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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Maya C. James Reviews Honeycomb by Joanne M. Harris

Honeycomb, Joanne M. Harris (Saga 978-1-534-43305-8, 28.00, 432pp, hc) May 2021. Cover by Charles Vess.

Like most remarkable stories, Honeycomb begins with a dream.

But in this universe of sadistic kings, wounded creatures, and wise honeybees, even a dream is more elusive than one might think. In “Nectar”, the origin story of Honeycomb, the Dream is a river that runs through the Nine Worlds, reflecting the hearts and ...Read More

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Maya C. James and Gary K. Wolfe Review Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow

Attack Surface, Cory Doctorow (Tor 978-1-250-75753-1, $26.99, 384pp, hc) October 2020.

Privacy is a luxury in Cory Doctorow’s Attack Surface, a political technothriller that follows the questionable choices of former spy, gov­ernment operative, and traitor, Masha Maximow, as she builds cyberweapons for authoritarian govern­ments, greedy cyber firms, and progressive activists alike. Taking place a few years after the events of Little Brother and Homeland, this standalone novel ...Read More

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Maya C. James and Rich Horton Review Entanglements, Edited by Sheila Williams

Entanglements: Tomorrow’s Lovers, Fami­lies, and Friends, Sheila Williams, ed. (MIT Press 978-0-26253-925-8, 240pp, $19.95, tp) September 2020.

Artificial intelligence, genome tampering (eugenics), sex bots, and other forms of technology descend upon the middle class in Entanglements, an anthology from Sheila Williams, editor of Asimov’s. Originally launched in 2011 by MIT Technology Review, Twelve Tomorrows is an annual anthology se­ries that explores the role of technology in near and ...Read More

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MAYA C. JAMES is a graduate of the Lannan Fellows Program at Georgetown University, and full-time student at Harvard Divinity School. Her work has appeared in Star*Line, Strange Horizons, FIYAH, Soar: For Harriet, and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center Blog, among others. She was recently long listed for the Stockholm Writers Festival First Pages Prize (2019), and featured on a feminist speculative poetry panel at the 2019 CD Wright Women Writer’s ...Read More

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