Must-Have Monday #53!

Posted 27th September 2021 by Sia in Must-Have Mondays / 0 Comments

September’s going out with a bang, with some of the year’s most-hyped SFF releases coming out this week! Queer southern semi-horror, sea serpents, and subverted chosen ones are among the EIGHT new books you need to know about!

Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Queer MC, M/M, secondary polyamory M/M/F, secondary Black character
Published on: 28th September 2021

Andrew and Eddie did everything together, best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, only days before Andrew was to join him in Nashville, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom with bleeding wrists that mutters of revenge.

As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood and death. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble, letting in the phantom that hungers for him.

I got to read this early, and there’s absolutely no question that it’s one of the best books of the year; it’s all yearning and secrets and illegal drag racing, mixed in with dark academia and revenants. I wouldn’t call it fast-paced, but I’d definitely call it intense and gorgeous, and I urge you to read it.

If you need any more convincing, you can read my full review here!

The Last Graduate (The Scholomance, #2) by Naomi Novik
Genres: Fantasy
Representation: Biracial Desi MC, secondary Desi and Chinese characters, minor M/M
Published on: 28th September 2021

A budding dark sorceress determined not to use her formidable powers uncovers yet more secrets about the workings of her world in the stunning sequel to A Deadly Education, the start of Naomi Novik's groundbreaking crossover series.

At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year--and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules . . .

DON’T jump into The Last Graduate if you have not first read A Deadly Education, but if you have read the first book, I’m delighted to be able to tell you that the sequel is powerfully hopepunk, which is a relief after how grim Education was. The Last Graduate still has monsters and awfulness galore – it’s certainly not all candyfloss and unicorns – but still, it’s much more about hope and pulling together and no one gets left behind than the previous book, so even if you thought Education was really too dark, I’d still encourage you to pick up Last Graduate.

You can read my full review here – although again, don’t read it unless you’ve read the first book!

The Bone Ship's Wake (The Tide Child, #3) by R.J. Barker
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Queer MC, minor nonbinary character, queernorm world
Published on: 28th September 2021

Discover a brilliantly imagined epic fantasy of honor, glory, and warfare in this action-packed conclusion to the David Gemmell Award-nominated trilogy.

Joron Twiner's dreams of freedom lay shattered. His Shipwife is gone and all he has left is revenge. Leading the black fleet from the deck of Tide Child, he takes every opportunity to hurt the Hundred Isles he is given. But his time is limited.

His fleet is shrinking, the Keyshan's Rot is running through his body, and he hiding from a prophecy that says he and the avian sorcerer, the Windseer will end the entire world.

But the Sea Dragons have returned, a miracle in itself, and who is to say that if you can have one miracle, there cannot be another?

The Bone Ships trilogy has felt truly groundbreaking in a lot of ways, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of the ripple effects it’s sent through the genre – but I’m both dreading and dying to get my hands on the last book of the series! I really don’t know where Barker is going to take us in this final book, but I’m willing to bet it’s going to break me!

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Science Fantasy
Representation: Multiracial trans MC, sapphic Japanese MC, F/F or wlw
Published on: 28th September 2021

Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in this defiantly joyful adventure set in California's San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts.

Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.

When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka's ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She's found her final candidate.

But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn't have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan's kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul's worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.

As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.

I ended up not really enjoying this one, but I am clearly Wrong and urge you to give it a try if the description appeals to you!

Activation Degradation by Marina J. Lostetter
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Representation: Nonbinary MC, secondary M/M or mlm, secondary intersex character
Published on: 28th September 2021

The Murderbot Diaries makes first contact in this new, futuristic, standalone novel exploring sentience and artificial intelligence through the lenses of conflicted robot hero Unit Four, from Marina Lostetter, critically acclaimed author of Noumenon, Noumenon Infinity, and Noumenon Ultra.

When Unit Four—a biological soft robot built and stored high above the Jovian atmosphere—is activated for the first time, it’s in crisis mode. Aliens are attacking the Helium-3 mine it was created to oversee, and now its sole purpose is to defend Earth’s largest energy resource from the invaders in ship-to-ship combat.

But something’s wrong. Unit Four doesn’t feel quite right.

There are files in its databanks it can’t account for, unusual chemical combinations roaring through its pipes, and the primers it possesses on the aliens are suspiciously sparse. The robot is under orders to seek and destroy. That’s all it knows.

According to its handler, that’s all it needs to know.

Determined to fulfill its directives, Unit Four launches its ship and goes on the attack, but it has no idea it’s about to get caught in a downward spiral of misinformation, reprograming, and interstellar conflict.

Most robots are simple tools. Unit Four is well on its way to becoming something more....

This is a clever and thoughtful standalone that did some twisty things I was not expecting, which I majorly approve of! That said, please don’t pick it up expecting it to have the same vibe as Murderbot, because the two really are incredibly different. Activation Degradation should be judged on its own merits (which are MANY), not compared to something it has almost no resemblance to!

My full review is over here!

Dark Rise (Dark Rise, #1) by C.S. Pacat
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Bisexual MC
Published on: 28th September 2021

The ancient world of magic is no more. Its heroes are dead, its halls are ruins, and its great battles between Light and Dark are forgotten. Only the Stewards remember, and they keep their centuries-long vigil, sworn to protect humanity if the Dark King ever returns.

Sixteen-year-old dock boy Will is on the run, pursued by the men who killed his mother. When an old servant tells him of his destiny to fight beside the Stewards, Will is ushered into a world of magic, where he must train to play a vital role in the oncoming battle against the Dark.

As London is threatened by the Dark King’s return, the reborn heroes and villains of a long-forgotten war begin to draw battle lines. But as the young descendants of Light and Dark step into their destined roles, old allegiances, old enmities, and old flames are awakened. Will must stand with the last heroes of the Light to prevent the dark fate that destroyed their world from returning to destroy his own.

Pacat made their name with their Captive Prince trilogy, and followed that up with a graphic novels series about the world of competitive fencing – and both of them were decidedly queer. With a bisexual main character, Dark Rise is too! And according to the reviews I’ve read, Dark Rise takes on a lot of common YA tropes and subverts them, which is always fun. Definitely picking it up tomorrow!

Before We Disappear by Shaun David Hutchinson
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: M/M, secondary F/F, secondary PoC characters, queernorm world
Published on: 28th September 2021

The Prestige meets What If It’s Us in Before We Disappear, a queer ahistorical fantasy set during the 1909 Seattle Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exposition, where the two assistants of two ambitious magicians find themselves falling in love amidst a bitter rivalry designed to tear them apart.

Jack Nevin’s clever trickery and moral flexibility have served him well his entire life—making him the perfect assistant to the Enchantress, one of the most well-known stage magicians in early-twentieth-century Europe. Without Jack’s steady supply of stolen tricks and copycat sleight-of-hand illusions, the Enchantress’s fame would have burned out long ago—not that she would ever admit it.

But when they’re forced to flee the continent for America, the Enchantress finds a new audience in Seattle at the 1909 Alaska–Yukon–Pacific World’s Fair Exposition. She and Jack are set to make a fortune until a new magician arrives on the scene. Performing tricks that defy the imagination, Laszlo’s act threatens to overshadow the Enchantress and co-opt her audience. Jack has no choice but to hunt for the secrets behind Laszlo’s otherworldly illusions—but what he uncovers isn’t at all what he expected.

What makes Laszlo’s tricks possible is, unbelievably, a boy that can seemingly perform real magic. Wilhelm’s abilities defy all the laws of physics. His talents are no clever sleights-of-hand. But even though Laszlo and Wilhelm’s act threatens to destroy the life Jack and the Enchantress have built, Jack and Wilhelm have near-instant connection. As the rivalry between the Enchantress and Laszlo grows increasingly dangerous and dire, Jack finds he has to choose between the woman who gave him a life and the boy who is offering him love. It's a new star-crossed romance about the magic of first love from acclaimed author Shaun David Hutchinson.

Stage magic is not really my thing, but I have to admit to being hypnotised by that gorgeous cover! And I’m intrigued by the idea of a historical fantasy that’s had the homophobia of the time excised. (Although apparently sexism and racism are still around? Sigh.) I do love the premise of stage-magician-discovers-real-magic though!

The Symmetry of Stars by Alex Myers
Genres: Fantasy
Representation: Genderqueer/gender-nonconforming characters
Published on: 30th September 2021

Beyond the stars, two gods vie for rule of the world.

One stands for Nature – the belief that everything is stamped in flesh from the start. The other, Nurture – the belief that all is potential, that the true self is coaxed out through love and living.

And so, they take a bet.

Each immortal selects a set of twins as their champions. The twins that prevail in contest will decide which immortal rules….

In a westerly valley, a girl and boy are born to a noble family, to be raised by a mysterious teacher – ready to love and instruct them in everything, regardless of society’s expectations…

To the east, a woman washes ashore on an island inhabited only by a sorcerer. With her final breaths, she gives birth to twins. These two are raised with careful neglect by the sorcerer – surrounded not with love but with danger, magic and wildness.

Society expects these children to become men and women. But the immortals care nothing for human norms and raise the twins according to their own ends. Which twins will prevail?

What truly matters in determining who a person will become?

The reviews for this one have been very mixed, but personally I’m intensely interested in the premise, and really can’t wait to see what Myers does with it!

That’s it for this week! Have I missed any I should know about? Will you be reading any of these? Let me know!


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