Tor.com content by

Maya Gittelman

A Clash of Love and Magic: Song of the Crimson Flower by Julie C. Dao

There is so much to love in every Julie C. Dao novel: the gorgeous worldbuilding, the atmospheric fantasy, the high-stakes plot — but my favorite element will always be her unapologetically complex characters. While Dao uses fairytale as her launchpad in the Feng Lu novels, her characters are consciously crafted as anything but archetypal. The immersive, lovely Song of the Crimson Flower revisits favorite characters from Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix while centering on a new, compelling cast.

Song of the Crimson Flower is set eight years after Phoenix leaves off. It continues the narrative of the world of Feng Lu, now prospering under the rule of Empress Jade, though the dark, entwining threats of black spice and bloodpox cast a rising shadow on her kingdom. Crimson Flower can be read and loved as a standalone, or prior to reading the Rise of the Empress books. However, as a reader who adores Forest of a Thousand Lanterns and its sequel, it was deeply fulfilling to return to Feng Lu and revisit the characters I love, exploring their roles in the next phase of their world.

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The Dark, Soulwalking Fantasy of Beyond the Black Door by A.M. Strickland

What shape does a soul take? For some, they are flourishing gardens. Others have tidy houses — and there are some whose souls are terrifying dungeons. This is called the “soul home,” or nehym. The state of a nehym reflects the person, and everything of that person is embodied in their soul…so what does it mean that Kamai doesn’t have a nehym of her own? And that in every soul, she sees a closed black door her mother warns her never to open? Thankfully, at least, these are secrets to bury, not stigmas to bear, as only a precious few have the goddess-gifted ability to soulwalk, Kamai and her mother included. This means that her mother, Marin, makes an excellent spy. She and her ersatz husband Hallan end up embroiled with an organization called the Twilight Guild. Kamai believed that her mother and Hallan pretended at marriage to mask their true occupations as pleasure artists, but discovers another layer of intrigue—their pleasure artistry serves as the perfect mask for soulwalking, in which the subject needs to be asleep.

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The Goddesses Are the Future: The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco

“A demoness is what men call a goddess they cannot control.” So opens The Never Tilting World and the legendary song of the ancestral goddess Inanna, with a call to powerful women and the systems that seek to manipulate that power.

Aeon was once a steadily spinning world, ruled by generations of twin goddesses beholden to a secret, terrible ritual. Until seventeen years ago, when one of the goddesses refused the ritual and caused the Breaking. The planet stopped turning, a Great Abyss splitting the earth into two unsustainable halves: Aranth, a storm-tossed freezing never-night, and a brutal, desert wasteland that houses the Golden City. Now, unbeknownst to each other, two young goddesses and their respective unlikely allies find themselves fighting their way to the Abyss from either side of the planet in an attempt to restore the wreckage of their world.

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Redemption, Remaking, and Revolution: Natalie C. Parker’s Steel Tide

Caledonia Styx returns knife-quick and bright as ever in Steel Tide, the thrilling, propulsive second installment of the Seafire trilogy. The novel picks up right where the first left off, Caledonia’s seafaring sisterhood pitted against the drugged and manipulated Bullet army, which is led by the vicious Aric Athair. A failed plot to destroy Aric and the murderous Bullet, Lir, leaves Caledonia horribly wounded and, worse, separated from her crew. She wakes to find herself recuperating in a camp of unlikely allies: former Bullets.

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Queer Love, Rage, and Magic Amid War: Red Skies Falling by Alex London

Twins Kylee and Brysen find themselves separated for the first time in their lives, each on either side of a world fluttering toward the knife-edge of war. Alex London’s Red Skies Falling serves as a soaring followup to the entrancing YA fantasy novel Black Wings Beating. The stakes raise enormously, the pace quickens, and ancient magic manifests in fresh, terrifying ways.

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A Queer Fairytale Reclamation, with Dragons: Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells

It begins in the aftermath. Two young women, in love, in a nation conquered by a powerful emperor. The mountain nation of Ilvera dragonriders was subjugated a generation ago, encompassed by the rule of the Zefedi downmountainers. Verrans could not resist the colonizers, not when they were armed with the very dragons they’d stolen from Ilvera. Maren has a relatively unique identity within her village—her father is Zefedi and her mother is Verran. They are a loving family, complicating Maren’s relationship with the Zefedi rule, especially as physically, she takes after her father, with lighter brown skin than her girlfriend and most of her village.

Despite the political landscape of her home, Maren wants little more than to remain on the mountain and live out her days in its peace and beauty. Her priority is her girlfriend, Kaia. As long as they’re together, she wants for nothing. Kaia, on the other hand, can’t wait to leave—to venture out past the ruins on the other side of the lake, to cross the mountain range of Anetka, to travel south to the ocean, and finally, to prove herself to the emperor, the Flame of the West, in hopes that he will christen her a Talon, one of his elite dragon guard. Even though Maren doesn’t share these aspirations, she would do anything for her, and so she plans to join Kaia on her adventures.

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