Radiant, by Karina Sumner-Smith

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – September 30, 2014

Summary: Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.

When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body—any body—so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless—until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.

With two extremely strong female protagonists, Radiant is a story of fighting for what you believe in and finding strength that you never thought you had.

Thoughts: Radiant is a novel with a very interesting premise. What if everyone has some degree of magic, but you don’t? What if that lack of magic leaches colour from your sight, so that you see only in shades of black and white. Xhea is such a person, living in the shattered remnants of a city on the ground while floating towers of privilege and magic go by overhead. She barely ekes out a living, doing odd jobs for food and the money that essentially comes in the form of magic, magic that she can’t use herself but that gives her a high and allows her to see colour until the power wears off. She also has the power to see and communicate with ghosts, a somewhat singular talent that is part and parcel of the work she tends to do.

But when chance ties her to a ghost named Shai, a ghost whose magical strength is beyond anything Xhea has ever witnessed, a ghost whose body might still be alive in one of the floating Towers, Xhea gets drawn into a dangerous plot of abuse and discovery, sacrifice and duty and the past coming back to bite everyone.

Describing this novel makes it sound like it’s nothing special, like it’s composed of bits of pieces of classic tropes in new clothes. And I won’t say that it’s trope free, nor that tropes make it bad by default. Radiant shows a spectacular amount of originality in its execution. Xhea’s reaction to magic being like drug addiction, for instance, isn’t entirely original but it’s done here so well that it’s very realistic rather than sensational. Nor is the idea of magic being the energy of life and there’s one person who has none of it, but making the manifestation of that being that the afflicted can’t see colour isn’t often done. Sumner-Smith takes old ideas and polishes them, makes them shiny and new, and it’s to great effect.

Radiant brings up some thought-provoking and disturbing ideas about obligation and sacrifice, and asks on multiple occasions how far is too far. Is slavery any less slavery if you call it being indentured? If a person is born with a certain strength, how obligated are they to use it? Is it right to agree to sacrifice your own life for the good of others, and is anybody wrong for trying to convince you otherwise? Difficult questions get asked here, the kind of questions that hit hard and make you have to stop reading to properly consider them before moving on. Shai’s magical strength can power her Tower, making a good and safe home for hundreds of people, and she has agreed to this, even though doing so means that she will die of rampant cancer and have her spirit continue to be drained beyond her body’s death. Xhea has run from servitude and still has a massive debt of service owed to another Tower, one that she refuses to pay because she views freedom and poverty to be preferable to indentureship and sufficiency. Radiant isn’t just a well-paced and interesting story, but it’s very intelligent and worth taking the time to properly appreciate.

One drawback I found while reading it was that it feels very much like I’m coming into the middle of a story rather than the beginning. While I don’t expect to have my hand held over everything and to have pages taken up by awkward exposition and backstory, there were more than a few moments where past events were mentioned and treated as though the reader should already be familiar with them. In particular, every event that had to do with Lorn. He owes Xhea a favour. He’s in a position of authority. They have a history. But only vague hints are really dropped about who he is and what went on to create this whole setup in the first place, and it left me feeling like I must have missed something somewhere along the way. It was revealed, for the most part, but largely between the lines. Knowing wasn’t essential to the story in Radiant, but it felt like a poorly set-up mystery, something to string the reader along without much to actually interest the reader in finding out the truth.

Still, besides a lack of detail to the backstory, Radiant was still a wonderful read, and the post-apocalyptic future that Sumner-Smith set up really has me hooked. It’s to her credit that the night walkers did not actually scare me in the way that zombies typically do, though they share much in common. Don’t get me wrong, they were freaking creepy, and you could really feel the tension in the scenes where night walkers were present, but I didn’t experience the gut-wrenching insomnia-inducing fear that accompanies zombies (thanks a lot, phobia that nobody takes seriously…). The friendship between Xhea and Shai was also deeply inspiring and well worth reading. I wish more authors would set up relationships like this between characters. They may have been thrown together more due to random circumstance than a particular choice or mutual interest, but their friendship grew strong and dedicated, and I adored seeing that. So often it seems that strong connections can only be portrayed in fiction by romance or bloodline, and anything else is either overlooked or played as unhealthy. Or just romance waiting to happen. For my part, I loved seeing a friendship that was friendship, strong and connecting and devoted and influential. Sumner-Smith can probably turn the world into some kind of alien-operated dystopia involving hyper-intelligent pink bunnies in the future and I will still come back for the friendship.

Long story short, you need to read Radiant. It’s got the right blend between fantasy and sci-fi to appeal to fans of either genre, very realistic characters that you want to read more about, and enough mysteries and curiosity to leave me, at least, salivating over the sequel. Sumner-Smith is an author I’ll be keeping my eye on in the future, to see what else she’ll do that will keep me as entertained and thoughtful.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

The Awakened Kingdom, by N K Jemisin

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – December 9, 2014

Summary: As the first new godling born in thousands of years — and the heir presumptive to Sieh the Trickster — Shill’s got big shoes to fill. She’s well on her way when she defies her parents and sneaks off to the mortal realm, which is no place for an impressionable young god. In short order she steals a demon’s grandchild, gets herself embroiled in a secret underground magical dance competition, and offends her oldest and most powerful sibling.

But for Eino, the young Darren man whom Shill has befriended, the god-child’s silly games are serious business. Trapped in an arranged marriage and prohibited from pursuing his dreams, he has had enough. He will choose his own fate, even if he must betray a friend in the process — and Shill might just have to grow up faster than she thinks.

Thoughts: I can’t even begin to say how much I love Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy. I’ve read it through twice, and it’s inspired probably dozens of conversations by this point, because the world and the characters are so amazing and I sink into the stories like a hot bath. Not a warm bath. Hot. The kind of hot that’s just a little bit painful on the skin, but when you get used to it, you never want to leave.

So you can only imagine my excitement when I first heard that she was writing a sequel novella. The chance to read a new story set in a world I love so much? There is no downside here!

The story focuses on Shill, a newborn godling trying to find her place in the world, and deciding that the best way to go about it is to interact with mortals and learn about herself through learning about them. In the attempt to find her nature and to learn about mortals, she changes the world in ways unforeseen, and utterly spectacular.

There’s a powerful message in here about walking in the footsteps of others, and trying to live up to what you believe other people want of you. Shill believes she is supposed to be the next Sieh, the trickster and the child, and when she can’t make herself be what Sieh was, she gets frustrated and upset. It takes her a while to learn that she can’t be anybody but herself, that trying to be someone else is fairly useless, and that everyone has a niche to fill, a role to play, even if it’s not the one they expected. This was something that resonated fairly strongly with me, because for all it sounds like the message behind an after-school TV special, it’s a lesson that took me years to learn. I used to think the only way of being worthwhile was to imitate those whom I thought were worthwhile. I ended up being a poor copy of them at best, and it never felt true or right. So this is the sort of thing that even adults need to hear sometimes, not just young children.

The Awakened Kingdom being a novella, it’s a very quick read, but honestly, even had it been the length of a full novel I would call it a quick read simply because I’d be reading it obsessively and in every spare moment. Good books often seem like quick reads because you read them so much that you finish them in a relatively short amount of time. And Shill is a fun character because she’s so new to existence, so we get to see her learn and grow and make the kind of commentary that only comes about with childlike naive logic. Only when that naivite is in the hands of a godling, well, results are extra special. Such as Shill’s little warning not to go into black holes even though they “look like cute little Nahas.” Excellent advice. I shall follow it to the letter!

Of course, the reason for Shill’s advice and even for telling the story the way she does becomes evident at the end, and hearkens back to the way Yeine’s story was told in The Hundred-Thousand Kingdoms. It may be a bit disjointed and it is the embodiment of the unreliable narrator, but there’s a point to it, a reason, and it becomes clear over time that it’s more than just a storytelling gimmick.

Like many authors have done in the past, Jemisin creates societies that flip our current stereotype of gender roles around, making women the aggressive leaders and men the ones who stay home and take care of the babies. This is fertile ground for strong female characters to arise, and arise they do! Jemisin also uses this to highlight the inequality in all such systems; a person’s worth is not and should not be determined by what’s between their legs.

But Jemisin’s writing stands head and shoulders above so many others who do this for one simple reason: when I read what Jemisin writes, I can truly believe that women can be strong because they’re women, not in spite of it. I’ve read plenty of books with strong women, but even in novels where gender equality is supposed to be the norm, strong female characters often come across as though they’re trying to prove that women can be equal after all. Jemisin’s women often give the impression of, “Yes, I’m strong. Obviously. What of it?” And I love that!

For fans of the trilogy, this is a must-have, because it’s a wonderful return to a wonderful world. For those who have yet to read the trilogy and are intrigued by this review, take heart, because it’s included in the omnibus edition that’s soon to be released! Even had I not been lucky enough to get a copy of this for review, I was planning on rebuying the books just so I could get to read The Awakened Kingdom, which I think is a sign of a strong and influential series that’s worth reading. Those who enjoyed the Inheritance trilogy will likely get the same kick out of Shill that I did, love the story as much, and, if they’re anything like me, reading it will make them want to read the original novels all over again.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

The Young Elites, by Marie Lu

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – October 7, 2014

Summary: Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

Thoughts: The Young Elites surprised me in quite a few ways. From what I’d heard of the concept, I was expecting something in a modern or a near-future setting, maybe dystopian or post-apocalyptic, since when you think of teens dealing with superpowers, that tends to be the popular setting. But to have it take place in a secondary world, a fantasy setting, was unexpected. Magic exists in dozens of ways in fantasy settings, but YA fantasy seems to be a less common thing now than YA dystopias or sci-fi, so when I was presented with something a little more to my reading taste than I expected, I was pleased.

For much of the book, my opinion wavered between thinking it was a good book but had little to make it stand out from others (aside from the general quality of writing and storytelling, I mean; I suppose that alone can make a book stand out), and from feeling deeply bad for the main character, Adelina. Scarred by the blood fever that swept through the land years ago, and left with strange powers as a result, she is a malfetto, deemed worthless by most and an outright curse of society by others. For a long time her power did not surface, no matter how hard her father tried to influence them by a twisted mix of kindness and cruelty, physical and emotional abuse that made me cringe, until the night he decides to sell her into marriage to cover his own debts, cutting his losses on a “useless ugly daughter.” Then her powers manifest, taking the form of darkness and illusions that can kill, bringing about the death of her father and her subsequent capture and planned execution.

Enter the Dagger Society. Made up of people called Young Elites, malfettos with powers, who rescue Adelina and seek to use her to further their goals of overthrowing the current monarchy that declares them all to be cursed and the downfall of society. Enter the Inquisition, who want to use Adelina as a spy to learn about the Dagger Society’s plans, offering her a chance at redemption in the eyes of the gods if she helps eliminate the blight on the world, and who hold her sister captive as incentive. Adelina is torn between her need to save her sister and her growing attraction to the leader of the Daggers, Enzo, and is caught in the middle of a huge mess.

Adelina is an amazing character, in no small part because she is not your typical YA heroine. She has trauma, and that trauma affects every area of her life. She spent much of her life in an abusive family situation, with her father seeking to use her for what powers he thinks he can draw out of her. She transitions to a situation where two opposing groups seek to use her for their own gains. She is dark, her power born from pain and fear, and she has a desire to hurt those who hurt her, viciously and vindictively, and that is what sets her apart from others. Most YA protags, especially females, may have their hurts that make them tougher but ultimately they are still good. Chaotic Good, maybe, but there’s still that aspect about them. Adelina is more Chaotic Neutral, doing not what she does because it’s good or because she truly believes in one group or another’s goals, but from self-interest, and ofter from blind anger and for retribution rather than justice. Reading Marie Lu’s notes at the end about how she wanted to tell the story of a villain rather than a hero makes this even more interesting, since it works well to humanize villains and show them as people who can arise from the hurt and abused who are tired of letting that pattern continue and who are granted the power to stop it.

And the ending? Heartbreaking. And I can’t go into details here without letting loose a whole stream of spoilers, which would ruin much of the book for those who haven’t read it yet but still want to. All I’ll say is that however much The Young Elites may lean on tropes now and again, just about everything in the last few chapters was unexpected, and I didn’t foresee it at all! Which is impressive, and shows that Lu has some good skill at telling the story that needs to be told rather than telling the same story that everyone else already has.

The Young Elites is a quick read, made all the quicker for the good balance of action and emotion, since even the slower scenes of the book are revealing and do much to move the plot along. Little in here is filler. And it should be said that I didn’t experience my usual annoyance with the first-person viewpoint. I find that often with that viewpoint it takes much of the tension away from scenes that are supposed to be brimming with it, because you know, on some level, that the person you’re following will come out okay. Or at least won’t die. So throwing them into crazy action doesn’t actually do much to raise the tension of the story. But many of Adelina’s scenes did not involve throwing herself into danger, and when they did, it wasn’t the sort of danger that could turn deadly, so that problem was eliminated before it even began. Nicely done!

I can’t wait to read the sequel when it comes out. Lu has set up a wonderful villain for us to follow, an antagonist in a protagonists’s wrappings, and I want to know how the rest of the story unfolds. It’s easy to see that The Young Elites was merely setup to a larger and further-reaching tale, and there’s a lot that still needs to be resolved, so I’m joining the crowds that are eager for the sequel’s release so we can continue with Adelina’s story. Lu has got herself a new fan here, and one that definitely recommends this to those who are seeking a YA fantasy that is familiar and fresh all at the same time!

The Invisible Orientation, by Julie Sondra Decker

Today’s review will not feature an SFF book, so feel free to skip it if that’s what you come here for. But this book was am important one to me, a bit of a game changer in my life, and so I feel that it’s deserving of a review here even if it’s not what most people have come to expect from Bibliotropic.

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – September 2, 2014

Summary: What if you weren’t sexually attracted to anyone?

A growing number of people are identifying as asexual. They aren’t sexually attracted to anyone, and they consider it a sexual orientation—like gay, straight, or bisexual.

Asexuality is the invisible orientation. Most people believe that “everyone” wants sex, that “everyone” understands what it means to be attracted to other people, and that “everyone” wants to date and mate. But that’s where asexual people are left out—they don’t find other people sexually attractive, and if and when they say so, they are very rarely treated as though that’s okay.

When an asexual person comes out, alarming reactions regularly follow; loved ones fear that an asexual person is sick, or psychologically warped, or suffering from abuse. Critics confront asexual people with accusations of following a fad, hiding homosexuality, or making excuses for romantic failures. And all of this contributes to a discouraging master narrative: there is no such thing as “asexual.” Being an asexual person is a lie or an illness, and it needs to be fixed.

In The Invisible Orientation, Julie Sondra Decker outlines what asexuality is, counters misconceptions, provides resources, and puts asexual people’s experiences in context as they move through a very sexualized world. It includes information for asexual people to help understand their orientation and what it means for their relationships, as well as tips and facts for those who want to understand their asexual friends and loved ones.

Thoughts: I’ve talked in various places before about being asexual, and what that means for me. It’s something I’ve understood for a while now, and have grown pretty comfortable with, even if sometimes it’s a bit frustrating since it’s one of those things that isn’t very well understood and is often mocked or belittled by people who don’t know that much about it.

And for every person that’s ever asked me a stupid question about it, I wish I could just press a copy of The Invisible Orientation into their hands and say, “Here. All the answers are in here.”

I want to clarify. When I say stupid question, I don’t mean questions like, “So, what’s asexuality?” or “You mean you’re not sexually attracted to anyone?” These are smart questions. These are the questions that get asked by people who have understanding and compassion and the ability to realise that there’s more to the world than just what they’ve seen so far. Though really, most of the ignorance comes in the form of commentary rather than questions. “You can’t be asexual because you’re not an amoeba/bacterium/etc.” “You must have been abused as a child.” “My daughter went through a phase like that too.” “You’re too ugly to want to have sex with anyway.” And yes, I’ve gotten those comments, and others, over the years. The Invisible Orientation addresses this, from both sides. It’s not just a book for people who think they might be asexual. It’s also a book for people who’ve found out someone they know is asexual and they don’t know what to do or say, or just for those who want to understand asexuality better.

Asexuality, for those who want it in a nutshell, is a lack of sexual attraction to people. It doesn’t mean that a person’s genitals don’t function, that they are necessarily repulsed by sex, or that they can’t experience sexual pleasure. It simply means that someone doesn’t experience sexual attraction. Some asexuals experience romantic attraction, some don’t. Some are willing to include sex in their relationships, some aren’t.

It’s understandably a bit confusing for a lot of people, especially those who haven’t encountered asexuality before. The Invisible Orientation does stress a lot that behaviour is not the same as attraction, so yes, it is indeed possible for an asexual person to have sex and even enjoy it even if they don’t find it the driving force in their lives that many non-asexual people do. Decker likens it a few times to a gay man who has sex with a woman on a frequent basis; that doesn’t mean he’s not sexual attracted to men, nor does it mean he is sexually attracted to women. It’s taken for granted that a person’s sexual preference will dictate their romantic relationships, just as it’s taken for granted that a romantic relationship will become sexual (or else it’s not a “real” or mature relationship). But what if this isn’t the case? What if someone wants to be in a romantic relationship without wanting to bring sex into it at all? Does this lessen the romantic attraction in the relationship? Does it devalue the relationship somehow if both parties are okay with that?

It’s a complex issue, in no small part because asexuality isn’t well understood by most people. And Decker takes great pains to shed so much light on the whole thing, every aspect (or at least every aspect that I can think of, plus some I hadn’t considered before), and does so in a way that is brilliantly comprehensive and comprehensible.

Aside from being an amazing resource that gives clarity to many issues (“If someone has sex can they still call themselves asexual?” “What if I still have sexual attraction to people but it’s really low and not that important?”), this book gave me words to properly describe so many things that I’ve felt but didn’t have any idea how to express. I’ve known I’m asexual for some time, but how do I defend that against people who can rightly say, “Your experiences with sex weren’t that great, and your hormones were messed up at a key time of your development, and you did experience abuse as a child,” and that all leads them to the ‘reason’ I’m asexual. Those statements may all be true, and I can’t deny them, but every time someone brought that up, I didn’t have the right words to say why that all felt wrong, that they didn’t cause my orientation any more than an overbearing mother caused a man to be gay. I’d get frustrated and angry at my inability to express what I felt. Now, I have the words to say it all, and there is no end to the amount that I’m grateful for that.

This is, admittedly, the only book I’ve read on asexuality, so I can’t say for certain, but I honestly can’t imagine a better one. It came to me at the perfect time, erasing so much stress from my life within a week simply by allowing me to see, in someone else’s words and experience, all the things I’ve been struggling to reconcile. This is a fantastic resource for those who are asexual and those are who curious about asexuality, anyone who’s got questions about themselves or others, and I highly recommend it to anyone seeking answers about the issue.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Myth and Magic: Queer Fairy Tales, edited by Radclyffe

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Editor’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – December 16, 2014

Summary: Myth, magic, and monsters—the stuff of childhood dreams (or nightmares) and adult fantasies.

Delve into these classic fairy tales retold with a queer twist and surrender to the world of seductive spells and dark temptations.

Thoughts: I’m not sure whether to call this my usual kind of reading fare or not. On one hand, it’s got a heavy romantic slant, sometimes outright porny, which usually isn’t what I’m looking for in a book and indeed tend to stay away from. On other other hand, it does mix two other elements that I’m very interested in: fairy tale retellings, and a non-heteronormative focus. I figured if nothing else, it was worth giving it a read, so I could broaden my horizons and see more characters who weren’t always straight-by-default.

I wasn’t disappointed. Some of the stories in here were damn good, and I wished a few times that romance was more to my taste because there are a few authors whose writing style and skill with words make me want to see more of what they can do. And it was great to see gay characters get some time in the spotlight, because, as I’ve become so aware of relative recently, this isn’t something that happens spectacularly often. So when it does happen, especially when it intersects with another of my interests, I want to show support and spread the word.

And there are some amazing stories to be found in Myth and Magic, too. A Hero in Hot Pink Boots didn’t go the way I expected, but it was still a good story and an interesting take on Alice in Wonderland in a modern setting. With street brawls and confidence boosters. Bad Girls riffed on the Disney versions of a couple of fairy tales, the sanitized versions most of us know from our childhoods, and made me chuckle a few times at the references. Goldie and the Three Bears was a retelling of, well, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, only with a noir feel and the setting of grimy streets and a pick-up bar.

But my favourite story of all was The Snow King, a retelling of The Snow Queen with a gay male couple instead of siblings, and while there was some dubious consent going on there, it was still a beautifully-written story that I could read a few times in a row and not get tired of.

Most of the stories had a fantasy setting, befitting the original versions of the stories they were retelling, but others were more modern. Some, like Riding Red, seemed to blend the two in strange ways, and I wasn’t quite sure of the setting even though the story itself was otherwise clear. I was surprised that I enjoyed the ones with modern settings as much as I did, given my preference for fantasy. I think that’s a testament to the authors and their skill, really, since any author that can make you enjoy stepping outside of your comfort zone clearly has some talent to speak of.

I’m sure some people are surprised to see me rate this collection so highly, given my general dislike for heavy romantic themes. Honestly, if I brought that into play, this book probably would have only been 3 stars. It may have featured some good stories, but in general, they’re not stories that are typically to my taste. But for me to rate the book down because of that would be akin to me buying something from a bakery and then demanding my money back because I’ve never liked bread. I’m not going to fault the book for being something I know isn’t my cup of tea. I knew that when I started reading it. So in trying to be objective, I’m also trying to ignore that part of myself and focus on the quality of the stories, and the stories that were told, rather than the genre they’re told in.

Though while some stories were good, some were less so, and it often came down to characters doing things that made no sense. In Heartless, a character rescues her girlfriend from the Snow Queen and randomly knows that stabbing the Snow Queen with a rose will not only destroy her power but give her the heart she’s lacking. It seemed utterly random and nonsensical, one of those quick ways of ending a story when you have no idea how it’s actually supposed to end. Some stories, such as my favourite The Snow King, featured dubious consent along the lines of, “No, really, you should sleep with me because it’s for the greater good and will save your partner.” Or things that seem right out of a porno, like two people meeting and immediately falling into bed because… a magic harp’s song was making them horny, I think, thought that really wasn’t explained very well in the text, and I’m reading between the lines to even get that far with an explanation.

What you get out of this really depends on what you go in expecting. If you’re looking for some quick stories with gay protagonists and some hot porn-in-prose, then absolutely, this is a book worth checking out. If you’re looking for darker fairy tale retellings, or something with a greater emphasis on story rather than love and sex, then you won’t really find that in Myth and Magic. I prefer the latter to the former, but again, I knew that wasn’t what I was going to get right from the outset, and I’m rating this on what it was rather than what I knew it wasn’t. It’s not a book for everyone. But I suspect those who enjoy romance and a little hot action in their stories will find this collection quite enjoyable.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Flight of the Silvers, by Daniel Price

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – February 4, 2014

Summary: Without warning, the world comes to an end for Hannah and Amanda Given. The sky looms frigid white. The electricity falters. Airplanes everywhere crash to the ground. But the Givens are saved by mysterious strangers, three fearsome and beautiful beings who force a plain silver bracelet onto each sister’s wrist. Within moments, the sky comes down in a crushing sheet of light and everything around them is gone.

Shielded from the devastation by their silver adornments, the Givens suddenly find themselves elsewhere, a strange new Earth where restaurants move through the air like flying saucers and the fabric of time is manipulated by common household appliances.

Soon Hannah and Amanda are joined by four other survivors from their world—a mordant cartoonist, a shy teenage girl, a brilliant young Australian, and a troubled ex-prodigy. Hunted by enemies they never knew they had and afflicted with temporal abilities they never wanted, the sisters and their companions begin a cross-country journey to find the one man who can save them—before time runs out.

Thoughts: While I was reading Flight of the Silvers, I was struck with the thought that the book feels very much like what could happen if you took an idea that might typically appear in a speculative YA novel and scaled the whole thing up for adults. A group of people being forced together after their world ends, discovering they have strange new powers, a parallel reality that still seems somewhat futuristic and alien. It has so much in common with many YA novels I’ve read. I have no idea if that’s what Price intended while writing this, but either way, I’m glad that I was given this impression. I’ve often wondered why some awesome ideas seem stuck in the realm of YA and never get expanded upon or switched around to see how they function with a more adult cast and written for a more adult audience. Here, I have something that I feel meets that description pretty well!

In a nutshell, the world is destroyed. But to select people, a man or woman appears, slaps a coloured bracelet on their wrists, and transports them to a different reality, one that branched away from the timeline of our world in 1912 after the Cataclysm, an explosion of tempic energy that destroyed a large chunk of New York. Rumours of strange children born near the blast zone trickle down through the years, rumours that say these children had weird powers and could manipulate tempis at will, without the aid of technology. The same powers that the transported people from our world suddenly find themselves with, coincidentally enough. At the heart of all this is the Pelletier Group, people who seem both determined to help the new arrivals — called Silvers after the colour of their bracelets — adjust to and hone their powers, while simultaneously shielding them from the outside world. But all that comes to an abrupt and violent end when it’s revealed that multiple hands are in play, all with their own objectives, including a time-travelling murderer, national law enforcement, and a group of people intent on saving their world from the same destruction that befell the world of the Silvers.

This book has a lot to take in, a lot of twists to the plot and playing with time and energy, and there’s a reason this thing clocks in at over 600 pages. If you have a hard time grasping the idea of time travel and multiple realities and the combination of both at once, then there may be too many twists for you to enjoy it. I don’t think so, though. There’s a benefit to having your main cast of characters be newbies at all the strange powers they have, and to a world that runs on power different from they’re used to, and that’s that it allows for good explanations. There’s enough scientific speculation about things to make it all seem very plausible, while still leaving room for growth later if there’s some gaping scientific flaw that I’m not knowledgeable enough to spot but other people are. The idea of harnessing what is essentially the energy of time in order to provide new technologies is a fascinating one, and one with a lot of potential, and it was fun to see the myriad ways that Altamerica was different from the America in the real world, which is (for all intents and purposes) the world that the main characters grew up in.

The characters themselves were decently interesting, though some of them felt a bit underdeveloped. For my part, I had difficulty at times remembering the difference between David and Zack, since they often acted and sounded quite alike in text. Mia and Theo seemed to have the most personality, and were the ones I was most interested in reading about, since they were the ones most likely to exhibit emotions more complex than just fear or anger, and also not as prone to having hints dropped about them involving some kind of shady past. Amanda was interesting enough, with her struggle between her faith and practicality, but she didn’t seem to experience that much growth.

And Hannah, well, let’s just say I’m on the fence about her. Like Amanda, she was interesting enough to read about, but her characterization seemed inconsistent. At the beginning of the book, I felt like I could relate to her quite a bit. An actress who loves the work even if it doesn’t pay the bills that well, friends who are more fair-weather than true-blue. Large-chested, and seeming a bit self-conscious about it, as evidenced in two scenes: one where she realised that someone in the audience of the play is likely ogling her chest and it actually makes her pause in her song, and a second where she mistakes someone staring at her in general as staring at her chest. Speaking as someone who has that, um, particular affliction, this reaction isn’t uncommon. People stare. It’s uncomfortable. So I liked seeing a book in which this was addressed. Only later, she gets tired of not being paid attention to and cheerfully invites people to comment on the size of her breasts. And goes from being presented as someone whose friends take her a bit for granted to someone who flits from relationship to relationship because she can’t stand not having the attention. And it just all seemed so incongruous that I wondered sometimes if Price forgot the character he started with and just went in a whole new direction without bothering to consider earlier scenes.

So over all, the characters weren’t particularly inspiring, but they weren’t all so dull as to be forgettable, either. But presentation was far from balanced, and some side characters felt better developed than main characters.

Price does have a talent for phrasing and a gift for wordplay, though, and some of the narrative was quite poetic in places. That being said, there was a bit of a tendency to ramble and let some scenes run longer than they really needed to, inflating the book to an almost unwieldy degree. The plot is complex enough, with different factions and their objectives, the plight of the Silvers and their powers, the new world they’re living in, and the notion that all of this is being scripted by people even further ahead in the future, for reasons I can guess at but weren’t stated outright. There much in this novel that leaves you guessing. Not in the way of dangling plot threads, but in the implications of events and technology and tempic power, and it’s fun to extrapolate how things might work and what might happen if this thing was different or that thing happened sooner. It’s a novel that stretches your comprehension of time, and does so in a very entertaining — if overblown — way. Even if some scenes were needlessly inflated, there’s plenty of action and intrigue to keep the plot going, with pieces of the mystery being unveiled little by little to give you a slow but solid grasp of the big picture.

Price’s novel is ambitious, and it shows, and I think for the most part the ambition pays off. It’s not perfect, but it’s a strong beginning to what could be a powerful series, one that has a lot of potential and I want to see go very far. It’s full of tropes and isn’t the most original concept, drawing themes from many other popular stories out there, but it puts them together in a way that I don’t see very often, and I think it ought to get some points for that. It’s worth reading, especially if you’re the sort of person who, like me, will read a YA novel and wonder what the concept would look like with further-reaching implications and an older cast of characters.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Dangerous Games, edited by Jonathan Oliver

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Editor’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – December 2, 2014

Summary: In a world of chances, one decision can bring down the house, one roll of the dice could bring untold wealth, or the end of everything. In this anthology of all new short stories the players gather, their stories often dark, and always compelling.

The players and the played, this new anthology from Jonathan Oliver (Magic, End of The Road, House of Fear, The End of The Line, World War Cthulhu) brings together brand new stories from an international team of talented authors, each with their own deadly game. This collection is set to include a full house of top authors including Hugo award-winning American writer Pat Cadigan, Brit Gary McMahon, Mexican Silvia Moreno Garcia, plus Tade Thompson, Rebecca Levene and more!

Thoughts: Games are something that just about everyone can relate to in some form or another. Board games, card games, video games, live-action role-playing, the options range on and on. And that’s just a typical sampling of games! Add in things like Russian Roulette, which is technically a game of chance, and you start to see how a concept can go from seemingly harmless to outright deadly.

Which is how it all works in Dangerous Games. Some stories, such as Lavie Tidhar’s Die, make their point very quickly, so you know that the name of the game is really death. (Also, in the case of that particular story, possibly somebody’s own personal literal Hell experience.) Others, like Nik Vincent’s The Stranger Cards or Pat Cadigan’s Lefty Plays Bridge, seem innocent enough at first, though get far more sinister as the story progresses.

There were some true gems in this collection, seriously amazing stories that made me want to find more of what certain authors have written so I can appreciate their writing and storytelling more! Paul Kearney’s South Mountain was an interesting, though somewhat unoriginal take historical re-enactors finding themselves actually in the middle of one of the battles they’ve come to re-enact, but the way the story was told and the detail behind the characters was what made the story great for me. Yoon Ha Lee’s Distinguishing Characteristics is a story that hints at much but says little, presenting a complex world that readers get to see only glimpses of before the story is over, and this is the second time that I’ve marvelled at this author’s ability to world-build like no other! Hillary Monahan’s The Bone Man’s Bride was evocative and raw, creepy in a way that makes you shiver but still leaves you with a shred of hope right to the very end. Rebecca Levene’s Loser may not have had the most compelling writing style, but was told so ambiguously that you think you understand what’s going on until the story’s almost done and only then do you get the revelation that it’s about something else entirely.

Perhaps it was just my perception, but it seemed that the best stories in this collection were in the first two thirds of the book. While the last third wasn’t bad, I felt that there were more stories in that percentage that didn’t have the same level of oomph as earlier on, like the stories there were ones that were definitely good enough to make the cut but held for later on in the book because the earlier stories were ones that definitely would compel a reader to keep going, but later ones were more of a take-it-or-leave-it bunch. As I said, I’m not sure if this was solely my perception and tendency to launch myself into anthologies with glee but soon find myself craving something novel-length again before the collection’s finished, or whether this is something that was felt by other readers too.

But even so, there are no stories in Dangerous Games that I didn’t like, or that I felt were dull or that I’d rather have skipped over. Which is very rare for me when reading a multi-author anthology; more often than not I find at least one story that resonates with me considerably more poorly than all the others. And this wasn’t the case here, so I can definitely class Dangerous Games as being a cut above other collections of its kind, and one that contains some serious talent that deserves recognition. Most of the stories do have some degree of genre element to them, hauntings or secondary worlds or events in the future, but even so, I can see this book having a good appeal to those whose primary interest isn’t SFF but just involves some good stories with a creepy setup and a heavy dash of mystery. Definitely one of the better anthologies that I have read ever, let alone just this year!

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Horrorstor, by Grady Hendrix

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – September 23, 2014

Summary: Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.

To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.

Thoughts: Horrorstor is one of those rare books that actually manages to combine disturbing imagery and good tongue-in-cheek humour that pokes fun at not only foreign-sounding product names but also the unique experience that is Retail Hell. It’s hard not to grin when you get to read amusing descriptions of Tossur treadmill-desks and Rimmeyob shelving. The whole thing is an Ikea riff, which the book doesn’t pretend to hide; it cheerfully says that the whole Orsk store idea was a company deciding it wanted to do exactly what Ikea was doing, only cheaper!

The story of Horrorstor centres around Amy, a disgruntled Orsk employee who doesn’t get along with her manager and who finds her life at loose ends. Barely hanging onto her shared apartment, fearing having to move back in with her mother, a university drop-out who sees no real future except for mediocre employment at a store and company she doesn’t really feel any attachment to. So when she and model worker Ruth Anne get hand-picked to join the investigation team to find out who’s been vandalising the Orsk store at night, the only reason she agrees to do the extra work is the money and the fact that her supervisor will put in a transfer to get her to another store.

And that alone can provide some creepiness, as anyone who has ever been in a building after hours can attest to. Go into a store or school when the place is closed, dark, and devoid of the usual crowds of human life you’re used to seeing, and suddenly everything echoes, odd sounds are louder, the shadows deeper. So even when some of the mystery is explained by the unexpected presence of 2 other employees and a homeless man, this part of he novel is still creepy.

And then he real haunting begins.

I loved the book’s prodding of Retail Hell. I loved the characters, who were real and diverse and carried their own quirks admirably. I didn’t love the lack of originality that the story held, which was analogous to just about any one of a dozen or more horror movies that relied more on imagery than plot to keep you interested. The Orsk store was built upon the site of an old psychiatric treatment centre from the 1800s, run by a sadistic overseers, and right there I think you can see what I mean by the way it’s a little lacking in the originality department. The actual plot of the novels seems to largely just be a frame for the creepy images to hang upon, rather than a real driving force behind the novel’s progression.

Admittedly, the imagery was terrifying, and those with an active imagination are forewarned not to read Horrorstor at night. (And definitely don’t read it if you’re working after-hours security at a retail store!) If you don’t find the idea of a woman working her fingers literally to the bone in a madness-induced bid to claw an escape from the now-tangible monsters of her childhood to be disturbing, then you’re more jaded than I am. Oddly, the only part that I found decidedly undisturbing was the most action-packed scene in which the entire store is being flooded with dirty water and the remaining two employees are desperately trying to escape before drowning. At was at that point that I realised that I’d already hit my limit on being creeped out, that the balance had swung too far, and that what should have been a tense scene was just being read with detached curiosity.

However, this was, I think, an entirely person thing, as everyone’s limits for horror are different, and I suspect plenty of readers viewed this as being more intense than I did.

Horrorstor would make a fantastic movie. I can say that with utter certainty. Hendrix has a good flair for both approachable wry humour and characters that you want to know more about, and these aspects of the novel were brilliant, highly enjoyable! And the imagery was crystal clear throughout, so I was never in doubt as to what was happening even when things were chaotic. Seriously, I would love to see this transformed with visual media.

One minor downside I feel I should mention is that if you’re not reading this book on a tablet or as a dead-tree version, there are things you’re going to miss. The booked was packed with images that provided some more background detail, amusing little tidbits, and as I’ve seen mentioned in a couple of reviews, even the ads of Orsk products carry some small detail that really adds to the flavour of the story, and all of this was utterly missed by me because I read it on a basic e-reader that only displayed a small fraction of whatever image was actually there. Finding out there was more to it was disappointing, since it’s a drawback to anyone who doesn’t have the option of reading it in one of two specific formats. I can see why such formats would be needed to properly display the images, of course, but that doesn’t make the lack of them for everyone else any less disappointing.

Still, Horrorstor was a good horror novel, a quick read with a fast tight plot, excellent characters, and disturbing imagery that will stay with you long after the last page. Highly recommended for those who enjoy a good blend of horror and humour, or for those looking to hip their toes into the horror genre to see what it can provide.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Closer to Home, by Mercedes Lackey

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – October 24, 2014

Summary: Mags was once an enslaved orphan living a harsh life in the mines, until the King’s Own Herald discovered his talent and trained him as a spy. Now a Herald in his own right, at the newly established Heralds’ Collegium, Mags has found a supportive family, including his Companion Dallen.

Although normally a Herald in his first year of Whites would be sent off on circuit, Mags is needed close to home for his abilities as a spy and his powerful Mindspeech gift. There is a secret, treacherous plot within the royal court to destroy the Heralds. The situation becomes dire after the life of Mags’ mentor, King’s Own Nikolas, is imperiled. His daughter Amily is chosen as the new King’s Own, a complicated and dangerous job that is made more so by this perilous time. Can Mags and Amily save the court, the Heralds, and the Collegium itself?

Thoughts: Even though I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the last 5-book Valdemar set, figuring that it could have been cut down to 4 books if there weren’t as many long descriptions of sports games or copy-and-past flashbacks from previous books, I still knew that I was going to end up reading the latest book in the very large series, Closer to Home. It was still a Valdemar novel, and even if some of the stories haven’t impressed me, the world probably always will. As with the Collegium Chronicles books, Closer to Home still centres largely around Mags, with the addition of more chapters from Amily’s viewpoint, which was good to see as a bit of variation.

There’s a bit of a double meaning going on with the title. Closer to Home represents both how Mags and Amily are a step closer to settling into their lives and roles as adults and finding themselves at peace with the situation, and also incorporates the struggle of handling problems at your doorstep instead of the far-flung or nation-wide issues that were the focus of previous novels. ‘Potential’ is the name of the game, as this book deals very much with the role of women in Haven and through Valdemaran society in general, and whether or not their wants are determined by actual personal desire or by ignorance of anything else. It’s a complex issue, one that sometimes it seems Lackey is trying to present as complex while also trying to simplify it to an either-or debate. The argument came down to a lot of agreeing that much of it was determined by upbringing and awareness of potential, with also a lot of shrugging and saying, “You can’t win ’em all,” when it came to actually doing anything about those views. Given that it took the intervention of the King to stop one man from marrying off a daughter who didn’t want to marry and to make sure she got additional education that might awaken interest in other avenues, it’s clear that the society has a long way to go.

It does, to its benefit, ask some of the hard questions. Aside from asking why women can’t do things that men do, or why they’re only treated as marriage prospects, it also addresses class difference, asking why common workers don’t get the same benefits afforded highborns when it comes to rights and privilege. It was a question that ultimately had no answer, except to say that it was simply a matter of time and resources; there weren’t enough people with enough eyes on the comings and goings of everyday folk whereas the rich and titled had eyes on them all the time, so what they did was more visible and easier to address. It’s an unsatisfactory answer, but to its credit, it was realistic for the setting, and at least the question was asked, openly and boldly, instead of being hinted at vaguely and hoping that someone, somewhere, would pay attention to it.

Looking at this book on its own, out of context from the series whole, it could easily be taken that the book is trying to just handwave a serious issue by declaring, “Eh, we can save a few but not all, and that’s good enough for now.” And I suspect that a lot of people probably got annoyed at that. In context with the rest of the series, however, and keeping in mind that this book takes place far in the past of the main Valdemar stories, I’m tempted to forgive it this sin. As the world’s timeline advances, great societal changes get made. It would be like getting angry at a historical fiction novel for portraying history accurately. There’s a certain amount of allowance that I think can be made, even if the attitude and behaviour of many characters is difficult to swallow.

And by difficult to swallow, I do mean difficult. There’s a scene that can essentially come across as rape apology. A 14 year old girl sends a besotted love letter to a handsome man she’s only ever seen the once, and when it gets found out, she’s dressed dow quite fiercely by someone who tells her, in no uncertain terms, that the guy could have raped her and the law could do nothing if that letter was brought into play because clearly she threw herself at him. Despite the fact that Heralds can literally tell when somebody is lying, and despite the fact that in a previous book that appears chronologically before this one it was said that Heralds accept mental and emotional evidence in crimes, no no, the law could do nothing because a girl sent a letter saying she loved a guy from the moment she saw him, so that apparently means all sex is okay.

Yes, this scene raised my blood pressure. I can’t give that one a pass, because while it may be how people think a lot of the time, it grated against what has been established time and again in the Valdemar novels, which are largely about hope and improvement and how anyone can be something great and so long as justice can be done it will be done.

When it comes to the story, though, I can’t say that much about it. Most of it was a Romeo and Juliet retelling with a sick twist, though that sick twist doesn’t really get revealed until after a few eye-rolls at the way the story was mirroring Romeo and Juliet so closely. It’s a story that requires patience, given that it seems at first to be rather unoriginal and trite. And very little really develops outside of one mystery being solved and a few characters adjusting to their new roles in life. The story seems to be mostly a backdrop against which questions of social justice can be asked, the solid story being an unimportant prop for nebulous “what if”s. Which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but if you’re like me, who spent years reading Valdemar novels for tales of epic adventure, it would be a bit disappointing.

Lackey’s smooth writing style does make up for a lot of that, though, since I’ve always found her storytelling to be as welcoming as a hot bath on a cold night. You sink into it and you get so lost in it all that you don’t notice the passage of time. Her novels are 99% of the time such fun that the writing itself covers up a multitude of minor sins, and since I started reading her in my teen years, it always brings with it a sense of comfortable nostalgia that draws me back every time, not just to read whatever new story she’s written but also to experience the storytelling.

In the end, I have to say that while Closer to Home had its problems and I wouldn’t recommend it for someone who hasn’t read previous Valdemar novels, I still enjoyed it and I’m curious to see how the rest of the books in this branch of the series will go. Some plot threads regarding Mags are still dangling (though I’m starting to suspect I may be the only one who’s noticed them…), and Amily’s new role as the King’s Own has the potential to give rise to some interesting stories. Hopefully they’ll just be a bit more exciting next time around.

White Space, by Ilsa J Bick

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date  – February 11, 2014

Summary: In the tradition of Memento and Inception comes a thrilling and scary young adult novel about blurred reality where characters in a story find that a deadly and horrifying world exists in the space between the written lines.

Seventeen-year-old Emma Lindsay has problems: a head full of metal, no parents, a crazy artist for a guardian whom a stroke has turned into a vegetable, and all those times when she blinks away, dropping into other lives so ghostly and surreal it’s as if the story of her life bleeds into theirs. But one thing Emma has never doubted is that she’s real.

Then she writes “White Space,” a story about these kids stranded in a spooky house during a blizzard.

Unfortunately, “White Space” turns out to be a dead ringer for part of an unfinished novel by a long-dead writer. The manuscript, which she’s never seen, is a loopy Matrix meets Inkheart story in which characters fall out of different books and jump off the page. Thing is, when Emma blinks, she might be doing the same and, before long, she’s dropped into the very story she thought she’d written. Trapped in a weird, snow-choked valley, Emma meets other kids with dark secrets and strange abilities: Eric, Casey, Bode, Rima, and a very special little girl, Lizzie. What they discover is that they–and Emma–may be nothing more than characters written into being from an alternative universe for a very specific purpose.

Now what they must uncover is why they’ve been brought to this place–a world between the lines where parallel realities are created and destroyed and nightmares are written–before someone pens their end.

Thoughts: Throughout reading this book, my brain went through three different stages. First it was lightly poached. Then it started to get a bit fried. Then at the end, it was thoroughly scrambled. White Space is one of those novels that I say without a doubt isn’t for everybody, because it’s confusing as anything and requires twisting your mind in about 5 different directions at once and spending the majority of the book not knowing half of what’s going on.

But because of this, it’s a book with amazing reread potential. Not just that, but I think it requires multiple reads to fully appreciate, because the story is beautifully complex, a multifaceted gem of storytelling. It’s told from multiple viewpoints, all of teens with abilities that they don’t quite understand and definitely don’t want to reveal, thrown together by painful circumstance and forced to solve the mystery of what brought them together and what keeps attacking and killing everyone around them, before they themselves are killed. Emma experiences strange blinks where she loses time and gets visions and memories of someone else’s very disturbing life, as well as getting glimpses of a famous author’s unfinished works. Rima can sense the whispers of the dead in things that were close to them. The gifts of the others, don’t become clear until much later on, so I won’t give any spoilers in that regard, but suffice to say that some of them aren’t quite what I expected. Everything is important, everything in its place, which is impressive for a novel that’s so steeped in utter chaos.

There’s some extremely disturbing imagery in White Space, more than I’ve come to expect in novels aimed at teens, and enough to make me feel pretty squeamish at times. From people being torn apart from the inside to just knowing that any character you may get attached to might not make it out of the story alive, it’s a book that evokes a lot of emotion in the reader, and it’s something that I think some may need a bit of a warning before they get fully into it. I may not have the weakest stomach, but there was some stuff in here to make me feel uncomfortable. The imagery was terrifyingly clear.

Which is one of those things that, as the book goes on and pieces of the overarching story get revealed, gives me pause in retrospect. Much of the story is about characters in books being real on another plane of existence, part of a separate multiverse that their creator/artist reaches into in order to bring out books, paintings, and so on. To tell stories. The best books get under your skin, are so real that the reader feels them deeply, sinks into them, and sees them as if they’re really there. So when a book that plays with that notion is just such a book, well, you may start to understand why my mind felt like a cooked egg by the end of it.

That notion also can appeal to just about any writer who’s had the experience of dealing with characters as though they’re real people. Characters don’t always want to do what they’re told. You want the plot to go one way, they want to do something else entirely. It’s practically a running gag amongst those who have fictional people inside their heads. Not only does White Space address the issue of popular works of fiction being part of a real multiverse, but it also looks at what might happen if a character was unfinished, without a set beginning, middle, and end to their story, and what happens then. What also happens when the author puts enough of themselves into a character; do they become part of the character, or does the character become a part of them? Honestly, at times I started to feel like Bick must have been present for one of might late-night conversations with friends in which we discussed these very issues, because so much of this book’s exploration of reality and multiverse theory matched closely with the general consensus we all reached at the time.

Which begs the question: is Ilsa J Bick writing my life and made me have those conversations and reach those conclusions?

This is what I mean when I say this book isn’t for everyone. If you don’t have the kind of mind that enjoys those sorts of hypotheticals, and throwing a bunch of “what if” questions together all at the same time, then much of what makes this book so brilliant for me will be lost on you. It is, however, a fantastic YA horror novel with powerful imagery that challenges the notions of what teenagers can and cannot handle in their fiction, and for that alone I think this book deserves a greater amount of attention. I can’t wait to read the second book of the duology, due out in 2015, and at least this time I’ll know what a head-trip I’m getting myself into when I sit down with it.

(Received for review from the publisher.)