"A Phoenix First Must Burn" review

Technically this is a DNF review; I only read the first five stories, to complete non-hard-mode Bingo, but I wasn’t intending to read the entire anthology unless I really enjoyed the first five stores that I read, and I didn’t. I’m not really a fan of short stories in general, and these weren’t particularly captivating.

"The Witch Haven" review

A pretty mediocre YA novel, The Witch Haven is set in the early 20th century in New York, but the historical setting is mostly irrelevant to the novel, and it may as well take place anywhere without cell phones or the internet.

"A Natural History of Dragons" review

A Natural History of Dragons is a nice opener to a series that I have not yet continued, but I’ve heard gets much better. It’s narrated by a much older Lady Trent, looking back at her childhood and early adulthood, and the majority of the appeal is her narrative voice rather than the story, though the story is acceptably enjoyable as well. Lady Trent, then known as Isabella, is obsessed with dragons. She wants to study them, to observe them, to draw them, to understand them.

"Beneath the Citadel" review

Beneath the Citadel has a lot going on. From the very beginning, there’s a heist that goes south, then a backup heist, then more hijinks take place. It deals with several interesting themes: Prophecy and free will; memory, memory loss, and identity; power and corruption. There’s strong LGBT representation: a gay couple, a bi character, and an asexual character. There’s a bunch of different types of magic, most of them pretty well defined and worldbuilt. And due to characters' abilities to share, read, and erase memories, the plot is almost akin to that of a time travel novel in complexity (there’s no actual time travel) (although philosophically we could ask if having memories erased and restored is equivalent to time travel…). Unfortunately all of this is significantly crippled by characters who do irrational young-adult-novel things, and the novel is weakened a lot as a result.

"She Who Became the Sun" review

She Who Became the Sun tells the story of a girl who is about to die but steals her brother Zhu Chongba’s supposed fate of greatness. Her story is one of a struggle of identity: If she has stolen her brother’s identity to steal also his fate, who is she? What skills is she allowed to possess? What desires is she allowed to have? How can she define her life? Heaven is watching her - literally - and any misstep threatens to send her back to her original proclaimed fate of nothingness. But her brother did die as nothing, and she must use her own skills and desires to make her own fate in the eyes of Heaven and claim her Mandate in his name.

"Circe" review

Circe is the story of the titular character’s life and exploits in Greek mythology (you know her from The Odyssey where she turns Odysseus’s crew into pigs). It’s told from Circe’s own perspective, at some unknown point in the future as she reflects on her earlier life events with a quiet, almost slice-of-life style despite spanning hundreds of years of history and perhaps a dozen different Greek myths.

"Gideon the Ninth" review

Gideon the Ninth is every genre that I don’t like - horror, locked-room murder mystery, kinda-gross-and-violent battle scenes - but told with the callously disrespectful humor of the titular Gideon’s narrative voice in such a way that I found myself captivated and, surprisingly, enjoying it. Though I will admit I skimmed a lot of the kinda-gross-and-violent battle scenes.

"Lost in the Never Woods" review

The premise is compelling - A “Peter Pan” retelling with an adult Wendy whose brothers never returned from Neverland with her - but the execution is anything but. The majority of Lost in the Never Woods takes place in the “real world,” a quiet, boring town that was disrupted several years ago when Wendy and her brothers disappeared for several months and only Wendy returned. The rest takes place in the nearby woods. None of it takes place in, you know, Neverland.

"Phoenix Extravagent" review

Phoenix Extravagant is a novel about nonbinary artist Gyen Jebi, a relatively talented artist who’s not so good at being a sibling or adult (but they’re trying! really hard!). After getting into a fight with their sister Bongsunga, they find themselves offered a government job that seems too good to be true, but, not being so good at being an adult, they don’t really have any idea how to handle the situation and end up completely over their head.

"The Once and Future Witches" review

Alix Harrow’s The Once and Future Witches is a historical fiction novel about suffragists (except they’re also witches) and sisters (and they’re also witches). It’s equal parts angry, beautiful, and heartbreaking. The prose is lovely, with sweet little alliterations snuck in as the witches discover the wills, words, and ways to change their world. And Gideon Hill is definitely not based on Mitch McConnell according to the Goodreads Q&A.