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Hugh Likes Fiction: Black Sun

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Black Sun: Between Earth and Sky Book One
Written by Rebecca Roanhorse
Published by Saga Press

The Skinny: An epic adventure full of fascinating characters in a unique and vibrant setting.

Serapio is a god reborn. Before he was born, his mother’s people, the Crow clan, were brutally slaughtered in the city of Tova. His mother barely escaped with her life, bearing an unslakable thirst for revenge. Now, blinded and raised for a single purpose, he must make his way back to Tova and confront the Sun Priest, whose office orchestrated the genocide. But the path ahead lies through rough seas, and his only ally is a ship captain with mysterious powers who is distrusted by her own crew.Meanwhile in Tova, the newest holder of the office of Sun Priest, Naranpa, is caught in a web of political intrigue, and narrowly avoided assassination attempts. As the winter solstice and a historic eclipse approach, will there even be a city still standing when Serapio arrives?
With this this new epic fantasy series, Rebecca Roanhorse gives readers a look into a richly imagined world filled with deep and complex characters. Broadly based on Pre-Colombian cultures surrounding the Gulf of Mexico, The Meridian is a land full of mysterious magic, warriors fighting from giant crow-back, and Machiavellian ruling castes of priests and merchants. It is a very fresh take on the genre, and breathes new life into tropes so soaked in the trappings of medieval England.
But the real highlights of this compelling work are the deeply realized characters and the ratchet-tight pacing. Epic fantasy has a tendency to ramble and repeat itself, wallowing in feasts and camp tents, as heroes and heroines brood over politics. From the first page, Black Sun rushes towards the destined climax, as political machinations, ancient prophecies, and even the sky itself push the players towards their destinies as surely as Captain Xiala sings up a current. Speaking of which Xiala was my favorite character, an opportunistic and morally gray wanderer searching for a home she doesn’t know how to even ask for, let alone find. Her chemistry with Serapio was easily the most fascinating part of the book for me.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse is available in print, ebook, and audiobook, from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and your local independent bookstore. I strongly recommend it!

Hugh Likes Fiction: Harrow the Ninth

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Harrow the Ninth
Written by Tamsyn Muir
Audiobook ready by Moira Quirk
Published by Recorded Books

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The Skinny: The sequel to Muir’s impressive debut novel delivers more mystery, gothic weirdness, and dad jokes. (Spoilers for Gideon the Ninth)

Any novel can make you think the main character is mad. It takes a very special book to make you wonder about the author. Harrow the Ninth, manages to do both, with style and grace. And it does it leaving my desperately looking forward to the last volume of the trilogy, due out sometime next year.
And how does Muir follow up the massive success of her debut Gideon the Ninth? In second-person, and with the conspicuous absence of any mention of the first book’s beloved title character. Harrowhark the Ninth has done what she set out to do, and became a Lychtor at Canaan House. But instead of waking up a mighty immortal in the full flush of her powers, she’s sick, dying, and probably going mad. There’s something wrong with her, and she cannot understand what. Also, she is dreaming of her time at Canaan House, and those memories don’t match the events of the first book at all.
Things only get worse when she’s brought to the Emperor’s haunted Space Station for training. The other Lychtors are as likely to kill her as teach her, and the Emperor Himself is far from the living god she imagined. Her only remaining friend is Ianthe, her fellow newbie necromancer, who has plans of her own. Oh, and a monstrous undead Death Star is on its way to kill them all, so no rush getting all that sorted out.
Muir has struck gold once again with this space opera that is equal parts Gothic and Arch. The mysteries are tantalizing, the characters are that same signature mix of badass and horrible people, and her writing just sets the page on fire. The second-person perspective and jumbled nature of the first sections of the novel might be a bit of work to get through, but the payoff is definitely worth it, and it’s a brilliant use of literary device.
Moira Quirk also returns to read the audiobook version, and her narration and voice work are spot-on.
Harrow the Ninth is exactly what I wanted out of this sequel, full of gothic space crypts, planet-sized undead, and witty dialog from decadent lesbian space necromancers. It’s not a good place to start the series, but if you enjoyed the Gideon don’t miss it!

Fiction: Dragon Friend

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When Clematis started hanging out with the dragons, the other fairies were shocked. They were a insular and xenophobic people, terrified of anyone bigger than they were, which was just about everything. They lived deep in the forest, enchanting their gardens and cursing the rare passerby.
Clematis was different. She wanted to fly through open skies, to see the high mountains and the vast oceans her friends spoke of. The fairy elders didn’t care for her dreams, and they cast her out.
Now Clematis flies where she will, accompanied by her chosen family. And her hoard is coming together nicely.

This story originally appeared in Everyday Drabbles, a daily free fiction project on Wattpad. Visit the link for over a hundred free stories. And if you enjoy my writing, support my work by buying me a coffee!

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Gideon the Ninth

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Gideon the Ninth
Written by Tamsyn Muir
Audiobook read by Moira Quirk
Published by Recorded Books

The Skinny: Shirley Jackson’s Lesbian Space Necromancers.

Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth is an extraordinary novel that is a bit difficult to describe, pithy sentence above not withstanding. In a crumbling space empire built on necromancy, eight Necromancers, along with their Cavalier bodyguards, return to a long-abandoned planet to search for a secret power that could save their civilization. It’s a dense concept, and my attempts don’t do it justice, but Tamsyn sells it with from the first incredible opening line.

“In the myriadic year of our Lord—the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death!— Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.”

A postmodern space fantasy/ghost story, Muir fills her novel with deeply rich characters like the eponymous sassy swordswoman Gideon and her Necromancer charge, Harrowhawk. Harrow is the teenaged leader of the Ninth House, and Gideon’s only childhood companion, so of course they hate each other, and are only working together to keep the other houses from finding out that a tragedy befell their planet, and they are literally the only suitable candidates. Her characters are outstandingly drawn and painfully real. And her setting, from the nearly-lifeless frozen tomb planet the Ninth House calls home to the abandoned, crumbling palace of Canaan House is a character in its own right; melancholy, ferocious, and disarmingly witty.
Muir’s handling of equal parts tension and farce are deft, constantly surprising, and utterly delightful.
Just as delightful as the writing is Moira Quirk’s narration on the audiobook version. Quirk does an excellent job brining Muir’s already vivid characters to life. She does a stunning job performing a large cast of strange and complicated characters.
Gideon the Ninth draws from the work of masters like Agatha Christie, Shirley Jackson, and Ursula K. Le Guin, while also building something modern and wholly unique. It is unlike anything I’ve read in a very long time, and not to be missed. You can listen to the remarkable audiobook version via Audible, or purchase a physical or ebook copy from your retailer of choice.

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Fiction: Bird Feeder

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On a long brass pole, a dish was piled high with gold and black seeds that glistened in dappled sunlight. A cardinal circled the feeder, a flash of red wings flitting from branch to branch.

The cardinal didn’t remember this feeder, and they heard no crashing human footsteps. It paid to be cautious, but…

It hopped closer. The feeder was empty. It called, a question on the morning air that went unanswered. Throwing caution aside, it landed on the lip of the feeder and pecked at the pile of seeds.

The mimic snapped its jaws shut and swallowed the bird.

This story originally appeared in Everyday Drabbles, a daily free fiction project on Wattpad. Visit the link for more free stories. And if you enjoy my writing, support my work by buying me a coffee!
Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

The first collection of Everyday Drabbles stories, Winter, is now available as an eBook from Amazon! Enjoy over 90 short stories for less than two dollars!

Hugh Likes Comics: Canto

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Canto #1
Written by David M. Booher
Drawn by Drew Zucker
Colored by Vittorio Astone
Lettered by Deron Bennett
Published by IDW

The Skinny: A boy with a clockwork heart ventures into a dark world in this grim steampunk fairytale.

Canto’s people live in chains. Denied freedom, identity and even hearts, they toil for cruel masters bigger and stronger than themselves. But Canto believes in two things: A fairytale about a boy who saved a princess, and the girl who gave him his name. When she is injured by the cruel slavers, he’ll do the only thing he can to save her: Leave the confines of their labor camp and bring back her heart.
A sinister but none-the-less charming steampunk fable, Canto #1 opens with a familiar fantasy theme, but plays it expertly. Booher and Zucker’s steampunk fable starts on all the right notes for a great series. The story flows around the gaps in the characters’ knowledge, the questions that Canto will have to find the answers for. It is also doesn’t flinch away from the horrors of its world.
Zucker’s designs are doing a lot of great work here. Canto and his people are little clockwork knights, and their is brutal and violent without being gory. They don’t have or lose blood, but Time. It’s a clever and occasionally devastating use of metaphor that works well on the page. The designs are all funhouse mirror, with the squat, dwarfish slaves and their towering, bestial masters. Even Canto’s face looks like a mask. Astone’s moody colors are dark but also deep and rich. The art and colors are what really elevates the story.
Canto #1 is an excellent start to a story that looks to take a critical, or at least subtextual eye the tired quest motif. I can’t wait to see how far it goes with its material. You can find it digitally through Comixology, or pick up a physical copy at your local comics shop!

Fiction: The Surprise

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I was a sailor, and wrecked in a storm, I washed up on a strange shore.
I awoke in the house of a giant, who warned me, “You may go wherever you wish, but stay out of my cellar.”
As I recovered, his warning weighed heavily upon me. I recalled every story of man-eating giants I’d ever heard. Eventually, I snuck into the forbidden room.
I found it stacked floor to ceiling with balloons, banners, and supplies for a welcome party.
“It was going to be a surprise, the disappointed giant said. “But now you’ve gone and ruined it.”

This story originally appeared in Everyday Drabbles, a daily free fiction project on Wattpad. Visit the link for more free stories. And if you enjoy my writing, support my work by buying me a coffee!
Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

The first collection of Everyday Drabbles stories, Winter, is now available from Amazon!

Hugh Likes Fiction: The True Queen

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The True Queen
Written by Zen Cho
Audiobook narrated by Jenny Sterlin
Published by Recorded Books

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The Skinny: Cho’s second Sorcerer Royal novel is just as delightful as the first.

When Muna washes up on a beach after a terrible storm, she can only remember two things: Sakti is her twin sister, and they have both been cursed. In order to break the curse, save her sister and discover who she really is, Muna will have to travel to the distant and strange island of Britain and pass herself off as a great sorceress. But with war brewing between Britain and Faerie within, will she be able to save her sister, or will she be drawn into the intrigues of the Faerie Court, or worse, English high society?
The follow up to the delightful novel Sorcerer To The Crown, Zen Cho returns to her Regency-era fantasy filled with dour magicians, witty witches, and blithely cannibalistic faeries. The author has carried over all of the charm of the first book, telling a new tale with just enough of her beloved cast of characters while introducing new main characters and shifting the spotlight. Muna is a fantastic main character, and I loved spending more time with Henrietta, Rollo, and of course, Ma Geng Gang.
Cho’s fantasy England is centered on the sort of very real people who were pushed to the margins by 19th Century British society: women, people of color, gays and lesbians. Cho deftly presents high society through Muna’s point of view, making it as strange and inaccessible to her as the Faerie Court. It is a welcome and fascinating shift, carried over from the first book that continues to astonish.
Jenny Sterlin returns to narrate, and does an excellent job. Her acting and narration flow well together and her voice is perfectly suited to the story.
The True Queen is a rollicking adventure that builds on its prequel, but new readers won’t be lost if they pick this one up first. It is available in audio, print, and ebook. It has my highest recommendation.
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Fiction: Home Prophecy Test

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After she finished peeing, she pulled her skirt back up and washed her hands. She stared as the liquid reacted to the reagent in the bottom of the little clay vessel.
It didn’t take long. There was a pop, and a spray of blue sparks. The rune burned into the bottom was unmistakable, and identical to the two tests beside it.
When her husband came home, she sat him down at the table.
“I went to the alchemist this morning.”
“Then we’re…” he said, unable to finish. She nodded and patted her belly.
“He’s going to be the Chosen One.”

This story originally appeared in Everyday Drabbles, a daily free fiction project on Wattpad. Visit the link for more free stories. And if you enjoy my writing, support my work by buying me a coffee!
Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Fiction: The Cur’s Quest

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One day a dog wandered into the seer’s sanctum and began to speak.
“Seer, I was once my queen’s greatest bodyguard. Everyday she asked me a question, and I had no answer. In the years since, I’ve searched far and wide for the answer. You are my last hope.”
“Look in my magic mirror, and find what you seek.”
The dog did as he was bid, but soon became angry. “There’s nothing here!”
“What was your mistress’s question?”
The dog stared in the mirror for a long time. “It was me,” he whispered. “I was the good boy all along.”

This story originally appeared in Everyday Drabbles, a daily free fiction project on Wattpad. Visit the link for more free stories. And if you enjoyed this story, why not support my work by buying me a coffee?
Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

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