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Natalie Zutter

A Light Will Always Burn, But So Will Dark Desires: Dark Rise by C.S. Pacat

When C.S. Pacat introduces the two sixteen-year-old protagonists of Dark Rise, each embodies elements of the Chosen One archetype, but with a clever riff: Will Kempen works as a humble dock boy, despite his bearing and patched clothing hinting at him belonging elsewhere in society… but it’s not that he doesn’t know where he came from, it’s that he steadfastly does not think about it. Violet Ballard, a biracial Indian bastard raised in her father’s London household, envies her half-brother his allegiance with revered businessman Simon Crenshaw… but he’s not the only one who has the strength to become Lord Simon’s right-hand man. In short, Will and Violet each know something that the reader doesn’t, yet they also have a lot to learn about how their respective heritages relate to the centuries-long, otherworldly war between the Stewards of the Light and the Dark King with his revenant army of shadows and Reborn.

This saga is both endless and ending; the last of the Stewards are pushing back against the Dark King’s long-planned return, and depending on how these new players affect the cyclical fight, they could either prolong the epic stalemate or finally push things into either blinding hope or black despair. The first in a new young adult historical fantasy series from the author of the beloved Captive Prince trilogy, Dark Rise relies heavily on the light-versus-dark shorthand, with not quite enough time spent in the gray areas—because when Pacat does acknowledge the lure of dark desires and the problems with purity, the story is at its most engaging.

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Once, Twice, Infinite Times Upon a Dream: Alix E. Harrow’s A Spindle Splintered

One of the most cutting details in Alix E. Harrow’s A Spindle Splintered is when self-described “dying girl” Zinnia Gray reflects on how she used up her Make-a-Wish at age 11 to spend one night as a Disney princess. By then, it was already too late: She could see past the too-accurate costumes and practiced smiles to the emptiness of her future, fated to die by age 21. Cosplaying as a cursed maiden didn’t do anything to lift her real-life curse of amyloidosis, caused by corrupt corporations stirring up environmental toxins. It’s a brutal anecdote because the truth is as clear as the proteins that have taken root in her lungs.

Zinnia thinks she’s wasted her one wish—until the night of what should be her final birthday, when she pricks a spindle for the hell of it and winds up in the Sleeping Beauty multiverse. The first installment of Harrow’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse remix on classic fairy tales is an engaging (if at times overly zippy) adventure that sets up exactly what every fairy tale needs: A heroine who is out of fucks to give.

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Y: The Last Man Goes on a “Mann Hunt” to Find Humanity’s Reluctant Savior

This week’s Y: The Last Man gave us a heartwarming reunion for the comic’s greatest love story—no, I’m not talking about Yorick and Beth, obviously I mean Agent 355 and her collapsible baton. Roadtripping to Boston reveals some very wordy graffiti, one wonderfully acerbic geneticist who has a lot of feelings about being tasked with bringing back cis men, and an intriguing Culper Ring mystery—not to mention an unforeseen destination for our newly-minted trio. Back in Washington, Regina Oliver’s return may prove to be less of a power grab than the new biological development happening in Jennifer Brown’s office. Let’s hit the road with Y!

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How Harrow the Ninth Uses the Language of Fanfiction to Process Grief

Harrow the Ninth is one of the most anticipated SFF sequels in recent memory, weighted as it is with the expectation of living up to the cheeky, bonetastic glory of Gideon the Ninth. After crafting an incredibly complex far-future with necromancy seeping out of its every pore, as seen through the aviator-covered gaze of one Gideon Nav, the second novel swaps protagonists and propels readers into the even gorier, more existential setting of Lyctorhood that not even Gideon and its trials could have prepared you for. How can Tamsyn Muir possibly follow up Gideon the Ninth?

By retelling the story, over and over and over.

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Y: The Last Man Makes New Allies and Enemies in “Karen and Benji”

So this was the first episode of Y: The Last Man where I immediately wanted to click to the next screener the moment it was over! This bodes well for future episodes, in that the series seems to be hitting a good pace now that the main characters are making moves—even if those moves are recklessly exposing oneself at a market and joining up with a man-hating cult! As evidenced by the title, some people are hiding their true selves in “Karen and Benji,” but that will only make it worse when the truth comes out.

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Y: The Last Man Kicks Off Its Post-XY Apocalypse with a Tick… Tick… BOOM

As a fan of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man comic book series, I understand why the TV adaptation chose to keep the very sci-fi title for brand recognition. Yet I can also acknowledge that it’s become something of a misnomer for the new series, which transforms the source material’s gender binary-dependent premise into a more nuanced take on gender and masculinity in a world without the Y chromosome. Whether it will succeed in this new aim and keep the propulsive force of the comic is yet to be seen; the first three episodes are a shockingly slow start, with the action and intrigue only really ramping up in the final moments.

Spoilers for the first three episodes of Y: The Last Man.

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Rereading Y: The Last Man, Part 5: Motherland & Whys and Wherefores

Here we are, at the end of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man, and unlike the characters in the series or the original readers, it did not take us five years. Still, it’s been a revelatory ten weeks rereading what I believe is still the best of the gender-essentialist dystopias, while simultaneously acknowledging that its premise and execution are imperfect, especially when regarded twenty years later. To that end, I was delighted to revisit the final two trades, which answer the big question about why the XY plague happened (…sort of), and then blast forward to 2066 to examine the ripple effect of those first few post-plague years.

And by delighted, I mean I gasped, I rolled my eyes, I commiserated, and I ugly-cried at a point I completely didn’t expect to. I hope you experienced some of this roller-coaster ride of emotions, and that you’ll join me for our final Y: The Last Man reread.

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Rereading Y: The Last Man, Part 4: Paper Dolls & Kimono Dragons

Yorick Brown finally makes it to Australia! Aaaand his beloved Beth is nowhere to be found. But that’s not the end of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man—we’ve got four more trades left to reread, including this week’s installment. Sydney, then, becomes a day trip en route to the much more narratively important locations of Yokogata and Tokyo, full of other last men (…by a certain definition), popstars-turned-yakuza-leaders, and Beth going full Anastasia leaving Yorick with a “together in Paris” reference. Back in the United States, our new favorite post-apocalyptic girl group finally forms, while welcoming a brand-new member: Beth Jr.!

If that weren’t enough, these two trades are full of some of the series’ very best standalone issues—giving long-needed texture to the pasts of Agent 355, Allison Mann, and Alter Tse’elon with their respective formative traumas. Plus, an Ampersand deep-dive we dare you not to cry at. After all, we need to know where everyone’s at individually as we race toward this series’ epic finale across the world. But first, we need to meet an intrepid reporter and Allison’s badass mom…

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Rereading Y: The Last Man, Part 3: Ring of Truth & Girl on Girl

Avast! It’s the next installment of the Y: The Last Man reread. Even if the prior two trades of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s comic covered the most narrative ground in the post-apocalyptic series, these two trades are significant for crossing the United States—and then leaving it. Yorick Brown is set for Australia, after all, both for Beth’s sake and because he needs to find his kidnapped capuchin Ampersand.

From San Francisco to the high seas, Yorick’s metaphorical yellow brick road is getting harder to follow, but this post-XY Dorothy and his Tin Man (Dr. Allison Mann) and Scarecrow (Agent 355) will continue gamely on, with a cameo from the Cowardly Lion (Hero), plus a biblical serpent and some sexy pirates. Other detours include hookups for all the major players, which are contrasted with some tough truths about how women have survived post-plague and stunning reveals about who is actually alive—for both Yorick and Beth. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because we have to meet the other Beth…

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Sci-Fi Audio Drama Give Me Away Challenges Humanity’s Best Intentions with Alien Refugees

The notion of radical hospitality is built upon going above and beyond in making others feel welcome, in a way that both pushes the welcomers out of their comfort zones and fundamentally alters foundations of hospitality and community. This practice can be seen in many a first-contact science fiction story, from Contact to Arrival, as humans try to meet extraterrestrials where they’re coming from and ponder if Earth could handle another race of inhabitants.

In Gideon Media’s latest sci-fi audio drama Give Me Away, writer Mac Rogers pushes this ethos to its limit, from the nobly hypothetical to the extremely flesh-and-blood—not just asking if we would share our planet with an alien race, but our very bodies and minds.

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Rereading Y: The Last Man, Part 2: One Small Step & Safeword

Welcome to the second installment of the Y: The Last Man reread! While the first two volumes spent a lot of time in the first few weeks following the loss of all Y-chromosome mammals, the next two pick up the pace. Yorick Brown has a girl to find, dammit, and Dr. Allison Mann has cloning research to recover, and Agent 355 has to keep all of them alive! One Small Step and Safeword cover arguably the greatest narrative ground of the series, from brief bright hopes involving men from space to plumbing the depths of an ex-government-agent-slash-dominatrix’s basement pool and bearing the weight of survivor’s guilt.

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Rereading Y: The Last Man, Part 1: Unmanned & Cycles

Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man was the first comic book series I ever read, and I still haven’t found anything that I’ve fallen for quite as hard. I devoured it one summer while commuting to a minimum-wage job, roughly the same age that Yorick Brown is when a mysterious plague kills every human and animal on Earth with a Y chromosome except for him and his pet monkey, Ampersand. The cinematic style, the killer blend of pop culture and pathos, the ambitious worldbuilding envisioning a world without cisgender men—it’s a modern classic.

But simultaneously, it is very much a product of the early 2000s. Post-apocalyptic fiction hinging on a very binary sense of gender (mostly cis) rarely ages well, and Y has some cringing missteps even in the first few issues. Yet it’s still a landmark series that has (hopefully) offered a rich jumping-off point for the forthcoming TV adaptation, which premieres in September. Considering that a lot will likely change in the series—from grappling with the aforementioned gender issues from a 2021 perspective to adding in new characters—we’re going to revisit the comics, in all their imperfect glory, over the next several weeks.

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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Finale: Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum

For a long time now, watching The Handmaid’s Tale has been an uneasy undertaking. In wanting to honor June Osborne’s (Elisabeth Moss) trauma and road to recovery, I nonetheless found her endless well of anger—expressed through piercing stares and twisted smiles—more squeamish than gratifying. But then Hulu served up this especially disturbing season four finale, which achieves the difficult task of fulfilling June’s need for justice in a manner that calls back to the past four seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s still rough to watch, but it’s also wonderfully cathartic.

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