The legacy of Frankenstein’s monster collides with the sociopolitical tensions of the present-day United States.
There is something mesmerizing in a retelling that captures the essences of an original property while elevating it to the modern zeitgeist. Victor LaValle’s Destroyer, a graphic novel written in collaboration with illustrator Dietrich Smith, is such a piece.
Following Dr. barker, a brilliant scientist propelled forward by the loss of her son Akai to police violence, Destroyer is an examination of the grief that white supremacy creates, and the turmoil that is in turn born from that grief. It is, when applied, a force to be reckoned with, and when left to fester it is unpredictable and destructive—but rarely is the harm ever truly healed or the source eliminated. Through the lens of Frankenstein, Destroyer unmakes the original Frankenstein mythos and reevaluates it in a way that makes creation stem less from individual hubris and something more akin to desperation. When everything that Dr. Barker loves is dismantled, she takes it in her own hands to rebuild, reclaim, and ultimately repurpose her suffering.
Reading Rivers Solomon is a visceral experience—one that I’m still reeling from having read their novella The Deep and their short story Prudent Girls for the Decameron Project.
So it’s no surprise upon seeing they’ve written horror alongside their impressive SFF track record, I immediately gravitated toward Blood is Another Word for Hunger, a short story that trails in the aftermath of Sully’s murder of her mistress and her mistress’ children when they learn of her master’s death. From murder comes new life, quite literally when Sully rapidly becomes pregnant and subsequently gives birth, a new being reborn for every person she’s killed and will come to kill.
All the things the boy will do, I promise to do better. In all the ways he can love you, I promise to love you better.
Ijeoma is eleven years old when the Nigerian Civil War breaks out. Eleven, when her father dies in the subsequent bombings that ravage her Igbo village. Eleven, when her mother sends her away to live with a grammar school teacher and his barren wife—whether for Ijeoma’s safety or out of the grief her mother has yet to cope with, Ijeoma herself cannot say. And she is eleven, living at the grammar school teacher’s, cleaning up and tending his home, when Ijeoma first finds love in the young Hausa girl that comes to live with them.
Under the Udala Trees is a subtle, slow burn that pays off emotionally in every conceivable way. From the onset of the Nigerian Civil War to Under the Udala Trees’ quiet and satisfying ending, we are dropped into and left to ruminate on Ijeoma’s world where the expectations of an only child—a girl child, at that—are monumental and the future she sees for herself as an independent woman freely living with her female lover, is inherently antithetical to how those around her would see her: dutiful student, dutiful daughter, dutiful Christian, dutifully working her way to being an equally dutiful wife. The constant push and pull of these warring ideas creates a beautifully, sometimes painfully, layered experience.
“About 1 in 1,000 black men and boys in America can expect to die at the hands of police… That makes them 2.5 times more likely than white men and boys to die during an encounter with cops.”
The above statistic is an opening line in a report run by the LA Times in August of 2019, detailing the realities of police violence against communities of color, particularly against black boys and men. This statistic is just a number to many young Americans but a dangerous reality for black and brown boys living in the United States.
Justyce, a soon-to-be graduate and honor roll student, lives this reality in Nic Stone’s Dear Martin, a book that explores what it means to be a young man forced grapple with and question how not only authority figures see him and boys like him, but how his peers see him, too.
This self-perception is tested from the moment Dear Martin begins—a simple attempt at helping his currently drunk and bumbling ex-girlfriend get home safely turning into a violent and unprovoked encounter with a police officer. This encounter, a first for Justyce, springboards vivid political discussions in his debate classes, with his peers, even the adults in his life, and leads to one escalation after another that leaves Justyce questioning his own humanity, and questioning whether or not it even matters when others’ judgement can mean the difference between life and death?
Are you not magnificent? Or you will be, one day. But first, you must earn your beauty.
N.K. Jemisin’s entry into the Forward Series—a series of short stories featuring noted SFF authors—is, in a word, masterful, seeking to answer the titillating question of what would happen if Earth got to the point that it was truly uninhabitable? If, in a last-ditch effort to save humanity, the elite, the best, left, taking themselves to the stars to start anew?
This premise is not one that is new in speculative fiction. It is not even outside the realm of reality, when we have men like Elon Musk existing in our timeline, and the notion of colonizing nearby planets like Mars isn’t entirely novel. Space is, after all, the final frontier, and humanity is ever seeking to expand beyond the natural boundaries given to it.
A good series is the fine wine of the book world. With each new entry, it ages boldly, elates the spirit, makes you crave more and more until you’re drunk on the quality of what you’ve read.
I would like to say that the Illuminae Files was that—a perfectly aged wine that hit where it needed to and left sweetness behind in its wake. Unfortunately, what I expected to be a bottle opened only once a century turned out to be something that I could get in a box on the bottom shelf of my local gas station any day of the week.
It’s the highest honor they could hope for… and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.
In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.
I’ve added this to my mental list of books that I wish I had had when I was a teenager and the actual demographic for YA novels, because holy shit.
Where to begin? I think I’ll start with the fact that I loved this book as a slow burn (in terms of both plot and in terms of romance, but we’ll get to that,) heavily focused on character as opposed to plot. When it comes to the kind of subject matter that Girls of Paper and Fire tackles–a very dominating patriarchy, class imbalances, sexual exploitation, abuse, and rape–I think that it’s good that, for a decent chunk of the book, this was less focused on an epic, sweeping fantasy plot, and more on Lei, her experiences with her world, and her discovery of there being more going on in the Hidden Palace than just her duty as a Paper Girl.
Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze, the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years, collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.
If there’s ever a book that combines phenomenal world building, poignant character development and characters, and untouchable commentary that spans systems of oppression, racism, power imbalances, and climate decline, it’s The Fifth Season. N.K. Jeminisin is a veritable powerhouse of a writer. Her prose is as tight and beautiful as her story is mesmerizing.
It’s gritty. It’s dark. But in terms of how well a fantasy can take something that is truly as dark as systematic oppression and slavery and adequately handle its complexities and nuances, that grittiness and darkness is every bit earned and used to its fullest potential. Parts of this book made me put it down, because for as unique and utterly alien the world of the Stillness is, it is so harrowingly real that it’s hard not to react viscerally when reading. This wasn’t to The Fifth Season’s detriment; I think the point was to react, and to react deeply.
As one of my anticipated YA reads for the year, For Blood and Glory was a debut that didn’t disappoint.
Let’s get into it.
Sefira is just trying to bounce back—from a
lot. The institutionalization of her mother several years ago, the recent downward spiral in her mental
health that had her adopted family uprooting themselves for her sake. She wants
as normal life as possible, without the fear of her mother’s mental illness is
the reason for her own, without the consistent hatred of her step-brother who
blames her for his father leaving their blended family, and without the looming
feeling that something just isn’t right in her world.
When things start getting out of control, when she finds out she’s able to do so much more than an average sixteen-year-old girl should be able to, when she meets a girl that is more like her than she could ever image—Sefira enters the world she always should have been a part of. What she finds there is magic, revelations about the woman who was her mother, and a familial bond that she never expected to have. Life never comes together so easily, however, and as Sefira comes into her new powers amidst being chased by forces from another world, she uncovers a secret that puts the universe into perspective and her and her family’s lives in danger.
In my quest to read more graphic novels, I was really excited to get my hands on Her Infernal Descent, a modernized retelling of the Divine Comedy. Unfortunately, my excitement for the novel started and ended with the premise.
Let’s get into it.
The Run Down
Her Infernal Descent follows mother and wife, Lynn, after the accidental deaths of her husband and children. Visited in the depths of depression by the spirit of William Blake—a call back to Dante’s visitation and guidance by the poet Virgil—Lynn descends through the layers of hell on a quest to retrieve her family’s souls. She encounters the prolific Judge K who turns out to be Franz Kafka, the great beast Cerberus with five heads instead of three, and the lord of hell himself along the way in her journey to bring her family back.
Somehow, sneaking back into prison is always harder than sneaking out of it.
The reasonable part of me knows it’s because everyone’s asleep when I sneak out at night, and that by the time I return in the early morning, the dreary gray building is already starting to wake. But the cynical part of me thinks it has more to do with how the guards would be only too happy to get rid of me and all too reluctant to take me in.
A Soldier and a Liar; Caitlin Lochner
This Book Made Me Feel Things
There’s something nostalgic in opening a book you read years ago to read it all over again with fresh eyes and a changed mind—and something incredibly satisfying in getting to know that book a second time over after years of nurturing, coaxing, and loving hands working it over.
I didn’t expect to be so emotional when I finally got my preorder delivery of A Soldier and a Liar, and that was a serious oversight on my part. I read the first lines, overcome with the feeling of finality. A book that I had read in high school—a paperback, if I remember correctly, back when it was still titled This Is How We Fall Apart—was now a sleek hardback with blurbs on the back and my friend’s name on the front.
I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to review what’s easily been one of my favorite science fiction novels, but I never claimed to be good at blogging.
Illuminae… where do I start? Illuminae surprised me in ways I haven’t been with YA in a long time. When I say that I pulled an all-nighter to finish this book, I honestly mean it. I devoured each and every inky page, sometimes furiously, others with my heart ready to straight up vacate my chest in the span of a night. This was a high-octane, emotional novel and it’s been more than a month since I read it and I’m still not over it.
Let’s talk about this masterpiece by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kauffman.