July 2022

The first book in a historical fantasy series the Radient Emperor set in China in the 14th century.


Publication year: 2021

Publisher: TOR

Format: ebook

Page count from Goodreads: 416

The story covers years 1345 to 1356 and is broken into three parts.

The first part follows our protagonist, a nameless second daughter of a destitute Zhu family. Almost all of her family has died of hunger, just she and her brother, and their father are left. Her brother and father call her a “useless girl”. She has learned to fend for herself, hunting with traps and hiding part of what she catches. Otherwise, she would have starved to death, too.

One day, the father takes the children to a fortune-teller. The old man prophesies that her brother, Zhu Chongba, is destined for greatness. The father and brother are happy and determined to survive. But for the girl, the fortune-teller says just ”Nothing”. The usual fate of girls in China.

But the girl is also determined to survive. A group of bandits robs them, but they don’t have much. So, the cruel men kick the father to death and the brother also dies the next day. The girl buries them, wondering why her brother has died when he was destined for greatness. She realizes that she can take up her brother’s name and greatness for herself. She remembers that her father arranged for the brother to go to a monastery. And so she walks to the monastery and sits outside for days until the abbot takes pity on her and lets her in.

She’s two years younger than the other novices and can’t read. She also has to keep her sex a secret. But she’s determined to succeed.

The second part introduces a handful of new POV characters. General Ouyang comes from the conquered Nanren people but he serves the Mongol Emperor who rules China with an iron fist. Ouyang’s father and the rest of the family were executed as traitors and Ouyang were the only one to survive. He was made a eunuch and a slave. Still, he clawed his way up, even though almost everyone despises him. He has, of course, plans of his own.

Ma Xiuyuing is the beautiful daughter of the rebel Red Turbans’ general. Recently he died in battle. Ma is betrothed to a young and foolishly arrogant rebel general. She feels that she has no control over her life. She’s a more gentle character than any of the rest. The other POV characters include a high-born Mongol man and a young thief who joins the rebels out of self-preservation.

The book has a couple of minor fantasy elements but you can almost read it as alternate history.

Zhu and Ouyang are mirrors of each other. They both have a destiny that they’re striving for ruthlessly. However, Zhu takes on her brother’s promised greatness to escape her fate of nothingness. She thinks that she has deluded heaven into believing she is her brother and she must do everything just like her brother would have. On the other hand, Ouyang has infiltrated his enemies to avenge his family. Except that he has grown to love his former master, lord Esen. Esen in turn thinks Ouyang as his best and most trusted friend. Ouyang is competent, of course, but must constantly endure the Mongols’ disdain both for being a eunuch and a Nanren.

Zhu and Ma are also mirrors of each other, as women. Ma has no desires of her own and hasn’t even realized she could have them. Zhu has a very strong desire and bends herself and the people around her to her will.

This society is misogynistic. It devalues women and deforms them and puts them in a tiny little box of either a dutiful, chaste daughter or a dutiful wife. Women do most of the domestic work and are still called useless to their faces. But I don’t think the narrative is misogynistic. While Zhu is clearly the exception who constantly hides her femininity, there are a couple of rather powerful women we see briefly. Ouyang despises women. The society also elevates warriors above other men. Without bureaucrats, the Emperor couldn’t rule but they are also constantly put down, as we see with lord Esen’s brother who is a bitter disappointment to their father.

This book certainly has an epic scope, with a large cast of characters and spanning decades. However, there aren’t many detailed battle descriptions. It’s far more focused on intrigue. The rebel Red Turbans have few leaders but they’re constantly fighting amongst themselves. The men under the Emperor are also undercutting each other.

The story was entertaining, if on the grim side. The ending isn’t a cliffhanger but Zhu’s journey hasn’t reached the end.

Uncanny Magazine’s Year 9 Kickstarter fund drive is live. It’s already funded and reached the second stretch goal!

25 days to go.

Storybundle has again two interesting bundles: the Great Galaxies SF bundle 16 days and the Pop Culture Explosion bundle for two more days.

Humble Bundle has Doctor Who 2022 bundle of DW comics for two days more.

They also have two roleplaying bundles: Shadowrun and Star Trek Adventures.

The sixth novella in the Wayward Children series but can be read as a stand-alone.


Publication year: 2021

Publisher: TOR

Format: ebook

Page count from Goodreads: 174

When Regan Lewis was a little girl, she already knew that girls can be vicious to each other in a way that adults either didn’t see or chose to forget. Regan had two best friends but that changed when she was seven. One of her friends brought a snake to school and the other, Laurel, reacted terribly, saying that the other wasn’t a real girl because she liked snakes. Regan supported Laurel. Laurel ostracised her former friend and so did Regan.

Ever since she was little, Regan loved horses and her parents are wealthy enough that she can ride. But when Regan is 11, she realizes that she’s not developing like other girls who make fun of her. Then, Regan’s parents reveal that Regan is intersex and it’s possible that she won’t develop periods or breasts. Even though her parents insist that there’s nothing wrong with her, she thinks differently. The next day in school, she confides in one person who immediately accuses her of being a boy. Miserable and frightened Regan runs away from school.

In a forest, she sees some trees that form a doorway that says ”Be Sure”. She steps through to another land. In the Hooflands, there are no humans, just beings with hoofs, such as unicorns, fauns, and centaurs.

This is almost a cozy fantasy, except for some later scenes and the bullying at the start. It’s also a coming-of-age story.

Regan’s parents are very supportive and insist that she’s perfect. Yet, her friends Laurel is very strict about what a girl can do, look like, and be. Regan seems to believe Laurel more than her parents. She’s always thought of herself as a girl so learning that she’s intersex is a shock.

In the Hooflands, that doesn’t matter because she’s the only human. It’s common knowledge that when the Hooflands are in trouble, a human savior appears. But Regan doesn’t think she can be a savior so she does her best to reject that destiny.

This was a lovely, slow-paced story of Regan growing up and learning to accept herself.

I’ve only read the first book in the series and this one doesn’t have any connections to it, so you can read it without reading the others

Top 5 Wednesday is a GoodReads group where people discuss different bookish topic each week.

In the book community, we often talk about characters we love or hate, but what about characters we would love to be related to? I know it’s something I haven’t really considered before, but what a fun idea to think about having some characters as our siblings! What are some characters you think would be cool or fun to have as a sibling?

There are quite a few characters I enjoy reading about and would like them to be my sibling. It was hard to narrow them down to just five. But here goes:

1, Nightcrawler from the X-Men

Any of the X-Men, really, but Kurt Wagner with his wit and swashbuckling skills would be a great brother.

2, Irene Winters from Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library

As a spy and the agent of the library, Irene would be a great older sister/mentor.

3, Shadow from Anne Logston’s Shadow and the sequels

Shadow is an elf thief with a sunny smile and a great sense of humor. No doubt she would drag me to a lot of trouble, but also to some great parties.

4, Phryne Fisher from Kerry Greenwood’s Cocaine Blues and the rest of the series

Phryne would be an excellent sister, teaching me about style, wines, and also how to shoot.

5, Amelia Peabody-Emerson from Elizabeth Peters’ Crocodile on the Sandbank and the rest of the series

I’d be happy to follow her to Egypt and help with the digs and solving mysteries.

A stand-alone science fantasy book.


Publication year: 2021

Publisher: Tor

Format: ebook
Page count in GoodReads: 372

Shizuka Satomi is a legendary violin teacher who made a deal with a demon to deliver seven souls to Hell and she’s trained six exceptional musicians and delivered them to Hell. She has a year to get the seventh, but she hasn’t found a suitable student. Until she hears Katrina play in the park. Shizuka wants to train her, but Katrina doesn’t trust Shizuka.

Katrina Nguyen is a young transwoman on the run from her abusive father. Her only real passion is the violin. Her father has forbidden it because “it going to make her a faggot”. She has practiced in secret. She thinks she can stay with her friend Evan, whom she hasn’t seen in two years. Once she meets him, she realizes he has changed. Evan suggests she take up sex work to help with the rent. Katrina thinks she has no choice and does so. On the day she arrives in Los Angeles, she plays her violin in the park and Shizuka hears her. Shizuka offers to train her, but Katrina thinks she can’t be serious and wants just sex.

However, when Evan’s roommates take Katrina’s violin and pawn it, she’s had enough and leaves. In desperation, she goes to Shizuka’s place. Shizuka takes her as a student, but Katrina is terrified that Shizuka will reject her when she realizes Katrina is trans.

Meanwhile, the local Starrgate Donut is actually a home to interstellar alien refugees, who have human disguises. Lan Tran and her family/crew have fled from the Endplague and are building a stargate. Lan’s almost adult son, 12-year-old twins, a hologram daughter, and aunt are the crew. They analyzed the donuts and are making them with their replicator. When Shizuka steps into the donut shop, Lan and Shizuka are immediately attracted to each other. Shizuka doesn’t have time for a crush, and Lan has her hands full keeping her crew safe. Yet, they see each other more and more often.

Later in the book, there’s a subplot with Lucy Matia, who comes from a long line of violin repairers. But that work is not for girls or women. Lucy’s brothers hated the job and left after their father died. Lucy is now continuing as best she can, but she knows that as a woman she can never be equal to her father or grandfather, be a master. Then one day Shizuka asks her to repair Katrina’s violin.

The writing is lush and detailed, making me, at least, crave donuts and the various foods the characters eat. The descriptions of the music are also wonderful. Mostly, the tone is kind and soothing and the other main characters accept Katrina easily. When other people hurt Katrina through words or actions, it’s a jarring contrast, which is no doubt the point. There’s also a minor character who cuts herself.

Katrina is always on her guard and the awful comments people have said to her, especially his father’s words, are often playing in her mind. She thinks she’s worthless. Shizuka is very confident, knowledgeable and skillful but she’s also a teacher, trying to be sensitive to her student’s needs. However, she’s used to teaching divas and Katrina is very different. Lan just wants her family to be safe. Lucy is trying to keep the family business going and tries to coax her adult son to learn the family trade.

The pace of the book is leisurely, focused very much on the characters. However, there are some minor characters we only glimpse for a little while and their stories don’t get any resolution. Also, Aoki’s changes viewpoints almost on every page, sometimes in the middle of conversation. The style was a bit difficult at first, but I grew used to it. It feels choppy, especially in the beginning.

Still, this was an entertaining read with very interesting characters.

Dean Wesley Smith has a Kickstarter for Pulphouse Magazine subscription.

It’s already funded with 15,000 dollars so it’s reached the fourth stretch goal. Among the pledges are two very interesting workshops for writers: “Things get Worse” and “Finding and believing in your writing voice”.

Three days to go.

A stand-alone fantasy novella.


Publication year: 2021

Publisher: TOR

Format: ebook

Page count from Goodreads: 103

Thanh is the third daughter of the ruler of Bình Hải, a small but proud country. It’s allied to Eptheria which is a large Northern conquerer nation. All her life, Thanth’s mother called Thanth the useless one. Her elder daughters are the more useful heirs.

When Thanth was eight, she was sent to Ephteria, supposedly to learn and study but really she was a hostage. While she was there, the palace caught on fire. Everyone fled… except Thant, a foreign brown little girl who was forgotten. However, she and a servant girl, who was also from Bình Hải, fled the burning building together. The fire still haunts her and sometimes embers start glowing around her and set things on fire. Soon after the fire, Thanth had her first romance with the princess of Ephteria, who is also the headstrong heir to the empire.

Now, Thanth has returned to her birth country, but her mother is still displeased with her. She’s too soft and pliable.

A trade delegation is coming from Eptheria and Mother has put Thanth in charge of the negotiations with them. Mother hopes that Thanth’s years as the hostage make her a good diplomat. Thanth is nervous but determined to show her worth to Mother. But the head of the delegation is Thanth’s former lover who wants her back.

This novella is written completely from Thanth’s point of view. She feels invisible in the palace and Mother clearly doesn’t trust her and thinks that she’s useless. Mother oversees every detail of the negotiation. Thanth is a quiet, reflective girl. When she was with her lover, Eldris, for the first time she felt that someone actually saw her.

When Eldris shows up, she threatens (subtly) to take over the country if they don’t agree to the terms. Meanwhile, Thanth longs to be with Eldris again, but that would compromise Thanth’s position. Eldris is a confident woman who has grown up knowing that she can have whatever she wants. In that respect, she could have been a male character.

Thanth’s mother is another powerful woman. But she knows that her country is no match for the military might of Ephteria, so she has to negotiate and do it well. She demands much from her daughters.

This story clearly has roots in colonial history and the negotiations are a big part of the story. It’s also about love and abuse and growing to learn your own worth and place.

Collects Once & Future issues 1-6.


Writer: Kieron Gillen

Artist: Dan Mora

Publisher: BOOM! Studios

The story starts in Cornwall where an archeologist has found an intact scabbard from the 5th century. But before he can examine it further, a blonde woman and her thugs kill the archeologist and take the scabbard.

Duncan McGuire is a socially awkward young man on a date with a gorgeous Indian woman when he gets a call that her grandmother has escaped from the old folk’s home. Then his gran calls him and asks him to come and pick her up. Duncan apologizes to his date and drives in the middle of the woods. Her gran, Bridgette, apparently has a stash of weapons in the middle of the forest. Then the Questing Beast attacks.

This is a reimagining of the Arthurian mythos in the modern world and it also makes Arthur the bad guy, which is a twist I’ve rarely seen. In this world, Arthur fought against the invaders who were the Anglo-Saxons. So, he’s not fond of the current inhabitants of England.

The other big thing is how a story can take over people and make them into a certain role in a story. Except I doubt that lots of people think that Arthur is undead and will kill most English people… so the two ideas don’t seem to be compatible.

Duncan’s parents left when he was a boy and Bridgette raised him, alone in the middle of nowhere. She made sure he didn’t know anything about myths or even fantasy shows or books. Bridgette is a retired monster hunter so she knows all about not just Arthurian legends but other monsters. She has a no-nonsense attitude and uses what works. She is good with guns and isn’t afraid to shoot people, even family members.

Duncan is clueless at the start of the story but finds out a lot of things quickly. He seems to accept things quickly, even when he finds some family secrets. Of course, the plot doesn’t give him much time to think. He wants to protect his gran but she doesn’t really need his protection.

Unfortunately, the story used a trope I don’t like: keeping a person ignorant claiming it’s for their own good. For once, it was a man instead of a girl, though.

This was an interesting idea but not my favorite retelling. I’m intrigued enough that I’ve ordered the next volume from the library.

Collects issues 1-12.


Writer: N. K. Jemisin

Artist: Jamal Campbell

Publisher: DC comics

Sojourner ”Jo” Mullein is the newest Green Lantern and she’s been assigned to Far Sector, far away from other inhabited planets. She’s in City Enduring, an artificial home to 20 billion people, both physical and digital. 500 years ago, the two planets that were home to the three alien peoples were in a bitter war that ended with both planets destroyed. The only way to make peace was to strip the people of their emotions. Today, all inhabitants of City Enduring are still under the effect of Emotion Exploit which shuts down their feelings. For 500 years the city hasn’t had a murder. Until now.

After one person is murdered, the ruling council (of three people, one of each species) asks Jo to come in and solve the crime. Jo is a former police officer and reluctantly agrees.

Initially, the setting seemed very intriguing. One of the species is mammalian and remarkably human-looking (ok, fine they all look like humans) except that they have wings and a tail. Another is a sentient plant species that eat other sentient people, but only if the other people agree to be eaten (that look like humans except that their cover their chins). The third are sentient AIs (that look like humans but without noses). Even without feelings, the three council members are clearly racist against each other. The city is an artificial construction and changes every day.

For the most part, the mystery was interesting with lots of twists. Jo is the only human in the city and the only person with feelings intact and that can be very lonely. Also, she has a troubled past that she’s trying to make up for. She’s determined to serve the people and not the council.

However, the twist near the end was strange and the more we find out about the alien people, the more human they became. After a handful of issues, the city itself seemd very familiar with restaurants, police offices, big business, the downtrodden poor, etc.

Jemisin explores racism, cop violence, and the violence of the rich and powerful toward the poor. It’s easy to see their counterparts on Earth and Jo even comments on how things are much like on Earth.

Still, I enjoyed this story a lot, even though the ending was a let-down.

Campbell’s art was gorgeous.

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