Maya C. James Reviews The Lies of the Ajungo by Moses Ose Utomi

The Lies of the Ajungo, Moses Ose Utomi (Tordotcom 978-1-25084-906-9, $19.99, 96pp, hc) March 2023. Cover by Alyssa Winans & Christine Foltzer.

Indebted to the wicked Ajungo Empire, all citi­zens of the City of Lies have their tongues cut out when they turn 13. Not only do they sacrifice their blood, but their history. In return for their tribute, they receive just enough water from the Ajungo to keep ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews The Last Dreamwalker by Rita Woods

The Last Dreamwalker, Rita Woods (Forge 978-1-25080-561-4, $27.00, 272pp, hc) Sep­tember 2022.

Layla Hurley spends most of her life avoid­ing her nightmares. Whether through anxiety pills, wine, or a combination of those, she would do anything to sleep through the night without experiencing another lucid dream. But after her mother’s death, Layla learns that her nightmares are not chance recurrences, but a gift passed down from her family through ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope

The Monsters We Defy, Leslye Penelope (Red­hook 978-0-316-377911, $17.99, 384pp, tp) Au­gust 2022. Cover design by Lisa Marie Pompilio.

Clara Johnson is a short-tempered woman who can see and speak with spirits. While Clara typically offers her services as one-off favors, she is soon approached by a woman whose son has become lifeless. He still breathes and walks, but will not eat unless prompted, and wanders off if not ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews The Oleander Sword by Tasha Suri

The Oleander Sword, Tasha Suri (Orbit 978-0-316-53856-5, $17.99, 513 pp, tp) August 2022. Cover by Micah Epstein.

Priya and Malini have fought, killed, and be­trayed to gain power. The Oleander Sword asks and answers the question: what are they willing to do to keep it? Second in the Burn­ing Kingdoms trilogy, this epic, Indian-inspired sapphic fantasy follows Priya and Malini as they join forces against Emperor Chandra, Malini’s cruel, ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews The City of Dusk by Tara Sim

The City of Dusk, Tara Sim (Orbit 978-0-316-45889-4. 592 pp, hc, $17.99) Cover by Ben Zweifel.

Tara Sim’s epic adult fantasy The City of Dusk opens with a dreadful sense that something is seriously amiss in this world, and our main characters are completely oblivious to the extent of it.

The saga takes place in Nexus, where the Four Noble Houses worship their respective Gods. In return for their devotion, ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews An Earnest Blackness by Eugen Bacon

An Earnest Blackness, Eugen Bacon (Anti-Oe­dipus Press 978-0-99-915358-1, $18.95, 124pp, hc) August 2022. Cover by D. Harlan Wilson.

In An Earnest Blackness, computer scientist, critic, and speculative fiction author Eugen Bacon offers 12 critical essays on “blackness, Afrofuturism, colonialism, historicity, and (mis)recognition,” among other topics. Bacon’s sweeping lived and academic experiences are evident not only in her knowledge of the genre, but in her intimate experiences with some ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews A Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows

A Strange and Stubborn Endurance, Foz Meadows (Tor 978-1-25082-913-9 Tor. 544 pp, hc July 2022).

Content warning: rape, sexual assault.

A Strange and Stubborn Endur­ance has a lot going on: court politics, diplomatic disasters, arranged marriages, and a bit of magic sprinkled throughout. A lot going on isn’t always a bad thing, but in this case, it’s certainly a lot to mull over. Lord Velasin vin Aaro, a gay ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland

A Taste of Gold and Iron, Alexandra Rowland (Tor 978-1-250-80038-1, 512pp, $27.99 hc) August 2022.

Reputation is everything in Araşt, the setting for A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland. While other kingdoms are plagued with counterfeit coins, the princes of Araşt have the ability to test the purity of metals through touch and taste. Though it does not have the strongest army, its esteemed chan­nels of ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews The Merciless Ones by Namina Forna

The Merciless Ones, Namina Forna (Delacorte 978-1-9848-4872-7, 464pp, $17.99, hc) May 2022.

Former outcasts turned warriors and liberators, Deka and her friends are back on the battlefield in The Merciless Ones, sequel to The Gilded Ones (reviewed here May 2021), this time to free the rest of the goddesses and women in Otera. As the Nuru, or only full-blooded daughter of the goddesses, Deka is the strongest of ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi

Bitter, Akwaeke Emezi (Knopf Books for Young Readers 978-0593309032, 272pp, $17.99, hc) February 2022. Cover by Shyama Golden.

Content warning: sexual violence, anti-Black racism.

I would be amiss to not begin with the words that Akwaeke Emezi writes in their dedication of Bitter: ‘‘Still and always, for Toyin Salau. You deserved a better world.’’ Toyin was raped and murdered by an older man who assaulted her after offering ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

The Hacienda, Isabel Cañas (Berkley 978-0593436691, 352pp, $27.00, hc) May 2022. Cover by Vi-An Nguyen.

The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas is a gothic hor­ror set in the recent aftermath of the Mexican War of Independence. After her father was murdered and their house burned down, Beatriz marries the wealthy Rodolfo to inherit his estate, and move her mother away from their cruel aunt and uncle. Upon her arrival, it ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews City of Orange by David Yoon

City of Orange, David Yoon (Putnam 978-0-59342-216-8, 352pp, $27.00, hc) May 2022. Cover by Kristin Del Rosario.

What is an apocalypse if no one is around to care about it?

David Yoon’s City of Orange tack­les this difficult reality in a character-driven post-apocalyptic tale of a man who refuses to remember life’s difficult moments, or to bear witness to the current state of a dying world. We begin with ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo

Glory, NoViolet Bulawayo (Viking 978-0-525-56113-2, $27.00, 416pp, hc) March 2022.

Autocrats and their cronies have several names in Glory – Father of the Nation, Old Horse, Dr. Sweet Mother – reverent praise for inept, corrupt officials of the fictional nation of Jidada. Directly inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Bulawayo’s novel be­gins with an earnest letter to readers, discussing the history behind the novel: Robert Mugabe’s downfall through a ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews Call Me Cassandra by Marcial Gala

Call Me Cassandra, Marcial Gala (Farrar, Straus, Giroux 978-0-374-60201-7, $26.00, 211pp, hc) January 2022.

Content warning for Call Me Cassandra by Marcial Gala: transphobic violence and abuse.

Note: The main character is referred to as ‘‘he’’ by the author/translator.

Rauli is not like other children; he’s quiet, sensitive, and always reading stories of gods and myths. His father and brother are violent, and his mother can only do so ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews The Broken Tower by Kelly Braffet

The Broken Tower, Kelly Braffet (Mira Books 978-0-77833-179-7, $27.99, 480pp, hc) Cover by Micaela Alcaino.

Content-warning: mentions of self-harm, child abuse.

Kelly Braffet’s The Broken Tower picks up right after the The Unwilling, where Judah the Foundling jumps from the top of a castle tower to save her stepbrother, Gavin. Following her leap of faith, she finds herself in the company of two mysterious men, and her magical ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

Daughter of the Moon Goddess, Sue Lynn Tan (Harper Voyager 978-0-06-303130-2, $27.99, 512pp, tp) January 2022.

Living on the moon for most of her life, Xin­gyin never imagined more for herself—not growing into her magical powers, fleeing from her home, or risking her life for the kingdom that wants her dead. But after accidentally reveal­ing her existence to the Celestial Emperor, Xingyin embarks on a perilous journey to free ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews Hunting by Stars by Cherie Dimaline

Hunting by Stars, Cherie Dimaline (Amulet Books 9781419753473, $15.99, 400pp, hc) Oc­tober 2021.

Part horror, part dystopia, Cherie Dimaline draws on a long history of state-sponsored genocide to create the main plotline of Hunting by Stars, sec­ond in the Marrow Thieves series, in which large swaths of the Canadian population have lost the ability to dream due to a mysterious disease. The Canadian government is hunting First Nations ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber

Once Upon a Broken Heart, Stephanie Gar­ber, (Flatiron Books, 978-1250268396, $19.99, 416pp, pb) September 2021.

“For anyone who has ever made a bad decision because of a broken heart.” Once Upon a Broken Heart’s dedi­cation is an excellent foreshadowing of the events to come. Evangeline Fox is a young, orphaned girl in the Meridian Empire. After her father’s passing and her stepmother’s cruelty, all she has left is ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews A Girl Called Rumi by Ari Honarvar

A Girl Called Rumi, Ari Honarvar (Forest Avenue Press 978-1-942436-46-1, $16.00, 362pp, tp) September 2021. Cover by Ari Honarvar.

Content warning: self-harm.

Ari Honarvar’s debut novel, A Girl Called Rumi, is a sage, beautifully-written fantasy novel. Against the intense backdrop of the Iran-Iraq war and eventual Green Uprising, Kimia uses storytelling to escape, and discovers a storyteller that will lead her through the Seven Valleys of Love – an ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews After the Dragons by Cynthia Zhang

After the Dragons, Cynthia Zhang (Stelliform Press 978-1-77709-174-3, $19.99 160pp, tp) August 2021. Cover by Wang Xulin.

“Shaolong. Throat scorch. Caused by long exposure to poor air quality, especially common in cities with high pollution indexes and poor environmental regulations – the same disease that killed his grandmother.”

Cynthia Zhang’s After the Dragons is a queer SFF novella that follows Xiang Kaifei (Kai), a jaded college student, and Elijah ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews God of Mercy by Okezie Nwọka

God of Mercy, Okezie Nwọka (Astra House 97801-66260-0-838, $27.00, 304pp, hc) Novem­ber 2021.

Content warning: child abuse.

Supreme beings, elders, and ancestors clash in Okezie Nwọka’s God of Mercy, a decolonized, magical realist novel about a young girl named Ijeọma who can fly. Uncertain if her power is a curse or a blessing from feuding gods, a cast of bitter family members, sage elders, and violent pastors attempt ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews Walking on Cowrie Shells by Nana Nkweti

Walking on Cowrie Shells, Nana Nkweti (Gray­wolf Press 978-1-644-45054-3, $16.00, 200pp, tp) June 2021.

Nana Nkweti offers ten heart-warming and heart-wrenching stories that span genre, time, and species in her debut collection Walking on Cowrie Shells. From literary realism and romance, to speculative fiction and mystery, Nkweti tackles themes of familial and cultural expectations, all with effortless style and detail.

Nkweti’s writing style is a mixture of sobering ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian

Half Sick of Shadows, Laura Sebastian (Ace 978-0-593-200513, $27.00, 448pp, hc) July 2021.

Elaine is surrounded by heroes, and she knows how each of them will fall: Morgana the sorcer­ess, Lancelot the knight, Gwen the queen, and Arthur the king; all powerful pieces on a chess board waiting to be toppled by their own doing. Despite her great power of Sight, there is nothing Elaine can do but gaze ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

The Jasmine Throne, Tasha Suri (Orbit 978-0-316-53851-0, $16.99, 576 pp, tp) June 2021.

If you’ve heard The Jasmine Throne de­scribed as ‘‘morally grey lesbians setting an empire ablaze,’’ then you already understand the first reason to pick up the first book of the Burning Kingdoms trilogy. Told through sev­eral characters, The Jasmine Throne is an epic Indian-inspired fantasy centering love, thorny relationships, and an empire’s stranglehold on generations.

There ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews Home Is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo

Home Is Not a Country, Safia Elhillo (Make Me a World/ Random House Children’s 978-0-593-17705-1, $17.99, 224pp, hc) March 2021. Cover by Shaylin Wallace.

“What if?” is the question that guides Nima’s journey across time and borders. What if her mother had stayed in Sudan, rather than living in a country where their language is feared and hated? What if Nima was a graceful girl, who spoke Arabic gracefully ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo

What Big Teeth, Rose Szabo (Farrar, Straus, Gi­roux Books for Young Readers 978-0374314309, 400 pp, $18.99, tp) February 2021. Cover by Aurora Parlagreco.

Eleanor Zarrin’s family is a weird and violent bunch. They read fortunes in the guts of birds, go running in the woods just for the hell of it, and also don’t have any table manners, among other quirks. But, they’re the only people that Eleanor can ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie Liu

The Tangleroot Palace, Marjorie Liu (Tachyon 978-161696-352-1, $16.95, 256 pp, tp) June 2021. Cover by Sana Takeda.

Dangerous women and magic lurk in Marjorie Liu’s The Tangleroot Palace, a collection of short fiction that spans a variety of subgenres. In these imagined worlds, the bones of the innocent bring liberation to fledg­ling witches, crystal skulls power war machines, and the Amish lead post-apocalyptic villages through nights of terror ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Firebreak, Nicole Kornher-Stace (Saga 978-1-9821-4274-2, $26.99, 416pp, hc) May 2021.

Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Firebreak has the kind of dead-end future that hits a little too close to home – people working numerous part-time jobs to eke out a living, sharing an overpriced, shitty apartment with numerous roommates, and barely surviving under an evil megacorporation that gives out company credits instead of a living wage. The same company, by the way, ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

Son of the Storm, Suyi Davies Okungbowa (Orbit US 9780316428941, $14.49, 480pp, tp) May 2021.

Note: Son of the Storm refers to very light-skinned Africans (i.e. “high yellow”) as “yellowskin.” It refers to people with albinism and not people of Asian descent (all characters are of African descent in this novel).

Forbidden knowledge, half-truths, and a woman with magic that is not supposed to ex­ist. Son of the Storm ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews Prayer for the Living by Ben Okri

Prayer for the Living, Ben Okri (Head of Zeus 978-1789544596, £14.99, 240pp, hc) October 2019. (Akashic Books 978-1-61775-863-8, 216pp, hc) February 2021.

Ben Okri’s Prayer for the Living offers a simple suggestion at the beginning: read slowly. This is sage advice – if you pick through his words too quickly, you might miss a fateful turn within a story or a sentence that will steal your soul away. Reading ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

The Gilded Ones, Namina Forna (Delacorte Press/Penguin Random House 978-1-984-84869-7, $18.99, 432pp, hc) February 2021.

If you are in search of a feminist, epic fantasy filled with formidable girls healing from their trauma, killing monsters in the style of 300, and discovering their inner power despite the patriarchy, you may want to start with The Gilded Ones.

All 16-year-old Deka wants is acceptance from her village, even ...Read More

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Maya C. James Reviews The Unbroken by C.L. Clark

The Unbroken, C.L. Clark (Orbit 978-0316542753, $16.99, 544pp, tp) March 2021.

C.L. Clark’s debut novel The Unbroken is a military political fantasy teeming with sapphic romance, treacherous espionage, and violent-but-necessary revolution. Situated in a setting reminiscent of North Africa, Clark pens a precise and horrifying tale of the Ballad­aire Empire’s cruel domination over the Qazāl people. Readers follow Touraine’s journey from an obedient lieutenant to a revolutionary of her ...Read More

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