The only drawback to these seven stories is that readers will want far more time in each world.

THE TANGLEROOT PALACE

STORIES

A collection of short stories exploring the emotional complexity, diverse physicality, and layered sexuality of resourceful women.

In “Sympathy for the Bones,” Clora is old Ruth’s unwilling apprentice witch in Kentucky, forced to murder men with hoodoo magic or surrender her soul. Having lost her family, Clora longs to know what it feels like to love and be loved, even as she plans her escape. Another kind of escape is brewing in “The Briar and the Rose,” a retelling of “Sleeping Beauty,” only this time the charming prince is a brown warrior-woman who must walk the dangerous line between freeing the woman she’s come to love and her duty to her mistress­—the sorceress who inhabits Rose’s body six days out of seven. In "Call Her Savage," a striking magical alternate history, ex–Lady Marshall Xīng MacNamara—who comes from New China, on the Pacifica coast of an America allied with its Native peoples—must kill her former lover Maude in order to stop the Redcoats from colonizing the world. Rounding out the collection are a story about Amish vampires and a secret marriage in a plague-ridden future that gingerly explores trauma and strength; a gay wannabe-supervillain looking for a superhero to love him in a story that asks what true vulnerability can awaken; and a princess, determined to forge her own path through sentient trees and evil queens, who wrestles with how to remain true to duty, heart, and mind. Within each tale, author Liu gives a masterclass in the art of storytelling. She doesn’t waste a word or a comma, nor does she miss an opportunity to dive into what makes us human, no matter who we are or who we love. In the title novella, the protagonist learns that “some trees are bark and root, and some trees have soul and teeth.” So, too, will readers find that Liu’s writing is all “soul and teeth.” Neither will release them quickly.

The only drawback to these seven stories is that readers will want far more time in each world.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-61696-352-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Tachyon

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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This book’s lyrical language and unsparing vision make it a mind-expanding must-read.

MASTER OF POISONS

An epic fantasy set in an African-inspired world on the brink of ecological disaster.

Djola, the Arkhysian Empire’s Master of Poisons, has a plan to stop the spreading poison desert. Hezram, a powerful priest, offers to use dark blood magic. But Djola believes in his “map to tomorrow,” which involves searching for a powerful spell to unravel the cause of the dangerous void-storms. Awa has an affinity with bees and a talent for traveling to Smokeland, the spirit realm. Sold to the Green Elders on her 12th birthday, Awa comes of age on the margins of empire, learning from Yari, the griot (storyteller) of griots. Along the way, she will learn to question much of what she’s been taught: about the Elders, about people the Empire calls "savages," and about “vesons,” who, like Yari, are neither man nor woman. Both Djola and Awa will be tested, and both will make enormous sacrifices to save the people—and the world—they love. This complex story spans years, travels to every corner of a richly imagined fantasy world, and even dips into the minds of elephants, bees, and rivers: “The Bees...dream of pools of nectar, clouds of pollen, and evening dew heavy with flower scent. Why dream of anything else?”

This book’s lyrical language and unsparing vision make it a mind-expanding must-read.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26054-3

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some White people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only White avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, White people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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