The Two Doctors Górski by Isaac Fellman

Annae, a brilliant graduate student in psychiatric magic and survivor of academic abuse, can’t stop reading people’s minds. This is how she protects herself, by using her abilities to give her colleagues what they each want out of their relationship with her.

When Annae moves to the UK to rebuild her life and finds herself studying under the infamous, misanthropic magician Marec Górski, she sees inside his head a dangerous path to her redemption. Annae now faces two choices—follow in Dr. Górski’s lead, or break free of a lifetime of conditioning to follow her own path.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

The Two Doctors Górski is one of those novellas you finish with the most satisfying feeling of ‘what the absolute fuck did I just read’. A deep exploration into the themes of academic abuse, trauma, and survival. How far would you go, if you could magically remove the ability to feel fear and anxiety, to hone your mind for a life of academics by removing every distracting emotion? How would mentally be changed?

We see this story played out through the eyes of Annae, a brilliant magician whose previous student-advisor relationship was the very textbook definition of advisor abuse. Who’s fled from the US to the UK, to the only (also notorious) advisor who was willing to take her, in one last-ditch attempt at completing her PhD. I found Annae’s POV fascinatingly introspective. This novella is built on character work, between Annea and her interactions, mostly with Torquil, her fellow labmate with his own tortured insecurities, and her infamous advisor Marec Górski. There’s this strong sense of discomfort and paranoia deliberately written throughout this novella, where it’s clear all three characters are broken, messed up people, with parts quite literally missing. It’s also hands down one of the most interesting reads of this year.

The narration style, while mostly told from Annae’s POV, has passages that quite literally dive into other characters’ heads for stream-of-consciousness segments, with an honesty that so nicely contrasts with Annae’s own dubious narration. The magic system is equally fascinating, one somewhat reminiscent of the magic system in The Atlas Six, albeit significantly more ‘holy shit what the fuck why would you do that’ in application. Also, I haven’t totally figured it out, but I’m so down for this weird little pseudo-platonic self-hate-cest relationship that’s going on. Overall, I rate this book a 4.5/5.

SPOILER (a side note):

As a Ph.D student myself, it has been thoroughly amusing to see just how many labmates I’ve been able to convince to read this just because the advisor dies in the end.

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Pulling the Wings Off Angels by KJ Parker

Long ago, a wealthy man stole an angel and hid her in a chapel, where she remains imprisoned to this day.

That’s the legend, anyway.

A clerical student who’s racked up gambling debts to a local gangster is given an ultimatum—deliver the angel his grandfather kidnapped, or forfeit various body parts in payment.

And so begins a whirlwind theological paradox—with the student at its center—in which the stakes are the necessity of God, the existence of destiny—and the nature of angels.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

What a bizzare yet surprisingly satisfying novella. We open with our main character (a terribly unreliable narrator) about be crucified by gangsters for truly massive amounts of gambling debts, when they’re told that they can get out of everything if they can produce an angle. Cue to the wildest rollercoaster ride of escalation as Parker brings the reader along through a series of twisty theological mind games. The vibes and humor are surprisingly Pratchett-like, reminding me strongly of Good Omens in the religious sardonic humor, but with perhaps a more cynical lens. The story itself is certainly very high concept, focusing more on theological debates than character development or worldbuilding. Our main character is perhaps the most developed, a witty and sarcastic ordained priest in this not-quite-Christian-but-certainly-derived religion who doesn’t actually believe in the god he studies. The rest of the cast tend to play archetypes that are moreso used to push the story forwards than be their own character. Despite this, Pulling the Wings Off Angels was one of the best-paced novellas I’ve read in a while, and finished without wishing this was a full novel. Overall, I rate this book a 4/5.

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Even Though I Knew the End by CL Polk

A magical detective dives into the affairs of Chicago’s divine monsters to secure a future with the love of her life. This sapphic period piece will dazzle anyone looking for mystery, intrigue, romance, magic, or all of the above.

An exiled augur who sold her soul to save her brother’s life is offered one last job before serving an eternity in hell. When she turns it down, her client sweetens the pot by offering up the one payment she can’t resist―the chance to have a future where she grows old with the woman she loves.

To succeed, she is given three days to track down the White City Vampire, Chicago’s most notorious serial killer. If she fails, only hell and heartbreak await. 

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

Polk has written a stunning novella in Even Though I Knew the End (title accurate) about sapphics in 1900-somethings Chicago making demonic bargains and catching murderers. I loved everything about this world, with its biblical supernatural elements, the structures of magical people, and the teased magic systems. The atmosphere, with its period setting, is so vibrant and clear that even before the city name was mentioned, I just knew this was set in Chicago. Naturally, this is a story about love, and Helen and Edith are such a lovely power couple, despite the secrets each are hiding. The emotion the audiobook narrator delivers at just the right moments made the story hit so much harder. Overall, I rate this book a 4/5.

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Africa Risen, edited by Sheree Renée Thomas, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, Zelda Knight et al

From an award-winning team of editors comes an anthology of thirty-two original stories showcasing the breadth of fantasy and science fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora.

A group of cabinet ministers query a supercomputer containing the minds of the country’s ancestors. A child robot on a dying planet uncovers signs of fragile new life. A descendent of a rain goddess inherits her grandmother’s ability to change her appearance—and perhaps the world.

Created in the legacy of the seminal, award-winning anthology series Dark MatterAfrica Risen celebrates the vibrancy, diversity, and reach of African and Afro-Diasporic SFF and reaffirms that Africa is not rising—it’s already here.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

I’ve been living for Tor.com’s recent push into short story anthologies from underrepresented groups in SFF and Africa Risen is such a fantastic addition. Africa Risen is a short story anthology featuring African and African Diaspora authors with stories that span the range of SFF. Everything from high fantasy to contemporary SFF to horror to speculative sci-fi, there’s a little bit of everything in this collection. What I love about these types of collections is that readers with little to no familiarity with the African literary scene get a broad curated exposure to a whole host of new authors to look into and a glimpse into the SFF genre of a different culture and perspective. And this is a big collection, so we get a ton of stories. My personal favorites from this collection were “Exiles of Witchery” by Ivana Akotowaa Ofori, “The Lady of the Yellow-Painted Library” by Tobi Ogundiran, and “When the Mami Wata Met a Demon” by Moustapha Mbacké Diop. Overall, I rate this book a 4.5/5.

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The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard

Xích Si: bot maker, data analyst, mother, scavenger. But those days are over now-her ship has just been captured by the Red Banner pirate fleet, famous for their double-dealing and cruelty. Xích Si expects to be tortured to death-only for the pirates’ enigmatic leader, Rice Fish, to arrive with a different and shocking proposition: an arranged marriage between Xích Si and herself.

Rice Fish: sentient ship, leader of the infamous Red Banner pirate fleet, wife of the Red Scholar. Or at least, she was the latter before her wife died under suspicious circumstances. Now isolated and alone, Rice Fish wants Xích Si’s help to find out who struck against them and why. Marrying Xích Si means Rice Fish can offer Xích Si protection, in exchange for Xích Si’s technical fluency: a business arrangement with nothing more to it.

But as the investigation goes on, Rice Fish and Xích Si find themselves falling for each other. As the interstellar war against piracy intensifies and the five fleets start fighting each other, they will have to make a stand-and to decide what kind of future they have together…

*****

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Gollancz. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

Aliette de Bodard has long cemented herself as an auto-buy author on my shelves, and her latest book, The Red Scholar’s Wake, is no exception. Lesbian space pirates, political scheming, and mother-daughter bonds, this book kept me gripped from the start.

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Ocean’s Echo by Everina Maxwell

Rich socialite, inveterate flirt, and walking disaster Tennalhin Halkana can read minds. Tennal, like all neuromodified “readers,” is a security threat on his own. But when controlled, readers are a rare asset. Not only can they read minds, but they can navigate chaotic space, the maelstroms surrounding the gateway to the wider universe.

Conscripted into the military under dubious circumstances, Tennal is placed into the care of Lieutenant Surit Yeni, a duty-bound soldier, principled leader, and the son of a notorious traitor general. Whereas Tennal can read minds, Surit can influence them. Like all other neuromodified “architects,” he can impose his will onto others, and he’s under orders to control Tennal by merging their minds.

Surit accepted a suspicious promotion-track request out of desperation, but he refuses to go through with his illegal orders to sync and control an unconsenting Tennal. So they lie: They fake a sync bond and plan Tennal’s escape.

Their best chance arrives with a salvage-retrieval mission into chaotic space—to the very neuromodifcation lab that Surit’s traitor mother destroyed twenty years ago. And among the rubble is a treasure both terrible and unimaginably powerful, one that upends a decades-old power struggle, and begins a war.

Tennal and Surit can no longer abandon their unit or their world. The only way to avoid life under full military control is to complete the very sync they’ve been faking.

Can two unwilling weapons of war bring about peace?

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

This review will contain spoilers for book 1, Winter’s Orbit. Check out my 5* review here.

Review:

I adored Winter’s Orbit and I still curse the fact that romance series have a tendency to switch out the main pairing (or in this case, the entire cast) with each subsequent book. However, my heart was absolutely stolen by Tennal and Surit and they’ve now taken the crown for best pairing.

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Music As I Know It by Juan Carlos Molina

In a distant future, war against an alien civilization known only as the Giants from Boötes almost wiped out the human species. This story takes place two decades after the end of the conflict, during a time of institutional, cultural, civic, and social reconstruction.

This book tells the story of Shaelin Demeter, a teenage girl who is the only deaf person in a world called Xenophon. Her introverted personality makes her insecure in most social environments. However, through certain events that develop in the novel, she realizes she has a passion, and talent, for music. It is a coming-of-age story of a protagonist that discovers her own confidence and talent in a fantastic, but in many ways grounded, futuristic world.

This is the translated version of “La música como la conozco”, published in 2020 by Mexican author Juan Carlos Molina.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

I picked this up because of the cover and unfortunately I really wish I liked this more than I did. Music As I Know It is written from the perspective of a young high school girl, Shaelin Demeter, set on planet Xenophon in the distant future a generation after humanity has survived near-extinction from an alien race. But despite the out-there backdrop, Shaelin goes to high school, hangs out with her friends after school, and avoids the bullies like any modern-day teenage girl. I’ve enjoyed the juxtaposition of ‘events every reader has experienced’ merged with a fun sci-fi what-if scenario as a mechanism to examine the author’s existing society and culture. However, this one just didn’t hit the mark. For one, I found the writing incredibly stiff. And while part of that can be attributed to the translational barrier, the way the dialogue is written, where characters remind each other of stuff they definitely all know just so the reader can know it too, just makes reading each conversation between Shaelin and her friends such a chore. My other big gripe is that because this story is written as Shaelin’s diary, the author has deliberately chosen to have Shaelin describe, in mind-numbing detail, each and every action she takes, how society is structured, how an arcade works, how each game in an arcade is played, etc etc. In the right hands, this can be an extremely powerful method in highlighting how this world differs from the reader’s. In this situation, it failed. Finally, there was this really random, oddly coherent, 10k word count rant about capitalism, power, and what makes someone evil coming from drunk fifteen-year-olds that felt so extremely out of place with the rest of the story. Overall, I rate this book 2/5 stars.

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Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse

Celeste, a card sharp with a penchant for trouble, takes on the role of advocatus diaboli, to defend her sister Mariel, accused of murdering a Virtue, a member of the ruling class in the mining town of Goetia, in a new world of dark fantasy.

High in the remote mountains, the town of Goetia is booming as prospectors from near and far come to mine the powerful new element Divinity. Divinity is the remains of the body of the rebel Abaddon, who fell to earth during Heaven’s War, and it powers the world’s most inventive and innovative technologies, ushering in a new age of progress. However, only the descendants of those that rebelled, called Fallen, possess the ability to see the rich lodes of the precious element. That makes them a necessary evil among the good and righteous people called the Elect, and Goetia a town segregated by ancestry and class.

Celeste and Mariel are two Fallen sisters, bound by blood but raised in separate worlds. Celeste grew up with her father, passing in privileged Elect society, while Mariel stayed with their mother in the Fallen slums of Goetia. Upon her father’s death, Celeste returns to Goetia and reunites with Mariel. Mariel is a great beauty with an angelic voice, and Celeste, wracked by guilt for leaving her sister behind, becomes her fiercest protector.

When Mariel is accused of murdering a Virtue, the powerful Order of the Archangels that rule Goetia, Celeste must take on the role of Advocatus Diaboli (Devil’s Advocate) and defend her sister in the secretive courts of the Virtue. Celeste, aided by her ex-lover, Abraxas, who was once one of the rebels great generals, sets out to prove Mariel innocent. But powerful forces among the Virtues and the Elect mining barons don’t want Celeste prying into their business, and Mariel has secrets of her own. As Celeste is drawn deeper into the dark side of Goetia, she unravel a layer of lies and manipulation that may doom Mariel and puts her own immortal soul at risk, in this dark fantasy noir from the bestselling mastermind Rebecca Roanhorse.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

Everything about this novella, the mining settlement Wild West vibes combined with Christian mythology in the Angelic and Demonic presences post-Lucifer’s Rebellion, should have made me love this novella. Unfortunately, I think Tread of Angels is one of those novellas that really suffers from not being a novel, moreso than most. With each chapter, I felt like I was reading a sketch of a story rather than a full story, with each chapter introducing characters and places, only to never come back to them again. There are so many interesting parts of this to explore, the social structure between the Elect and the various angelic choirs in charge of the different branches of government, the economic system that revolves around mining this demon lord’s body, and the Fallen who are treated as second-class citizens despite being essential to the mining process. Sadly, with the pacing of this book and how much it seemed like Celeste was just rushing from point A to point B to point C, we get little more than sentences when I’d gladly read a whole book dedicated to the worldbuilding. Additionally, I found myself fairly ambivalent towards Celeste’s character and her actions. Without giving spoilers, I will simply say that I did not find the ending at all satisfying. The setting has so much potential and so many interesting facets to explore, but I think it really needed to be novel-length. Overall, I rate this book a 3/5.

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The Atlas Paradox by Olivie Blake

“DESTINY IS A CHOICE”

The Atlas Paradox is the long-awaited sequel to dark academic sensation The Atlas Six—guaranteed to have even more yearning, backstabbing, betrayal, and chaos.

Six magicians. Two rivalries. One researcher. And a man who can walk through dreams. All must pick a side: do they wish to preserve the world—or destroy it? In this electric sequel to the viral sensation, The Atlas Six, the society of Alexandrians is revealed for what it is: a secret society with raw, world-changing power, headed by a man whose plans to change life as we know it are already under way. But the cost of knowledge is steep, and as the price of power demands each character choose a side, which alliances will hold and which will see their enmity deepen?”

****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Thie review will contain spoilers for book one, The Atlas Six. Read my 4.5* review here.

Review:

Dark Academia is one of my most adored fantasy sub-genres and the intense character exploration and trippy metaphysics discussions have launched it toward the top of my list. I was so so excited to see where these characters, and the plot, would go in book two. While I wasn’t fully satisfied, I still thoroughly enjoyed this book.

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The Stars Undying by Robin Emery

Princess Altagracia has lost everything. After a bloody civil war, her twin sister has claimed not just the crown of their planet Szayet but the Pearl of its prophecy, a computer that contains the immortal soul of Szayet’s god. Stripped of her birthright, Gracia flees the planet—just as Matheus Ceirran, Commander of the interstellar Empire of Ceiao, arrives in deadly pursuit with his volatile lieutenant, Anita. When Gracia and Ceirran’s paths collide, Gracia sees an opportunity to win back her planet, her god, and her throne…if she can win the Commander and his right-hand officer over first.

But talking her way into Ceirran’s good graces, and his bed, is only the beginning. Dealing with the most powerful man in the galaxy is almost as dangerous as war, and Gracia is quickly torn between an alliance that fast becomes more than political and the wishes of the god—or machine—that whispers in her ear. For Szayet’s sake, and her own, Gracia will need to become more than a princess with a silver tongue. She will have to become a queen as history has never seen before—even if it breaks an empire.

****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

The Stars Undying is an ambitious character-driven sci-fi novel regaling the love affair of Cleopatra and Julius Ceaser, chock full of political intrigue, intelligently written layered dialogue, and an interrogation of godhood, legacy, and memory.

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