The sequel to one of my favorite books of 2019, Gideon the Ninth, is Harrow The Ninth and it is weird. I had a really hard time rating this one, and it will be hard to discuss without spoilers, but here goes.
She answered the Emperor’s call.
She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend.
In victory, her world has turned to ash.
After rocking the cosmos with her deathly debut, Tamsyn Muir continues the story of the penumbral Ninth House in Harrow the Ninth, a mind-twisting puzzle box of mystery, murder, magic, and mayhem. Nothing is as it seems in the halls of the Emperor, and the fate of the galaxy rests on one woman’s shoulders.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.
Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?
Harrow the Ninth has all of the mystery and intrigue and spooky skeletons and macabre imagery as Gideon the Ninth, but lacks the same heart and humor. This is somewhat to be expected, because the narrator is of course, the extremely serious Harrowhark, rather than the done-with-this-shit, wisecracking Gideon. Harrow is an unreliable narrator to an extreme degree. She admits on the page that she is mad, and has actively made herself unreliable.That change in tone and loss of humor was something I viscerally felt, and couldn’t help feel, the way one tongues at the gap in their smile when a tooth goes missing. You can’t help but poke and prod and compare to what was there before. It’s a loss that is painful and curious all at the same time.
That weirdness and loss aside, Harrow is a book to read slowly, savoring each page. There is a lot going on, and it is going to be a confusing ride. I spent probably the first 50% of the book very confused and somewhat lost. Something was wrong and I just couldn’t figure out why. But as confused as I was, Harrow is a book full of answers. (And a whole lot more questions of course.) Harrow answers so many of the questions raised in Gideon. The story is told in alternating sections of past and present. We learn why and how Harrow came to be (literally). We find out why she and Gideon hated each other and so much more. It is so satisfying to find answers to many of the burning questions I had after reading Gideon.
Of course in answering so many questions, Harrow raises many, many more and ends on such a bombastic note that I am immediately clamoring for the third and final book in the trilogy, Alecto the Ninth.
Harrow the Ninth hits shelves August 4, 2020 and it’d be a mistake to pass it by.
I was provided an eARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Middlegame is the latest release by Seanan McGuire and is absolutely amazing. You need to read it. That is all. That is my whole review. READ IT.
Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.
Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.
Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.
Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.
Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.
Below, is part two of my buddy read and discussion with Marzie’s Reads, and friend of the blog Janelle. ****THERE ARE SO MANY SPOILERS. If you have not read Middlegame, stop, go read it, and then come back. THERE ARE ALL OF THE SPOILERS BELOW.****** You can read Part One here.
Alex: Jumping back into the story, I really liked the cat that wouldn’t die, Old Bill. He was a great little flavor. And I really liked how we saw Roger and Dodger at different points in their lives.
Janelle: Yes! The cat!
Marzie: That was awesome with the cat, yes. It’s interesting about Roger and Dodger. You know our two oldest kids are twins. They’ve had periods of time where they’ve barely spoken for a year or more (because of fights) and then they just mysteriously reconnect. That reconnection she wrote between them, again and again, felt so real to me based on what I see with our kids.
Alex:I think people will like hearing that – I saw some questions on GR about the twin representation, and whether or not it was going to be any good. Speaking of which, did anyone notice the lack of representation in this book? Seanan is so good about that usually, that it kind of bothered me that the only rep I saw was Smita, who took their blood. Everyone else was kind of white, straight, and cis.
Janelle: I did notice that, actually.
Marzie: I thought it was a little weird, really, for her. Yes and Smita, the only POC, got Erin-ed. Yikes.
Alex: The absence was jarring, since Seanan is usually so good at making that seamless and feel like we’re in a real place with real people.
Marzie: It has to be very deliberate. But it did feel odd. Seanan never does anything by chance with her craft, so she must have had reasons for writing it without a lot of diversity.
Alex: I can’t imagine what reason she’d have for writing such a homogenous book as this. Other than she expected a lot of people would die, and didn’t want to be accused of killing all the rep off?
Marzie: And as it is, she did kill Smita.
Janelle: I’d really like to mention that the way they chose to terrify Roger into not contacting Dodger felt real enough to be heartbreaking. I felt like it happens to so many children. Not on such a high level, but I think most of us reading this have had moments of being gaslit by adults. It felt very abusive. It was one of the more real, horrific moments in the story for me.
Alex: Oh god, yes. I felt for him so deeply then. It was one of the times I cried while reading. I was crushed when Dodger didn’t seem to understand his reasons. That feeling of unfairness that you made a decision with good reasons, good intentions, but you still hurt people and your intentions don’t get you a pass was just seeping off the page.
Marzie: I had to take a break there the first time I read it. It felt like a perfect example of manipulating a child to me, after all my years doing child welfare stuff. So awful and so very real. The way adults can manipulate children with fear of losing their family is searing.
Janelle: Exactly. “If you tell what I do to you, your whole family will be taken away from you.”
Marzie: It was pretty much that, yes, and again made me think of organized religions that have abuse problems with children. That kind of power is frightening and so easily can become abusive. But as much as I cried for Roger, I felt much worse for Dodger who had no idea of what happened. Roger had his family but Dodger lost her line to the world in a way.
Janelle: I felt for both of them. It was crushing.
Marzie: So I’m really curious to see if this book has changed Seanan as a writer. Like, can she write just Seanan or just Mira in the same way now?
Janelle: I guess we’ll find out with The Unkindest Tide.
Alex: Or maybe sooner, with the Shadow of Spindrift House.
Marzie: Yes, and I was so struck by the Spindrift chapter title in Middlegame. It’s not a common word and even if there was no connection, it has me thinking that this book has percolated through both her author personas.
Alex: I totally missed that! On another note, if you could have the powers of Language or the powers of Math, which would you choose?
Janelle: God. Tough question. I’ve always felt a kinship with language, but feel so stupid about math. Part of me wants to choose math so I could see it. Intellectually, I understand how beautiful a proof can be, but I don’t get it.
Marzie: I’d choose math because it IS as language to me. It’s a universal language like music.
Alex: I am all about the language. The right language can solve so many problems. I would like to just be able to tell the universe how to be.
Marzie: But the right language is math! Trust me. Aliens speak math.
Alex: But math describes how the universe IS. I want to tell it what it SHOULD be instead. And Roger is a polyglot by the end, speaking all the languages he wants. Why should alien languages be any different?
Marzie: But human languages describe what is and what can be just as math does. And Dodger creates things with math that Roger cannot. Like more time. Math allowed her to manipulate reality in a way Roger cannot.
Alex: I am not arguing that math isn’t a language. If we follow that logic, then language powers include math powers and then you get cake and eating it too and that is beyond the point of this very silly question. 😛
Marzie: It’s not a silly question! It was certainly important to separate the two to James Reed, for instance, so….
Alex: It is because I asked it in a silly spirit 😉
Janelle: I choose math. I made my choice. When do I get to become Dodger? Isn’t that what you were offering?
Marzie: Sigh. Now Alex will just have to tell us how to remake the world and time.
Alex: *cackles* there is that. What is a gun without a trigger but a state of frustration?
Marzie: Seriously there were times reading this when I realized that I have felt like a cuckoo at times. Within my family, I mean. Maybe we are all Cuckoos.
Alex: Seanan has a serious Cuckoo theme going on right now. In the X-Men, in Middlegame, in InCryptid. She does tend to interrogate the same subjects over and over and over for a while.
Marzie: It’s a rich trope to mine!
Janelle: Now I’m picturing Seanan shining a light in some poor trope’s eyes, demanding it tell her EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW. “I know you’ve still got more for me. I can do this all night.”
Alex: I mean she kinda did that in Indexing. A few times.
Marzie: Janelle that cracks me up! But yes, Alex, it’s like this is a culmination of a lot of things she’s explored in other books or comics.
Alex: It’s part of what makes Middlegame feel so familiar, and yet be still groundbreaking. If you had handed me this book blind and without context or cover and didn’t tell me who wrote it I still would have been able to tell you it was Seanan. I might have guessed Mira first, but I’d have known it was her. It’s *SO* her.
Janelle: I feel like I would’ve known her as well. The voice is more sophisticated, but it’s still her.
Marzie: Well, I’d have known from that Vixy quote, but yes, it’s unmistakably hers. So any other thoughts than, “please ma’am, some more?”
Alex: I want to shove this book into people’s hands. It’s not like Wayward where I feel that it should be required reading for every human, but it’s very good and I think people will really enjoy it once they pick it up. It’s definitely in my top 5 Seanan/Mira books.
Marzie: It’s very thought-provoking stuff to me. I really hope it’s widely read, too. I honestly think it’s one of the best things she’s written and I hold the Newsflesh books and the Wayward books in pretty darn high regard.
Janelle: There’s just so much in it. From child abuse, to sibling relationships, to love of language and math… there is a lot to process in it, and it’s told so engagingly that I think it really ought to find a wide audience.
Marzie: I have to mention that I have such love for the way she wrote Dodger and her mathematical abilities. That passage where she solves the Monroe problem and then turns around and is later suicidal because she can’t solve herself, her situation, her role. Just wow. We’re seeing so many great stories about women in science and math right now, and Dodger, even though she’s an alchemical construct, is one of these.
Alex: So are we all talked out for right now?
Marzie: Yes, because I’m busy downloading the audiobook. I wasn’t kidding when I said I wanted to listen to it. But Janelle, thanks so much for discussing the book with us!
Janelle: Thank you, Marzie! Any idea if you two want to do another buddy read with me again?
Marzie: I’d love to, Janelle.Alex: I am open to another buddy read, too, depending on what we choose.
Subterranean Press has done it again. Kingdom of Needle and Bone is the newest science-horror novella from Mira Grant, pseudonym of Seanan McGuire and it is bold and political and terrifying.
We live in an age of wonders.
Modern medicine has conquered or contained many of the diseases that used to carry children away before their time, reducing mortality and improving health. Vaccination and treatment are widely available, not held in reserve for the chosen few. There are still monsters left to fight, but the old ones, the simple ones, trouble us no more.
Or so we thought. For with the reduction in danger comes the erosion of memory, as pandemics fade from memory into story into fairy tale. Those old diseases can’t have been so bad, people say, or we wouldn’t be here to talk about them. They don’t matter. They’re never coming back.
How wrong we could be.
It begins with a fever. By the time the spots appear, it’s too late: Morris’s disease is loose on the world, and the bodies of the dead begin to pile high in the streets. When its terrible side consequences for the survivors become clear, something must be done, or the dying will never stop. For Dr. Isabella Gauley, whose niece was the first confirmed victim, the route forward is neither clear nor strictly ethical, but it may be the only way to save a world already in crisis. It may be the only way to atone for her part in everything that’s happened.
She will never be forgiven, not by herself, and not by anyone else. But she can, perhaps, do the right thing.
We live in an age of monsters.
My 4-star rating is actually an average because for this book I have two ratings. Five stars if you’re new to Mira Grant or haven’t read much from Seanan’s alter-ego. Three stars if you have read Mira Grant’s previous works and are familiar with her favorite tropes. Kingdom of Needle and Bone is Peak Mira Grant, absolutely on brand. This is a boon as much as it is a challenge.
I am an avid reader of Seanan’s and I have read nearly everything she’s written – so unfortunately I saw some of the twists near the end of the book coming.
But, that aside, Kingdom of Needle and Bone is a searing takedown of the Anti-Vaccination movement. Seanan also brings up interesting points in the bodily-autonomy and reproductive rights spheres. This book is unflinchingly political and will be loved and hated likely based on how the reader feels about those topics.
My heart broke for some of the characters and I put the book down shaken. Kingdom of Needle and Bone is unrelenting and unflinching and a terrifying view of a potential future.
I put Kingdom of Needle and Bone down and then desperately needed to discuss it with someone. So I reached out to my blog friends Marzie’s Reads and Janelle! Click on over to Marzie’s Reads for part one of our discussion. Then come back and read below for part two! SPOILERS ABOUND!
Thank you to Subterranean Press for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest review.
The sequel to the stunning Winter Tide, Deep Roots explores more of Lovecraft’s mythos. Aphra and her confluence are on the trail of a mist-blooded relative and find so much more than they expected.
Aphra Marsh, descendant of the People of the Water, has survived Deep One internment camps and made a grudging peace with the government that destroyed her home and exterminated her people on land. Aphra’s journey to rebuild her life and family on land, as she tracks down long-lost relatives on land. She must repopulate Innsmouth or risk seeing it torn down by greedy developers, but as she searches she discovers that people have been going missing. She will have to unravel the mystery or risk seeing her way of life slip away.
Deep Roots wrestles with so many of the things we wrestle with in our own lives, especially when confronted with our loved ones choosing paths we’d rather they didn’t. How do we believe that they haven’t been coerced? When is it right to let someone go, and when do we cling to them and hope they forgive us at the end? When is it right to walk away, to call someone out, or to ask them to reexamine their deeply held beliefs? Now, more than any other time in the last thirty years, many of us find ourselves wrestling with these questions within our own families as political rhetoric threatens to tear us apart by othering each other into separate camps.
One of the myths that Deep Roots tackles isn’t from Lovecraft’s mythos, but rather from current Western society. Emrys shows us that the idea that “One who has been othered, can’t also be othering” is false. I see the sentiments that “I can’t be racist, I’m black” or “I can’t be a lesbophobe, I’m gay” or “I can’t be a misogynist, I’m a woman” or “I can’t be ableist, I’m also part of a marginalized community” pretty frequently. These aren’t true statements, but I hear variations of them all the time. Deep Roots explores how even groups that have been othered can have and hold othering beliefs about groups, cultures and people not their own. This is why intersectional activism is so crucial. Despite their own experiences being discriminated against Aphra and the Deep Ones hold strong beliefs about the Outer Ones that are explicitly called out as offensive within the narrative. Aphra is forced to rexamine her beliefs in order to navigate the situation at hand.
I am SO glad to get more of Aphra, Neko, Audrey, Charlie, Specter, Dawson and Caleb. Emrys writes them so vividly, the time between books felt like missing friends. Deep Roots felt like opening a letter from someone who had gone on a long trip into a remote place without technology.
I am impatiently waiting for my next letter from the Confluence. I can’t wait to see what they get up to next.
Deep Roots is on sale now!
Thank you to Tor.com for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review.
I don’t read a ton of horror. I have a very active imagination and my brain chooses really odd images to haunt me with for years. (YEARS) When I do read horror, I choose authors that I feel I can trust, and Mira Grant is one of those authors I know I can trust. I know her horror isn’t going to cross lines that I’m not comfortable with. I wouldn’t describe it as safe horror, just “safe enough for me.”
That being said, Into the Drowning Deep was intensely creepy, full of suspense, and definitely left me with the feeling that I’m never going to ever be comfortable on another deep-sea vessel in my life.
Into the Drowning Deep follows Grant’s earlier novella Rolling in the Deep which is the story of how the Atargatis was lost. Into the Drowning Deep explores already dangerous territory, and they know – or at least they think they know – what they’re getting into.
Here’s the publisher’s blurb:
Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.
Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.
Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves.
But the secrets of the deep come with a price.
Grant builds suspense like mist rising from the water. Over the course of minutes (pages) the fog slowly rolls in, building until suddenly you realize you’re completely engulfed. As I read through, I flipped pages at my usual rate, until the last three chapters of the book where I basically just skimmed pages because I NEEDED to know what was happening next.
As with Grant’s other horror series, part of the beauty – and horror – of her novels is that the science is so well researched that but for the fact that mermaids are not real, everything else she describes is plausible.
Another place Grant’s writing really shines is her characters. Grant understands people. She builds characters that are believable and real. Her characters are flawed people with all the trappings of humanity, and she writes inclusively as well. This cast is not 100% straight, white, able bodied and neurotypical. It’s a delight. A weird thing to say about a horror novel, I know. But the cast is so wonderfully diverse that when I think of them, I am delighted. Not all of them are delightful, there are definitely a few that I was hoping would die along the way, but the cast as a whole was a delight. What’s the point of a horror novel if you don’t care what’s going to happen to the characters?
I am desperately hoping for a third part of the story. I enjoyed Into the Drowning Deep immensely, despite my renewed fears of deep water, and have so many new questions.
Into the Drowning Deep hit shelves November 14, 2017 and if you like horror and don’t necessarily mind being afraid of mermaids, you should run out and buy it right now.
I received an eARC of this book in exchange for my honest review from NetGalley.
I will be totally honest and say that Deadlands: Boneyard is not my cup of tea. I am not familiar with the Deadlands RPG system that the books are based around, but I don’t think that affected my overall enjoyment of the book.
The publisher’s blurb on NetGalley:
Step right up to see the oddities and marvels of The Blackstone Family Circus and Travelling Wonder Show! Gasp at pit wasps the size of a man’s forearm. Beware the pumpkin-headed corn stalker, lest it plant its roots in you!
Annie Pearl is the keeper of oddities, the mistress of monsters. Her unique collection of creatures is one of the circus’s star attractions, drawing wide-eyed crowds at every small frontier town they visit. But Annie is also a woman running from her past . . . and the mother of a mute young daughter, Adeline, whom she will do anything to protect.
Hoping to fill its coffers before winter sets in, the circus steers its wagons to The Clearing, a remote community deep in the Oregon wilderness, surrounded by an ominous dark wood. Word is that a travelling show can turn a tidy profit at The Clearing, but there are whispers, too, of unexplained disappearances that afflict one out of every four shows that pass through the town.
The Clearing has it secrets, and so does Annie. And it may take everything she has to save her daughter—and the circus—from both.
McGuire does weird well, and she seamlessly blends circuses, mad scientists, steampunk, and the wild, wild wilderness in Oregon. She builds a cohesive world and interesting characters. My issue is the plot.
There are no holes, dangling threads but boy is it slow to start. I’ve read a lot of McGuire’s writing (just about everything I can get my hands on) and a slow start isn’t atypical for her, but Deadlands: Boneyard was the first where I struggled with the slow start. McGuire spends the first four chapters of the book just setting the scene. It isn’t until part of the way through the fourth chapter does the plot start to finally take shape. Once it gets going, she builds and maintains tension with skill making Deadlands: Boneyard a perfect October, pre-Halloween read.
McGuire’s writing is lyrical and descriptive, though she does sometimes get lost in metaphorical descriptions it does make for a nice turn of phrase.
If the wild, weird West is your kind of thing, Deadlands: Boneyard will be your kind of book.
Deadlands: Boneyard is a novel set in the Deadlands RPG universe and hits shelves October 17, 2017 – today!
I received an e-ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. I also purchased a Deluxe Edition of this novella from Subterranean Press.
When I first started reading the book I had to keep double checking that I was reading the book that I thought I was. The opening scene is more fantasy than science fiction and similar enough to other books Mira Grant has written under her real name, Seanan McGuire, that I wasn’t sure I was reading the correct book. However, once I got through the opening scene it all made sense. But until that point, I was seriously confused. “Where is the sci-fi horror I was promised?”
The novella definitely has the feel of a good horror movie: innocent enough beginning; a turning point where you want to shout at the characters, “You shouldn’t have done that and you know it. Bad stuff is going to happen and it’s all because of this One Thing!”; and creeping anxiety as you wait for the shoes to drop.
My only complaint is that I wanted more. Once the “action” part of the story began, it was over far too soon. I wanted a little bit longer to be creeped out and kept in suspense while the main characters ran and battled for their lives.
Aside from my confusion at the start, I really enjoyed Final Girls. If you’ve read other works by Mira/Seanan, some elements of the story are familiar – not in a “been there, read that” kind of way, but a more of an “I’m definitely reading a Mira/Seanan book” kind of way. I recommend this book even to people who don’t usually enjoy horror (like myself).
Mira Grant is the pen name under which Seanan McGuire writes the majority of her horror stories.
This review was originally published on Goodreads on March 31, 2017.
Dark Cities is a horror anthology edited by Christopher Golden around the theme of “cities.”
I have to seriously question the thought process of Christopher Golden in choosing to put The Dogs as the first story in this anthology. I question why it was even included in the anthology, but if it were to be included, it should not have been the first story. Yes, this is a horror anthology, but that story alone made me put the book down and walk away. It took me over a week to talk myself into picking it up again to skip to the short stories from authors I already know I like/trust. Why? Because The Dogs features a very graphic bestiality/rape scene. I was suspicious of the story as soon as the Main Character was revealed to be a sort-of sex worker. I should have stopped reading then. The first story in an anthology sets the tone, and the tone The Dogs set was unpalatable.
I skipped forward. The short story Dear Diary was good. Amber Benson’s entry was interesting but very short. Seanan McGuire’s story was creepy and sad. I did not read the other stories in this anthology, especially Golden’s own, because I couldn’t trust that the other authors wouldn’t cross lines I am uncomfortable with, and in putting The Dogs first, Golden showed me that I can’t trust him. This may be a shame. I may be missing out on some excellent short stories by other authors in this collection. I’ll never know.
This review was originally published on Goodreads on July 12, 2017.