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Liz Bourke

Sleeps With Monsters: Looking Forward to the Books of 2020

Sometimes I wonder about how outdated the description of this column has become. It screws with my head to realise I’ve been writing here for going on eight years now, through what feels like a cultural sea-change. (The “death” of the blog. The rise of global right-wing extremism. The spread of equal marriage. The—outspoken, enthusiastic—queering of written SFF. The anti-racist work that people of colour have done to drag the SFF community kicking and screaming into being a more welcoming place.) Sleeps With Monsters, as a column/body-of-work hasn’t only been about women and their work for years, though the column description hasn’t changed.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Compelling Queer Teenage Girl Protagonists

I didn’t anticipate reading two novels about queer teenage girls back-to-back. I especially didn’t anticipate finding that, though they are set in very different worlds, both of these books are about kindness, friendship, and doing right by your friends—family found and built, as it were.

And as a bonus, neither of them are about (a) the realisation of same-gender attraction or (b) coming out. (Coming-out stories have their place, but from my current vantage, they all seem a little bit too alike.)

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Grief, Trauma, and Space Adventure: Down Among the Dead by KB Wagers

Down Among the Dead is K.B. Wagers’ fifth novel, the middle book of their second trilogy. I should confess up front that I’m a fan: Wagers’ first trilogy is one of the most entertaining and engaging space operas that I’ve ever read, and the second bids fair to build on that—while digging deep into the nature of trauma, trust, and recovery.

You could theoretically have started reading There Before the Chaos, the opening volume of this “Farian War” trilogy, without having read Wagers’ first trilogy in this setting. But fair warning: don’t start with Down Among the Dead if you haven’t read There Before the Chaos. Because Down Among the Dead takes the cliffhanger at the end of There Before the Chaos and runs with it, creating a novel that is as much exploration of grief and trauma as it is a novel of action and space-adventure.

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Sleeps With Monsters: An Impossibly Good Book to Choose

I’ve been reading less in the last few months. Forced to take things more slowly, I’ve found myself more aware of my choices. I continue to gravitate towards books that both star women and are comfortably queer (as opposed to the queer relationship being a point of high stakes, high drama, and high tension). It’s reassuring that these days, there’s actually options, so that I can leave the high stakes/high drama queerness for a point at which I feel capable of enjoying it. I mean, I’ve been looking forward to Natasha Ngan’s Girls of Storm and Shadow and K. Arsenault Rivera’s The Warrior Moon since this time last year, but damn those characters are stressful.

Fortunately, I have K.A. Doore’s The Impossible Contract to keep me company. Assassins making poor life choices are more entertaining than stressful.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Optimism and (Game)Change

When I first heard about L.X. Beckett’s debut novel, the near-future science fiction sprawling cross between espionage thriller, family saga and romance that is Gamechanger, I wasn’t that excited. The cover copy is decidedly bland compared to the contents—so I found myself surprised and delighted when I started reading Gamechanger and couldn’t put it down.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Fantasy Focused on Interiority: Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri

Tasha Suri’s debut novel, Empire of Sand, proved her talent for epic fantasy and skill with characterisation. Two very different (but yet alike) people fought together to escape magical slavery and strike at the heart of centuries-old sorcery that smoothed the path of an empire. Suri’s worldbuilding evoked a richly detailed landscape—both in terms of the physical world and the socio-political one—and she balanced action and emotion with a deft hand. With Realm of Ash, Suri demonstrates not only talent, but consistency. This second novel is even more accomplished than the first.

Realm of Ash takes place in the same world as Empire of Sand, but the better part of a decade later. I believe it could be read as a standalone, but it benefits from the context of Empire of Sand.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Very Different Debuts

I’m seeing a lot of love for award-winning author Alix E. Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January. I understand why it must be grabbing some people so hard, for its quiet, lonely, trapped protagonist, the titular January, feels like someone a lot of us might recognise a little too closely, a little too intimately, from our childhoods, and her journey of growth and discovery of other worlds reflects the metaphorical discovery made by many readers that they, too, can find portals to very different places if they look hard enough—and the discovery by many children that adulthood opens different doors.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Adding Complexity to Pulp: The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl by Theodora Goss

Theodora Goss has won both the World Fantasy Award and the Locus Award, and been a finalist for several more. Her initial (and enduring) success has been as a writer of short stories and poetry, with three collections to her name: it’s only in the last three years that she’s begun to publish novels. The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl is her latest, third in the sequence of 19th-century-pulp-inspired volumes that began with 2017’s The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter and continued in 2018’s European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Queen of Coin and Whispers

The strangest thing about talking about Helen Corcoran’s debut novel is that it’s actually kind of weird that I only met her recently. We’re both from Ireland and we’re both queer women—and we attended the same alma mater—and honestly, this country’s not that big. By that rubric, it’d turn out to be dead awkward if I hated Queen of Coin and Whispers, said debut (coming in April 2020 from Irish publisher O’Brien Press): I’m nearly certain that this is the first queer fantasy with a love story featuring young women to be published from a traditional outfit here, and I have just enough local pride to want the best for it.

Fortunately, Corcoran has written a novel that could have been tailor-made to satisfy my particular narrative kinks.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Is This the Book I Wanted to Read?

A difficulty haunts me, now, when I’m reviewing or otherwise critiquing books: am I judging the book I in fact read, or the one I wanted to read? Sometimes they’re the same thing. Often they’re not, and the question of how much I resent the novel in front of me for not being different in these specific ways becomes a live and pressing issue.

Part of that’s because I need to reconcile myself to living with my brain on some degree of burnout for the foreseeable future. (It’s dreadfully frustrating to feel duller and more stupid than one used to be all the time.) Part of it, though, is that I’ve been spoiled in the past while by the number of books I’ve read in which queerness was both present (prominent) and unremarkable. It seems I’ve come to expect an acknowledgement that people like me can (do more than merely) exist with the pages of a narrative. When I don’t find that in the books I’m reading, it’s a constant nagging disappointment. Like I said, I got spoiled.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Books That Spark Joy

Last column out, I mentioned that I woke up one day to discover I hated every book I read. Shortly afterwards, I made a resolution, at least for now, to only read books that—to borrow a phrase—”sparked joy” and left me feeling delighted with my experience of the narrative. (Or at the very least, pleased.) This has had the beneficial effect of removing a significant number of volumes from my to-be-read shelf.

And increasing my pleasure in reading significantly.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

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