Must-Have Monday #155

Posted 25th September 2023 by Sia in Must-Have Mondays / 0 Comments

Must-Have Monday is a feature highlighting which of the coming week’s new releases I’m excited for. It is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all books being published that week; only those I’m interested in out of those I’m aware of! The focus is diverse SFF, but other genres sneak in occasionally too.

TEN books this week!

(Books are listed in order of pub date, then Adult SFF, Adult Other, YA SFF, YA Other, MG SFF.)

Mad Sisters of Esi by Tashan Mehta
Genres: Fantasy
Representation: Desi MCs
Published on: 25th September 2023

Myung and Laleh are keepers of the whale of babel. They roam within its cosmic chambers, speak folktales of themselves, and pray to an enigmatic figure they know only as 'Great Wisa'. To Laleh, this is everything. For Myung, it is not enough.

When Myung flees the whale, she stumbles into a new universe where shapeshifting islands and ancient maps hold sway. There, she sets off on an adventure that is both tragic and transformative, for her and Laleh. For at the heart of her quest lies a mystery that has confounded scholars for centuries: the truth about the mad sisters of Esi.

Fables, dreams and myths come together in this masterful work of fantasy by acclaimed author Tashan Mehta, sweeping across three landscapes, and featuring a museum of collective memory and a festival of madness. At its core, it asks: In the devastating chaos of this world, where all is in flux and the truth ever-changing, what will you choose to hold on to?

I think the paper edition (which seems to only be releasing in India atm) is out in a few more days – but my ebook downloaded today already! Which is a HUGE relief, because it sounds absolutely incredible, and I must now dive into it IMMEDIATELY!!!

The Pomegranate Gate (The Mirror Realm Cycle #1) by Ariel Kaplan
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Portal Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Sephardic Jewish MCs, queer Jewish MC, major queer character
Published on: 26th September 2023

Ariel Kaplan’s The Pomegranate Gate is the lyrical first installment of the Mirror Realm Cycle, a vibrant and heartfelt Inquisition-era Jewish epic fantasy in the vein of Naomi Novik, Katherine Arden, and Tasha Suri.

Toba Peres can speak, but not shout; she can walk, but not run. She can write with both hands, in different languages, but has not had a formal education. The only treasure Toba has dared to keep is a precious star sapphire, set in a necklace she must never take off.

Naftaly Cresques sees things that aren’t real, and dreams things that are. He is a well-trained tailor, but a middling one, and he is risking his life to smuggle a strange family heirloom: a centuries-old book he must never read, and must never lose.

The Queen of the Sefarad has ordered all Jews to convert, or be exiled with nothing. Toba, Naftaly, and thousands of others are forced to flee their homes. Toba, accidentally separated from their caravan of refugees, stumbles through a strange pomegranate grove into the magical realm of the Maziks: mythical, terrible beings with immense power. There, she discovers latent abilities that put her in the crosshairs of bloodthirsty immortals, but may be key to her survival. On the other side of the gate, Naftaly, intent on rescuing Toba, finds his new companions harbor dangerous secrets of their own.

Now, hunted by an Inquisition in both worlds, Toba and Naftaly must unravel ancient histories and ancient magics in order to understand the link between the two realms. More than their own lives might be at stake.

Brimming with folkloric wonder, The Pomegranate Gate weaves history, myth, and magic into an exquisite tale of fate, legacy, and friendship that will leave readers spellbound.

Folx, I know for a fact that this one is something special. I got to read it early, and it took my breath away. It’s perfection. I have no critiques, there’s nothing to nitpick. It’s lush and unique and surprising and SUBLIME, and I will weep with pity for you if you miss out on it!

My review!

The Undetectables by Courtney Smyth
Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Sapphic MC with fibromyalgia, bisexual MC, brown sapphic MC, minor nonbinary and disabled characters
Published on: 26th September 2023

Be gay, solve crime, take naps—A witty and quirky fantasy murder mystery if a folkloric world of witches, faeries, vampires, trolls and ghosts, for fans of Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey and T. J. Klune's Under the Whispering Door.

A magical serial killer is stalking the Occult town of Wrackton. Hypnotic whistling causes victims to chew their own tongues off, leading to the killer being dubbed the Whistler (original, right?). But outside the lack of taste buds and the strange magical carvings on the victims’ torsos, the murderer leaves no evidence. No obvious clues. No reason – or so it seems.

Enter the Undetectables, a detective agency run by three witches and a ghost in a cat costume (don’t ask). They are hired to investigate the murders, but with their only case so far left unsolved, will they be up to the task? Mallory, the forensic science expert, is struggling with pain and fatigue from her recently diagnosed fibromyalgia. Cornelia, the team member most likely to go rogue and punch a police officer, is suddenly stirring all sorts of feelings in Mallory. Diana, the social butterfly of the group, is hitting up all of her ex-girlfriends for information. And not forgetting ghostly Theodore – deceased, dramatic, and also the agency’s first dead body and unsolved murder case.

With bodies stacking up and the case leading them to mysteries at the very heart of magical society, can the Undetectables find the Whistler before they become the killer’s next victims?

This is exactly as much fun as the tagline – Be Gay. Solve Crimes. Take Naps. – sounds like it’s going to be! A really excellent friend-group where each member of the cast has something interesting and/or odd going for them, excellent fibro rep, and a story that manages to be a very easy, light read despite leaving room for all the grief that comes with a serial killer murder-mystery. It gets the Sia stamp of approval!

My review!

The Golem of Brooklyn: A Novel by Adam Mansbach
Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy
Representation: Jewish MCs
Published on: 26th September 2023

In Ashkenazi Jewish folklore, a golem is a humanoid being created out of mud or clay and animated through secret prayers. Its sole purpose is to defend the Jewish people against the immediate threat of violence. It is always a rabbi who makes a golem, and always in a time of crisis.

But Len Bronstein is no rabbi—he’s a Brooklyn art teacher who steals a large quantity of clay from his school, gets extremely stoned, and manages to bring his creation to life despite knowing little about Judaism and even less about golems. Unable to communicate with his nine-foot-six, four hundred–pound, Yiddish-speaking guest, Len enlists a bodega clerk and ex-Hasid named Miri Apfelbaum to translate.

Eventually, the golem learns English by binge-watching Curb Your Enthusiasm after ingesting a massive amount of LSD and reveals that he is a creature with an ancestral memory; he recalls every previous iteration of himself, proving to be a repository of Jewish history and trauma. He demands to know what crisis has prompted his re-creation and whom he must destroy. When Miri shows him a video of white nationalists marching and chanting “Jews will not replace us,” the answer becomes clear.

The Golem of Brooklyn is an epic romp through Jewish history and the American present that wrestles with the deepest questions of our humanity—the conflicts between faith and skepticism, tribalism and interdependence, and vengeance and healing.

This sounds both timely and hilarious in the best of ways, and I’ve been making grabby-hands at it since I heard about it. All the early reviews are glowing!

Shadow Speaker (The Desert Magician's Duology, #1) by Nnedi Okorafor
Genres: Fantasy
Representation: Nigerian MC + setting
Published on: 26th September 2023

Niger, West Africa, 2074

It is an era of tainted technology and mysterious mysticism. A great change has happened all over the planet, and the laws of physics aren’t what they used to be.

Within all this, I introduce you to Ejii Ugabe, a child of the worst type of politician. Back when she was nine years old, she was there as her father met his end. Don’t waste your tears on him: this girl’s father would throw anyone under a bus to gain power. He was a cruel, cruel man, but even so, Ejii did not rejoice at his departure from the world. Children are still learning that some people don’t deserve their love.

Now 15 years old and manifesting the abilities given to her by the strange Earth, Ejii decides to go after the killer of her father. Is it for revenge or something else? You will have to find out by reading this book.

I am the Desert Magician, and this is a novel I have conjured for you, so I’m certainly not going to just tell you here.

This is a new edition of a book that was originally released in (I think) 2007 – as far as I know there’s been no updating of the story or new content or anything, but still, if you’ve been wanting to get a hold of Okorafor’s backlist, snatch this up!

Navigating Fox by Christopher Rowe
Genres: Fantasy
Published on: 26th September 2023

Quintus Shu'al is the world's only navigating fox. He's also in disgrace after leading an expedition to its doom a year earlier, with dozens of lives lost. Now Quintus has a chance to redeem himself by leading a brand-new expedition to the gates of hell. In return, he is promised the eventual truth of his origins and his solitary existence.

Those who will accompany Quintus are the Holy Priest Scipio Aemilanus; scholar Octavia Delphina, whose sister was lost in the first expedition; the twin raccoon cartographers Loci and Foci; and the powerful bison ambassador Walks Along Woman.

As the journey grows more perilous and the agendas of its members more sinister, Quintus must make an impossible choice between obtaining the secret of his creation, or sacrificing that possibility forever in order to seize his destiny.

This sounds…utterly bizarre, but maybe in a good way? Most of the reviews I’ve seen have been positive. I think the setting is Roman-inspired? I must confess, I can’t remember the last time I came across a book where the MC was a fox!

Land of Milk and Honey by C Pam Zhang
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Speculative Fiction
Representation: Queer (Chinese-American?) MC
Published on: 26th September 2023

The award-winning author of How Much of These Hills Is Gold returns with a rapturous and revelatory novel about a young chef whose discovery of pleasure alters her life and, indirectly, the world

A smog has spread. Food crops are rapidly disappearing. A chef escapes her dying career in a dreary city to take a job at a decadent mountaintop colony seemingly free of the world’s troubles.

There, the sky is clear again. Rare ingredients abound. Her enigmatic employer and his visionary daughter have built a lush new life for the global elite, one that reawakens the chef to the pleasures of taste, touch, and her own body.

In this atmosphere of hidden wonders and cool, seductive violence, the chef’s boundaries undergo a thrilling erosion. Soon she is pushed to the center of a startling attempt to reshape the world far beyond the plate.

Sensuous and surprising, joyous and bitingly sharp, told in language as alluring as it is original, Land of Milk and Honey lays provocatively bare the ethics of seeking pleasure in a dying world. It is a daringly imaginative exploration of desire and deception, privilege and faith, and the roles we play to survive. Most of all, it is a love letter to food, to wild delight, and to the transformative power of a woman embracing her own appetite.

I had trouble confirming whether or not the MC is BIPOC – I think she is, but I could be mistaken. Regardless, this is supposed to be a very sensual foodie book, which is the kind of thing I’m very into, but be prepared for climate change anxiety.

This Dark Descent (This Dark Descent, #1) by Kalyn Josephson
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Aroace MC, Jewish MC, Bisexual MC, queernorm world
Published on: 26th September 2023

The Shadows Between Us meets Six of Crows in this spellbinding new fantasy full of intrigue, romance, and pulse-pounding action, where the eldest daughter of a renowned family on the verge of ruin joins forces with a mysterious, rogue enchanter and a handsome, ambitious heir to win a deadly race.

Mikira Rusel’s family has long been famous for breeding enchanted horses, but their prestige is no match for their rising debts. To save her ranch, Mikira has only one option: she must win the Illinir, a treacherous horserace whose riders either finish maimed or murdered. Yet each year, competitors return, tempted by its alluring prize money and unparalleled prestige.

Mikira’s mission soon unites her with Arielle Kadar, an impressive yet illicit enchanter just beginning to come into her true power, and Damien Adair, a dashing young lord in the midst of a fierce succession battle. Both have hidden reasons of their own to help Mikira -- as well as their own blood feuds to avenge…

Steeped in Jewish folklore, This Dark Descent is a pulse-pounding new fantasy full of forbidden magic, sizzling romance, and epic stakes. In a world as dangerous as this, will the need for vengeance butcher Mikira’s chances of winning the Illinir … or will another rider’s dagger?

I think the first time I heard about this, it was described as ‘Scorpio Races but Jewish and queer’, which is a premise I can really get behind! I mean, Jewish folklore and breeders of enchanted horses??? I’d be sold even without the race!

The Siren, the Song, and the Spy by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Queer MCs
Published on: 26th September 2023

In this second vibrant fantasy from Maggie Tokuda-Hall, companion to her best-selling debut, The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, a diverse resistance force fights to topple an empire in a story about freedom, identity, and decolonization.

By sinking a fleet of Imperial Warships, the Pirate Supreme and their resistance fighters have struck a massive blow against the Emperor. Now allies from across the empire are readying themselves, hoping against hope to bring about the end of the conquerors’ rule and the rebirth of the Sea. But trust and truth are hard to come by in this complex world of mermaids, spies, warriors, and aristocrats. Who will Genevieve—lavishly dressed but washed up, half-dead, on the Wariuta island shore—turn out to be? Is warrior Koa’s kindness toward her admirable, or is his sister Kaia’s sharp suspicion wiser? And back in the capital, will pirate-spy Alfie really betray the Imperials who have shown him affection, especially when a duplicitous senator reveals xe would like nothing better?

Meanwhile, the Sea is losing more and more of herself as her daughters continue to be brutally hunted, and the Empire continues to expand through profits made from their blood. The threads of time, a web of schemes, shifting loyalties, and blossoming identities converge in Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s remarkable companion to The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, as unlikely young allies work to forge a new and better world.

As far as I can tell, this is not a sequel to The Mermaid, The Witch, and the Sea, but it is set in the same world, and I am always here for mermaids/sirens!

Into the Glittering Dark by Kelley York
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: M/M
Published on: 1st October 2023

*How do you control something that cannot be tamed?*

As magi apprentices, Everis and Wren have led a relatively peaceful life. But when the king dies under suspicious circumstances and Everis foils an assassination attempt on the princess’ life, the pair are sent by their master to investigate the only lead they have. In a city far away ruled by the dead king’s brother, they need to find answers—fast.

As an unlikely group of allies forms around them in the chaos, the apprentices will have to tap into everything they’ve been taught while relying on the likes of assassins, an eccentric shopkeeper, and an otherworldly avian to go up against an enemy unlike any they’ve encountered before.

But nothing about this plot against the royal family is what it seems. There’s blood magic at the root of it, and its seductive pull is something Everis has struggled to resist since he was a child. A struggle which makes things complicated…and dangerous. Wren has always pulled him back from the edge when he’s needed it, but what happens when they need fire to fight fire, and Everis is forced to bring out his darkness and learn to tame the untamable?

Reviews of this one are a little mixed – there seem to be differing opinions on whether or not the romance is a romance? I’m not sure what that means either, but I’ve had good experiences with York’s books before, and the blurb is more than interesting enough to make one want to check this one out.

Will you be reading any of these? Let me know!


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