K. Eason's Pick of the Month, Stars for Cole, Doore, Mihalik, Solomon, plus Roberts's "Rise of Magicks" Finale | SF/Fantasy Reviews, Sept. 2019

Eason's latest is exquisitely written with complex characters, sardonic wit, and immersive worldbuilding; Cole delivers vivid worldbuilding in a story brimming with religious and military fervor and ruthless action; Doore continues the lush worldbuilding and inclusive characters of the author's first book;  Lyons carries on the epic settings, memorable characters, and broad mythological foundations; another exciting, action-driven read from Mihalik; a full fantasy, postapocalyptic version of Roberts’s tried and true storytelling mastery

 

redstarCole, Myke. The Killing Light. Tor.com. (Sacred Throne, Bk. 3). Nov. 2019. 256p. ISBN 9780765395993. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765395986. FANTASY
Sixteen-year-old Heloise is on her way to the Imperial capital to confront the emperor and finally destroy the murderous Order that devastated her and her village. Tenuously allied with her group are the Traveling People and Red Lords, but allies in conviction do not always lead to harmony. When devils in incredible numbers arrive through a rent in the veil between worlds, the bloody destruction they cause touches all factions, allies and foes alike. To save her people and world, Heloise joins forces with the one person she holds accountable for the path they are on: Brother Tone. From her growing feelings for the Hapti knife-caster Xilyka and her struggle with the men surrounding her, to her questions of faith and fears of what is outside her war-machine armor, Heloise is both familiar and fantastical. VERDICT This final volume of the "Sacred Throne" trilogy (after Queen of Crows) will wreck your emotions in the worst and best ways. Writing intelligent, intense prose, Cole delivers vivid worldbuilding in a story brimming with religious and military fervor and ruthless action, offering a stunning ­conclusion to Heloise’s journey. —Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

redstarDoore, K.A. The Impossible Contract. Tor. (Chronicles of Ghadid, Bk. 2). Nov. 2019. 368p. ISBN 9780765398574. pap. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765398581. FANTASY
Given the opportunity to prove herself as an assassin, and in so doing, step out of the shadow of her mother, the legendary Serpent of Ghadid, Thana Basbowen takes a high-profile—and high-paying—contract against Heru Sametket, ambassador to the Empress of the Mehewret Empire. Success would prove she is a worthy successor to her mother; failure could cost Thana her work. But Heru is a marabi, wielding power that is blasphemous to Thana, and all of Ghadid. It also turns out that Thana is not the only one trying to end his life­—hideous undead are pursuing him, too. This leads to a cat-and-mouse chase to the heart of the empire, with Thana accompanied by healer Mo, who is looking for truth in the turmoil. That truth will not only damage the burgeoning relationship between Thana and Mo but also unleash old secrets and magic that could destroy Thana’s work and all of Ghadid. VERDICT Doore’s second novel (after The Perfect Assassin) continues the lush worldbuilding and inclusive characters of the first, while establishing exciting action- and ­emotion-filled sequences that will keep readers engaged. —Kristi ­Chadwick, ­Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Drachman, Steven S. Watt O’Hugh and the Innocent Dead: Being the Third Part of the Strange and Astounding Memoirs of Watt O’Hugh the Third. Chickadee Prince. (Memoirs of Watt O’Hugh the Third, Bk. 3). Sept. 2019. 284p. ISBN 9781732913936. pap. $12.99. SF
The third entry in Drachman’s series (after Watt O’Hugh Underground) dives right into a complex world of time travel, lost love, faith, war, and the afterlife. The titular Roamer—a time traveler with cowboy flavor—is hoodwinked into getting good and dead. He wakes up in the Hell of the Innocent Dead, a place of Chinese myth devoted to those unjustly dead whose murderers still walk free. Watt and his new companions quickly run into trouble from a common enemy and embark on an adventure to maintain their humanity, redress their grievances, and defeat evil. Readers not familiar with earlier volumes in the series will feel lost, but longtime fans will likely enjoy Watt’s memoirs of past, present, and future events. VERDICT Genre mashup devotees should get some good laughs and thrills from this Western/adventure/sf/fantasy blend. Fans of Doctor Who may adapt easily to the timey-wimeyness, and readers of Richard Kadrey’s "Sandman Slim" series who long for more atypical excursions to hell will enjoy as well.—Nicole Steeves, Fox River Valley P.L. Dist., IL

French, Jonathan. The True Bastards. Crown. (Lot Lands, Bk. 2). Oct. 2019. 592p. ISBN 9780525572473. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780525572497. FANTASY
In the Lot Lands, bands of half-orcs called hoofs keep the tenuous peace. Fetching is an anomaly among the True Bastards, both as the only female rider, and now as hoofmaster and leader. The last year has been difficult, with a mysterious famine, a crumbling fortress, dissent in her ranks, and the other half-orc leaders questioning her abilities. As orcs and humans begin to encroach upon the Lots, Fetch and her band must defeat the plots against them while keeping their band and village alive. Searching for safety leads them through the barrens of the Lots themselves, into regions controlled by elves, and for Fetch, a deeper quest into her own mysterious heritage, which is darker than anything she has ever faced. The male gaze and attitude is rife but has purpose, one that Fetching and many other female characters upend every chance they get. ­VERDICT French’s sequel to The Grey Bastards, a 2018 LJ Best Book, continues the half-orcs’ penchant for rough rides, foul language, and heady action sequences. [See Prepub Alert, 4/1/19.] —Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Name of All Things coverredstarLyons, Jenn. The Name of All Things. Tor. (Chorus of Dragons, Bk. 2). Oct. 2019. 592p. ISBN 9781250175533. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250175526. FANTASY
Janel Theranon is a young woman who stands as the powerful Count of Tolamer in the Jorat Dominion, a land where gender is fluid and not determined by sex. Some of her power, however, comes from the demon Xaltorath, who spared and cursed her as a child: Janel battles demons every night. As cities in her land face Hellmarches by demons, with death and destruction in their wake, Janel searches for the truth of her own power in order to save the magical city of Atrine, aided by the help of her friends: a priest healer; a bandit; and some new allies, specifically Kihrin D’Mon. The continued past and present narratives by Janel, Brother Qown, and Kihrin, along with liberal footnotes from witch Serena, keep this prophetic fantasy grounded in the feelings and experiences of the characters. Lyons continues her expansive and diverse worldbuilding in a tale readers will stay up all night to finish. VERDICT The second of Lyons’s "Chorus of Dragons" series (after The Ruin of Kings) carries on the epic settings, memorable characters, and broad mythological foundations. Lyons is creating a complex and wonderful series that will immerse and delight. —Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Merbeth, Kristyn. Fortuna. Orbit: Hachette. (Nova Vita Protocol, Bk. 1). Nov. 2019.
560p. ISBN 9780316453998. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316454001. SF
Scorpia Kaiser—a bit reckless and, at times, more than a bit drunk—is heir to her mother’s smuggling operation, thanks to her older brother Corvus taking off to fight in a war on his home planet. The cargo ship Fortuna may be rundown, but it is the only place the space-born Scorpia can call home. When her mother’s last deal takes them right to Titan, the planet where Corvus has been fighting, he is ready to return and take up the reins. But Scorpia and her other siblings discover this deal will take the war off-world, with deadly results. Now the Kaiser siblings must decide if they should blow the secret plans wide open, even if it means being in more trouble than ever before. Family issues bring humor to the heavier themes of xenophobic planets and war crimes, and alternating chapters between Scorpia’s and Corvus’s points of view provide a broader perspective on this fascinating galaxy. ­VERDICT Merbeth’s space opera takes off in new directions after her previous postapocalyptic books (Bite; Raid). High energy, high stakes, and lots of high notes will give readers who enjoy Catherynne M. Valente’sSpace Opera a new volume on which to crash-land. —Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

redstarMihalik, Jessie. Aurora Blazing. Harper Voyager. (Consortium Rebellion, Bk. 2). Oct. 2019. 400p. ISBN 9780062802415. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062802460. SF
Bianca von Hasenburg fulfilled her duty to her family when she entered a loveless political marriage. Now widowed under mysterious circumstances, Bianca stays single, using her wealth and influence to help other young women, in return for information that would rival any spy ring. When Bianca is almost killed and Ferdinand, her oldest brother and heir to House von Hasenburg, ends up missing, Bianca is determined to find him, against the wishes of her father. Ian Bishop, head of security for von Hasenburg, is sent to retrieve her. Bianca uses all her skills to elude him, but when she and Ian finally meet, Bianca realizes that they could find Ferdinand together, if only Ian would stop thinking of her as a superficial princess. Working together means dealing with all of their past emotions—and the truth about Bianca’s marriage and its long-term consequences. VERDICT This second book in the "Consortium Rebellion" trilogy (after Polaris Rising) is another exciting, action-driven read. Strong female characters, a slow-burn romance, and interplanetary adventures will draw in both sf and romance readers, especially fans of Ilona Andrews, Becky Chambers, and Mary Robinette Kowal’s "Lady Astronaut" series.—Kristi Chadwick, ­Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Rise of Magicks coverRoberts, Nora. The Rise of Magicks. St. Martin’s. (Chronicles of the One, Bk. 3). Nov. 2019. 464p. ISBN 9781250123039. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250123060. FANTASY
They survived the first battle, but the war continues. Fallon Swift has known she was foretold as the One who would lead the world to healing after its fall from the sickness named the Doom and the surge of magic. Now, as the Purity Warriors continue to destroy anything different and the government tortures those with gifts in search of their own power, Fallon brings the fight to Washington, DC. She works to heal the rifts between ordinary and extraordinary, so the world can begin to find peace. Ironically, Fallon will need an army; she can’t finish this fight alone. In the process she will have to face family, both good and bad, and the path of her own heart. Characters will come full circle, leaving no loose ends in this fast-moving, robust story. ­VERDICT The final volume of "The Chronicles of the One" (Of Blood and Bone; Year One) is a full fantasy, postapocalyptic version of Roberts’s tried and true storytelling mastery. [See Prepub Alert, 5/5/19.] —Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

redstarSolomon, Rivers & others. The Deep. Saga: S. & S. Nov. 2019. 181p. ISBN 9781534439863. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781534439887. FANTASY
Yetu is the historian for the wajinru, an undersea population of merpeople. Their collective memory of their origins as pregnant African women thrown overboard by white slavers is held by Yetu alone. The wajinru exist in forgetfulness, as it has been decided that the agony of their past is too much to bear. The historian carries the burden until the Remembering, a yearly ritual that lets the historian share the memories to the population, then take them all back. Yetu struggles under the weight of her duty, and flees her home in hopes of escaping. But as she leaves behind her agony and meets the people of the land that her ancestors left long ago, her burden shifts to those who aren’t ready to accept it. Yetu is tasked with finding a way to reconnect the past to all before her people’s future is lost. This vivid, devastating work is in its third incarnation: it started with the inspired mythology created by techno-electro group Drexciya, morphed into a song by rap group Clipping (Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes), and then was turned to prose by Solomon ( An Unkindness of Ghosts). VERDICT This slim story packs a huge punch. Beautiful and stark in its pain, this emotional journey is one that all readers should take, in order to remember the atrocities of slavery. [See "Fall Fireworks," LJ 8/19.]—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Collections & Anthologies

redstarHex Life: Wicked New Tales of Witchery. Titan. Oct. 2019. 384p. ed. by Christopher Golden & Rachel Autumn Deering. ISBN 9781789090345. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781789090352. FANTASY
Are you a good witch or a bad witch? The answer lies in the heart and minds of the witches themselves, whether lauded or condemned. Here, 18 stories by women writers present the shades of gray within witchcraft. In Kat Howard’s "An Invitation to a Burning," witches and fire cannot help but be paired. Angela Slatter’s "Widow’s Walk" shows that a house of older spinsters with strange habits can be exactly what they seem. See another snippet of dark witch Eve Levine’s life on the run with her daughter Savannah in Kelley Armstrong’s "Black Magic Momma: An Otherworld Story." Witness how unsuccessful witchcraft can still give the same results for ten-year old Frances in Amber Benson’s "This Skin." Finally, Theodora Goss reimagines Snow White’s path after marriage in "How To Become a Witch Queen." VERDICT Wickedness and white magic, edgy prose, and celebrated authors make this a magical volume that twists and shapes the witch archetype into fascinating, dark tales. —Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Hill, Joe. Full Throttle: Stories. Morrow. Oct. 2019. 496p. ISBN 9780062200679. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062200686. HORROR
Hill’s latest collection of short stories is compulsively readable. Thirteen stories weave in and out of gritty realism, whimsical folklore, and futuristic sf, flowing from one to the next in a fast-paced journey through the surreal. Hill fills each story with shocking plot twists, excellent worldbuilding, and satisfying kismet. "By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain," a tribute to Ray Bradbury, tells of innocence and friendship before things go horribly wrong. "The Devil on the Staircase" and "Twittering from the Circus of the Dead" play with form while still captivating readers. "Faun" and "Late Returns" are deeply haunting; they will lurk in the back of readers’ minds, destined to be relived and retold. "Throttle" and "In the Tall Grass" are coauthored by Hill’s father and horror master Stephen King, and while King’s voice sometimes overwhelms his son’s, the two create compelling and gruesome stories. VERDICT As in any anthology, some tales are stronger than others, but overall this is a winning entry from Hill. Hand to fans of horror, dark fantasy, and ruthless realities.—Kay Strahan, Univ. of ­Tennessee Health Sciences Lib., Memphis

His Hideous Heart: 13 of Edgar Allan Poe’s Most Unsettling Tales Reimagined. Flatiron: Macmillan.
Sept. 2019. 480p. ed. by Dahlia Adler. ISBN 9781250302779. $18.99. HORROR
Thirteen of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous works are reimagined by YA authors in this compilation of delightfully shivery tales with strong adult crossover appeal. Tessa Gratton’s "Night-Tide" reworks "Annabel Lee" in a story about family obligations and a lost love between two teen girls. Kendare Blake’s "She Rode a Horse of Fire" recounts an act of dark vengeance enacted by a ghostly woman to a callous young man. "Happy Days, Sweetheart," by Stephanie Kuehn is a retelling of "The Tell-Tale Heart," with a jealous high-school student as the guilty killer of her rival. In "The Oval Filter," by Lamar Giles, a high school football player seeks the answer to who killed his crush, a social media influencer. This collection shines in getting readers to view Poe’s work in a new light, featuring characters from diverse ethnic backgrounds, queer protagonists, and other perspectives not represented in the earlier texts. Packaged in the book are the original stories, making comparisons between the old and the new works easy for readers. VERDICT A solid collection of thoroughly modernized Poe classics, recommended for YA shelves and classrooms or for die-hard Poe scholars. —Jennifer Mills, Shorewood-Troy Lib., IL


This article was originally published in Library Journal's September 2019 issue

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