Tor.com content by

Liz Bourke

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

High-Octane Space Opera: A Chain Across the Dawn by Drew Williams

On mature reflection, I feel that Drew Williams’ first two novels (last year’s The Stars Now Unclaimed and now this year’s A Chain Across The Dawn) share certain commonalities with the first Mass Effect trilogy—not least showing a lot of individual, ground-based combat in a space opera universe, a universe that feels wide and strange and full of weird shit at the edges, and a universe populated with a large number of species whose thought processes and cultural developments seem reasonably similar to humans, for all their morphological differences. There’s also a bunch of oddly creepy shit, and a significant interest in found-family narratives.

Though perhaps I’m a bit biased, because I really liked Mass Effect and A Chain Across The Dawn reminded me of it tonally quite strongly.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Kaia Sønderby’s Xandri Corelel Novels

In order to read Kaia Sønderby’s science fiction, I finally gave in and accepted that in some circumstances I might condescend to acknowledge Amazon Kindle exists. (You may make fun of my allegiance to Kobo and publisher websites: I do.) I believe I first heard of Failure to Communicate, Sønderby’s debut novel, via a discussion on Twitter—and I wish I could remember who mentioned it on my timeline, because I’m very glad to have read it.

And once I’d read it, I immediately went out and got the sequel, Tone of Voice.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Damnation and Salvation: Lent by Jo Walton

Jo Walton has, it must be acknowledged, some significant form in writing philosophical or theological fantasy novels. The Just City, The Philosopher Kings, and Necessity were on the one hand an extended argument with and about Plato and Platonic philosophers across history, and on the other hand, a meditation on divinity, right action, responsibility, and personal change. Lent, her latest novel, is in many respects an extension of several of the thematic arguments (and historical interests) already seen in that Plato’s Republic trilogy, albeit one oddly—given its protagonist—in some ways less theological and more philosophical than those previous novels. Here, the meditation is on damnation and salvation, in the place of divinity, but the argument about right action, responsibility, and personal change remains, seen from different angles, and given different weights.

Lent is also undeniably a love letter to Renaissance Florence and to the Dominican friar, preacher, prophet, and later excommunicate Girolamo Savonarola, who briefly held sway over a “popular” republic in Florence in the closing years of the 15th century while preaching on Christian renewal and universal peace.

And the title is an interesting play on words.

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Trauma and Disorientation: Her Silhouette Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan

Bee doesn’t remember her life before prison, not really. She knows what she’s been told by the only other person who shares her confinement in a twisty maze of rock chambers occasionally filled with large insect-like alien lifeforms that compete with them for food and sustenance: that she’s a telepath, and that she’s here because she killed a lot of people.

That other person is Chela, her lover, a telepath like Bee. Chela is everything Bee’s not: a better climber and survival expert, tall and light-skinned and model-gorgeous, invested in exploring their prison and keeping alive. But unlike Bee, she’s not determined to map the limits of their prison, to find a way out—and in the meanwhile, to find what beauty she can in the inside.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Forthcoming (Queer) Novels Starring (Queer) Women

A few days before I sat down to write this post, I asked a wide range of my acquaintance on the hellsite known as Twitter whether there were any novels or novellas featuring f/f relationships or starring queer women that they knew and were looking forward to in the second half of 2019 or definitely earmarked for 2020. It turns out that there are quite a few—forty-odd, in fact.

Progress is a fine thing.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

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