As the title suggests, Dark Age plunges us into the darkest waters yet seen in the Red Rising saga. Humor and hope are both at their leanest portions, and in their place brutality and desperation are served. The worlds tear themselves apart in this one. Pierce Brown delivers his normal labyrinthine entanglement of alliances, betrayals, secret, and sieges, this time through an ambitious five perspectives. (Virginia’s perspective was the most rewarding, in my opinion.) Whereas the first trilogy of the saga is about the journey of one man, more than ever the series tips toward the journey of an entire political movement, one that spans nine planets and seems to doom everyone in one way or another. After five books with Darrow, loyal readers can’t help but invest emotionally in these unforgettable characters and feel their losses along with them–some of them, this time, were particularly hard. But I admire how Brown was brave enough to go all the way into the dark with this installment, and to create an absolute powder keg setup that book six will no doubt set off within its first few pages. Looking forward to the next ride.
Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s collection Oceanic is specifically personal and intentionally global at the same time, and in that contrast it builds a welcoming entry point for many different readers. The marine motifs disappear and return throughout, but Nezhukumatathil’s clear voice is the sea in which these poems scuttle and breathe. Many surprises to find.
My favorite poems in this volume: *Self-Portrait as Scallop *End-of-Summer Haibun *The Two Times I Loved You Most on a Farm *Letter to the Northern Lights *The Psyche poems *First Time on the Funicular
Come for the art, stay for the story. The imagery and color that Dustin Nguyen uses to create this science fiction world are absolutely stunning. These volumes manage to be disturbing in a beautiful way, with the cute and the grotesque coexisting in harmony. The story by Lemire is slower to start, but really gears up in Volume Two with plenty of surprises and enjoyable suspense. Well-trodden AI vs. human and “lost child” tropes are employed, but it’s a comic, so am I really upset about that? I came for a sense of escape and visual delight, and on that front Descender certainly delivers.
This novella is filled with old magic and new. Sometimes it is so enjoyable to reach for a story that is quietly lush, immersive, and simple, and that is what Emily Tesh delivers here. A beautiful fantasy tale (with queer characters!) that feels as weathered and inviting as an old leather-bound tome.
Choi’s poetry is innovative, unafraid, and visceral in so many surprising ways in her collection Soft Science. The unifying concept is a fusion of science and soul, technology and body, as she uses poems crafted around the Turing Test as a frame for the different sections of the book. As detached as the poems can intentionally be, often self-referencing as a “cyborg,” they are also deeply personal. Choi’s work lives in a place that is foreign but familiar, human but more (or less). The structure in many of these poems carries a particular kind of cool.
My favorites in this collection: *All six “Turing Test” poems *Making Of *On the Night of the Election *A Brief History of Cyborgs *Afterlife *I Swiped Right on the Borg *Solitude
and especially *Perihelion: A History of Touch *Introduction to Quantum Theory
Andrea Gibson is an extraordinarily powerful poet. I was so lucky to see Andrea perform in Green Bay about a year ago, and revisiting the poems on the page brings back the memory of that fire. This collection approaches gender, violence, and humanity with a voice that is tender in both its passion and its rage. It is a voice that is honest and disruptive, but always in the service of love. While I am so happy to have this volume on paper, it does not compare to experiencing the collection in performance–Andrea’s delivery is an essential ingredient in experiencing these poems in their full power.
My favorites from this collection: Ivy Tincture Radio Living Proof First Love
Does your inner 1950’s housewife really miss your grandma (an actual 1950’s housewife) telling you what to do in terms of the proper way to create, display, and serve a proper meal on a gorgeous table? This book will fill that void. Susan Spungen makes it her job to be flawless and to help the flawed among us be that way, too. At once a deeply practical and ludicrously formal guide, this is a resource to help us make new magic in our entertaining life and push beyond lazy parties grounded by pizzas and potato chips. Spungen will inspire you to get the good dishware out of the back of the cabinet and actually plan a menu. I’ve always been a big believer in showing a deep respect for guests through artistry and small comforts, and this book was a fascinating look into the many, many ways one can accomplish that. The dinner party is becoming a lost art and I salute Spungen’s old school commitment to resurrecting it. I know I’ll treasure–and use–this handbook for many, many years to come.
Leslie Marmon Silko is one of my literary heroes–her searing, gorgeous novel Ceremony is one of my favorite books of all time. So, I deeply enjoyed this chance to hang out with her in her desert memoir The Turquoise Ledge. The book itself can be repetitive and unremarkable, but it’s less of a book and more of a long sit-down at the kitchen table with your grandmother, as she tells you about the special rocks she saw on her walks and the animals she saw in her garden and what’s been going on with her dogs and parrots and the weather and a little bit of religion and mysticism rolled in because that’s important, you know! I don’t think Silko would mind me saying that I liked this book not because of the book itself, but because of her. (Also, her supernaturally aided feud with her neighbor, because don’t all grandmothers have one of those, too?)
A Darkling Sea is some very weird science fiction, which is ordinarily right in my wheelhouse as a reader. This one didn’t sing for me, though, which I attribute to the fairly limited third person point of view and lean, hard science-focused style of James L. Cambias. This book is pure plot, motivated by action and dialogue, but the emotional arc of the story flatlines early on. For readers who want to see cool aliens and a bunch of action sequences but don’t want to think or feel too hard, it will likely be a fun read. I will say this: bonus point for a great ending.
This novel is an absolute achievement in historical fiction. Griffith’s writing is immersive and physically visceral. Hild’s world is painted in full color. The depiction of the constant anxiety that accompanied the people of this time period, especially women (even those with significant power) breathes reality into the characters. The vying of belief systems as Christianity gains a political foothold in Britain creates a compelling overtone of tension that always lingers above the more personal power struggles at play. The love and fear both feel real. The novel would benefit from some more aggressive editing, as certain phrases and trains of thought were oft-repeated. As many other reviewers have noted, more complete educational tools are also needed to help readers track the many figures at play in the complex war games that span decades. It was enough for me to know that Hild saw the full “warp and weft,” though, and I cannot overstate how transportative the writing is when at its best.