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Alex Brown

Celebrating the Best of Supernatural

Oh Supernatural, even though you can be painful, frustrating, and depressing sometimes, I will never stop loving you. With the start of the fifteenth (!) and final season this week, what better time to revisit the 307 (!!) episodes of the little show that could. Sam and Dean have died more times than they can count but this time it might be for good. But before the going gets tough and the tough get going, let’s take a moment to celebrate some of the best episodes that this bonkers, beautiful show has produced over the last decade and a half.

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Once More Unto the Breach: A Kingdom For a Stage by Heidi Heilig

After the terrible events of For a Muse of Fire, Jetta is unsure of herself and her future. Her mother is gone, her father gravely injured, her brother back from the dead, and the boy she cares for has abandoned her. An unexpected reunion leads to a shocking betrayal. Captured and frightened, she is sent back to the one place she never wanted to see again: Hell’s Court. What was once a prison of horrors is now a workshop for Lady Theodora and armory for her brother General Xavier LeGarde. Theodora strikes a deal with Jetta (although she has no choice but to accept) to study her magic in exchange for bringing peace to Chakrana and providing Jetta with an endless supply of the elixir to treat her malheur. Secretly, however, Jetta is still working with the Tiger to bring down the Aquitans.

Much to Jetta’s dismay, the Aquitans are keeping her sociopathic biological father Le Trépas in Hell’s Court as well. If the colonizers can understand how Jetta’s abilities work while harnessing Le Trépas’ expansive powers, the Aquitan armee will be unstoppable. She may be young, but she has the fate of her family, her friends, and her entire kingdom on her shoulders. If she fails, everything she loves will be destroyed, yet success is almost out of reach. The things she will have to do and the horrendous acts she must commit will change her and her people in ways she cannot predict. The final battle is coming, and Jetta is not ready.

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A Jolt of Power: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Galaxy “Alex” Stern sees ghosts. Bloody, blown open, broken, they look as they did at the moment of their deaths. Drugs mute their effects, but at a high price. After she’s found by the police as the only survivor to a brutal crime scene, she’s offered an out by the Lethe House, one of nine secret magical societies at Yale. She becomes a Dante to Daniel “Darlington” Arlington’s Virgil (basically an apprentice to a master), and learns how to keep the other eight Houses in line. Things go smoothly at first. The “Ancient Eight” specialize in certain magics, while Lethe House protects the sanctity of the rituals and prevents the Houses from running amok. Or so Alex is told.

When Darlington vanishes by nefarious means and a young woman from town turns up murdered, Alex finds her dreams for the future crumbling before her eyes. Her benefactor tells her in no uncertain terms to let the case go and her police contact, known as Centurion, demands she back off and not screw up his case. But something about Tara Hutchinson’s death haunts her, and it’s not just the ghost of the Bridegroom who keeps following her around. There is something else going on, something someone is working very hard to keep hidden from her. Suspects and victims start piling up and it gets harder and harder to tell who is who. Alex wants to be the kind of woman who gets good grades and socializes with intellectuals, but if she’s going to make it out alive she’ll have to embrace the angry, rough-edged survivor mentality she’s buried deep.

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Magic Pies, Haunted Woods, and Daring Revolutionaries in This Season’s Young Adult SFF

This year is going out with a bang with some seriously amazing young adult science fiction and fantasy. While November and December have fewer (yet just as enticing) books, October is a veritable feast. From future dystopias to historical fantasies, from robots to sentient flutes, from small town magic to enchanted woods, there’s a little something here for everyone.

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Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: September 2019

Magic as revenge, retaliation, or retribution is the theme of many of September’s best short speculative fiction stories. There are some new authors on this list alongside some very well-known names, yet no matter where they are career-wise, the stories they’ve written have left a mark on this world. Here are some of the ten best science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories I read in September.

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Unleash the Horror of The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht

In a world of wickedness and cruelty, a monster is born. Elendhaven itself was birthed from violence when long-ago magicians split the earth open and poisoned the sea. A city of industry sprang up around the devastation, only to be gradually consumed by it. When the monster is born (or, more accurately, becomes aware of its existence) Elendhaven is dying, fitfully and painfully. There is plenty of room for men who behave like monsters and small boys with a taste for blood. The monster names himself Johann. As he grows, Johann learns about power, how to take it from someone, how to prevent someone else from taking it from you. He learns how to kill and learns he enjoys the act of killing. He was a “Thing with power,” and Things with power survived.

But he isn’t the only Thing with power in Elendhaven. Florian Leickenbloom, beautiful, delicate, magical Florian, hides a true nature as bleak and black as the fetid waters lapping the shores of the toxic city. Johann is just the thing Florian needs to take his sinister plot to the next level. When a Mage Hunter from the south picks up their trail, the lovers make one last ditch effort to bring their plans to fruition. They will destroy the world or die trying.

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All the New and Returning SFF Television for Fall 2019

Well, this is a disappointment to say the least. A few years ago when I first started doing this Fall TV schedule list, I did it in part because there were so many speculative fiction shows on the air that I needed a way to keep track of everything. However, this year it’s almost the opposite. The amount of spec fic television has dwindled dramatically.

Two factors seem to be at play here: a trend shift and streaming’s lack of a seasonal schedule. In the first, we’ve been seeing the decline of SFF and horror and the rise of sitcoms and procedurals/dramas (shows about cops, lawyers, investigators, doctors, emergency service providers, etc. where the core group either solve a mystery or deal with intergroup issues, often with overlap between the two) for a while now. You can argue forever about why this is happening—my theory has to do with seeking the familiar and easy as a way of exerting control over an increasingly chaotic world—but the result is a whole lotta network sameness. Add to that the wonky scheduling caused by networks and cable still bound to premieres in September and October with midseason premieres in January, and streaming sites launching one or two shows every month all year round. And this is what you get. With practically every network launching a streaming site over the next two years, the Fall TV premiere schedule will likely become a thing of the past. But for now, let’s just enjoy the ride.

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“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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