Tor.com content by

Liz Bourke

A Striking Debut: The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

The Wolf and the Woodsman is Ava Reid’s debut novel. This fantasy draws its inspiration from the early medieval history of Hungary: the name of the land where the story is set, Régország, is a pair of Hungarian words that could be translated as “long-ago country.” It draws, too, from the history of Jewish people in Hungary. It would seem to fit comfortably into the recent tradition of Eastern European fantasy, a tradition that has its most popular and most iconic examples to date in Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and Spinning Silver, though other examples range from Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale to Rena Rossner’s Sisters of the Winter Wood and Ursula Vernon’s (writing as T. Kingfisher) The Raven and the Reindeer. The Wolf and the Woodsman is fiercer and more viscerally bloody than Novik’s work: an impressive debut.

Even if its climactic battle seems to arrive practically out of nowhere.

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Sleeps With Monsters: The Difference Between Survival and Cruelty

Two of the books I want to talk about this time have already been ably discussed on Tor.com by Molly Templeton, whose review of Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Firebreak prompted me to get off my arse and order my copy, and of whose review of E.K. Johnston’s Aetherbound I’d be very jealous, if I were the jealous sort. But I think I can add just a little additional enthusiastic discussion…

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri Is Complicated, Unapologetic, Powerful, Glorious

The Jasmine Throne is the opening volume of a new epic fantasy trilogy by Tasha Suri. I’m not sure I know how to express my feelings about it. I enjoyed Suri’s “Books of Ambha” duology, Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash, and admired them as well-constructed epic fantasy with a strong romantic component, but they never made me feel like this—gobsmacked, a little awestruck, violently satisfied, painfully engaged.

Perhaps I do know how to express my feelings after all.

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Lamplighters Vs. Vampires: The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis

Reviewing a disappointing novel is, at times, an exercise in careful precision. Is it disappointing because of what it is, or because of what I wanted from it? Is it disappointing because I read it back-to-back with a novel that dealt with many of the same themes in a more complex, more assured fashion? Is it disappointing because it’s now fourteen months into a global pandemic and I’m a gnarled, crabby knuckle of a human being joylessly waiting to punch everything in the face? You must decide for yourself, though I often fear it’s the latter.

This preamble may perhaps indicate to you that I found The Lights of Prague, Nicole Jarvis’s debut novel, rather disappointing.

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Sleeps With Monsters: In Conversation With Tasha Suri

Recently, I caught up with Tasha Suri over Zoom to discuss her life, career, and writing during a global pandemic, in advance of her forthcoming and highly anticipated The Jasmine Throne, a queer epic fantasy whose worldbuilding has strong influences from the Indian subcontinent. Her household had recently been vaccinated—a great relief in these days—and we condoled each other on how time has gone strange and how the activities of daily life have been so restricted, especially when you live with vulnerable people. “You don’t live in London,” she says, “because you don’t like to go out!”

I joked that I’d try not to be a terrifically boring interviewer and ask Where do you get your ideas? But the question’s already out in the open. “I still don’t know,” Suri says. “People do keep asking, and I still can’t answer that question.”

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Water Horse by Melissa Scott

Melissa Scott’s career spans, at this point, four decades. Perhaps best known for her Astreiant fantasy novels (initially written with her late partner Lisa A. Barnett, and later alone), she’s also written innovative science fiction, space opera, and tie-in novels for Stargate and gen:Lock. Her most recent original novel, the space opera Finders, came out from small press Candlemark and Gleam: a vivid and lively novel full of character and intrigue.

Now with Water Horse (Candlemark and Gleam, June 2021) Scott returns to fantasy with a self-contained volume of war, weirdness, and people strained to their breaking point by a generations-long war.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: C.L. Polk Answers Seven Questions

Canadian C.L. Polk is a writer and gentlebeing of tact and good taste. The concluding volume of their award-winning Kingston trilogy, Soulstar, has just recently come out, and their The Midnight Bargain was a finalist for the “Canada Reads” television competition. They’ve agreed to answer a few questions today. And I’ve agreed to try not to ask boring ones.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Land, Sea, and Stars: Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters by Aimee Ogden

It’s not always easy to figure out what to say about a novella. Especially a slender one. A novel has—usually—plenty of subplots to provide meat for discussion, multiple characters and strands. A novella is much less meandering, much more focused: it has much less space in which to satisfy (or infuriate) a reader, and consequently there is often less for a critic to discuss.

Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters, Ogden’s first outing with Tordotcom Publishing, clocks in at a slim 106 pages in its paper version. In its science-fictional milieu, humans—modified, genetically and otherwise, to adapt to their environment—have spread across the stars. Some of the environments are quite severe. Some of the human populations are lower tech than others. Some have more or less traffic with other groups.

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Engaging SF Adventure: Engines of Oblivion by Karen Osborne

Karen Osborne’s debut science fiction novel, Architects of Memory, came out in September last year. The pandemic has done a number on my ability to recall detail, so only impressions remain: I enjoyed it, I remember, even if it had a few too many sudden revelations, betrayals, and double-/triple-crosses for me to entirely follow.

Engines of Oblivion is a direct sequel to Architects of Memory, albeit from a different point of view.

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Sleeps With Monsters: The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke

I’ll tell you one thing about contemporary American high-school or high-school adjacent stories: I find the social dynamics baffling. Even the healthiest ones seen to have a solid underlay of oneupmanship and bullying predation, and in general, they seem pervaded by an air of casual, normalised cruelty that—for all the awkwardness and social isolation of my own school years—strikes me as alien. There’s something vicious about the American high-school story, and it’s present in far too many portrayals for there not to be a core of truth behind it.

The Scapegracers is Hannah Abigail Clarke’s debut novel. It shares the background of casual cruelty of most American high-school stories, although its focus is on sudden, unanticipated friendship and the brutality, loyalty, kindness, cruelty, cleverness, and power of adolescent girls than on school per se.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Hench, by Natalie Zina Walschots

I had a review copy of Hench, Natalie Zina Walschots’ 2020 novel about supervillains and their employees, on my shelf for months and months before I cracked it open. I have an aversion to superhero stories at the best of times, and as we all know, the last year has not been the best of times.

I should have read it sooner. Because goddamn, it’s good. Everything Amal El-Mohtar had to say about it is true. And it reminds me of Micaiah Johnston’s The Space Between Worlds, because one of Hench’s central organising concerns is disposability: the exploitation of insecure labour, and the carelessness and indifference of the powerful to the consequences of their actions, to the destruction of the lives of people whose only crime was to be in the way. It’s a book that strikes a little too close to home, because many of us who came of age in the last fifteen years are painfully aware of our contingency, our replaceability, when it comes to our employment.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Romance and Magic in Julia Ember’s Ruinsong

Julia Ember’s Ruinsong isn’t quite the novel I thought it’d be. The cover copy gave me to expect more court intrigue, but that may be a function of having read far more non-YA than YA novels—and Ruinsong is very much a YA novel in the mode of find your inner moral strength and overthrow tyranny while falling in love. This is an excellent mode when well-done, and Ruinsong does it rather well indeed.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

For Queen and Country: The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly

The Frozen Crown is American author Greta Kelly’s debut novel. In this fantasy novel, the heir to an embattled kingdom travels to the court of a great empire, ruled by her godfather, to beg for military aid.

Askia is the legitimate queen of Seravesh, but the expansionary forces of the Roven empire have put her cousin on the throne and proceeded to terrorise her country in order to compel her surrender. She’s taken her last loyal legion and fled, in the hopes that a personal appeal to the emperor of Vishir—in whose realm her parents met their death, and where she experienced torture at the hands of an extreme anti-magic sect in her youth, who were attempting to prove that she was a witch—will have the effect she desires.

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