Recent Reads: The Book Smugglers Novella Initiative

With just eleven days left on the Kickstarter for the Book Smugglers’ Level Up, it feels like a good time to talk about the Book Smugglers’ newest publishing project, The Novella Initiative. Over the last couple of years, The Book Smugglers has quickly become one of the most exciting new markets for short fiction in SFF, and the Novella Initiative is (for me, especially, as a great lover of novella-length work in general) a thrilling new step in their evolution as publishers. Editors Thea James and Ana Grilo have shown a commitment to showcasing work from diverse voices and fresh points of view, and it’s great to see them expanding their work.

I reviewed their first novella, Dianna Gunn’s very nice YA fantasy romance, Keeper of the Dawn, earlier this year, and their second novella, Michele Tracy Berger’s excellent Reenu-You, merited an honorable mention in my Spring Reading Wrap-Up. This summer brought Cassandra Khaw’s delightful urban fantasy, Bearly a Lady (in July), and A.E. Ash’s smart and fast-paced Special Duty Assignment (August), and there’s still one more to go, Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Girl Reporter, planned for December.

About Keeper of the Dawn, I said that it “combines a smartly plotted adventure with a sweetly written romance in a richly imagined fantasy world,” though I did find it a little overstuffed with plot; it could easily have been a full-length novel, but it was nonetheless an enjoyable read. I didn’t write much about Reenu-You, partly because it dealt with race issues that I (as a white woman) didn’t feel equal to discussing or criticizing in any depth. However, it’s a story that still, months later, has stuck with me. Michele Tracy Berger’s take on corporate malfeasance and the importance solidarity and sisterhood is powerful and timely (and, frankly, likely to be more so in the years to come).

The first Book Smugglers novella of the summer was Cassandra Khaw’s Bearly a Lady, which is without a doubt the best (or at least my personal favorite) of their releases to date. It’s certainly the most polished of the series so far, largely absent some of the copy-editing issues that plagued (albeit very minorly–I’m just nit-picky) the first couple books. The thing about Bearly a Lady, however, is that it’s simply a great deal of fun, a smart, silly, sexy romp that was exactly what I wanted to read at the time, and I am very hopeful that Khaw will write more stories about Zelda the werebear and her friends. The book is also well worth picking up for Khaw’s essay on her influences and inspirations. I loved her thoughts on chick-lit, and she’s right-on about the way light, romantic reads for women are undersold and demeaned. As she says: “…there’s a place and time for darkness and grim ruminations, and there’s a place and time for bisexual werebears with killer wardrobes and a soft spot for pastries.”

The most recent Book Smugglers novella is Temporary Duty Assignment by A.E. Ash. Temporary Duty Assignment walks an interesting middle ground between Reenu-You‘s story of people injured an evil corporation and Bearly a Lady‘s light-hearted romance. The sci-fi elements of the book are thoughtful, but it’s the characters that take center stage. Super soldier Sam and scientist Caleb are both delightful, and it’s easy to root for them, both separately and together in this second chance romance. I could have gone for a bit more romance, personally, though I liked that what romance there was, while not without problems, wasn’t especially fraught or complicated. It’s always clear and easy to understand why Sam and Caleb want to be together, and their problems have been ones of timing rather than incompatibility or mistreatment of each other. All in all, Temporary Duty Assignment is a sweet, clever sci-fi romance that’s well worth reading, but if you aren’t sure and want a small taste before diving into the novella, A.E. Ash also has a prequel story, “Nice,” available for free on the Book Smugglers website.

The final Book Smugglers novella of 2017 will be Tansy Rayner Roberts’ superhero story, Girl Reporter, in December. It’s not available for pre-order just yet (I’ll update this post when it is), but it’s always a good time to read Roberts’ essay, “One Girl in the Justice League,” or her previous Book Smuggler’s novelette, “Kid Dark Against the Machine.”

 

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