Friday, March 5, 2021

6 Books with H.M. Long

 H. M. Long is a Canadian fantasy writer, author of Hall of Smoke and Temple of No God (coming 2022), who loves history, hiking, and exploring the world. She lives in Ontario, but can often be spotted snooping about European museums or wandering the Alps with her German husband. She tweets @hannah_m_long and is on instagram @hmlongbooks

Today, she tells us about her Six Books:

1. What book are you currently reading?

I’m reading Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen. It’s gritty and sharp, but also full of colour and mind-bending possibility, and a found-family that makes my heart ache. Nophek is redefining everything I love about sci-fi and it’s one of those rare books that preoccupies me every time I put it down. 

2. What upcoming book you are really excited about? 

I’m so excited for Genevieve Gornichec’s The Witch's Heart. It’s essentially Circe meets Norse Mythology and I’m in love with it. Also, there’s Loki. 

3. Is there a book you're currently itching to re-read?

Kings of The Wyld by Nicholas Eames. This was one of my top reads of last year and I can’t wait to read it again one day. It was the perfect mix of humour, action, and heart-warming human connection, and it was so hard to hit the last page.

4. How about a book you've changed your mind about over time--either positively or negatively?

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski. I DNF’s the book on my first read because the format drove me a little mad, but after reflection I started to appreciate it more, and it worked its way back into my to-read pile. 

5. What's one book, which you read as a child or young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?

Sabriel by Garth Nix. It’s hard to judge just how much this book and the whole Old Kingdom series influenced me. I listened to the Sabriel audiobook half a dozen times as a young adult and its darkness, humour, incredible characters and magic system have stayed with me (also, Tim Curry’s brilliant narration). It’s still my go-to comfort read. 

6. And speaking of that, what's *your* latest book, and why is it awesome? 

Hall of Smoke just came out on January 19th and I think it’s awesome for many reasons (mortal gods at war, lots of axes and an epic journey of redemption and revenge), but particularly this: I wanted a female protagonist with as much humanity, strength, vulnerability and nuance as the women I saw in my life. So I wrote her, to the best of my abilities. Despite grief and insurmountable odds, Hall of Smoke’s Hessa keeps moving forward, keeps doing what needs to be done, fighting her demons and being generally badass in the process. I love her for it, and I hope readers will too.

Thanks, Hannah!

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Thursday Morning Superhero - Happy Bad Idea Day

I am a day late here at Nerds of a Feather, but I would be doing you all a disservice if I didn't take the time to wish you all a Happy Belated Bad Idea Day.  I have mentioned Bad Idea here in previous posts, but after over a year of promotion, an unrelenting button, a surprise ash can, and a whole lot of bad ideas, the first comic hit select comic book stores yesterday.

To get fans even more excited, it was announced that they were including not-first print editions for when stores sold out of the first print that actually had bonus materials.  Each store was given a special button to give to the fan who picked up the first Bad Idea book at their store and some fans even camped out over night.  

Unfortunately none of the stores here in Austin are part of the Bad Idea program so I had to order my first copy of Eniac #1 from Matt Kindt online.  Bad Idea is limiting sales to one book per person and have stated that there will be no digital copies of their books.  I will post my thoughts on Eniac once my copy is delivered, but the early previews have been stunning and I have not read a Matt Kindt book that I didn't enjoy.

The marketing may have been a bit odd, but Bad Idea successfully built up a successful hype train that was able to overcome obstacles due to COVID and I cannot wait to read their other books.  To see if any shops near you are part of their program or to pre-order any of their books online you can visit their website here.

While I may never forget them for forcing us to click on a button one billion times, it has already been a wild ride and I haven't even read a book yet.  Happy Bad Idea Day everyone.

POSTED BY MIKE N. aka Victor Domashev -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Superman & Lois knows what we like, so it sticks to what works

By this point, TV producers have refined the formula for Superman: soap opera plus action

With minimal tweaking, Superman & Lois could be read as an immediate sequel to the deliciously cheesy Lois & Clark that ran from 1993 to 1997. That earlier show ended abruptly with the super couple already settled (after an unbelievable number of attempts at getting married) and ready for parenthood. Most of the time it was silly, and quite a few times it was outlandish, but if there's one thing it was always, it was sincere. The 90s TV Superman was a good guy who wanted to do good. And who, incidentally, happened to have laser eyes. That's what every Superman story should be at its core, and Lois & Clark, as convoluted as it got, succeeded on that front.

In the new Superman & Lois, which premiered on February 23, this model of all too placid domestic life gets a series of curveballs: Clark is fired from the Daily Planet, his mother dies of a stroke, the Kent farm falls into financial trouble, and his son gets his own laser eyes. This adds much-needed relatability to a character frequently accused of being too perfect to be interesting. In the first episode, Lois hits the nail of the problem with perfect characters: "No one ever dreams about the problems." Some of us may aspire to be powerful like Superman, but what Superman aspires to is a normal life among us, even if that includes death of loved ones, predatory banks, unemployment and mental health issues.

The narrative appeal of juggling superheroic adventures with human responsibilities is a trick first mastered by Spider-Man, but with time, other writers have learned the lesson. Superman & Lois opens by keeping the focus on the personal, on Clark's life journey. The first few minutes quickly (maybe too quickly) remind us of the parts of the story we know by heart: blown-up Krypton, crash-landed baby, quiet farm life, dead father, Metropolis, Lois. Once that is out of the way, we can proceed to the juicy family drama we came for. Notably, there's no mention of the larger events that, from this show's perspective, just happened in the rest of the Arrowverse, namely the reordering of all planes of existence. In fact, there's not even the smallest acknowledgement of those other stories; at the very least, Superman's cousin Kara should have been at Martha Kent's funeral. Maybe the writers decided we don't need to bother with the other shows for now.

If so, they're not wrong. We can worry about the multiverse in later episodes; there's more than enough happening at home: Clark has decided to move back to his childhood farm, his sons just discovered they're half aliens, his wife is smelling a corporate conspiracy, his ex-girlfriend holds the reins of his financial future, and the locals have strong opinions on these newcome urbanites. Here we have potential for catty gossip and teary melodrama that would make Smallville proud.

The difficulty, as always, lies in making both sides of the story relevant to each other. It's a delicate juggling act to make an indestructible alien care about things like reverse mortgages and media takeovers and social anxiety. This premiere episode had a lot of ground to cover, and jumped a bit less than gracefully between all its topics. A mature Superman returning to his hometown as a family man is a worthy concept, but it remains to be seen how skillfully the series will keep its hold on so many threads. Unlike the rest of the Arrowverse, this entry is not so sustained by the superhuman shenanigans as by the charm of the two lead stars. If the writers understand that, and let them carry the show, it may very well become something great.

(Side note: Am I overanalyzing if I notice a thematic resonance in a hero struggling to maintain a nuclear family while chasing a villain who sabotages nuclear plants? Is that too on the nose on the writers' part? Or am I imagining things?)

From just one episode, any pronouncement would of course be premature, but so far it appears that this version of Superman is cooking an ingenious blend of what worked well in other productions, i.e. the earnest awkwardness of Lois & Clark, the bottomless well of angst of Smallville, the gritty camera work of Man of Steel, and the social relevance of Supergirl. At the center stands what always must: Clark, the good guy who wants to do good. The film division of Warner Brothers should take note. After almost a century of writers, a Superman story can still be interesting if you don't try to fix what's not broken.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10 an enjoyable experience, but not without it flaws.

Bonuses: +1 for beautiful cinematography.

Penalties: −1 for turning Lois into a talking soapbox instead of letting the plot illustrate the social commentary.

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 an enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws.

POSTED BY: Arturo Serrano, multiclass Trekkie/Whovian/Moonie, accumulating experience points for still more obsessions.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Adri and Sean join the 2021 Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards! Intro and Nominees

Greetings, nerds! Adri here, and I'm delighted to be back with the team at the Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards (SCKA) for another year of blogger award judging! This year, we've assembled a fine jury of bloggers, booktubers and masters of squee, and I've also brought our Sean along for the adventure!

The SCKA are awards (well, kind of awards - there's no ceremony or speeches, but the trophy is a very attractive rock) given out by a group of bloggers each year for works of SFF that catch our attention, especially those that might otherwise fly under the radar of awards consideration. The "chaos" is because we are prone to changing our own rules, even when the awards are going on, not to mention 

This year, we've expanded our jury significantly, as well as adding a new category: Best Debut. The 2021 jurors are:

And, of course, Adri and Sean.

For Round 1, we've divided up the categories among the jurors and come up with a shortlist of 5-7 titles for each. Without further ado, let's unveil our selections:

Best Debut
  • A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown
  • Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
  • The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke
  • Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
  • Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
  • The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson
Adri's thoughts: This is our new category, and its full of books I'm excited to dig into. Raybearer and Legendborn in particular have both been sitting on my TBR for a few months, so that's where I'll start with the new-to-me titles on here.

Best Fantasy
  • The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
  • The Midnight Bargain by C. L. Polk
  • Comet Weather by Liz Williams
  • The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K. S. Villoso
  • Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune
Sean's Thoughts: A mix of heavy hitters and books that have flown a little under the radar. A mix of cozy reads and harrowing ones. Despite the contrast of tones, they all seem like stories with similar high-quality craft.

Best Science Fiction
  • Deal With the Devil by Kit Rocha
  • Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen
  • The Vanished Birds by Simon Jiminez
  • Goldilocks by Laura Lam
  • The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
  • Repo Virtual by Corey J. White
Adri's Thoughts: This is a super intriguing shortlist which crosses multiple subgenres within science fiction, from space opera to cyberpunk to post apocalyptic thriller. The Space Between Worlds is an early favourite for me, but I'm ready to dive into those I haven't read yet.

Best Blurred Boundaries
  • The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart
  • Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
  • The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
  • Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Sean's Thoughts: Probably the list of nominees that most jump out to me. I love when novels take risks and push the boundaries of genre fiction, and from the books on here I’ve read thus far, and the authors I’m familiar with, this is a slam dunk. Picking a winner is going to be tough.

Best Series
  • DOMINION OF THE FALLEN by Aliette de Bodard
  • ISLANDS OF BLOOD AND STORM by Kacen Callender
  • SWEET BLACK WAVES by Kristina Perez
  • THE POPPY WAR by R. F. Kuang
  • DAEVABAD by S. A. Chakraborty
  • WITCHES OF LYCHFORD by Paul Cornell
Adri's Thoughts: Ah, series, my dear sweet nemesis category. Judging series last year almost defeated me, but I love getting to grips with the longer arcs represented here, so of course I'm back for more. At least this year, it's full of series that I'm mostly familiar with, although I'm going to have plenty of incentive to finish off some of these trilogies that I haven't got to the end of yet.

Best Novella
  • Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
  • The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg
  • Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
  • Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi
  • Sweet Harmony by Claire North
  • Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark
Sean's Thoughts: Novellas are terrific because it allows a writer to potentially tell a story as expansive as a novel, but devoid of fluff. These novellas do just that. Some on this list have a grand scope of worldbuilding. Some dig enormously deep into their characters’ psyche. Either way, it’s a fast but potent gut-punch.

Best Short Fiction

"Tiger Lawyer Gets it Right" by Sarah Gailey (Escape Pod: the Science Fiction Anthology)
"A Convergence in Chorus Architecture" by Dare Segun Falowo (Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction From Africa and the African Diaspora)
"In Kind" by Kayla Whaley (Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite)
"Volumes" by Laura Duerr (Cast of Wonders 435)
"You Perfect, Broken Thing" by C. L. Clark (Uncanny Magazine 32)
"Yellow and the Perception of Reality" by Maureen F. McHugh (
"Juice Like Wounds" by Seanan McGuire (

Adri's Thoughts: No words. Just great stuff. Can't wait!

And that's the list! Check back in June for the results of our first round of judging, where we whittle down our shortlists to two finalists and start reading for the final decision...

Monday, March 1, 2021

Microreview [book]: A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

 A worthy follow-up that demands and rewards the reader's attention

A Memory Called Empire was a highlight of 2019: a politically intricate, engaging space opera set in an empire which considers itself the heart of civilisation, exploring the concept of cultural hegemony and concepts of belonging from the perspective of an outsider, Mahit Dzmare, who has spent her entire life wishing to assimilate but finds herself ill prepared for the reality. There's also the small matter of Mahit's predecessor - the former ambassador to Teixcalaan - dying in super mysterious circumstances, and the resulting combination of upheaval and culture clash makes for an outstanding novel, which you should really go and read for yourself if you haven't already (seriously, go do that before reading this sequel review, otherwise I will not be held responsible for what happens next).

A Desolation Called Peace deals in large part with the biggest outstanding plot point from its predecessor: the arrival of an unknown alien fleet on the outskirts of Teixcalaanli space, close to Mahit's home of Lsel station. In doing so, it shifts the focus of action away from The Jewel of the World, Teixcalaan's ostentatiously named capital, and onto the fleet of ships tasked with uncovering the nature of the threat and neutralising it, finding out what happened to the Texcalaanli colonies which went dark in these areas as they go. (Readers of the genre may surmise that whatever happened to those colonies wasn't good, and it's not a spoiler to say you'd be right!) The commander - or yaotlek - of that small fleet is Nine Hibiscus, who is dealing with a vastly underpowered delegation for the size of the mission she has been sent on, as well as open dissent from 50% of the ships under her command due to political infighting between her own Ministry and the Ministry of Information back on Teixcalaan. Trying to understand an enemy which appears to be able to attack without warning, and with intense coordination, and whose only language is some sort of nausea-inducing theremin screech, she calls for diplomatic backup, only to be provided with Three Seagrass - Mahit's former cultural liaison and love interest - and, breaking all reasonable protocol, Mahit herself.

Through the book's prelude and early interludes, the reader gets a sense of the alien's concept of the world, and of their ideas about what does and does not constitute a conscious, fully matured person, far earlier than the characters do. A Desolation Called Peace's opening paragraph begins by laying out a concept of thought and communication that is at direct odds with the use of language: "to think as a person, and not as a wantful voice, not as a blank-eyed hungering beast, not as a child thinks, with only its own self and the cries of its mouth for company." Through these opening pages, we get a semi-comprehensible picture of what the contact between the humans and this alien group looked like from their perspective, as well as an immediate understanding of a consciousness that seems in every way at odds with Teixcalaan: a culture which places linguistic traditions at the absolute centre of what it means to be a civlised Teixcalaanlim, where laws are written in poetic forms, and where mind-altering technology (like the imagos of Lsel station, which pass down technical knowledge and fragments of personality from one generation to the next) is taboo except in a few rare circumstances.

Despite having a good grasp on what the humans are going to discover about their counterparts, it's still fun to watch this first contact play out, especially because its surrounded by so much of the fallout from the first book. Mahit begins her journey back on Lsel Station, struggling with a malfunctioning imago with the personality of her ambassadorial predecessor and trying to figure out where she fits in between the competing factions of Lsel and the continued draw of Teixcalaan, despite the heartbreak and trauma of her prior visit. Three Seagrass - whose perspective we now see firsthand, rather than the tight focus on Mahit in the previous book - has also been deeply affected by Mahit's departure, and when she is sent to the front, her decision to collect a disgraced "barbarian" ambassador along the way is clearly driven by something other than practical need. Having Three Seagrass' point of view keeps her on the right side of sympathetic even as we see her work through her immense prejudices against Mahit's background (in one pivotal scene, she offhandedly asks Mahit to hand over her jacket so that she can clean vomit off the floor with it, assuming that her Stationer clothes would be better for the task than a Teixcalaanli uniform). It takes Three Seagrass and Mahit the better part of half a book to reunite and make their way over to the centre of the action, but it's a moment that's well worth waiting for, as the dynamics between them and the wrench that Mahit's presence throws into the workings of the fleet get things moving very nicely.

There are other characters - both returning and new - who also contribute to the tapestry that is A Desolation Called Peace's central plot. Eight Antidote, the 11-year-old 90% clone of the former emperor who is now the assumed heir to the current holder of the title, provides a fourth point of view which initially felt rather forced, especially as Eight Antidote is a very precocious eleven-year-old and having him narrate things from the perspective of his eleven-year-old baby-emperor ego makes it hard to connect with him. As the politics of the fleet and the hub coincide, though, and Eight Antidote goes beyond figuring out the puzzle of what's happening around him for its own sake and begins genuinely grappling with the moral questions behind it, his actions become far more interesting and integral to the plot. Also of note is Nine Hibiscus' adjutant, Twenty Cicada, a high ranking fleet member described, normally in the same sentence, as both the perfect Teixcalaanlim and as a cultural oddity. Twenty Cicada grew up on a colonised planet which still maintains a cultural belief in homeostasis, and characters constantly pick up on small elements of his appearance and behaviour - up to and including his name, which shouldn't have an animal in it to be a "real" Teixcalaanli name - which mark him as different. His differences start out as a neat reminder that the empire is not the homogenous thing we saw through Mahit's eyes in A Memory Called Empire, and becomes something rather more important as events in the fleet unfold, making him an intriguing character who, by the end, might have even surmounted the book's disaster lesbians to become my favourite.

Like its predecessor, A Desolation Called Peace isn't an easy read, especially for its first half. Perspectives change, regularly, mid-chapter, schemes and counter-schemes are described and enacted in intricate detail, and while the prose itself has lovely moments (particularly the prelude and interludes), it doesn't attempt to directly replicate the specific charms and poetic turns of Teixcalaanli, which are rendered in a way which, while still poetic in meaning, makes it clear that the English text is a translation of something that scans and sounds very different in the original. It adds up to something which keeps its audience at a slight distance, even as the characters exude their own charms and progress through plot points which are, at turns, horrifying, hilarious and engaging. If you can spend the time with it, though, A Desolation Called Peace promises the same engaging, thoughtful science fiction as its predecessor, in a context new enough to make it fresh while building on the commentary set up in A Memory Called Empire. Thoroughly worthwhile.

The Math

Baseline Score: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 a sequel which builds out from its predecessor in a perfect way; +1 excellent characters both returning and new

Penalties: -1 Holds its reader at arms length from the cultures and languages involved

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10

POSTED BY: Adri, Nerds of a Feather co-editor, is a semi-aquatic migratory mammal most often found in the UK. She has many opinions about SFF books, and is also partial to gaming, baking, interacting with dogs, and Asian-style karaoke. Find her on Twitter at @adrijjy

Reference: Martine, Arkady. A Desolation Called Peace [Tor, 2021]

Friday, February 26, 2021

Nanoreviews: Battle Ground, The Very Best of Kate Elliott, Calculated Risks

Butcher, Jim. Battle Ground [Ace]

For a seventeenth novel in a long running series expected to conclude somewhere around book twenty three or twenty four, most of Battle Ground (right up until the very last chapters) sure felt like a series ending book. Battle Ground is, functionally, a 400 page battle. Peace Talks, published a few months earlier, marked Jim Butcher's return after six years and that novel was a set up to an apocalyptic final battle. This book is that battle.

Battle Ground rewards long time readers of the series with connections and reconnections a plenty as everyone shows up for the fight. Granted, moreso than with other novels I would question why someone who wasn't a long time reader of the series would jump in here. Heck, I've only read the first five Dresden Files novels and then books fifteen and sixteen before this, so I'm sure I missed all sorts of context and tips of the hat - but with at least *some* knowledge of the series and, more importantly, the more recent novels - Battle Ground works.

Your mileage may vary, of course, to your interest level in one very long and increasingly escalatingly dire fight with the occasional pause to breath, plot, quip, and raise the personal stakes. It's impact is truly tied to your investment in the series. If you've been riding with Harry Dresden and friends (and foes), this is a necessary novel - though again, it's a whole LOT of battle. If you've read this deep into the series, you're going to read this.
Score: 7/10

Elliott, Kate. The Very Best of Kate Elliott [Tachyon]

Kate Elliott is best known for her long form epic fantasy, novels stretching upwards towards a thousand pages (each) of worldbuilding and top notch storytelling. Without being familiar with the full breadth of her career, the idea of Kate Elliott writing short fiction is surprising. Though she has written far more novels than stories, Elliott's short fiction stretches almost as far back to her first novels.

As with any collection, which stories hit with a given reader can vary. For me, two of my favorites are "On the Dying Winds of the Old Year and the Birthing Winds of the New" and "The Gates of Jorian", both stories where I wanted to know far more about the rest of the world and where the stories went after the last page. Granted, the former is part of the Crossroads world (Spirit Gate, Black Wolves, etc) - but the larger point is that with the best of her stories Elliott's worldbuilding is suggestive of the work she normally does over hundreds of pages.
Score: 7/10

McGuire, Seanan. Calculated Risks [DAW]

Calculated Risks is just about as experimental as a tenth novel in a series can be. After an absolutely wild ending to Imaginary Numbers, Sarah Zellaby is on another world with Antimony Price, cousin Artie, and a couple of others. If that wasn't bad enough (and it is), Antimony and co. don't recognize Sarah as family, they recognize her as the predator her species is. That's a problem. 

This is a novel taken just about as far away as can be from everything familiar with the Incryptid series, except for Sarah and Antimony. Calculated Risks is told with the wit and heart as readers have come to expect and love from Seanan McGuire, but the usual cryptids and the threat from the Covenant are not part of this book. Calculated Risks is about survival on an alien land and getting back home no matter the cost.

It's a bold move on McGuire's part and as she does so many times, she pulls it off perfectly. Though - while Seanan McGuire often presents multiple entry points into her long running series and ease readers in who might not remember what came before, Calculated Risks is not that entry point. Readers need to be already invested in the story being told to be able and willing to jump in. At the bare minimum, this is truly the second half of the Sarah Zellaby story began in Imaginary Numbers. Long time fans will find much to love here.
Score: 8/10

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 4x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Microreview [book]: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Full of fun, YA tropes, The Gilded Ones explores a violent world where friendship is a matter of survival. 

A picture of the protagonist Deka with gold on her skin

Content Warning: Rape, Torture, Religious Trauma 

One aspect of what makes The Gilded Ones a fun read is Namina Forna's control YA tropes. The novel opens with a common beginning: the protagonist Deka must go through a ceremony to find her place in the town. Of course, Deka isn't normal, and Forna drags the reader into the horrors of what happens when a young woman's body is not considered her own. While I would hesitate to call this book grimdark, it's definitely not shying away from the realities of a violent, patriarchal system. 

Because Deka does not bleed red, but rather gold, she is outcast from her town and collected to be part of the king's army to fight deathshrieks--large, hulking monsters that can kill with the sound of their screams. Girls who bleed gold have heightened senses, strength, and are very hard to kill, which was why until recently, the king had ordered them put to death rather than utilized in his army. Now, they train with young men their age, jatu, in order to campaign against a massive deathshriek army gathering at the edge of the emperor's land.

Enter Keita, a young lord turned jatu warrior who is partnered with Deka. While the other girls are friendly with their jatu partners, Keita and Deka connect more deeply over their shared horrors: Deka, being tortured by her family and elders for bleeding gold, and Keita for the massacre of his family by deathshrieks. Once again, Forna demonstrates her control of the warrior-lover trope that so often appears in YA, but I appreciated that Keita was not just shown to be a great warrior--since all the characters are--but rather it's his ability to empathize with Deka and the other girls that forms their bond. Of course, there is more to Deka and the deathshrieks than we are first led to believe...

Much of the emotional heart of this book is Deka and her friends coming into their strength as women warriors. As Deka says: "Our whole lives, we've been taught to make ourselves smaller, weaker than men. That's what the Infinite Wisdoms teach--that being a girl means perpetual submission (149). Ultimately, this is a feminist novel. It takes particular issue with faith-based patriarchies. 

Even though Deka can save lives with her powers, she's considered a demon and learns to take pride in that. "Are we girls, or are we demons?" (150). As a rallying cry, I related to this a lot, even as reader beyond the age group. I know I would have loved this novel as a sixteen-year-old trying to escape a misogynistic religious community. That said, the imagery of golden blood and bleeding together enforces the gender binary present throughout the book (other than one brief mention of a lesbian character). While it's obvious that the US (and other countries) has yet to escape a patriarchal and misogynistic past, I'm not sure that creating a world that is so binary is entirely useful, either. That being said, this is a series, and I have a feeling that since so much of this book was about shaking off male oppression that the binary might be broken in book two. 

Ultimately, this book takes some favorite YA tropes and turns smashing the patriarchy into a rich, fantasy adventure. Even though this book is fun, there's a lot of pain and the realities of what it means when a young girl has no choice over her body. This violence is made clear on the page. While being reminded of the current horrors of patriarchy that many of us still experience isn't for every reader, I do think Forna's realism demonstrates the difficulty and necessity of smashing the patriarchy. 


The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses : +1 realistic depictions of patriarchy's violence; +1 great reinterpretation of YA tropes  

Penalties: -1 a little too limited in terms of worldbuilding 

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 Well worth your time and attention

 POSTED BY: Phoebe Wagner is a PhD candidate at University of Nevada, Reno. When not writing or reading, she can be found kayaking at the nearest lake. Follow her at or on Twitter @pheebs_w.

Reference: Forna, Namina. The Gilded Ones [Delacorte Press 2020]