Kelly Lasiter

KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

SHORTS: More Hugo and Locus Award finalists

In this week's SHORTS column we wrap up our reviews of most of the 2021 Locus and Hugo award finalists in the novelette and short story categories.

“50 Things Every AI Working with Humans Should Know” by Ken Liu (2020, free at Uncanny magazine)

One eventually gets the list the titles implies, but first the story opens with an obituary of the list’s author — “WHEEP-3 (‘Dr. Weep’), probably the most renowned AI AI-critic of the last two decades.” The obit explains how WHEEP was created/trained by Dr. Judy Reynolds Tran, the odd and at times controversial relationship between the “strange pair who whose lives were inextricably entwined,” the three phases of WHEEP’s career, culminating in “advice aimed at advanced artificial intelligence,” and fin... Read More

SHORTS: 2020/21 Awards finalists

This week's SHORTS column features some of the 2020 Nebula and 2021 Locus and Hugo award finalists in the novella, novelette, and short story categories.

“A Guide for Working Breeds” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (2020, free at Tor.com, originally published in Made to Order: Robots and Revolution)

This is an absolutely delightful story! A grumpy robot, Constant Killer, who makes a living by engaging in robot deathmatch and assassination games, is obliged to mentor a chirpy, innocent new robot who is having problems with its life, ranging from “how do I remove illusionary dogs from my optical feed” to dealing with adverse working conditions at a cheap automated café. What begins as a meeting between opposite personalities gradually evolves into an unlikely friendship.
Read More

The Year I Flew Away: Full of heart and humor

The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold

The Year I Flew Away (2021), by Marie Arnold, combines the timelessness of a fairy tale with the timeliness of the immigrant experience, all while being set in the 1980s amidst Whitney Houston and Prince. It’s a charming middle-grade novel full of heart and humor.

Gabrielle is a young girl living in Haiti; though she’s poor, she’s surrounded by family and friends. One day her parents have big news: Gabrielle is going to America to live with her aunt and uncle. She has to go alone, though, because of issues with her parents’ paperwork.

Gabrielle thought America would be heaven, but instead she finds herself terribly lonely; the other kids make fun of her and leave her out. And when her uncle and aunt take her to their respective workplaces, she learns that they have to deal with bigots on a daily basis. Gabrielle feels li... Read More

The Wood Wife: A quiet, intimate novel

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Wood Wife by Terri Windling

Our heroine, Maggie, is reeling from her divorce and drifting rather aimlessly through life — she considers herself a poet but hasn't written a poem in years.

Then, her mentor dies mysteriously — drowned in a dry creekbed — and inexplicably leaves her his house in the Southwestern desert. She moves there, hoping to research a biography of him. At first, Maggie doesn't like the desert; it seems sterile, forbidding, devoid of charm. Then one night a pooka cuddles up to her in bed, and nothing is the same after that...

Maggie soon discovers a world of magic in the desert (and we, the readers, discover it right along with her), and digs up some fascinating secrets about her mentor's life. And suddenly, all the pieces come together.

Both a mystery and a fantasy, The Wood Wife (199... Read More

The Echo Wife: Compelling, gripping, psychological

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

Dr. Evelyn Caldwell is a geneticist specializing in cloning, at the pinnacle of her career: The Echo Wife (2021) begins with a banquet at which she is given a prestigious award. At the same time, Evelyn is at a low point in her personal life. She’s a prickly loner and a workaholic, and her husband Nathan has recently left her for another woman. What makes matters far worse is that Nathan, a far less brilliant scientist than Evelyn, has stolen Evelyn’s research to clone Evelyn herself to grow himself a new wife, Martine, using programming methods to make Martine a softer, more submissive version of Evelyn. Nathan even finds a way around the sterility built into the foundation of the cloning process. Martine is pregnant, while Evelyn had adamantly refused to have a child in the earlier days of her marriage to Nathan.

So Evelyn lashes out at Martine, using her cruelest words... Read More

Available Dark: Chills, in more than one sense of the word

Available Dark by Elizabeth Hand

It’s been a few months since the events of Generation Loss, and Cass Neary, strapped for cash, has made a big mistake. In that previous book, she took pictures of someone’s death but told the police she wasn’t at the scene. She never meant to publish any of the photos. Whoops. So, with the police and the dead person’s son asking awkward questions, and Cass in need of money again, it seems like a great time to take a gig that will absent her from the country for a while.

Available Dark (2012) takes Cass to Helsinki, where she is tasked with examining a series of gory photographs and verifying that they are authentic and that the series is complete. The pictures show people killed in ways that evoke a group of spirits called the Yuleboys, and it’s pretty clear that if ... Read More

Generation Loss: A seductive brew of creepiness, melancholy, and weird religion

Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand

Generation Loss (2007) is a Shirley Jackson Award winner and the first in Elizabeth Hand’s CASS NEARY thriller series. Cass is a washed-up, alcoholic photographer who was briefly famous in the 1970s for her images of the punk scene. Now middle-aged, she’s struggling, and a friend offers her a job interviewing another photographer, Aphrodite Kamestos, who had her own heyday in the 50s and 60s and now lives reclusively on a remote Maine island.

The job quickly proves to be harder than Cass expected. It’s much too cold for Cass’s New York wardrobe. The locals are aloof. People and cats have been mysteriously disappearing. And Aphrodite had no idea Cass was coming. Cass wants to leave, but circumstances keep her in Maine longer than she intended — which pos... Read More

The Unkindest Tide: Resolution for the Selkie/Roane subplot

The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire

It’s probably inevitable that any long series, even one I enjoy as much as Seanan McGuire’s OCTOBER DAYE, will have books that just aren’t as great as some of the others. And I want to be fair; I’ve gotten really invested in the Amandine/Eira/August plotline, and it’s made me more impatient with the in-between books, so I want to make sure I’m not being too harsh. But even after thinking it over for a while, The Unkindest Tide (2019) was just kind of middling to me.

The Luideag calls in the favor Toby owes her, so that the Luideag can keep her own vow of resurrecting the Roane. This means that all the Selkies must gather at the Duchy of Ships, including Toby’s daughter Gillian. The Duchy of Ships is a pretty cool new setting, and I also hoped for... Read More

A Stitch in Time: A time-slip romance with ghosts

A Stitch in Time by Kelley Armstrong

A Stitch in Time (2020), by Kelley Armstrong, is a time-slip romance with ghosts. Bronwyn Dale has just inherited the old family home on the English moors. When she visited the house as a girl, she discovered she could pass back and forth between her own time and the Victorian era, and fell in love with a boy, William, who lived in the past version of the house. But her uncle died tragically, and Bronwyn was institutionalized for talking about William, and she went on with her life thinking she’d imagined him.

Now she’s thirty-eight and widowed, and needs to decide what to do with the house. When she returns to take stock, she finds that the time-slip and William are still there and very real. Meanwhile, she’s also having some eerie encounters with ghosts in her own ti... Read More

Master of Poisons: A challenging book

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston

Master of Poisons (2020) by Andrea Hairston is an epic fantasy set in an African-inspired world that is facing environmental devastation. Fertile land is turning into poison desert, and void-storms are a constant threat.

Djola is called Master of Poisons because, when both men were young, he saved the Arkhysian Emperor with his knowledge of antidotes. He was rewarded with the title and a place on the Emperor’s council. Now, he thinks he might be able to save the land with a legendary spell, but he needs to find it first — and in the meantime, he recommends that everyone live more simply, to put less strain on the environment.

Human nature being what it is, this goes about as well as you might e... Read More

Yellow Jessamine: A paranoid antiheroine in a dissolving city

Yellow Jessamine by Caitlin Starling

Having thoroughly enjoyed Caitlin Starling’s 2019 novel The Luminous Dead, I was very happy to learn that I wouldn’t have to wait long to read more of her work.

Yellow Jessamine (2020), Starling’s new novella, is completely different from The Luminous Dead but similarly features creepy atmosphere, a background of family trauma, and relationships filled with dysfunctional tension and longing.

Evelyn Perdanu is a wealthy woman in the city of Delphinium, a city that is slowly dying now that its surrounding empire has fallen to a coup. Evelyn is involved in shipping, and is also an herbalist specializing in “fixes to unfixable probl... Read More

Drowned Country: An enchanting sequel

Drowned Country by Emily Tesh

Drowned Country (2020) is the second and concluding novella in Emily Tesh’s GREENHOLLOW DUOLOGY, following 2019’s Silver in the Wood. This review will contain some spoilers for Silver in the Wood.

When we last saw Tobias and Henry Silver, Tobias had become an ordinary mortal man, and had been reunited with Silver — who had been presumed dead, but instead had been saved by the Wood itself, becoming its guardian Wild Man in the way that Tobias once was. It turns out, though, that this idyll lasted only a few months before the two men fell out. Now Silver sulks alone in his manor house, using his powers to accelerate its ruin.

S... Read More

SHORTS: Brown, McGuire, Muir, Headley, Bryski, Goss

SHORTS is our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've recently read that we wanted you to know about.

While Dragons Claim the Sky by Jen Brown (2019, originally published in FIYAH Magazine Issue #10: Hair, available online for $3.99; free audio recording on PodCastle (Part 1 and Part 2), read by C. L. Clark)

While Dragons Claim the Sky tells the story of a skilled young mage as she takes a chance on discovering more of the world and her... Read More

The Death of Vivek Oji: ”Beautyful” writing

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

On the same day a riot destroys the market in Ngwa, Nigeria, the body of Vivek Oji is left on his parents’ doorstep, naked except for a length of cloth. Gradually, through a variety of points of view, Akwaeke Emezi unfolds the story of Vivek’s life and death, and how that death affects Vivek’s loved ones — drawing some people closer together, driving faultlines between others.

Readers who’ve read Emezi’s earlier work might expect more supernatural elements than The Death of Vivek Oji (2020) actually contains. This short novel is mostly a realistic story, with two exceptions: Vivek occasionally narrates from beyond the grave, and it is implied that reincarnation exists. However, I think readers who enjoy Emezi’s “beautyful” writing (you’ll have to read the... Read More

Hex Hall: Tropey but fun

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Hex Hall (2010) is Rachel Hawkins’s debut novel, a young adult paranormal boarding school story.

Sophie Mercer is half-witch and half-mortal, but lives alone with her single human mother and knows little about her magical father. After wrecking her high school prom with a disastrous spell, Sophie is sent to Hecate (nicknamed Hex) Hall, a school for delinquent magical beings.

In her human school, Sophie was outcast for her witchy powers. At Hex Hall, her magic is not at all unusual, but the social hierarchy is no less daunting. Sophie quickly runs afoul of the in-crowd: befriending her roommate, Jenna, who is ostracized for being a vampire and suspected of murder; turning down the elite girls’ offer of coven membership; and developing a crush on the queen bee’s boyfriend, Archer.

A series of near-deadly attacks begins taking ou... Read More

Harrow the Ninth: The haunted palace is Harrow’s mind

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Last year’s Gideon the Ninth was a delightfully over-the-top space fantasy that ended with a gut punch that had readers shouting “Damn you, Tamsyn Muir!” and clamoring for the sequel. The sequel, Harrow the Ninth (2020) is here, and I enjoyed it a lot, though there are a few things you’ll want to know going in.

One is that there is a lot going on, much of it cryptic, some of which ties back into details from the first book that might be hazy by now. I would recommend rereading Gideon the Ninth first, or at least keeping it close at hand, so you can refer back to it if you have que... Read More

The Year of the Witching: A creepy religious dystopia

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

The Year of the Witching (2020) is the story of a young woman, Immanuelle, growing up in the religious dystopia of Bethel. (It’s never stated, but I interpreted the setting as a post-apocalyptic America.) The dominant religion, the faith of the Father, contains some elements of Christianity, but in a twisted form; for example, a real lamb is slaughtered during services. The threat of burning at the stake is used to keep people in line. Bethel is patriarchal in the extreme; it’s common for older men to take multiple younger wives. It’s also racist. Immanuelle’s late father was one of the darker-skinned Outskirters, which — along with the rumors that her mother was a witch — means she has lived under a cloud of suspicion all her life.

When Immanuelle chases one of her sheep into the mysterious Darkwood at the edge of the village, she meets a frighteni... 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

Catherine House: A college with dark secrets

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

I recently learned the term Dark Academia, and while I’m probably too old to be a part of the subculture, I wish I’d had a name for it earlier. Schools and colleges with dark secrets have long been one of my favorite forms of literary catnip. It was probably inevitable that I’d be interested in Elisabeth Thomas’s Catherine House (2020), the story of a rudderless young woman attending a most unusual college.

The titular Catherine House is “not just a school, but a cloister.” Students who are accepted into its selective three-year program are confined to the rambling House and its grounds for the duration of their education. Catherine is cagey about its admissions criteria, but they don’t involve wealth or family legacy, so the novel... Read More

Where the Veil Is Thin: A mixed bag of fairies

Where the Veil Is Thin edited by Cerece Rennie Murphy & Alana Joli Abbott

Where the Veil Is Thin (2020), an anthology of stories about fairies and spirits, began as a Kickstarter. The project was successful, and the book is now widely available. Editors Cerece Rennie Murphy and Alana Joli Abbott have brought together a diverse group of authors with a wide variety of writing styles and approaches to the fae. While the tag line on the back cover says “These are not your daughter’s faerie tales,” some of the stories do read as if they might be intended for a youthful audience, while others are definitely not for kids. The stunning cover art is by Anna Dittmann.

The collection begins with a brief introduction by Jim C. Hines. In it, he... Read More

Winter Lord: Old-school faeries with teeth

Winter Lord by Jean Brooks-Janowiak

Winter Lord (1983) was an impulse Alibris buy for me. Under a different name, Jean Brooks-Janowiak wrote a Tudor romance that’s been one of my comfort reads since I first read it in high school. That book had an eerie little vein of the supernatural running through it, so when I learned that Brooks-Janowiak had also written a fantasy novel, I decided to check it out. What with it being an earlier book, in a different genre, and sporting a rather uninformative cover, I went in with no idea of what to expect. As it turns out, I enjoyed it quite a bit, though with some caveats.

Jane O’Neill travels to the remote town of Winterburn, with her brother Brian and their friend Audrey, to attend the funeral of her ex-husband, Rob, who has drowned there under mysterious circumstances. Found with him were his ruined camera and a note with a cryptic quote from 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

Woven in Moonlight: A tapestry with some loose threads

Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez

Woven in Moonlight (2020) is a lushly imagined YA fantasy based on Bolivian history and culture, and featuring a creative form of magic based on weaving. The plot is exciting, filled with twists and turns and betrayals. For me, though, I also found that it had some elements that distracted me from the story, and some others that made less sense when I thought about them later.

Ximena is a young girl who lost her family when the indigenous Llacsans rose up against the colonizing Illustrians.  The only survivor of the Illustrian royal family was Condesa Catalina. Ximena, who resembles the Condesa, was picked up off the streets and raised as a decoy for Catalina. Now everyone thinks she’s the Condesa, and when the Llacsan ruler Atoc demands the Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena who must travel to his palace for the wedding. She’s hoping that she can find At... Read More

The Court of the Midnight King: History with a twist

The Court of the Midnight King by Freda Warrington

The Court of the Midnight King (2003), by Freda Warrington, is an alternate history of England’s King Richard III with some supernatural elements. I’m kind of bummed that I didn’t discover it in 2003, because I’d probably have liked it even more. I was going through a big Plantagenet and Tudor phase, and if you could find a way to work Goddess religion into the plot, so much the better. As it is, I found the novel slow for a long stretch, but it won me over in the end.

Warrington tells the story primarily through three original characters. Raphael is an orphan who is taken into Richard’s service and is deeply devoted to him. Kate is the daughter of a pagan priestess and has a liaison with Richard in her youth, then later becomes a lady-in-wai... Read More

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