Magic, mother-daughter conflict, and the quest for self-identity are given a dark and fantastical treatment in this chilling feminist adaptation of the “Snow White” fairy tale.
Bashardoust sets her debut novel in a kingdom cursed with eternal winter, which serves as a pointed metaphor for the physical beauty that is currency and curse for both Lynet, the beloved daughter of King Nicholas, and Mina, the neglected daughter of an infamous magician who eventually becomes Lynet’s “wicked” stepmother. The narrative, which alternates between the characters’ points of view, unites them with a mutual feeling of objectification. Both women are shaped and magically controlled by their fathers, who are also their creators, the insidiousness of which the story fully explores. Well-developed, strong female characters abound, from the tree-climbing Lynet (whose skin is olive-brown) and golden-brown Mina, a sympathetic survivalist queen, to a court surgeon and a royal ancestor whose maternal grief is powerful enough to eternally banish springtime from the northern kingdom. The author’s rich fantasy landscape incorporates the fairy tale’s traditional iconography while providing her with room to create a new story emphasizing the shallowness of a male-dominated society that places a ruinously high premium on beauty at the expense of female individuality. The decisive clash is between mother and daughter, but misogyny is the narrative’s true destructive force.
A hauntingly evocative adaptation that stands on its own merits. (Fantasy. 14-adult)
Natalie has returned to her small, mostly white Maine town for the summer, primarily to figure out why she’s having vivid nightmares about a derelict house.
While there she’s less interested in making peace with the three bullies who assaulted her and her brainy cousin, Teddy, with a gun a couple of years previously—an event that ended with the shooting death of a fourth miscreant, Peter. In her dreams, the house is icy cold. During visits to the house with ever intrepid Teddy, she’s transported back in time to 1948, when an evil resident of the house is just beginning a career as a serial murderer. As disquieting as those surreal experiences are—since she can only observe and not intervene to save the three victims—the present is also disturbing. She repeatedly encounters her former attackers: Lowell, who seems reformed and is becoming increasingly attractive to Natalie, and the intimidating pair of scarily out-of-control Jason and unstable Grace, who is devoted to, or perhaps controlled by, him. French neatly manages the complications of three intertwined storylines: Natalie’s emerging peril in the present, the terrifyingly depicted past inhabited by the three well-realized victims, and the third thread of what actually happened on the day Peter died.
Chilling and suspenseful, this paranormal thriller with a touch of romance will keep readers on the edges of their seats.
(Paranormal thriller. 12-18)
A down-and-out teen, days from eviction, competes in the championships of the world’s most popular virtual reality game.
Emika Chen, 18, has been on her own for six years, living in poverty with a juvenile record, supporting herself by bounty hunting. She survives on ramen, with $13 and a debt of $3,450 to her name, and few joys: memories of her dead father, her crush on the world-famous 21-year-old inventor Hideo Tanaka, and her passion for Hideo’s game, Warcross. Universally adored, Warcross is an immersive battle game with CGI–ready virtual combats. When Emi exploits a Warcross bug in a last-ditch attempt to make some cash, she glitches into the game. Suddenly, she’s a media darling, and Hideo Tanaka himself summons her to Japan for a top-secret job. Whisked away on a private jet, Emi is flabbergasted by the perks of her new position—one of which is membership on one of the world’s top pro teams. Emi (an American with an implied Chinese heritage) grows fond of her multiethnic team (with a wheelchair-using captain), but could one of them be a saboteur? Brief shoutouts to Lu’s Legend series will intrigue ardent fans, though they don’t seem to imply a connection between the worlds.
A stellar cyberpunk series opener packed with simmering romance and cinematic thrills
. (Science fiction. 13-adult)
In a near future of gene modification, personhood is political and not just for the modified.
In an America that has survived several major flu epidemics and where only the cities have easy electrical power and only the rich have anything passing for internet or cell service, the interested (with enough money) can have their genes altered and change their appearances. Those who are “spliced” become chimeras, humans with animal DNA. The changes are somatic (rather than germinal), so the spliced have characteristics of the animal of their choice but don’t pass on traits. Nevertheless, Howard Wells, an unscrupulous millionaire and politician-wannabe, has seen the chance to play on the public’s fears, and he pushes a Pennsylvania state law to make the chimeras nonpersons, and other states soon follow suit. High school junior Jimi has no desire to get spliced, but her best friend, Del, despite his repressive father’s wishes, wants nothing more. When Del vanishes just after becoming a chimera and Wells’ law passes, Jimi sets out to find her friend with the help of spliced acquaintances in a country where they are suddenly legally less than human. Adult thriller author McGoran creates a very believable future seen through the eyes of a believable white teen for whom discrimination on the basis of visual difference has suddenly become real. This nightmare study in manufactured prejudice will resonate with many teens who see themselves as part of a marginalized group, especially in the era of Trump.
Timely, thrilling, and more than a little scary.
(Science fiction. 14-18)
A scarred street thief competes to become an elite assassin.
Sal comes from Nacea, a country and people obliterated in a war between other countries. After years living under an unsavory gang leader, robbing and fighting just to survive, Sal—who’s genderfluid and signals by that day’s clothing whether they want to be called “he,” “she,” or “they”—sees the perfect chance to get revenge for Nacea. The Queen’s Left Hand, which is “her collection of assassins and personal guards named for the rings she w[ears]—Ruby, Emerald, Opal, and Amethyst,” needs a new Opal. As Opal, Sal would have access to the wealthy lords responsible for the Nacean genocide. The trials for the new Opal unfold bloodily, with three rules: kill the competition, don’t harm anyone else, and don’t get caught. Both Auditioners and the Left Hand wear masks throughout. Sal has brown skin, trauma, a set of skills, and a heady crush on a noblewoman. Political exposition reads messily, and some microflaws in the logic feel sloppy (for example, Sal bathes and eats in their room before nailing the door shut against the other murderous aspirants). However, the killing games and court intrigue—which may or may not involve magical specters previously used for torturing and killing Naceans—are breathless and terrifying.
Gory, well-plotted, suspenseful on every page, and poised for the sequel.
Sierra and the shadowshapers are back in this sequel to Shadowshaper (2015).
A few months after the close of Shadowshaper, Nuyorican Sierra Santiago has grown in her shadowshaping powers but feels overwhelmed by her new role as Lucera, head of Shadowhouse. One night in Prospect Park, a girl from school attempts to give Sierra a creepy playing card from the Deck of Worlds, warning Sierra that the Deck is in play again and the Sorrows (who tried to wipe out the shadowshapers in the last book) are out to get them once more. Meanwhile, Older paints a compelling picture of contemporary life for black and brown teens in cities: Afro-Latinx Sierra and her friends deal with police harassment and brutality, both on the streets of Bed-Stuy and at school, themes that feel especially timely and relevant. When Sierra learns the Sorrows want her to join them in order to complete their magic, she must take a dangerous chance in order to protect herself and those that she loves. Older excels at crafting teen dialogue that feels authentic, and props to everyone involved for not othering the Spanish language. This second volume features a tighter plot and smoother pacing than the first, and the ending will leave readers eagerly awaiting the further adventures of Sierra and her friends.
It has been three weeks since the Haven Institute fell, but it still has subjects Lyra and Gemma in its insidious grip.
Lyra’s time is running out; as a result of Haven’s research, she’s terminally ill. She and Caelum set out to locate Dr. Saperstein, the man who gave her the disease. Failing that, they search for Lyra’s old friend, Dr. O’Donnell—but she seems to be hiding something. Alone but for Caelum, Lyra doesn’t know whom to trust. Meanwhile, Gemma’s powerful father arranged Lyra and Caelum’s new living situation, promising Gemma he wouldn’t give them up. When he breaks that promise, Gemma and Pete go to try to warn them. On their return home, they’re believed to be Lyra and Caelum and are kidnapped, taken to a decommissioned airplane hangar where surviving replicas have been packed in by the hundreds. Gemma and Pete will have to find a way to survive here until they’re rescued. Lyra, Gemma, and Pete are white, Caelum has dark skin, and a number of important minor characters are described as having dark, black, or brown skin. As with Replica (2016), Gemma’s and Lyra’s interlocking stories are told separately, bound together in a dos-à-dos volume that gives readers control over how to go forward. The third-person narration plunges along at a positively addicting pace.
Speculative fiction at its core, Oliver’s novel is also a reflection on the nature of humanity as explored through the dualities of life/death, autonomy/ownership, truth/lies, and good/evil.
(Science fiction. 15-adult)
Porter (Vassa in the Night, 2016, etc.) presents a ghost story in which the dead wait on the far side of dreams.
Dashiell, a white boy with irresistible gray eyes and strawberry-gold hair, is two months dead. His younger siblings, 16-year-old twins Ruby and Everett, also white but not nearly so beautiful, know this, but they’re also starting to realize that he isn’t actually gone. He’s come back for them. Ruby would do anything to get her beloved older brother back, but Everett isn’t quite sure where he stands; both must examine whether Dashiell is a danger to them—and perhaps always was. They also have to decide who they are in relation to the force he’s forever been in their lives. The story’s uneven, with prose that sometimes moves from poetic to overwrought and characters that vacillate between compelling and absurd. Nevertheless, it delivers a deliciously disturbing and engaging portrait of the complexities of familial love and takes readers to the boundaries between innocence and corruption, self-preservation and sacrifice, the dreaming and the dead. Alternating first-person chapters (including all three siblings and the voice of the villain, among others) aid in portraying the nuances at play.
A haunting tale of possession that explores the ghostly landscape of dreams and nightmares—but more importantly, the particular dynamics among siblings, both oppressive and redemptive.
Adam Jones is a 15-year-old white boy who just wants to be “normal,” but his life is anything but.
Unable to go to sleep for dread of monsters that stalk his dreams, Adam’s insomnia leads to a breakdown at school. At home, his mother’s been dead for years, and his eccentric father is often absent. Add his paranoid grandfather, who is convinced the family’s at risk. But is it really paranoia? Adam is forced to confront all this when a strange man with a broken-circle medallion shows up, demanding that Adam’s father get Adam in line with his “True Destiny.” This destiny involves a special boarding school, where things become stranger and scarier. But Adam finally begins to understand some things, and somehow he feels he belongs with this group of strangers, due in large part to their common roles as shepherds for souls of the newly dead. All is not bliss in his new life though, as it seems his new classmates are from competing families who seek to control lucrative territories in North America. A slowly unwinding tale about life and death and the in-between, this sibling collaboration may initially frustrate readers with its withholding of answers, but the Powerses’ worldbuilding and writing will keep them hooked. They will find themselves questioning what is fact and what is fiction and cheering Adam on as he journeys in this new, strange world.
A gripping, philosophical paranormal thriller
. (Fantasy. 12-16)
A paranormal private investigator and his clever companion make a last stand against the forces of chaos in this fourth and final book.
As an assistant to eccentric detective/seer R.F. Jackaby, Abigail Rook experiences magic, mysteries, and romance. A “lady of science and reason” who accepts the supernatural, Rook prizes her madcap American adventures over her comfortable yet confining British childhood, but she finds her new home threatened by war. As a wave of racist attacks turns their whimsical house at 926 Augur Ln. into a cryptozoological asylum, Jackaby, Rook, and resident ghost Jenny Cavanaugh take a new case and uncover a bigger conspiracy. Hunting mythical talismans, the trio discovers the veil between the mundane world and that of the Annwyn (fae) weakening and the Unseelie armies of the Dire King gathering. Jackaby is a delightful supernaturalist Sherlock, but Rook carries the story, narrating with dry wit, alliteration, and an appreciation for the absurd; faced with war, bureaucrats, and a diabolical life-sucking machine, Rook frets about a potential proposal from her Om Caini (lycanthropic) swain, Charlie. Ritter sets his story in a geographically nonspecific, slightly steampunk 1890s New England port city. It’s helmed by a trio of white protagonists but offers a pointed and timely message about pluralism and the value of bridges over barriers.
A humorous, energetic, action-packed, and magical conclusion.
A practical painter meets a tortured fairy prince, and layers upon layers of magic and intrigue engulf them in this debut.
In Regency-esque Whimsy, where time seems suspended and it’s always summer, humans practice Craft (making) for the pleasure of the capricious fair folk. Fair-skinned human Isobel, 17, is a portrait painter of unsurpassed talent who has mastered the art of wrangling practical enchantments from her clients. When she paints sorrow into the eyes of the autumn prince, she becomes embroiled in a complex web of fairy-court intrigues. Golden-brown, beautiful Rook (autumn and summer folk are darker skinned; spring and winter lighter) kidnaps her in retaliation; in their uncomfortable flight they fall for each other, dooming themselves to death. The occasionally busy first-person narration blossoms with unexpected humor (appealing-but-alien Rook consider tears “leaks”); rich, detailed descriptions of the beautiful but dangerous world of the folk will seduce readers, while the unexpectedly action-filled flight (there’s a wild hunt, a ball, magic battles, and extreme painting) keeps the pages turning. Rogerson draws on fairy lore while changing myriad details to suit her story, and in Isobel she provides a strong, confident heroine who may lose her heart but never her head.
No glamour is needed to make readers fall for this one.
Sara Zapata and her brother, Emiliano, do their best to survive with their integrity intact while their beloved Juárez is overrun and endangered by a web of criminals that even involve the police and local government officials.
Sara is a journalist who writes about her best friend, Linda, the latest girl kidnapped by the cartels. The heartfelt story sends ripples through the community, and the paper receives grateful letters from the families of other kidnapped girls—and death threats warning her to drop her investigation. Meanwhile, Emiliano is prospering after his foray into petty thefts and subsequent capture ushered him under the wing of Brother Patricio, the leader of his explorer club, the Jiparis, and his soccer coach. Emiliano’s a star soccer player and has started a side business selling some Jiparis’ artisan crafts to shop owners. Despite this, he’s still too poor to date his crush, Perla Rubi, so when he’s tempted into the same web of criminals that are coming after Sara and have taken Linda, the pull of wealth and a future with Perla Rubi is stronger than his need to do the right thing. Stork deftly writes criminals who aren’t monsters but men who do monstrous things, and while his understanding of Emiliano’s coming-of-age is fully engaging, he really impresses with his evocation of Sara’s need to navigate the advances of men she knows and doesn’t know and the powerful women equally dangerous to her.
A tense thriller elevated by Stork’s nuanced writing and empathy for every character, including the villains—superb.
A tale of two sisters unfolds in Winters’ (The Steep and Thorny Way, 2016, etc.) latest historical offering of monsters, magic, and family.
Storytelling and the blur between truth and fiction are at the heart of this metafictive narrative as sisters Trudchen “Tru” and Odette “Od” Grey each tell parts of their personal and family histories. In 1909, 15-year-old Tru, rendered pragmatic by life on an Oregon farm with a polio-related and painful disability, no longer believes her sister’s many fantastical tales of their mother’s adventures as a monster hunter. She is adamant that their family (and herself especially) is nothing but ordinary, but no sooner has Tru set aside fanciful hearth magic and fears of the supernatural than Od suddenly appears to whisk her away across the country to hunt down monsters. Od’s part of the story, on the other hand, begins 15 years earlier as she recounts a fraught family legacy of loss, pain, and perseverance and of the “real-life monsters” that stalk the stories of her mother’s and her own lives. As the sisters cautiously confront the legendary Leeds Devil, a demonic beast attacking New Jersey and nearby states in 1909, storytelling becomes both a weapon and a lens through which they come to see and better understand their family and themselves.
Winters has woven an intricate and innovative pattern of structure, genre, and history that cannot fail to capture readers’ imaginations. (Historical fiction. 14-adult)