Tor.com content by

Linda H. Codega

The Thousand Eyes Wraps Up a Queer Epic Duology With God Killing and Monster %@$#ing

It’s a bold move to take the 20-something protagonists of your first epic fantasy novel and, after the first act in your second book, thrust them twenty years into the future. But A. K. Larkwood is nothing if not bold, and The Thousand Eyes, the second and final installment of The Serpent Gates duology, swings for the fences and ends up somewhere in another dimension, surrounded by giant snakes, with three gods cannibalizing each other. It’s bonkers. And if you loved Csorwe, Shuthmilli, and Talasseres before (and I did, very much so), you will only love them more when they are nearer middle-aged, jaded, and refusing to get over their first loves with such a burning passion that spite is what single-handedly motivates them for nearly thirty years.

I ate that shit up. With a spoon.

[Some spoilers ahead]

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Belle’s Beauty Is in the Power of U

It’s really hard to explain why I enjoy Twitter. It’s something like a confessional booth playing at being a community but wrapped up in an extremely artificial package. There is a comfort in that. In knowing that Twitter is something created in indetermination, that in this digital space, it’s easy to erase what you’ve done, to walk away, to change yourself.

In Mamoru Hasoda’s Belle, the main character Suzu creates an account in U—a digital community that’s much like Second Life with some biometric associations tacked on—and transforms from a mild-mannered schoolgirl into an international pop icon, known across the cyberverse as Bell. During a massive concert the Dragon, a beast hunted by U’s digital police, interrupts Bell’s performance. Suzu/Bell then begins a search for his true identity.

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Kate Elliott’s Servant Mage Is a Remarkable Political Drama Slipped Between Interplanar Travel and Dragon Babies

So many fantasy books imagine the downfall of a corrupt, oppressive, monarchist empire. Servant Mage, a slim novella by SFF luminary Kate Elliott, is a book that asks: What then? What happens after the revolution? What happens to the noble class when their system of power falls, when the populace is trapped in the dictatorship of the proletariat in between the past and something better?

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Historical Fantasy at Its Most Anime: Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

There are few books out there that can compare itself to so many things that make my eyes go very big, but when someone tells me a new YA is like Pacific Rim, Neon Genesis Evangelion, The Hunger Games, and every webtoon novel out there, I immediately figure out how to get my hands on that book. Iron Widow does all this and more, re-writing Chinese historical figures as leading men and women in a drama that reaches far past its historical scope.

This book is a very slight reimagining of Empress Wu; an oft-demonized figure in Chinese history who became the nation’s only legitimate female sovereign. And when I say slight, I mean it: there are markers of Chinese politics, landscapes, and even other characters from history, but if you’re hoping for a more direct retelling of Wu’s life, Iron Widow is not that book.

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The Hills are Haunted; the Mountains are Hungry: Digging Into Appalachian SFF

A few months ago Appalachia was trending on Twitter; someone was explaining what makes the mountain range unique, diving into some of the geographical data on the Appalachians, trying to conceptualize just how fucking old this spine is. It’s difficult to imagine, but this range contains some of the oldest mountains in the world. Even comparisons fail; for example, the Rocky Mountain range was formed about 80 million years ago. The Appalachians? 480 million years ago.

All this orogen history has to mean something. These mountains know a thing or two.

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An Elegy for the Rest of Us: A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

When the inevitable labor dystopia comes crashing down around our ears, I can only hope that the future humanity builds out of the rubble resembles the world in A Psalm for the Wild-Built.

This cozy novella follows Sibling Dex, a nonbinary tea monk as they journey through Panga. They have a cart, a full selection of herbs and tea accoutrement, pillows, and a kind ear to lend. They’re not necessarily a therapist, but slightly adjacent. A friendly face who’s willing to listen to your troubles, offer you a nice cuppa, and give you a chance to rest.

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Time Loop Lovers and (Im)Possible Futures

Time loop romances—specifically fantasy romances where characters are caught within a repeating movement through time—are becoming their own kind of genre. Books like Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop and This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, as well as screen media like Misfits and Palm Springs, maintain a cycle of chronological struggle throughout the plot. Somewhere out there is an ideal timeline where you and your lover can be together, and the characters are forced to continue the cycle in an attempt to find it.

At their core, time loop romances are characterized by two main ideas. The first is the belief that there must be a better future out there, and the second is that the characters believe they have the power to make it so.

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Beyond Gears and Wires: Tabletop RPGs If You Love Books About Sentient A.I.s

There’s not a single sci-fi fan out there who hasn’t read a story about a robot that was too smart for its own good. Whether its an android advanced far beyond its initial code, a ghost in a shell, or a sentient all-seeing Cloud taking over our homes one Alexa at a time, Sentient AI has been a sore spot for futurists for decades. With a recent bout of books that contend with Murderbots, machine rights, expansive ship systems, and Artificial Friends, I’ve dug up a few games that are sure to get you in the mind of the machine.

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An Ending to the Grishaverse: Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

Rule of Wolves is a book that reads less like a pack of wolves growling at succession and more like a group of super zoomy dogs at a park after winter. The plot runs around, the characters rarely stay still, and you’re left unsure of whose lead to follow, but like, great for these dogs, honestly, they’re just like, really, happy to be here.

The seventh book in the Grishaverse series and the follow-up novel to King of Scars, Rule of Wolves trails after young King Nikolai in his pursuit of peace, General Zoya as she strives to protect the Grisha, and the spy Nina Zenik as she attempts to gather information from inside the belly of the beast. There are other characters that have their own manipulations and agencies, namely the Darkling, newly returned from the dead, and Mayu Kir-Kaat, the imposter Shu princess.

So, overall, there’s just a lot of really adorable puppies rolling around in the plot.

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Enter the Fold: Indie Tabletop RPGs to Play if You Love Shadow and Bone

The Shadow and Bone Netflix series is so close we can almost touch Ben Barnes’ scruffy 5 o’clock shadow he’s been effortlessly maintaining.

With a rich fantasy world that author Leigh Bardugo has styled ‘Tsarpunk’, the Shadow and Bone series is full of engaging characters, elemental magic, and, of course, a hell of a lot of darkness. As Netflix adapts the first five books of the Grishaverse into a show, we’ve only gotten hints about what the content’s going to be like, and where it will differ or align with the books. We know the (approximate) cast, the episode titles, and… that’s about it.

Now, while it is a shame that nobody has snatched up the IP rights to the Grishaverse series for its own Tabletop Role Playing Game, it’s not really a huge problem if you ask me. If you love the Grisha, Ravka, the crows of Ketterdam, Fjerdan’s druskelle, and, yes, even the Darkling, don’t worry. There are games out there, just waiting to be played, threads ready to pulled, tales of steampunk magic just waiting to be told. We, intrepid adventurers, do not wait to be told what will happen. We make our own stories.

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Take That Chance: Tabletop Games for Your Favorite Horror Book

Trapped in a forest, the party walks in a single-file line, carefully stepping over giant roots and branches. Ahead, the ruins of an old castle, or a mansion, or a spaceship, long abandoned, but strangely alive and vibrant. You know you shouldn’t go in (the Game Master has been very clear—do not enter the low place, look at the dark spot, nor search for the lair of the Gravenbest) but at the same time, you know that the only way through is ahead, and death stalks not far behind.

[There are so many fantastic horror games out there!]

Getting Lost: Sarah Tolmie’s The Fourth Island

Often books are like tides. The plot comes in waves, leaving characters half-buried in the sand. In order to find the seashells, skulls, strangely twisted driftwood amid the seaweed and salt, you must have a keen eye. It might take a few passes across a small, strange stretch of beach or stone or mud but these liminal places are the only place a sea, or a story, willingly lets go of its dead.

The Fourth Island is like a dark tide. It flows in and out of time, history, and myth, creating a picture of the Aran Islands that is deeply enmeshed in Irish culture.

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Game the System: Tabletop Games for Your Favorite Science Fiction Book

The ragtag crew of space junkers glance at each other, psionic weapons hefted and pointed at the door that the Game Master previously described as “impenetrable”, only to see the metal start to glow a bright red. They read the room, and the dice, and quickly realize that the smugglers hinted at two sessions ago have finally caught up to their spaceship, Starskipper.

Roleplaying games ventured outside of the fantasy realm almost as soon as they began. The original publishers of Dungeons and Dragons knew that it was only a matter of time before people would want to start playing out their own space-age story, and in 1976, published the first SciFi RPG, Metamorphosis Alpha. You could say that they were a little ahead of the curve, considering A New Hope was released in ‘77.

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Play the Plot: Tabletop Games for Your Favorite Fantasy Book

A group of friends lean in; it’s the final battle, the end of an epic campaign, years in the making. The only thing that stands between them and the ultimate triumph of good over evil is the roll of a single die…

Well, that’s how Dungeons and Dragons does it, anyway. But genre games are as varied as genre fiction, and most don’t require the time or monetary investment that a thick, rules-heavy D&D campaign often asks for. The stories told around the table (or over Zoom!) with your adventuring party can rival the great works of fiction, and have been oft-cited as sources of inspiration. But with the advent of experimental lyric games, journaling prompts, and new systems for mechanics—including using tarot cards, betting structures, or even a Jenga tower—genre tabletop games have never been more diverse or more exciting.

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