Science Fiction And Fantasy Beach Reads

This historical fantasy set in the Victorian era combines penny dreadful vibes with classic fantasy tropes. Some children are born with talents, rare magical abilities to manipulate their bodies. Charlie Ovid can heal himself, the child Marlowe emits an unnatural glow, Komako can control dust, and Ribs can make herself invisible. All four are whisked away to Cairndale, a school for talented children such as themselves. However, a darkness follows them, a former student intent on taking Marlowe with undead monsters at his beck and call, and he’s not the only one taking too much interest in the glowing boy. Meanwhile, the barrier between the world of the dead and the world of the living is becoming fractured. Despite the high-stakes plot and action-packed scenes, character development and backstory drive the novel’s sometimes meandering but always intriguing plot forward. I listened to this sprawling romp on audio, narrated by Ben Onwukwe, and it fully transported me into the world. While this is the first book in a planned trilogy, it has a satisfying ending.

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These eight Métis Futurism short stories defy genre by blending the past, present, and future to create liberating possibilities for Métis and Indigenous futures where Indigenous peoples are very much present. In one story, nanite technology enables a queer Indigenous couple to ensure their child’s first language is Cree. In another, a Métis man becomes invisible after being run through by a radioactive Bison, and he uses this ability to become a superhero. In several stories, virtual realities provide opportunities for Indigenous characters to embody animals. Through all the stories, Vowel provides extensive footnotes that relate the content to reality, reminding readers that though fictional, these stories are very much grounded in the Indigenous present. She also provides a fascinating introduction to her work and Métis Futurism. This is a must for short story readers.

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Miller’s fantasy and science fiction short stories have won and been nominated for numerous awards, though this is his debut short story collection. The collection opens with an allosaurus making a sudden appearance in a small town and a child learning to see his mother differently in its wake. “Ghosts of Home” occurs during the 2008 housing crisis, when spirits that haunt houses grow lonely after the owners leave. Many stories embrace queerness, such as “The Heat of Us: Notes Towards an Oral History,” an alternative history of the Stonewall Riots where the supernatural threads its way through the queer people who fight back against police brutality. All 14 of these brilliant, character-driven short stories are perfectly crafted, subtly altering reality using SFF elements while managing to fully explore the repercussions of doing so with the conciseness a short story requires.

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The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison (Tor Books; June 14)

Addison continues Thara Celehar’s story in this second book in The Cemeteries of Amalo series and the third set in the same world as The Goblin Emperor. In this second book, Celehar is presented with several murders to solve while also training a new Witness for the Dead, the widow Velhiro Tomasaran, who discovers her ability to speak to the dead when her husband dies. While investigating the death of a high-ranking Amalo woman, Celehar uncovers a nefarious child-sex abuse plot involving foundling girls. However, in helping the girls, he may lose the most important ability he has: his ability to listen to the dead. Despite the high-stakes plotting, these short yet immersive fantasy detective novels are pleasantly quiet and optimistic. The audiobook narrated by Liam Gerrard perfectly captures Celehar’s voice. While The Grief of Stones can be read as a stand-alone, I recommend reading The Witness for the Dead first.

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Juniper & Thorn by Ava Reid (Harper Voyager; June 21)

This riveting, atmospheric dark fantasy unflinchingly explores the disturbing roots of classic fairy tales. Marlinchen and her three sisters are the last true witches. Marlinechen, the youngest and most powerful of the three, can read people’s secrets with a touch, while her other sisters can glimpse into the future and create healing potions. Their cursed wizard father hires their magic out while keeping them separate from and ignorant of the world outside their home. However, the two eldest sisters often sneak out at night. The novel opens with Marlinchen’s first night sneaking out with her sisters. They attend a ballet where Marlinchen immediately becomes riveted with the male lead. As Marlinchen continues to escape at night to seek out the ballet, her father becomes increasingly tyrannical. Meanwhile, everyone in town whispers about a monster on the loose and its ruthless murders.

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The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi (Del Rey; June 21)

El-Arifi unfolds a complex and brutal magical world where those born with red blood enslave people born with blue or clear blood in this first book in an African and Arabian-inspired epic fantasy trilogy. Rebels raised red-blooded Sylah to become a traitor to the red-bloods and end their tyranny. However, after her family is murdered, she becomes addicted to drugs and instead fights in illicit rinks and longs for the next high. When her brother — whom she thought was murdered along with the rest of the family — reappears, he breaks her drug haze, though she no longer wants to be the hero she was raised to be. Meanwhile, Anoor — the daughter of the Empire’s most powerful ruler — is a constant disappointment to her mother. Despite being relentlessly demeaned, she quietly rebels against the Empire’s injustices. Hassa, who has clear blood, had her tongue and hands removed as a child, as all clear bloods do. She serves as a servant, unseen by influential red-bloods, and perfectly placed to gather all the secrets needed for a rebellion. Together, these three women take the Empire by storm in this rich debut fantasy.

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