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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: Finna

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Finna
Written by Nino Cipri
Published by Tor.Com

The Skinny: A broken-up couple adventures through a muliversal furniture store on a desperate rescue mission.

Imagine an IKEA that goes on forever. In this retail hellscape, Ava and Jules find themselves on a quest to find a missing shopper that has gone missing not merely between aisles, but between realities. Even though they have just broken up and are avoiding each other, they have been sent by their manager to rescue a lost grandmother, with no hope of overtime, but if they can prevent any bad press or leakage from a dystopian parallel Earth, there might be a Pasta and Friends gift card for them when they get back.
Cipri has pulled off something magnificent with this quirky novella. I’ve never seen the existential dread of modern retail work so elegantly expressed. They also set this story not at the beginning of a relationship, but at the fractious end, throwing together two humans who are still emotionally raw and wondering what comes next. They cover a huge amount of thematic issues in such a scant story, and they thread the needle beautifully, providing a moody, atmospheric story full of sympathetic characters. But Cipri’s compelling fantasy worlds will be what really draws you in. From a floating city of merchant ships to a forest of carnivorous furniture, Cipri creates a multiverse of dangers and wonders that is not to be missed.
Finna is available in print and ebook from Tor.Com and all the usual retailers.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Kunai

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Kunai
Developed by: TurtleBlaze
Published by: The Arcade Crew
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: Ninja Robot Tablet Action

In the distant future, a lone robot awakens to save mankind from the AI Apocalypse. With an energy draining sword and an emoji-displaying tablet for a head, he sets out to save the small band of human resistance fighters, along with the rest of the world.
While its story is a bit thin, Kunai delivers a pleasant and fast-paced Metroidvania experience. In addition to the aforementioned sword, a variety of upgradable guns are also at your disposal as you traverse a variety of technology-infused forests, floating mountains, and futuristic cities. You travel on foot, with the ubiquitous double jumps, and with the games’s eponymous standout feature, the kunai, a pair of grappling hook-like knives that allow you to scale walls and swing along ceilings with ease. The game gives you a huge amount of freedom early in the game, delightfully disrupting the traditional gameplay loop of unreachable ledges and unjumpable pits. The controls are fun and intuitive, letting the player navigate quickly and easily.The game is presented in a faux gameboy pixel art style, with grayscale backgrounds. Enemies are painted red, while Tabby and his allies are blue. While it doesn’t have the flash of Ori and the Blind Forest or Hollow Knight, the sprites are easy to see, and charmingly designed. Backgrounds are surprisingly detailed and cleverly imagined.
The game rarely slows down, except in a few sections which involve navigating courses consisting of hazards like bottomless pits and rooms full of spikes. These parts of the game feel separate, and a bit archaic. Fortunately, they are quite close to save sections, and the game gives a Super Meat Boy try try again feel.
While Kunai doesn’t have the narrative weight or graphical artistry of some of the bigger Metroidvania titles, it is a fun and fast-pace game with plenty of charm, and is well worth your time. It is available on PC from Steam or on the Nintendo Switch from the Nintendo eShop.

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!

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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Hugh Likes Fiction: This Is How You Lose the Time War

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This Is How You Lose the Time War
Written by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Audiobook read by Cynthia Farrell and Emily Woo Zeller
Published by Simon and Schuster Audio

The Skinny: Two time-traveling agents begin a correspondence that will have epic consequences.

This beautifully written novella follows Red and Blue, two agents of opposed possible futures working to ensure their side wins history, as they begin an exchange of letters that will, well, change history.
El-Mohtar’s and Gladstone’s writing is lyrical and beautiful. The locations for the two agents’ missions are tiny glimpses into beautiful and compelling worlds. From neolithic labyrinths to ruined battlefields on crumbling, distant planets. But the letters themselves are as fascinating as their correspondents’ adventures. The reader watches as their exchange starts as a taunt, gradually becomes more friendly as the two begin to understand one another, and eventually become something more intimate, in letters written on plain paper, and hidden in more devious methods, in the bottom of a teacup, in the rings on a fallen tree, or the boiled water in an abandoned hospital MRI machine. Each exchange is surprising and engaging, and the reader is left to wonder what they’ll think of next, and to worry as a shadowy figure stalks behind them.
The audiobook, although short, was particularly good, which a pair of excellent narrators that give the poetic descriptions and intimate epistolary sections real gravitas. Often an audiobook is either well narrated or well acted, and finding not one but two narrators that excel at both is a triumph in and of itself.
This Is How You Lose the Time War is a confection of time travel mystery romance that will leave you aching for more, and heading back through to see how they pulled it off when you’re done. It’s certainly award-fodder, and it breathes new imagination into it’s sub-genre. Don’t miss this one!

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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Hugh Likes Fiction: Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private-Eye

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Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private-Eye
Written by Christiana Ellis
Published by the Author
ARC provided by the author

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The Skinny: This serial fiction project edited into a novel crosses genres as quickly and easily as the characters move between worlds.

To me, serial fiction and genre mashups go hand in hand. This tradition goes back to the pulps, where heroic adventurers were as likely to stop mad scientists and alien invasions as they were to travel to hidden lost civilizations and battle classically inspired monsters. It continues with superhero comics to this day, but Christiana Ellis’s delightful Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private-Eye brings things back around with a modern twist.
Collected and edited from a web serial, the story follows the eponymous detective as she travels between dimensions with the help of the portal generator implanted in her arm. When an elvish femme fatale hires her to track down her missing brother, however, she’s soon caught in a web of intrigue involving dwarven gangsters, malevolent AI and a clairvoyant sorceress/loan shark. And soon, it’s not just her client, but the whole multiverse that’s in danger.
Split into three books, the first is the most traditionally structured as a detective story, and is my favorite of the three. But the whole collection is chock full of charming characters, clever writing, and most of all, unexpected consequences. It’s a fun romp around the multiverse, although if the author ever continues the project, I’d love to see this crew of characters travel a bit more widely than the ‘slices’ of multiverse we get to see here.
Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private-Eye is available from Amazon and is a great addition to your Kindle. Why not take a trip to another dimension this summer?
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Hugh Likes Fiction: The 5th Gender

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The 5th Gender: A Tinkered Stars Mystery
Written by G. L. Carriger
Published by the author
Reviewed from an Advance Reader Copy

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The Skinny: A sweet, fluffy queer sci-fi romance with a few bits of mystery thrown in for good measure.

Alien diplomat Tistol and space station security detective Drey Hastion have been making eyes at each other for months. But just as they finally get together, to the mutual relief of their friends and coworkers, Drey gets a case that he’ll need his new romantic partner’s help with. A ship from Tristol’s notably reclusive home world has arrived, and there has been a murder, something so unthinkable in Tris’s society as to be unprecedented.
Going in, I was worried that this book was trying to do too much, but the author comes through with flying colors. Carriger, who may be better known for her best-selling steampunk adventures, brings her characteristic sense of style and dry wit to this romantic cozy mystery. The Galloi are a fascinating and well realized species. The sex scenes are well written and feel natural.
As a cozy, there isn’t a lot of tension in this book. Even places where I expected there to be, such as Tris’s naive misunderstanding of human gender and racial concepts is breezily but respectfully handled. Although as a cis-gendered white man, it’s not my place to make final judgement on that. Drey’s space station seems much more of a utopian one than Carriger’s Dickensian Wheel in Crudrat, which is implied to share a universe. But the story is charming and sexy, with delightful characters you’ll want to see more of when you get to the back cover.
The 5th Gender is directly available from The Author’s Website, as well as Amazon, the usual online stores, and can be ordered by Your Local Independent Bookshop.
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Hugh Likes Fiction: The Haunting of Tram Car 015

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The Haunting of Tram Car 015
Written by P. Djeli Clark
Audiobook read by Julian Thomas
Published by Recorded Books

The Skinny: A light fantasy adventure novella set in an alternate 1910’s Cairo.

What starts out as a routine haunting for two agents from the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities quickly expands in a plot involving smuggling rings, women’s suffrage, and the uneasy mingling of cultures in an alternate 1912 Cairo that is the center of the modern and magical world.
Never quite hard-edged enough to put the punk in its steampunk, Clark never the less wrestles with the concept of empire, if only by having the characters discussing how glad they are to not have the English in charge anymore. His Cairo is a cosmopolitan jewel, with a mixture of vibrant cultures and characters both real and mythical. Much like his earlier short story that shares the setting, “A Dead Djinn in Cairo,” Haunting evokes a deeply complex world that challenges both the reader’s and the characters preconceived notions.
And speaking of which, his characters are memorable delights, from sassy shopkeepers, to obsequious transit officials, and his two main leads, the tough, world-weary agent Hamed and the sharp, but soft agent Onsi. Clark skirts the line of some well-worn procedural tropes, but his dialog and realizations of the characters breathe unexpected life into them.
I listened to this book on Audible, and Julian Thomas gives an excellent, if a bit slow, reading. His performance of the characters makes each of them clearly recognizable, and to my inexperienced ears he handles accents well, making them distinctive but still easily understandable to a listener generally unfamiliar with the region.
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is available in ebook, print and audiobook from Amazon, Audible, and your local independent book store. It’s well worth checking out if you’re on the hunt for a well-realized historical fantasy that plays outside of the typical Western European sandbox. I’m eagerly awaiting Clark’s next entry in what is quickly becoming one of my favorite fictional settings.
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