Tag: LGBTQ+ Literature

The City of Dusk (The Dark Gods #1) by Tara Sim

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

The City of Dusk (The Dark Gods Book 1) by [Tara Sim]

Sometimes you stumble on a book that hits all the right buttons at just the right time. Boy howdy, The City of Dusk sure did.

Set in the realm of Nexus (a very telling name, no?) in the city of Vaega, The City of Dusk is the story of four noble houses: each with their own divine magic affiliation and abilities. Well, really it’s about the heirs of these houses and their interaction with each other, their deities, and with the impending doom they sense coming.

The gods these houses descended from have shut off the realm that contains Nexus from the other realms of magic. To add a special twist, the Holy King may announce one of the heirs the heir to the crown at any moment.

Yeah, all the makings of some serious grimdark tomfoolery.

Above all The City of Dusk massively excels at a pervasive inner conflict that roils through each and every one of the main characters. Attitudes, allegiances and even relationships sway back and forth, caroming off of every obstacle imaginable. Just when things begin to even out a little bit, some new bit of madness drops in out of the ether and everything is upended. As a plot device, however, it really really adds to the sense of uncertainty that is practically a character in its own right. Ms. Sims deftly weaves together impossible and improbable situations that each of the heirs has to traverse, and, in some cases, there doesn’t seem to be a plausible “right answer” that can be achieved. It’s absolutely delicious.

This is a series that is going to pain me greatly to have to wait for. This first book isn’t even officially “out in the wild,” and I’m craving the second. This book is definitely bound to be on several of the “best of” lists for 2022. On March 22, make sure you have your copy.

Aurora’s End (The Aurora Cycle #3) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Ms. Kaufman and Mr. Kristoff are deities at creating perfect YA science fiction trilogies. The Illuminae Files was just an incredible experience of whirlwind storytelling piled on with some crazy space action, and The Aurora Cycle follows suit without even being the least bit derivative.

It’s almost sickening how deft these two are and cranking these literary Skittles out.

So, Aurora’s End. It’s hard to believe, with the amount of crap Squad 312 has gone through, that this is only the third book in the series. Worst of all, they’ve committed the mortal tabletop gaming sin of splitting the party.

Now, each group isn’t sure if the other is alive, and there is a whole lot of shenanigans going on to prevent this gigantic hive-mind galactic threat that has pretty much thwarted our protagonists (and even a couple of the anti-heroes and one supreme baddie) in the previous books.

Seeing that this is the wrap-up of a trilogy, I’m going to say exactly squat about what transpires in Aurora’s End. Instead, I strongly suggest you, gentle reader, grab up this fully formed — and now finished — trilogy to consume, like Power Pellets on a Pac-Man board, for yourself.

All of the characters are so well developed, and really take on so many more incredible traits and personalities as the trilogy progresses. There are so many “No effing way!” moments in all three books, especially Aurora’s End, that, as a reader, you just start to expect the most incredibly insane things to happen.

Great books, great authors. This series is an absolute no-brainer for spacey sci-fi folks.

The Circus Infinite by Khan Wong

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

Here’s the setup. Our protagonist, Jes, is a “fugitive” on the lam from a sinister institute that was basically torturing him as a method of studying his gravitational powers. At the start of The Circus Infinite, Jes has escaped pursuit and gotten passage to Persephone-9, a pleasure moon covered in pleasure palaces, entertainment, and casinos.

Purely by chance, Jes manages to get involved with a circus troupe as well as getting mixed up with Niko Dax, Persephone-9’s resident crime lord.

Throughout the book, we learn more and more about Jes. He’s mixed-species (which is often shunned), he’s asexual, and his powers are very very atypical for anyone.

Jes finds friendship, and a bit of romance; all the while increasing his role in the circus, but also being tasked with doing more and more horrible things for Niko Dax.

There were aspects to the worldbuilding that I found very creative. The terminology as well as the detailed explanations of the alien species, the history of federation of worlds that unites all of these species, as well as great details on the encountered technology made for an enjoyable read. I do wish that I had discovered the included glossary before I finished the book, but that’s on me.

All-in-all, The Circus Infinite was a very enjoyable read. I do hope that Mr. Wong continues in this universe because I feel like there is so much more to explore in it.

Birthright (The Impavidus Cycle #1) by M.A. Vice

Birthright (The Impavidus Cycle Book 1) by [M. A. Vice]

Here’s the setting. A young daemon gets inhabited and taken over by his father and proceeds to go on a Duke Nukem-style bloodbath to help raise power for and spread the corruption of his father. His sole driving force was to just ambush and kill and kill and kill.

Then the oddest of things happens. The young daemon, who we learn is named Albtraum, is captured, taken in, and, in the first of many twists, given the opportunity to fight against his father and maybe make the world a better place.

Ms. Vice opens this one with an absolutely master-crafted bloodbath and then deftly slides into a very involved story of political intrigue and a broad exploration of political relationships, interpersonal relationships, trust, and growth.

The fantasy presented in Birthright is top-notch. Having Albtraum constantly at odds with his father, and the uncertainty of how he can and does act in situations added a nice tension to this read while progressing the story nicely. In the shadows of spreading corruption, the reader never really knows when Albtraum will be infected by his father’s nefarious spirit and begin resorting back to his ways of violence.

I really enjoyed the variety of terrains that our characters are taken through. This world was very well adapted, and does help lend to a fair amount of character development. Through the worldbuilding, the reader can see the roots of many of the characters, and a lot of it is reflected back in personality.

Birthright is chock full of twists: some seen from a mile away, and some that just smack you in the face as they are happening. The final book in the series comes out in December 2021, and I really can’t wait to see how the story progresses considering the way things were left at the end of Birthright (no spoilers).

I’d really suggest picking this novel up. It’s independently published, and it’s always good to support those creators who take it upon themselves to push their works out in the world.

Gutter Mage by J.S. Kelley

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

Rosalind Featherstone is a badass. Yeah, she might not always make the best decisions; she’s a little impulsive, and she probably drinks too much, but, nonetheless, Roz is a badass. When we first meet her at The Skinned Cat — one of the few taverns she is still welcome in — Roz manages to get in a bit of a knock-down, drag-out scuffle whilst waiting for her partner, the humongous Lysander Tunning.

Lysander has lined up a cherry of a job for him and Roz: rescuing the kidnapped infant of the highly respected Lord Edmund which was kidnapped by the relatively new and notorious Alath Mages Guild.

That’s how this marvelous tale kicks off. From there we drop right into hardboiled noir, magic, spirits, deception and a little bit of sexy time. J.S. Kelley has absolutely nailed the banter between our two primary protagonists. Roz and Lye and old friends and the relationship is just so beautifully executed. In fantasy fiction such as this, you usually expect the big lunk to be the hot-headed one, but it is just absolutely refreshing for Lye to be the voice of reason while Roz will pretty much take on anything regardless of risk. That being said, though, Roz has a real intuitive noggin on her shoulders. The mystery aspect of Gutter Mage is what really sets it apart from much of the fantasy fiction that is out there. I would think I had a certain twist sorted, and be absolutely wrong: an incredibly enjoyable feeling when navigating a new book.

Rolling this all up in Roz’s semi-mysterious history is just the icing on the cake. J.S. Kelley definitely has some serious talent at character development, and the worldbuilding in Gutter Mage is also incredibly top notch. Do yourself a favor and put this one in your TBR stack. I honestly can’t think of a more enjoyable mystery novel that I have read in the past year. I feel like a night out drinking with Roz would lead to some serious mirth.

I do hope that this is not the last that we see of this world. I feel like there were enough unanswered questions to warrant another book (or ten), and, honestly, I just can’t wait for more.

Mister Impossible (Dreamer Trilogy #2) by Maggie Stiefvater

I’ve been mulling over how to approach a review for this amazing piece of fiction. Ms. Steifvater’s work is often very transcendent, but Mister Impossible just takes the cake.

The Dreamer Trilogy, follow up series to the wildly popular Raven Cycle, is focused on seminal “bad boy” Ronan Lynch and a wider exploration into his dreaming powers.

Where Call Down the Hawk set up the situations surrounding the current storyline — introducing the Hennessys, Bryde, the Moderators, etc. — Mister Impossible is more an etheric epic poem. Very quickly the deep dive into the ley lines, the quest for understanding around sweetmetals, and the indomitable personality that is Bryde, folds this novel into a dreamy story state that often doesn’t seem at home in the waking nor the dreaming world.

Per usual, the writing and character development are absolutely top notch. Ms. Steifvater always has a unique perspective on how to present scenes and situations, and Mister Impossible is a perfect example of this. There is suspense, humor and drama all present with a undertone of surrealism that just builds and builds and builds.

As the larger direction starts to unfold, there are still plenty of twists and turns that Ms. Stiefvater takes us down in a masterful execution of really looking at what the definition of humanity really is.

There is an unveiling towards the end of the book that I would absolutely love to make a parallel connection to a popular culture stalwart, but I’m just not the type of guy to spoil a storyline with one phrase. I will say that I am totally shocked and cannot wait to see how everything plays out in book three. That being said, I can’t believe I now have to wait for freakin’ book three!

I wanted to recognize special kudos to the amazing Will Patton for the audiobook of this manuscript. Mr. Patton is a remarkable performer who has breathed life into all of these two series of books. His tone and inflection definitely bring something to the table that enhances the experience.

Victories Greater Than Death (Unstoppable #1) by Charlie Jane Anders

I cannot get over this book. I picked it up because Ms. Anders has some serious Sci-Fi chops, the premise sounded interesting, and, duhhh, it’s YA Space Opera. What I got, however, was unlike anything I have ever read.

The basic story is that our protagonist, Tina Mains, is not just the typical teenager. She contains a interplanetary rescue beacon in her chest and is fully aware that, some day, it will be activated and her destiny as an alien disguised as a human will be unveiled.

As you can imagine, the time arrives and it is so much bigger than Tina could have anticipated. It turns out that Tina is the disguised copy of the galactic legend Captain Thaoh Argentian, and the Royal Fleet is relying on restoring Captain Argentian to help save the galaxy. Naturally, things don’t go as planned and Tina is really just turned into “Space Wikipedia.”

The very real threat, however, is not stopping, so Tina, her best friend Rachel, and an incredible crew of various alien races now have to figure out a mysterious puzzle and beat the horrible Compassion to gaining potential god-like powers.

There were several things about Victories Greater Than Death that struck me. First off, I’m not sure I have read a work that was so incredibly inclusive and sensitive to, well, just about everything. I understood, from the acknowledgements, that Ms. Anders employed a crew of sensitivity readers, and that is incredibly apparent. Even in the face of some pretty harsh speciesism, the story manages to be incredibly respectful.

The second thing that struck me was the incredible thought given to the people and places of Victories Greater Than Death. Alien races are presented with history and character/physiological traits that are oft referenced and really fine-tune the characters in a deft and refined way. Where many authors use an aside to describe alien morphology, Ms. Anders weaves these traits into the presentation of inter-character conversations.

Thirdly, was the action description. I have mentioned before how in awe I am of authors who can orchestrate battles where nothing seems to get lost in the telling, and Ms. Anders is a total natural. There is some serious action in Victories Greater Than Death, and it is presented in white-knuckled, amazingly detailed glory. This is a writing trait that I absolutely adore.

Lastly, for YA, Victories Greater Than Death tackles some seriously heavy subjects without getting preachy or letting the emotional themes detract from the greater story. In fact, it is these themes that really help propel the story as well as bond the reader with the characters. This is literary magic not often wielded well.

The one thing that I’m disappointed in is that I am now going to have to wait FOREVER for Unstoppable #2 to come out.

Persephone Station by Stina Leicht

Persephone Station by [Stina Leicht]

Space Opera is a genre that has been around for almost one-hundred years. In this century of epic space battles and the triumph over good and evil — of which I read a lot — I have finally found a story that had a super-unique approach, and that is the total gem that is Ms. Leicht’s Persephone Station.

Billing this novel as Feminist Science Fiction is incredibly apt, but I feel it does not fully encompass the level of unique inclusion presented.

Persephone Station is the story of Rosie, bar owner in the singular town of West Brynner on the seriously backwater planet of Persephone. Rosie’s Monk’s Bar caters to a wide variety of regular clients, but it is in the back room where the action happens: where the elite criminal class mingles with the sorts of folks who wish to procure services from them.

Rosie has a unique tie to the planet of Persephone and it is this tie that predicates the involvement of our other main protagonist: Angel de la Reza. Angel is an ex-marine who gathered up a rag-tag group of ex-military, some mercs and a damn good sniper to handle jobs coming out of the Monk’s Bar skirting around the Serrao-Orlov Corporation who recently obtained ownership of the planet.

What happens next pits Angel and Rosie — on different fronts — up against the incredible machine that is Serrao-Orlov in a frantic effort to protect both their own necks and the secrets hidden on Persephone.

This book was just a blast to read. I’ve seen a lot of comparisons to The Mandalorian and Cowboy Bebop, but I got a definite Kelly’s Heroes and Magnificent Seven vibe from it. Angel’s team does not mess around when it comes to the job, but the amazing banter and personality quirks are what really make this story so remarkable.

It’s the nuance and the slow unfolding of both the story and the backstories of the characters that I enjoyed the most in this work of Ms. Leicht’s. Hell, even the ship computer systems were a delight to read.

Persephone Station is one of those books that is going to end up on a lot of “best of 2021” lists, and I really wouldn’t surprise if it ended up on the nomination lists for the Hugos or the Lammys.

It’s an amazingly entertaining journey that I heartily recommend. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

In the Ravenous Dark by A.M. Strickland

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

It’s no secret that I have a severe love for YA Fantasy novels. I was already excited about taking on In the Ravenous Dark just from the synopsis, and, let me tell you, it is pure gold. Hell, this book brought me to actual tears a couple of times; I was that dialed into it.

The story opens up introducing young Rovan. Rovan and her father hold a very deep secret that could destroy their family if the knowledge slipped out: they can wield blood magic.

In a slip-up, Rovan’s father ends up dying to protect her from the ruling class of Thanopolis and that is really where the story takes off.

Twelve-ish years later a very mischievous Rovan ends up slipping and using her magic in public to save a friend/lover, and she is dragged into the royal court to adhere to their rule of being paired with a spirit guardian. This is where it gets really wacky. It turns out her father did not perish, and was forced to marry into the royal family to protect and propagate his bloodline: the source of his magical history and power.

Because of her proclivity to the power, Rovan is plopped right into a society she doesn’t understand, and really doesn’t like. She does, however, pair up with a couple of the other royal bloodmages: Lydea and Japha. Rovan takes on the full power of her bloodline which results in her father’s death, and she stays at odds with her mysterious guardian: Ivrilos.

At this point, there is a massive plot twist that I would feel disingenuous sharing, so I’m just going to say pick up this book.

Ms. Strickland powerfully built a complex world with all manners of details that really warrant more exploration. Rovan is the perfect little pain in the ass hero, and her interactions with Ivrilos, Lydea and Japha are downright legendary. This book was an extremely fun read, and the attention to picturesque detail is downright stunning. I really really really hope this is a first book in a series, because I can’t stand the thought that the motley band of bloodmages is at the end of their tale.

The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

There are books that I read that absolutely hit all of the right buttons for me. The Dead and the Dark is definitely that kind of book.

Logan Ortiz-Woodley is a recent high school graduate living with her dads; waiting patiently to turn eighteen so she can set out into the world to discover herself and where she belongs. At the start of the story, Logan, along with her dad Alejo Ortiz are packing up for a short-term move to Snakebite, Oregon — where her dads grew up — to meet up with Logan’s other dad, Brandon Woodley. Adding a little twist to the mix, Alejo and Brandon are TV’s ParaSpectors, ghost hunters with a pretty opinionated following.

Things in Snakebite are weird. While Alejo and Brandon grew up there, and eventually left (under semi-weird circumstances that is poked at through the entire novel), not much else has changed over the years. Of note, though, is a malevolent shadowy evil called the Dark that seems to be involved in the disappearance of at least one local teen. There is definitely something going on in Snakebite that involves the history of Alejo and Brandon, and Logan is going to get to the bottom of it.

Supernatural YA mysteries are my absolute bread and butter, and The Dead and The Dark does not disappoint. Yes, there are a couple of plot points that are a touch clich├ęd, but, for me, that is what locks it right into the genre. You have to have these signposts in order to say “Welcome to this familiar ride. Just wait until you reach the twists.” And boy howdy, there are some twists.

Ms. Gould really nailed this one in regards to little town attitude, teen angst and a whole lot of institutional hate and mistrust. Most of the way through the book I found myself questioning why the Ortiz-Woodleys would ever put up with what they are going through, and why they wouldn’t, rather, just find another location to scout. It is painfully obvious that Snakebite is not a place anyone should be. It seems to be an absolutely awful place, but it sure makes for some compelling reading.

Bottom line: if you like spooky queer YA, then do not sleep on this one. The Dead and the Dark is Ms. Gould’s debut, and I could not be more excited about what she puts out next.