There are things that Sarah Davis-Goff’s Silent City does excellently well. And yet, on the whole, my response is one of ambivalence. It’s left me with a quiet sense of dissatisfaction at how it structures its meditations on dystopia, on isolation and belonging, violence and complicity, power and loneliness, that I’m still not entirely sure whether the difficulty lies with me as a reader or with how the novel goes about what it’s trying to convey.
The extent to which Ariel Kaplan’s The Pomegranate Gate draws upon the Jewish experience (or its re-envisioned memory) of medieval Iberia cannot be overstated. This lush, vivid and atmospheric novel draws Guy Gavriel Kay to mind. Not only is Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan the only fantasy novel I know to draw so deeply and so directly from this well, but Kaplan’s world, like Kay’s, treads narrowly along the line between historical fantasy and fantastical imagination. For both, the history is recognisably ours, with the names lightly altered (if at all). But unlike most of Kay’s work, Kaplan’s includes real magic and its great and terrible effects.
Godkiller is Hannah Kaner’s debut novel. First published in the UK in January 2023, it received strong praise (including from Samantha Shannon and Tasha Suri) and rapidly became a UK bestseller. Despite my initial misgivings, I can see why. Blood and demons and strained loyalties and families found and chosen, the aftermath of civil war and the consequences of past decisions coming back around again: Godkiller takes the fabric of epic fantasy and stitches it into a clean, tense, precisely measured and neatly designed tapestry.
The Salt-Black Tree is the second novel in Lilith Saintcrow’s Dead God’s Heart duology, after Spring’s Arcana. It picks up precisely where the previous volume left off, and I don’t recommend starting here: Dead God’s Heart is one story in two volumes, rather than two linked narratives. A relatively short tome, weighing in at under 300 pages, The Salt-Black Tree ups the ante on the atmospheric roadtrip-quest across America begun in Spring’s Arcana, driving Nat Drozdova into full acknowledgement of who and what she is—and what her bitter, distant, dying mother Maria actually wants from her.
The Third Daughter is Adrienne Tooley’s third novel, and the first of hers that I’ve read. In this young adult fantasy novel, the first in a series, religion, prophecy, sentiment and ambition collide with a sapphic romance and tangled loyalties.
In the country of Velle, a prophecy tells of the return of a godlike figure, the New Maiden. The New Maiden will return as the third-born daughter of a third daughter, and heal the world. That prophecy has now been fulfilled in the form of Brianne, thirteen-year-old third daughter of the queen of Velle, for whom the laws of inheritance were re-written. As the novel opens, she’s just ascended to her late mother’s throne, under the regency of her father, the head of Velle’s state Church.
This review contains spoilers.
The Jasad Heir is the first book in The Scorched Throne, a projected epic fantasy series. It’s the debut novel of Sara Hashem, an American-Egyptian from California. Like every book I read, I wanted to love it. But as with many a novel—particularly debut novels—I found myself more disappointed than satisfied. Some spoilers ahead.
Ten years ago this summer, I read an advance copy of Ann Leckie’s astonishing debut, Ancillary Justice. It was accompanied by an enthusiastic note from its publicist, and it blew me away with the vivid urgency of its narrative, and with Leckie’s approach to gender in worldbuilding, at the time a radical departure in popular science fiction. I wasn’t the only one blown away: It went on to take a record-breaking sweep of awards for a debut novel.
L.R. Lam’s previous speculative fiction has appeared under the name Laura Lam, and most recently includes a space opera duology co-authored with Elizabeth May, Seven Devils and Seven Mercies. Dragonfall marks Lam’s first novel-length return to fantasy since Masquerade in 2017. But, true to form, Lam’s hopped subgenres yet again: Dragonfall, the opening volume in the “Dragon Scales” trilogy, straddles the line between caper and epic, and it plays some interesting tricks with narrative and point of view while it’s at it.
Lilith Saintcrow has written more novels than I care to count, in a variety of genres and under a variety of names. (Afterwar might be the novel of hers that left the most striking impact: a horrifying near-future imagining of the aftermath of war and genocide.) Spring’s Arcana is her latest, a vivid and atmospheric contemporary fantasy that opens in snowswept Manhattan and takes a roadtrip through an American landscape filled with otherworldly menace and uncomfortable secrets.
Furious Heaven, the sequel to Kate Elliott’s astounding space opera Unconquerable Sun, is an experience. I mean this in the best possible way: richly peopled, vivid with the imprint of history, and striking in the variety and detail of its cultures, it is an incredibly compelling piece of work. Its nearly 750 pages burst with vigour, life, ambition, lust, love both platonic and romantic, cracking space battles and ground assaults, intrigue, espionage, and complicated families. It’s difficult to put down, despite its length, for every single one of those pages is doing something interesting—usually with quite a bit of tension attached.
Natalie Haynes is a comedian, writer, and broadcaster, and along with Professor Dame Mary Beard, is probably at the moment the UK’s most well-known female classicist. Stone Blind is her third novel to draw directly from the well of classical mythology, after A Thousand Ships and Jocasta’s Children, and in Stone Blind Haynes turns her gaze on Medusa, the mortal Gorgon, daughter of Phorcys and Ceto.
The Keeper’s Six, Kate Elliott’s latest work, is a novella that’s stuck with me in the month or more since I first read the uncorrected proof. Partly, I expect, because I’ve read so many fewer books recently than in any other year of my adult life, so each individual one stands out more clearly. But partly because The Keeper’s Six combines a number of elements that I haven’t seen often in the last several years (or indeed at all) and it combines them into a vivid, gripping whole.
Tara Sim is a well-respected writer of YA SFF. (I have her Scavenge the Stars, of which I’ve heard nothing but good things, on my shelf for when I can steal time to read it). City of Dusk, the opening volume in a projected trilogy, is her first novel aimed at a primarily adult audience. You cannot imagine how much I wanted to love it, but alas! Not all books are for all readers, and while City of Dusk is a perfectly acceptable sort of epic fantasy, I’m too old and jaded to be charmed by its youthful cast of aristocratic protagonists, their divinely-sourced magic, and the threat of their world’s slow decay.
Seven Mercies, the second novel-length collaboration between Elizabeth May and Laura Lam, is the conclusion to the space opera duology that began with 2020’s Seven Devils. A small and ragged band of rebels stand against the might of a murderous empire and the AI that’s capable of controlling the minds of its citizens. The results are explosive.
I don’t think Zen Cho is capable of writing a book that isn’t a fascinating and stylish delight. Black Water Sister is her latest, and it’s a striking, appealing narrative of family, displacement, “home”-coming, coming-of-age… and ghosts.
Jess has grown up in the USA, the only daughter of Malaysian Chinese immigrants. Her memories of Malaysia are holiday snapshots. She’s just finished college, and her girlfriend has moved to Singapore. And now Jess is moving back to Malaysia with her parents in the wake of her father’s brush with cancer, to live with her father’s younger sister’s family in George Town. Jess is not out to her parents, or to any of her family, and she’s feeling dislocated enough with the move to Malaysia before she starts hearing voices.
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