The House of Binding Thorns, by Aliette de Bodard

Beneath
the waters of Paris, there be dragons. 
After her discovery in The House
of Shattered Wings
, Madeleine is forced to confront the existence of the
Viet dragon kingdom beneath the waters of the Seine, and comes face-to-face
with what it really means to be a member of a House, having returned to
Hawthorn after twenty years of purgatory in House Silverspires.  Magic rules Paris, more completely than
even the Fallen could imagine, but intrigue is the most powerful force of all.

With
the events that brought House Silverspires low behind them but not forgotten,
Madeleine and Philippe have little in common—she as a dependent of Hawthorne
again, he houseless and living in a community of other Viet people—but they
find themselves on the trail of another mystery.  People are disappearing with no discernible reason, and
someone is sabotaging the dragon kingdom. 
De Bodard has crafted another gothic mystery with diverse and colorful
threads, a page-turner full of unforgettable characters who spring from all
walks of life—human and divine—and demand the reader’s full attention.

De
Bodard’s writing is character-centered, her language eliciting the sights,
sounds, and feelings of a Paris ravaged by magical warfare, unsafe for anyone,
especially those not protected by a House, but somehow safer than leaving the
city.  Though the story twists and
turns like a gothic mystery, it is also satisfyingly well-packaged, all the
pieces falling into place in a way that keeps the reader interested while
tantalizing them further into the puzzle. 

Readers
who fell under the spell of The House of
Shattered Wings
will need no enticement to dive into The House of Binding Thorns, keen to know what happens to Madeleine
and Philippe next.  This novel
imagines worlds within and upon worlds, a quality sure to appeal to those who
love fantasy based on fairytales, folklore, and legend.  Anyone looking for alternate history
with angels and demons aplenty need look no further than the Dominion series,
and though it’s possible to jump straight in with this volume, even more
satisfaction comes from starting at the beginning.

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Neither Here Nor There, by Cat Rambo

Dip into the many worlds of Cat Rambo in this collection of short stories, many originally published in themed anthologies, all glimpses into fantastic worlds of myth, legend, and memory.  Will you find yourself in the world of a hyper-intelligent mechanical man who runs on the energy of highly valuable phlogiston?  Or in the city of Serendib where anything is possible, trailing along in the wake of the Dark, once the most skilled assassin in all the world?  Or in another place entirely?

Whimsy connects these stories, no matter where they take the reader, even in the darkest haunts and most disturbing recesses of the human mind.  Rambo writes as though storytelling truly were a joy and a gift, reveling in the possibilities of fantasy and folklore.  Many of her stories are connected by the worlds in which they take place, such as the steampunk environment of Elspeth and Artemus, Pinkerton detectives seeking criminals in a world of werewolves, vampires, and other supernatural creatures.  In stories such as these, the everyday turns to horror; in other stories what is accepted is subverted—common points of view are turned inside out and power lies with those not usually given such luxury.

In Neither Here Nor There, Rambo shows skill in writing more mythic fantasy, distanced from the real world by both time and the pervasiveness of the fantastic, but also with more contemporary urban fantasy; such stories as “The Coffeemaker’s Passion,” “Elections at Villa Encantada,” and “So Glad We Had This Time Together” share a fascination with the mundane and prove that any story can become a fantasy story, with the right measure of imagination and skill. Rambo’s writing is reminiscent of such writers as Katherine Addison, Elizabeth Bear, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Catherynne M. Valente.

Readers looking for short bursts of high-concentration fantasy need look no further than Rambo’s newest short story collection.  Those who enjoy a wide variety of fantasy genres are sure to find their next favorite story in Neither Here Nor There.  This collection is a gift that keeps on giving, and would make a great addition to anyone’s fantasy shelf.

Certain Dark Things, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Domingo
is a street kid in Mexico City, the last bastion of vampire-free Mexico, and
indeed most of the Americas.  But
Domingo is more worried about finding enough recyclable trash in the landfill
to sell to the rag-and-bone man, to get money for food every day.  So why does he say hi to a young woman
one day on the subway, and why does he go home with her just because she
asks?  Domingo’s life is about to
get a lot more complicated.

Revenants,
Nachzehrers, Necros, Tlahuihpochtli—all are on the move, looking to carve out
new kingdoms for themselves in countries that, if not friendly to vampires, at
least are not outright hostile. 
Sometimes, vampires and humans get caught in the middle of the
fighting.  Ana, a cop who cut her
teeth dealing with vampires in other Mexican cities, has come to Mexico City to
settle down into a more subdued life. 
Atl, part of the ancient Mexican Tlahuihpochtli, ran to Mexico City to
escape a war between her kind and the Necros.  But her headlong run stirs up old hatreds—and creatures—long
thought dead. 

Moreno-Garcia’s
narrative prose is simple, clean, using multiple character viewpoints to tell a
story about radically different world than the one we know.  Her use of world vampire myths to build
this world is subtle, yet effective; she uses one of the oldest tricks in the
book to alienate the reader and build tension that holds the
attention—providing hints of a deeper world of doubt and unknowns that is far
more disturbing than a book of openly described horrors.  It is what the reader doesn’t know, can
only imagine, that builds the horror elements in this novel. 

Lovers
of vampire stories will enjoy how the novel incorporates world vampire lore
with well-known vampire and horror tropes.  Those who like to read near-future or alternate history
science fiction and fantasy will find themselves pulled into this world full of
monsters who are so like humans and yet much more.  Anyone looking for a well-crafted story that escapes the
familiar U.S. settings and characters should check out this Central
America-centric novel about universal themes.

A Darker Shade of Magic, by V. E. Schwab

In
a world where the color of your eyes—one of them, at least—can pull you from
poverty into the royal palace, Kell is little short of a prince.  Magic is the force that moves the world
in Kell’s London, and part of what makes it so wondrous.  And he should know, being one of the
few in all the worlds who has seen them all.  White, Grey, Red, all except for Black London, of course.  Lila Bard is a thief and pickpocket
living in the London Kell knows as Grey, dreaming of getting out of her life of
poverty, of having a ship and all the world at her fingertips. That dream seems
pretty far off, until Lila picks the wrong pocket, and gets more than a trinket
to fence.

Kell
and Lila’s adventures take them through all of London’s permutations, from the
all but magic-less, to the cup overflowing with magic of all kinds, to the
world where magic is a hunted creature that might very well turn around and
hunt the person trying to capture it. 
Along the way they learn more about themselves, battling their inner
demons as well as the servants of a dark magic trying to use them on its way to
greater power. 

Schwab
has written a true page-turner that relies on characters who are willing to
make snap decisions.  Combined with
the novel’s meditation on the nature of magic, good, and evil, this is an
impressive feat.  The story finds
its strength in two main characters who can think on their feet, and whose
quick movement through the worlds doesn’t seem contrived or rushed.  Readers get to savor the implications
of Lila and Kell’s experiences and relationships, while the characters
themselves get down to the business of saving the world.

With
all the Londons to explore—and the implications of the parallel worlds they
link, this novel is bigger on the inside. 
Fans of time travel and portal fantasy alike will enjoy the speculative
nature of A Darker Shade of Magic.  Lovers of London-based fiction or
alternate history should definitely check out this novel.  It contains some of the classic themes
of magic fiction, tipping slightly into the horror side of the fantastic, and
leaving plenty of room for speculation and imagination.

Talon, by Julie Kagawa

In
a unique take on traditional fantasy dragon stories, Ember Hill and her twin
Dante are young dragons tasked with learning how to be human, and where better
to do that than among the young and beautiful of Southern California?  In Talon,
Kagawa adapts many of the traditional tropes about dragons to create a world in
which they are not simply fantastical, covetous, dangerous monsters, but where
they live among us and infiltrate human civilization itself.

As
wards of their human guardians, Ember and Dante spend the summer surfing and
hanging out with their new friends—teenagers of the beautiful, rich set whose
parents have beach homes and few rules—all the while harboring deep secrets
about their real natures.  While
Dante seems to adapt easily, Ember has more trouble coming to terms with her
double life, and a rebellious spirit that proves irresistible to human and
dragon alike.  Meanwhile, Garrett
is a member of the secret military organization St. George, whose mission is to
find and kill all dragons.  Sparks
fly when Ember and Garrett meet, and each must make difficult choices about
whether to accept the truth as they’ve both been told about their enemies, or
to question authority. 

While
certain aspects of Ember and Dante’s otherness as dragons could have been
better realized, Kagawa has crafted a story with well-rounded, if somewhat
stereotypical characters.  Teens
who like a good forbidden love story will enjoy Kagawa’s rendering of the Romeo
& Juliet trope.  Talon hints at a new interpretation of
many aspects of history and fantasy that is intriguing enough to keep the
reader involved, and the supporting characters in the story help to drive the
plot in a way that feels natural. 
Ember is a compelling character, willing to take chances and fight back,
making for a suspenseful read as the chance that she will assume her true form
and fight tantalizes the reader, and Kawaga has set the story up well for a
sequel.

Readers
looking for a strong female lead and new take on an old story will enjoy Talon. 
Kagawa’s themes of conspiracy and questioning rules will appeal to
many teen readers.  With stories of
surfing and summer fun, Talon makes a
great summer beach read to keep the back-to-school blues at bay.

The House of the Four Winds, by Mercedes Lackey

The House of the Four Winds is the firstin new fantasy series called The Dozen Daughters.  Being the story of Princess Clarice of Swansgaard, who goes
forth to seek her fortune because her parents’ kingdom is destined to pass to
her infant brother, thirteenth of thirteen children and sole heir, The House of the Four Winds is the
epitome of low adventure fantasy. 
The setting is an alternate version of Earth, the magic is blend of
alchemy and sorcery called thaumaturgy; the men are men and the women are
women, except when a radiantly beautiful princess decides to masquerade as a
young man in order to seek adventure on a ship bound for the new world.  Clarice makes a striking figure as a
woman or a man, and is determined to see the world and find a place in it.

As
the rules of adventure fantasy dictate, The
House of the Four Winds
is a love story first and foremost, with dashes of
danger, magic, and adventure sprinkled in.  The writing is solid, with no obvious plot holes—as we’d
expect from a veteran writer like Lackey—and the narrative connects all the
necessary dots.  For readers who
enjoy this type of fantasy story, much like Pullman’s His Dark Materials
trilogy in the ways it partakes of real history and geography but with a
fantasy twist, it is a satisfying read. 
The characters, though many of them are obvious types, react in
realistic ways to their circumstances and the narrative builds just enough
mystery at the beginning to create the desired moment of reveal towards the
end. 

 While
being a swashbuckling romance that requires the reader to suspend disbelief a
bit, the novel avoids some pitfalls of the genre by not over-privileging the
male gaze, especially when talking about Clarice and how she fits in on the
ship as Clarence.  It may become a
little frustrating for readers expecting an adventure story with a woman
protagonist when Clarice starts moping about lovelorn and considers giving up
her plans for a vocation upon realizing she’s in love with one of her
shipmates.  The gender-bending part
of the plot may also prove frustrating for readers who are gender non-binary or
familiar with current experiences of trans and non-binary people and the
politics of passing as one gender or another.  Clarice is miraculously able to start out as a beautiful
eighteen-year-old princess, transform into a teenage boy well enough to fool
everyone she encounters, and then change back into a stunningly beautiful woman
and have everyone accept her, quite a feat for someone who lives in such a
patriarchal culture that a princess can’t even ascend to the throne in her own
country.

 The House of the Four Winds would be
enjoyed by readers who liked previous works of Mercedes Lackey and other
authors like her, such as Robert Jordan, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Anne
McCaffrey.  It would also be
enjoyable to romance readers of the adventurous (narrative) sort.  Pack it on your next trip to the beach
for a few enjoyable hours.