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4.5 stars

Bite-sized Books: The Murders of Molly Southbourne

Book cover: The Murders of Molly Southbourne - Tade Thompson (blood trickling down the bottom half of a woman's face)When Molly Southbourne bleeds, a new Molly is born. The Mollies look just like she looks; know what she knows; and sooner or later each of them tries to kill her. How can she protect herself and her loved ones from herself? And how she to keep from bleeding?

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The Ninth Rain: bad dreams and waking nightmares

Book cover: The Ninth Rain - Jen Williams (a blue-grey eagle against a silver background)Eight times, the Jur’elia have laid waste to Sarn. Eight times, the Eborans have fought them off with the aid of their holy tree Ygseril. But Ygseril is dead, and the Eborans are nearly extinct. If the Jur’elia come again, who will stand against them?

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Gnomon: asking all the questions

Book cover: Gnomon - Nick Harkaway (pieces of paper drifting against a black background; the outline of a shark fin in the centre)In a near-future surveillance state, Mielikki Neith must investigate why an author died resisting a routine interrogation; and what secrets she was trying to hide. But when Mielikki is immersed in Diana Hunter’s memories, she finds other personalities instead – a Carthaginian witch; a Greek investment banker; an Ethiopian artist; an angry spirit determined to consume everyone. Are any of them real? Who was Diana Hunter?

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Revenger: a young lady’s guide to becoming a space badass

Book cover: Revenger - Alastair Reynolds (a spaceship, black on black)Humanity is scattered across the hundreds of worlds of the Congregation, picking through the locked baubles of previous Occupations to steal their lost technologies. Few have the courage to venture into that darkness. But the Ness sisters are keen to escape their controlled lives on Mazarile, and they have no idea what evils lurk in the Empty…

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The Voyage of the Basilisk: around the world in 80 dragons

Book cover: The Voyage of the Basilisk - Marie Brennan (a sea serpent and a whale, illustration by Lady Trent)When you’ve stopped a war, been declared a traitor and jumped off a cliff on a dragon-bone glider, there’s little left to fear. But long sea voyages require capital, so it has taken Isabella a few years to prepare for her around-the-world trip. And this time she plans to take young Jake with her.

ADVENTURE FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

Raven Stratagem: choose wisely

Book cover: Raven Strategem - Yoon Ha Lee (spacefighters attacking a space station against a green sky)Kel Cheris, half-possessed by the ghost of notorious General Shuos Jedao, survived an assassination attempt that wiped out her entire fleet. Or did she? Physical appearances aside, it appears to be Jedao who usurps command of General Kel Khiruev’s fleet. Formation instinct compels the Kel to follow Jedao – but will he really defend the Hexarchate from the Hafn? Or will he betray them to their deaths?

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Spellslinger: the magical art of confidence

Book cover: Spellslinger - Sebastian de Castell (styled like a playing card, with a magical young man at either end)Kellen is 15, the astonishingly untalented son of the Jan’Tep’s greatest mage. Struggling to cast even the simplest spells, he’s the butt of jokes and school yard bullying. Worse, if he can’t pass his mage trials before he turns 16, he’ll be relegated to the Sha’Tep servant class – reliant on his obnoxious little sister’s charity if he’s lucky, sent down the mines if he’s not.

Spoiler free

The House of Binding Thorns: darkly delicious

Book cover: The House of Binding Thorns - Aliette de Bodard (silver thorns on a blue background)As one House falls, another rises. Notre Dame stands in ruins, while House Hawthorn seeks unlikely alliance with the dragon kingdom to reign supreme in Paris. But there are many who would like to see Asmodeus fall in well-earned ruin. Whose loyalties can be counted on in a House built on bloody rebellion?

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A Darker Shade of Magic: welcome to London

Book cover: A Darker Shade of Magic - V E Schwab (silhouette of someone in a fabulously billowy cloak in black and red)London: one name, three cities in three very different worlds, each with more magic than the last. Only two men hold the power to cross between worlds, and one is about to unwittingly put them all at risk. Because there was once a fourth London – and its magic tires of being sealed away…

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Bite-size Books: Sunbolt

Book cover: Sunbolt - Intisar Khanani (rich red-orange text on a blue background with a geometric motif above it)Hitomi is a foreign-born street thief with dangerous secrets: untrained magical abilities and ties to the Shadow League, enemies of the corrupt Archmage. But even the haunted streets of Karolene are safer than what awaits her beyond its borders.

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Bite-size Books: The Drowning Eyes

Book cover: The Drowning EyesTazir needs to take find a passenger to pay the bills, but when a rich girl with too much money crosses her path in Shasa’s dive bar, she quickly realises she’s taken on more than she bargained for. Shina is more than she seems – the last, best hope to defeat the marauding Dragon Ships and restore the Windspeakers’ power.

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Ancient Light: the difficult second album

Book cover: Orthe - Chronicles of Carrick V by Mary Gentle (Golden Witchbreed / Ancient Light)Ancient Light continues the epic world-building of Golden Witchbreed, giving us a good look at the Southern Continent to explain the fragile balance of power before the action returns to the Hundred Thousand for the devastating final act.

This is great stuff, but ultimately a tough sell and not one for readers seeking happy escapism. I think Ancient Light is a book that needs to be read in the context of the time it was written (the 1980s) to be fully appreciated – while it works on its own terms, the themes gain resonance when you keep corporate greed and the Cold War in mind.

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