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.


Top Television of 2022

Aside from reading, I spent the remainder of my media consumption time on television. Although a departure for this blog, I wanted to put this list together to shout out my favorite TV from 2022, most of which has a speculative bent.

  1. Station Eleven (Limited Series – HBOMAX) – premiering in 2021, but finishing in 2022, this was the first AND single best thing I watched all year (Primacy bias be damned). I wish it had received a more rapturous reception. This adaptation improves on the source material in a way I did not think possible.
  2. Severance (Season 1 – Apple TV+) – odd, melancholic, and totally engrossing. A gem of a show. I’m not sure it needs to continue beyond Season 1, but I’ll be watching.
  3. The Bear (Season 1 – Hulu) – As good as everyone says it is. Fully immersive (and stressful) viewing.
  4. Little Women 🇰🇷 (Season 1 – Netflix) – absolutely insane on a week to week basis. Twist after twist. Totally bonkers, but so enjoyable. I’ve jumped headfirst into the K-Drama waters this year, and this was the best of the bunch I watched. More entries to come in 2023, I’m sure.
  5. What We Do in the Shadows (Season 4 – FX) – my favorite comedy of the last several years. Not as consistently funny as previous seasons (Baby Colin storyline was not for me), but the highs were very high. I rewatched Episode 5, “Night School” more times than I can count.
  6. Andor (Season 1 – Disney+) – The most interesting Star Wars show in ages. The production design, the art direction, the acting, the writing, the mini story-arcs. Everything is top-notch.
  7. Stranger Things (Season 4 – Netflix) – The first season to come close to recapturing the magic of Season 1. Everything here is so polished and makes for a wondrous experience.
  8. Young Royals 🇸🇪 (Season 2 – Netflix) – The music is outstanding. The leads are believable and have great chemistry. The whole ensemble is strong. I’m glad we’re getting a third and final season to wrap it all up.
  9. The White Lotus (Season 2 – HBO) – I’ve watched more of Mike White on-screen (Survivor, The Amazing Race, School of Rock) than I have of him behind the camera, but it’s all gold. Opening title sequence is a bop.
  10. For All Mankind (Season 3 – Apple TV+) – A series not afraid to make bold, head-scratching choices. But also one that you can’t wait to see what they think of next. It’s a bit of a come down from the heights of Season 2, but it’s still an incredibly compelling alternate history saga.
  11. Yellowjackets (Season 1 – Showtime)
  12. House of the Dragon (Season 1 – HBO)
  13. Players (Season 1 – Paramount+)
  14. Under the Queen’s Umbrella 🇰🇷 (Season 1 – Netflix)
  15. Reborn Rich 🇰🇷 (Season 1 – Viki)
  16. Hacks (Season 2 – HBO)
  17. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (Season 1 – Prime Video)
  18. Big Mouth (Season 6 – Netflix)
  19. Bridgerton (Season 2 – Netflix)
  20. Better Call Saul (Season 6 – AMC)
  21. Derry Girls (Season 3 – Netflix)
  22. Barry (Season 3 – HBO)
  23. Ozark (Season 4 – Netflix)
  24. Light & Magic (Docuseries – Disney+)
  25. The Boys (Season 3 – Prime Video)
  26. Raised By Wolves (Season 2 – HBOMAX)
  27. Better Things (Season 5 – FX)
  28. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Season 1 – Disney+)
  29. Welcome to Wrexham (Docuseries – Season 1 – FX)
  30. Documentary Now! (Season 4 – IFC)
  31. Once Upon a Small Town 🇰🇷 (Season 1 – Netflix)
  32. Heartstopper (Season 1 – Netflix)
  33. The Book of Boba Fett (Season 1 – Disney+)
  34. The Afterparty (Season 1 – Apple TV+)
  35. Narco-Saints 🇰🇷 (Limited Series – Netflix)
  36. Ms. Marvel (Season 1 – Disney+)
  37. Behind Every Star 🇰🇷 (Season 1 – Netflix)
  38. Westworld (Season 4 – HBO)
  39. The Umbrella Academy (Season 3 – Netflix)

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.


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.


Review: Empire of Grass

Title: Empire of Grass (2019)
Author: Tad Williams
Pages: 867
Series: The Last King of Osten Ard #2 (Series Tracker)

Another satisfying read as the overarching story starts to take shape (all is not well in Osten Ard!). So much of my enjoyment of this ongoing series comes from Williams’s writing. It’s beautiful to read and although the pacing is often slow, there’s rarely much fluff from page to page. 

In truth, the reason I started Williams’s original series was because I saw Michael Whelan’s incredible cover art for this novel and it made me want to read the entire series so I could put this book on my shelf. Seven books later and I’ve finally finished that book that caught my eye so many moons ago. Sadly, DAW chose not to commission more cover art from Whelan for future books in the series. Luckily, I’m now invested in the story itself, so the cover art is less important! (Although, I do like the art from book #3 – Into the Narrowdark).


Review: The Spear Cuts Through Water

Title: The Spear Cuts Through Water (August 30, 2022)
Author: Simon Jimenez
Pages: 544

What. A. Novel. Simon Jimenez is operating on another level with The Spear Cuts Through Water. This is an evocative tale that beautifully blends fantasy, reality, and fable into a perfect package. To summarize the plot here would deprive you of the wonderful journey that awaits you once you crack open the first page. 

Jimenez simultaneously (and effectively) tells multiple nested stories, while exploring the nature of identity, love, and intergenerational trauma. The book is unwavering in its commitment to its characters, its story, and its structure. And it’s told with such fierce confidence and love that I was totally mesmerized from start to finish.

If The Vanished Birds (also excellent) didn’t put Jimenez on the map, The Spear Cuts Through Water definitely will. This is a special book.


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

Review: Neom

Title: Neom (November 8, 2022)
Author: Lavie Tidhar
Pages: 256
Series: Central Station

Every time I turn around Lavie Tidhar has published another novel. I’ve only had the chance to read Unholy Land, which I loved, but each book he puts out sounds imaginative and entirely original. With Neom, Tidhar returns to the world of his most popular book, Central Station. Having not read it, I was unsure if I’d be missing the proper context to evaluate this one, but Neom works perfectly well as a standalone story.

Neom is (or at least was) a techno-paradise in the Arabian Peninsula, surrounded by remnants of the endless wars that once ravaged the desert. We’re introduced to several inhabitants of Neom and its surrounding environment. These folks, both human and robot alike, grapple with surface level post-war scars/memories and ones that must be, both literally and figuratively, dug up.

This was superb and I’m in awe of Tidhar’s vision. He’s conjured up a futuristic city that feels simultaneously ultramodern and also run down. The rich histories of the region and its cultures are seamlessly interwoven into the fabric of this fully-realized world. Tidhar writes beautifully, as well. The chapters fly by as the seemingly disparate lives and motivations of the characters tidily intertwine, as Tidhar explores the nature of belief, memory, and love.

I’ll surely seek out more of Tidhar’s back catalog, including Central Station, as well as whatever he thinks up next. He’s clearly producing some really outstanding science fiction right now.


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

Review: Fevered Star

Title: Fevered Star (April 19, 2022)
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Pages: 384
Series: Between Earth and Sky #2 (Series Tracker)

Fevered Star is a worthy follow-up to Black Sun, one of my favorite books of the last few years. This is epic fantasy of the highest order and Roanhorse’s writing is a joy to read. 

While Black Sun was constructed like a ticking time bomb with a narrative structure that built towards an epic conclusion, Fevered Star is a quieter tale. It’s the calm after the storm that that hit in book #1. It’s a transitory time in the Meridian as factions grow, contract, splinter off, or soldier on. The characters scramble to consolidate power and lines are drawn in the sand.

Despite the more subdued action, I’m fully invested in these characters. Each POV brings something interesting to the table and Roanhorse uses this novel to position her chess pieces for the coming conclusion/confrontation/clash to decide the fate of this world. Several fuses have been lit, but we’ll have to wait until the third book to see them pay off. I know I’m looking forward to it.