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Liz Bourke

Sleeps With Monsters: Quiet Novels About Changing The World

This week I want to talk about a pair of short, independently published novels that deal with marriage, communities, and the process of change in conservative societies. It takes hard work and hope to begin to change the world, but the work is worth doing.

Those novels are M.C.A. Hogarth’s Healer’s Wedding, set in the “Pelted” space opera universe, the first book in a new duology; and Stephanie Burgis’s Thornbound, the second full novel in her “Harwood Spellbook” series, set in a country that resembles 19th-century England—but a 19th-century England ruled by a council of women where it is only socially acceptable for men, women’s helpmeets, to learn magic.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

A Simple, Measured Fantasy: Dark of the West by Joanna Hathaway

Joanna Hathaway’s debut novel, Dark of the West, can classify itself as fantasy by virtue of its setting: a secondary world whose technology seems to fit an equivalent of our 1930s. With its radios and tanks and machine guns, it perhaps bears comparison with Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough, another magicless fantasy novel with a 1920s/1930s feel. But Amberlough and its sequels foreground the complexities of politics, understanding that while the personal is political, social movements can be bigger (more complicated, more long-lasting) than any single person. For Dark of the West, there appears to be no such thing as competing political interests. Everything, it seems, comes down to personal animus or personal loyalty.

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Sleeps With Monsters: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

I’m behind the curve when it comes to watching—and writing about—the new re-invention of She-Ra, whose showrunner and executive producer is the young and talented Noelle Stevenson (previously known for comics Nimona and Lumberjanes, for which she won Eisner awards).

I don’t have any memories of the original She-Ra: Princess of Power television show, or indeed of He-Man, of which it was a spin-off. I do have a memory of what must have been a chapter book or two that featured She-Ra—I must have been about four, and a girl hero left a strong impression on the mind of tiny me: an impression whose strength I only realised when I came to watch the rebooted She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Because something, some fragment of attachment, clearly stuck. I’m not sure what’s with the feeling of nostalgia, but it’s there.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Recasting Fairy Tales: Snow White Learns Witchcraft by Theodora Goss

Theodora Goss was an award-winning writer of short stories (and poems) before she took to novels (The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman) but her novels were the first of Goss’s work I’d ever read. I admire them deeply: they’re engaging, solid, well-crafted examples of the form. But Goss’s shorter work, collected here in a new volume, aren’t just good: they’re a revelation.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Epic Fantasy and Feminism in The Women’s War and The Ruin of Kings

Who doesn’t like epic fantasy? And feminist epic fantasy, at that?

The Women’s War by Jenna Glass and The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons are both opening volumes in new epic fantasy series. I read them one after the other, and can’t help comparing their approaches to feminism—because both of them set themselves within oppressive societies. And yet, though The Women’s War spends more of its time with female main characters and sets itself amid a violent struggle for the liberation of (some) women in a rigidly patriarchal society, I found The Ruin of Kings more inclusive and more persuasive—more liberatory—in its approach to a patriarchal society.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Fast, Fun Fantasy: Song of the Dead by Sarah Glenn Marsh

Song of the Dead is the sequel to Sarah Glenn Marsh’s debut Reign of the Fallen. I reviewed Reign of the Fallen here last year and enjoyed its voice and approach, though I found its pacing uneven, and its treatment of relationships not quite up to the highest mark, but it had voice in spades, and engaging characterisation.

Song of the Dead shares some of Reign of the Fallen’s flaws, but also its virtues. Adolescent master necromancer Odessa, having participated in a revolution that upended the rule of the Dead over her island home country of Karthia and helped to install a friend on the throne, has set off to see the world in the ship of another friend—the smuggler Kasmira, who’s been defying Karthia’s ban on intercourse with the rest of the world for quite some time, and is happy now that the ban’s been lifted. Odessa meant to slip away and leave her new girlfriend Meredy behind—she felt she had to, that she didn’t want to put Meredy under pressure—but Meredy has followed her regardless, with her own desire to see the world.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Queering Classic Fantasy Stories

New year, new queer! If that’s not a catchphrase somewhere, it ought to be, and—as you may have guessed—queerness is the element that unites the stories I want to talk about this week. The presence of queer women in the stories I read is becoming so delightfully frequent as to begin to feel unremarkable, and I’m really enjoying this current state of affairs. It’s not something I feel I can allow myself to get used to, because it was a rarity for years.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Swashbuckling Fantasy with Political Intrigue: A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery by Curtis Craddock

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors (2018), the first volume in Curtis Craddock’s The Risen Kingdoms series, was an extremely accomplished fantasy novel. It combined intrigue, adventure, and swashbuckling in a setting filled with airships and floating kingdoms, ancient religion, lost knowledge, and powerful magic. Its politics bore the influence of Renaissance Europe while its narrative approach held something of the flair of Alexandre Dumas. An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors set a strikingly high bar for any sequel to follow.

Fortunately, A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery more than meets that bar. It’s just as good as its predecessor—if not better.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Phyllis Ann Karr’s Sword and Sorcery Novels

Recently, Sonya Taaffe chanced to mention Phyllis Ann Karr in one of her blog posts. Karr has never been a prolific author of science fiction and fantasy, and she remains best-known for her Arthurian murder-mystery The Idylls of the Queen and for the pair of fantasy novels, first published in the 1980s, which I’m going to talk about here: Frostflower and Thorn (1980) and Frostflower and Windbourne (1982).

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: More Books to Look Forward to in 2019

In a previous column, I outlined many of the sequels and series continuation books that I’m looking forward to in 2019. (Which I, like many people I know, continue to type “2018” as often as not. It feels very strange to be this far into the science fictional future of the 1980s. But that’s time for you.) In this column, I want to mention some of the standalone or series-opening novels that are due out in 2019, which I’m looking forward to very much.

Let’s start with two novels that I’ve been looking forward to ever since I heard the first whisper of their existence!

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: What I’m Looking Forward to in 2019

Personally, I’m looking forward to getting married to the woman whom I love. But that’s not exactly the kind of content for which you guys read this column, I think. (Although if you want to hear about wedding-planning-on-a-budget trials, I’m sure some of that will spill onto my Twitter feed in the coming year.)

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Snapshots of a Future: Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton

I’m still not quite sure what to make of Arwen Elys Dayton’s Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful, out from YA imprint Delacorte Press. It feels less like a novel than a series of snapshots of a future in which humans have started to intensively modify themselves—first in life-saving surgeries, then expanding to increased intelligence and things like gills, culminating in a vast and diverse array of modifications and a society in North America which sets aside reservations for “Protos”—original, unmodified humans.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Swords and Salvage

It seems appropriate to talk about Melissa Scott’s Finders and Ursula Vernon’s (writing as T. Kingfisher) Swordheart together. Although in terms of setting and tone they’re very different books—Finders is a space opera with elements of a thriller, a fast-paced adventure story that ends up shaped like an epic; Swordheart is a sword-and-sorcery story with a romance at its centre—they share an interest in relationships and in consequences, and in a certain underpinning of kindness that unites them despite their otherwise disparate elements.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Jumping Into C.J. Cherryh’s Alliance-Union Books

A little while ago, I received an ARC of Alliance Rising, C.J. Cherryh’s collaboration with her spouse Jane Fancher, set in Cherryh’s Alliance-Union continuity—the universe of Cherryh’s acclaimed Downbelow Station (1981) and Cyteen (1988). While I tried to read Downbelow Station years ago, before I understood the rhythms of Cherryh’s work, Alliance Rising is the first work in this particular setting that I’ve ever finished. It spurred me to find a couple more—the omnibuses Alliance Space and The Deep Beyond, available in ebook form—to see just how representative Alliance Rising is of the works in this setting.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

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