Drowned Country, by Emily Tesh

Review copy provided by the author, who is a friend of mine after these years of sharing our awesome agent.

This is the direct sequel to Silver in the Wood, and I strongly recommend reading that before this one, because Henry Silver and Tobias Finch and all the complications of their relationship with each other and with uncanny creatures and the land start there.

The course of true love, we know, never did run smooth…especially when one of you is the Wild Man of Greenhollow. Henry and Tobias are, at the moment, more intrigued with monster hunting and saving a lost girl than they are with each other, or so they’d like to pretend. But the lost Maud Lindhurst is not what either of them expected–and neither is the shabby seaside town where they have to go to find her. Its connections with Fairyland are not any nicer than you’d expect from the previous volume’s encounters with Faerie, and Henry and Tobias have to marshal their resources together–together, dammit–to get themselves and Maud back to the woods safely.

The beach is a very stressful place. Take a friend. And definitely take this non-traditional beach read–or read it at home under a good blanket. Delightful.

Present Writers: Rosemary Kirstein

This is the latest in a recurring series! For more about the series, please read the original post on Marta Randall, or subsequent posts on Dorothy Heydt, Barbara Hambly, Jane Yolen, Suzy McKee Charnas, Sherwood Smith, Nisi Shawl, Pamela Dean,Gwyneth Jones , Caroline Stevermer, Patricia C. Wrede,Lois McMaster Bujold, Nancy Kress,Diane Duane, Candas Jane Dorsey, Greer Gilman,Robin McKinley,Laurie Marks, Ellen Kushner, and Delia Sherman.

The Steerswoman series. There are four out already, apparently Rosemary is at work on not one but two more (oh that is so hopeful), but the four that already exist make me so happy.

The thing about the Steerswoman books is that they are about people who are trying to figure out their world. They’re about people who value knowledge. And they’re about people who have actually followed through on what that means in practical terms and come to a lot of ideas about kindness and equality that serve advancing knowledge really well, that unfortunately a lot of people in our world don’t think ahead enough to get to. But one of the great things about books that are thoughtful about that kind of thing is that they encourage their readers to be more thoughtful too.

They are beautifully exploratory, these books. The protagonists are allowed to make extremely human mistakes in love and deduction and everything else that is important in life. And yet they keep on. In the face of sometimes staggering odds, they keep on. I only meant to reread the first two for this project, but now that I have, I just want to keep going–because they’re not just philosophically great, they’re also delightful page-turners, well-characterized and tightly plotted. I am over the moon to find that we have two more coming. I simply cannot wait for more of Kirstein’s work, and if you haven’t had the joy, run don’t walk to download the ebooks or order paper copies delivered from your nearest friendly struggling retailer.

Short stories of early 2020

As always, please feel free to chime in with what you’ve enjoyed in the comments. I haven’t gotten to even close to everything, so omissions should not be taken as pointed but as opportunities.

Stephanie Burgis, Burning Bright (Daily SF)

Rebecca Campbell, Thank You For Your Patience (Reckoning)

Rae Carson, Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse (Uncanny)

L Chan, Field Reports from the Department of Monster Resettlement (PodCastle)

Aidan Doyle, The Tail of Genji (Robot Dinosaur Fiction)

Catherine George, Calling on Behalf of the Dark Lord (Translunar Travelers Lounge)

Essa Hansen, Save, Salve, Shelter (F&SF)

Innocent Chizaram Ilo, Rat and Finch Are Friends (Strange Horizons)

Alex Irvine, Chisel and Chime (F&SF)

Jennifer Mace, Upon What Soil They Fed (Syntax and Salt)

Tony Pi, These Wondrous Sweets (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Aimee Picchi, Advanced Word Problems in Portal Math (Daily SF)

C.L. Polk, St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid (Tor.com)

Waverly SM, The Last Good Time to Be Alive (Reckoning)

John Wiswell, Tucking in the Nuclear Egg (Nature Futures)

The Angel of the Crows, by Katherine Addison

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also the author is a personal friend.

This is an object lesson in the value of filing off serial numbers. Really, I mean that wholeheartedly and so very enthusiastically. Because this both is and is not a Sherlock Holmes story. It is clearly, plainly, not trying to hide it, inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. And yet it is not a Sherlock Holmes story, it is clearly and firmly not, and the distance between Crow and Holmes, between Watson and Doyle, is enough to pour worlds into. It is not a technicality, it is an opening that lets in an entirely different kind of story.

This story would not be possible if I was comparing, at every turn, to my previously held view of Watson, saying, wait, what? Watson’s secrets are what? How does that square with what I previously know of Watson? Which things are alternate and which am I to keep? I am not to keep things, I am to trust what is built, not about Watson about this new character Dr. J. H. Doyle, whose experience in Afghanistan is not the same, because Doyle has been wounded by one of the Fallen, in a world where angels, vampires, werewolves, and hellhounds are part of the daily landscape.

And they are woven deeply into the fabric of this story. Addison knows the Jack the Ripper facts in our world incredibly well, so she knows how to use them deftly in a story that’s about so many more things. The fantasy elements go deeply into everything here, with thought and care, and the characters are layered and wonderful. I’m just so glad of this book.

Lady of Shadows, by Breanna Teintze

Review copy provided by the author, who is a personal friend and shares an agent with me.

Lady of Shadows catches up with Gray and Brix not long after the events of Breanna’s first book, Lord of Secrets. They have settled into a peaceful life, everything is fine, and this book is basically them having fancy iced cakes with friends while they contemplate which traveling musicians should play for them.

Wait, no. It’s not. Actually it’s not at all. Because magical plague and also Brix’s relatives.

(I should note here that the magical plague is not at all like the real plague we are dealing with right now, and I don’t think it will be the least bit triggering. It is very magical and very, very different. There’s no way around the fact that there is a plague in this book, but it is not stressful, honestly.)

I also wanted to get Alan Rickman in this book to do the bit from Galaxy Quest where he yells at Tim Allen’s character for always managing to get his shirt off. Because Gray? Is always. Managing to get his shirt off. And sometimes the rest of his clothes with it. So many magical tattoo moments! So much naked magician!

The thing about Breanna’s books is that they have heart, they have plot, but they also have just a ridiculous amount of fun packed in. This came at just the right time for me, but I suspect that any time would have been the right time, and I suspect it will be for you too.

The Glass Magician, by Caroline Stevermer

Review copy provided by the author, who is a personal friend.

I was so excited to get this from Caroline, because I’d been hearing bits and pieces of it as it was in progress but didn’t read the manuscript–perfect amounts of information to be optimally excited. And I was not disappointed.

Thalia Cutler is a stage magician, struggling to get by on skill and wit in an alternate twentieth century where the wealthiest families have not only the power of their money but also magical shapechanging powers. As an orphan, she’s worked with her guardian dad’s friend, Nutall, doing the only kinds of magic she knows: sleights of hand, cunning tricks. Then one night a jammed mechanism threatens her life and forces her into a kind of magic she didn’t know she could do.

And then there are the monsters after her.

The rich magicians have resources. The rich magicians have safety. The rich magicians have training. Thalia has what she’s always had, except now angry people trying to figure out what’s going on with her, and also monsters. So that’s fun.

No, really, it’s a lot of fun. For the reader. Not for Thalia so much.

I raced through this book with barely a glance at the outside world. I can’t wait for more.

Restarting the light

I think I am not the only one who feels a wave of relief in these pandemic times every morning that I wake up without a fever, without a cough, without anything to signify that I am getting sick. I read recently that loss of sense of smell is one of the early signs, and so I had two reasons to be happy that I woke up and smelled saffron and yeast from the next story down.

Last night I stirred up the lussekatter to rise while I was sleeping.

I’ve never made lussekatter in spring before, never made them when the thaw was so thoroughly thawed that the snow pile in the circle was half-dirt. I’ve made them for something other than Santa Lucia Day before, specifically for Tim’s birthday, but he was out of the country for his birthday this year and hadn’t had anything I’d baked for him. When I asked if he wanted pumpkin bread as a social distancing treat (I still might do that next week…or later this week depending on how fast we eat the lussekatter…), he paused and said, “Actually….”

So here we are, kneading the dough, singing some different songs, trying to bring back a different kind of light. It’s not Lucia Day, friends, but sometimes we need another candle anyway. Sometimes we need to put our backs into a little more care for each other and a little more hope for goodness in the world. Support the health care workers and the food workers and infrastructure workers who are keeping us all as safe as they can manage, be kind to each other, and bring back whatever light you can in whatever way you know how. It’s not Santa Lucia Day, but we’ll do the work apart-together anyway.

Driving the Deep, by Suzanne Palmer

Review copy provided by the publisher, and also the author is an online friend.

This is the sequel to last year’s Finder, with the same protagonist: Fergus Ferguson, interplanetary repo man. Fergus has been…changed…by his adventures in the previous volume, giving him some additional, uh…problem-solving options that I don’t want to spoil for you here, and he takes full advantage of them here.

Because he really, really needs to.

Fergus’s strength is his friends, but they’re also his weakness. Particularly when nefarious parties have done their best to kill them all. But where his friends are concerned, Fergus isn’t going down without a fight. Even if that means going way, way down…

Under the frozen waters of Enceladus.

Yeah, the ice moon of Saturn is host to a lot of angry people and their angry secrets, and that’s where Fergus has to do if he wants to save his friends, adopt a cat, and pick apart an additional mystery he didn’t even know he was in on. Spacefaring adventure that crackles with electricity. If you liked Finder, definitely pick up Driving the Deep.

The Scapegracers, by Hannah Abigail Clarke

There is a beautiful passage toward the beginning of The Scapegracers where the character talks about the ways and reasons in which people direct anger and frustration toward girls and young women, why and how they get underestimated. Hannah Abigail Clarke doesn’t make those mistakes.

This is a contemporary fantasy about teenage witches and their friendship, about trying to figure out who you are and what the hell you’re doing in a world with a lot more to it than you expected. So: the teen experience. With cool new friends who sometimes scare you, when you’re scaring yourself, and also horrible enemies, and also a crush, and what even is this fancy restaurant. So: the teen. experience. In so very very many ways.

Sideways and her friends are so well drawn, so very skillfully and respectfully done, and by respectfully I don’t mean that Clarke mistakes them for superheroes or even adults, but that they are allowed to be themselves. They are allowed to be grumpy, bristly, snarky, loving, guilty, full of rage; they are allowed to like eyeliner and worry that they’re screwing up various things; they rush in where wiser heads might advise caution and try things that just might work (but also might not). They are so human and so great, and I’m delighted that this is only their first book.

In the Isolation Grocery

I will wear a bright blue dress

To the isolation grocery tomorrow

And tights with hearts all over them.

My neighbor will cup her hands to call

A safe six feet across the carrots,

“I love your tights!” I’ll say,

“I like your hat,” and grin,

And for this moment we won’t guess

Who could die because they came here today

Who might have lived ten more years, thirty,

If they’d had flour and eggs left at home.

For this moment, I’ll step aside,

Let the next one out of the soup aisle

Before I go in, wash my hands,

Wear my strained smile in the distance

And my cheerful blue banner

That I am still me.