Review: Untethered Sky

Title: Untethered Sky (April 11, 2023)
Author: Fonda Lee
Pages: 160


I’m a sucker for books about birds – so when a favorite author of mine pens a novella about giant hunting birds – I jump on board. In Untethered Sky, Fonda Lee’s words bring life to the majesty and power of the rocs, legendary birds of prey who keep the countryside clear of the monstrous manticores. 

Because of its short length, the story doesn’t have room to be overly complex, but Lee has managed to make a simple story poignant and affecting. She made me care deeply for these beautiful winged beasts and the bond they share with their keepers. I’d absolutely sign up for more stories set in this world.

★★★★

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Camp Zero

Title: Camp Zero (April 4, 2023)
Author: Michelle Min Sterling
Pages: 304


This was a pleasant surprise. Camp Zero is swiftly paced, has solid twists, and features multiple compelling interwoven storylines. Michelle Min Sterling’s vision of the future is intriguing, alarming, yet totally plausible.

The separate POVs are well-differentiated, as each character brings a unique perspective to the story and they intersect in surprising ways. Each narrative thread has mysteries to unspool and Sterling doles those out in a consistent and continuous manner so you’re never waiting too long for the next reveal. Sterling’s utilitarian prose is effective at moving the story forward, as well.

I had hoped for a tidier ending, but the conclusion sticks to the book’s themes of societal disarray and desperation that all the characters confront throughout, so I can’t complain too much.

★★★★

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Walking Practice

Title: Walking Practice: A Novel (March 14, 2023)
Author: Dolki Min
Translated by: Victoria Caudle
Pages: 176


Being a human is awkward. Dating is awkward. Pretending to be a human, whilst dating, whilst satisfying your insatiable alien urge to consume human flesh? Yep, also awkward. Walking Practice takes us inside the mind of such an alien, who cobbles themselves into some simulacrum of a human before seeking out its prey. 

I spent an amusing afternoon zipping through this story, as it’s written in a breezy, conversational way. It’s titillating, graphic, and occasionally grotesque. And while there are some interesting observations about gender politics at play here, I’d imagine this novella would be more effective as a short story, as the alien’s constant inner monologuing started to lose its luster and focus after the first section of the book.

I’ll be sure to check out the print version of this book when it comes out, though, as the black and white line illustrations are really fantastic looking.

★★★¼

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Saint of Bright Doors

Title: The Saint of Bright Doors (July 11, 2023)
Author: Vajra Chandrasekera
Pages: 368


I’ve never read anything like The Saint of Bright Doors – wildly inventive, totally mesmerizing, and it upended my expectations at every turn. It reads like an established author’s career-defining masterpiece, rather than a debut novel. 

Vajra Chandrasekera paints a vivid picture of a city on the brink – told through the eyes of a man born and raised to be a master assassin, a catalyst of change in the world, bound for one singular purpose – but his skills dull from disuse and he strays from his destined path. The synopsis may not sound unique, but the tale and its telling are wholly original.

I was so impressed with Chandrasekera’s ability to craft a complex, political, and also surreal story in such an intelligible way. I was spellbound the entire time I spent with this book and I can’t wait to read it again, just to recapture some of the awe I felt the first time around.

★★★★★

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Legend of Charlie Fish

Title: The Legend of Charlie Fish (July 25, 2023)
Author: Josh Rountree
Pages: 192


A found-family, a foreboding forecast, formidable foes, and a…fish man? 

The Legend of Charlie Fish is a cracking Western yarn that hooked me from the start. Whether or not it actually needs its eponymous gill-man to be a compelling tale was a question I asked throughout my time with this book – but that’s more of an aftereffect of how invested I became in the other characters that were the main focus of the story.

By recounting their past tales of loss and longing, Rountree effectively crafts deep characterizations for each of his cast members and makes you care for their plight, especially during the breathless final act as a colossal hurricane bears down on their Galveston locale. 

I was thoroughly taken with this story, Rountree’s writing, and the unique island setting. Definitely add this to your TBRs.

★★★★½

My thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Lark Ascending

I’d open my eyes and look out at the aching blue of the ocean–a color I had never seen in nature and that most likely only exists in the middle of the Atlantic, a gray blue like a storm cloud full of unspent lightning and unfallen rain.

Title: Lark Ascending (2022)
Author: Silas House
Pages: 288


I wasn’t just seasick; I was undone in sorrow.

Lark Ascending opens with our protagonist’s harrowing journey across the Atlantic Ocean as he flees fire-ravaged America. It’s a brutal voyage, rendered with mesmerizing imagery and soaked with angst. 

This is post-apocalyptic fiction, but House’s no-frills, plainly-told story is a refreshing change of pace from similar novels that might get bogged down with worldbuilding about the fall of our civilization. It’s visceral, heart-rending, but filled with hope and promise about the resiliency of a boy growing up under unspeakable conditions. 

★★★★

Review: Empire of Exiles

Title: Empire of Exiles (2022)
Author: Erin M. Evans
Pages: 432
Series: Books of the Usurper #1


A ruined civilization. A sequestered city. And a story told through the eyes of archivists who study the collected works of those cultures lost to time and war. 

You can tell that Evans poured all of her nerdery into this book and it’s impressive to behold. She throws everything under the sun into the worldbuilding and while that sometimes overshadows the murder mystery and character work, it all gels nonetheless.

The world Evans has built up feels ripe for exploration and it’s setting up for a great trilogy. With the murder mystery solved and a larger conspiracy laid bare, I’m intrigued to see what shape the next book will take.

The book is worth it for the incredible maps by Francesca Baerald alone.

★★★¾

Review: The Half Life of Valery K

Title: The Half Life of Valery K (2022)
Author: Natasha Pulley
Pages: 384


A former nuclear scientist, imprisoned in a Siberian gulag, is transferred to a mysterious city where unknown levels of radiation are currently bombarding the unaware populace. It’s not the most uplifting of scenarios, but Pulley tackles a dour topic with verve and a light touch.

The science-heavy narrative is very accessible and compelling and I was sucked into the “all is not as it seems” story. Valery, our main character, peels back the layers and layers of the mystery surrounding City 40 to reveal the conspiracy at its core. Once that’s done, though, the narrative loses momentum, especially with the frequent flashbacks threaded throughout the book. This, plus a too tidy ending, kept this novel from reaching higher heights, but it was a compelling read nonetheless.

Whether or not this qualifies as speculative fiction is debatable, as it hews closer to historical fiction than anything in the SFF realm, but the lines of genre demarcation are often blurry, and who really cares? This is a solid book and I think SFF fans and non-SFF fans would like it all the same.

★★★½

Review: The Jade Setter of Janloon

Title: The Jade Setter of Janloon (2022)
Author: Fonda Lee
Pages: 144
Series: The Green Bone Saga #0.5 (Series Tracker)


Obviously, a short novella is no match for a lengthy trilogy when it comes to characterization and worldbuilding, but Fonda Lee was still able to craft an exciting, tightly-plotted, and complete story featuring many of the hallmarks that made the Green Bone Saga so compelling.

If you’re interested in the Green Bone Saga and aren’t ready to commit to the full series, this is a tasty appetizer for what’s to come. And if, like me, you loved the Green Bone Saga and aren’t ready to leave Janloon behind just yet, this is still a supremely satisfying read.

★★★★