What a cool, demonic sapphic noir! C.L. Polk always knows how to write the most intriguing worlds and yet keep them accessible to the casual speculative reader.
First off, I must say that the Tordotcom publishing house has become unstoppable with their cover design and title choices recently. This cover + this title? It was screaming to be read.
Helena Brandt is a magical woman living in Chicago in the mid-1900s. In this alternate-yet-similar America, magic and demons are all too real. And there are "good" magic users and "bad" magic users.
Ten guesses as to what side Helena's been labeled... Yep, you were right: a "bad" magic user, or warlock in this world.
Helena made one life-altering decision nearly 10 years ago, and the Brotherhood of good magicians cast her out for her sins. Ever since that fateful day, Helena's turned to a life of magical detective work and crime photography.
But life isn't all roses and daisies for a female detective in 1940s Chicago. Especially for a queer one who doesn't stay in her lane. With enemies closing in, the law a constant threat, and an internal clock ticking ominously down to a very final end, the LAST thing Helena needs is to encounter the worst case of her detective career.
She'd walk away from that job in a hot minute, but her boss offers her a deal that she just can't refuse...
And now it's up to Helena to catch a killer before the deadly trap closes around her.
Even Though I Knew the End was C.L. Polk at their finest. Complicated concepts done simply with accessible character development and dialogue. A fantastical world with the codes and dark sides of our real-world reality. And some very intriguing twists that feel simple and predictable...until they're not.
I recommend this novella to anyone who enjoys historical noir, queer stories, demonic thrillers, and perfectly packaged short fiction. This was a fun ride!
Classic K.J. Parker flair and wit! Not my favorite in his canon, but still a fun ride.
I think it's no surprise that I'm a huge fan of K.J. Parker. Both Inside Man and Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City are some of my favorite books of all time--I can't seem to get enough of his wit and no-holds-barred sense of "you better keep up, because I'm not slowing down" energy.
Pulling the Wings Off Angels had that classic wit and barreling-freight-train energy.
What would you do if you found yourself caught in a theological paradox? Think chicken and the egg, but instead of farm animals we graduated right to the big guns: the existence and willpower of God.
A clerical student grew up with the truth and lies surrounding his family name. If you believe the myth, he says, then you believe his grandfather trapped an Angel and thwarted the will of God.
Despite being a supposed clerical student, our main character has always assumed that this was the myth, not the fact. Angels and God aren't actually real, right?
Wrong. Said clerical student finds out the hard way that the unbelievable is possible, and the barometer of believability is much more suggestible and fragile than he imagined.
Enter into the vortex with K.J. Parker and find yourself questioning everything and nothing at the same time... No matter what, you're always in for an experience.
Like all of Parker's works, I find his unique writing voice and sharp wit truly one-of-a-kind. There really isn't another narrative voice out there that matches him. It's a dash of Pratchett, a splash of something sharper than Gaiman, and a heavy dose of... Parker.
Pulling the Wings Off Angels was a truly fun ride. I will admit, I think it's one of my least favorites, but that's not saying much as I still enjoyed it. My personal lower rating is more to do with the subject matter and how heavy-handed the religious theme was in this novella more than anything else. (I can only handle so much theology and philosophical whirlpools.)
K.J. Parker fans are already onto this novella, so my pitch here is for the newbies. If you like irreverent takes on religious, smart humor, and quick stories: pick this one up.
Thank you to Tordotcom publishing for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Modern, witty, and way more enjoyable than you're imagining. A Spindle Splintered was worth the hype. (And WOW, those illustrations!)
I'm guessing you've heard of Sleeping Beauty. Right? If not the Disney version, then you've heard of her, read an adaptation, or gotten a cultural reference.
Sleeping Beauty is one of those princess stories that pervades modern culture and somehow hides its ugliness behind all of the glitter and doll toys. (If you look up the old versions, they are filled with assault and darkness. Ye be warned.)
A Spindle Splintered both showcases that ugliness and shines brighter for it, somehow both a cutting commentary and an uplifting tale of womanhood. The duality shouldn't work, but it does.
And that's really my takeaway from this novella—a lot of things shouldn't have worked for me as a reader, but they did. This was such a pleasant surprise of a fable.
It's witty, it's kind, and it's a bright ray of hope in some truly dark subject areas. The artwork is eerie and perfect. It's just... a great novella.
Looking forward to more of this series. Read it!
Oh YES. I had such a horrifically good time. This is the mirror-twin counter melody to Mexican Gothic, the Fall of the House of Usher done grotesque.
Well, it's happened again: I have fallen in love with yet another bizarre and lingering horror story with a special focus on mushrooms. ("Again," yes, because this niche apparently has multiple books in it.)
Join me and the spores...
Alex Easton has heard word that their childhood friends, the Ushers, are struggling. Madeline is gravely ill, Roderick is not faring much better, and something is amiss.
Alex arrives, and they quickly realize that Roderick's understated things. There is something very, very wrong with this scene.
Madeline looks like she's already dead, Roderick doesn't look much better. The Usher estate is damp, moldy, and near-death itself. There's a visiting American doctor who has no idea what is going on, and a wandering older British woman on the grounds with a passion for mushroom study and a daughter named Beatrix Potter.
As Alex stays in the home, a creeping sense of foreboding and inevitability starts to sink in. The longer they stay at Usher, the worse it seems to get...
And that's IT. I won't say any more.
What Moves the Dead looks like—and sounds like—a repeat of concepts to those of us who have already read and loved Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Mexican Gothic. In fact, T Kingfisher themselves writes in the Author's Note that they'd been chewing on this idea already, and then Mexican Gothic came out and What Moves the Dead disappeared into a drawer, almost for forever, as Kingfisher went "gah, I can't do it better than THAT!"
Well I, personally, am thrilled that someone got T Kingfisher to revisit and finish this tale. This is something akin to a cousin, a neighbor, someone with the same facial features as Mexican Gothic but with an entirely different set of personality traits. These two novels are NOT the same, and—as a Moreno-Garcia superfan I can't believe I'm saying this--What Moves the Dead did it... better.
This was grotesque, truly horrifying, and went somewhere that even I didn't full expect. I thought I knew the steps, and I was having a good time, but then... yeah. This seasoned reader was still surprised in an interesting way. A very, very good horror novella that I recommend to anyone with the stomach to handle it.
Thank you to TOR/Nightfire for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Stunning. These stories are raw, unresolved, crystalline, and opaque at the same time. The words ache with talent.
Emotional resonance: ★★★★★
Strength of collection: ★★★★
First off, a short callout to Call Number Box (pun intended) for bringing this short story collection to my attention. Call Number Box is a quarterly book subscription that focuses on new Black literature and is curated with a very cool librarian vibe (we get call numbers, library stickers, etc.).
On to the collection now. Milk Blood Heat was, to put it simply, stunning. I don't have much more to say on the subject without rambling endlessly, so instead, enjoy some short thoughts on each of the stories:
Milk Blood Heat - 5 stars
A heavy opener. Two girls turn 13, become blood sisters despite their skin color. Only one girl makes it through, and she's left to pick apart the duality of life.
Feast - 5 stars
This one is definitely a trigger warning: avoid it if you have sensitivity for miscarriages and bodily discussions. One woman can't move on from an early miscarriage and her obsession consumes her.
Tongues - 4.5 stars
Tackling the patriarchal nonsense at the heart of hardcore Christianity, this is another coming-of-age story packed with teeth. Shivers abound from some of those lines.
The Loss of Heaven - 4 stars
Fred is an aging man. Fred thinks he is important and that the flirting bartender authentically cares for him—it helps him avoid thoughts of his dying wife. Fred is wrong. This was a longer story and while excellent, I have to be honest, I wish this collection had been entirely female.
The Hearts of Our Enemies - 5 stars
Mothers and daughters, both realizing that the other is just a woman, making choices in a man's world filled with snakes.
Outside the Raft - 3 stars
This one was my personal least favorite of the bunch. It's a survival story of two young girls in a deadly moment on the water, and while well-told it wasn't memorable in this all-star collection.
Snow - 4.5 stars
I feel conflicted about this one. Maybe it's because I've been there before - a woman unsatisfied in her circumstance... but is she actually unsatisfied, or is she just in need of a reality check?
Necessary Bodies - 5 stars
This one was a PUNCH. A woman is pregnant, she hasn't told her mother, and she's ruminating her ultimate choices as she plans her mother's birthday party. I loved the ending.
Thicker Than Water - 4.5 stars
Obviously this collection is filled with heavy topics, so this initial road trip story is much darker than it first appears—and the beginning is already pretty grim. I liked it for its complexities, I disliked it for its complexities. Strong emotions.
Exotics - not rated
Commentary on the dehumanization of society from the eyes of the "elite." Another one with some chills, albeit small ones as this story was so short.
[Last story, which I have forgotten] - unrated
I'm typing this up away from my copy, and I've forgotten this one. Will update the review when I can.
A HOUSE IS A BODY - Shruti Swamy
This collection was stunning, hypnotic, and voyeuristic in the best way.
A House Is a Body by Shruti Swamy is a remarkable collection of short stories. Invasive with its characters, unflinching in its portrayals of the modern Indian woman and her experiences. Some of my favorite stories combined India's mythic roots with modern problems, and others told devastating tales of secrecy and loss.
Some of my favorite stories in the collection:
Earthly Pleasures - 5 stars
A woman meets Krishna, the divine lover in Hindu mythology. Her tale of loneliness, heartbreak, and alcohol intersecting with Krishna's check-ins into her life was beautiful—made even more so by their interesting relationship.
Mourners - 4.5 stars
A heavy-hitter. This tale of one woman's death—no longer a wife, a sister, a mother, a friend—and her family's attempt to salvage the situation as grief spins them out into spirals. Beautiful prose, interesting commentaries on how grief patches itself with grief.
The Laughter Artist - 5 stars
I don't even want to describe this one. It's perfect.
If you're interested in short stories, definitely pick this one up. If you're into feminism, motherhood, women loving women, modern juxtaposed with old... definitely pick this one up.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.