Our Share of Night by Mariana Enriquez

Our Share of Night is a complex novel of dark powers, military dictatorship, and a powerful family, set across decades in Argentina. Gaspar’s father Juan has been at the whims of the Order for years, as a “medium” able to commune with the ominous Darkness and take part in bloodthirsty rituals. Juan is desperate to keep Gaspar safe from these people, partly his family, but the Order has a dark history and plenty of wealth and power in Argentina. Across decades, Gaspar, Juan, and others try to evade the Order’s plans, amidst political turbulence and changing times.

The book is split into various sections, each spanning a certain period of time, and this works very well in telling the story, from Juan on a road trip with young Gaspar to Gaspar’s mother in 1960s London to an article detailing the cover up of the deaths of political activists. Though the novel is pretty epic in length, the different sections break it up in a way that means it doesn’t feel too slow, particularly as it uses different perspectives. Again, these perspectives could make the book confusing, but I didn’t find this, and you end up quite invested in some of the characters (and horrified by others – the book really explores the dark side of humans confronted with power and malevolent magic).

As I would expect from having read Enriquez’s story collection The Dangers of Smoking In Bed, this novel combines malevolent magic and horror with politics and humanity, resulting in a rich book that I enjoyed more than the story collection, possibly because it felt so fully realised. I don’t always get along with a book so long and split into parts, but this one worked for me, with enough going on and some sections that are quite different to others, whilst others feel like a continuation of Gaspar’s story. I particularly enjoyed the flashback type section focusing on Gaspar’s mother that was set in London in the late 60s and 70s, as the way that the occult stuff was mixed with the hippy and counterculture stuff was really interesting.

Our Share of Night is a long novel that spans genres, looking at power and brutality in a real and supernatural context, exposing Argentinian history and relationships between children and parents. I enjoyed the weaving together of magic, horror, and real violence, which was powerful, but also the focus on characters, flawed and angry and secretive.

Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes

Stone Blind is a novel that tells the story of Medusa, from childhood to the aftermath of her beheading at the hands of a hero. With her two immortal Gorgon sisters, Medusa grows up feeling different, feeling weaker and more fragile than them. When Medusa is assaulted by Poseidon in a temple dedicated to Athene, Medusa bears the consequences, changed into someone more dangerous and more damaged, with the ability to turn any living creature to stone. But Medusa cannot live quietly, as a young son of Zeus on a quest to fetch the head of a Gorgon and aided by the gods will soon cross her path.

Haynes combines a multiplicity of voices to tell this story, weaving together the different narratives and perspectives of mortals and gods to question not only the image of Medusa as a monster, but roles of everyone in the story and the dangers of rage and revenge when directed at the wrong people. The short sections from various perspectives and with different tones work well, getting across the various strands that cause the narrative tension, and there’s a particular perspective which talks to the reader in a knowing way, highlighting the retelling aspect and the fact that readers may already know a lot of the story. It took a bit of time to get into and I found the pace a bit slow for me near the start, but as it went on it started to come together.

There’s a lot of Greek mythology retellings out there now (some also by Haynes) and this feels similar to others, with a knowing edge and focusing on the injustice of who is seen as a “monster” and who is seen as a “hero”. Fans of the genre will probably like this one as well, which looks not only at Medusa’s treatment, but also at women fighting against being forced to marry someone they don’t want to and the impact of immortals acting based on whim or petty jealousy. Personally, I think I’m perhaps not so engaged with the feminist retellings of Greek mythology now there’s been so many, so it took me longer to get into this one, but I liked the use of voice and perspective.

HellSans by Ever Dundas

HellSans is a dystopian novel about a country controlled by a typeface, HellSans, which gives most people bliss, but those who are allergic to it are persecuted, and where people have personal cyborgs called Inexes. Dr Icho Smith is a scientist working on a cure for the allergy, hidden away in a top secret lab. Jane Ward is CEO of the company who makes the Inexes and is close to the Prime Minister of the country. When Icho and Jane both end up on the run from their respective lives, their paths intersect, but with warring factions in the country, the situation is volatile.

I was drawn to the book by the title, and the typeface concept is certainly unusual. The structure is notable as you are told from the start that you can read the first two parts in any order, before a final third part. I read the book just in the order it came, and it would be interesting to see if it does give a different viewpoint to read part two before part one, as I understand why you could read it in either order, but also I’m not sure if it does have an impact. As with a lot of dystopian sci fi, there’s a lot to start off with that you don’t understand in terms of terminology and how society functions, but you gradually pick up on a fair amount of it (though it doesn’t really go into the history of how society got there, maybe to leave the reader guessing how likely it could be).

The plot is fairly straightforward, with government corruption, the demonisation of people with a chronic illness, and questions around cyborgs, sentience, and privacy. The ending has some interesting philosophical points and a fairly dramatic climax, though the later chapters of the book are a lot faster than earlier ones so it does feel quite quick. The layers of betrayal and hiding the truth are crucial to the book and, without wanting to give anything away, built into the narrative, which brings an additional element to it.

HellSans is a book with a lot to say, with plenty of clever elements (adjusting a sans serif font by adding serifs as activism is a nice touch), and even as someone who doesn’t read much sci fi I found the world-building worked for me, not being too heavy or tedious but giving a decent sense of what was going on. There’s a lot around treatment and cures to think about within it, but within the slightly ridiculous framework of a font that can cause bliss or pain.

Artemis Made Me Do It by Trista Mateer

Artemis Made Me Do It is a poetry collection from the dual lens of Artemis and the poet, exploring ideas of survival and trauma and using your own power. The collection is split into sections, alternating between Artemis and “the poet”, and combines text poems with elements of collage and tarot. I particularly liked the Artemis sections, which explore the various myths surrounding Artemis and how these can be useful in a modern context, thinking about how stories are told and how someone is viewed. I enjoyed the collage parts too, and I think the general witchy/tarot vibe will appeal to a lot of people. Some of the poems were less to my taste as I’m not so much of a fan of very short poems that feel like aphorisms, which were particularly prevalent in the “poet” sections, though I feel that the collection did work well from having both parts, weaving together the two voices in conversation.

Babel, Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R.F. Kuang

Babel is a historical fantasy novel exploring the importance of translation in colonialism and the ways in which power manifests both in academia and in the world. Robin Swift was taken from his home in Canton to England by a mysterious guardian after his mother’s death, learning Latin and Greek in preparation for the future his guardian has planned for him at Oxford’s Royal Institution of Translation, Babel. It seems a haven, a place where Robin makes a group of close friends and despite the huge workload, finds happiness. However, it starts to become clear that Babel may not be such a haven after all, and the implications of the translation work and the silver-working magic that translation allows have dark and far-reaching consequences.

The concept of this novel is fantastic, centred around ideas of translation and how they could both evoke magic (by having translations that have slightly different meanings, bringing in something extra) and be used as tools of power and colonisation. The dark academia type setting (being set in the nineteenth century makes it different to most of the popular dark academia books, but it definitely tries to expose the dark side of academia) will bring it a lot of appeal, and the narrative centres around four main characters, with Robin the protagonist but his friends Ramy, Victoire and Letty being crucial to the story, which makes it engaging despite the huge amount of heavy academic linguistic content.

Reading the book on Kindle I wasn’t quite aware how long it is, and I will say that you really feel the length. For me, it did drag at times, and though the length is partly due to the writing style and use of footnotes to elaborate, maybe the pacing didn’t quite work for me. In terms of the style, I really liked the third person removed narrative style, which matched the academic nature and allowed for a lot of context (it’s clearly a heavily researched novel). The footnotes I was less keen on, as a lot of them served to make obvious points and took you away from the story. It was clever, though, that they were used to explain the racist attitudes of people cited/mentioned as a sharp commentary on the people in the novel who believed in translation, but still saw the languages they needed for silver-working or trade as lesser and the people who spoke them very much so.

The language used to discuss race, class, and gender was at times strangely modern for a novel that was so placed in a historical setting, which occasionally felt too notable to be ignored, but in general the book engaged interestingly with the historical setting. It’s quite different to something like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which integrates magic fully into its historical setting, as in Babel the silver-working element, which is the only fantasy part, is more of a structure that impacts the workings of the country, but not in ways that make it particularly different than in real life. Personally, as someone who isn’t really a fantasy fan, I enjoyed this, and I was pleasantly surprised that the book was much more about translation and academia than magic.

The depiction of Oxford is an interesting one, with some brilliant commentary and satirical jibes atthe attitudes of different kinds of people within the University and an accurate depiction through the Babel institute of the kinds of workloads and the ways in which people end up cocooned from the outside world. Even though Babel is fictional, and Kuang’s opening author’s note explains a range of inaccuracies with the Oxford depiction specifically, it did feel pretty true to life. Occasionally there was too much day to day university stuff which slowed the pace down, but at the same time that is what people are probably looking for from something marketed as dark academia. What was perhaps strangest was that the changes to the realities of Oxford (like having a somewhat anachronistic commemoration ball with oysters served at it) were only explained in the author’s note, and not made a feature based on being an alternative history with the silver-working magic integrated into it.

There’s a lot to say about Babel, as it has a lot to say both in terms of length and content. Generally, it’s an engaging and insightful read that, as a fan of dark academia and not so much fantasy, I enjoyed. There’s plenty of other things I’ve not even gone into in this review in the book (like arguments about models of resistance and protest, violence and non-violence) and it combines the academic and conceptual concepts like ideas of translation, languages, and power with a good story about a group of friends finding their way at Oxford.

Bad Fruit by Ella King

Bad Fruit is a dark thriller about a family hiding what is rotten within, set in the leafy streets of Greenwich. Lily is seventeen, almost off to Oxford, but she’s also her mother’s perfect doll, made up to look just right and wearing just what her mother wants. Lily brings her mother spoilt orange juice and cooks recipes from her mother’s childhood that her father wouldn’t make, but it’s so quick for her mother to change from love to hate, and maybe Lily can’t remember exactly what happened with her and her family when she was younger. As memories come back, Lily starts to realise that being the perfect daughter isn’t going to work, so she’s going to have to become something else.

With Lily and her mama so vividly painted from the start, Bad Fruit quickly grips you, unfolding a complex family dynamic and a girl starting to question what she thought she knew. You know something is up, but King withholds details, slowly revealing the narrative in a classic literary thriller way. What I found particularly compelling, however, was the complex morality and characterisation, particular of Lily’s siblings, whose childhoods and interactions with the family are similar and yet very different to Lily. The first person narration means that you’re never quite sure what her siblings might be hiding from her, or whether her picture and judgement of them is clouded, and the same goes for her parents, particularly her father. Even by the end of the book, the family dynamic is still not quite unravelled, showing how sometimes there aren’t easy answers.

Layered and hard to put down, Bad Fruit explores trauma and family through a thriller lens that asks who might snap first. I enjoyed the Greenwich setting and the complexity of race and culture in the book, and found the perspective of Lily a very interesting one, especially in terms of how her childhood has impacted things like her ability to know what she likes or make choices.

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes by Eric LaRocca

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes is a collection of three horror novellas including the virally famous titular story. In the first story, set on the internet in the early 2000s, two women are caught in a strange interplay despite never meeting. In the second, a couple end up on a remote island after the death of their son, where they are plagued by a strange young man, and in the final, shorter story, a man ends up in a confrontation with his reclusive neighbour.

I’ve been wanting to read ‘Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke’ for a long time as a horror fan who loves fiction set over the internet and thinking about the internet of the past, and it didn’t disappoint. The format of telling the story through posts, emails, and instant messages, with a few mysterious redacted comments, worked well to show the actual relationship between the two women and leave you guessing what each of them actually wanted. The horror in the story is more underlying and uncertain (though there is a couple of gory bits too), and I liked how it had the vibe of an internet urban legend.

The two “other misfortunes”, aka the two shorter stories that follow, are quite different, though in the afterward LaRocca does explain the logic behind bringing them together in their representations of humans needing connections. The middle story has slightly The Shining vibes in terms of setup, and had an interesting engagement with religion and belief (and felt like you could adapt it into a film quite well). The final story is shortest and is quite straightforward, though with some intriguing undercurrents like the protagonist’s never seen racist husband he doesn’t think he’ll stay with. Overall, I enjoyed these less than the title story, though I think a lot of that is because I’m just particularly interested in the internet angle of that one.

This is well worth reading given the hype around the title story, particularly if you’re interested in how people connect over the internet and some of the horror potential for that, and I do like the novella format for horror that isn’t a full length thing. Also, it is just a great title.

Diary of a Void by Emi Yagi

Diary of a Void is a novel about a woman who fakes being pregnant to improve her work experience. Shibata is the only woman in her office, so is expected to do things like keep the place tidy and make the coffee in addition to her regular duties. When she claims to be pregnant to get out of clearing away the coffee cups and cigarette ends, she is suddenly treated better, able to leave work earlier than before and use this time to make food, watch films, and take baths. A pregnancy aerobics class gives her a new set of friends, and it seems like this all suits her, but of course, it can only last for nine months.

Told from Shibata’s first person perspective, the novel combines a look at Japanese workplace culture and the expectations for women in society with an undercurrent of absurdity. The humour is also quite sad, showing a lonely character who delights in being treated a little better and feeling like she has more worth and a place to fit in, all because she is seen to be pregnant. It is well-structured, with the pregnancy app she is using a nice touch as she can use what is apparently the ‘normal’ experience as her own.

The ending goes slightly surreal, though not particularly weird, and focuses more on the humorous tone than any medical responses to faking a pregnancy. It’s a fun book that still cuts at some real issues.

God’s Children Are Little Broken Things by Arinze Ifeakandu

God’s Children Are Little Broken Things is a collection of short stories about queer men in Nigeria, telling stories of love and family, heartbreak and loss, and finding and leaving home. Many of the characters are young, navigating their place in contemporary life in Nigeria and dealing with messy love lives and complicated situations.

The stories are tender, exposing powerful emotions and everyday sadness across a variety of characters and situations, from navigating fame when gay to finding your relationship with your dead father’s longterm partner. I enjoyed how vivid the characters and settings were, as often with short stories I don’t feel like I know enough of what is going on and who is who, but throughout this collection I found myself deeply invested in the stories and like I was getting complete stories. The ordering worked well too, particularly the final story which I felt was a good ending to the collection and left it with a sense of hope.

Often heartbreaking but also sweet and intimate, this is a collection of stories to spend time with, enjoying moments of love stories and sadness, and complicated gay life.

Shredded: A Sports and Fitness Body Horror Anthology ed. by Eric Raglin

Shredded is an anthology of body horror stories that are centred around sports and fitness. The stories are a diverse set that cover a lot of different sports and fitness activities (including wrestling, american football, going to the gym, swimming, hockey, yoga, and gymnastics) and a range of ways in which the body horror plays out, helps and hinders. This really stands out, as you never know what kind of story you’re going to get next.

I really enjoyed what body horror has to say about sports and fitness, and vice versa. In particular, ideas around having the ideal body for your activity and the lengths people will go to, as well as more monstrous and uncontrollable elements of bodies pushed to their limit. I found both the stories featuring trans men particularly interesting, with one playing off ideas around T but also bear culture amongst gay men, and the other a water-based body horror that at the same time showed quite a sweet instance of a trans guy finding a place in a swimming team. Body horror has plenty to say about different kinds of bodies, but also about who finds a place within sports and fitness, which is something a lot of the stories address in some way or another.

Overall, this is an impressive anthology that will make you wince and laugh, and has a lot to say about the relationships between bodies and physical activity at the same time. Sports and fitness is not a topic I would usually look for fiction about and Shredded was a chance to see that the horror side of the topic isn’t confined to the jock getting killed near the start of a horror story.