ARC Review: RING SHOUT by P. Djèlí Clark (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: October 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
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Trigger warnings: Body horror, Ku Klux Klan, arson, lynching, gore 

In this historical dark fantasy, the Ku Klux Klan also turns into literal abominations powered by hate. What stands between them and summoning their elder god is a Black girl with a leaf-shaped sword and the power of Shouts.

The voice in this novella is incredible. This story could not have been narrated by anyone other than Maryse in Georgia during Prohibition. The setting and prose leap off the page and immerse the reader in rhythm, aesthetic, slang, cuisine, and more. This effect works well during the more uplifting moments centering Maryse and her community, and brings forth terrors when the mouths start appearing on metaphorical monsters in uncanny places. The creature designs fit the Shout motif which repeats throughout the novella.

The pacing is great and hits several familiar beats as far as fantasy stories go. To say more would ruin some magical moments and spoil some of the fun, horrific action sequences that span this book. But I found Maryse’s character arc compelling. Moreover, I loved the relationship among Maryse, Chef, and Sadie. One of my favorite things to see in fantasy is the girl Chosen One surrounded and supported by other women in her community. It was joyful and uplifting, despite the tragedy and horror happening around them.

This book is intense and horrifying, but ultimately fun as a community of eldritch horror slayers go against a KKK steeped in Lovecraftian designs.

ARC Review: BURNING ROSES by S.L. Huang

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: September 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
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Fairy tales from the East and West come together in this brisk tale of regret, forgiveness, and closure told in flashbacks while two legends—Hou Yi and Rosa (Red Riding Hood)—hunt sunbirds to save their countryside.

I love how the present-day story serves as a book-end to having the two characters recount to each other their great tragedies. As readers, we get to watch that past unfold on page. Huang expertly balances nostalgia and regret, while also having the characters be open about feelings that made past decisions seem like a good idea in the first place. Both main characters are honest with each other in a way that’s compelling both as people who need to work together to solve an immediate problem and as people who need to make room for healing from the past.

In addition, how many retellings appeared in one novella impressed me. We got the fairy tales of our main characters, but Goldilocks and Beauty and the Beast also make an appearance. The world-building isn’t heavy in this one, but the subtle way Huang highlights the difference in Hou Yi and Rosa’s languages was a very nice addition.

Two older queer women (one of whom is trans) embark on a retelling that suggests that there other ways to make things last than quests for immortality.

ARC Review: THE SEVENTH PERFECTION by Daniel Polansky (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: September 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
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Content warnings: Cutting off a finger, removal of an eye

The structure of this novella is absolutely fascinating. Manet, Amanuensis to the God King, is trying to solve the riddle of her origin and the secret of the king himself. She also has the seventh perfection, a condition which grants her perfect memory.

Which leads seamlessly explains why and how each chapter of this book is told via dialogue from an intriguing character. It reads to me like the dialogue from an RPG, except we don’t have the visuals and interiority of the main character to ground us in a story. It’s all told from the perspectives of essentially NPCs. But the tone, pacing, and sense of a larger world are all there. The history and aesthetics of the land simply shines. It’s a magic-techno world where a discussion unfolds about mythology and the veracity of epic tales that become more legend than historical account, even if contemporaries still exist in the present.

The journey to having the curtains pulled on god’s truths is a wild ride, and The Seventh Perfection is highly recommended for those wanting to read experimental novels or novellas.

ARC Review: HARROW THE NINTH (The Locked Tomb #2) by Tamsyn Muir (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Dark Science Fantasy
Year Release: August 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
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Content warnings: Suicidal ideation, bones, murder, cannibalism, blood

It is very hard to summarize this book without spoiling the ending of Gideon the Ninth. But it picks up right where that left off and goes into the adventures of Harrowhark the Ninth as she starts service as a Lyctor to the Emperor of the Nine Houses.

This book examines trauma through magic and science fiction in a way that I’ve never seen in any other kind of book. It is what grimdark wishes it could be. The prose shifts between third and second, never flinching from the grief of the and pain of the end of Gideon. There is sincerity, tough love, and the grossness you’d expect from necromancy (soup is cancelled), but there is a joke and a colorful insult thrown in from time to time to get some relief as part of that processing. There is a deep sense of loss of control, being lost, and constant violence, but the empathy radiates off the page. Such a unique reading experience, and then there is another perspective shift that had my heart and mouth screaming.

A surreal sequel that maintains the tone and aesthetic of the first book, definitely pick up Harrow if you loved Gideon. Give me Alecto, now.