a vampire, but one quick and painful body swap and Jill has herself a nearly identical and conveniently never-been-dead new body. With the future of the Moors becoming increasingly unstable and Jack’s sanity crumbling with each passing moment, she and Alexis seek the help of their Wayward friends. Christopher, Cora, and Kade learn the hard way that they are not welcome to the land of bloodthirsty monsters and heartless gods.

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Best Young Adult Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror of 2019

This was an awesome year for young adult speculative fiction. It feels like a metric ton of YA was published this year, and most of it hovered somewhere between “so good” and “I’m dying from the greatness.” We were blessed with so much awesome young adult science fiction, fantasy, and horror this year that it took me a week to pair down my best ofs to the best of the best, and it’s still super long. So here you have it, my list of some of the best YA speculative fiction of 2019.

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Catching Up With Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children Series

In Come Tumbling Down, the forthcoming fifth book in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, the Wolcott twins take center stage once more. Chronologically, when we last saw them, Jill was dead and Jack was desperate to resurrect her. Now Jack returns to the school she abandoned, the trauma of a great and horrible thing that befell her back in the Moors still clinging to her like a death shroud. Only her schoolmates can save her.

But before we delve into the future whys and wherefores of Jack and Jill, let’s take a look back at the first four books and their roles therein. I think you’ll find that even when the terrible twins aren’t present they still hold influence over Eleanor West’s charges.

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Fabulous Magic and Personal Truths: Reverie by Ryan La Sala

Everything ended at the old mill. Or maybe it began there. Whatever happened, it left an old woman dead and Kane scarred and missing his memories. The police want to toss him in the slammer, his parents don’t trust him, his sister doesn’t believe him, and his classmates don’t care about him. He’s alone in the world, or so he thinks.

Suddenly Kane is thrust back into the life he can’t remember living. Something shadowy and sinister is stalking him, three teens claim to be his long lost besties, and a dynamic drag queen takes a keen interest in his personal life. The events at the mill fractured the group, and the Big Bad uses their interpersonal turmoil to make things worse, literally and magically.

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Into the Woods: Shea Ernshaw’s Winterwood

Nora Walker is many things. Isolated, friendless, lonely, a little odd, in tune with nature. The one thing she is not is the very thing other kids taunt her for being: a witch. Generations of Walker women have lived near Jackjaw Lake and the eerie Wicker Woods, each with a special gift that Nora’s grandmother calls their “nightshade.” One woman could communicate with birds, another could see other people’s dreams, another could calm wild bees. At seventeen Nora’s gift still hasn’t made itself known, and so she believes she has none, that the Walker legacy of witchcraft will wither with her. Then one evening she finds a lost boy in the woods and everything changes.

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OK Colonizer: Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender

Sigourney Rose has a plan, one she has been honing for years. When she was a child, the Roses held dominion over an island in the kingdom of Hans Lollik. They were the only Black islander family ever to rise above slavery to the ranks of the kongelig, or nobility. Centuries before, the Fjern left their northern kingdom and conquered the southern islands, enslaving the dark skinned islanders and forcing them to work on plantations and as guards. After Sigourney’s family are slaughtered by Fjern kongelig, she and a slave woman, Marieke, escape the islands. As they travel the world, Sigourney crafts her plan to return to Hans Lollik and take the throne. The best way to save her people is to remove the Fjern from power and rule them herself, or so she believes.

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Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah

A century after climate change and natural disasters flooded the earth, a sixteen-year-old British Muslim girl is about to have her world shattered. Leyla McQueen’s father has been languishing in prison ever since the government accused him of causing “seasickness,” a depression-like illness that usually ends in the suffering taking their life. All Leyla wants is his freedom, but her numerous inquiries to the police have been rebuffed. In a last ditch effort, she signs up to race her submersible in the London Marathon. Winners can ask for any boon from the Prime Minister, and they are always granted. So when she wins, Leyla is devastated to have her request for her father’s return denied at the behest of the sinister Captain Sebastian.

Soon, Leyla is forced to flee London. The Blackwatch, the government’s unstoppable security force, is after her. Her only companion is Ari, an inscrutable boy with a fierce streak sent by Leyla’s grandfather to protect her on her journey. The two teens clash as their needs and interests conflict, but the more she learns about him the less stable her reality becomes. When the truth becomes a lie, secrets can launch a revolution. Will Leyla lead the charge or be crushed by her enemies before the fighting even begins?

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In Space, No One Can Hear You Pray: Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather

Power is a helluva thing. Those who have it will do anything to keep it, and those who want it will do everything to take it. Power permeates Lina Rather’s Sisters of the Vast Black, but so too does choice, which is, in a way, a kind of power. The choice to leave, to stay, to change, to revert, to accept, to force, to forgive, to forget. The nuns in the Order of Saint Rita have more power than they understand yet fewer choices than they realize.

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