Sep. 5th, 2017

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Review copy provided by the author, who is also a personal friend. Also the title is a Fire and Hemlock reference, which, come on, how can that not bias a reviewer.

If you've read any of Brennan's work before, there are through-lines to it: anthropology, history/quasi-history, and adventure fantasy. These are clearly visible in this short story collection, although the adventure fantasy is the smallest strain in this bunch. I think it's in some ways hardest to write something that feels like adventure fantasy and still has plot at this length. In any case, if you haven't read Brennan's work before, that's the place where this collection is least representative of the spread of what she's doing.

Other than that, there is quite a lot of what Brennan does. There are bits with faeries and bits with odd artifacts, stories of self-discovery and stories of community relationship. There are funny bits and deathly serious bits. There's a lot of range here.

What there is not--and this was important for me the day I read this book, and it may well be important for you--is a lot of gratuitously depressing or cruel material. The characters are not all sweetness and light--some of them are basically no sweetness and light--but what this collection is unlikely to do is leave you numbed and helpless in the face of an uncaring world. I feel like when I ask for things that are not staggeringly depressing, people think I want books in which the teddy bears have their picnic, and this is not one of those. This is just...balanced. Sometimes we can use some balance.

Please consider using our link to buy Maps to Nowhere from Amazon.
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Review copy provided by First Second Books.

Ben Hatke is a favorite of mine, and I was excited to get this sequel to last year's Mighty Jack. I darted through it--it's definitely a page-turner, following the cliffhanger ending of the first volume into strange new spaces full of goblins and giants and creatures who live in pipes. Jack and his friend Lilly are out to save his mute little sister Maddy from who knows what fate--although we soon find out, and it's pretty gruesome.

Along the way they get separated. Jack has to whack things with his sword, bravely and boldly. Lilly has to actually figure things out, stick up for herself, and also whack things with her sword. But Jack's name is on the cover, so even the dragon tells Jack he has saved the day when Lilly does some A+ prime grade day-saving.

Also Maddy speaks a crucial word at a crucial moment. I feel like having a mute character who did cool stuff was entirely fine, and having a character who speaks for plot convenience when the author feels it's RULLY IMPORTANT is really less fine. Maddy goes from opinionated and nonverbal to rescue-bait. I know that Jack is going to be protective of his little sister, but I am considerably less thrilled with how much the disabled girl (intersectionally here; both elements) has basically one moment of agency in a plot where she's the object.

It's not the worst example of this stuff out there. It just could have been better. There's room for more here, and I hope Hatke takes the opportunities to do more with these characters, particularly with the girls, rather than taking the path of least resistance.

Please consider using our link to buy Mighty Jack and the Goblin King from Amazon.

Blue Ribbon

Sep. 5th, 2017 06:54 am
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Today's reprint has particularly good timing! Lightspeed is running a story of mine that has never been available online before, Blue Ribbon. (It previously appeared in Analog and in Year's Best Young Adult Speculative Fiction.) Why is this good timing?

Well, for non-Americans, it's a story to enjoy on a Tuesday, okay, sure. For most Americans, it'll be something to ease you back into your work week after the Labor Day holiday weekend. Who could argue with that kind of timing? I hope you enjoy it!

But for those of you who are missing your State Fair now that it's over. For those of you who were 4H kids in particular. Yes, this is my story of 4H kids in space. It's not the perky tale of "and then I won the prize, hurray!" that that thumbnail might suggest, but I'm pretty proud of it all the same. And the day after the State Fair seems like just the right time for it to be more broadly available for the first time.

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