Fresh Takes on Rumpelstiltskin and Sherlock Holmes, Dystopian Mystery, Alternate Histories | SF/Fantasy Reviews

This gritty debut takes the swords and sorcery trope to new heights; a must for epic fantasy enthusiasts; irreverent, funny, and full of entertaining wordplay, this will keep readers guessing; this notable anthology is for seasoned readers and those looking to discover speculative fiction’s vast possibilities

Debut of the Month

redstarFrench, Jonathan. The Grey Bastards. Crown. (Lot Lands, Bk. 1). Jun. 2018. 432p. ISBN 9780525572442. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780525572466. FANTASY

The Lots is a no-man’s-land that forms the border between the human empire of Hispartha and marauding bands of full-blooded orcs. Patrolling the Lots are eight bands, or “hoofs” of half-orcs. Jackal rides with the brotherhood of Grey Bastards, along with his childhood friends Oats, a “thrice-blood” (more orc than human), and Fetching, the only female rider in all the hoofs. When a foreign sorcerer joins their group, his arrival brings turmoil and reveals the secret plans of their unbalanced leader, the Claymaster. Jackal is saddled with a captive elf girl, and his questions lead to some surprising discoveries—including the truth behind the disintegrating peace between humans and orcs. Faced with betrayal and disillusion, Jackal must decide where his path and his loyalty lie. The action-filled, sometimes grisly plot supports a raucous group of characters, amazing worldbuilding, and delightful descriptions of giant war pigs as steed. VERDICT Winner of the 2016 Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO), this gritty debut takes the swords and sorcery trope to new heights; a must for epic fantasy enthusiasts.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Check These Out

Bujold, Lois McMaster. Mira’s Last Dance. Subterranean. Jun. 2018. 160p. ISBN 9781596068544. $25. FANTASY In this sequel to Penric’s Mission, Bujold’s hero leads the betrayed and blinded General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys through war-torn Cedonia into the Duchy of Orbas. As they enter the town of Sosie, however, Penric’s own injuries and lack of funds force them to seek refuge in a house of ill repute. When delays cause the group to come under more scrutiny, Penric turns to his chaos demon, Desdemona, for further assistance. In particular, he calls up the courtesan Mira of Adria, one of the dead women whose imprints make up Desdemona’s personality. At the same time, Nikys must decide if the growing feelings between her and Penric can overcome the other women so enmeshed in his life. Bujold’s nuanced writing vividly shows the unique relationship between Penric and Desdemona and their journey that continues to grow in action-filled ways. VERDICT Bujold’s fans will appreciate this novella, which returns to her World of the Five Gods and beloved maturing characters.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Dawson, Delilah S. & Kevin Hearne. Kill the Farm Boy. Del Rey: Ballantine. (Tales of Pell, Bk. 1). Jul. 2018. 384p. ISBN 9781524797744. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781524797751. FANTASY

Once upon a time, in the magical land of Pell, there lived a farm boy, a talking goat, a semidark Dark Lord, a fuzzy-tailed bard, a peace-loving warrior in a chain-mail bikini, an assassin deathly afraid of chickens, and a sand witch with an affinity for bejeweled crabs. One of them is the Chosen One, and on a quest to awaken a sleeping princess from her tower and generally right the wrongs in the kingdom of Pell, all of them will encounter much more than they expected. This fairy tale’s happily ever after is one readers won’t see coming. VERDICT Dawson (Star Wars: Phasma) and Hearn’s (“Iron Druid Chronicles”) reimagining of a traditional fairy tale is reminiscent of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride and William Steig’s Shrek! Irreverent, funny, and full of entertaining wordplay, this will keep readers guessing until the end and eager for the sequel. [See Prepub Alert, 1/29/18.]— ­Elisabeth Clark, West Florida P.L., Pensacola

Emrys, Ruthanna. Deep Roots. Tor. (Innsmouth Legacy, Bk. 2). Jul. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9780765390936. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765390929. FANTASY

Aphra Marsh is a descendant of the Chyrlid Ahja, the People of the Water. After surviving the Deep One internment camps, Aphra, her brother Caleb, and her friends now want to rebuild Innsmouth as a safe haven for the People, before developers take over the land. In the hopes of repopulating their community, they travel to New York City in search of other Chyrlid Ahja who fled Innsmouth, as well as mistbloods: people who are half-Chyrlid Ahja. Their search leads to the stunning realization that some have disappeared, and Aphra focuses on finding a missing child who might be one of the mistbloods. As she nears the end of her hunt, old and new enemies appear, along with a disturbing force that may prove more than Aphra can handle. The author’s well-crafted prose continues to take H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos in a new direction, echoing the themes of immigrants and governmental reaction. VERDICT Emry’s follow-up to Winter Tide is even more action-packed as it takes readers once again into an alternate post–World War II America.—Kristi ­Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Hawke, Sam. City of Lies. Tor. (Poison War, Bk. 1). Jul. 2018. 360p. ISBN 9780765396891. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765396914. FANTASY

DEBUT In the city-state of Silasta, wealthy families and guild members live in luxury. Jovan is the heir to his uncle, a poison master who protects the Chancellor’s family from danger. As the best friend to Tain, the Chancellor’s Heir, Jovan must keep the immature Tain out of trouble. When the Chancellor is murdered by an unidentified poison, which also kills Jovan’s uncle, the young men get caught up in a political maelstrom involving power-hungry Council members. When the city is besieged by a rebellious army, residents must figure out how to survive. Can Tain, Jovan, and his sister Kalina find a way to root out internal and external betrayals and save the Heir and Silasta? VERDICT This epic fantasy debut weaves political, class, and belief systems into a deftly drawn world, laying fertile ground for exciting political commentary.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Kowal, Mary Robinette. The Calculating Stars. Tor. (Lady Astronaut, Bk. 1). Jul. 2018. 432p. ISBN 9780765378385. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466861244. SF

In 1952, Elma York and her husband are celebrating their marriage in the Poconos when a meteor strikes, destroying Washington, DC, and most of the eastern seaboard. As a mathematician and WASP pilot, Elma knows the need for space exploration, but now that Earth is poised to fall owing to a climate change of apocalyptic proportions, that timetable has been pushed into the fast lane. Elma wants to be one of those to enter space, and when a program invites women to take the same astronaut training as men, she won’t let anything—not family, history, or the attitudes of men regarding the proper place for women—stand in her way. ­VERDICT A fast-forward thrill ride, Hugo Award ­winner Kowal’s (“Glamourist Histories”) exciting alternate history, the first in a duology, highlights the space race and the sexism of the time. Sf and space history buffs will enjoy this entertaining tale.—Kristi Chadwick, ­Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

McAulty, Todd. The Robots of Gotham. Houghton Harcourt. Jun. 2018. 688p. ISBN 9781328711014. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781328711021. SF

DEBUT McAulty’s fast-paced sf thriller debut deftly weaves humor, mystery, drama, and action into an intricately detailed world. Robots are quickly increasing in both numbers and intelligence. Fewer governments are run by humans, with AIs now owning the majority of global economic power. The United States has been invaded and is occupied by several factions. Canadian businessman Barry Simcoe is operating out of a recovering Chicago and begins unraveling a mystery that involves a secret robot cabal, a small resistance group, and the potential extermination of all human life. The postapocalyptic setting is well drawn, but the depth and breadth of details never overwhelm readers. Simcoe is intelligent and capable and, with other key characters, helps to build an engaging and textured story. ­VERDICT As the violence and romance aren’t explicit, this adventure is appropriate for ambitious adult and YA readers alike.—Matt Schirano, Univ. of ­Bridgeport Lib., CT

McGuire, Seanan. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. DAW. Jul. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9780756413804. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780756413828. FANTASY

In this strong sequel to McGuire’s gripping Sparrow Hill Road, ghost Rose Marshall, aka the girl in the green silk gown, is still being stalked by Bobby Cross. Not content with killing her 60 years ago, he wants to punish her even more in the afterlife. He may even have found a way to bring her back to life, which is definitely not something she wants. On the plus side, Rose has been reunited with lost love Gary and has gained valuable and unexpected allies to help her fight Cross. The author takes a deliberately lyrical tone with this series, making the story feel like a folk song. She has a gift for putting her heroines in danger and finding creative ways to return them to see them out of it. VERDICT McGuire’s fans will relish this ghostly treat, as will those with a penchant for the supernatural, specifically works by Simon R. Green.—Laurel Bliss, San Diego State Univ. Lib.

redstarNovik, Naomi. Spinning Silver. Del Rey: Ballantine. Jul. 2018. 480p. ISBN 9780399180989. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780399181009. FANTASY

Miryem is the progeny of moneylenders, but her family is impoverished because of her father’s inability to collect his debts. Wanda’s father abuses her and her brothers, drinking away the household’s income. Irina knows she is plain and of little help to her father, and that her only choice in life is to wait for marriage. Through these three women, Novik (Uprooted) addresses weighty questions of power, choice, prejudice, beauty, and identity with aplomb. While magic certainly plays a role here, Novik provides opportunities for these protagonists to save themselves, too. Each woman encounters magic for benefit or ill: the ability to change silver to gold, portals to an icy world, a house that exists in multiple realms, a demon, or an ice king. Each must decide what they will sacrifice to rescue their people. Echoes of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale as well as Greek and Slavic myths are transformed through Novik’s skillful writing. Ultimately narrated through six distinct voices, her tale moves deftly among stories that ebb and flow and occasionally brush against one another. VERDICT This masterly, immersive high fantasy tale is grounded in real-world challenges and opportunities for growth. Highly recommended for fans of Novik’s previous titles or fairy-tale ­retellings.—Katie Lawrence, Grand Rapids, MI

O’Dell, Claire. A Study in Honor. Harper Voyager. Jul. 2018. 304p. ISBN 9780062699305. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062699329. FANTASY

During the New Civil War, Dr. Janet Watson served on the battlefield treating wounded soldiers until a bullet destroyed her arm and ended her surgical career. Having lost her parents, her girlfriend, and now her profession, she heads to Washington, DC, where she meets Sara Holmes, who is also black and a member of the LGBTQA community, but as enigmatic and mercurial as Watson is angry and dogmatic. Holmes offers Watson a home and more questions than answers. Yet when Watson discovers that veterans from the war have begun dying mysteriously, she risks her tenuous position to discover the truth with the help of Holmes’s own position as a covert agent. References to politics, race, and veterans’ issues enhance a vivid, near-future universe. VERDICT In this intriguing and fresh twist on the Sherlock Holmes mythos, O’Dell (pseudonym for author Beth ­Bernobich) brings a heady mix of dystopian sf and strong female protagonists in the first of a new series.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

redstarVaughn, Carrie. The Wild Dead. John Joseph Adams: Houghton Harcourt. (Bannerless Saga, Bk. 2). Jul. 2018. 272p. ISBN 9780544947313. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780544947641. SF

It has been a year since Enid of Haven solved a murder on the Coast Road (recounted in the Philip K. Dick Award–winning Bannerless). Now, with new partner Teeg, she is brought in to settle a dispute over a household’s building. It is here, at the far edge of what is left of rebuilt civilization, that a body is discovered nearby. The victim is one of the wild folk, people who have created camps outside of the Coast Road communities. Old prejudices arise as Enid insists on investigating the murder of a young woman who is not one of their own. With an upcoming birth in her own home, Enid knows that this girl was once someone’s valued child. Vaughn’s sequel continues the exploration of a postapocalyptic American landscape that is at once beautiful and stark, filled with those who may be able to escape their ancestors’ mistakes but not their own arrogance. VERDICT This thrilling postapocalyptic mystery, which demonstrates the author’s wide range of style, will please Vaughn’s many fans.—Kristi Chadwick, ­Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Yang, JY. The Descent of Monsters. Tor.com. (Tensorate, Bk. 3). Jul. 2018. 167p. ISBN 9781250165855. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250165848. FANTASY

Tensor investigator Chuwan Sariman arrives at the Rewar Teng Institute to probe a massacre in which people and animals were torn apart and killed. Two suspects were apprehended: Machinist terrorist leader Sanao Akeha and a mysterious companion, Rider. As events unfold, Chuwan realizes that she is only scratching the surface of what actually happened. With mysterious dreams and elusive details guiding her, Chuwan must throw off her Tensorate role and discover what escaped from Rewar Teng, why the Machinists were there, and why the Protectorate will do anything to cover it up. Told through letters and reports, the nuanced narrative reveals a deeper story of creatures and powers beyond comprehension. VERDICT Yang’s third series novella (after Red Threads of Fortune) continues to establish silkpunk fantasy as a superbly original subgenre.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Collections & Anthologies

Hurley, Kameron. Apocalypse Nyx. Tachyon. Jul. 2018. 288p. ISBN 9781616962944. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616962951. SF

Government assassin–turned–bounty hunter Nyx, the star of Hurley’s gritty “Bel Dame Apocrpyha” series, returns in a collection of five novellas detailing jobs that Nyx and her team took on during a centuries-old holy war they are trying to survive. Solving the death of a former convict at a body rebuilding shop leads Nyx back to some bel dames from her previous life in “The Body Project.” When a prison debt is called in, Nyx joins another group for a run in “Paint It Red.” In these tales, survival is at the top of the to-do list. If that means having to put morals and feelings aside, Nyx is willing to cooperate, unsure of how much of her is still human anyway. The bleak, postapocalyptic desert depicted here sets the scene for lots of action, crass personalities, and diverse characters. VERDICT Series fans will savor original episodes featuring the battle-worn Nyx, which also serve as an introduction to new readers.—Kristi Chadwick, ­Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fifth Annual Collection. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Jul. 2018. 720p. ed. by Gardner Dozois. pap. ISBN 9781250164636. $22.99; ISBN 9781250164629. $40; ebk. ISBN 9781250164643. SF

This 35th annual collection gathers 38 of the best stories from 2017 that address a wide variety of themes and topics, from deep space mutinies to star-crossed love. Some of the most talented authors in the genre, including Charlie Jane Anders, Harry Turtledove, and Alastair Reynolds shine a light on the vast universe of current sf with its infinite realms of improbabilities. An extensive list of honorable mentions will give readers a go-to list for many months to come. VERDICT This notable anthology is appropriate for seasoned readers and those looking to discover speculative fiction’s vast possibilities.—Kristi ­Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

 

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