Mechanized Love: A Review of Gearbreakers, by Zoe Hana Mikuta

            Genre can be a tricky thing in writing.  Some authors are very strict about sticking within certain genres, and abiding by the various common plots or tropes that come along with those genres.  For example, ask three different people about what the cyberpunk genre is and you will receive three different answers.  Science-fiction and fantasy are often seen as distinct genres, and many do not think the romance genre could cross over with a noir story.  However, genres are not set in stone.  There is no comprehensive set of rules stating what you can or cannot do as a writer, even the most traditional authors subconsciously mix and match genres all the time.  The terminology is meant less as a set of rules and more as a set of guidelines.  There are common tropes associated with science-fiction, certainly, but there is absolutely nothing stopping an author from combining those with romance.  Many times, the best stories are the ones where authors pick and choose the parts of a genre they like the most, combining them with aspect of other genres until an engaging fusion emerges.

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Graduation: A Review of Goodbye, Battle Princess Peony, by Mira Ong Chua

Comic books are an overlooked form of storytelling when it comes to literary discussions, with most of the conversation revolving around the books put out there by the large publishers.  Comic books struggle with a reputation tied to superheroes in the United States, but it only takes looking at the indie art scene, or the books published in other parts of the world, to see the real potential of the comic book and graphic novel forms. Rather than reading exposition describing a city, a talented artist can show it to us through spreads and background art.  Authors do not have to struggle with trying to accurately convey what emotion a character is feeling when it can be drawn on the page.  A good artist can convey pages worth of narration in a single frame.  There are so many good comic books out there, in a multitude of genres, and the subject of today’s review is here to prove just how impactful and engrossing a comic can be.

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Thinking Machine: A Review of This Golden Flame, by Emily Victoria

One common trope in science-fiction is the existence of technology so advanced it is indistinguishable from magic.  However, the reverse can also be found in fiction whenever a writer wants to create a fantasy world, but still include a technological element that would not otherwise be possible.  Enter magical technology, or magic indistinguishable from technology aside from being fueled by magic instead of electricity or another power source.  Maybe an author wants to include an airship in their high fantasy setting, but does not want technology to be too advanced.  Or they want a medieval-like setting to have access to something like a computer or search engine.  Whatever the apparatus, this allows authors to get inventive with the magic in their book, imagining how it can fuel a society.  However, this trend can run up against the rick of breaking immersion whenever readers start to wonder why the characters just do not use the actual technology instead of magic.

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Outlaw to Sheriff: A Review of Spellmaker, by Charlie N. Holmberg

Writing a sequel is always a unique problem for an author as it is usually a self-inflicted one.  It is easy to approach a story with the idea that the complete tale will be told in one book, and most authors do choose to go this route.  But there is something about the fantasy and science-fiction genres especially that draw writers towards creating more.  Usually, this is a net win for the audience, as we want to spend as much time as possible in an author’s imagination if the first book draws us in.  I have put down many books wishing that the story had not ended with the last page.  But, sometimes, the sequel does not quite live up to the expectations set by the first entry.  A sequel needs to both provide a continuation and a satisfying payoff to elements set up by the first book.  A mystery or conflict may be enjoyable while it is ongoing, but if the resolution is not satisfying, then the entire whole can suffer.

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Courtly Manners: A Review of The Frozen Crown, by Greta Kelly

Not every novel needs to be a masterpiece.  Most books will not become the next great American novel, or spawn a never-ending franchise, or elicit well-reasoned think pieces and critical analysis.  Most are written, and read, for pure entertainment.  More often than not, these are the books that I prefer to read.  Books that do not require you to think about them too hard, but draw you in with well-told, interesting stories and entertaining characters.  The literary equivalent of a popcorn movie.  And it is perfectly acceptable to enjoy these stories for what they are.  No reader should ever be judged for choosing to read something for fun, or to escape from reality for a few days to weeks.  In the middle of a global pandemic, this sort of escapism can be more important than ever.  However, just because a book is meant for pure entertainment does not mean that the construction should always be overlooked.

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Removing the Mask: A Review of Chaos Reigning, by Jessie Mihalik

There are times when you pick up a book expecting to be surprised.  You look forward to twists and turns to keep you on your toes.  Insurmountable odds that the main characters must struggle to overcome, coupled with prose posing philosophical debates about the characters actions.  These are books that are meant to bring you out of your comfort zone.  However, especially in this day and age, we could use a bit of comfort.  Jessie Mihalik’s Consortium Rebellion trilogy, culminating in Chaos Reigning, is the comfort food of science-fiction.  You go into the third novel knowing what you want and what you expect from this series.  A cool heroine who learns to embrace her abilities and find her confidence, a steamy romance with a considerate and strong man, and a healthy dose of sci-fi adventure.

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One Flesh, One End: A Review of Harrow the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir

There are no other books quite like Harrow the Ninth.  The second novel in Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb trilogy following Gideon the Ninth, Harrow the Ninth seemingly follows the conventions of a sequel while consistently turning things on their heads at every opportunity.  As the second story in a trilogy, audiences come in with a certain expectation.  Where the first book is meant to set up the characters and the overarching plot, it still ends in an apparent victory.  The second book need to expand the world, introduce new mysteries, and provide a lead-up to the third and final chapter.  Harrow the Ninth does do this, but not in any expected way.  Instead, it creates a mood piece focusing intimately on our main heroine as she navigates a wholly unfamiliar world out to destroy her at every turn.  Many questions are asked, some are answered, but Muir never loses sight of the story she wants to tell.

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Immortal Cavalier: A Review of Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir

Science-fiction and fantasy may appear to be very different genres at first glance.  Once is full of advanced technologies, with a focus on scientific progress and how that works within the setting.  Fantasy focuses on magic and oftentimes breaking the rules of the physical world in the pursuit of power.  However, the two are full of more similarities than differences.  Both can take place on Earth, or on another world.  The world can have creatures other than humans, be they aliens or elves.  Fantasy can sometimes show technology powered by magic, while highly advanced technology can sometimes appear indistinguishable from magic depending on who witnesses it.  Popular franchises such as Warhammer, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and even Star Wars, all find compelling ways to blend genres.  Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir, blends science-fiction and fantasy in a wonderfully gruesome way.

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Soul Flight: A Review of The Nightjar, by Deborah Hewitt

Fantasy is a malleable genre, with one of the more popular variations in the last several decades being the urban fantasy.  Combining the realism of our magic free world with the trappings of high fantasy has proven to be a fascinating juxtaposition.  Imagine a seedy mob-run nightclub in a bustling city, serving a clientele of elves and ogres.  Goblins operate as drug runners and wizards assist the police with investigative magic.  With urban fantasy, the two worlds may be completely combined, or kept separate through shadowy cabals or government organizations.  The fantasy elements may also be as high or as low as the author wishes.  While The Dresden Files may be one of the more famous examples of low urban fantasy, other authors are rising up to take its place.  The Nightjar, by Deborah Hewitt, is one such novel.

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Mapping the Stars: A Review of The Forbidden Stars, by Tim Pratt

Science-fiction is one of the most versatile genres of fiction around, capable of combining settings with any other tale.  Science-fiction as a genre is also a bit of a misnomer.  The average science-fiction story is not just science-fiction.  Tales can be action films, adventure stories, romance, horror, and more.  From Blade Runner to Black Mirror, from Polaris Rising to Foundation.  Science-fiction can be defined by both fun and thoughtfulness, and there is always a place for a fun adventure that does not require readers to analyze every paragraph.  Books like The Forbidden Stars, Tim Pratt’s third novel in the Axiom trilogy, show the importance of such escapism while also taking the opportunity to define a possible future.  While entertaining, the novels also take some time to normalize behaviors and lifestyles, sexual orientations and body modifications.  Science-fiction lets us see all futures and revel in them.

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