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Five Earth-shaking, Epic Books to Read After The Fifth Season

So, you’ve inhaled N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. Maybe you’ve read The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky too—and found the books in The Inheritance Trilogy and the Dreamblood duology. What next? We’ve got you covered! Read on below, and remember that all these books will be in our on-site conference bookstore next week.

1. The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

On the surface, The House of Shattered Wings might not feel similar, but look beyond the Paris setting in aftermath of a devastating war between fallen angels, you’ll find one of the finest explorations of colonialism in fantasy. There’s an elegance to de Bodard’s writing with intrigue, court politics and icy antiheroes, but what’ll stay with you most are the ruminations on displacement, ownership of one’s self, and belonging.

2. The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

In this standalone prequel to Okorafor’s award-winning Who Fears Death, Phoenix is a two-year-old “accelerated human” with a body of a 40-year-old, a scientific experiment built by a government-backed corporation. She lives in Tower Seven with other genetic specimens, also usually of African descent. The Book of Phoenix expertly combines mythology, religion and futurism with contemporary racial and gender politics and a revenge story for the ages. And yes, not unlike orogenes, she also has the immense power to destroy the world.

3. Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

No epic fantasy list would be complete without Kate Elliott’s many intricately crafted sagas, but we find her young adult series Court of Fives (and sequels Poisoned Blade and Buried Heart) to be among her best. With immersive world-building with inspirations from Ancient Egypt and the tensions between the native population and the Patron upper class, Jessamy’s mixed-race family is at the crux of rebellion and political change. We also think the obelisks would wink at the Fives court.

4. Monstress by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda

If you want vengeance, you’ll have a ball with Raika Halfwolf, the Arcanic protagonist and former slave girl.  Arcanics are a mixed race between humans and the immortal, animal-shaped Ancients, and though some of them “pass” as human, their bodies are systematically used for magical experiments. With large realms, an extensive cast and expert meta-commentary on race and politics, it’s just as well that Monstress is a comic, with sumptuous visuals to pore over.

5. The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley

This all-female space opera has alien tech, organic ships, and no small dose of messy bio-evolution and body horror.  Zan wakes up a prisoner on a ship with people who say they love her, while Jayd also finds herself navigating dangerous political schemes among the Legion. It seems pretty far removed from The Fifth Season, but it’s innovative, eye-opening, gruesome, and visceral—and you probably haven’t read anything like it before.

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Badass Ladies, Liminal Magic

By Victoria Schwab (@veschwab)
When it comes to my tastes, the strange and magical will always take the cake. Here’s a list of titles where strong female protagonists of all ages learn to wield their power.
 

The Bear and the Nightengale
1. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Blackbirds
2. Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
Sabriel
3. Sabriel by Garth Nix
The Girl Who Drank the Moon
4. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Skullsworn
5. Skullsworn by Brian Staveley
 Deathless
6. Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

 
Victoria Schwab (also known as V. E. Schwab) is the product of a British mother, a Beverly Hills father, and a southern upbringing. Her first young adult novel, The Near Witch, was a dark original fairy tale and her next one, The Archived, is about a world where the dead are shelved like books (and has a sequel, The Unbound). Victoria’s first adult novel, Vicious, is about two brilliant and highly disturbed pre-med students who set out to generate their own superpowers and end up as mortal enemies; the series will continue with Vengeful, expected to be published in 2018. Vicious received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which named the novel one of its best books of 2013 for SF/Fantasy/Horror; the American Library Association’s Reference and User Services Association awarded it the top fantasy book in their 2014 Reading List. The first book in her adult series, A Darker Shade of Magic, is about Kell, a magician who can move through multiple versions of London, and Lila, the pickpocket who steals a talisman that could end them all (its sequels are A Gathering of Shadows, which is already out, and A Conjuring of Light, expected to be published in 2017). Most recently, Victoria published the first book in the Monsters of Verity Duology, This Savage Song, in 2016; the sequel, Our Dark Duet, is expected in 2017. When she’s not haunting Paris streets or trudging up English hillsides, Victoria’s usually tucked in the corner of a coffee shop, dreaming up monsters. She loves fairy tales, folklore, and stories that make her wonder if the world is really as it seems.

 

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Young Adult Novels That Defined My Young Adulthood

By Zoraida Córdova (@zlikeinzorro)

As an author of young adult books, I’m often asked, “Why write YA?” The answer is simple: young adult novels are versatile; they span countless genres and subject matters; and these books contain some of the strongest protagonists out there. I started writing as a young adult and the protagonist was always me. Years have gone by, but I still find it’s my voice. Here are some of the teen novels that defined my teen years.

 

In the Forests of the Night
1. In the Forests of the Night by Amelia Atwater Rhodes
Published when the author was 14 years old, In the Forests of the Night is one of the reasons I became a writer. When I first read it I was obsessed with anything vampire and fell in love the with the mysterious world of the Den of Shadows. Risika was turned into a vampire as a teen, and has spent 300 years living a quiet (vampiric) life. But when a black rose appears on her doorstep, the same thing that appeared on the night she was turned, she knows she’s being followed. It’s time for her to confront her past. I haven’t read it in years, but when I lost my copy in a move a few years ago I HAD to replace it. This was the book that let me know I could be a writer even though I was only 13, just like the author when she started.
Hawksong
2. Hawksong by Amelia Atwater Rhodes
This is a fantasy retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but with two royal shapeshifters—an avian queen and a cobra king. They marry to create peace between their warring kingdoms only to discover that peace is not so easily won. It’s a really short read, and the way YA books are now, it would probably be a novella.
Sirena
3. Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli
And this is where the mermaid obsession progresses. I hadn’t read a novel about a mermaid before. It was also the first sex scene (though the sex was alluded) that I’d read in my early teen years. Sirena saves a human and nurses him back to health. He’s from an ancient Greek ship (if I recall correctly). The way the romance is developed is beautiful.
Blood and Chocolate
4. Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause
Vivian Gandillon is confident in her skin and sexuality, and loves the way her body changes into a wolf’s under the full moon. This book marked the first time I’d ever seen this on the page: a girl who was undeniably herself, but suffering from the loss of her father and pack leader. She’s desired by the wolves in her pack, but can’t help falling for a “meat-boy” from her high school, Aiden. Aiden is sweet, charming, and innocent, but he doesn’t fit in her world. As she tries to determine her place, Vivian deals with pack politics and the desire to reveal her true form to Aiden, a choice that could endanger everyone she cares for.
Tithe
5. Tithe by Holly Black
At this point in my life, I hadn’t been introduced to urban fantasy like this. Holly Black’s combination of beautiful fairies and the grit of the city changed the way I saw my own stories. This is one of the defining books for my writing career because it let me see where I fit in the fantasy genre. Plus, Roiben was my original fairy boyfriend, before Legolas.

 
Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. She is the author of The Vicious Deep trilogy, which centers around Tristan, who discovers his heritage and is thrown into a battle going on beneath the ocean, fighting for his future, his friends, and his life. Her other works include the On the Verge series, which are about 20-something-year-old-girls searching for love and the meaning of life, and Labyrinth Lost, about Alex, a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation who hates magic so much that she performs a spell to rid herself of her power. Zoraida loves black coffee and snark, and still believes in magic. She is a contributing writer to Latinos in Kid Lit because #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Zoraida studied at Hunter College and the University of Montana in Missoula.

 

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Seven Feminist Fantasy Buddy Novels

By Catherine Lundoff (@clundoff)

The earliest female buddy stories in fantasy were often, but not always, portrayed the pairing of a warrior and a sorceress. This pairing was fairly common in 1980s fantasy novels well before Xena first aired in 1995 with its own spin on the trope. These novels, the Sword and Sorceress anthologies and related works, broke some new story telling ground by portraying female protagonists as colleagues, comrades in arms, BFFS and sometimes, as lovers. Some of them were very definitely products of their time (biological essentialism tends to turn up a lot, for one thing, as do rape and revenge plots), but here’s a few that I remember fondly and occasionally reread.

 

 FrostflowerAndThorn
1. Frostflower and Thorn by Phyllis Ann Karr (originally published in 1980), begins with the titular characters making a bargain wherein the celibate sorceress Frostflower magically accelerates warrior Thorn’s unwanted pregnancy so that she can have the child. Wacky hijinks ensue and they go on the run from evil priests and sundry villains out to thwart their efforts to build their alternative not-quite family. The two are never a couple in the romantic sense but they do go on to have several more books worth of adventures.
TheOathbound
2. Vows and Honor series by Mercedes Lackey. (Published between 1988-1989. The series that launched a thousand ships. Kethry the sorceress has a sword that compels her to come to the aid of women in need. It drives her to find and help the warrior Tarma and they become allies. And together, they fight crime! Or more specifically, crimes against women! They become platonic soulmates (remember that it was late 1980s) as well as comrades in arms and adventure. This was the most popular female buddy series of its time and a lot of later stories were modeled on it. If you read and liked Lackey’s other Valdemar books, you’ll probably like these too. If you haven’t read the others, you might give these a try as a starting point and see if they speak to you.
 Silverglass
3. The Silverglass novels by J.F. Rivkin were a four volume series (remember that books were shorter in those days so we’re not talking doorstops here), published between 1986 and 1991. Rivkin was a pseudonym for several authors writing together and separately – their identity has never been revealed. The books themselves are lively sword and sorcery tales featuring the mighty warrior Corson brenn Torisk and her employer, the sorceress Lady Nyctasia. They engage in a fast-paced series of adventures in which they are comrades, occasionally lovers and occasionally foes. I remember loving them when I originally ran across them because they were the first fantasies that I had encountered with bisexual women protagonists and they’re a fast and jolly read, by and large, though they bog down a bit on plot coherence in the later books.
 TheCage
4. The Cage by S.M. Stirling and Shirley Meier (1991) is one of the Fifth Millenium series by the same authors and others. I know I read the others, but this was the one that I reread and recommended to others. Megan and Shkai’ra are comrades and lovers caught up in a complex plot to extract revenge on Megan’s erstwhile subordinate and rapist, Habiku, who has also stolen her trading empire. This book originally stood out for me because both women are bi and they create a polyamorous family as the series moves along. But it was also memorable because the story is an interesting and relatively sympathetic take on one character’s (understandable) obsession with vengeance following extreme trauma and the effect it has on her and her loved ones. Bit of a tip of the hat to Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.
 TheSteerswoman
5. The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein. 1989-present (new book coming soonish). Maps, cartography, walking (so much walking!), friendship and the fantasy equivalent of cultural ethnography! Also, fighting evil magicians while doing all the other stuff! Rowan the cartographer and Bel, the warrior from the Outskirts, travel their fantasy land making maps, finding new groups of people to talk to and discovering what may or may not be magical or alien artifacts. If you need to shut this world off for a while and get lost in a different one, I heartily recommend this series. I heartily recommend it anyway because it’s pretty good and it’s kind of unique in the genre.
 GossamerAxe
6. Gossamer Axe by Gail Baudino (1990). Because sometimes the only possible answer is to form a magical heavy metal band with your gal pals to break your girlfriend and One True Love out of Faery. This is definitely a music-lover’s book and it has some lovely scenes in it. It can also be quite…preachy and has some issues. But I really enjoyed it the first few times I read it, and you might too. Plus, it’s kind of a classic of queer fantasy and will give you stuff to talk about at potlucks, once those make a comeback.
 DancingJack
7. Dancing Jack by Laurie Marks. I pretty much just love this novel and therefore everyone should read it. Ash is a magic user and recovering revolutionary who joins forces with a female riverboat captain on a quest to stop a civil war. They become friends and partners, then lovers, and the writing is up to Mark’s usual standard. Damned good fantasy that should be better known.

Catherine Lundoff is a Minneapolis-based award-winning writer and editor. Her stories and articles have appeared in such venues as Respectable Horror, The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Professor Moriarty, The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper Stories, The Cainite Conspiracies: A Vampire the Masquerade V20 Anthology, Callisto: A Queer Fiction Journal, Tales of the Unanticipated, Nightmare Magazine: Queers Destroy Horror and SF Signal. Her books include Silver Moon, A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace and Other Stories, and Out of This World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories. Website: www.catherinelundoff.com
 

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Six Authors That Nail Folklore Retellings

By Casey Blair (@CaseyLBlair)

Fairytale and folklore retellings, while legion, are hard to do well. As with any kind of adaptation, it’s not enough to capture what makes the original work: authors have to bring something new to get me excited about the familiar and often highly problematic originals. These are some that I think nail it.

 

EntreatMe
1. I find Beauty and the Beast pretty creepy, but when I saw Grace Draven — hands-down my favorite fantasy romance writer — had written a take, I decided to give it a shot. Entreat Me doesn’t disappoint, engaging with the problematic tropes of the original and twisting them into a story I adored.
BryonyandRoses
2. In Bryony and Roses, T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon) accepts the source material’s problematic tropes outright and re-casts them, incorporating them as world-building obstacles our heroine has to overcome. I did not realize going in that with this take on Beauty and the Beast I was signing up for a straight-up comedy, but I snickered through the entire book. In this interpretation, our heroine is a gardener who couldn’t care less about fancy dresses but will declare war on invasive rose vines, and I for one would not dream of standing in her way.
Star-TouchedQueen
3. In The Star-Touched Queen, Roshani Chokshi draws on a number of Hindu myths (Savitri and Satyavan, Shiva and Parvati, and parts of the Ramayana, to name a few). Rather than retelling any particular story, Chokshi has taken threads from many and woven them together into a story that is thoroughly steeped in Hindu myth but also thoroughly unique, written in gorgeous, magical prose.
LettersToZell
4. Letters to Zell by Camille Griep also pulls from multiple sources, but this time they’re Disney princesses’ stories being woven together. This epistolary novel is an alternatingly hilarious and heart-wrenching story of three women learning to navigate the expectations their society has thrust upon them of what their happily-ever-after should look like and find their own path in a world that thinks their stories are over.
CrimsonBound
5. Rosamund Hodge’s Crimson Bound starts with seeds from Little Red Riding Hood — as well as a few other fairytales — and then veers sharply into its own direction. Rachelle is broken and dauntless and I love her to pieces. On top of all the magic and sword-fighting, in this dark fantasy Hodge also does great work with disability, class, and religion against a backdrop of a medieval French-esque culture.
TheWrathandtheDawn
6. Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn shares a premise with A Thousand and One Nights, but this is not a simple retelling. Between the stories told at night, there is dark magic at work, and it’s up to the bold Shahrzad to keep their world from falling apart — and to save the caliph she wants desperately to hate. Romance and intrigue tie together to make for a thrilling story.

Casey Blair writes speculative fiction novels for adults and teens. She is a graduate of Vassar College and of the Viable Paradise residential science fiction and fantasy writing workshop. After teaching English in rural Japan for two years, she relocated to the Seattle area. She is prone to spontaneous dancing, exploring ancient cities around the world, wandering and adventuring through mountains, spoiling cats terribly, and drinking inordinate amounts of tea late into the night.

 

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My Women-in-Fantasy Book List, by Renée Ahdieh

By Renée Ahdieh (@rahdieh)

 AnEmberintheAshes
1. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
 TheWinnersCurse
2. The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
 SixofCrows
3. Sis of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
 Uprooted
4. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
 TheKissofDeception
5. The Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson
 DaughterofSmokeandBone
6. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Star-TouchedQueen
7. The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
 ACourtofThornsandRoses
8. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
 AndIDarken
9. And I Darken by Kiersten White

Renée Ahdieh is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her young adult fantasy novel The Wrath and the Dawn is a sumptuous and epically told love story centered around Shahrzad and her quest for revenge (and is inspired by A Thousand and One Nights). The sequel, The Rose and the Dagger, was released in May 2016.

 

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My favorite books (and authors), by Laurie J. Marks

By Laurie J. Marks

These are fantasy or science fiction novels that I read over and over again. Some are relatively new and some have been around for years. They have a few characteristics in common: They transcend the tropes of science fiction or fantasy; they are imaginatively plotted, beautifully written, and filled with vivid and memorable characters; and they are (mostly) by women authors, with woman protagonists.
 

 TheDazzleofDay
1. The Dazzle of Day by Molly Gloss (Tor, 1998)
Gloss is an amazing stylist. In this novel, she presents a thoroughly realized and believable culture at three different stages. The prologue is one character’s meditation on the ecologically devastated planet she is abandoning just before she leaves to board the spaceship, never to return. The body of the novel tells the story, through four points of view, of the crisis that challenges the culture when, after 175 years of space travel, they arrive at a possible destination. The epilogue is a character’s meditation about a difficult day, several generations later. The vast scope of this book is balanced by its close attention to the everyday experiences of its very ordinary characters. Another excellent book by Molly Gloss (a historically grounded page-turner that doesn’t seem like science fiction at all): Wild Life (Mariner Books, 2001).
 SarahCanary
2. Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler (Putnam, 2004)
Karen Joy Fowler edits collections and writes short stories as well as novels. As far as I know, this is the only book she has written that can be classified as science fiction, although, like Gloss’s Wild Life, it could also be classed as historical, with a science fiction component so subtle you could miss it entirely. I loved this book from the beginning because it is profoundly funny, sometimes because of the ridiculous (but believable) things people do, sometimes in the peculiar characters that people it, and especially in the way that all the characters choose to understand the mysterious woman, Sarah Canary, in whatever manner best suits their needs. Most of Fowler’s fiction is realistic, also beautiful and hilarious. I highly recommend her short stories, which are collected in Black Glass and What I Didn’t See.
 AmongOthers
3. Among Others by Jo Walton (Tor, 2011)
Typically, fantasy stories end when the evil witch is overcome, but this is a story about the aftermath. Set in Wales and England in the 1970s, it follows 15-year-old Mori during the year or so after a magical battle in which she and her identical twin vanquished the evil witch (their mother) but her twin was killed and Mori was crippled. For Mori, the real world is populated by fairies, which are wild and strange and not particularly good friends to her. As she figures out how to live under the care of a father she never knew (and his really weird sisters), and struggles to get settled into an English boarding school, which is every bit as alien an environment as the space ship in Dazzle of Day, she longs for a group to belong with, and discovers that her mother isn’t done yet, and her beloved sister isn’t totally gone. It’s a riveting and haunting story, a book for book lovers, about book lovers. Jo Walton has written and continues to write a lot of books, and I am happy to read them. This one is extraordinary.
 TheRoad
4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Knopf, 2006)
I had never read anything by McCarthy, and I stumbled across this book because I enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction…don’t ask me why. I didn’t even realize that this book—by an author who has not written any other science fiction—was a bestseller, won the Pulitzer, and was made into a movie. This is a gritty and grim story of a father and his young son, engaged in a desperate day-to-day struggle for survival. In the physical and spiritual darkness of their world, as human civilization gradually grinds to a halt, the father’s heroic love for his son is blindingly bright and completely compelling.
 FreedomMaze
5. The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman
Delia Sherman is a prolific writer of short stories and novels, and all of them are sensational for their historicism, sensitivity, and style. In The Freedom Maze, set in 1960 Louisiana, young Sophie is transported into 1860, is mistaken for a slave, and must survive and help her fellow slaves survive on a southern plantation. Sherman grapples with some difficult racial issues, but what matters most in this beautiful book is the strength of the characters. This is a powerful coming of age story, one that transports its readers into two eras, each of them alien and grim, but also shot through with beauty. I admire everything Sherman has written, such as The Porcelain Dove, a masterpiece of historical/fantasy. Her more recent books (such as The Evil Wizard Smallbone) are primarily YA, but her intelligence, wit, and style are always appealing to and appreciated by adults. She writes with great sympathy about the very human experience of young people who are making their way through fantastical places—many of them in or near New York City.
 UnLunDun
6. Un Lun Dun by China Mieville
In Un Lun Dun, China Mieville’s amazing inventiveness and love for the grotesque are displayed in a fast-moving narrative that turns the traditional quest story on its ear. Deeba is not supposed to be the hero of this story—she’s supposed to be the sidekick—but she ends up on a journey to save the City of London that is reminiscent of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth, and The Wizard of Oz. In the city below London, almost anything (including an empty milk carton) can be alive and have a personality, and the most unlikely things are dangerous—giraffes and broken umbrellas, to give two examples. I really like some of Mieville’s other books, such as Perdido Street Station and The City & The City, but this is by far my favorite.
 TheSteerswoman
7. The Steerswoman Series by Rosemary R. Kirstein
Kirstein is continuing to write this series, which currently consists of four books, but each book has its own discrete plot while also being connected to the whole. Rowan, the central character of the series, comes upon some mysterious jewels, and her effort to figure out what they are launches her on a journey to understand her world. Kirstein tells an engaging and exciting tale about how people know things, and about what happens when the accepted explanation of reality seems to be in conflict with the facts. She simultaneously uses her reader’s expectations of fantasy vs. science fiction to demonstrate the ways that shifting expectations change how we understand the story. Rowan’s journey of discovery through her landscape–sometimes familiar to us and sometimes alien—is recounted in The Steerswoman, The Outskirter’s Secret, The Lost Steersman, and The Language of Power. Kirstein is a careful and vivid storyteller, and her short fiction also is worth seeking out.
 TheGirlintheRoad
8. The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne
I find this book gripping and mind-bending, a completely different kind of science fiction that, despite being set on this planet in the near future, is sometimes overwhelming in its alienness. Part of that strangeness comes from the vivid first-person narratives that reveal some very strange internal landscapes. The novel’s two story-lines both are travelogues; one of a young woman who is walking across the ocean, and one of a young girl who on an arduous land journey by truck, and both of them are unreliable narrators. This book is a book that must be dug into, but it’s worth it. This is Byrne’s first novel, and it won the Tiptree award. She also writes plays, short fiction, and essays.
 Swordspoint
9. Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
I have a complaint: Kushner doesn’t publish enough books. Her first book, Swordspoint, is still my favorite, but I love her stylish writing and eccentric characters, and in the subsequent books, the Privilege of the Sword, and The Fall of the Kings (with Delia Sherman), she portrays the world of Riverside with fondness and clarity. She also wrote a marvelous retelling of the Thomas the Rhymer ballad, and numerous short stories. All this, plus she is a delightful and engaging human being who belongs on a stage…and perhaps that’s why she doesn’t publish more.
 AmericanGods
10. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
In American Gods, Gaiman mines numerous mythological traditions to populate the commonplace landscape of middle America with supernatural beings—gods—who, being degraded from their original forms, are forced to make a living in various peculiar ways. (I particularly like the cluster of gods who work as surprisingly endearing undertakers.) Shadow, recently released from prison, finds himself working for one of these gods, Mr. Wednesday, which lands him in the middle of a brewing supernatural battle. Gaiman’s prose is powerful and his creativity animates and reinvigorates the legends with great conviction. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is another of my favorites by this successful author.
 BlackWine
11. Black Wine by Candas Dorsey
Black Wine is one of the most beautifully-written books I have ever read, the much-deserved recipient of multiple awards, including the Tiptree. Dorsey tells a complex, interwoven tale of five generations of women who discover each other and themselves in experiences lovely and awful, and their lives enlighten each other in ways you never expect. This book is difficult to categorize: its realistic narrative is set in a vividly realized imagined world that’s free of both science fiction and fantasy tropes. Candas also has another novel, A Paradigm of Earth, and she is an acclaimed poet, essayist, and short-story writer.
 Ancillary
12. Imperial Radch series by Ann Leckie
The three books of this trilogy are titled Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy. This science fiction trilogy is like nothing you have ever read before: a story of power and cultural usurpation, but also of profound humanity. Its point of view character is uniquely devised and realized, and the narrative succeeds as few have done in presenting a genuinely gender-blind tale. Not only do we never know the sex of the narrator; we never know the sex of any but a few characters (and even that is uncertain). Leckie ingeniously solved the language problem by using the feminine gender for all characters, and by having the point of view character acknowledge her own inability to distinguish the sexes. But never mind this marvelous solution; the narrative itself seems genderless as well, presenting a space opera that should be classic masculine science fiction, except that the artificial intelligences whose story this is, and whose characters are so fully realized, are distinctively feminine in their concern for people and the quality of human life. This wonderful series is utterly unique, and if you haven’t read these books, prepare to be delighted.

Laurie J. Marks’s Elemental Logic series is set in the world of Shaftal. The elements of fire, earth, water, and air have sustained the peaceful people of Shaftal for generations, but Shaftal has been overrun, and the ancient logic of the land is being replaced by the logic of hatred. Laurie’s novel Fire Logic, the first in the series, won the Gaylactic Spectrum Award for best novel in 2003, and Earth Logic, the second in the series, won the same award in 2005. The third in the series, Water Logic, was included on the honor list for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award in 2007, and the final book, Air Logic, is currently a work in progress. Laurie’s other works include Dancing Jack, about a girl who is trying in vain to forget a past filled with bloodshed and rebellion, and was short-listed for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award in 1993; The Watcher’s Mask, about a two-souled person on a journey of self-awareness that will lead her to discover the true nature of her race; and The Children of the Triad series (Delan the Mislaid, The Moonbane Mage, and Ara’s Field), where the Walkers ruled the land, the Aeyrie soared the skies, and the Mer reigned over the seas. Laurie currently teaches writing at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

 

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Five Books With Thieves That Will Steal Your Heart

By Casey Blair (@CaseyLBlair)

Thieves have the most fun—or at least the most fun stories. There is a time and place for dark and serious fantasy, but sometimes I just want a rollicking adventure story. These are some of my favorite reads that are just plain fun.
 

TheSpiritThief
1. The Spirit Thief is the first of the (completed) Legend of Eli Monpress series by Rachel Aaron. Eli Monpress is striving to be the greatest thief in the world, and hot on his tail is Miranda Lyonette, my favorite sorceress in fiction ever because no matter what she just will. not. quit. I love the anime-esque magic system, the heist shenanigans, and most of all how Aaron ups the stakes for each character with every book. Eli may be the titular character, and there’s a lot of epicness to go around, but it is 100% the women in this series you have to watch out for.
DeathoftheNecromancer
2. The Death of the Necromancer is a stand-alone novel by Martha Wells, and if you’ve never read any of her work this is a great place to start. When events conspire to ruin the master plan professional thieves Madeline and Nicholas Valiarde have devoted years to, they find themselves neck-deep in dealing with sorcery—as well as with an irritatingly observant inspector and his doctor companion who’ve been trying to catch them for years. I also loved reading a story about two characters already married at the start of the book, with a romance subplot that wasn’t about their getting together.
Sunbolt
3. Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani is the first installment in its series (and the sequel Memories of Ash is just as good). Hitomi is a thief on the streets working with a shadow resistance, but she has a secret even from her fellow rebels: she’s a sorcerer, and she is far more dangerous than even she knows—yet. This series portrays cultures and settings inspired by places all over the world, weaving them together beautifully, and it complicates familiar tropes into intriguing new dimensions, making for an immensely satisfying heroine’s journey.
LhindtheThief
4. Sherwood Smith’s Lhind the Thief has everything. It’s incredibly fast-paced, with adventures that take us across the sea, through forests, and into castles and cultures all around protagonist Lhind’s world. There are dazzling escapes and awe-inspiring feats of sorcery; political intrigue, secret histories, and daring friendships; moments that made my heart twist in sympathy for Lhind and moments where I laughed aloud; and it’s all told in Lhind’s witty and charming voice. The sequel Lhind the Spy is just as delightful, and I highly recommend them both.
ADarkerShadeofMagic
5. No list of fantasy novels about thieves having adventures could possibly be complete without A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab. Lila Bard is going to have adventure at any cost, she’s going to be a pirate because being a pirate sounds awesome, and she’s going to learn magic through sheer force of willing the world to fall in line. She is the best kind of compelling protagonist: she has dreams, and she reaches out and seizes them. This series is set in parallel fantastical Londons, and while the world design is fascinating it’s the characters that make this book and its sequel A Gathering of Shadows sing.

Casey Blair writes speculative fiction novels for adults and teens. She is a graduate of Vassar College and of the Viable Paradise residential science fiction and fantasy writing workshop. After teaching English in rural Japan for two years, she relocated to the Seattle area. She is prone to spontaneous dancing, exploring ancient cities around the world, wandering and adventuring through mountains, spoiling cats terribly, and drinking inordinate amounts of tea late into the night.

 

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Five Comics Trade Collections I Can’t Wait to Read

By Sabrina Chin

I enjoy comics because they combine storytelling with arts and graphics, and I find that the combination helps your imagination as the story unfolds. Here are just few comics collections whose descriptions have caught my eye and made it on to my to-read pile.
 

Thor
1. Thor Vol. 1: The Goddess of Thunder by Jason Aaron
Thor Odinson, the God of Thunder is unable to lift his hammer, Mjolnir, as he is found to be unworthy as something dark has befallen him. However, it looks like a mysterious woman is able to lift the hammer and transform into an all-new version of the mighty Thor as the Goddess of Thunder. Who is this woman who leads the fight against the Frost Giants who invade Earth? This is also the first female Thor.

Ms Marvel
2. Ms. Marvel Vol. 1-11 (collected) by G. Willow Wilson
Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Pakistani-American from Jersey City, New Jersey, is the fourth character to take on the name Ms. Marvel. These first few issues center on her origin story as she comes to terms with her powers.

Lumberjanes
3. Lumberjanes Vol. 1 by Noelle Stevenson
Lumberjanes follows Mal, Ripley, Molly, April, and Jo, a group of girls spending a summer at a scout camp, and the strange creatures and supernatural phenomena they encounter there.

Steven Universe
4. Steven Universe Vol. 1 by Jeremy Sorese and Rebecca Sugar
Steven Universe is anything but normal! This first volume follows Steven as he learns how to save the day with the help of Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl, and what it means it be a great friend and neighbor. Includes bike races and late night karaoke!

Gotham Academy
5. Gotham Academy Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan
Gotham Academy is the most prestigious school in Gotham City funded by Bruce Wayne. Only the best and brightest students attend, where they study in classrooms, explore secret passages, and summon terrifying spirits. Sounds like some adventures to be had while at school!

Sabrina Chin works full time as a software developer for a telecommunications company located in the Washington, DC, area. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science and completed her master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University. Sabrina has been volunteering for conferences in a technical capacity since 2003. She oversaw the creation and maintenance of the conference websites for Phoenix Rising, Terminus, and Sirens, including the registration, submission, and other back-end systems. In the little spare time found between working and volunteering, she enjoys reading a range of young adult, science fiction, fantasy, and graphic novels.
 

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In the Blur: The Space Where Fantasy, Sci Fi, and Reality Meet

By Kiini Ibura Salaam (@KiiniIbura)

I love sci fi with a soul, fantasy with a brain, reality that’s a little bit skewed. My list is a mash up of sci fi, fantasy, and reality—all featuring situations where the world is atilt and the characters are somewhat dazed as they are trying to regain their footing in a shifting world.

 

TheWindupGirl
1. The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
Set in a dystopic future, this amazingly layered novel features vibrant memorable characters living in a fantastical sci fi world full of difficult situations where “right” and “wrong” are almost impossible to categorize. The book focuses on a seed hunter, looking for heirloom seeds in Southeast Asia for corporations who control food. In his quest, he comes across a Wind-Up Girl, a robot with a soul. Conceptually fascinating and extremely well-written, The Wind-Up Girl is an convincing meditation on the confluence of forces that destabilize reality and destroy lives. The imagery, characters, and plot provide rich fodder for conversation on the transformative nature of oppression. When the world as we know it has been destroyed, and the destructive forces whose greed caused the collapse of the world are continuing on their paths of dominance, survival trumps all.
BoySnowBird
2. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Unique characters, stunning imagination, and a confident, clear vision makes Boy, Snow, Bird an engrossing read. Taking Snow White as a muse, Oyeyemi tells a multigenerational family story exploring identity and the relationships between women. Her creativity is boundless and her appetite for the strange and lightly sinister is insatiable. Despite my issues with some of the intentionality of tone with the writing, the strangeness of the story won me over. A full-on fiction experience that you can surrender to as it leads you through a bewildering maze of storytelling.
Saga
3. Saga, graphic novel series by Brian K Vaughn, illustrated by Fiona Staples
Gorgeous images, interplanetary travel, star crossed lovers, what’s not to love. In the graphic novel series Saga, lovers from opposite sides of a war escape their respective armies to have a forbidden child. Chaos ensues, mercenaries follow, and along the way there is death, rescue, ghosts, and traveling trees. Fantasy and sci-fi mix in this intergenerational tale of love, history, family, war, and space travel. A cover-to-cover delight of story telling and visual imagery.
Zeitoun
4. Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers, the story of an immigrant businessman who stayed behind in New Orleans after the levees broke is not fantasy or sci fi, but it may as well be. Fantasy draws from our world and this harrowing story shows what happens when reality splits in two. A heartbreaking tale of how a people abandoned, became hunted and imprisoned. The psychological wounds remain in the city (my home town). It was necessary reading for me.
Inkdeath
5. Inkdeath, final book in the Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke
A fantastic fantasy world inside a book brings to life so many rich characters and images that thrill and delight. Don’t be dissuaded if the first book does not fully deliver on its promise. With much of it set in our world, it provides just a taste of what’s to come. Inkspell dives headlong into the world inside the book and Inkdeath brings the series to a spellbinding, satisfying, and moving conclusion.
TheHundredThousandKingdoms
6. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
The author’s fierce imagination fuels this smart, engrossing tale of gods, demons, and mortals in a fractured, complex world. The sense of place is physical, the communities are tightly drawn, and the conflicts and dangers are palpable. Fascinating relationships, multidimensional world, layered characters and connections, and relevant musings on humanity makes The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms a lucid, imaginative, intelligent read.
MySoultoKeep
7. My Soul to Keep and The Living Blood by Tananrive Due
Immortals who can share their gift of blood—though it is taboo to do so—walk among everyday people and, in rare cases, infiltrate their lives. What happens when an immortal is called away from his mortal family, but he does not want to leave them in danger? This page-turner explores the clash between fantastical beings and everyday life—what would you do if the love of your life was not what you thought he was—was not even your species? One of those books you inhale and immediately want to know what happens next.

Kiini Ibura Salaam is a writer, painter, and traveler from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work encompasses speculative fiction, erotica, creative nonfiction, and poetry. Kiini’s writing is rooted in eroticism, speculative events and worlds, and women’s perspectives. Her speculative fiction has been included in publications such as Dark Matter, Mojo: Conjure Stories, Dark Eros, FEMSPEC, Ideomancer.com, infinitematrix.com, and PodCastle.org. Her first short fiction collection, Ancient, Ancient, was co-winner of the James Tiptree, Jr. Award in 2012; a collection titled When the World Wounds will be released in 2016. Kiini’s creative nonfiction speaks to her two passions: the freedom of women and the freedom of the creative spirit. In essays about date rape, sexual harassment, and the power of the word “no,” Kiini explores the complex layers of societal norms that negatively impact women’s lives. These essays have been published in EssenceMs., and Colonize This! Her creative nonfiction has been included in college curricula in the areas of women’s studies, anthropology, history, and English. For the past ten years, Kiini has written the KIS.list, an e-column that explores the writing life and encourages readers to fulfill their dreams. She works as an editor and copyeditor in New York.

 

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