content by

Alex Brown

A Fantasy Worth Savoring: The Midnight Bargain by C. L. Polk

It’s the start of Bargaining Season, the yearly weeks-long event where prominent young men woo eligible young women in the hopes of securing a bride. At least that’s what it’s supposed to be. In reality, the men bribe and buy their brides from fathers eager to benefit off their daughters’ backs. Of the three nations who participate in Bargaining Season, Chasland is the least advanced and most conservative of the group, and it’s there that Beatrice Clayborn grew up. The fear that a spirit might take over the body of an unborn child has led to the creation of silver collars that block out magic. In other countries the women only wear the collar when she might be pregnant, but in Chasland, the collar is locked around her throat at marriage and not removed until after menopause. Beatrice, who is secretly teaching herself magic, can think of no worse fate than to be sold off to a man and denied access to the one thing that makes her truly happy. So she hatches a plan.

Of course, that plan immediately begins to fray when she meets the gorgeous Lavan siblings, the brash Ysabeta and her dashing brother Ianthe. She hoped to skate through Bargaining Season unnoticed, but her heart yearns for Ianthe as much as it does for magic. Soon there are several suitors vying for her hand, despite her best efforts. With her father’s demands increasing and her options dwindling, Beatrice will have to choose: a life of faux-freedom married to a man she loves but can never be equals with or one of magic but where she will be hidden away as the shame of her family. But what if there is a third choice? What if she can bring the whole sexist system crashing to the ground?

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An Entirely New Take on Cosmic Horror: Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

Ring Shout, the latest historical fantasy novella by the ever-brilliant P. Djèlí Clark, achieves what the TV show Lovecraft Country couldn’t manage: to do something entirely new with H.P. Lovecraft. Twisting and twining racial violence with supernatural horror is old hat, but Clark has never been an author to settle for what’s expected.

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Ancestral Magic and Battle Dragons: New Young Adult SFF for October, November, and December 2020

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the publishing industry, and scheduled released dates have been pushed back and pushed back and pushed back. At least the young adult science fiction and fantasy books that have made it through the chaos are worth the wait. Get ready for powerful magic, grand conspiracies, and sweeping romance.

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A Children’s Tale for All Ages: Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker

Over the Woodward Wall began as a book within a book. In Seanan McGuire’s 2019 novel Middlegame, rogue alchemist Asphodel D. Baker wrote a children’s book about Avery and Zib, two children as different as can be who tumble over a wall into a strange world. In Middlegame, readers only saw snippets of the children’s tale, and now McGuire (writing as Baker) has gifted us with the first installment of their incredible adventure.

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Cupcakes and Cacti, Meteors and Magic: Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore

Chicky Quintanilla is a gawky, gangly girl with one friend and a major lack of confidence. Lita Perez is a glittering ball of sunshine who no one really appreciates. Once upon a time, they were best friends who shared their love of old-timey movies and goofing off in the desert. Now they barely speak and move through high school secretly pining for each other but unable to breach the divide. Desperate to keep a huge secret from Lita, Chicky pushed her away so much that eventually Lita stopped trying. But Lita has a secret of her own: she and Bruja Lupe, the woman who raised her as a daughter, are made of stardust.

With the annual Meteor Regional Pageant and Talent Competition Showcase coming up fast, Chicky hatches a plan to get back at Kendra Kendall—a local Mean Girl who has made Chicky’s life a living nightmare—by sabotaging her run for the pageant crown. At the same time, Lita decides to enter the pageant hoping to do one last fun thing before her body turns back into stardust. With the help of Chicky’s brash older sisters, Junior, their school’s resident artist, and Cole Kendall, a trans boy who uses his privilege to protect those without any, Lita and Chicky take on queer- and transphobia, white supremacy, and the patriarchy.

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“Oh, Relax It’s Only Magic”: The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke

Sideways Pike is the reigning queen of loners and losers at West High. When the trio of Mean Girls at the top of the social food chain pay her forty bucks to do some magic at their pre-Halloween party, she accepts because why not, right? What else is she gonna do? And hey, easy money. The spell blooms brighter than Sideways expects and wrenches out of her control. Hours later she comes to and sees the metaphorical scar her magic left behind. So do the trio. Instead of being freaked out and casting her aside, Daisy, Yates, and Jing take her in.

The “unholy trinity” turned quartet explore the world of magic with the ferocity of a sugar-addled child on Halloween night. A whole new world exists just below the surface of the known one, a world of powerful covens and sinister devils. But just like in the real world, the magic world is infested with arrogant men who have corrupted magic into a tool of the patriarchy. Sideways, Daisy, Yates, and Jing wind up in the crosshairs of a family of witchfinders who delight in stripping the marginalized of what little power they accumulate. Now united under the coven name The Scapegracers, the girls will face down the witchfinders using the only weapon they have: themselves.

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“Take Risks, Follow Your Heart, and Move Forward”: Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

It befell in the days of Bree Matthews that there was a racist system in need of a royal ass-kicking. A few months ago, Bree’s mother died in a tragic car accident that threw Bree’s entire life off kilter. In a last ditch effort to escape her grief, Bree enrolls in an early college program for high school students at UNC Chapel Hill. Attending with her is her best friend Alice. A chance encounter at an unauthorized off-campus party reveals to Bree a world she never knew existed, one humming with magic. When she discovers a potential connection between her mother’s death and the magical teens battling demons in the woods, she decides to infiltrate the group and expose the truth.

Nick, the son of one of the most powerful men in the Order of the Round Table and the boy destined to become a king, is drawn to Bree…and she to him. Their connection is instant and intense. Standing in her way is Selwyn, a living weapon who will do anything and everything to protect his prince, and the misogynoir of the grand old party of wealthy white people who dominate the Order. But there are bigger threats to Bree than casual racism and ignorant remarks. The more she learns about magic—the Bloodcraft of the Order and the Rootcraft of her mother’s people—the more she picks at the threads forming a massive and ancient conspiracy.

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What Makes a Monster: Lovecraft Country, “Meet Me in Daegu”

I went into “Meet Me in Daegu” with a high level of suspicion. The last time Lovecraft Country devoted time to people who weren’t Black or white Americans, it didn’t go well. I knew Ji-ah’s storyline was coming and I’ve been lowkey dreading it ever since the anti-Indigenous and transphobic debacle with Yahima. Episode 6 was better than I expected, although there were still some issues…

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Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: August 2020

If the following list of my ten favorite short science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories are any indication, August was the month I went on a gothic kick. Although there are a couple of stories set on spaceships or that deal with troubled interpersonal relationships, most are atmospheric and dark, all sharp fangs and creaking bones and purple bruises and pooling blood.

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