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Abe Sapien (Vol. 1): The Drowning: Abe Sapien Disturbs a Shipwreck

Abe Sapien (Vol. 1): The Drowning by Mike Mignola (writer), Jason Shawn Alexander (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), and Clem Robins (letters)

The Abe Sapien series is nine volumes long, and it is an essential part of the Hellboy canon. The series is as good as the Hellboy series and should not be missed by any fans of Mignola’s Hellboy universe. Abe Sapien: The Drowning starts off mysteriously in 1884 as a man boards a ship from a Victorian steampunk-like blimp and begins shooting men with writing on their chests. The action is accompanied only by the words of “You Gentlemen of England” by Martin Parks. It is a fantastic, haunting, opening sequence. The man, we soon find out, is Sir Edward Grey, British occult detective and special agent to Queen Victoria (Mignola has written a series about Sir Edward Grey). Grey, unfortunately, goes down with t... Read More

Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death, and Art

Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death, and Art by Rebecca Wragg Sykes

If your view of a Neanderthal is a sloped-head, grunting, not-so-bright guy hunched against blowing snow while he tracks a mammoth, unaware of his impending extinction and eventual supplantation by his far-smarter and much smugger cousins (that would be us), it’s time to update that image. And archaeologist Rebecca Wragg Sykes has just the method of doing so: her fascinating, detailed, and vivid recreation of our ancestor: Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death, and Art (2020).

For the longest time Neanderthals were seen as a failed species: brutish, dull, dumb, mute, violent creatures just a step above gorillas. That view started to change somewhat about twenty years thanks to new discoveries and some new methodology. But as Sykes does an excellent job showing, newer technologies have exploded our concepts of just who Neanderthals w... Read More

The Hollow Places: I read it in one sitting because I was afraid to put it down

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

 … and we watched the willow branches bow outward from the passing, and it was invisible except that invisible was not the right word, because its not-there-ness hung in the air like an afterimage.

The Hollow Places (2020), by T. Kingfisher, reminded me a lot of the other folk-horror novel of hers I read recently, The Twisted Ones. Both take place in or close to small southern towns, both have alternate realities, protagonists coming to town to help a relative, and discovered manuscripts. Both were inspired by earlier works of horror or Weird. (This one was inspired by “The Willows” by Algernon Blackw... Read More

The Trouble With Peace: A fabulous sequel

The Trouble With Peace by Joe Abercrombie

To my surprise and delight, Joe Abercrombie’s A Little Hatred, the first book in his THE AGE OF MADNESS series, was one of the best books I read last year. As I said in my review, “it’s got everything I’m looking for in a fantasy novel,” including a large cast of interesting and multi-faceted characters, a fascinating setting (a world on the brink of an industrial revolution), and an exciting, often brutal, plot. This review will have spoilers for A Little Hatred.

I’m happy to report that the sequel, The Trouble With Peace (2020), is another winner. ... Read More

Sea Change: Thought-provoking and compelling

Sea Change by Nancy Kress

Ever read a book and immediately wish that you’d been able to read it in school, rather than [insert inaccessible book of choice]? For me, Nancy Kress’s 2020 novella Sea Change, with its gutsy-yet-conflicted heroine and all-too-real near-future global catastrophes, is exactly the kind of book I wish I’d been handed way back when.

Renata Black is a lawyer, handling cases for citizens of the Quinault Nation in the Pacific Northwest. She’s cultivated friendships among them, especially in the wake of the Catastrophe of 2022, in which a biopharmed drug caused agricultural collapse across the planet, destroyed the global economy, and brought personal devastation to Renata’s family. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were banned in the aftermath of the Catastrophe, but there are under... Read More

Troubled Blood: The best addition to the series yet

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

There are two ways this review could go: either the controversy surrounding Troubled Blood (2020) and the internet backlash against J.K. Rowling for casting one of the main suspects as a cross-dresser could be ignored, or the entire review could be hinged upon it. It would be disingenuous to do the former and reductive to do the latter, so let's leave it at this: if readers want the down-low on the dispute, Google it (and there's plenty of content out there). The rest of this review will centre solely on the merits of the story, of which there are ample.

Detective Cormoran Strike and his partner Robin Ellacot are back, and not without a little personal baggage. Strike's aunt is dying, and he finds himself increasingly needed in Cornwall where she lives, putting pressu... Read More

Meteorite: How Stones from Outer Space Made Our World

Meteorite: How Stones from Outer Space Made Our World by Tim Gregory

Meteorite: The Stones from Outer Space That Made Our World (2020), by Tim Gregory, does what the best popular science books do — uses a vibrant, engaging and distinctive voice to both broadly and deeply inform the lay reader without dumbing down the science down too much while placing it in historical context. Check, check, and check. I already can’t wait for what Gregory turns to in his next non-fiction work.

The title tells you all you need to know about the subject matter. This isn’t a “space” book; it’s all, and almost solely, about, meteorites: how they’re found, where they come from, how they impacted (literally and figuratively) the Earth, what they can tell us about our world, other planets, and the solar system’s creation. As tightly focused as it is, though, Gregory still makes room for some effectively brief digressions into more genera... Read More

The Only Good Indians: Read it with all the lights on

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

When I was a kid growing up in Montana, hunting was a steadfast part of my family’s life. Elk, deer (mulies and white-tails), antelope, pheasant — if you wanted to eat it, you had to go out into the snow-covered woods before the break of dawn and hope that you would find something early enough that you wouldn’t have to spend the rest of the day dragging the cleaned carcass back to your truck. There were rules, of course: respect nature to the point of veneration; don’t shoot what you don’t have a permit for; don’t shoot anything you don’t intend to kill; don’t kill more than you need. The cardinal rule, the one impressed the hardest into my mind, was that you don’t set foot anywhere that you don’t have permission to go, not for any reason.

That particular decree, in myriad permutations, is at the hear... Read More

Return of the Thief: Political intrigue and unforgettable characters

Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Megan Whalen Turner’s QUEEN’S THIEF young adult fantasy series, a masterwork of twisting plots, deceptive plans, and occasional divine interventions from the first book to the last, winds to a close with Return of the Thief (2020), twenty-four years after the publication of The Thief. Return of the Thief introduces us to a new narrator, Pheris, oldest grandson and nominally the heir of Baron Erondites, Eugenides’s powerful enemy from The King of Attolia. (Alert readers, however, will recognize Pheris from a few brief scenes in Read More

Baltimore (Vol. 1): The Plague Ships: An excellent origin story

Baltimore (Vol. 1): The Plague Ships by Mike Mignola (writer), Christopher Golden (writer), Ben Stenbeck (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), & Clem Robins (letters)

In volume one of Baltimore, we meet a tough, rugged man with a wooden leg. At the beginning of the book, we witness Lord Baltimore’s chasing vampires in a coastal town in France in 1916. The town has been struck by the plague as well as vampires. The night is dark, and Baltimore is in the midst of hunting a hoard of them. Though he will kill any of them he can, he is set on tracking down and killing one particular old vampire with a scar on his face and a missing right eye. Therefore, he plans on keeping one vampire alive long enough to get some information.

This plan, however, does not work out: He is helped in an unusual way by a witch and is frustrated that all the vampires die before he can get that information. After being knocked unco... Read More

Crooked Kingdom: This duology is gripping reading

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Note: This review contains spoilers for Six of Crows, the first book in this duology.

Crooked Kingdom (2016) picks up the story begun in Six of Crows and takes off like ― well, there are no freight trains in this world, so ― a runaway Grisha on jurda parem. In Six of Crows, teenage crime lord Kaz Brekker and his handpicked group of five pulled off a near-impossible heist, rescuing a young boy, Kuwei, from the impenetrable Ice Court of Fjerda and returning to Ketterdam with him and, more importantly, his knowledge of his father’s research into how to turn the ordinary jurda plant into jurda parem, a drug that instantly amps up Gris... Read More

Piranesi: “The Beauty of the House is immeasurable” indeed

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

I was going to start this review of Piranesi (2020) by Susanna Clarke by stating that I was of two minds on the novel and then noting that this was both appropriate and also strong praise. Appropriate because the book is in many ways of the mind, and is as well of two worlds. Strong praise because my two minds were “I loved it” followed by “I liked it.” But then I thought more about it, and I decided my minds were really “I loved it,” “I liked it,” then “I loved it” again. But I could work with that, because really, the book functions on more than two levels. But then I thought about my reading some more, and I decided that my mind now was simply, singularly, “it’s brilliant.” Which is still, granted, strong praise, but no longer neatly appropriate. Worse, it’s also dully predictable. Becau... Read More

The Starless Sea: Visually spectacular

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Given the success of her debut, it would be impossible to write about Erin Morgenstern's eagerly awaited follow-up without alluding to The Night Circus (2011). The bestseller accrued a mass following of 'Rêveurs' – the self-styled fanbase, named after the followers of the circus in the book. It inspired a formidable amount of tattoos and artwork on Pinterest, as well as being translated into thirty-seven languages, no less. It was always going to be a hard act to follow, but can Morgenstern live up to her own success?

The Starless Sea (2019) follows the tale of Zachary Ezra Rawlins, the son of a... Read More

Lovecraft Country: Here there be monsters

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

If the recent television adaptation of Lovecraft Country (2017) is anything like the source material, I think I’m going to enjoy it immensely. Matt Ruff’s novel of interconnected tales is well-written, compelling, horrifying (all the more so because the Lovecraftian horrors experienced by the novel’s African-American characters are not that much worse than the everyday evil of Jim Crow-era America), insightful, and, at times, even funny.

Korean War veteran Atticus Turner, a fan of pulpy sci-fi and horror novels written by the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Read More

In the Shadows of Men: The ghosts are the least horrific element here

In the Shadows of Men by Robert Jackson Bennett

Robert Jackson Bennett has become one of my must-read authors, a view arising from his brilliant DIVINE CITIES trilogy and only confirmed by his nearly as brilliant THE FOUNDERS TRILOGY. Both are fantasy works, but Bennett also turns his craft toward horror as well, and that craft is indeed evident in his newest novella, In the Shadows of Men (2020), a taut, concise work that unnerves in more ways than one.

The brothers Pugh — one our unnamed narrator, the other his older brother Bear — are near the end of their line. For the youngest, it’s been “thirty-nine days since my wife left and she packed our little girl into her car and said she couldn’t stand it anymore, she just wanted to go someplace where everything was... Read More

Frankenstein Underground by Mike Mignola: For all Frankenstein fans

Frankenstein Underground by Mike Mignola (author) & Ben Stenbeck (artist)

One of the best books in the wider Hellboy Universe, Frankenstein Underground takes the famous literary monster and places him in a battle for light against darkness. This book is one of my favorite comics I have read recently. Frankenstein’s monster seems to have a patchy memory, and other than recalling random events here and there, he only remembers one name — Frankenstein — which he thinks is his own. In the opening scene, “Frankenstein” is on the run, as he has been throughout his long life. The comic book shows Frankenstein throughout the years as he has been chased in many different areas of the world. But in this most recent chase, he enters a cave and encounters a witch of sorts who heals and comforts him. The five-issue story will come full circle, from physical healing to spiritual healing, but there are many dire events t... Read More

B.P.R.D. (Vol. 9): 1946: The early years of the B.P.R.D.

B.P.R.D. (Vol. 9): 1946 by Mike Mignola (writer), Joshua Dysart (writer), Paul Azaceta (artist), Nick Filardi (colors), Clem Robins (letters)

Hellboy first appeared in 1944, a result of German paranormal experiments. B.P.R.D. (Vol. 9): 1946 takes place two years later, when Hellboy's father figure, Trevor Bruttenholm, takes a trip to Berlin on the part of the two-year-old B.P.R.D. He wants to investigate the paranormal work the Germans were doing during the war, but the Russians have arrived first, claiming all the artifacts and papers that Trevor wants to examine. He goes to the Russians to ask for cooperation, and he meets the young, mysterious Varvara, who is in charge of the Russian operations even though she looks only twelve-years-old. She has uncanny knowledge, and she seems to know Trevor's thoughts before he speaks. And she knows of his young ward, Hellboy. She will play a major role in what is happening in the... Read More

Living on the Edge of Empire: The Objects and People of Hadrian’s Wall

Living on the Edge of Empire: The Objects and People of Hadrian’s Wall by Rob Collins

Living on the Edge of Empire: The Objects and People of Hadrian’s Wall (2020) is a lavishly illustrated glimpse at the daily lives of soldiers and others who lived in and along Hadrian’s Wall during the several centuries it was occupied by the Romans. While there are more academic works available, this is an excellent read for non-researchers or for those who might want an introduction to more difficult, comprehensive works; say, a writer planning on setting a story in Roman Britain.

Following the introduction, Collins divides the book into eight sections: the makeup of the communities and homes, dress, food and drink, weapons and armor, daily business and entertainment, religious beliefs, “unknowns” (more on this later), and the post-Roman years of the wall. As noted, the book is chock-full of photographs illu... Read More

Gideon the Ninth: Macabre & original

Reposting to include Tim's new review.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Necromancers and their sword-fighting cavaliers star in Gideon the Ninth (2019), Tamsyn Muir’s radically original debut novel, which has been nominated for the 2019 Nebula Award. This science fantasy novel, steeped in an atmosphere of decay and decrepitude, is a mix of space opera and a gruesome treasure hunt that takes place in a spooky, crumbling castle. At the same time, it’s set in an interstellar empire consisting of nine planets, each one ruled by a different House of necromancers.

Eighteen-year-old Gideon Nav is trying to escape her forced servitude in the particularly moribund Ninth House, where she’s surrounded by living skeletons and corpses and near-dead nobles and nuns who pray on knucklebones. Gideon’s escape plan involves sneaking off the entire Ninth planet in a space shut... Read More

Red Mantle: Finishes an excellent trilogy on a high note

Red Mantle by Maria Turtschaninoff

Maria Turtschaninoff’s Maresi told the story of the Red Abbey — a feminist, goddess-worshipping sanctuary for women — and the young novice whose special powers helped her save it from invaders. The sequel, Naondel, was really a prequel, going back to the founders of the Abbey and explaining how they came together to form it. Red Mantle (2018), the conclusion of the RED ABBEY CHRONICLES series, returns to Maresi, the heroine of the first book, as she enters young womanhood and ventures into the world beyond the isle of Menos.

Red Mantle is an epistolary novel, told through Maresi’s letters home to the Abbey. This structure works well, giving the ... Read More

Desdemona and the Deep: “The bright-winged, the beautiful, the bizarre”

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney

Desdemona and the Deep (2019) is C.S.E. Cooney’s third novella in the DARK BREAKERS series, but is a self-contained story that can stand alone. A finalist for the Locus Award for Best Novella, Desdemona and the Deep is a dreamy, sensual trip through the otherworlds. I’ll let Cooney set the scene:
Four stories above the Grand Foyer of the Seafall City Opera House, each painted panel in the barrel-vaulted ceiling depicted a scene from one of the three worlds. Which world it happened to be depended on the tint and tone of the panel: daylight was for Athe, the world of mortals; twilight represented the Valwode, where the gentry dwelled; and midnight belonged to Bana the Bone Kingdom, home to all the koboldkin. Through these wheeling coffers of world... Read More

Odd John: Lo And Behold!

Odd John by Olaf Stapledon

Just recently, I had some words to say regarding Olaf Stapledon’s superlative novel entitled Sirius (1944), which featured as its protagonist a German shepherd/border collie mix who, thanks to his owner’s experiments in genetic engineering and hormonal supplements, winds up a canine with the mentality of a human genius. It was the first book that I had experienced by this British author, and I loved it so much that I immediately began reading an earlier Stapledon novel, Odd John (1935), which can happily be found in the same 1972 Dover edition as the 1944 work.

As it turns out, the two make for a supremely well-matched double feature, as Odd John also deals with the subje... Read More

Dark Lord of the Sith Vol. 4: Fortress Vader: The construction of Vader’s base

Dark Lord of the Sith Vol. 4: Fortress Vader by Charles Soule & Giuseppe Camuncoli

Have you ever wondered as to how Darth Vader came to have a giant castle on Mustafar, the planet where he was left to die by Obi-Wan Kenobi before Emperor Palpatine gave him his cybernetic body? I mean, it seems a really weird place to have your headquarters, right?

Charles Soule has clearly wondered that too, and like most of the questions raised throughout this Vader-centric series, he supplies some pretty satisfying answers in Dark Lord of the Sith Vol. 4: Fortress Vader. Vader's castle was glimpsed only briefly in Rogue One (and at the time of this review, the films have yet to return to it) but it was a striking image that immediately threw up a ton of possibilities as to what Sith Lords get up to on their days off... Read More

B.P.R.D. (Vol. 7): Garden of Souls: Abe Sapien’s mission

B.P.R.D. (Vol. 7): Garden of Souls by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Guy Davis (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), & Clem Robins (letters)

B.P.R.D.: Garden of Souls starts in London in 1859 at the scene of a mummy “unrolling.” Langdon Caul puts in an appearance, and as those who have been reading the B.P.R.D. series up to this point know, Abe Sapien and Caul are the same person, so the presence of Caul is central to the overall story. And the mummy’s unrolling leads to quite a surprise . . .

In the present of the story, we check in with the main B.P.R.D. team: Daimio is receiving a mysterious treatment privately in his room. Liz seems unable to connect with anyone, though she tries, first with Abe and then with Kate. Kate is healing from the events of the last volume, and Abe is still haunted by his past and refuses to discuss it, even when Liz asks directly about it. Johann continues... Read More

Conjure Women: Beautifully written, hard-hitting

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

Conjure Women (2020) by Afia Atakora is a first novel that I can hardly believe is a first novel. It’s a beautifully written, hard-hitting story of an African American healer just before and just after the end of slavery in the US. It’s not a fantasy novel, but I’m reviewing it here at FanLit because it has a few magical realist elements, and because it’s in part about magic, and people’s belief in magic, even when none is actually taking place.

In 1867, Rue is respected as the healer, midwife, and conjure woman in the little town that grew up in the former slave quarters. She feels, though, that she’ll never be as good at it as her late mother, May Belle. Rue doesn’t actually have magical powers — instead, she has medical and herbal knowledge that she presents as magic because that’s what people expect. She keeps some other secrets... Read More