Krabat by Otfried Preußler


In the late seventeenth century, after the end of the world, a fourteen-year-old orphan boy named Krabat walks from town to town begging with a troupe of friends. Krabat isn’t bitter about his lot. The conflict that will eventually be called the Thirty Years’ War (though it pushed at either side of that perimeter) has been going on for over a generation. This is the only life he can conceive of. What is there to be bitter about?

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The Hunger Games (film)


In Panem, a dystopian, post-apocalyptic future North America, twelve Districts must offer up, at random, two young Tributes to compete in the Hunger Games. The televised battle to the death, which only one Tribute can survive, provides a reality television spectacle for the wealthy and powerful citizens of the Capitol. The regular demonstration of force it represents, the resulting constant terror, and their own complicity with the ritual serve to undermine the Districts’ willingness to rebel. Katniss Everdeen, a young woman from the most peripheral and perhaps the poorest District, volunteers in place of her younger sister. In order to survive Katniss must navigate the dangers posed by the Arena and her fellow contestants, as well successfully spin the media narratives that give shape to the Games.

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Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts


Love and Romanpunk is an ambitious era-spanning collection of four short stories tied together by a few central themes: history and who writes it, the story of a particular family, Romans and the Romanesque, vampires or “lamia” (a variant thereof), and power and womanhood. In the first story, “Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary,” the eponymous Julia Agrippina, kin to Emperors Claudius, Nero, and Caligula (sometimes more than kin and less than kind, given that her uncle Claudius marries her against her wishes and both he and her son want her dead at points), gives us the lost, true testament of her family history, composed on the eve of her death. It has a lot more monsters than the official record. In the second story, “Lamia Victoriana,” the Wollstonecraft sisters become romantically embroiled with a pair of vampiric siblings. In the third, “The Patrician,” Clea Majora, a young Australian woman living in a neo-Roman tourist trap village meets Julius, the nephew of Julia Agrippina. Julius is doomed to immortality—at least until he can successfully kill off all the remaining Roman monsters. They continue to meet throughout Clea’s life. In the final story, “Last of the Romanpunks,” Clea’s grandson Sebastian deals with an uprising led by his crazed ex-girlfriend Eloise, who’s a bit too into “Romanpunk” and, more problematically, fancies herself the new vampire overlord of Earth.

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Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson


G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen begins in the stiff-still stasis of a long afternoon. With a boy—an anti-censorship, and thus anti-state, hacker, called Alif by his internet acquaintances—stuck in a line of work that, while it endangers, challenges, and taxes him, seems to consist of so much monotonous shoving-fingers-into-dikes. Stuck in an awkward, unexplained lull in his relationship. Stuck in a clutch of emirates that has long seemed out of touch with the surrounding world. Stuck, more particularly, in his nameless City, which the Arab Spring has passed over. A city which has “begun to feel as though it were outside time: a memory of an old order, or a dream from which its inhabitants had failed to wake” (p. 11).

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The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin


Gujaareh and Kisua are two city-states with a lot of shared history, culture, and religious beliefs. But there’s nothing a person hates more than someone almost her twin, who likes what she likes, but likes it all wrong. Kisua resents Gujaareh’s greater wealth and, more importantly, Gujaareh’s very different way of honoring Hananjah, their mutually recognized goddess of dreams. In Gujaareh, Hananja is the sole goddess. Civic life revolves around and is facilitated by her worship. Highly developed systems of justice, public health, defense, education, and legalized prostitution are administrated by her priests, who use dream magic collected from regular public tithes to discharge these offices. Gatherers, the most elite branch of Hananja’s servants, execute miscreants for the greater good, and in this capacity they are answerable to no higher authority than one another. Upon request, they also grant peace to aged and ailing faithful.

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Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente


Catherynne M. Valente’s Deathless is a problematic novel. That’s hardly a damning thing to say about Valente. Even Shakespeare had his famous slough of problem plays. Nor is it any reason not to read Deathless, which is an ambivalent text with a great deal more to offer than disappointment. But the ambivalence does make Deathless a difficult novel to review—I have neither spleen to vent, nor unqualified praise to offer.

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Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman



Reviewing Philip Pullman’s Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm is difficult, because much of what one would usually discuss in a review (plot, characters, to some extent even tone) is not really at issue; you don’t need me to tell you what Grimm’s Fairy Tales are. They’re a foundational text of Western Literature, and perhaps particularly of genre fiction. They’ve led to a dizzying array of valuable critical and fictional reworkings. Familiarity with Grimm’s Fairy Tales is cultural currency, capable of enhancing your enjoyment of all the work they’ve influenced. And all context aside, they’re weird, bloody, magical little things that have captivated listeners for centuries.

Full review here