Book Reviews

The 2020 Speculative Historical Novels Mega-List

Last year when I set out to compile a list of speculative* novels set in specific historical eras, I was happily surprised to find more than 50 titles out there. I attempted to read as many of them as I could, and I still have some truly exciting ones waiting in my TBR in spite of my best efforts.

So how does 2020 compare? Well, yet again, we had around 50 novels I could loosely group as speculative historical, but the trends have definitely shifted. (See the 2019 list.)

More “recent” history. With practically every decade from the 1920s through the 2000s represented, alternate history is IN. People are reimagining a wide variety of places and historical moments, giving us more breadth than last year. Something I’m really enjoying about this trend is the playful cognitive dissonance of these “almost ordinary” worlds. Futuristic novels like Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey and The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin seem to have been written in the same spirit. So if you find yourself inhaling these alt-histories, consider looking up 2020 dystopian novels for still more jaw-dropping concepts.

Witches! This was a wonderful year for covens, with both some series continuations and some innovative new offerings that place witches outside the usual Medieval settings. (And perhaps as a natural side-effect of the rise of witches, there are more books out there that toy with traditionally Christian topics like sin and guilt, in the spirit of Prosper’s Demon by K. J. Parker and The Year of Witching by Alexis Henderson, even though those narrowly missed out on my list because they are not set in real-world locations. Those covers, though!)

Time-Slip Novels. Many novels jump across historical and alt-historical eras due to some kind of originating event that the character must resolve. Many of you will immediately think of V. E. Schwab’s venture into historical fantasy with The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, but there are actually quite a few others. Special shout-out here to Jason Offutt and his novel So You Had to Build a Time Machine, which I had the privilege of editing! There are some really cool present/near-future novels that hug closely to these themes, so expand your list to explore those if you enjoy this trend. There are some fun “metafiction” options I’d include under this umbrella, too.

Still-painful lack of world regions and diaspora stories. There is a tiny smattering of these novels, of course, many of them by familiar names like R. F. Kuang, whose Poppy War trilogy wraps up this year. But it just doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of variety. Perhaps it’s the tendency to corner novelists interested in combining speculative elements with history into “serious literary fiction.” Perhaps some authors choose to shift their settings into secondary worlds for fear of getting the history wrong (in no small part because so much of it was lost or stolen). Look to authors like Fonda Lee and Namina Forna, whose gorgeous novels deserve more readers, to help fill this gap. I’m eagerly anticipating These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong, a Romeo & Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai.

Long live the Victorians and the Goths. Don’t worry, if you’re like me and remain incurably addicted to this subgenre, there is a wealth of choices yet again this year! Having read Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire for the first time in my life this year, I confess I’m most excited to read Blood Countess by Lana Popović and Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

I’ll add any new or missed books to my lists as I find them, so if you know of some I’m missing, please tell me, as this is an “evergreen” list that people visit year-round. Happy reading!

—Cassandra

January 2020

Blood Countess by Lana Popović

A historical YA horror novel based on the infamous real-life inspiration for Countess Dracula

In 17th century Hungary, Anna Darvulia has just begun working as a scullery maid for the young and glamorous Countess Elizabeth Báthory. When Elizabeth takes a liking to Anna, she’s vaulted to the dream role of chambermaid, a far cry from the filthy servants’ quarters below. She receives wages generous enough to provide for her family, and the Countess begins to groom Anna as her friend and confidante. It’s not long before Anna falls completely under the Countess’s spell—and the Countess takes full advantage. Isolated from her former friends, family, and fiancé, Anna realizes she’s not a friend but a prisoner of the increasingly cruel Elizabeth. Then come the murders, and Anna knows it’s only a matter of time before the Blood Countess turns on her, too. Add it on Goodreads

The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala (trans. Anna Kushner)

Haunting and transcendently twisted, this English-language debut from a Cuban literary star is a tale of race, magic, belief, and fate

The Stuart family moves to a marginal neighborhood of Cienfuegos, a city on the southern coast of Cuba. Arturo Stuart, a charismatic, visionary preacher, discovers soon after arriving that God has given him a mission: to build a temple that surpasses any before seen in Cuba, and to make of Cienfuegos a new Jerusalem.

In a neighborhood that roils with passions and conflicts, at the foot of a cathedral that rises higher day by day, there grows a generation marked by violence, cruelty, and extreme selfishness. This generation will carry these traits beyond the borders of the neighborhood, the city, and the country, unable to escape the shadow of the unfinished cathedral.

Told by a chorus of narrators–including gossips, gangsters, a ghost, and a serial killer–who flirt, lie, argue, and finish one another’s stories, Marcial Gala’s The Black Cathedral is a darkly comic indictment of modern Cuba, gritty and realistic but laced with magic. It is a portrait of what remains when dreams of utopia have withered away. Add it on Goodreads

A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers

In 1895, sixteen-year-old Juliet LaCompte has a passionate, doomed romance with the married Parisian painter Auguste Marchant. When her mother—a witch—attempts to cast a curse on Marchant, she unwittingly summons a demon, binding her daughter to both the artist and this supernatural being for all time. Juliet is fated to re-live her affair and die tragically young lifetime after lifetime as the star-crossed lovers reincarnate through history.

The demon—who appears to Juliet in all her reincarnations as a mysterious, handsome, and worldly benefactor — has been helplessly in love with her since 19th-century France, even though she forgets him each time she dies. He falls for her in 1930s Hollywood, in 1970s Los Angeles, and finally in present-day Washington D.C.—where she begins to develop powers of her own. In this life, she starts to remember her tragic past lives. But this time, she might have the power to break the cycle. Add it on Goodreads

February 2020

Sensational by Jodie Lynn Zdrok

Jodie Lynn Zdrok’s Sensational is the thrilling follow-up to Spectacle in which a killer haunts the Paris World’s Fair of 1889.

The 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris is full of innovations, cultural displays, and inventions. Millions of visitors attend over the course of several months…so no one would notice if a few were missing, right? Maybe—but someone is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the guillotine with a display of their own: beheaded victims in some of the Exposition’s most popular exhibits.

Nathalie Baudin’s ability to see murder scenes should help, but she’s suffering the effects of her magic more than ever before. Fortunately she has other Insightfuls to team up with—if they can be trusted. Add it on Goodreads

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

A “recent past” novel set from the 1990s onward with a speculative twist. Riot Baby is both a global dystopian narrative an intimate family story with quietly devastating things to say about love, fury, and the black American experience.

Ella and Kev are brother and sister, both gifted with extraordinary power. Their childhoods are defined and destroyed by structural racism and brutality. Their futures might alter the world. When Kev is incarcerated for the crime of being a young black man in America, Ella—through visits both mundane and supernatural—tries to show him the way to a revolution that could burn it all down. Add it on Goodreads

Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

The sequel to Dread Nation is a journey of revenge and salvation across a divided America.

After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother.

But nothing is easy when you’re a girl trained in putting down the restless dead, and a devastating loss on the road to a protected village called Nicodermus has Jane questioning everything she thought she knew about surviving in 1880s America.

What’s more, this safe haven is not what it appears — as Jane discovers when she sees familiar faces from Summerland amid this new society. Caught between mysteries and lies, the undead, and her own inner demons, Jane soon finds herself on a dark path of blood and violence that threatens to consume her. Add it on Goodreads

The Golden Key by Marian Womack

An extraordinary, page-turning Gothic mystery set in the wilds of the Norfolk Fens from the BSFA-shortlisted author.

London, 1901. After the death of Queen Victoria the city heaves with the uncanny and the eerie. Séances are held and the dead are called upon from darker realms.

Samuel Moncrieff, recovering from a recent tragedy of his own, meets Helena Walton-Cisneros, one of London’s most reputed mediums. But Helena is not what she seems and she’s enlisted by the elusive Lady Matthews to solve a twenty-year-old mystery: the disappearance of her three stepdaughters who vanished without a trace on the Norfolk Fens.

But the Fens are a liminal land, where folk tales and dark magic still linger. With locals that speak of devilmen and catatonic children found on the Broads, Helena finds the answer to the mystery leads back to where it started: Samuel Moncrieff. Add it on Goodreads

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha Pulley

1888. Five years after they met in The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, Thaniel Steepleton, an unassuming translator, and Keita Mori, the watchmaker who remembers the future, are traveling to Japan. Thaniel has received an unexpected posting to the British legation in Tokyo, and Mori has business that is taking him to Yokohama.

Thaniel’s brief is odd: the legation staff have been seeing ghosts, and Thaniel’s first task is to find out what’s really going on. But while staying with Mori, he starts to experience ghostly happenings himself. For reasons Mori won’t—or can’t—share, he is frightened. Then he vanishes.

Meanwhile, something strange is happening in a frozen labor camp in Northern Japan. Takiko Pepperharrow, an old friend of Mori’s, must investigate.

As the weather turns bizarrely electrical and ghosts haunt the country from Tokyo to Aokigahara forest, Thaniel grows convinced that it all has something to do with Mori’s disappearance–and that Mori may be in serious danger. Add it on Goodreads

False Value by Ben Aaronovitch

The eighth book of the bestselling Rivers of London urban fantasy series returns to the adventures of Peter Grant, detective and apprentice wizard, as he solves magical crimes in the city of London.

Peter Grant is facing fatherhood, and an uncertain future, with equal amounts of panic and enthusiasm. Rather than sit around, he takes a job with émigré Silicon Valley tech genius Terrence Skinner’s brand new London start up—the Serious Cybernetics Company.

Drawn into the orbit of Old Street’s famous ‘silicon roundabout’, Peter must learn how to blend in with people who are both civilians and geekier than he is. Compared to his last job, Peter thinks it should be a doddle. But magic is not finished with Mama Grant’s favourite son.

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.

Upstate NY, 1982. Every small town like Fell, New York, has a place like the Sun Down Motel. Some customers are from out of town, passing through on their way to someplace better. Some are locals, trying to hide their secrets. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk to pay for her move to New York City. But something isn’t right at the Sun Down, and before long she’s determined to uncover all of the secrets hidden… Add it on Goodreads

March 2020

The Book of Kane and Margaret by Kiik Araki-Kawaguchi

Winner of FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize

A novel about two teenage lovers who disrupt a World War II internment camp in Arizona

Kane Araki and Margaret Morri are not only the names of teenage lovers living in a World War II Japanese relocation camp. Kane Araki is also the name of a man who, mysteriously, sprouts a pair of black raven’s wings overnight. Margaret Morri is the name of the aging healer who treats embarrassing conditions (smelly feet and excessive flatulence). It’s also the name of an eleven-year-old girl who communes with the devil, trading human teeth for divine wishes.

In The Book of Kane and Margaret, dozens of Kane Arakis and Margaret Morris populate the Canal and Butte camp divisions in Gila River. Amidst their daily rituals and family dramas, they find ways to stage quiet revolutions against a domestic colonial experience. Some internees slip through barbed wire fences to meet for love affairs. Others attempt to smuggle whiskey, pornography, birds, dogs, horses, and unearthly insects into their family barracks. And another seeks a way to submerge the internment camp in Pacific seawater. Add it on Goodreads

The Deep by Alma Katsu

Someone, or something, is haunting the Titanic.

This is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the passengers of the ship from the moment they set sail: mysterious disappearances, sudden deaths. Now suspended in an eerie, unsettling twilight zone during the four days of the liner’s illustrious maiden voyage, a number of the passengers — including millionaires Madeleine Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim, the maid Annie Hebbley and Mark Fletcher are convinced that something sinister is going on . . . And then, as the world knows, disaster strikes.

Years later and the world is at war. And a survivor of that fateful night, Annie, is working as a nurse on the sixth voyage of the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic, now refitted as a hospital ship. Plagued by the demons of her doomed first and near fatal journey across the Atlantic, Annie comes across an unconscious soldier she recognises while doing her rounds. It is the young man Mark. And she is convinced that he did not – could not – have survived the sinking of the Titanic . . . Add it on Goodreads

The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner

In Poland, as World War II rages, a mother hides with her young daughter, a musical prodigy whose slightest sound may cost them their lives.

As Nazi soldiers round up the Jews in their town, Róża and her 5-year-old daughter, Shira, flee, seeking shelter in a neighbor’s barn. Hidden in the hayloft day and night, Shira struggles to stay still and quiet, as music pulses through her and the farmyard outside beckons. To soothe her daughter and pass the time, Róża tells her a story about a girl in an enchanted garden:

The girl is forbidden from making a sound, so the yellow bird sings. He sings whatever the girl composes in her head: high-pitched trills of piccolo; low-throated growls of contrabassoon. Music helps the flowers bloom.

Inspired by the true stories of Jewish children hidden during World War II, Jennifer Rosner’s debut is a breathtaking novel about the unbreakable bond between a mother and a daughter. Beautiful and riveting, The Yellow Bird Sings is a testament to the triumph of hope—a whispered story, a bird’s song—in even the darkest of times. Add it on Goodreads

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn

In 1995 Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on a rare family vacation, seven-year-old Nainoa Flores falls overboard a cruise ship into the Pacific Ocean. When a shiver of sharks appears in the water, everyone fears for the worst. But instead, Noa is gingerly delivered to his mother in the jaws of a shark, marking his story as the stuff of legends.

Nainoa’s family, struggling amidst the collapse of the sugarcane industry, hails his rescue as a sign of favor from ancient Hawaiian gods–a belief that appears validated after he exhibits puzzling new abilities. But as time passes, this supposed divine favor begins to drive the family apart: Nainoa, working now as a paramedic on the streets of Portland, struggles to fathom the full measure of his expanding abilities; further north in Washington, his older brother Dean hurtles into the world of elite college athletics, obsessed with wealth and fame; while in California, risk-obsessed younger sister Kaui navigates an unforgiving academic workload in an attempt to forge her independence from the family’s legacy.

When supernatural events revisit the Flores family in Hawai’i–with tragic consequences–they are all forced to reckon with the bonds of family, the meaning of heritage, and the cost of survival. Add in on Goodreads

The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu

Two siblings. Two brilliant talents. But only one Mozart.

Born with a gift for music, Nannerl Mozart has just one wish—to be remembered forever. But even as she delights audiences with her masterful playing, she has little hope she’ll ever become the acclaimed composer she longs to be. She is a young woman in 18th century Europe, and that means composing is forbidden to her. She will perform only until she reaches a marriageable age—her tyrannical father has made that much clear.

And as Nannerl’s hope grows dimmer with each passing year, the talents of her beloved younger brother, Wolfgang, only seem to shine brighter. His brilliance begins to eclipse her own, until one day a mysterious stranger from a magical land appears with an irresistible offer. He has the power to make her wish come true—but his help may cost her everything.

In her first work of historical fiction, #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu spins a lush, lyrically-told story of music, magic, and the unbreakable bond between a brother and sister. Add it on Goodreads

April 2020

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

Conjure Women is a sweeping story that brings the world of the South before and after the Civil War vividly to life. Spanning eras and generations, it tells of the lives of three unforgettable women: Miss May Belle, a wise healing woman; her precocious and observant daughter Rue, who is reluctant to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a midwife; and their master’s daughter Varina. The secrets and bonds among these women and their community come to a head at the beginning of a war and at the birth of an accursed child, who sets the townspeople alight with fear and a spreading superstition that threatens their newly won, tenuous freedom. Add it on Goodreads

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the ’90s about a women’s book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.

Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia’s life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they’re more likely to discuss the FBI’s recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.

But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club’s meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he’s a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she–and her book club–are the only people standing between the monster they’ve invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community. Add it on Goodreads

Sin Eater by Megan Campisi

The Handmaid’s Tale meets Alice in Wonderland in this gripping and imaginative historical novel about a shunned orphan girl in 16th-century England who is ensnared in a deadly royal plot and must turn her subjugation into her power.

For the crime of stealing bread, fourteen-year-old May receives a life sentence: she must become a Sin Eater—a shunned woman, brutally marked, whose fate is to hear the final confessions of the dying, eat ritual foods symbolizing their sins as a funeral rite, and thereby shoulder their transgressions to grant their souls access to heaven. Orphaned and friendless, apprenticed to an older Sin Eater who cannot speak to her, May must make her way in a dangerous and cruel world she barely understands Add it on Goodreads

Now, Then, and Everywhen by Rysa Walker

When two time-traveling historians cross paths during one of the most tumultuous decades of the twentieth century, history goes helter-skelter. But which one broke the timeline?

In 2136 Madison Grace uncovers a key to the origins of CHRONOS, a time-travel agency with ties to her family’s mysterious past. Just as she is starting to jump through history, she returns to her timeline to find millions of lives erased—and only the people inside her house realize anything has changed.

In 2304 CHRONOS historian Tyson Reyes is assigned to observe the crucial events that played out in America’s civil rights movement. But a massive time shift occurs while he’s in 1965, and suddenly the history he sees isn’t the history he knows.

As Madi’s and Tyson’s journeys collide, they must prevent the past from being erased forever. But strange forces are at work. Are Madi and Tyson in control or merely pawns in someone else’s game? Add it on Goodreads

The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan

Louisa Morgan, author of A Secret History of Witches, returns with another riveting tale of family, witchcraft, and love that spans generations, set in Gilded Age New York and London.

Harriet Bishop, descended from a long line of witches, uses magic to help women in need — not only ordinary women, but also those with powers of their own. She must intervene when a distant cousin wields dangerous magic to change the lives of two unsuspecting young people… one of whom might just be a witch herself. Add it on Goodreads

Creatures of Charm and Hunger by Molly Tanzer

Two young witches, once inseparable, are set at odds by secrets and wildly dangerous magic.

In the waning days of World War II, with Allied victory all but certain, desperate Nazi diabolists search for a demonic superweapon to turn the tide. A secluded castle somewhere in the south of Germany serves as a laboratory for experiments conducted upon human prisoners, experiments as vile as they are deadly.

Across the English Channel, tucked into the sleepy Cumbrian countryside, lies the Library, the repository of occult knowledge for the Société des Éclairées, an international organization of diabolists. There, best friends Jane Blackwood and Miriam Cantor, tutored by the Société’s Librarian—and Jane’s mother—Nancy, prepare to undergo the Test that will determine their future as diabolists.

When Miriam learns her missing parents are suspected of betraying the Société to the Nazis, she embarks on a quest to clear their names, a quest involving dangerous diabolic practices that will demand more of her than she can imagine. Meanwhile Jane, struggling with dark obsessions of her own, embraces a forbidden use of the Art that could put everyone she loves in danger. Add it on Goodreads

The Unsuitable by Molly Pohlig

Molly Pohlig’s The Unsuitable is a fierce blend of Gothic ghost story and Victorian novel of manners that’s also pitch perfect for our current cultural moment.

Iseult Wince is a Victorian woman perilously close to spinsterhood whose distinctly unpleasant father is trying to marry her off. She is awkward, plain, and most pertinently, believes that her mother, who died in childbirth, lives in the scar on her neck.

Iseult’s father parades a host of unsuitable candidates before her, the majority of whom Iseult wastes no time frightening away. When at last her father finds a suitor desperate enough to take Iseult off his hands—a man whose medical treatments have turned his skin silver—a true comedy of errors ensues. Add it on Goodreads

Ship of Fates by Caitlin Chung

In the gridlocked harbor of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, a ship hung with red paper lanterns draws crowds eager to gamble and drink. Aboard this red-lit ship, the fates of two young women will be altered irrevocably and tied forever to that of an ancient lighthouse keeper who longs to be free. 

Set against the backdrop of Gold Rush-era San Francisco’s Chinese immigrant community, Ship of Fates is a coming-of-age fairy tale that stretches across generations. Add it on Goodreads

May 2020

Rules for Being Dead by Kim Powers

It’s the late 1960s in McKinney, Texas. At the downtown theater and the local drive-in, movies—James BondMy Fair LadyAlfie, and Dr. Zhivago—feed the dreams and obsessions of a ten-year-old Clarke who loves Audrey, Elvis, his family, and the handsome boy in the projector booth. Then Clarke loses his beloved mother, and no one will tell him how she died. No one will tell her either. She is floating above the trees and movie screens of McKinney, trapped between life and death, searching for a glimpse of her final moments on this earth. Clarke must find the shattering truth, which haunts this darkly humorous and incredibly moving novel. Add it on Goodreads

Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Mortes they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?

In these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future. Add it on Goodreads

June 2020

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

A reimagining of the classic gothic suspense novel, a story about an isolated mansion in 1950s Mexico — and the brave socialite drawn to its treacherous secrets.

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find — her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough, smart, and has an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom. Add it on Goodreads

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho

Zen Cho returns with a found family wuxia fantasy that combines the vibrancy of old school martial arts movies with characters drawn from the margins of history.

A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there. Guet Imm, a young votary of the Order of the Pure Moon, joins up with an eclectic group of thieves (whether they like it or not) in order to protect a sacred object, and finds herself in a far more complicated situation than she could have ever imagined. Add it on Goodreads

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H. G. Parry

A sweeping tale of revolution and wonder in a world not quite like our own, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is a genre-defying story of magic, war, and the struggle for freedom in the early modern world.

It is the Age of Enlightenment — of new and magical political movements, from the necromancer Robespierre calling for revolution in France to the weather mage Toussaint L’Ouverture leading the slaves of Haiti in their fight for freedom, to the bold new Prime Minister William Pitt weighing the legalization of magic amongst commoners in Britain and abolition throughout its colonies overseas.

But amidst all of the upheaval of the early modern world, there is an unknown force inciting all of human civilization into violent conflict. And it will require the combined efforts of revolutionaries, magicians, and abolitionists to unmask this hidden enemy before the whole world falls to darkness and chaos. Add it on Goodreads

The House of Whispers by Laura Purcell

A new gothic Victorian tale from Laura Purcell, set on the atmospheric Cornish coast in a rambling house by the sea in which a maid cares for a mute old woman with a mysterious past, alongside her superstitious staff.

Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft’s family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken. But Dr. Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the disease in the caves beneath his new Cornish home. While he devotes himself to his controversial medical trials, Louise finds herself increasingly discomfited by the strange tales her new maid tells of the fairies that hunt the land, searching for those they can steal away to their realm.

Forty years later, Hester arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralyzed and mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try to escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers her new home may be just as dangerous as her last. Add it on Goodreads

Court of Miracles by Kester Grant

In the violent urban jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, the French Revolution has failed and the city is divided between merciless royalty and nine underworld criminal guilds, known as the Court of Miracles. Eponine (Nina) Thénardier is a talented cat burglar and member of the Thieves Guild. Nina’s life is midnight robberies, avoiding her father’s fists, and watching over her naïve adopted sister, Cosette (Ettie).

When Ettie attracts the eye of the Tiger–the ruthless lord of the Guild of Flesh–Nina is caught in a desperate race to keep the younger girl safe. Her vow takes her from the city’s dark underbelly to the glittering court of Louis XVII. And it also forces Nina to make a terrible choice–protect Ettie and set off a brutal war between the guilds, or forever lose her sister to the Tiger.

Les Misérables meets Six of Crows in this page-turning adventure as a young thief finds herself going head to head with leaders of Paris’s criminal underground in the wake of the French Revolution. Add it on Goodreads

July 2020

Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis

By the fall of 2007, one well-timed leak revealing that the U.S. government might have engaged in first contact has sent the country into turmoil, and it is all Cora Sabino can do to avoid the whole mess. The force driving this controversy is Cora’s whistleblower father, and even though she hasn’t spoken to him in years, his celebrity has caught the attention of the press, the Internet, the paparazzi, and the government–and redirected it to her. She neither knows nor cares whether her father’s leaks are a hoax, and wants nothing to do with him–until she learns just how deeply entrenched her family is in the cover-up, and that an extraterrestrial presence has been on Earth for decades.

To save her own life, she offers her services as an interpreter to a monster, and the monster accepts. Add it on Goodreads

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal continues her Hugo and Nebula award-winning Lady Astronaut series, following The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, with The Relentless Moon.

The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.

Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President. Add it on Goodreads

A Peculiar Peril by Jeff VanderMeer

Jonathan Lambshead stands to inherit his deceased grandfather’s overstuffed mansion—a veritable cabinet of curiosities—once he and two schoolmates catalog its contents. But the three soon discover that the house is filled with far more than just oddities: It holds clues linking to an alt-Earth called Aurora, where the notorious English occultist Aleister Crowley has stormed back to life on a magic-fueled rampage across a surreal, through-the-looking-glass version of Europe replete with talking animals (and vegetables).

Swept into encounters with allies more unpredictable than enemies, Jonathan pieces together his destiny as a member of a secret society devoted to keeping our world separate from Aurora. But as the ground shifts and allegiances change with every step, he and his friends sink ever deeper into a deadly pursuit of the profound evil that is also chasing after them. Add it on Goodreads

So You Had to Build a Time Machine by Jason Offutt

Skid doesn’t believe in ghosts or time travel or any of that nonsense. A circus runaway-turned-bouncer, she believes in hard work, self-defense, and good strong coffee. Then one day an annoying theoretical physicist named Dave pops into the seat next to her at her least favorite Kansas City bar and disappears into thin air when she punches him (he totally deserved it).

Now, street names are changing, Skid’s favorite muffins are swapping frosting flavors, Dave keeps reappearing in odd places like the old Sanderson murder house—and that’s only the start of her problems.

Something has gone wrong. Terribly wrong. Absolutely *$&ed up.

Someone has the nastiest versions of every conceivable reality at their fingertips, and they’re not afraid to smash them together. With the help of a smooth-talking haunted house owner and a linebacker-sized Dungeons and Dragons-loving baker, Skid and Dave set out to save the world from whatever scientific experiment has sent them all dimension-hopping against their will.

It probably means the world is screwed. Add it on Goodreads

Crossings by Alex Landragin

Crossings is an unforgettable and explosive genre-bending debut–a novel in three parts, designed to be read in two different directions, spanning a hundred and fifty years and seven lifetimes.

On the brink of the Nazi occupation of Paris, a German-Jewish bookbinder stumbles across a manuscript called Crossings. It has three narratives, each as unlikely as the next. And the narratives can be read one of two ways: either straight through or according to an alternate chapter sequence. The first story in Crossings is a never-before-seen ghost story by the poet Charles Baudelaire, penned for an illiterate girl. Next is a noir romance about an exiled man, modeled on Walter Benjamin, whose recurring nightmares are cured when he falls in love with a storyteller who draws him into a dangerous intrigue of rare manuscripts, police corruption, and literary societies.

Finally, there are the fantastical memoirs of a woman-turned-monarch whose singular life has spanned seven generations. With each new chapter, the stunning connections between these seemingly disparate people grow clearer and more extraordinary. Crossings is an unforgettable adventure full of love, longing and empathy. Add it on Goodreads

Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings

In a small Western Queensland town, a reserved young woman receives a note from one of her vanished brothers—a note that makes question her memories of their disappearance and her father’s departure.

A beguiling story that proves that gothic delights and uncanny family horror can live—and even thrive—under a burning sun, Flyaway introduces readers to Bettina Scott, whose search for the truth throws her into tales of eerie dogs, vanished schools, cursed monsters, and enchanted bottles.

In these pages Jennings assures you that gothic delights, uncanny family horror, and strange, unsettling prose can live—and even thrive—under a burning sun.

Holly Black describes as “half mystery, half fairy tale, all exquisitely rendered and full of teeth.” Flyaway enchants you with the sly, beautiful darkness of Karen Russell and a world utterly its own. Add it on Goodreads

Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The dangerous magic of The Night Circus meets the powerful historical exploration of The Underground Railroad in this timely and unsettling novel, set against the darkly glamorous backdrop of New York City at the dawn of WWII.

Amidst the whir of city life, a girl from Harlem is drawn into the glittering underworld of Manhattan, where she’s hired to use her knives to strike fear amongst its most dangerous denizens.

But the ghosts from her past are always by her side—and history has appeared on her doorstep to threaten the people she loves most.

Can one woman ever sacrifice enough to save an entire community?

Trouble the Saints is a dazzling, daring novel—a magical love story, a compelling chronicle of interracial tension, and an altogether brilliant and deeply American saga. Add to Goodreads

A Summoning of Souls by Leanna Renee Hieber

At the dawn of the twentieth century, New York City houses both the living and the dead. And when it comes to crimes of an otherworldly nature, it falls to the psychics and spirits of the city’s finest secret agency—The Ghost Precinct—to serve justice beyond the earthly realm . . .

The ethereal denizens of New York owe a great debt to Eve Whitby, the young talented medium who leads the all-female spiritualists in the police department’s Ghost Precinct. Without her team’s efforts on behalf of the incorporeal, many souls would have been lost or damned by both human and inhuman means.

But now Eve faces an enemy determined to exorcise the city’s ghostly population once and for all. Albert Prenze is supposed to be dead. Instead he is very much alive, having assumed the identity of his twin brother Alfred, and taken control of the family’s dubiously made fortune. With unlimited wealth at his disposal, Albert uses experimental technology to banish ghosts to an eternal darkness forever.

To achieve his vicious ends, Albert plots to manipulate Eve and twist her abilities into a psychic weapon—a weapon that not only poses a threat to spirits but to everyone she cares for, including her beloved Detective Horowitz . . . Add it on Goodreads

Mayhem by Estelle Laure

A YA feminist mash up inspired by The Lost Boys and The Craft.

It’s 1987 and unfortunately it’s not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy’s constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem’s own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren’t like everyone else. But when May’s stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem’s questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self.

There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good. But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.

From the acclaimed author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back, Estelle Laure offers a riveting and complex story with magical elements about a family of women contending with what appears to be an irreversible destiny, taking control and saying when enough is enough. Add it on Goodreads

August 2020

Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley

I’m cheating a little by including this one, but knowing Headley’s Mere Wife retelling, this translation promises to be a creative and daring and worth the read for historical spec fic lovers.

Nearly twenty years after Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf—and fifty years after the translation that continues to torment high-school students around the world—there is a radical new verse translation of the epic poem by Maria Dahvana Headley, which brings to light elements that have never before been translated into English, recontextualizing the binary narrative of monsters and heroes into a tale in which the two categories often entwine, justice is rarely served, and dragons live among us.

A man seeks to prove himself as a hero. A monster seeks silence in his territory. A warrior seeks to avenge her murdered son. A dragon ends it all. The familiar elements of the epic poem are seen with a novelist’s eye toward gender, genre, and history—Beowulf has always been a tale of entitlement and encroachment, powerful men seeking to become more powerful, and one woman seeking justice for her child, but this version brings new context to an old story. Add it on Goodreads

The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks by Mackenzi Lee

Return to the enchanting world of the Montague siblings in the finale to the New York Times bestselling and Stonewall Honor-winning series, featuring a teenage Adrian Montague as he desperately seeks the now adult Monty and Felicity—the older siblings he never knew he had.

The sole heir to his family’s fortune, Adrian Montague desperately wants to be free—from his father’s high expectations; the grief of losing his beloved mother; and the constant war being waged inside his mind. Adrian was diagnosed with hysteria at a young age and it’s always been kept a secret. But when he has a breakdown at his engagement party, the public learns Adrian’s worst fear: he might not be fit to run the Montague estate.

Thankfully, Adrian is given an opportunity to avoid the impending scandal: a trip to the Caribbean to claim the last of his mother’s possessions. Add it on Goodreads

September 2020

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house-a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known. Add it on Goodreads

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix

In a slightly alternate London in 1983, Susan Arkshaw is looking for her father, a man she has never met. Crime boss Frank Thringley might be able to help her, but Susan doesn’t get time to ask Frank any questions before he is turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin in the hands of the outrageously attractive Merlin.

Merlin is a young left-handed bookseller (one of the fighting ones). With the right-handed booksellers (the intellectual ones), he belongs to an extended family of magical beings who police the mythic and legendary Old World when it intrudes on the modern world, in addition to running several bookshops. Add it on Goodreads

Blood & Honey by Shelby Mahurin

The hotly anticipated sequel to the New York Times and IndieBound bestseller Serpent & Dove—packed with even steamier romance and darker magic—is perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas.

After narrowly escaping death at the hands of the Dames Blanches, Lou, Reid, Coco, and Ansel are on the run from coven, kingdom, and church—fugitives with nowhere to hide.

To elude the scores of witches and throngs of chasseurs at their heels, Lou and Reid need allies. Strong ones. But protection comes at a price, and the group is forced to embark on separate quests to build their forces. As Lou and Reid try to close the widening rift between them, the dastardly Morgane baits them in a lethal game of cat and mouse that threatens to destroy something worth more than any coven. Add it on Goodreads

A Dance with Fate by Juliet Marillier

young woman who is both a bard–and a warrior–seeks to repay her debts and settle scores in this thrilling historical fantasy series.

The young warrior and bard Liobhan has lost her brother to the Otherworld. Even more determined to gain a place as an elite fighter, she returns to Swan Island to continue her training. But Liobhan is devastated when her comrade Dau is injured and loses his sight in their final display bout. Blamed by Dau’s family for the accident, she agrees to go to Dau’s home as a bond servant for the span of one year.

There, she soon learns that Oakhill is a place of dark secrets. The vicious Crow Folk still threaten both worlds. And Dau, battling the demon of despair, is not an easy man to help.

When Liobhan and Dau start to expose the rot at the center of Oakhill, they place themselves in deadly danger. For their enemy wields great power and will stop at nothing to get his way. It will take all the skills of a Swan Island warrior and a touch of the uncanny to give them a hope of survival. . . . Add it on Goodreads

The Residence by Andrew Pyper

In this gripping and terrifying horror story based on true events, the President’s late son haunts the White House, breaking the spirit of what remains of the First Family and the divided America beyond the residence’s walls.

The year is 1853. President-elect Franklin Pierce is traveling with his family to Washington, DC, when tragedy strikes. In an instant, their train runs off the rails, violently flinging passengers about the cabin. But when the great iron machine finally comes to rest, the only casualty is the President-elect’s beloved son, Bennie, which casts Franklin’s presidency in a pall of sorrow and grief.

As Franklin moves into the White House, he begins to notice that something bizarre is happening. Strange sounds coming from the walls and ceiling, creepy voices that seem to echo out of time itself, and visions of spirits crushed under the weight of American history.

But when First Lady Jane Pierce brings in the most noted Spiritualists of the day, the Fox sisters, for a séance, the barrier between this world and the next is torn asunder. Something horrible comes through and takes up residence alongside Franklin and Jane in the walls of the very mansion itself.

Only by overcoming their grief and confronting their darkest secrets can Jane and Franklin hope to rid themselves—and America—from the entity that seeks to make the White House its permanent home. Add it on Goodreads

October 2020

The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow

In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be. Add it on Goodreads

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name. Add it on Goodreads

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

The award-winning author of The Miseducation of Cameron Post makes her adult debut with this highly imaginative and original horror-comedy centered around a cursed New England boarding school for girls—a wickedly whimsical celebration of the art of storytelling, sapphic love, and the rebellious female spirit.

Our story begins in 1902, at The Brookhants School for Girls. Flo and Clara, two impressionable students, are obsessed with each other and with a daring young writer named Mary MacLane, the author of a scandalous bestselling memoir. To show their devotion to Mary, the girls establish their own private club and call it The Plain Bad Heroine Society. They meet in secret in a nearby apple orchard, the setting of their wildest happiness and, ultimately, of their macabre deaths. This is where their bodies are later discovered with a copy of Mary’s book splayed beside them, the victims of a swarm of stinging, angry yellow jackets. Less than five years later, The Brookhants School for Girls closes its doors forever—but not before three more people mysteriously die on the property, each in a most troubling way.

Over a century later, the now abandoned and crumbling Brookhants is back in the news when wunderkind writer, Merritt Emmons, publishes a breakout book celebrating the queer, feminist history surrounding the “haunted and cursed” Gilded-Age institution. Her bestselling book inspires a controversial horror film adaptation starring celebrity actor and lesbian it girl Harper Harper playing the ill-fated heroine Flo, opposite B-list actress and former child star Audrey Wells as Clara. But as Brookhants opens its gates once again, and our three modern heroines arrive on set to begin filming, past and present become grimly entangled—or perhaps just grimly exploited—and soon it’s impossible to tell where the curse leaves off and Hollywood begins. Add it on Goodreads

November 2020

The Conductors by Nicole Glover

As a conductor on the Underground Railroad, Hetty Rhodes helped usher dozens of people north with her wits and magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband Benjy have settled in Philadelphia, solving murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch. When they find one of their friends slain in an alley, Hetty and Benjy bury the body and set off to find answers. But the secrets and intricate lies of the elites of Black Philadelphia only serve to dredge up more questions. To solve this mystery, they will have to face ugly truths all around them, including the ones about each other.

In this vibrant and original novel, Nicole Glover joins a roster of contemporary writers within fantasy, such as Victor LaValle and Zen Cho, who use speculative fiction to delve into important historical and cultural threads. Add it on Goodreads

The Burning God by R. F. Kuang

The exciting end to The Poppy War trilogy, R. F. Kuang’s acclaimed, award-winning epic fantasy that combines the history of twentieth-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating, enthralling effect.

After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead. 

Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much—the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges—and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation. 

Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it? Add it on Goodreads

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule. Add it on Goodreads

Rebel Rose by Emma Theriault

Happily ever after is only the beginning as Belle takes on the responsibility of becoming queen and learns to balance duty, love, and sacrifice, all while navigating dark political intrigue-and a touch of magic.

It’s 1789 and France is on the brink of revolution. Belle has finally broken the Enchantress’s curse, restoring the Beast to his human form as Prince Adam, and bringing life back to their castle in the province of Aveyon. But in Paris, the fires of change are burning, and it’s only a matter of time before the rebellion arrives on their doorstep.

Belle has always dreamed of leaving her provincial home for a life of adventure. But now she finds herself living in a palace, torn between her roots as a commoner, and her future as a royal. When she stumbles across a mysterious, ancient magic that brings with it a dire warning, she must question whether she is ready for the power being thrust on her, and if being Queen is more than just a title.

Rebel Rose is the first in the Queen’s Council series, an empowering fairy tale reimagining of the Disney Princesses-and the real history behind their stories-like you’ve never seen before. Add it on Goodreads

The Madness Blooms by Mackenzie Lee

Mackenzi Lee, bestselling author of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, takes on Dutch Tulip Fever.

My brother Bastian was born in a tulip field, or so the story goes. The woman at the church orphanage boasted this proudly to the seed merchant who had chosen Bas as his apprentice. Lucky for me, he took us both.

When a single tulip bulb sold for the price of Amsterdam’s finest houses, the flower shop was supposed to be our future, our survival. But when our master died, there wasn’t even money to pay for his coffin. He, too, had caught the tulip fever.

Bas and I hatched a dangerous, outrageous plan, a plan I hoped would save our shop—and save us. I would dress as a man, take on a new name, and attempt to sell a fake Semper Augustus bulb, the rarest and most valuable tulip of all, to the one merchant in town with the money to pay for it.

But then I met his daughter, Elsje, and fell in love with her at first sight. Now, I hardly know—and must discover—what to do. Who to save. Who to become. Who I am. Add it on Goodreads

The Camelot Betrayal by Kiersten White

EVERYTHING IS AS IT SHOULD BE IN CAMELOT: King Arthur is expanding his kingdom’s influence with Queen Guinevere at his side. Yet every night, dreams of darkness and unknowable power plague her.

Guinevere might have accepted her role, but she still cannot find a place for herself in all of it. The closer she gets to Brangien, pining for her lost love Isolde, Lancelot, fighting to prove her worth as Queen’s knight, and Arthur, everything to everyone and thus never quite enough for Guinevere–the more she realizes how empty she is. She has no sense of who she truly was before she was Guinevere. The more she tries to claim herself as queen, the more she wonders if Mordred was right: she doesn’t belong. She never will.

When a rescue goes awry and results in the death of something precious, a devastated Guinevere returns to Camelot to find the greatest threat yet has arrived. Not in the form of the Dark Queen or an invading army, but in the form of the real Guinevere’s younger sister. Is her deception at an end? And who is she really deceiving–Camelot, or herself? Add it on Goodreads

Don’t miss in January 2021…

Before I go, I would be remiss not to give a special shout-out here to the gaslamp fantasy I had the great pleasure of editing, Elizabeth Chatsworth’s THE BRASS QUEEN, coming out in January 2021. It’s funny, romantic, and an utterly ridiculous romp that is such a heart book for me, I can’t help but urge you all to give it a look, especially if you’ve been craving a good laugh!


*Author’s Note: By “speculative historical novels,” I mean novels with events set in particular historical eras with fantastical, fabulist, or magical realist elements woven into them. I am intentionally loose with my categories and include books based more on what I anticipate lovers of historical settings with fantastical elements are likely to gravitate toward! Genre fantasy, magical realism or fabulism, alt-history, and generically “literary” novels all count. Spec fic celebrates whatever goes beyond the literal or “hyper-real” to lean into imagination, collective myths, mystery, and wonder. There’s no reason to be unnecessarily restrictive and miss out on excellent books.

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Book Reviews, Writing Process

Reading to be immersed

“At some time impossible to pinpoint, I had begun to read more to be informed than to be immersed, much less to be transported.”

—Maryanne Wolf, Reader, Come Home:
The Reading Brain in a Digital World

My switch to skimming from reading was abrupt, spurred by anxiety. I had sent out some projects, which meant acceptances and rejections would be coming in unpredictable increments of 5 minutes (as one did) or in 11 months (as did another). It didn’t help that I had set myself a goal of 100 rejections for the year, as many writers do. That level of random expectation messed with my head, and instead of sinking for hours into fiction and nonfiction projects as I once did, suddenly I was hopping from one thing to the next in quick succession every hour.

The agony of the empty mailbox let to an especially strong impulse to linger on social media, where something was always being delivered—6,000 somethings every minute, which I could curate into feeds, share, or interact with in innumerable other ways until I felt connected and whole again. Only, of course, I had no control over what confronted me there. Stung by unexpected barbs from people who often did not even have me or people like me in mind as their main audience, my emotions would be thrown into total disarray, bleeding into the rest of my life long after I left the platform.

Now, I easily correlate my anxiety levels with how much and how deeply (or not) I read in that era of my life, which lasted about two years. Maryanne Wolf says she had to try twice to remember how to become immersed in a book she had once loved. The first attempt was a total failure, and the second attempt took two weeks before she settled into the rhythm and trust of moving at the pace the writer set instead of trying to rush ahead, skim, re-read the same long sentence over and over, or shove the book aside in frustration or boredom. In my case, I spent several months reading books a few pages at a time, in a circle, until I finally remembered how to get fully lost in the story again.

When I become immersed in books instead of skimming them or “reading to be informed,” I find myself settling into a familiar and enjoyable rhythm of reading, revision, reflection, and drafting in my own writing process. I tend to invest the effort into painstakingly copying passages from books I like into my journals. I forget to check messages. I spend less than 2 hours/day with access to social media. Every week, I experience at least one full day where I never get on social media at all. Ironically, I worry less about “missing out” or being “left behind” by the book community. Less pressured to buy the talked-about books of the moment, instead I’m buying the books I find most compelling based on the writing and subject matter itself, whether it’s a speculative novel, history, or religious studies, even if it is now considered “backlist” by the industry.

When I visit social media less often, the medium feels wildly different than when I have regular, continuous exposure all day every day. For context, consider that like a lot of people my age I lived a lifestyle that involved being on social media continuously since around 2003, along with blogging off and on for many years even before that. Most of that time, I was on Facebook. I deleted Facebook back in 2015 and stayed off social media entirely for two years, at which time I began my still-regular practice of handwriting all my novels, essays, and poetry in journals. I joined Twitter in 2017, a veritable whirlpool of continuous content by (at first) complete strangers, because I was told it was a good place to interact with the book community. That proved true, and I took to the form instantly. Probably at my deepest involvement, I posted something new every 15 minutes or less, a practice I didn’t relinquish until I established my current “social media lite” routine about 1 year ago.

My experience of the “social media-heavy” times was the sense of always paying partial attention to the people and world around me, but at the same time feeling hyper-aware of “Cassandra” the social media personality. Contrary to stereotypes of Millennials, I felt grounded by my social media network. You’re never alone when you can touch an app and open up a world of friends, acquaintances, and “fans.” I continually composed narratives about myself, as if I were a brand or public figure. I enjoyed this and felt it enabled me to form a strong personal worldview, but it became increasingly stressful to maintain as I became an adoptive parent and stopped traveling. “Cassandra the world traveler” and “Cassandra the budding religious studies scholar” seemed more exciting than “Cassandra the editor and parent in rural Idaho.” That’s not true in practice; my life is as full and vibrant and intellectually challenging as ever, but the work I’m doing is mapped onto a longer, slower arc than it was in my twenties, which is not conducive to social media updates, especially when as a parent I made the decision to protect my children’s privacy by restricting how much I shared about them.

How, then, does it feel to be on a restricted-access rhythm with only one social media platform? I was shocked to find that the conversations (“threads”) I once lived for have come to feel not only repetitive but often irrelevant to my actual experience of books, writing, publishing, and best practices for encouraging diversity and intercultural understanding (a frequent topic of discussion in the book community over the past few years). Is that because I’m doing a better job of weighing what I see against my own reservoir of knowledge? I think so.

One possible explanation is that after such long daily breaks, I’m not skimming the feed, at least not at first. I’m fixing onto single statements or threads and lingering with them. I tend to share them in group chats and direct messages with close friends, and spend a lot more time on whatever topic caught my attention. However, after about 20 minutes, my brain remembers how that continuous-exposure mentality felt. I can viscerally feel the shift from ordinary thought to the birdlike flutter of attention from one piece of ephemera to another.

I don’t like how this makes me feel, so I don’t keep social media on my phone at all, and since I can’t trust my brain to quit once it makes the switch, my computer is also programmed to cut off my access after an hour or so. It’s rare that I accomplish anything else in that hour, and I often need to take some deep breaths once I’m off the platform to clear my mind and let go of whatever statements people made that might have confused, provoked, or stunned me. My other strategy is to simply stay off the feed entirely and visit individual friends’ pages to read their posts, drop in on group chats, send messages, and of course share whatever handful of things I’ve collected in the past 24 to 48 hours since the last time I visited the platform.

This approach goes completely against the grain of how these platforms are designed. Sometimes I wish I had a way to see my friends’ musings and news in a more intentional set-up that doesn’t prioritize speed and distraction, while still allowing me to discover new possible friends and acquaintances in my corner of the book community. (Instagram’s requirement that all posts must have an image and its limited linking to external sites makes it a clunky platform for me, but it satisfies some of my other criteria; I’ve experimented with it a little over the past few months.)

Mostly, though, the lesson for me over the past few years of total and partial restriction of social media and my conscientious efforts to read and write with intention, is that I’ve had to trade the feeling of relevance for better, more focused work that could lead to greater relevance in the book community over the long haul. It appeals to my spiritual practice and my standards of excellence for myself as an artist and scholar, so it’s a trade I’m willing to make.

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Book Reviews

The 2019 Speculative Historical Novels Mega-List

Speculative historical novels — that is, novels with events set in particular historical eras with fantastical, fabulist, or magical realist elements woven in — are my absolute favorite kind of fiction. This is a list of more than 50(!!) adult and young adult speculative novels published or to-be-published in 2019 with ties to a distinct historical moment.

I’m very loose with genre boundaries, so I include genre fantasy, magical realism or fabulism, and generically “literary” novels that fit. Spec fic celebrates whatever goes beyond the literal or “hyper-real” to lean into imagination, collective myths, mystery, and wonder. There’s no reason to be unnecessarily restrictive and miss out on excellent books.

This list is not an endorsement. It’s just a list. The idea is to give us all a feel for what’s out there and maybe find a new favorite. There might be reasons you (or I!) would not recommend a particular book, and that’s totally okay, but I’m not making a value judgment here. All the books are linked to their Goodreads accounts, where you can read the reviews.

Click here to view this list as a Goodreads shelf.

I’ll add any new or missed books to my lists as I find them, in descending order from December 2019 to January 2019, so if you know of some I’m missing, please tell me! I’ll link my already-in-progress 2020 list when it’s ready. Happy reading! —Cassandra

December 2019

The Weight of a Soul by Elizabeth Tammi

When Lena’s younger sister Fressa is found dead, their whole Viking clan mourns—but it is Lena alone who never recovers. Fressa is the sister that should’ve lived, and Lena cannot rest until she knows exactly what killed Fressa and why—and how to bring her back. She strikes a dark deal with Hela, the Norse goddess of death, and begins a new double life to save her sister.

But as Lena gets closer to bringing Fressa back, she dredges up dangerous discoveries about her own family, and finds herself in the middle of a devastating plan to spur Ragnarök –a deadly chain of events leading to total world destruction. 

Still, with her sister’s life in the balance, Lena is willing to risk it all. She’s willing to kill. How far will she go before the darkness consumes her?

The Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman

In the latest novel in Genevieve Cogman’s historical fantasy series, Irene and Kai have to team up with an unlikely band of misfits to pull off an amazing art heist—or risk the wrath of the dangerous villain with a secret island lair.

A Librarian’s work is never done, and once Irene has a quick rest after their latest adventure, she is summoned to the Library. The world where she grew up is in danger of veering deep into chaos, and she needs to obtain a particular book to stop this from happening. No copies of the book are available in the Library, so her only choice is to contact a mysterious Fae information broker and trader of rare objects: Mr. Nemo.

Irene and Kai make their way to Mr. Nemo’s remote Caribbean island and are invited to dinner, which includes unlikely company. Mr. Nemo has an offer for everyone there: he wants them to steal a specific painting from a specific world. He swears that he will give each of them an item from his collection if they bring him the painting within the week.

Everyone takes the deal. But to get their reward, they will have to form a team, including a dragon techie, a Fae thief, a gambler, a driver, and the muscle. Their goal? The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, in a early twenty-first century world, where their toughest challenge might be each other.

Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen

Lady Victoria Aston has always been just as comfortable in a pair of breeches stolen from her father as she has in satin ballgowns decked in lace. And though she is perfectly capable of minding her manners in polite society, she doesn’t much see the point. With an older sister happily wed and the future of her family estate secure, she is quite content to while her time away in the fields around her home.

However, Vicky’s comfortable, idyllic life is overturned in the course of one night. Her sister’s husband is a terrible cad and now Vicky must marry, or find herself and her family destitute. Armed only with the wisdom she has gained from her beloved novels by Jane Austen, she enters society’s season in a flutter of silks, dances, and pretty words.

But Miss Austen has little to say about Vicky’s particular circumstances: whether the gorgeous and roguish Mr. Carmichael is indeed a scoundrel, if her former best friend—the much-grown and very handsome Tom Sherborne—is out for her dowry or for her heart, or even how to fend off the attentions of the foppish Mr. Silby, he of the bright-orange waistcoat.

Most unfortunately of all, Vicky’s books are silent on the topic of the mysterious accidents cropping up around her. Accidents that have her wondering if there’s someone trying to prevent a match from being made…or prevent her from surviving until her wedding day.

November 2019

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.

The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes a new fantasy series reimagining the Arthurian legend, set in the magical world of Camelot.

There was nothing in the world as magical and terrifying as a girl.

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom’s borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution–send in Guinevere to be Arthur’s wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king’s idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere’s real name–and her true identity–is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.

To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old–including Arthur’s own family–demand things continue as they have been, and the new–those drawn by the dream of Camelot–fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land. Arthur’s knights believe they are strong enough to face any threat, but Guinevere knows it will take more than swords to keep Camelot free.

Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?

The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky by Mackenzi Lee

In this funny and frothy novella that picks up where the New York Times bestselling The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue leaves off, freshly minted couple Monty and Percy fumble through their first time together.

Monty’s epic grand tour may be over, but now that he and Percy are finally a couple, he realizes there is something more nerve-wracking than being chased across Europe: getting together with the person you love.

Will the romantic allure of Santorini make his first time with Percy magical, or will all the anticipation and build-up completely spoil the mood?

October 2019

Ormeshadow by Priya Sharma

Acclaimed author Priya Sharma transports readers back in time with Ormeshadow, a coming-of-age story as dark and rich as good soil.

Burning with resentment and intrigue, this fantastical family drama invites readers to dig up the secrets of the Belman family, and wonder whether myths and legends are real enough to answer for a history of sin.

Uprooted from Bath by his father’s failures, Gideon Belman finds himself stranded on Ormeshadow farm, an ancient land of chalk and ash and shadow. His uncle’s land crests the Orme, a buried, sleeping dragon that dreams resentment, jealousy, estrangement, death. Or so the folklore says. Growing up in a house that hates him, Gideon finds his only comforts in the land. Gideon will live or die by the Orme, as all his family has.

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby

From the author of Printz Medal winner Bone Gap comes the unforgettable story of two young women—one living, one dead—dealing with loss, desire, and the fragility of the American dream during WWII.

When Frankie’s mother died and her father left her and her siblings at an orphanage in Chicago, it was supposed to be only temporary—just long enough for him to get back on his feet and be able to provide for them once again. That’s why Frankie’s not prepared for the day that he arrives for his weekend visit with a new woman on his arm and out-of-state train tickets in his pocket.

Now Frankie and her sister, Toni, are abandoned alongside so many other orphans—two young, unwanted women doing everything they can to survive.

And as the embers of the Great Depression are kindled into the fires of World War II, and the shadows of injustice, poverty, and death walk the streets in broad daylight, it will be up to Frankie to find something worth holding on to in the ruins of this shattered America—every minute of every day spent wondering if the life she’s able to carve out will be enough.

I will admit I do not know the answer. But I will be watching, waiting to find out. 

That’s what ghosts do.

The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl by Theodora Goss

Mary Jekyll and the Athena Club race to save Alice—and foil a plot to unseat the Queen, in the electrifying conclusion to the trilogy that began with the Nebula Award finalist and Locus Award winner The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter.

Life’s always an adventure for the Athena Club…especially when one of their own has been kidnapped! After their thrilling European escapades rescuing Lucinda van Helsing, Mary Jekyll and her friends return home to discover that their friend and kitchen maid Alice has vanished— and so has their friend and employer Sherlock Holmes!

As they race to find Alice and bring her home safely, they discover that Alice and Sherlock’s kidnapping are only one small part of a plot that threatens Queen Victoria, and the very future of the British Empire. Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, Catherine, and Justine save their friends—and save the Empire? Find out in the final installment of the fantastic and memorable Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series.

The Girl with No Face by M. H. Boroson

The adventures of Li-lin, a Daoist priestess with the unique ability to see the spirit world, continue in the thrilling follow-up to the critically-acclaimed historical urban fantasy The Girl with Ghost Eyes.

It’s the end of the Nineteenth Century. San Francisco’s cobblestone streets are haunted, but Chinatown has an unlikely protector in a young Daoist priestess named Li-lin. Using only her martial arts training, spiritual magic, a sword made from peachwood, and the walking, talking spirit of a human eye, Li-lin stands alone to defend her immigrant community from supernatural threats.

Now Li-lin has gotten her hands on an amulet that makes its bearer bulletproof. But there’s a problem: the amulet is powered by a child’s soul. To save the spirit, Li-lin will have to voyage to Fengdu, the City of the Dead, but first she must protect the amulet from the gangsters who want it for themselves, her own father, a renowned Daoist exorcist who wants to destroy it, and the Ghostkeeper who created the amulet by murdering his own son.

With hard historical realism and meticulously researched depictions of Chinese monsters and magic that have never been written about in the English language, The Girl with No Face draws from the action-packed cinema of Hong Kong to create a compelling and unforgettable tale of historical fantasy and Chinese lore.

September 2019

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

In the early 1900s, a young woman searches for her place in the world after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.

“A gorgeous, aching love letter to stories, storytellers and the doors they lead us through…absolutely enchanting.” —Christina Henry, national bestselling author of Lost Boys and Alice

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

In his boldly imagined first novel, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me, brings home the most intimate evil of enslavement: the cleaving and separation of families.

Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her—but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.

So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the deep South to dangerously utopic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.

This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.

The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett

The Last Magician meets A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue in this thrilling tale filled with magic and set in the mysterious Carpathian Mountains where a girl must hunt down Vlad the Impaler’s cursed ring in order to save her father.

Some legends never die…

Traveling with her treasure-hunting father has always been a dream for Theodora. She’s read every book in his library, has an impressive knowledge of the world’s most sought-after relics, and has all the ambition in the world. What she doesn’t have is her father’s permission. That honor goes to her father’s nineteen-year-old protégé—and once-upon-a-time love of Theodora’s life—Huck Gallagher, while Theodora is left to sit alone in her hotel in Istanbul.

Until Huck arrives from an expedition without her father and enlists Theodora’s help in rescuing him. Armed with her father’s travel journal, the reluctant duo learns that her father had been digging up information on a legendary and magical ring that once belonged to Vlad the Impaler—more widely known as Dracula—and that it just might be the key to finding him.

Journeying into Romania, Theodora and Huck embark on a captivating adventure through Gothic villages and dark castles in the misty Carpathian Mountains to recover the notorious ring. But they aren’t the only ones who are searching for it. A secretive and dangerous occult society with a powerful link to Vlad the Impaler himself is hunting for it, too. And they will go to any lengths—including murder—to possess it.

The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

Seventeen-year-old Aderyn (“Ryn”) only cares about two things: her family, and her family’s graveyard. And right now, both are in dire straits. Since the death of their parents, Ryn and her siblings have been scraping together a meager existence as gravediggers in the remote village of Colbren, which sits at the foot of a harsh and deadly mountain range that was once home to the fae. The problem with being a gravedigger in Colbren, though, is that the dead don’t always stay dead.

The risen corpses are known as “bone houses,” and legend says that they’re the result of a decades-old curse. When Ellis, an apprentice mapmaker with a mysterious past, arrives in town, the bone houses attack with new ferocity. What is it about Ellis that draws them near? And more importantly, how can they be stopped for good?

Together, Ellis and Ryn embark on a journey that will take them deep into the heart of the mountains, where they will have to face both the curse and the long-hidden truths about themselves.

Brightfall by Jaime Lee Moyer

Someone is murdering the Merry Men – and if Marian doesn’t stop them, her children will be the next to die: a wonderful re-imagining of Robin Hood and Maid Marian, perfect for fans of Katherine Arden, Naomi Novik and Christina Henry.

It’s been a mostly quiet life since Robin Hood denounced Marian, his pregnant wife, and his former life and retreated to a monastery to repent his sins… although no one knows what he did that was so heinous he would leave behind Sherwood Forest and those he loved most.

But when friends from their outlaw days start dying, Father Tuck, now the Abbott of St. Mary’s, suspects a curse and begs Marian to use her magic to break it. A grieving Marian bargains for protection for her children before she sets out with a soldier who’s lost his faith, a trickster Fey lord and a sullen Robin Hood, angry at being drawn back into the real world.

Marian soon finds herself enmeshed in a maze of betrayals, tangled relationships and a vicious struggle for the Fey throne… and if she can’t find and stop the spell-caster, no protection in Sherwood Forest will be enough to save her children.

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

In 1941, during humanity’s darkest hour, three unforgettable young women must act with courage and love to survive, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Dovekeepers and The Marriage of Opposites Alice Hoffman. 

In Berlin, at the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. She finds her way to a renowned rabbi, but it’s his daughter, Ettie, who offers hope of salvation when she creates a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked.

Lea and Ava travel from Paris, where Lea meets her soulmate, to a convent in western France known for its silver roses; from a school in a mountaintop village where three thousand Jews were saved. Meanwhile, Ettie is in hiding, waiting to become the fighter she’s destined to be.

What does it mean to lose your mother? How much can one person sacrifice for love? In a world where evil can be found at every turn, we meet remarkable characters that take us on a stunning journey of loss and resistance, the fantastical and the mortal, in a place where all roads lead past the Angel of Death and love is never ending.

The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young

The new gut-wrenching epic from the New York Times bestselling author of Sky in the Deep.

For as long as she can remember, Tova has lived among the Svell, the people who found her washed ashore as a child and use her for her gift as a Truthtongue. Her own home and clan are long-faded memories, but the sacred symbols and staves inked over every inch of her skin mark her as one who can cast the rune stones and see into the future. She has found a fragile place among those who fear her, but when two clans to the east bury their age-old blood feud and join together as one, her world is dangerously close to collapse.

For the first time in generations, the leaders of the Svell are divided. Should they maintain peace or go to war with the allied clans to protect their newfound power? And when their chieftain looks to Tova to cast the stones, she sets into motion a series of events that will not only change the landscape of the mainland forever but will give her something she believed she could never have again—a home.

The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

A young woman is both a bard —and a warrior — in this thrilling historical fantasy from the author of the Sevenwaters novels.

Eighteen-year-old Liobhan is a powerful singer and an expert whistle player. Her brother has a voice to melt the hardest heart, and a rare talent on the harp. But Liobhan’s burning ambition is to join the elite warrior band on Swan Island. She and her brother train there to compete for places, and find themselves joining a mission while still candidates. Their unusual blend of skills makes them ideal for this particular job, which requires going undercover as traveling minstrels. For Swan Island trains both warriors and spies.

Their mission: to find and retrieve a precious harp, an ancient symbol of kingship, which has gone mysteriously missing. If the instrument is not played at the upcoming coronation, the candidate will not be accepted and the people could revolt. Faced with plotting courtiers and tight-lipped druids, an insightful storyteller, and a boorish Crown Prince, Liobhan soon realizes an Otherworld power may be meddling in the affairs of the kingdom. When ambition clashes with conscience, Liobhan must make a bold decision and is faced with a heartbreaking choice.

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Bound as one to love, honor, or burn.

Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou’s, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.

The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

And love makes fools of us all. 

American Royals by Katharine McGee

*No speculative elements in this one, but a clever alternate history worth including on this list!

What if America had a royal family?

When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne.

As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America’s first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life suddenly feels stifling.

Nobody cares about the spare except when she’s breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn’t care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her.

And then there’s Samantha’s twin, Prince Jefferson. If he’d been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.

August 2019

Song of the Abyss by Makiia Lucier

Ancient grievances, long-held grudges, and dangerous magic combine in this sweeping standalone fantasy perfect for fans of Tamora Pierce and Rachel Hartman.

They came in the night as she dreamt, in her berth, on a ship sailing home to del Mar. After, they would be all Reyna thought about: two carracks painted scorpion black. No emblem on either forecastle, no pennants flying above the mainmasts to hint at a kingdom of origin. 

Never a good sign.

As the granddaughter of a famed navigator, seventeen-year-old Reyna has always lived life on her own terms, despite those who say a girl could never be an explorer for the royal house of St. John del Mar. She is determined to prove them wrong, and as she returns home after a year-long expedition, she knows her dream is within reach. No longer an apprentice, instead: Reyna, Master Explorer.

But when menacing raiders attack her ship, those dreams are pushed aside. Reyna’s escape is both desperate and dangerous, and when next she sees her ship, a mystery rises from the deep. The sailors–her captain, her countrymen–have vanished. To find them, Reyna must use every resource at her disposal . . . including placing her trust in a handsome prince from a rival kingdom.

Together they uncover a disturbing truth. The attack was no isolated incident. Troubling signs point to a shadowy kingdom in the north, and for once, the rulers of the Sea of Magdalen agree: something must be done. But can Reyna be brave enough to find a way?

A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw

*I might be wrong that this is specifically historical fantasy, but it has that vibe.

Deacon James is a rambling bluesman straight from Georgia, a black man with troubles that he can’t escape, and music that won’t let him go. On a train to Arkham, he meets trouble — visions of nightmares, gaping mouths and grasping tendrils, and a madman who calls himself John Persons. According to the stranger, Deacon is carrying a seed in his head, a thing that will destroy the world if he lets it hatch.

The mad ravings chase Deacon to his next gig. His saxophone doesn’t call up his audience from their seats, it calls up monstrosities from across dimensions. As Deacon flees, chased by horrors and cultists, he stumbles upon a runaway girl, who is trying to escape her father, and the destiny he has waiting for her. Like Deacon, she carries something deep inside her, something twisted and dangerous. Together, they seek to leave Arkham, only to find the Thousand Young lurking in the woods.

The song in Deacon’s head is growing stronger, and soon he won’t be able to ignore it any more.

The Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang

The searing follow-up to 2018’s most celebrated fantasy debut – THE POPPY WAR.

In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted to opium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies.

With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do.

But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance.

The sequel to R.F. Kuang’s acclaimed debut THE POPPY WAR, THE DRAGON REPUBLIC combines the history of 20th-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating effect.

July 2019

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own. 

Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.

In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.

June 2019

The Great Eastern: A Novel by Howard A. Rodman

A dazzling, inventive literary adventure story in which Captain Ahab confronts Captain Nemo and the dark cultural stories represented by both characters are revealed in cliffhanger fashion.

A sprawling adventure pitting two of literature’s most iconic anti-heroes against each other: Captain Nemo and Captain Ahab. Caught between them: real-life British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, builder of the century’s greatest ship, The Great Eastern. But when he’s kidnapped by Nemo to help design a submarine with which to fight the laying of the Translatlantic cable – linking the two colonialist forces Nemo hates, England and the US – Brunel finds himself going up against his own ship, and the strange man hired to protect it, Captain Ahab, in a battle for the soul of the 19th century.

The Beholder by Anna Bright

Selah has waited her whole life for a happily ever after. As the only daughter of the leader of Potomac, she knows her duty is to find the perfect match, a partner who will help secure the future of her people. Now that day has finally come.

But after an excruciatingly public rejection from her closest childhood friend, Selah’s stepmother suggests an unthinkable solution: Selah must set sail across the Atlantic, where a series of potential suitors awaits—and if she doesn’t come home engaged, she shouldn’t come home at all.

From English castle gardens to the fjords of Norge, and under the eye of the dreaded Imperiya Yotne, Selah’s quest will be the journey of a lifetime. But her stepmother’s schemes aren’t the only secrets hiding belowdecks … and the stakes of her voyage may be higher than any happy ending.

The Last Tsar’s Dragons by Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple

It is the waning days of the Russian monarchy. A reckless man rules the land and his dragons rule the sky. Though the Tsar aims his dragons at his enemies—Jews and Bolsheviks—his entire country is catching fire. Conspiracies suffuse the royal court: bureaucrats jostle one another for power, the mad monk Rasputin schemes for the Tsar’s ear, and the desperate queen takes drastic measures to protect her family.

Revolution is in the air—and the Red Army is hatching its own weapons.

Discover Russia’s October Revolution reimagined in flight, brought to life by the acclaimed mother-and-son writing team of the Locus Award-winning novel, Pay the Piper, and the Seelie Wars series.

Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald

A magical love story, inspired by the legend of a woman who vanished from Grand Central Terminal, sweeps readers from the 1920s to World War II and beyond, in the spirit of The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

On a clear December morning in 1937, at the famous gold clock in Grand Central Terminal, Joe Reynolds, a hardworking railroad man from Queens, meets a vibrant young woman who seems mysteriously out of place. Nora Lansing is a Manhattan socialite whose flapper clothing, pearl earrings, and talk of the Roaring Twenties don’t seem to match the bleak mood of Depression-era New York. Captivated by Nora from her first electric touch, Joe despairs when he tries to walk her home and she disappears. Finding her again—and again—will become the focus of his love and his life.

Nora, an aspiring artist and fiercely independent, is shocked to find she’s somehow been trapped, her presence in the terminal governed by rules she cannot fathom. It isn’t until she meets Joe that she begins to understand the effect that time is having on her, and the possible connections to the workings of Grand Central and the solar phenomenon known as Manhattanhenge, when the sun rises or sets between the city’s skyscrapers, aligned perfectly with the streets below.

As thousands of visitors pass under the famous celestial blue ceiling each day, Joe and Nora create a life unlike any they could have imagined. With infinite love in a finite space, they take full advantage of the “Terminal City” within a city, dining at the Oyster Bar, visiting the Whispering Gallery, and making a home at the Biltmore Hotel. But when the construction of another landmark threatens their future, Nora and Joe are forced to test the limits of freedom and love.

Delving into Grand Central Terminal’s rich past, Lisa Grunwald crafts a masterful historical novel about a love affair that defies age, class, place, and even time.

The Porpoise by Mark Haddon

From the Whitbread and Los Angeles Times Prize-winning author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time , a stunningly ambitious, fantastical novel about the theft of female agency by rapacious men and the ways in which archetypal stories can warp history and the present 

Mark Haddon’s breathtaking novel begins with a harrowing plane crash: Maja, the pregnant wife of the unimaginably wealthy Philippe, is killed, but their daughter Angelica survives. Philippe’s obsession with the girl’s safety morphs into something sinister and grotesque as she grows into a beautiful teen. A young man named Darius, visiting Philippe with a business proposition, encounters Angelica and intuits their secret — he decides to rescue her, but the attempt goes awry and he flees England by sea.

This contemporary story mirrors the ancient legend of Antiochus, whose love for the daughter of his dead wife was discovered by the adventurer Appolinus of Tyre. The tale appeared in many forms through the ages; Apollinus becoming the swashbuckling Pericles in Shakespeare’s eponymous play. In The Porpoise, as Angelique comes to terms with a life imprisoned on her father’s estate, Darius morphs into Pericles, voyaging through a mythic world. In a bravura feat of storytelling, Haddon recounts his many exploits in thrilling fashion, mining the meaning of the old legends while creating parallels with the monstrous modern world Angelica inhabits.

The Women of Dauphine by Deb Jannerson

When Cassie’s family moves into a decrepit house in New Orleans, the only upside is her new best friend. Gem is witty, attractive, and sure not to abandon Cassie—after all, she’s been confined to the old house since her murder in the ’60s.

As their connection becomes romantic, Cassie must keep more and more secrets from her religious community, which hates ghosts almost as much as it hates gays. Even if their relationship prevails over volatile parents and brutal conversion therapy, it may not outlast time.

May 2019

The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad

Fatima lives in the city of Noor, a thriving stop along the Silk Road. There the music of myriad languages fills the air, and people of all faiths weave their lives together. However, the city bears scars of its recent past, when the chaotic tribe of Shayateen djinn slaughtered its entire population — except for Fatima and two other humans. Now ruled by a new maharajah, Noor is protected from the Shayateen by the Ifrit, djinn of order and reason, and by their commander, Zulfikar.

But when one of the most potent of the Ifrit dies, Fatima is changed in ways she cannot fathom, ways that scare even those who love her. Oud in hand, Fatima is drawn into the intrigues of the maharajah and his sister, the affairs of Zulfikar and the djinn, and the dangers of a magical battlefield.

Nafiza Azad weaves an immersive tale of magic and the importance of names; fiercely independent women; and, perhaps most importantly, the work for harmony within a city of a thousand cultures and cadences.

Lent by Jo Walton

From Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award-winning Jo Walton comes Lent, a magical re-imagining of the man who remade fifteenth-century Florence—in all its astonishing strangeness

Young Girolamo’s life is a series of miracles.

It’s a miracle that he can see demons, plain as day, and that he can cast them out with the force of his will. It’s a miracle that he’s friends with Pico della Mirandola, the Count of Concordia. It’s a miracle that when Girolamo visits the deathbed of Lorenzo “the Magnificent,” the dying Medici is wreathed in celestial light, a surprise to everyone, Lorenzo included. It’s a miracle that when Charles VIII of France invades northern Italy, Girolamo meets him in the field, and convinces him to not only spare Florence but also protect it. It’s a miracle than whenever Girolamo preaches, crowds swoon. It’s a miracle that, despite the Pope’s determination to bring young Girolamo to heel, he’s still on the loose… and, now, running Florence in all but name.

That’s only the beginning. Because Girolamo Savanarola is not who—or what—he thinks he is. He will discover the truth about himself at the most startling possible time. And this will be only the beginning of his many lives.

Romanov by Nadine Brandes

The history books say I died.

They don’t know the half of it.
 

Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are to either release the spell and deal with the consequences, or enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction to Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her.

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad . . . and he’s on the other. 

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay

International bestselling author Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest work is set in a world evoking early Renaissance Italy and offers an extraordinary cast of characters whose lives come together through destiny, love, and ambition.

In a chamber overlooking the nighttime waterways of a maritime city, a man looks back on his youth and the people who shaped his life. Danio Cerra’s intelligence won him entry to a renowned school even though he was only the son of a tailor. He took service at the court of a ruling count–and soon learned why that man was known  as the Beast. 

Danio’s fate changed the moment he saw and recognized Adria Ripoli as she entered the count’s chambers one autumn night–intending to kill. Born to power, Adria had chosen, instead of a life of comfort, one of danger–and freedom. Which is how she encounters Danio in a perilous time and place.

Vivid figures share the unfolding story. Among them: a healer determined to defy her expected lot; a charming, frivolous son of immense wealth; a powerful religious leader more decadent than devout; and, affecting all these lives and many more,  two larger-than-life mercenary commanders, lifelong adversaries, whose rivalry puts a world in the balance.

A Brightness Long Ago offers both compelling drama and deeply moving reflections on the nature of memory, the choices we make in life, and the role played by the turning of Fortune’s wheel. 

Westside by W. M. Akers

It’s 1921, and a thirteen-mile fence running the length of Broadway splits the island of Manhattan, separating the prosperous Eastside from the Westside—an overgrown wasteland whose hostility to modern technology gives it the flavor of old New York. Thousands have disappeared here, and the respectable have fled, leaving behind the killers, thieves, poets, painters, drunks, and those too poor or desperate to leave.

Against this backdrop, A young detective who specializes in “tiny mysteries” finds herself at the center of a massive conspiracy in this beguiling historical fantasy set on Manhattan’s Westside—a peculiar and dangerous neighborhood home to strange magic and stranger residents—that blends the vivid atmosphere of Caleb Carr with the imaginative power of Neil Gaiman.

New York is dying, and the one woman who can save it has smaller things on her mind.

Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang

Technically, this is classified as science fiction. However, this collection is Scheherazade-like with nested stories and rich historical detail, so I’m including it as something I’d expect readers of speculative historical fiction to enjoy.

From an award-winning science fiction writer (whose short story “The Story of Your Life” was the basis for the Academy Award-nominated movie Arrival), the long-awaited new collection of stunningly original, humane, and already celebrated short stories

This much-anticipated second collection of stories is signature Ted Chiang, full of revelatory ideas and deeply sympathetic characters. In “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” a portal through time forces a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad to grapple with past mistakes and the temptation of second chances. In the epistolary “Exhalation,” an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications not just for his own people, but for all of reality. And in “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a woman cares for an artificial intelligence over twenty years, elevating a faddish digital pet into what might be a true living being. Also included are two brand-new stories: “Omphalos” and “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom.”

In this fantastical and elegant collection, Ted Chiang wrestles with the oldest questions on earth—What is the nature of the universe? What does it mean to be human?—and ones that no one else has even imagined. And, each in its own way, the stories prove that complex and thoughtful science fiction can rise to new heights of beauty, meaning, and compassion.

April 2019

Beneath the World, a Sea by Chris Beckett

South America, 1990. Ben Ronson, a British police officer, arrives in a mysterious forest to investigate a spate of killings of a local species called the Duendes. They are silent, vaguely humanoid creatures – with long limbs and black button eyes – that have a strange psychic effect on people, exposing them to their suppressed thoughts and fears.

The crimes have taken place in a landscape known as the Delta and to reach it Ben has crossed the Zone, a territory which wipes the memories of all who pass through. He remembers nothing of the preceding days; what he did or felt or saw.

Ben is uneasy about what he may have done in the Zone and avoids opening the diaries he kept whilst there, busying himself with the investigation instead. He becomes fascinated by the Duendes, but the closer he gets, the more he begins to unravel. As the Delta starts to take hold of his mind, Ben becomes increasingly haunted by the unopened diaries and the terrible secrets they might hold…

The Raven’s Tale by Cat Winters

Seventeen-year-old Edgar Poe counts down the days until he can escape his foster family—the wealthy Allans of Richmond, Virginia. He hungers for his upcoming life as a student at the prestigious new university, almost as much as he longs to marry his beloved Elmira Royster. However, on the brink of his departure, all his plans go awry when a macabre Muse named Lenore appears to him. Muses are frightful creatures that lead Artists down a path of ruin and disgrace, and no respectable person could possibly understand or accept them. But Lenore steps out of the shadows with one request: “Let them see me!”

The Murmur of Bees by Sofía Segovia

From a beguiling voice in Mexican fiction comes an astonishing novel—her first to be translated into English—about a mysterious child with the power to change a family’s history in a country on the verge of revolution.

From the day old Nana Reja found a baby abandoned under a bridge, the life of a small Mexican village forever changed. Disfigured and covered in a blanket of bees, little Simonopio is for some locals the stuff of superstition, a child kissed by the devil. But he is welcomed by landowners Francisco and Beatriz Morales, who adopt him and care for him as if he were their own. As he grows up, Simonopio becomes a cause for wonder to the Morales family, because when the uncannily gifted child closes his eyes, he can see what no one else can—visions of all that’s yet to come, both beautiful and dangerous. Followed by his protective swarm of bees and living to deliver his adoptive family from threats—both human and those of nature—Simonopio’s purpose in Linares will, in time, be divined.

Set against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution and the devastating influenza of 1918, The Murmur of Bees captures both the fate of a country in flux and the destiny of one family that has put their love, faith, and future in the unbelievable.

Through the White Wood by Jessica Leake

Katya’s power to freeze anything she touches has made her an outcast in her isolated village. And when she loses control of her ability, accidentally killing several villagers, she is banished to the palace of the terrifying Prince Sasha in Kiev. 

At the castle, though, she is surprised to find that Sasha is just like her—with his own strange talent, the ability to summon fire. Instead of punishment, Sasha offers Katya friendship, and the chance to embrace her power rather than fear it. 

But outside the walls of Kiev, Sasha’s enemies have organized their own army of people who can control the very earth. Bent on taking over the entire world, they won’t stop until they’ve destroyed everything. 

Katya and Sasha are desperate to stop the encroaching army, and together their powers are a fearsome weapon. But as their enemies draw nearer, leaving destruction in their wake, will fire and frost be enough to save the world? Or will they lose everything they hold dear?

The Time Collector by Gwendolyn Womack

A thrilling page-turner from Gwendolyn Womack, the USA Today bestselling author of The Fortune Teller

Travel through time with the touch of a hand.

Roan West was born with an extraordinary gift: he can perceive the past of any object he touches. A highly skilled pyschometrist, he uses his talents to find and sell valuable antiques, but his quiet life in New Orleans is about to change. Stuart, a fellow pyschometrist and Roan’s close friend, has used his own abilities to unearth several out-of-place-artifacts or “ooparts”—like a ring that once belonged to the seventeenth-century mathematician and philosopher René Descartes, but was found buried in prehistoric bedrock.

The relics challenge recorded history, but soon after the discovery, Stuart disappears, making him one of several psychometrists who have recently died or vanished without a trace. When Roan comes across a viral video of a young woman who has discovered a priceless pocket watch just by “sensing” it, he knows he has to warn her—but will Melicent Tilpin listen? And can Roan find Stuart before it’s too late?

The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris

The compelling new novel from the author of the bestselling Chocolat.

Vianne Rocher has settled down. Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, the place that once rejected her, has finally become her home. With Rosette, her ‘special’ child, she runs her chocolate shop in the square, talks to her friends on the river, is part of the community. Even Reynaud, the priest, has become a friend.

But when old Narcisse, the florist, dies, leaving a parcel of land to Rosette and a written confession to Reynaud, the life of the sleepy village is once more thrown into disarray. The arrival of Narcisse’s relatives, the departure of an old friend and the opening of a mysterious new shop in the place of the florist’s across the square – one that mirrors the chocolaterie, and has a strange appeal of its own – all seem to herald some kind of change: a confrontation, a turbulence – even, perhaps, a murder…

The Sword and the Dagger by Robert Cochran

When empires clash, 
a Princess, a Knight, and an Assassin 
embark on the quest of a lifetime 

During the time of the Crusades, an unlikely trio—a Christian princess, her affianced prince, and a Muslim assassin—embarks on a quest to the court of the most fearsome warrior the world has ever known, Genghis Khan.

A rousing tale of adventure and romance about three young people who must grapple with fundamental issues of loyalty, friendship, faith, honor, and courage against the backdrop of conflicts that still resonate today.

March 2019

The True Queen by Zen Cho

In the follow-up to the “delightful” Regency fantasy novel (NPR.org) Sorcerer to the Crown, a young woman with no memories of her past finds herself embroiled in dangerous politics in England and the land of the fae. 

When sisters Muna and Sakti wake up on the peaceful beach of the island of Janda Baik, they can’t remember anything, except that they are bound as only sisters can be. They have been cursed by an unknown enchanter, and slowly Sakti starts to fade away. The only hope of saving her is to go to distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal has established an academy to train women in magic.

If Muna is to save her sister, she must learn to navigate high society, and trick the English magicians into believing she is a magical prodigy. As she’s drawn into their intrigues, she must uncover the secrets of her past, and journey into a world with more magic than she had ever dreamed. 

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

New from the award-winning author of Alif the Unseen and writer of the Ms. Marvel series, G. Willow Wilson

Set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultanate in the Iberian peninsula, The Bird King is the story of Fatima, the only remaining Circassian concubine to the sultan, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker. 

Hassan has a secret–he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?

As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate.

Sherwood by Meagan Spooner

Robin of Locksley is dead.

Maid Marian doesn’t know how she’ll go on, but the people of Locksley town, persecuted by the Sheriff of Nottingham, need a protector. And the dreadful Guy of Gisborne, the Sheriff’s right hand, wishes to step into Robin’s shoes as Lord of Locksley andMarian’s fiancé.

Who is there to stop them?

Marian never meant to tread in Robin’s footsteps—never intended to stand as a beacon of hope to those awaiting his triumphant return. But with a sweep of his green cloak and the flash of her sword, Marian makes the choice to become her own hero: Robin Hood.

Lovely War by Julie Berry

A sweeping, multi-layered romance with a divine twist, by the Printz Honor-winning author of The Passion of Dolssa, set in the perilous days of World Wars I and II.

It’s 1917, and World War I is at its zenith when Hazel and James first catch sight of each other at a London party. She’s a shy and talented pianist; he’s a newly minted soldier with dreams of becoming an architect. When they fall in love, it’s immediate and deep—and cut short when James is shipped off to the killing fields.

Aubrey Edwards is also headed toward the trenches. A gifted musician who’s played Carnegie Hall, he’s a member of the 15th New York Infantry, an all-African-American regiment being sent to Europe to help end the Great War. Love is the last thing on his mind. But that’s before he meets Colette Fournier, a Belgian chanteuse who’s already survived unspeakable tragedy at the hands of the Germans.

Thirty years after these four lovers’ fates collide, the Greek goddess Aphrodite tells their stories to her husband, Hephaestus, and her lover, Ares, in a luxe Manhattan hotel room at the height of World War II. She seeks to answer the age-old question: Why are Love and War eternally drawn to one another? But her quest for a conclusion that will satisfy her jealous husband uncovers a multi-threaded tale of prejudice, trauma, and music and reveals that War is no match for the power of Love.

Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett

“A haunting story that reimagines the consequences of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.”

After the tempest, after the reunion, after her father drowned his books, Miranda was meant to enter a brave new world. Naples awaited her, and Ferdinand, and a throne. Instead she finds herself in Milan, in her father’s castle, surrounded by hostile servants who treat her like a ghost. Whispers cling to her like spiderwebs, whispers that carry her dead mother’s name. And though he promised to give away his power, Milan is once again contorting around Prospero’s dark arts. With only Dorothea, her sole companion and confidant to aid her, Miranda must cut through the mystery and find the truth about her father, her mother, and herself.

February 2019

Spectacle by Jodie Lynn Zdrok

A YA murder mystery in which a young reporter must use her supernatural visions to help track down a killer targeting the young women of Paris.

Paris, 1887.

Sixteen-year-old Nathalie Baudin writes the daily morgue column for Le Petit Journal. Her job is to summarize each day’s new arrivals, a task she finds both fascinating and routine. That is, until the day she has a vision of the newest body, a young woman, being murdered–from the perspective of the murderer himself.

When the body of another woman is retrieved from the Seine days later, Paris begins to buzz with rumors that this victim may not be the last. Nathalie’s search for answers sends her down a long, twisty road involving her mentally ill aunt, a brilliant but deluded scientist, and eventually into the Parisian Catacombs. As the killer continues to haunt the streets of Paris, it becomes clear that Nathalie’s strange new ability may make her the only one who can discover the killer’s identity–and she’ll have to do it before she becomes a target herself.

The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf

A music-loving teen with OCD does everything she can to find her way back to her mother during the historic race riots in 1969 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in this heart-pounding literary debut.

Melati Ahmad looks like your typical moviegoing, Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old. Unlike most other sixteen-year-olds though, Mel also believes that she harbors a djinn inside her, one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother’s death unless she adheres to an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping to keep him satisfied.

But there are things that Melati can’t protect her mother from. On the evening of May 13th, 1969, racial tensions in her home city of Kuala Lumpur boil over. The Chinese and Malays are at war, and Mel and her mother become separated by a city in flames. 

With a 24-hour curfew in place and all lines of communication down, it will take the help of a Chinese boy named Vincent and all of the courage and grit in Melati’s arsenal to overcome the violence on the streets, her own prejudices, and her djinn’s surging power to make it back to the one person she can’t risk losing.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

In the stunning first novel in Marlon James’s Dark Star trilogy, myth, fantasy, and history come together to explore what happens when a mercenary is hired to find a missing child. 

Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose,” people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard.

As Tracker follows the boy’s scent—from one ancient city to another; into dense forests and across deep rivers—he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? And perhaps the most important questions of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying?

Drawing from African history and mythology and his own rich imagination, Marlon James has written a saga of breathtaking adventure that’s also an ambitious, involving read. Defying categorization and full of unforgettable characters, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is both surprising and profound as it explores the fundamentals of truths, the limits of power, the excesses of ambition, and our need to understand them all.

An Affair of Poisons by Addie Thorley

No one looks kindly on the killer of a king.

After unwittingly helping her mother poison King Louis XIV, seventeen-year-old alchemist Mirabelle Monvoisin is forced to see her mother’s Shadow Society in a horrifying new light: they’re not heroes of the people, as they’ve always claimed to be, but murderers. Herself included. Mira tries to ease her guilt by brewing helpful curatives, but her hunger tonics and headache remedies cannot right past wrongs or save the dissenters her mother vows to purge.

Royal bastard Josse de Bourbon is more kitchen boy than fils de France. But when the Shadow Society assassinates the Sun King and half of the royal court, he must become the prince he was never meant to be in order to save his injured sisters and the petulant dauphin. Forced to hide in the sewers beneath the city, Josse’s hope of reclaiming Paris seems impossible―until his path collides with Mirabelle’s.

She’s a deadly poisoner. He’s a bastard prince. They are sworn enemies, yet they form a tenuous pact to unite the commoners and former nobility against the Shadow Society. But can a rebellion built on mistrust ever hope to succeed?

Enchantée by Gita Trelease

Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries—and magicians…

When smallpox kills her parents, Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her frail, naive sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on petty magic—la magie ordinaire—Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy the food and medicine they need. But when the coins won’t hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family’s savings, Camille must pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

With dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for la magie. There, she gambles at cards, desperate to have enough to keep herself and her sister safe. Yet the longer she stays at court, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile her resentment of the nobles with the enchantments of Versailles. And when she returns to Paris, Camille meets a handsome young balloonist—who dares her to hope that love and liberty may both be possible.

But la magie has its costs. And when Camille loses control of her secrets, the game she’s playing turns deadly. Then revolution erupts, and she must choose—love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, freedom or magic—before Paris burns…

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

A sweeping historical novel about a dancehall girl and an orphan boy whose fates entangle over an old Chinese superstition about men who turn into tigers.

When 11-year-old Ren’s master dies, he makes one last request of his Chinese houseboy: that Ren find his severed finger, lost years ago in an accident, and reunite it with his body. Ren has 49 days, or else his master’s soul will roam the earth, unable to rest in peace.

Ji Lin always wanted to be a doctor, but as a girl in 1930s Malaysia, apprentice dressmaker is a more suitable occupation. Secretly, though, Ji Lin also moonlights as a dancehall girl to help pay off her beloved mother’s Mahjong debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir: a severed finger. Convinced the finger is bad luck, Ji Lin enlists the help of her erstwhile stepbrother to return it to its rightful owner.

As the 49 days tick down, and a prowling tiger wreaks havoc on the town, Ji Lin and Ren’s lives intertwine in ways they could never have imagined. Propulsive and lushly written, The Night Tiger explores colonialism and independence, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry and first love. Braided through with Chinese folklore and a tantalizing mystery, this novel is a page-turner of the highest order. 

January 2019

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

No one believes in them. But soon no one will forget them.

It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.

Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history–but only if they can stay alive.

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Book Reviews, Publications

Loving the Stranger Beside You (Ploughshares Blog)

My article “Loving the Stranger Beside You: Han Kang’s The Vegetarian has been posted on the Ploughshares blog! I -loved- this eerie, beautiful book. Here’s a snippet of what I had to say about it:

In The Vegetarian, a collection of three linked novellas, author Han Kang creates and then protects an open moral space between Yeong-hye’s sudden conversion to vegetarianism and her family’s perception of it. Is Yeong-hye wrong to become such an extreme vegetarian that she eventually tries to subsist on nothing but sunlight and water? Is she crazy? Is she selfish? Are her family members wrong to respond as they do to her radical decision?

Each novella is told from a different point of view: Yeong-hye’s husband Mr. Cheong, then her brother-in-law, then her sister In-hye. What can be known of Yeong-hye’s vegetarianism is pieced together little by little, from narrator to narrator: She has a recurring, violent dream of eating raw meat. She and her sister sometimes have flashbacks to violent moments in their childhood, such as the time her family killed and consumed a dog that bit Yeong-hye. Yeong-hye is diagnosed with schizophrenia, but the doctors don’t understand why she refuses to eat. Yeong-hye wants to turn into a tree. Yeong-hye doesn’t want to sleep with her husband because he smells like meat, but she will sleep with her sister’s husband when he paints flowers on her body. She believes trees hug the earth with roots like arms, so she, too, balances in a handstand for as long as possible, saying, “All the trees of the world are like brothers and sisters.” Continue reading…

Han Kang is a South Korean writer who won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016 for this book. I am looking forward to reading her latest book Human Acts, which continues to explore how societal violence is expressed in a single person’s life (in this case, the death of a student during a student uprising).

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Book Reviews, Publications

From the Ghosts’ Point of View (Ploughshares blog)

My essay, “From the Ghosts’ Point of View: A Brief History of Seven Killings” is now available on the Ploughshares blog. Thanks for reading! Related: the featured image on this blog post comes from David Burnett’s gorgeous photo essay found here, from the same era during which the events in A Brief History of Seven Killings take place.

In a book that promises by its very title and opening lines that many characters will be expected to die, the author has to do some coaxing to convince readers that they can invest emotionally in the story. Marlon James achieves this in A Brief History of Seven Killings by breaking the sound barrier of the grave. Readers often don’t know whether a character is still alive or dead until after the character has already been talking for a while. That very open-endedness makes it possible to empathize with these characters even after the (more than) seven promised killings take place.

Marlon James is unafraid to confront death from the first page onward and then invite readers to care anyway. Clues to practically every death in the 686-page book appear in those first few pages: “fifty-six bullets,” “a burned cockroach,” a scream that “stops right at the gate of his teeth.” In sharing this, I’m giving away nothing that James himself doesn’t already give away. Reader, you’ve been warned. But, reader, don’t shy away. This is a story with heart.

From the moment the first narrator, Sir Arthur Jennings, announces in his opening lines that ghosts “never stop talking” and that “when you’re dead speech is nothing but tangents and detours,” readers cannot be certain they are listening to someone alive or dead. The readers figuratively take the role of the living who “sometimes hear” the dead speaking when they are half-awake or near death themselves. Continue reading…

Since reading A Brief History of Seven Killings earlier this year, this book shot up to my “top 5” favorites list. It is an incredible accomplishment, driven almost entirely by voice rather than by a traditional plot. Needless to say, I am now dying to read his forthcoming African fantasy trilogy, which also let’s the cat out of the bag about a death, while still inviting readers to care:

“The very, very basic plot is [that] this slave trader hires a bunch of mercenaries to track down a kid who may have been kidnapped,” he told the US magazine in an interview. “But finding him takes nine years, and at the end of it, the kid is dead. And the whole novel is trying to figure out: ‘How did this happen?’”

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