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Alex Brown

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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Never Stop Fighting: Natasha Ngan’s Girls of Paper and Fire Series

Natasha Ngan’s latest stunning young adult fantasy series is set in the historical Asia-inspired Kingdom of Ikhara. In the first book, Girls of Paper and Fire, we learn about the three castes: Moon (full animal demon), Steel (half animal demon, half human), and Paper (full human). Every year the brutal Demon King selects eight human concubines called Paper Girls. The girls have no say in the matter, as Lei learns first hand when she’s kidnapped and taken to the Hidden Palace. There she falls in love with one of her gorgeous fellow Paper Girls, Wren, the daughter of one of the most powerful Paper clans who long ago allied with the demons against humans. An impulsive act of resistance lands her in the center of a vast conspiracy of secret revolutionaries.

By Girls of Storm and Shadow, Lei and Wren are on the run after a failed assassination attempt on the Demon King. Wren’s father sends the girls and their motley crew of human, shaman, and Moon caste rebels on a quest to secure alliances from important demon clans, but soldiers and spies dog their heels. As the bodies pile up and long-held secrets spark painful betrayals, Lei and Wren’s relationship is strained. Wren isn’t who she seems, but neither is Lei…and one final act of misplaced trust could send her right back into the claws of the Demon King.

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Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: October 2019

With the arrival of October came a flood of amazing horror short fiction. But it hasn’t been just ghost stories and haunted houses. We’re talking alien invaders, possessed handbags, wicked magicians, clever old women, and more. So settle in with your flashlight and a blanket and get ready for some of the ten best science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories I read in October.

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Wade in the Water: The Deep by Rivers Solomon

Centuries ago, when the slave traders threw pregnant African women overboard, they thought that was the end of their story. They were wrong. The women drowned, but their children did not. Born able to live underwater these merpeople-like beings built a new home down in the depths, far from the cruel two-legs. Eventually, it was decided to put the past behind them and live without the agony of the knowledge of what was done to their ancestors. A Historian was selected to keep all the memories of all the wajinru. While the others lived peaceful, carefree lives, the Historian would remember.

The system worked until it didn’t. Yetu cannot handle the strain of being a Historian, the burden of history is too heavy. She is losing her sense of self to the memories of others. So when the time comes to temporarily transfer memories back to the rest of the wajinru, Yetu seizes the moment. She is only supposed to release the memories for a few days before taking them back, but instead she leaves her people to fend for themselves and escapes to the surface. There she meets a two-legs and comes to understand the truth about her kind and the meaning of her people’s history.

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A Travel Guide to the Worlds of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children Series

In Every Heart a Doorway, the first novella in the stellar Wayward Children series, author Seanan McGuire explores what happens when children who disappeared into magical worlds returned to the real world. Its prequel story Down Among the Sticks and Bones explores one of these worlds in detail, telling the story of how Jacqueline and Jillian became Jack and Jill. The consequences of leaving your home world for the real one come to roost in the third novella, Beneath the Sugar Sky, a theme explored from a different angle in the fourth novella, In An Absent Dream.

Maguire’s portal worlds are connected to our own through magic doors. Not just any child can cross the threshold; something innate in their being or in the other world draws them in. What follows is an account of every single portal world mentioned, even in passing. Most of the worlds we have only scattershot information, but they’re listed here anyway alongside those we know a substantial amount about. I’ve kept spoilers out as much as possible.

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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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