Sarah Kuhn, Unsung Heroine: Novella in which the heroines’ trainer gets to solve a case and find a romance of her own, using the power of karaoke and fabulousness. Cute but a bit neat, as perhaps is required for a novella in a series like this.
Bridget Collins, The Binding: Binders can take people’s memories and turn them into books; the memories can’t be restored—if you tell the person about them, they just can’t process it—unless the book is burned. Emmett apprentices as a binder after a long illness; it turns out that he has more history with his mistress than he thought. Lucien Darnay is a minor noble who despites binders because of how his father uses them to steal the memories of the girls he abuses, allowing him to start the abuse all over again. They hate each other—sometimes. It was an unusual magic system, but I couldn’t get into it because it was obviously suited to misuse. I can’t exclude the possibility that taking away memories could be a good thing for specific traumas, but even Emmett’s mistress, who claimed to be far more moral than other binders because she didn’t work for pay and gave her services to countryfolk who needed it, was demonstrably unable to determine why someone “consented” to the process. Even the one example that was perhaps supposed to show why binding was a mercy was a case where the memory was removed, but the victim/perpetrator was sent back into the very situation that had produced her distress. At the end, Emmett still wants to be a binder, and I couldn’t respect him for that.
Tobias S. Buckell, Tides from the New Worlds: Early stories showing a lot more of their seams than his later work. He became more of a shower than the teller of this collection (e.g., a story about how indenturing/enslaving aliens blocks technological progress includes a character explaining exactly this); telling isn’t inherently bad, but I like the longer/later stuff better.
Julie E. Czernada, In the Company of Others: Would’ve liked this better without the stylistic tic of putting random occasional sentences into italics in the middle of tight third person, still keeping them third person instead of changing into first as one would have expected. That annoyed me beyond its objective annoyingness. Anyway, the outbreak of the Quill Effect killed everyone on the terraformed planets of the future, confining humanity to the Earth and to space stations that survive on Earth’s limited generosity, as long as they eat the fertility-dampening food Earth provides. But one baby managed to survive his birth on a Quill-infested planet; many years later, he can’t touch anyone else without inflicting pain on them and on himself. When a scientist with an idea about how to deal with the Quill shows up, he’s a key part of her plan. On the plus side, the fact that they fall in love doesn’t change her motivations to save humanity’s future, but I didn’t feel much for the romance except for the sexy they-can’t-touch, not at all explicit but heartfelt scene. And in general a lot of people seemed very slow to make the connection between the filament-shaped Quill, which killed people without leaving marks shortly after they touched down on a planet, and Aaron, who uniquely survived the Quill and whose skin was covered with gold veins and couldn’t touch people without inflicting pain or worse.
Mackenzi Lee, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue: Queer YA romance: Monty is taking the European Grand Tour with his friend Percy (whose mixed race means that others around them often mistake him for Monty’s servant) and his annoying sister who’s far more interested in the schooling forbidden to her than Monty ever was before he got kicked out of Eton for sodomy. Monty, straining against constraints imposed by his abusive father, impulsively steals a trinket from a room in Versailles and plunges them into a saga of highwaymen, alchemy, pirates, and privateers. It’s charming.
T. Kingfisher, Toad Words and Other Stories: Mostly retellings of traditional fantasy stories, with a twist—Peter Pan who terrorizes Lost Boys (and Girls) who dare to grow up; Bluebeard’s widow who gave him his space; Snow White as retold with a neglectful mother and some talking pigs. I enjoyed it.
Adrian Tchaikovsky, Empire in Black and Gold: On a world where humans have various insect-like traits/affinities, and sometimes powers like flying or seeing in the dark, the Wasp Empire is rising, and a motley crew opposes it. Extra points for a bar fight that involved three individual fistfights and a larger battle “to which everyone was invited.” I liked a lot of the worldbuilding and politics, but I didn’t like the race-as-destiny aspects (the groups can interbreed but the results are considered “half-breeds” and treated badly by almost everyone); sympathetic and unsympathetic characters alike believe in racial behavioral and emotional traits, and the narrative so far bears this belief out. Slavery and associated sexual violence are commonplace, along with some discussion of whether the groups that have gone through the industrial revolution and use low-paid workers instead are much different from enslavers.
Richard Kadrey, The Grand Dark: Steampunk Weimar Republic. The protagonist is an opium addict/bike messenger whose girlfriend performs in creepy puppet shows while mechanical servitors and animals with human features roam the streets and the politicians prepare for the next war, despite the fact that the last war left many ordinary soldiers horribly injured and rendered the High City toxic to life. He gets swept up in political machinations and then has to save his girlfriend from mortal peril. Definitely had the steampunk noir vibe down.