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Maya Gittelman

The Galaxy-Rocking Romp of Charlie Jane Anders’ Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak

The second installment in Charlie Jane Anders’ Unstoppable trilogy is a wild, clever, galaxy-spanning romp sure to delight fans of Victories Greater Than Death. Picking up where the first book left off, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak meets Anders’ beloved found family with quite a lot on their collective plates. They survived unimaginable dangers, but at what cost? 

With much of the worldbuilding established in the first book—though she doesn’t miss any opportunities to deepen it satisfyingly here—Anders can delve into the business of how these teenagers actually navigate this universe. While Victories centered on Tina, Dreams hands the POV spotlights to Elza, her girlfriend, and Rachael, her best friend. We get “JoinerTalk” messages from Tina so we’re still inside her head a bit, which is wonderful because she’s a fantastic protagonist, but the other girls get to shine. This works really well, as all three of them have to confront the aftermath of “saving the day” and the complicated reality of what it means to live your dreams. Just because there are aliens, clones, and intergalactic technology none of them could have imagined as a kid doesn’t mean growing up gets any easier—in fact, they’ve got a whole set of new problems to balance on top of figuring out who they are.

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Act of Grace: Masculinity, Monstrosity, and Queer Catharsis in Our Flag Means Death

Queer heartache has never felt this good.

Every time there’s queer energy in an ongoing genre show it always feels like Schrödinger’s Queerbait—are they going to go for it or am I going to get hurt? Are they leaning into the story they’re telling, or are they going to tell a worse story by ignoring the character dynamics they chose to put onscreen and instead rely on lazy compulsory heteronormativity to take the show in the most predictable possible direction in what posits to be risk avoidance but which is really code for the boring fact of homophobia. Schrödinger’s Queerbait: Is the queer romance dead or alive? Mostly, it’s dead. There are notable exceptions that certainly deserve their due, like She-Ra and Black Sails, and a good amount of books that have swashbuckling canon queer vibes—check out Alex Brown’s excellent piece here for recs—but almost always for genre shows the answer is comphet and hurt.

So when I realized that Our Flag Means Death is actually telling the queer story it felt like it’s telling—fully, and tenderly—it was like the world cracked open in the best way.

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Folklore, Family, and First Love in From Dust, A Flame by Rebecca Podos

Rebecca Podos’ From Dust, A Flame is a lyric, deeply moving contemporary fantasy YA that digs into complicated relationships with Judaism, queerness, and becoming. 

Hannah Williams has never known her roots. Her father died when she was small, leaving behind a set of nice, distant grandparents in Canada, and her mother never talks about her family or where she came from at all. Instead, she moves Hannah and her brother Gabe across the country time and time again, never quite settling. Everything changes the day of Hannah’s seventeenth birthday, when she wakes up with a set of eyes she doesn’t recognize peering back at her in the mirror. This is only the beginning of a series of frightening mutations that sends their mother searching for answers. When she doesn’t return, Hannah and Gabe have to take the situation into their own hands—and those of the stranger who sends them an invitation to sit shiva for the grandmother they never knew they had. In Fox Hollow, they find an entire community and history kept secret from them, brimming at once with beauty and impossible ache. 

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Trying Even in the Face of Hopelessness: Axie Oh’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

Axie Oh’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath The Sea is at once a lush, compassionate reimagining that focuses on the agency of young women and also a beautiful homage to its source story.

Mina’s homeland has suffered the whims of an uncaring god for a century. Each year they sacrifice a bride to the Sea God in the hopes of assuaging his wrath, but only his true bride can break the curse and bring an end to the devastating storms that have ravaged their lands and killed countless people. It is said that their benevolent emperor was murdered by a conqueror, and the Sea God, who’d loved him like a brother, fell into devastation and a grief so powerful he began the storms. Now wars rage across the leaderless, storm-scarred landscape. Year after year they offer brides, young women sent to the Spirit Realm or perhaps to drown in the vicious sea, and year after year the storms start again.

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Burn Butcher Burn: Jaskier Deserved Better in The Witcher Season 2

I guess… what I’m really asking you is… is this what pleases you?

There’s a lot to love in season two of Netflix’s The Witcher, but many admirers of the fan favorite bard Jaskier are left, well, wanting. Our central protagonist, the Witcher himself, Geralt of Rivia, opens up a good amount from the grunty hmm-er we met in season one—with a notable, confusing, and canonically heartbreaking exception.

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Cursed, Bisexual, and Morally Grey: Briar Girls by Rebecca Kim Wells

Lena has always been alone. She has to be. The merest touch of her bare skin condemns any person to a violent, immediate death. Her parents bargained with a witch to save her mother’s life before she was born, promising their child to her in return. When Lena was born, they fled—and the witch cursed her. It’s almost all right for a while—until Lena has a terrible accident, and her mother abandons them. She and her father are forced to flee to a village on the edge of a dangerous, enchanted forest called the Silence, within which lies a city filled with magic. 

This, at least, is the story Lena’s been told. 

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The Luminous Hope of Zoraida Córdova’s The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina

Protect your magic.

Zoraida Córdova’s adult debut The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is a mesmeric, intricate offering, alive with power and brimming with light. Here, choices and magic follow a bloodline through generations. In the wake of the death of their enigmatic matriarch, the Montoyas unearth long-buried secrets that have shaped each of their lives.

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S. Qiouyi Lu’s In the Watchful City: A Dazzling, Nonbinary Mosaic of Story, Surveillance, and Self

S. Qiouyi Lu’s richly imagined debut novella In The Watchful City sings an intricate symphony, brimming with cleverness and ache. 

The city of Ora is in a state of chosen exile, freed from the clutches of the Skyland empire. In the wake of its collective trauma, Ora surveils its people and its visitors through nodes, extrasensory humans who can navigate the complex interconnected network called the Gleaming. Anima is one of the innermost nodes, and with this power comes the ability to borrow the bodies of living creatures and control them. Æ believes in Ora’s governance, and ær position as peacekeeper. But when a mysterious stranger with a qíjìtáng full of curious items crosses the border without Anima’s notice, the way æ see ær world will never be the same.

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Sapphic Dystopian Excellence in Zoe Hana Mikuta’s Gearbreakers

In a brutal world falling to the tyrannical rule of a militarized state power, two furious girls risk everything to fight back. When their very different paths cross, they may find in each other the one thing they didn’t know they’ve been missing. Zoe Hana Mikuta infuses an intense sci-fi adventure with heart, hard choices, and found family in her debut novel Gearbreakers. 

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The Brilliant, Sublime Ache of The Ones We’re Meant to Find

Joan He’s The Ones We’re Meant to Find is sci-fi dystopian at its best: sharp, devastating, and brimming with invigorating questions about what it means to be human on this earth we continue to ravage.

The novel follows two sisters, the Mizuharas, in alternating chapters that shift between timelines. We follow Cee through an intimate first-person present, where she’s been marooned on a deserted island for three years, colorblind and without memories, with only a friendly, rudimentary bot for company. We come to know Kasey at a more distant third-person past POV, as she navigates her sister’s recent disappearance at sea. Kay is a sixteen-year-old genius, brilliant but disconnected from her peers, the flux of emotions evading her. She, like all inhabitants of earth’s eco-cities, wears an Intraface, tech embedded in her brain that can record memories, provide conversational aid through Silvertongue, and display one’s rank. Admission to the eco-cities is dependent on a rank-based system, purportedly for the good of the remaining humans, in order to best allocate and preserve the planet’s waning resources. When Kasey disappears, Cee maneuvers her way into her sister’s abandoned Intraface to search for answers.

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The Dazzling Queer Delight of Charlie Jane Anders’ Victories Greater Than Death

For everyone who is or was a queer kid dreaming of a destiny in the stars, a place more welcoming and wondrous than here—this book is for you. 

In award-winning SFF writer Charlie Jane Anders’ YA debut, Tina Mains has always been destined for Victories Greater Than Death. Though she’s spent her seventeen years living like a fairly average white girl earthling, she’s actually a secret clone of the late Captain Argentian, a celebrated alien hero. She’s been living in wait for the sparkling beacon in her chest to call upon her to join the Royal Fleet and save the worlds. 

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The Sapphic Witchy Slowburn of Adrienne Tooley’s Sweet & Bitter Magic

Adrienne Tooley’s debut fantasy Sweet & Bitter Magic is a sapphic, quiet slowburn fairytale between two girls with complicated relationships to magic, themselves, and each other. 

Tamsin had been the most powerful young witch in Within, the witches’ land—unlike her twin, Marlena, who only ever wanted to leave Within, to explore the world and its potential. But as different as they were, Tamsin would have done anything for her sister.

And when Marlena’s life is in danger, she does. 

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