A Season of Monstrous Conceptions

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Pub Date 31 Oct 2023 | Archive Date 08 Nov 2023


Lina Rather's A Season of Monstrous Conceptions is an eldritch historical fantasy of midwifery, monstrosity, and the rending of the world, for fans of The Essex Serpent and The Death of Jane Lawrence.

"An entrancing and transformative queer tale of cosmic horror."—Caitlin Starling

"A blood sacrifice of a novel."Meg Elison

In 17th-century London, unnatural babies are being born, with eyes made for the dark and webbed digits suited to the sea.

Sarah Davis is intimately familiar with such strangeness—having hidden her uncanny nature all her life and fled to London under suspicious circumstances, Sarah starts over as a midwife’s apprentice to a member of the illegal Worshipful Company of Midwives, hoping to carve out for herself an independent life. But with each new unnatural birth, the fear in London grows of the Devil's work.

When the wealthy Lady Wren hires her to see her through her pregnancy, Sarah quickly becomes a favorite of her husband, the famous architect Lord Christopher Wren, whose interest in the uncanny borders on obsession. Sarah soon finds herself caught in a web of magic and intrigue created by those who want to use her power for themselves, and whose pursuits threaten to unmake the earth itself.

Lina Rather's A Season of Monstrous Conceptions is an eldritch historical fantasy of midwifery, monstrosity, and the rending of the world, for fans of The Essex Serpent and The Death of Jane Lawrence.


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Average rating from 180 members

Featured Reviews

INCREDIBLE. I freaking love a novella anyway, but this one is just absolutely perfect. We're making this our first book of the month subscription book!

It has--everything? A queer love story; a mystery; cosmic horror (done incredibly well); witches; midwives; monsters. Just--all around great.

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a beautifully written, captivating story that is both easy—and a pleasure—to read! it's both dark and twisty, as well as a little bit magical.

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A Season of Monstrous Conceptions follows a midwife in 17th century London as she deals with the growing number of strange and unnatural babies being born. Although it is only about 160 pages long, this book was a compelling and intriguing read. Cosmic horror is a very difficult genre to get right, but the author manages to find the perfect balance between the known and the unknown. Additionally, I found the focus on midwifery to be very impactful. A shift towards more female-centric topics in fantasy and horror is inevitable and I am excited to see what the future has in store for these genres. I appreciate books, like A Season of Monstrous Conceptions, that take risks and explore new topics and ideas. I would recommend this book to fans of Lovecraft, feminist horror/fantasy, and historical fantasy.

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Every couple months or so, I'll read a book that's so good, it'll make me wonder why I hadn't heard of the author before. A Season of Monstrous Conceptions is just that. From the first chapter down to the very last, Lina Rather had me hooked, even though eldritch horror isn't typically my genre.

In just over 150 pages, Rather crafts a stunning tale of strange babies born in 17th century London, a thinning veil between two worlds, and two women in love, who are both caught between worlds and hiding their own monstrous secrets. I don't want to give away much more than that, but there are layers here that the English major in me absolutely swooned to read. Queerness, gender roles, and the persecution of otherness combine to make both a statement on our current world and an unsettlingly spooky read.

I could have lived in the dark world that Lina Rather crafted for at least another 200 pages (and might have even stayed for sequels). Everything from the pacing down to the prose is perfection. Rather's characterization and dialogue is incredible, particularly the relationship between Sarah and Margaret, and her historical details are impeccable. I really felt like I was breathing the same air as her characters. 10/10 would purchase a copy once this comes out, and you better believe I'm buying one for everyone I know.

Many thanks to NetGalley, Tor Publishing, and Lina Rather for giving me this e-ARC in exchange for my honest review!

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I really enjoyed this! I was super intrigued by the synopsis and I wasn't disappointed. The idea of a different London and witches and midwifery was super compelling, and I quickly devoured the story. I wish this was longer, but the taste we got was great! I will definitely be picking up more from this author especially (fingers crossed) if it's set in the same world.

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Thank you to NetGalley and Tor for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review!

I fell in love with Lina Rather's writing style when I first read Sisters of the Vast Black: lush, surreal, emotional, dark. This novella is no different. The elegance of the prose contrasts with the subject matter in a beautiful way that I really loved. It's certainly dark, eerie, and a bit disturbing, but even with actual "monsters", Rather gave them a humanity that made me very sad for them. We all know what it's like to be thought of as "other" or "weird" for something we can't really control (visible birthmarks, excess/lack of hair, motor issues, etc); the strange babies and people just have that to an extreme. And in late-1600s London, yeesh. Sarah's compassion and empathy for those babies she helps deliver that are rejected by the parents because they have gills or claws or extra eyes is very emotional.

There's definitely a good amount I didn't fully understand (the machinations of the monument Wren and Sarah worked in, the logic of the Other Place and the collision of the spheres of reality), but in all honesty I don't really need to. I don't need to know everything because the characters themselves don't. The theme is the same: the hubris of man, the rejection of the strange and unusual, the gentle and innate compassion of others.

I greatly enjoyed this story and I look forward to reading more from the author!

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A review of this novella will appear in Locus magazine in the coming months. (The short version is I loved it.)

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This was an amazing horror novel and I cannot wait to own a physical copy of this! The whole concept of these "unnatural babies" and the magic that surrounds this it becomes such an amazing story! Also Christophers obsession with Sarah is borderline insane and Lina Rather just writes this beautifully.

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A delightful historical fantasy novella, A Season of Monstrous Conceptions was truly a pleasure to read. I loved the magic system, loved the queer themes tucked within, and loved this story about strange children and mismatched worlds and all the people caught straddling realities where they didn't quite fit in. The historical London setting was an extra treat, helping this story's world feel quite lived-in and making it very easy to jump in as a reader. I highly recommend to fans of urban fantasy, historical fantasy, and anyone looking for a unique and relatively quick read.

*Many thanks to the publisher for an eARC of this one in exchange for an honest review!

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Lina Rathers's A Season of Monstrous Conceptions is an eldritch historical fantasy of midwifery, monstrosity, and the rending of the world.

Sarah Davies is a midwife's apprentice who gets in the middle of a cosmic mystery. In 17th century London, inhuman babies are being born, and, since Sarah's own nature is of the uncanny, she soon finds herself caught in-between two worlds. Others grapple for her powers in a combat of science and magic, as the world will be forever changed.

This short, little story absolutely blew me away. It has everything I could ever want: queerness, social commentary, magic, mystery, conflict between the Old and the New, and angry women making their own choices in a world not built for them.

Sarah is a sharp and bristly young woman, and I adored her. She really stood out on the page, with all her messiness and desires, and I loved getting to experience this story through her eyes. Her romance and her introduction into the queer community of 1675 was so beautiful and heartfelt (and steamy), made even more so by the themes of self-acceptance, homecoming, and queerness-as-magic.

Rathers's writing is tactile, flexible, and clever, without the style overwhelming the substance. Considering the shortness of the novella, I am so impressed by the wide array of themes that was covered, but the concise storytelling got them all across safely.

My only complaint is that I wish there was more.

This book had me crying, shaking, screaming, and even now, just thinking about it, I'm tearing up. If you're looking for a book about anger, humanity, and creating your own world, I am begging you to read A Season of Monstrous Conceptions.

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This queer, fantasy novella set in 17th century London is excellent. The world-building is fantastic, the back-story of the protagonist is deftly created and told, and the characters were rich and fully-fledged. While I don't always like the incorporation of actual historical figures into fiction, the use of the Wrens here was very well done. I am 100% going to seek out other work by this author.

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An atmospheric blend of magic and historical fiction where you really have no idea who to trust until the final few pages. I really enjoyed the tying of magic to this theory of 'the other side', and how the climax underlines all that we've learned so far about the strange children being born and the muddy, bloody world of midwifery Sarah inhabits. Often, I get frustrated with books like these aas the characters seem a little too 'modern'- this was pitch-perfact, believable, and still managed to be satisfyingly queer.

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Lina Rather's novella, A SEASON OF MONSTROUS CONCEPTIONS, is a story of an epidemic (more on this word in a moment) of fae/uncanny-affected births in late 1600s London. It interrogates themes of gender roles, the nature of what it is like to born different in some way, and about the interplay between forces that are revolutionary and poorly understood dueling for supremacy in a world desperate to apply some manner of order to events that appear chaotic and uncontrollable.

Our protagonist, Sarah, is a young widowed apprentice midwife whose husband drowned under mysterious circumstances. Furthermore, she has a connection to these uncanny births--she was born with a tail... a tail that was amputated. Therefore, we see this world through the eyes of someone who can pass as an unaffected human, and who sees those born affected not as monsters but as something else.

Sarah, by strange twists of fate, finds herself working with a pregnant gentlelady with a husband who is a man of means and of reason and science (such as it was at the time). And her connection to this pregnancy as well as her own uncanny nature places her squarely at the heart of a struggle between science and reason and an embrace of the primal weird of the uncanny.

The book is a compelling read, and pulls the reader forward, layering in a deepening mystery at the heart of why these births are happening with every chapter, and more importantly, tying every development to the conflict at Sarah's heart (navigating her place in a world designed to exclude people like her (people like her in many more ways than one)). And it leads us to an epic climax where the fate of the world lay in the balance.

If anything, it is the efficiency with which the story is told that may be my only "criticism." We move from discovering the conflict, to discerning what it is that makes Sarah Sarah, to turning the page and finding ourselves in the climax so quickly, I found myself wanting more time spent meandering these paths, ruminating on not only what those paths meant for the world of A SEASON FOR MONSTROUS CONCEPTIONS and its characters, but more importantly what they mean for the real world, and the way I see that world.

Because (and here's where we pay off that very first parenthetical) how does one reckon with the central conceit at the heart of this story? As a baseline, it's clear that to the people of London in this book, they do not want uncanny children. In their eyes, these uncanny children are defective--if they even survive. They're cast out. They're... other. One need not be terribly introspective to see the metaphor applied to our society. How does our society view children born... different? How should we? How do I?

There's a peculiar type of fear to parenthood where you want the best for your child--how could you not--and you hope nothing goes "wrong." What if my child were born unhealthy? Or with some genetic abnormality? So many birth announcements include some variant of the phrase "both baby and mother are healthy" and no doubt that phrase addresses this looming fear that is everpresent and almost entirely out of anyone's hands but chance. But is it ethical to desire my child not be born with a genetic abnormality? Would I be unethical to hope my child be born striking some kind of genetic lottery--or at least avoid rolling genetic snakeyes?

And it's the latter question that cuts to the heart of how Sarah and the increased incidence of uncanny births fits into this analysis and makes the closing description an "increased incidence" rather than an "epidemic." Clearly, Sarah thrives regardless of her Uncanny nature. Clearly one can look around the the real world and see countless children and adults dealt hands not of their choosing and who are thriving nonetheless. And yet, still that question lingers: How would I react faced with similar circumstances?

It's not an easy subject matter, and it's certainly not something resolvable in a few hundred word book review. But, to my perspective the finest stories are the ones that expose conflicts within the reader and demand the reader look at hard places within themselves. Those, ultimately, are the stories we remember.

This is one of those stories.

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If you’re on the lookout for a feminist horror story, this should be your next read. The book’s musings on power and who is permitted to wield it resonated deeply with me.
For me, Sarah is an immensely relatable character. She feels trapped between two social strata, too odd for one and too normal for another, therefore not fitting in anywhere. Regardless of how weird I may be (it’s up for debate), I empathized with Sarah. She is a complex and nuanced character whose mistakes and triumphs both make sense in the context of the story.
While I feel this book succeeds mainly as a character study, the imagery is haunting and evocative. Even though the author expertly captured the dreary atmosphere of 1600’s London, the book left me feeling anything but. I particularly enjoyed the message about creating a space for oneself.
Even though this isn’t a found family story, I feel like it will resonate with those who typically enjoy found family, as it deals with similar themes of belonging (at least if I, a fellow found family enthusiast, am indicative of any larger trend). While this isn’t the most terrifying horror I’ve read, it left me with a lot to think about, and for that reason, I think it’s worth the read.

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Thank you to NetGalley and Tor Publishing Group for the opportunity to read rate and review this arc which is available Oct 31,2023!

Holy cow Batman! This book was creepy, atmospheric and oh so good. Devilry, queer rep, midwifery and horror are happening in 17th century London. I honestly am sat here at a loss of how to describe this book with justice it has knocked me speechless. It is that damned good.

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Lina Rather's writing has a consistent atmosphere, whether writing about space-faring nuns or midwives in a Lovecraftian historical London - and that atmosphere always appeals to me. A Season of Monstrous Conceptions was mysterious and mesmerising, but alongside the overarching plot, I really enjoyed the quiet sapphic love story that slowly unfurls in the background. This is a short novella, but it packs in a lot of plot and worldbuilding. I continue to eagerly anticipate anything Lina Rather writes!
4.5 stars rounded up to 5.

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Unusual babies, midwives' guilds, and an obsession with the uncanny - these are just a few of the things you'll encounter in Lina Rather's A Season of Monstrous Conceptions. Set in 17th-century London, this historical fantasy novel introduces us to Sarah Davis, a woman with an uncanny nature that she keeps hidden from the world. When she becomes a midwife's apprentice, she finds herself drawn into a world of magic and intrigue, where strange and unnatural babies are being born in the city, causing fear and suspicion to spread.

As Sarah's journey progresses, we are introduced to a cast of complex and nuanced characters, each with their own motivations and desires. Lord Christopher Wren, the famous architect, is obsessed with the uncanny and becomes particularly interested in Sarah. Meanwhile, Lady Wren hires Sarah as her midwife, leading to unexpected twists and turns in the story. Throughout it all, Rather masterfully weaves together historical fiction, fantasy, and horror, creating a richly detailed world that is both captivating and terrifying.

The novel is beautifully written, with lush descriptions of 17th-century London that transport the reader back in time. The depiction of the uncanny babies is particularly vivid and chilling, adding a sense of horror to the story. Yet, at its heart, A Season of Monstrous Conceptions is a story about power, and how those who seek to use it can threaten to destroy the world. If you're looking for a captivating read that will keep you on the edge of your seat, this is the book for you.

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4.5/5 Stars

TL;DR - A bewitching novella about the bonds between women, the lines between the mundane and the fantastical, and the power that comes with finding yourself and standing firm in your truths. Spooky and strange, rife with cosmic chaos, but ultimately a story about how being different is not always a bad thing. A lovely exploration of how an unloved daughter becomes a woman wanting nothing more than affection and approval, and how far such a woman will go to feel like she belongs.

Big thanks to Tor Publishing Group/Tordotcom and NetGalley for providing the ARC for this book in exchange for an honest review!

‘A Season of Monstrous Conceptions’ by Lina Rather is a fantasy-horror novella that takes place in London, unfolding over the course of the winter and early spring of 1675. It follows Sarah Davis, an apprentice midwife who arrives in London just as distinctly inhuman babies start to be born - some with many eyes, others with fins and webbed fingers, still others with fur and horns. Sarah is like them, strange and powerful, but human enough to hide it from everyone but her mentor, who can also access the same magic but is much weaker at it. We follow Sarah as she struggles to find her place after tragedy, both in London and the world at large, and watch as she begins to understand the connection between herself and the uncanny babies she helps deliver.

I didn’t know what to expect going into this novella, but I was pleasantly surprised. The writing is simple but impactful, the prose clean and concise, and everything steeped in subtle, unnatural beauty. There is a definite air of creepiness about the story, in the mystery of these strange babies and Sarah herself, and it was overall well-written and compelling. The plot is relatively straightforward, but the pacing is good and the ending is both unexpected and satisfying.

Sarah is an interesting and likable character, with deep wounds both old and fresh. She’s a strong woman, but also alone and lost and looking for her place, and I could relate to her on many levels. It’s wonderful to see her come into her own and watch as she goes from a mundane life to an extraordinary one, to stand her ground and do what she believes is right. Bonus points for the sweet (and a bit spicy!) sapphic romance, always love to see it.

This books is distinctly feminist in a lot of ways, exploring the sanctity of midwifery and the camaraderie of women both as midwives and the women they help. There’s a lot of razor-sharp commentary on the ways patriarchy suppresses women possessed of great minds, how men have power simply by virtue of existing, and how women have to work exponentially harder for their place in the world, especially in the past. I always enjoy stories of midwifery and childbirth for this very reason, and I was pleased to see it handled with such care and thought.

The only reason I gave this novella less than 5 stars is because I wanted to see more of the magic and its source, to understand Sarah’s powers better - there just wasn’t enough of it to really satisfy my personal tastes. However, I recognize that this is a novella and space is limited, but I would have preferred to read this as a full novel that spent the time to expand on all of this. That said, I did enjoy what I got.

Final Thoughts:

This is a great quick read when you need something a little spooky, a little magical, and with a lot of heart. I greatly enjoyed this novella, and I will be adding a physical copy to my shelf!

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I loved the use of cosmic horror going on, it worked so well overall with the historical fiction genre. I found myself entranced in the story and the characters themselves. It worked well overall and I thought the concept was solid. I enjoyed the way Lina Rather wrote this and am excited for more.

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Lina Rather has got this delicious talent for creating magical, eerie worlds in so few pages, with stories that leave you wanting more but also feeling fully satisfied. I was hooked from the beginning and I loved the ending. The prose is strong and I enjoyed the main character’s honesty and cruelty and tenderness and smarts and how all of these qualities made her feel so real.

This was so different from Our Lady of Endless Worlds but at the same time, they both feel really in sync with each other. I’m excited to see where Rather goes from here, because I’m along for the ride.

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What a strange little novella! Set in the 1600’s, we follow Sarah, an apprentice midwife with a secret: she was born with a tail, one of many children born with unusual attributes. She’s a member of a guild of midwives who are in touch with the realm of the mysterious, a realm that they believe is responsible for all of the monstrous births around London. In a series of events with world-shattering consequences, Sarah must make a choice: do what she’s been told, or remake the world to be a better fit for herself.

Rather’s world was well-crafted and had the right amount of spookiness. There was an uneasiness that permeated every scene, and it worked well with Sarah’s uneasiness about her place and purpose. The queer elements were integrated beautifully, and although this story is set in the 1600’s, there was no hate or violence towards the queer characters. Were they out? No, not really. But they have a thriving community that we get to see Sarah discover. Her scenes with Margaret were some of the best in the book.

Overall, this was an excellent novella!

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A Season of Monstrous Conceptions by Lina Rather is a stunning historical fantasy novel set in 17th-century London. The book tells the story of Sarah Davis, a woman with an uncanny nature who hides her true self from the world. Sarah becomes a midwife's apprentice to a member of the illegal Worshipful Company of Midwives, hoping to start a new life in London. However, strange and unnatural babies are being born in the city, causing fear and suspicion to spread.

When Lady Wren hires Sarah to see her through her pregnancy, Sarah's life takes a turn she never expected. She becomes a favorite of Lady Wren's husband, the famous architect Lord Christopher Wren, who is obsessed with the uncanny. Sarah finds herself caught in a web of magic and intrigue as those who seek to use her power for their own purposes threaten to destroy the world.

The novel is beautifully written, with lush descriptions of 17th-century London and vivid depictions of the uncanny babies. The characters are complex and nuanced, with Sarah being a particularly compelling protagonist. She is strong-willed and determined, but also vulnerable and unsure of herself at times. The relationships between the characters are also well-developed, with a sense of tension and betrayal permeating the story.

A Season of Monstrous Conceptions is a captivating and thrilling read that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It is a masterful blend of historical fiction, fantasy, and horror, with a strong feminist message woven throughout. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good supernatural tale set in a richly detailed historical world.

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