Tadiana Jones

TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

The Poppy War: Grimdark military fantasy in an Asian world

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Fang Runin (Rin) is a war orphan living with opium-dealing foster parents who physically abuse her and treat her like a slave, which is miserable enough. But when they arrange a match for her at age fourteen with a twice-divorced merchant three times her age, Rin has finally had enough. She comes up with an escape plan, managing to hold off her foster parents’ marriage plans for her for the time being through a combination of threats and promises. Rin spends every spare waking moment during the next two years studying for the Keju, a national test to find the brightest students in the empire to admit to the Academies, even burning herself with hot candle wax to keep herself awake and focused as she crams for the test. And it works: Rin does so well on the Keju that she’s admitted to Sinegard, the military school for the most elite students in the Nikara Empire.

It seems like a dream come true, but R... Read More

Recursion: A mind-bending, time-amending techno-thriller

Recursion by Blake Crouch

Recursion (2019) begins with a dual timeline in alternating chapters, a familiar literary approach, but then splinters into razor-sharp time shards as the characters deal with the explosive consequences of a new technology relating to personal memory.

In November 2018, detective Barry Sutton attempts to prevent a woman from jumping from the 41st floor of a New York City tower. The woman, Ann, tells him she has False Memory Syndrome (FMS), a new affliction in which a person remembers an entirely different past for themselves, like their memory branched at a certain point in the past. The memories, though vivid, are in shades of gray. Ann’s conviction that she’s lost a life in which she had a happy marriage and a nine-year-old son was so compelling that she searched for ― and found ― the man she remembered marrying, who said he didn’t recognize her, though Ann is convince... Read More

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune: Like a Chinese-American Hallmark movie

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

A bitter, ongoing quarrel with her mother about her career plans to be a chef led Natalie Tan to leave her San Francisco home in anger. Seven years of stubborn silence and globe-wandering later, Natalie is called home by a neighbor at her mother’s passing. She still deeply desires to be a chef and to have her own authentic Chinese restaurant, like her grandmother Qiao had done many years earlier, and now she’ll have the chance: Natalie has inherited her laolao’s (maternal grandmother’s) long-abandoned restaurant below their apartment. It’s still operable, though dusty and dirty, but their Chinatown neighborhood is fraying, with family-owned businesses dying and a steep rise in real estate prices causing Chinese families to move away.

A psychically-gifted neighbor returns Qiao’s old, handmade recipe book to Natalie, along with a prediction: if Natalie cooks three rec... Read More

One Word Kill: A tale of teens, time travel, D&D, and cancer

One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

One Word Kill (2019) is a tale of 1980s British teenagers, time travel (bonus: with branching universes), Dungeons & Dragons, and cancer. As the first book in Mark Lawrence’s IMPOSSIBLE TIMES trilogy, it sets things up nicely, and we’re all three looking forward to the next two novellas.

We know that the first-person narrator of the story has cancer ― leukaemia, to be precise ― from the very first paragraph of the story. Fifteen-year-old Nick is something of a genius, though his smarts don’t show much yet except in his choice of reading material during chemotherapy sessions. He has a group of close friends with whom he plays Dungeons & Dragons every Saturday, which group has recently been augmented by the addition of ― gasps of a... Read More

The Wonder Engine: Trying to beat the clocktaurs

The Wonder Engine by T. Kingfisher

The Wonder Engine (2018) is the second half of a fantasy duology by T. Kingfisher that began with Clockwork Boys, and it's absolutely necessary to read that book first (a few minor spoilers for that book are in this review). Clockwork Boys relates how a company of condemned criminals ― Slate the forger, Brenner the assassin, and Caliban the paladin ― plus one straitlaced, misogynistic scholar named Learned Edmund, are assembled and sent on a mission to the distant Anuket City. This is the place where the so-called Clockwork Boys or, more properly, clocktaurs, originate: immense magical mechanical creatures that smash everything and kill everyone in their paths, and are n... Read More

Clockwork Boys: A company of strangers begins a suicide mission

Clockwork Boys by T. Kingfisher

The plot of T. Kingfisher’s Clockwork Boys (2017) is of the “misfit company of strangers on a dangerous mission” type. Their country has been invaded by the so-called Clockwork Boys, nearly unstoppable, 10-foot-tall centaur-like creatures who are laying waste to the countryside. (I like the allusion to the out-of-control gang of boys in A Clockwork Orange.) The Dowager Queen has previously sent soldiers and spies to distant Anuket City, from which the Clockwork Boys regularly emerge, to investigate and try to stop these artificially created creatures, but these prior groups have all disappeared without a trace. So the Dowager has now landed on the idea of sending a group of criminals, perhaps ... Read More

SHORTS: Yap, Lee, Bear, Jemisin, Okorafor

SHORTS: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few more Locus-nominated stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

“How to Swallow the Moon” by Isabel Yap (2018, free at Uncanny magazine, $3.03 Kindle magazine issue). 2019 Locus award nominee (novelette).

“How to Swallow the Moon,” a Locus-nominated novelette by Isabel Yap, follows the cadence and arc of a traditional fairy tale — a village periodically plies a dangerous supernatural being with strictly-cloistered maidens, called binukots, or “jewels,” in order to sate his hunger and prevent him fro... Read More

Aurora Rising: A snarky space thriller

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

A lot of YA fantasy and science fiction works follow teenager characters as they attend magic or spaceflight school (I would take either!), but not nearly as many follow the characters’ lives after graduation. Aurora Rising (2019), a new YA space adventure from Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, the authors of the well-regarded ILLUMINAE FILES trilogy, take the latter approach, following a diverse cast of older teens as they graduate from Aurora Academy in the year 2380, are divided into crews of six according to their specialties, and assigned their initial mission for the Aurora Legion.

Tyler Jones, age 18, is at the top of the senior class. A natural leader and stellar studen... Read More

SHORTS: Bolander, Goss, Le Guin, Liu, Ford, Jemisin

SHORTS is our regular short fiction review column (previously SFM or Short Fiction Monday). In today's column we review several more of the 2019 Locus award nominees in the short fiction categories.

No Flight Without the Shatter by Brooke Bolander (2018, free at Tor.com; 99c Kindle version). 2019 Locus award nominee (novelette).

No Flight Without the Shatter brings together Linnea and her Aunties Ben, Dora, and Martha at the end of the world. Linnea is reco... Read More

Nyxia Uprising: A somewhat predictable end to an exciting series

Nyxia Uprising by Scott Reintgen

Nyxia Uprising (2019) is the fast-paced conclusion to Scott Reintgen’s NYXIA TRIAD YA sci-fi trilogy, an adventure with several teenage protagonists. It’s set both in space and on a distant planet called Eden that has two moons, an alien race called the Imago, and an abundant supply of nyxia, a malleable mineral with near-magical powers. These three books tell a single, unified story, and it’s impossible to appreciate this series without reading all of the books in order … and here is your obligatory spoiler warning for the earlier volumes, as I’ll briefly recap the tale thus far.

The first volume, Nyxia, had a Read More

SHORTS: Bolander, Kritzer, Padgett

Short Fiction Monday Wednesday: Our exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few Hugo-nominated stories we've read recently. (Due to Mother's Day and other life events, SHORTS appears on a Wednesday this week.)

“The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander (2018, free at Uncanny Magazine, $3.03 Kindle magazine issue). ... Read More

The Oracle Year: An exciting, fast-paced science fiction thriller

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Oracle Year by Charles Soule

OCTOBER 8: FOURTEEN BABIES WILL BE BORN AT NORTHSIDE GENERAL HOSPITAL IN HOUSTON. SIX MALE, EIGHT FEMALE.

One morning at about 5:00 am, Will Dando, a struggling young New York musician, abruptly awakes from a vivid dream. In his dream, a voice told Will 108 oddly specific and rather random predictions about the future, which he remembers verbatim when he wakes up. Some are potentially life-changing: warnings of the collapse of a major bridge and other disasters. Others may have a huge financial effect: a football game that will be won by the Jets by four points; a caution about a late freeze of crops in the southeastern United States. Still others are apparently mundane:
APRIL 24 – MRS. LUISA ALVAREZ OF EL PASO, TEXAS, PURCHASES A QUART OF CHOCOLATE MILK, SOMETHING SHE HAS NOT HAD IN TWENTY YEARS, TO SEE IF SHE STILL ... Read More

Storm Cursed: That old black magic

Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs

Storm Cursed (2019), the eleventh book in Patricia BriggsMERCY THOMPSON urban fantasy series, kicks the series up a notch with some clashes with black magic witches, and no one is safe. Mercy, a coyote skinwalker and the shapechanger daughter of the god Coyote, is back in the Tri-Cities area of Washington state after her hair-raising adventures in Europe in Silence Fallen.

Storm Cursed begins with a seemingly tangential event: Mercy has tagged two of her husband Adam’s werewolf pack, firefighter Mary Jo and computer nerd Ben, to go on a goblin hunt with her, tracking down a goblin suspected of killing a policeman. She calls Larry, the goblin king who we ... Read More

Middlegame: Blood is thicker than alkahest

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire brings together horror, alchemy, and fantasy in Middlegame (2019), a novel about ambition, power, creation, family, genius, and imagination. And because it’s a McGuire novel, there are also plenty of things that go bump in both the day and the night, a terrifying amount of corn, a refutation of pastoral/nostalgic Americana as viewed through the lens of classic children’s literature, and a battle-scarred old tomcat.

James Reed and his assistant Leigh Barrow ― a pair of rebel alchemists of the mad scientist type ― have been doing human experimentation for years, trying to make/breed (it's a combination of both) children who will embody the "Doctrine of Ethos" and have godlike magical powers. Because putting all this power in one person hasn’t worked, they split ... Read More

A Brightness Long Ago: Beautifully evocative and moving

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay

I confess that I always dread just a little bit reviewing a new Guy Gavriel Kay novel. Not because I’m concerned it won’t be any good; Kay writing a bad book would have to be on anyone’s list of Impending Signs of the Apocalypse. But because what makes his books not just good but stand-out good is so damn ineffable.

Granted, not solely so. I can easily toss off a host of tangible, well-crafted elements, all the usual suspects: fascinatingly rich characters, compelling plots, immersive world-building, etc. But the single best reason I can think of for reading a Guy Gavriel Kay book is the supreme elegance and grace of his writing. Which also happens to be the single worst recommendation for reading a Guy Gavriel Kay book. “Elegance and grace?” the potential reader says. ... Read More

Finder: Adventures of a space-age repo man

Finder by Suzanne Palmer

Fergus Ferguson, a large, redheaded man from Scotland by way of Mars, has made a “career out of chasing things and running away.” He’s running away from his past, for reasons that gradually become clear. But right now he’s focused on chasing something: an expensive, sentient spaceship, Venetia's Sword, that was stolen from its makers by Arum Gilger, a criminal mob boss. This repo mission has led Fergus to Cerneken or “Cernee,” a haphazard space colony consisting of a ring station surrounded by a of hundreds of marginally-habitable rocks, metal cans and dead ships, all tied together with a web of cables, with cable cars running passengers between the various habitats. Here Gilger has his home base, one of the “big five” powers on Cernee.

Fergus has a plan and a secret method of taking control of Venetia’s Sword, shared with him by the shipbuilders. But things go wrong for... Read More

SHORTS: Kingfisher, Brazee

Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are two more reviews of recent Hugo and Nebula award-nominated stories.

“The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” by T. Kingfisher (2018, free at Uncanny magazine, $3.03 Kindle magazine issue). 2019 Hugo award nominee (short story).

“The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” is a charming little diversion, among a steadily-growing list of charming short works, by T. Kingfisher. This one also happ... Read More

The Tea Master and the Detective: A Holmesian mystery in an Asian space habitat

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

The Tea Master and the Detective (2018), a novella nominated for both the Nebula and Hugo awards, is a delightful revisiting of the legendary Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson ... if both were Asian women, and Watson was a genetically modified human that is the brains and heart of a transport warship. It’s set in Aliette de Bodard’s UNIVERSE OF XUYA ― also nominated for a Hugo for Best Series ― a “timeline where Asia became dominant, and where the space age has Confucian galactic empires of Vietnamese and Chinese inspiration,” per the author’s website.

The Shadow’s Child, a mindship, is suffering from long-... Read More

SHORTS: Cho, Stueart, Palmer, Kingfisher

Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few excellent stories, including two of the recently announced Hugo nominees, that we wanted you to know about.

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho (2018, free to read online or download at Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog). 2019 Hugo award nominee (novelette).

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again, by Zen Cho, is a Hugo-nominated novelette about an imugi, a Korean creature who isn’t quite a dragon yet, but desperately wants to ascend to Heaven and join that august celesti... Read More

Thornbound: A Regency magic school for women

Thornbound by Stephanie Burgis

"For over seventeen hundred and fifty years, ever since the great Boudicca herself had sent the Romans fleeing Angland with the help of her second husband’s magery, a clearly defined line had been drawn in the public arena, never to be broken. The hard-headed ladies of Angland saw to the practicalities of rule whilst the more mystical and emotional gentlemen dealt with magic." 

In this magical, alternative-history version of England, called Angland, traditional roles are genderbent: the women handle politics and rule the country, while men are the magicians. For many years Cassandra Harwood was the only female magician in Angland, a single exception to a fixed tradition that many in power regret having allowed. Cassandra is still kicking against the rules of society, even though she can no longer exercise her magical powers due to a deeply regretted choice in her past. But Cassan... Read More

Alice Payne Arrives: The problems with time travel

Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield

Alice Payne arrives on the scene in this 2018 Nebula-nominated novella, and it looks like she’s setting up for a longer but welcome stay. Alice Payne is a half-black, thirty-two-year-old woman living in 1788 England in a mansion called Fleance Hall, with her father and a handful of servants; she’s also a closeted queer woman in a secret relationship with her companion, an inventor named Jane Hodgson. Alice and her father have fallen into financial straits, and her father, who is suffering from severe PTSD as a result of fighting in the American Revolution, is unable to support them financially. So Alice has taken up highway robbery, in the guise of a highwayman called the Holy Ghost, choosing as her victims men who prey on women. (Though I found it improbable, apparently there are enough of these men traveling near Fleance Hall to allow Alice to support her household with her ill-gotten gains.)
Read More

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach: Ecological remediation + time travel

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach (2018), one of several exceptional novellas nominated for the 2018 Nebula award, combines some intelligent and subtle world-building in the aftermath of worldwide disasters, the future version of project financing and lobbying (with lamentable similarities to our current world), and time travel to ancient Mesopotamia as research for an environmental remediation project.

In the 23rd century, humanity is beginning to rebuild on the surface of the Earth after living underground for many years in “hives and hells.” Life on the surface is limited to specific habitats, and the need for expensive ecological restoration projects to make the habitats livable has led to funding consortiums with time-consuming (and headache-inducing) formal proposal requirements. In the excitement surrounding the discovery of time travel a de... Read More

The Black God’s Drums: We really hope this begins a series

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

In an alternative history, magical steampunk version of New Orleans, in 1884 the city is still influenced by the aftermath of the Civil War, which ended in a division of the Union and Confederate states. New Orleans is a pocket of neutrality, one of the few territories not aligned with either the North or South. The city is run by a council made up of ex-slaves, mulattoes and white businesspeople; British, French and Haitian airships patrol the skies to keep the peace.

Thirteen-year old-Jacqueline is a bright, quick street girl and pickpocket who goes by the name of Creeper (for her skill at climbing walls). Within Creeper lives part of the spirit of Oya, the orisha or goddess of storms, life and death, lending Creeper power over wind and sharing premonitions and visions with her. And her latest vision is a doozy: an immense, horrific skull moon hanging over New Orleans, snuffing out the... Read More

Smoke & Summons: The city outshines the characters

Smoke & Summons by Charlie N. Holmberg

Charlie N. Holmberg’s latest novel is Smoke & Summons (2019) volume one of the NUMINA TRILOGY, in which a mysterious girl flees from magical slavery, girl meets boy, boy turns out to be a skilled thief with a troubled past and a heart of gold, boy helps girl avoid capture, feelings grow between them, and so on.

The girl in question is Sandis, and the boy (well, mid-twenties adult man) is Rone. Sandis has been in slavery for the last four years of her life, after being kidnapped and then sold to Kazen, a sadistic old man whose hobbies include keeping a bunch of teenagers in a deep-underground dungeon where he commits illegal acts of occultism. Sandis and the others like her are ritualistically-bound vessels into which magical spirits known as num... Read More

SHORTS: Castro, Greenblatt

Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here we review a couple of Nebula-nominated stories (one older; one newer), with a wide array of opinions from our group of reviewers on the newer story (actually, three identical ratings and one outlier). Read on!

With Unclean Hands by Adam-Troy Castro (2011, originally published in Analog magazine, $2.99 Kindle version). 2011 Nebula award nominee (novella).

Andrea Cort is a cold, damaged human being. One would think this would make her wholly unsuitable for a career in the diplomatic corps that represents humans in a universe filled with sentient species. But the incident that damaged her as a child is also one that require... Read More

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