Boyden's Debut of the Month, plus Eddie Robson, Jenna Glass, Carrie Vaughn | Sf/Fantasy

From reimaginings of classic fairy tales to refreshing fantasies with themes of gender equality, here's what we've got on our shelves this February.


redstar Boyden, Alina. Stealing Thunder. Ace: Berkley. May 2020. 368p. ISBN 9781984805461. pap. $16. FANTASY
Razia Khan survives in Bikampur the only way she knows how: By day she dances, entertaining men with her beauty; at night, she is a lucrative thief. She doesn’t want to steal, but her work keeps her protected from her past life as Crown Prince of Nizam. To survive and live fully as a woman, Razia left her royal life behind, to live with the hijras in her new home. Now there is another prince in her life, Arjun Agnivansha of Bikampur. As their relationship grows, Razia’s past catches up with her, even as her political acumen finds her in the midst of tense negotiations and possible war. Such a war would bring her face to face with her father—and threaten everything she has fought for.
VERDICT This delightful debut is rich with detailed worldbuilding, political intrigue, and South Asian cultural references drawn from Boyden’s experience as a trans activist who has traveled in India and Pakistan. Boyden handles the story with a steady hand, and this first novel will ­delight romantic fantasy enthusiasts.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton


Glass, Jenna. Queen of the Unwanted. Del Rey: Ballantine. (Women’s War, Bk. 2). Mar. 2020. 592p. ISBN 9780525618379. pap. $17. FANTASY

In the aftermath of the spell that the ­Abbess of Aaltah released, women through all of Seven Wells now hold power over their own bodies, causing the patriarchal society to fracture. All isn’t easy, however, when the world suddenly changes. Princess Alysoon of Women’s Well is more focused on personal tragedy than on ruling, and issues with other family members crop up. Rhozinolm’s Queen Ellinsoltah tries to navigate the challenges to her reign, including facing a political marriage that could put her throne—and heart—in jeopardy. In Khalpar, a new abbess, Mother Mairahsol, steps into power with the promise that she can reverse the "Curse" and let men retake authority. Focusing on trade and politics, Glass’s (The Women’s War) second book in the series provides more scenic and character details than action, but further develops this imaginative realm. VERDICT A fantasy world built around a feminist society draws on themes that are front and center in the real world today, with an eye to differing viewpoints. The dynamics, intrigue, and plot twists will keep readers immersed.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Myer, Ilana C. The Poet King. Tor. (Harp & Ring Sequence, Bk. 3). Mar. 2020. 320p. ISBN 9780765378347. $28.99. FANTASY

The nation of Tamryllin has a new ruler: Ellisan Diar, who has enchanted his way into power as Poet King while claiming the support of the people. Not everyone is happy with the change, including Lady Rianna Gelvan, who plots to kill Ellisan before his coronation. Rianna is still struggling with the betrayal of her husband Ned, who left with the former king’s court poet Lin Amaristoth during a political scheme that led to his disappearance. Rianna uses her position in the court to gain Ellisan’s favor and trust, and Lin brings allies into the picture to end Ellisan’s reign before it begins. But there’s more at stake than the crown—the coronation is linked with a sinister prophecy that threatens to take the civil war to devastating extremes. Intriguing characters, diverse relationships, and political intrigue course through this lyrical, winding final volume in the trilogy (after Fire Dance). VERDICT Myer’s lush prose and imagery amplifies a layered plot filled with magic, prophecy, and power.—Kristi Chadwick, ­Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

redstar Robson, Eddie. Hearts of Oak. Mar. 2020. 272p. ISBN 9781250260536. pap. $14.99. SF

Iona has been an architect and teacher for as long as she can remember, and the town continues to grow with designs she has done, by students she has taught. The king is interested in the progress of the city—buildings are taller, the city is bigger—but rarely goes outside to see it. The planning department assures that they always have more room. But after the death of a colleague during a building collapse, Iona notices that people are behaving strangely. She remembers words and concepts out of dreams, such as "felt," "babies," and "coins," that never existed in the real world. The king’s advisor Clarence says everything is fine—but can you trust the words of a talking cat? Arson raises more questions. Iona, the king, and others soon discover that the oddities coming up have more to do with reality than they thought. Twists and surprises abound in this engaging sf adventure. VERDICT A mesmerizing look at facing reality and what you believe to be true. Robson’s (Welcome to Our Village Please Invade Carefully) characters are well-rounded and themes of exploration and expansion undergird the playful prose.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Van Praag, Menna. The Sisters Grimm. Harper Voyager. (Sisters Grimm, Bk. 1). Mar. 2020. 448p. ISBN 9780062932464. $27.99. FANTASY

You enter the land of Elsewhere—where lost sisters can find each other—through dreams and magic gates. All were fathered by Wilhelm Grimm, a powerful demon who launches generations of daughters into the world to build his perfect army. Goldie, Liyana, Scarlet, and Bea met in this magical world when they were eight years old, to learn about their elemental powers and about one another. At thirteen, they were blocked from Elsewhere and their memories of one another, but now, 33 days before their shared 18th birthday, the four will begin to remember; they will rediscover their powers and one another. When they enter Elsewhere, there will be choices to make: to kill or be killed, first by their father’s soldiers and then by their father—if they do not turn to his darkness. VERDICT A highly imaginative plot and vivid worldbuilding help to balance the swiftly changing points of view. Ethereal prose sets up a nefarious fairy tale–inspired story about the balance of power between men and women, family ties and first loves, and the choices that must be made whether you are ready or not.—Kristi Chadwick, ­Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Vaughn, Carrie. The Immortal Conquistador. Tachyon. Mar. 2020. 192p. ISBN 9781616963217. pap. $15.95. FANTASY

Vampires are immortal, which means they have witnessed historic events. Kitty Norville’s ally Rick is one such vampire. As he arrives in Rome to talk with the Order of Saint Lazarus of the Shadows, a group of vampire monks that reside under the Vatican, Rick’s history unfolds. Born Ricardo de Avila, he was a devout follower of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado on his search for gold—but was betrayed. Rick traded his mortality to become a vampire but was a man of God, not even being undead would curtail his belief. He has lived quietly for more than 500 years, except when he must use his power to protect his found family. The path from conquistador to bartender is filled with battles and death, protection and hope. Vaughn weaves a beautiful tale of a devout man who faces the Devil and wins. VERDICT This fast-paced novella, filled with action and emotion, offers a satisfying entry back into the "Kitty ­Norville" series.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Collections & Anthologies

Cursed. Titan Bks. Mar. 2020. 384p. ed. by Marie O’Regan & Paul Kane. ISBN 9781789091502. pap. $14.95. FANTASY

In these 18 short stories and two poems, readers will find unique perspectives on curses, inspired by old stories and new ideas. In Christina Henry’s story, "As Red As Blood, As White As Snow," we see Snow White face off against her Prince ­Charming, who holds marriage secrets deep in his castle. A young man bargains for his life through the years in "Troll Bridge" by Neil Gaiman. Charlie Jane Anders presents a love triangle, bar fight, and karaoke battle in "Fairy Werewolf vs. Vampire Zombie." Jane Yolen’s two poems, "Castle Cursed" and "Castle Waking," about the beginning and end of a curse, bookend the other stories. While some characters face trials and others triumph, the stories all brim with magic and monsters, warnings and wishes. VERDICT An eclectic and delightful mix of fairy tales and modern takes, told by some of today’s best speculative authors, will appeal to fans of the authors and themes alike.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Shawl, Nisi. Talk Like a Man Plus. PM. (Outspoken Authors). Feb. 2020. 128p.
ISBN 9781629637112. pap. $14. SF

Award-winning author Shawl (Everfair) transports readers into stories filled with politics, feminism, and Afrofuturism. This slim collection of previously unpublished short works highlights Shawl’s unique prose and talent. In "Walk Like a Man," virtual reality cannot stop the actions of high school girl packs. The intersection of commerce and worship mixes with altars, ritual, sex, and talking dolls in "Women of the Doll." A British singer finds a reflection that reveals a haunted future in "Something More." A dive into illness leads to "An Awfully Big Adventure." VERDICT Along with a university presentation and interview that intersects everything from divinity to modern technology and belief to science, Shawl’s light prose takes the weight, but not the meaning, out of heavier topics with her signature use of dreamy language and realistic settings.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

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