content by

Martin Cahill

A Unique Fantasy Adventure: Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans

Erin M. Evans’ new novel Empire of Exiles is a story that very much feels at home among polyhedral dice and saving throws, but to call it “just a DnD novel” would be reductive and short-sighted; Evans’ long list of credits working in the world of Dungeons & Dragons means she knows how to tell a damn good story. And let me tell you, Empire of Exiles is a damn good story, through and through. With a deep and rich world of Evans’ own devising, characters that leap off the page in their realness and complexity, and magic that has never made me feel so seen, this is not a novel to miss.

[Read more]

Rebuilding a Better Tomorrow: The World We Make by N. K. Jemisin

I don’t say this often, but I think this book above all merits it: read the Afterword first. I don’t say it to take readers’ eyes from the prior ninety-nine percent of a truly incredible novel. But in the Afterword, N.K. Jemisin provides the context for the whole book, and I find it difficult to discuss The World We Make without that context—the fictional narrative contained within is almost inextricable from the reality that shaped it, a world of pandemic and insurrection and violence.

The past few years and their trauma took a toll on Jemisin, as she discusses, and so this story changed from its inception, becoming different in shape, though not in spirit. And while it moved from a trilogy to a duology, collapsing into a story Jemisin was able and happy to tell in these tough times, in many ways The World We Make still celebrates what its predecessor did as well as the very forces that shaped its reimagining: sometimes shit happens. Sometimes the world blows up and not everything remains the same. But you fight. You keep moving. You deal with change the way you deal with anything: with love, with friends, with grit, some righteous rage.

And if that isn’t New York City, then I don’t know what is.

[Read more]

Madness and Messiahs in The Genesis of Misery by Neon Yang

Misery Nomaki (she/they) has a few different problems all happening at once. Problem one: she’s sick. Void madness, just like her mother, resulting in hallucinations and an inability to distinguish reality from fiction. Problem two: her visions are getting sassy. One of her hallucinations has decided zie’s an angel and goes by the name Ruin. Fair enough. Unfortunately, Misery’s solution to hiding their madness has led to problem three: claiming to be the Ninth Messiah that will unite the throne and church under one banner, which has resulted in her being forcibly taken to the capital where the truth of her sickness will be revealed. What happens next is not something even Misery could’ve predicted: everyone believes her.

Thus starts one of my favorite space operas of the year: Neon Yang’s electric, delectable, sometimes dark but always thrilling novel debut, The Genesis of Misery.

[Read more]

Beautiful & Bittersweet: The Bruising of Qilwa by Naseem Jamnia

Naseem Jamnia’s debut novella is a reminder of what you can truly do with the fantasy genre. There is a depth and richness to their world, characters, and magic. Beautiful and bittersweet, The Bruising of Qilwa is a story of immigration and borders, of identity and culture, of blood and oppression and family—written with an expert flourish of prose and eye for detail. The Bruising of Qilwa is a masterful debut, one that marks the continued ascendancy of Jamnia’s literary star.

[Read more]

The Foundryside Series Comes to an Epic Sci-Fantasy Conclusion in Robert Jackson Bennett’s Locklands

From his myriad standalone novels and novellas, to the City of Stairs trilogy and the Foundryside series, author Robert Jackson Bennett continues to craft larger and more expansive stakes, more high octane action set pieces, and pushes genre into new and fresh spaces, all while grappling with deep and complex questions of character, morality, community, and more. And here in Locklands, Bennett once again sticks the landing as he brings the Foundryside story to a beautiful, bittersweet, and heart-soaring close.

[Read more]

A Stunning and Complex Queer Romance: A Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows

It’s a classic romantic trope: a marriage is arranged for political reasons, and despite initial feelings or inclinations, the two strangers begin a slow spiral into each other’s hearts. In A Strange and Stubborn Endurance, author Foz Meadows imbues this familiar story with enough twists and turns and thoughtful examinations to render it almost entirely new—a queer romance for the ages. A secondary world fantasy of intricate politics, hierarchies of power and culture and magic, plus two exquisite leads that brim with life, this slow-burn novel may have the flame low, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t burn hot.

[Read more]

Return to the Realms of Mkalis in Second Spear by Kerstin Hall

In Kerstin Hall’s debut, The Border Keeper, we met Eris (the border keeper in question), and a man named Vasethe who needed her help crossing the border she kept. Which border is that, you ask? Why, the ways into Mkalis, the 999 realms of the afterlife—a multiverse replete with gods, demons, monsters, magic. Each realm is ruled by larger than life figures of myth, all involved in a delicate balance, lest the entirety of Mkalis fall in on itself.

Hall’s second installment in the realms of Mkalis focuses on a handful of new characters, but this is a sequel, not a standalone. Tyn, a soul who in death has found herself the Second Spear to a demon ruler, questions who she used to be in life, and what she must do now to save her ruler and realm.

[Read more]

Reclaiming Power: Ava Reid’s Juniper & Thorn

Ava Reid’s bestselling debut The Wolf and The Woodsman garnered praise for its compelling characters, immersive and layered world, and for the sheer power of Reid’s writing. Now, a year later, Reid brings us to a new gothic world, prose absolutely shining with baroque style—an old tale retold in her own distinctive, sharp, bittersweet voice.

Juniper & Thorn is many things, but it is not an easy story told or read. Reid has been upfront about how difficult this was to write and the content warnings therein. But through darkness and abuse, through violence and trauma, there is victory: strength, love, freedom, and light at the end of a long, long tunnel. In this masterful retelling of The Juniper Tree, Reid brings all her talent to bear as we meet Marlinchen, her two sisters, and their cursed, monstrous father living in an otherworldly garden at the heart of a city on the verge of change.

[Read more]

The Evil Queen Gets a Rewrite in A Mirror Mended by Alix E. Harrow

Zinnia Gray, infamous dying girl, has gotten a second chance at life. In the first book of Alix E. Harrow’s duology, A Spindle Splintered, Zinnia found that not only was she her universe’s version of Sleeping Beauty, an archetype that resonated across all of space/time, but discovered she could travel to these other worlds and change them. Using her wits, her friends, and all the knowledge of fairy tales, folklore, and fables she had at her disposal, Zinnia saved her friends from their seemingly immutable endings, and found she was able to change her own story as well.

As A Mirror Mended begins, Harrow hits the ground running as hard, showing us through a scatter of universes and succinct, sharp prose, just what exactly Zinnia’s life has been since the end of the first book in the series.

[Read more]

An Enthralling Modern Fairy Tale: Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

T. Kingfisher wastes no time in bringing readers into the very meat of her newest novel, Nettle & Bone: we meet Marra as her fingers bleed and she works quickly to make herself a dog out of bone. Marra’s hands dig into the mud, finding the right pieces to work with, and there is a visceral joy when she brings her cadaverous canine back from death. It is equal parts grim and enchanting—bloody, hard work meeting that uplifting jolt of joy from hard work done.

With Nettle & Bone, Kingfisher provides a template for modern fairy tales that turns the familiar on its head and stands on its own as a unique tale of magic, murder, and yes, a demonic chicken.

[Read more]

The Great American Alternate Reality Road Trip: Last Exit by Max Gladstone

In the Fall of 2015 at the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, NY, I saw Max Gladstone pick up a silver water pitcher and earnestly answer an audience member of his reading, “So, manifolds. Let’s talk about them.” He then went on to explain this physics term, using the water pitcher as straightforwardly as possible. And the entire room was rapt. You see, Max had just read from a new novel he was working on, a story of America and road trips and magic at the corner of your eye. It was also about friends so close they were family, and alternate realities, and fucking up so badly, your soul ached like a broken bone. At the time, he said he was still a little while off from finishing it, but he promised it would be out someday.

Fast forward to spring 2022 and that story I first heard at a convention center in upstate NY is now Last Exit, the brilliant new novel from Max Gladstone.

[Read more]

700 Pages of Pure Narrative Magic: Saint Death’s Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney

Miscellaneous “Lanie,” Stones is a necromancer, the first one born to the infamous Stones family in ages. But there’s a condition: Lanie has a severe allergy to violence. So terrible is her condition that even the touch or presence of one who’s performed recent harm will cause an allergic reaction. And so, Lanie must be kept from her assassin mother and executioner father. Raised by the revenant Goody Graves, Lanie finds comfort in books and ghosts. As the novel begins, Lanie’s mother, father, and their aunt are dead—possibly murdered—she can’t raise them to ask what happened, and the family’s enormous debt has been called in right away.

And so begins Saint Death’s Daughter, debut novel by the World Fantasy Award-Winning writer, C. S. E. Cooney, truly one of the best books I’ll read this year; a novel about death that has entered my personal Top 10 for, well, life.

[Read more]

Of Doors and Shadows: Gallant by V.E. Schwab

You could say that V. E. Schwab has been writing about shadows for her entire career. London and its many shadows explored by Lila and Kell in her Shades of Magic series. Victor and Eli from the Villains series, each struggling to escape the shadow cast by the other. Kate and August from the Monsters of Verity series learning how to embrace the darkness of their lives and come to terms with their monstrous halves. Even Addie la Rue wanders through the long, long shadow that falls on her immortal life and those around, running from it even as it lengthens in the light.

Shadows have always fascinated V. E. Schwab and they have never been more present than in Gallant, her newest young adult novel.

[Read more]

Contemplating Doors in Where I Can’t Follow by Ashley Blooms

Portal fantasies are a tried-and-true staple of the fantasy genre; nothing speaks to the fantastical like a golden doorknob in a tree, a wardrobe that leads to a snowy wood, a rusted key that takes you somewhere new and mysterious—to escape, to journey, to adventure in lands dangerous and beautiful, a space where you can finally see the world you left behind with clear eyes… You can say a lot about our world by leaving it behind.

Ashley Blooms’ brilliant new novel, Where I Can’t Follow, is less about what makes people go to these fantasy worlds, and more about what challenges them to stay in ours?

[Read more]

Heartfelt Science Fiction: Light Years From Home by Mike Chen

Mike Chen’s refusal to stay in any one genre box has become one of his greatest strengths as a writer; his narratives are nimble and never overly reliant on gimmicks, but he still leans in to the familiar and enjoyable conventions of a given genre. His talent for genre-hopping would be reason enough to read Chen’s work, but that’s not what makes him unique. Whether writing about time travel, the apocalypse, superheroes, or alien invasions, Mike Chen’s work examines, reveals, and ultimately heals a beating human heart. And with Light Years From Home, he’s done it once again.

[Read more]

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.