Familiar Evils – A Review of Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia

Trigger warnings for this novel can be found here, c/o BookTriggerWarnings.com. Please note that the page may contain spoilers.

Lately, I’ve been on a bit of a horror novel binge, mostly because horror is quite comforting in these uncertain times of pandemics and (in my country anyway) virtual martial law. On the surface, it might seem unusual to find scary stuff comforting during a scary time, but a lot of articles both recently and a few years ago explain why horror is comforting in horrific times. In so many words, it boils down to this: horror fiction, regardless of which format one chooses to engage with, is comforting because it offers a sense of control. COVID-19 and draconian laws are all largely beyond the control of ordinary citizens, but in a horror story, one can predict outcomes, and therefore brace oneself for them, instead of staring into a void of uncertainty.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic (Del Rey, 2020) definitely fits the bill of the kind of reading my brain craves right now. It follows the socialite Noemí Taboada, sent by her father to the town of El Triunfo to check up on her cousin, Catalina, who recently married an Englishman named Virgil Doyle. When she arrives at the town, she is whisked away to the Doyle estate called High Place: an old, mouldering mansion inhabited not just by Virgil Doyle, but the rest of his strange, creepy family. The longer NoemÍ stays in the house to look after her cousin, it becomes clear that something is very, very wrong with the Doyle family, and with High Place – and Noemí will need to be very clever indeed, in order to survive.

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When There is No Escape – A Review of The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Trigger warnings for this novel can be found at the very bottom of this review.

SFF is going up in flames.

I know that’s a weird statement to start a review with, but let me explain. Sometime in the third week or so of June, it appeared that the gaming and comics industries were having a #MeToo moment. Many racists and abusers (sexual and/or otherwise) were being brought into the light, and entire companies finally had to reckon with change that should have come a long time ago. I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that the SFF community would catch fire as well, given the proximity between the industries, and I’ve had something of a front-row seat to the whole mess via Twitter. It’s been a very good reminder not to put anyone on a pedestal, no matter how awesome or amazing I think they are.

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The Bird in the Gilded Cage – A Review of Ecstasy by Mary Sharratt

I’m quite fond of classical music, but it is also quite clear that the classical music canon, like the literary canon, is heavily dominated by dead white men. Sadly, while it’s been relatively easy to find new authors who are neither male nor white (sometimes they are dead, but increasingly – refreshingly – they are alive and still writing), it’s been somewhat harder to find composers who are not those two things.

This is where Spotify has been something of a boon to me. While there are many issues regarding using Spotify, I won’t deny that it’s been remarkably helpful in letting me discover new artists and genres of music without having to spend inordinate amounts of money just to get to the stuff I actually like listening to. And a quick Spotify search using the keywords “female composers” this playlist, which is curated by Spotify; this playlist, which was put together by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra; and this playlist, put together by Dr. Emily Britton, who is herself a classical music performer and teacher of the same.

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Not Only the Undamaged – A Review of Paladin’s Grace by T. Kingfisher

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Last year at around this time, I got back into playing Dungeons and Dragons thanks to one of my close friends. I’d tried to play it before, but it was only this go-round that the bug really bit. Since that reintroduction, I now have what I like to call my “Break in Case of Permadeath” Vault: a small collection of character sheets that I’ve made up in my spare time, any one of which I can pull out on relatively short notice to roll into a game in case my starting character dies (learned that lesson from watching Season 2 of Critical Role), or if I’m invited to play a campaign on equally short notice. My ultimate goal is to have a character for every character class, and maybe for every subclass too, if I can manage.

Among the many, many potential classes a player can choose for their character is the Paladin. The term itself comes from the Matter of France, which is the most notable of the medieval chansons de geste, or heroic epic poetry. They are, in essence, the French equivalent of the Arthurian legends, with Charlemagne in the place of King Arthur, and in place of the Knights of the Round Table, there are the Twelve Peers, or the Twelve Paladins (from the Latin palātīnus, a title used by the closest retainers of the Roman emperor). The legends told about these knights have overlapped and commingled with the tales told of the Arthurian knights, and down the line, those stories have inspired fantasy authors. Their stories have, in turn, inspired the D&D version of the Paladin: a warrior who can cast magic thanks to the incredible strength of their faith.

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Like a Cart Without Anyone at the Reins – A Review of The Wind City by Summer Wigmore

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Urban fantasy is one of my favourite genres. I’ve loved reading about mythology and folklore since my mother introduced me to Greek mythology while I was lying in a hospital bed, sick with dengue; since then I’ve consumed as many stories as I possibly can about the mythology and folklore of different cultures from all around the world – and I’ve done most of that learning through urban fantasy. It would be better if I could pick up the more academic treatises, but they’re difficult to find, and some are a pain to read.

Up until recently, though, urban fantasy writers didn’t play with a lot of mythologies besides Greco-Roman and Celtic. That’s changing now, thankfully, as more and more writers from much more diverse backgrounds and from different media get into the genre and incorporate myth and folklore from their own cultures, from Nigerian (Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch series), to Navajo (Rebecca Roanhorse’s The Sixth World series), to Filipino (Trese series by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo). Sure, finding the “original” stories often requires Googling (and even then what’s found on the Internet is so often incomplete, and must be taken with a grain of salt), but the extra work is worth it because of the way it opens up entire horizons of narrative to read about, creating a world that’s more than just Athena and the Morrigan.

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