Babel By R.F. Kuang: A Revolutionary Historical Fantasy Epic

Babel By R.F. Kuang: A Revolutionary Historical Fantasy Epic

Babel By R.F. Kuang: a revolutionary historical fantasy epic that examines the influence of cogent language and its romantic secrets, bitter deceptions, and intoxicating effects that mark the meek and the brash, the power-hungry and the marytrs.

Babel By R.F. Kuang may be the best book I read this year.

If you are a fan of language or translation or history or great characters being challenged beyond your wildest prescient thoughts, then you must read this must-read, this phenomenal tale by R.F. Kuang.

As with many great stories – especially in the SFF-speculative fiction realm – the character’s path needs to resonate deeply, and Kuang’s protagonist Robin Swift does this while being utterly captivating.

The name he chooses after being dragged from his home in Canton and near-forcibly adopted by an English professor is one stemming from a love of literature that he identifies with, Robin Swift.

The following book review of R.F. Kuang’s Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution is SPOILER-FREE.

Robin Swift’s journey is so real, it hurts.

His awe at his first foray into an English bookstore, or an Oxford library, is moving and relatable.

You swell with joy, with Robin, as he delights in the exotic tastes of desserts from bakeries for the first time, just as you will feel the shock of betrayal least looked for when it lashes out at him.

Betrayal is a theme in Babel.

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.”

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Language and story metaphorically and literally make magic in Babel.

Words reside at the center of civilization but also at the panopticon, whether for use in aiding humanity, or in enslaving it.

Seeing the black, white, and gray areas in Babel proves difficult for those involved in the tower, the school of translation at Oxford, of Babel, for the spell of comfort, happiness, fulfillment, and friendship casts a certain amount of myopia that runs deeper than the magical silver bars the translators create and maintain.

The history in Babel is, itself, a mythology by which Kuang makes the reader climb and dive off a cliff and deeply submerge into the early 19th Century as the riotous age of colonialism is at a zenith, and at the same time depict Oxford University – and the college life that Robin embarks on – which is outwardly fun, but filled with racism, misogyny, and final exams that can cause the students to bleed out.

Make no mistake, Babel will tear at your heart, gouge deeply, and continue to stay with you, long after you finish reading.

Babel is a masterpiece of fantasy literature that reaches depths similar in scope and artistry to the most deeply moving and impactful symphonies, works of literature, epic poems, and fine art.

Babel is a masterpiece of fantasy literature.

 

The Forgotten Fiction Grade: YEA (read it!)!


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Babel By R.F. Kuang: A Revolutionary Historical Fantasy Epic” Was Written By R.J. Huneke.

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This is How You Lose the Time War By Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone SOARS!

This is How You Lose the Time War By Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone SOARS!

THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone SOARS!

The Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards Winner for best novella, THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR represents some of the very best in innovative speculative fiction.

I read this book in a few days and was enamored with it!

The following is a SPOILER-FREE book review of THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone.

The main characters Red and Blue are agents in a time war described best as traversing amongst myriad threats of history and tangled braids of the future.

Red and Blue are women, if not wholly humanoid, well that is for the reader to decide, and are from a distant future.

They are the best at what they do: marking threads, timelines, for destruction and/or control.

The fallout of their actions directly improves or harms entire cords of histories.

Upon becoming aware of one another’s opposition, Red and Blue begin a taunting, spiritual, revealing, and ultimately romantic correspondence through some extremely well-hidden and well-experienced letters (eating and reveling in Sumac seeds for one, savoring a scintillating pot of tea for another).

The prose from both authors is deeply poetic and philosophical, and is layered in quips, in new tech from the future, in new interpretations of past figures and events.

Red and Blue are deeply insightful people, and they challenge each other to grow even as they get to know one another via the letters.

To create this book, Max Gladstone wrote all of Red and Amal El-Mohtar wrote all of Blue’s chapters.

And so a brilliant use of unique personality naturally illuminates each character.

At first Red and Blue seem like they might snare one another.

Later, Red and Blue seem to have betrayed the time war itself.

The result is that each layer of the book unfolds and is more suspenseful, more delicate, more painful, and more invigorating than the last section.

El-Mohtar and Gladstone’s THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR is one of those pivotal works of sci-fi-fantasy, a classic that needs to be reread again and again to be fully realized.

The Forgotten Fiction Grade: YEA (read it!)


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“This is How You Lose the Time War By Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone SOARS!” Was Written By R.J. Huneke.

 

THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR, Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone, hugo, nebula, locus, sci-fi, fantasy, queer, time war

 

 

 

A Sleight Of Shadows By Kat Howard Ups The Ante

A Sleight Of Shadows By Kat Howard Ups The Ante

A Sleight Of Shadows By Kat Howard ups the ante, as the fate of magic and the many lives surrounding it are in grave peril.

The magic is fighting back!

A Sleight Of Shadows is the exciting second book in the Unseen World Series and the follow-up to Kat Howard’s Edgar-award winning An Unkindness Of Magicians.

One of the Unseen World’s most powerful magicians, Sydney, finds herself bereft of nearly all magical ability.

She can with the greatest effort just barely light a candle.

Meanwhile, the New York City secret society of magical houses are cracking at the seams, spells are misfiring, and the corruption of the House of Shadows is still intertwined in magic itself.

Sydney thought she had destroyed Shadows, but that magical force is tipping the scales and doing all it can to rebuild.An Unkindness of Magicians, kat howard, a sleight of shadows, unseen world series, fantasy, thriller

The stakes could not be higher, as the Unseen World languishes and its chief defender, in Sydney, is powerless to fight magic with magic.

Regardless, the fantastic character that Howard creates is resolved to end the threat any way she can. She is smart, adept at planning her moves as though she plays a great chess match, and her willfulness is unmatched.

How can you not root for a character like Sydney?

Once again, the world building in the Unseen World is top-notch and delivers the vibrant, realistic, and vivid magical universe to life in A Sleight Of Shadows.

Howard’s prose is brilliant – it scintillates.

Here is a passage I love:

Once they arrived, Dahlia stopped. She took in the place. The slow, inexorable movement of the stones searching for wholeness. The stale, ancient scent of the air and the earth that blanketed so many dead. The electric hum of power vibrated around them. Potential. Waiting. [Howard, Kat, A Sleight Of Shadows, Gallery/Saga, 2023, page 158]

Check out our interview with Kat Howard discussing The Unseen World Series:

Mild SPOILER Warning for A Sleight Of Shadows and An Unkindness Of Magicians

Sydney thought that in sacrificing her own shadow, and all of her magic, that she had fully destroyed the House of Shadows and its evil vines of magic that had gripped the Unseen World using the power of sacrificed children’s bones.

But she was wrong.

The magic in the Unseen World has its own will and its own balance that the last Turning had thrown way off kilter, and the House of Shadows filled a needed void.

Shadows had its own will, to feed and to exist, and its magic fought back.

The island built on bone that Shadows resided on worked to rebuild.

And a new forest of trees with bones at its center, the unremembered and unrevered dead magicians that had died being leached by Shadows, rises up in Central Park moaning for recognition.

Many of the great elements from the first book of the series are expanded upon and explored.

The heart of magic itself, the founding of the first houses, reveals itself to Sydney in the Archives and it is the weavings of ancient spells and the very finger bones of the founders that are the foundation of the Unseen World that is in peril.

Other magicians seek their own easy way to magic, with no cost, that renewing the House of Shadows will bring them.

Despite the cost of sacrificing their own children to Shadows, the ability to freely wield magic appeals to many in the magical world.

The pull is so strong that Dahlia convinces Mia, a teenager, newly brought into the Unseen World to join with Shadows.

The child willingly begins to feed and strengthen Shadows.

And Sydney needs to bring down the house without harming Mia.

A Sleight Of Shadows is chilling and tense, mired in magical darkness.

A couple of beloved characters from the series are lost in the book, as the thrilling page-turner casts an ‘all bets are off’ layer to the plot.

The physical houses of the Unseen World’s families show their personality, which is a lot of fun, and their ability to aid their family magically comes into play and is vital.

The theme of sacrifice, whether to properly cast magic, or to achieve goals in life, in general, is strong and effective.

The only thing I was disappointed about in A Sleight Of Shadows is that it did not have a Turning and any of the medieval magician duels, and then, lo and behold, the sacred hierarchy to reside in and control the Unseen World used mortal contests to settle some outcomes, and a revitalized Sydney is called upon once more to show her magical prowess.

What Sydney does in the duel is surprising, though planned perfectly, and makes the ending a gripping ride with a far-reaching fallout.

It is the perfect conclusion to a phenomenal tale.

 

The Forgotten Fiction Grade: YEA (read it!)


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“A Sleight Of Shadows By Kat Howard ups the ante” Was Written By R.J. Huneke.

 

 

 

An Unkindness of Magicians By Kat Howard Stands Apart

An Unkindness of Magicians By Kat Howard Stands Apart

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard stands apart, as the first book in The Unseen World series this thrilling journey to the shadowy heart of magic and the magicians who wield such powers in New York City is unparalleled.

The realm of the Unseen World reveals Manhattan’s dark, magical secrets.

But casting magic comes at a price.

There is a balance of power in their world and it is shifting, as the magic itself fades. The protagonist, Sydney, enters the Unseen World, and she is hell-bent on bringing it down.

What Kat Howard has done with An Unkindness of Magicians is extraordinary!

This speculative fiction thriller is so inventive and intriguing.

Howard’s characters are well-rounded, memorable, and all too real in their visceral struggles.

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The prose is enveloping in its unique style that is moving, impactful, and poetic, at just the right moments, as in the following passage:

She breathed in. Sydney was, all at once, an entire forest. She was root and leaf, dirt and sky. Green and spring were blood in her veins, air in her lungs. She was, between one heartbeat and the next, all of magic.

The world building soars to brilliant heights off of the foundation of the prose, as a vast realm of magic courses through the veins of the great city, and places like New York’s Central Park house hidden facets of the Unseen World that are wholly new and vivid for readers.

There are so many good lines in the book, but this one wrenched on my heartstrings:

It was a terrible thing, having hope again.” [Howard, Kat, An Unkindness of Magicians, Gallery/Saga, 2017, page 163]

Mild SPOILER Warning for An Unkindness of Magicians

Every two decades, sometimes a few years less, sometimes more, there is a Turning of Fate’s wheel, and in the Turning the magical houses enter a medieval-like tournament to vie for power, to establish themselves in the Unseen World, or to settle grudges with duels to the death.

The politics, the disinheritances, the murders, the humor, the conversations over drinks, and the plotting and manipulation carried out by a bevy of memorable characters creates an enthralling atmosphere, not unlike the dramatic woven plots in George R.R. Martin’s A Game Of Thrones.

The main character, Sydney, is unknown in the magicians’ circles when she arrives in the city.

But she applies for a job, to be a champion of a potential new magical house, and as she lifts cars in the middle of the Manhattan sky with no one – even those non-magical New Yorkers, the mundanes, in their own cars – the wiser, she wins the job.

In her first duel, she wields such immense power that by forcing all of the magicians present to dance, like puppets, everyone takes immediate note.

A target is planted firmly on her back.

Sydney has been let out of the House of Shadows, a hidden magical house that secretly fuels all of the magicians so that they can cast without paying the painful physical toll that comes with the use of magic.

The reality, Sydney, reveals is that infants are sacrificed by each house and those children are raised by Shadows, who cut into their bodies and their very shadows to withdraw magic to pay the toll for the Unseen World.

Warning! You may not be able to put An Unkindness of Magicians down!

Sydney’s contract with Shadows has nearly been completed, and she wants nothing more than to ruin the House of Shadows and to somehow stop the corrupt wielding of magic.

What she has to endure in her first time in the outside world, from newfound love to seeing snow for the first time, to learning who her family is and that they sacrificed her as a baby is deeply moving.

Readers become very invested in Sydney.

It seems like almost anything is possible in this magical world, but as Sydney comes to find out, the cost could be everything she has.

A Sleight Of Shadows, Book #2 in the Unseen World series, by Kat Howard has just come out on April 25, 2023 and is available now!

The Forgotten Fiction Grade: YEA (read it!)


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An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard stands apart” Was Written By R.J. Huneke.

An Unkindness of Magicians, kat howard, a sleight of shadows, unseen world series, fantasy, thriller

 

 

An Unkindness of Magicians, kat howard, a sleight of shadows, unseen world series, fantasy, thriller

 

 

Philip K. Dick’s The Cosmic Puppets Via Centipede Press Wows

Philip K. Dick’s The Cosmic Puppets Via Centipede Press Wows

Philip K. Dick’s The Cosmic Puppets via Centipede Press Wows, and I mean Wows with a great limited edition of a fantastic book!

Philip K. Dick is an inspiration of mine, and I have only perused a healthy percentage of his prolific body of work…so far.

There is no writing, no fiction, like that of PKD. Nothing comes close.

For this very special article, we kick off the new year with a TFF book review of the 1957 Philip K. Dick classic The Cosmic Puppets and then my first fine press review of the Centipede Press treatment, which they have given to PKD in a gorgeous boxed set trilogy that also contains Dr. Futurity, and Vulcan’s Hammer.

The following TFF Book Review of The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick is *Spoiler Free

The Cosmic Puppets, Philip K. Dick, PKD, fine press, Centipede Press, Signed Limited, S/L

I was surprised upon reading Michael Swanwick’s introduction to this edition that this book is considered Dick’s only fantasy novel.

But I hate labeling genres, and I do not know it, but I suspect he would have as well.

What is immediately intriguing at the outset is the utter realness of the protagonist Ted Barton, as his emotions, confusion and painful revelations shake the reader to their core.

You feel what he feels, and as the precarious situation gets stranger and grander in scope than one would think possible, the suspension of disbelief is there and we hungrily eat up the world that has been built.

It is through this vessel that crafting such a marvelous world is possible.

The Cosmic Puppets, Philip K. Dick, PKD, fine press, Centipede Press, Signed Limited, S/L

That world is Ted’s hometown, which he returns to after many years to find its history is not as he has remembered.

And there are unexpected gods, unforeseen characters of diabolical, selfish, and devious minds, and also their foils who are dying lights amidst the darkening battleground for something far vaster than Ted could have ever guessed.

It is here that Philip K. Dick’s voracious appetite for reading Carl Jung, Plato, and any philosopher of note’s text that he could get his hands on shines through masterfully in myriad nuanced subtleties.

Some of the symbolism may seem more obvious, but it is but done in new and unique ways, whether in the grandiose cosmic chess matches, the battles of nature – in all manner of creatures’ strife; nature versus nature – and even in the creation of life through clay it is all remarkable.

The pacing, the stomach gripping suspense, and the quickly unfolding mystery that seizes the weird, and Ted with it, fiercely make this a book that once started cannot be put down.

The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick As Part Of The Centipede Press Signed Limited Edition Boxed Set Is Spectacular!

The Cosmic Puppets, Philip K. Dick, PKD, fine press, Centipede Press, Signed Limited, S/L

The box itself has navy and black cloth and emits quality.

And despite a very modest price-point, not one, but three great PKD novels are encompassed in beauty and a sense of dedication that truly pays respect and homage to the great author’s work.

I am still blown away by the production.

The Cosmic Puppets, Philip K. Dick, PKD, fine press, Centipede Press, Signed Limited, S/L

The Centipede Press edition of The Cosmic Puppets is limited to 300 copies signed by all of the contributors, including by Michael Swanwick, Peter Strain, and Chris Moore, with an Estate-approved facsimile signature by Philip K. Dick.

The book itself features an amazing theme bound to the dustjacket art by Peter Strain, which features a boy whose melted head contains a chessboard, honeycombs, and a flurry of bees, while beneath him rests the town upside down, in distress, and it wraps around to the spine and the back as the pieces are held by a hand pulling their strings!

The Cosmic Puppets, Philip K. Dick, PKD, fine press, Centipede Press, Signed Limited, S/L

And beneath the jacket is the finest black cloth, with two color foil stamping, and an asteroid-like design bearing Philip K. Dick’s signature on the front, as well as little specks of tiny meteors possibly.

The Cosmic Puppets, Philip K. Dick, PKD, fine press, Centipede Press, Signed Limited, S/L

A Centipede staple, there is a history presented in the book’s cover art, from its first novel form in Ace’s two-novel 35 cent paperback to many others, throughout the brilliant introduction.

The fonts, the gorgeous archival artwork by Chris Moore, and the entire design is truly a work of art.

And with that my dear friends, Eager Readers, and comrades, I can give you something to look forward to: there are two other novels in this boxed set that are begging for me to review.

Happy New Year! [I have been told I will have to put money into the jar if I say that after today]


The Forgotten Fiction Grade: YEA (read it!)


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“Philip K. Dick’s The Cosmic Puppets Via Centipede Press Wows” was written by R.J. Huneke.