Tor.com content by

Caitlyn Paxson

Gaslamp Intrigue: Brother’s Ruin by Emma Newman

Brother’s Ruin bursts with the promise of an undercover lady spy who possesses secret powers and a talent for getting herself into madcap magi-political scrapes. The only sting is that this novella only has room for her origin story, and feels a bit like the pilot episode for a show that isn’t streaming yet.

In the Victorian London of Emma Newman’s novella, the Royal Society of Esoteric Arts quickly snaps up every young person who shows a talent for magic and inducts them into a strict apprenticeship, separating them from their former lives. To soften the blow, a mage’s family is given payment—but the amount offered by the Royal Society is tied directly to the mage’s talent. Only those with great power can expect to command enough to truly change their families’ fortunes.

[Read more]

Historical Magic: Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale

I always find that the most enjoyable winter reads are the books that invoke a cold wind howling outside and a story being told next to a glowing fire. The Bear and the Nightingale casts a cozy spell, starting out with a once-upon-a-time told by the warm glow of a Russian oven.  We listen along with a boyar’s brood of children as they are told of Morozko, the demon of winter, and the brave girls who face his cruelty to be granted his riches or die in the attempt.

But the tales told by the fire are more than folklore to Vasilisa, the boyar’s youngest child, who sees the domovoi who guards the hearth and the vazila in the stables. She charms the rusalka away from her murderous ways and makes sure that all the old spirits are held in balance to keep her home safe. Then her father brings home a new bride who can see the same spirits, but fears them as demons. Not long after, a priest arrives, ready to prey upon her fear and condemn Vasilisa and all those who hold with the old ways…

[Read more]

Romance and Rebellion: The Star–Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

There is a particular set of things that I was always on the hunt for as a young teen reader: a princess who railed against what was expected of her, an unwanted betrothal, and the slow burn of love blossoming with a roguish stranger who becomes a friend. Buttercup, Cimorene, Eilonwy – I loved the princesses who shoved and quipped their way to freedom and romance.

The Star-Touched Queen takes up the rebellious princess gauntlet, giving us Mayavati, the bookish daughter of a Raja who has lived her whole life under the shadow of a terrible horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction. When crisis threatens her father’s kingdom, she pledges herself to a mysterious husband who won’t tell her who he truly is or even show her his face. She soon finds herself queen of the beautiful and empty kingdom of Akaran, and the deeper she delves into its mysteries, the more she begins to suspect that her charming new husband Amar is hiding something important. As love and distrust war inside her, she must remember her soul’s past in order to choose the threads of her destiny.

[Read more]

On Finding the Right Book at the Right Time

Sometimes a book comes into your life at just the right moment. There’s something in it that speaks to your specific place in space and time, like the heavens aligning for an eclipse.

I spent my 16th year as an exchange student in France, living with a French family, attending a French school, and being completely immersed in the language—which I barely spoke a word of when I arrived. Even though I was an obsessive reader, I left my books at home. The whole point, I’d reasoned, was to forsake English for a year while I learned a different language. I rapidly realized my mistake—I was forlorn without books that I could understand.

So I wrote a letter to my Great Aunt Joan. In my reading life, my Aunt Joan was the Gandalf to my Frodo, the Merlin to my Arthur. She was responsible for most of the great literary loves of my childhood: the Moomins, Oz, the Dark is Rising series—all of them came from her. I wrote to her and I told her how forsaken I felt without any books that spoke to my heart.

[Weeks later, I received a brown paper envelope with a note and a book inside…]

Five Beautiful Graphic Novels I Would Have Loved As a Tween

Thankfully, the stigma that comics are just for boys is fading rapidly into oblivion. As a kid, even though I was a fan of plenty of things that were marketed at the boy demographic (hello Ninja Turtles), I remember looking at the popular comics of the time and thinking: these are not for me. If I was going to read a book with pictures, I wanted the pictures to be beautiful. It wasn’t until I got to college and had a shiny trade paperback of The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes forced into my hands by a roommate that I began to see how the world of graphic novels might be something I should look into.

Nowadays graphic novels have become a downright respectable literary form, and there is a decent selection of volumes aimed specifically at the tween girl demographic. So here are five beautiful graphic novels for the tween girls in your life, as well as the tween boys and everyone else who loves a good story!

[Read more]

Science and Swashbuckling: A Daughter of No Nation by A.M. Dellamonica

In Child of a Hidden Sea, adventurer and biology enthusiast Sophie Hansa is transported to Stormwrack, a world of island nations ruled by swashbuckling and magic. She finds herself embroiled in a political conflict involving members of a family she never knew she had, and quickly realizes that Stormwrack isn’t just an exciting playground for her to explore. In fact, it may hold important warnings about the future of her own world. After a series of high-stakes escapades involving deep sea diving, dueling, and murder, she is forced to return home to San Francisco with far more questions than answers.

A Daughter of No Nation picks up months later. Sophie has been hard at work, improving her stamina, learning knot-tying techniques and self-defense, and generally making herself into the best potential Stormwrack explorer that she can be. When her half-sister Verena turns up and asks her to go back to Stormwrack, Sophie jumps at the chance to return.

[Read more]

Five Canadian Books to Look for in Fall 2015

Here in Canada, the last weeks of August make us hearken to the words of the Starks: winter is coming. Only a couple of short months remain for us to stockpile all the provisions we need to see us through half a year of snow and cabin fever, and new books are right at the top of the list. Thankfully, Canadian authors are happy to provide us with genre fiction to help while away the hours. Here are a few books coming out this fall to soften the feel of the icy winds blowing in from the north…

[Read More…]

Witches and Real Estate: Five Magical Houses

House and apartment hunting is wearying, so it’s good to have a clear picture in your mind of what you think is important in a place of residence. I am inclined to choose appealing window nooks, mysterious dumbwaiters, and vine-trailing balconies over rent control, a safe neighborhood, and how easy the bathroom will be to clean. For this folly, I blame my taste in books. Fantasy novels have a longstanding love of magical houses, and they have completely spoiled me for serviceable, low-rise shoeboxes.

Here are a few listings that I wish would turn up in the classifieds and some musings on their appeal…

[Read More…]

Five Mythical Islands of the Atlantic Ocean: Your Guide to Summer Adventure

Summer is here and it’s time to take a vacation! But why settle for a mundane location when you could pitch your tent on one of the top five mythical islands of the Atlantic Ocean? Sally forth with your ancient map and your colonialist zeal—nothing can stand between you and an island adventure!

But first you have to pick a destination…

[Read more]

Planning For Your Future: The Top Five Colleges of Magic

School is almost out, and it’s time to take stock and figure out where you will be continuing your education in the fall. This is a very important decision that will greatly influence your life (and indeed, your lifespan), so there are many factors to consider. We have therefore compiled a list of the top five institutions of higher education for the aspiring practitioner of magic.

[Read More]

Historical Fiction for Genre Lovers: Burial Rites

I make no apologies for liking my books with a dash of dragons or a whiff of ghosts. Ever since I discovered there was such a thing as a fantasy section at the library, I have been a faithful devotee of the genre. But every now and then, I like to venture a little further afield, and when I do, I often land in the historical fiction section.

My latest foray into a historical novel was a book that straddles the line between fiction and creative non-fiction. One part mystery did-she-do-it and one part psychological study, Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is a lyrical foray into nineteenth-century Iceland that imagines the events surrounding the life and death of Agnes Magnusdottir, a real woman who was charged with the brutal murder of her employer. After being convicted of the crime, Agnes is sent to await her execution at a remote farmstead. At first the farm family and the priest charged with saving her soul are repelled by the mysterious murderess in their midst, but soon the routine and hardship of life in such a harsh landscape brings them together and allows them to look back upon Agnes’ life and the series of decisions that brought them all together.

[Read More]

The Folklore Origins of The Avengers

I’m a huge nerd for folklore, and I see it everywhere. Everywhere. Have you ever considered, for instance, that Weekend at Bernie’s is actually derived from a long tradition of stories about propping up corpses so people won’t know they’re dead? It’s true! Old stories find a way to live on in whatever form they can.

As we careen towards the premier of Avengers: Age of Ultron, I’ve started thinking about the old stories that are living on in the form of superheroes. Some have made the argument that in our culture, the popularity of superheroes has risen so that we might sate our longing for fallible and diverse gods. I don’t know about that, but I do know that folklore and mythology infuses everything we make, whether or not we are aware of it. Which makes the Avengers folk, at least from where I’m standing…

[Read More]

Fantastical Cats Who Are More Than They Seem

There is something inherently mystical about cats. Their aloof and esoteric natures make them seem like they possess knowledge of certain mysteries of the universe and contain powers that we can only imagine.

I sometimes find this hard to remember, because the only mystery surrounding my cat is why he looks so much like a loaf of pumpkin bread and how it is possible for one cat to have that much belly. To jog my memory, though, I need look no further than the history we share with our feline friends—from accusing them of being witches in disguise or devilish messengers, to revering them as the denizens of a goddess and controllers of storms. It’s also said that they have nine lives, making them the only creatures capable of regularly cheating death itself.

It is no wonder, then, that cats in fantasy and science fiction are rarely just adorable lumps of fluff. They inevitably encompass secrets and revelations beyond the scope of their furry knickers.

[Read More]

Creative Works Inspired by your RPG Campaign

Recently, a movie called Seventh Son flopped its way through theatres. As soon as I saw the trailer, I remarked loudly that it looked like somebody turned their Dungeons and Dragons campaign into a screenplay. I said this with scorn, and I did not go to see the film. This seems to have worked in my favor, as one reviewer from the Chicago Reader called it “a loud, joyless mess.”

I read slush for a poetry quarterly called Goblin Fruit, and, being that our submission guidelines request poems of the fantastic, we get occasional submissions that smack slightly of D&D. These pieces often feel like they were written in-game by someone’s half-elf bard character, probably while drunk off his ass at Ye Olde Inn and Taverna.

[But I’m in no position to judge.]

Five Fictional Women I Want In My D&D Party

The thing about being a writer and playing D&D is that you have to learn to relinquish control. If you’re the DM, you have to let your player characters do what they want (or at least wrangle them with enough subtlety that they don’t notice), and if you’re a player, you have to embrace the narrative created for you by someone else and accept that the other players are going to do whatever the hell they feel like without regard for your character arc.

I’ve been fortunate enough to play with a lot of excellent, story-minded companions who make it fun to let go and who create really engaging characters. But sometimes, it’s fun to fantasize about building the team out of characters you already know and love from your favorite books—especially an all-female cast, since I’ve never actually gotten to play Dungeons & Dragons with just girls…

So here is my fantasy D&D party, chosen to kick ass and help make for a fun ride!

[Read more…]