Fried's Debut of the Month, plus Banker, Basu, Bear, Harrison, McGuire, Mehrota, & Many More | SF/Fantasy, March 2019

Fried’s debut explores issues likely to affect everyone; Banker launches a new series set in a vivid world inspired by India and the Middle East; Bannister cleverly brings it all home in this engaging, propulsive space opera debut; Hugo Award winner Bear's foray back into space introduces an immersive setting and characters; Marks draws a satisfying conclusion to this quartet of novels

Upon a Burning ThroneredstarBanker, Ashok K. Upon a Burning Throne. Houghton Harcourt. (Burnt Empire, Bk. 1). Apr. 2019. 688p. ISBN 9781328916280. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781328916259. FANTASY
The vast Burnt Empire has lost its emperor, but standing at the helm of the Krushans are the Dowager Empress Jilana and her stepson, demigod and devout Prince Regent Vrath. Two young princes, Adri and Shvate, are in line to rule, but simply being born into the family does not guarantee the throne. Any successor must sit upon the Burning Throne and survive the Test of Fire; those deemed unworthy will be devoured by flame. While Adri and Shvate pass the test and are declared heirs, so does another child, a female infant from an outlying kingdom, daughter of banished demonlord Jarsun. When the girl is denied by Jilana and Vrath, Jarsun vows to destroy the empire in war. As the young princes must prove they are capable heirs, for Adri is blind and Shvate, albino, the world around them prepares for a battle that will involve their families, land, mortals, and gods. Despite the heft of this nearly 700-page volume, readers will hardly be able to pull themselves away from the layered story lines and well-developed characters.
VERDICT Banker (Awaken) launches a new epic fantasy series set in a vivid world inspired by India and the Middle East, mythology and monarchy, filled with enticing narration and action.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Bannister, Andrew. Creation Machine. Tor. (Spin Trilogy, Bk. 1). Mar. 2019. 368p. ISBN 9781250179135. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250179128. SF
DEBUT Fleare Hass is the only prisoner on an isolated moon at the edge of the artificial galaxy known as the Spin. Incarcerated there since she and her fellow rebels lost their war against the Hegemony, she’s broken out by Muz, a onetime fellow soldier and lover, now without a physical body. Meanwhile, in the inner region of the Spin is the Fortunate Protectorate, a society so barbaric that its neighbors prefer to leave its members to practice their schemes on one another. Among the schemers is Alemeche, who wants to leverage his knowledge of the discovery of a powerful artifact in a bid for more control. The artifact, found on one of the planets claimed by the Fortunate, might be a remnant from the creation of the Spin.
VERDICT Bannister cleverly brings it all home in this engaging, propulsive space opera debut that veers lightly into cyberpunk, as a simulated intelligence becomes key to the power struggles for the artifact. Fans of Iain M. Banks and Peter F. Hamilton will enjoy.—Megan M. McArdle, Lib. of Congress, National Lib. Svc. for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

Basu, Jayinee. The City of Folding Faces. Lanternfish. Apr. 2019. 162p. ISBN 9781941360262. pap. $12. SF
Basu (Asuras) has created a taut cyberpunk novel that must be read, and reread, to be fully understood and appreciated. The people in Basu’s world can upload themselves into a system called Roulette. For some, it’s an alternative to suicide, for others an escape from dystopia. If they return to reality, their memories and everyday functions, even vocal and facial expressions, are mostly forgotten. The story focuses on Mara, who has used Roulette, and her boyfriend, Arlo, who has not. In order to gain some sense of normalcy in their relationship, Mara undergoes facial implant surgery, which promises her the ability to show expression again. She and others like her are called Ruga, and are becoming alienated within their society owing to their lack of ability to communicate with non-Rugas. Along the way, Mara uncovers disturbing facts about Roulette and the memories that have been stolen from her and others through its use.
VERDICT This is a sometimes challenging but ultimately fascinating return to classic cyberpunk that William Gibson aficionados will love.—Lucy Roehrig, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI

Bear, Elizabeth. Ancestral Night. Saga. (White Space, Bk. 1). Mar. 2019. 512p. ISBN 9781534402980. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781534403000. SF
Ancestral NightHaimey Dz is an engineer who, along with pilot Connla Kurucz and the sentient ship Singer, are just-barely-lawful salvagers looking for that one big haul that will make their fortunes. When searching one derelict ship, Haimey becomes infected by something that gives her knowledge about the construction of the universe itself, making her a prize for not only the interstellar government Synarche but also the space pirates determined to use her for their own nefarious plans. On the run across the galaxy, Haimey and others discover that in the black hole at the center of the galaxy is a hidden alien spaceship, and that revealing lost secrets of both the universe and Haimey’s own past, neither of which she will wish to be uncovered, is the only way to save everything.
VERDICT Hugo Award winner Bear’s (Karen Memory) foray back into space introduces an immersive setting and characters. Readers will be captivated by the creative prose. —Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Elison, Meg. The Book of Flora. 47North: Amazon. (Road to Nowhere, Bk. 3). Apr. 2019. 332p. ISBN 9781542042093. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781542042086. SF
Flora does not fit into the postapocalyptic landscape the world has become after a series of plagues known as the Dying decimated society. Females are a precious commodity in this world, where birth is rare and highly prized, and they are traded and enslaved. Flora will never conceive a child. Not in the underground city of Ommun, where refugees have gathered to find shelter, nor in the all-female city of Shy, where she hoped to find a place for herself and others. As Flora and her companions head out to find a place to call their own, along the way, she adopts a child, Connie. Aboard a ship, whispers of a hope for the future of humanity arises: reproduction may take root in a new way. Yet that same hope creates a rift in Flora’s created family, and she’s forced to make choices between the place and the people she loves. Alternating between the present and flashbacks, Flora’s history intertwines with those of previous characters to create an intriguing sf tale.
VERDICT Combining a grim, futuristic world, fascinating character relationships, and a deep exploration of gender roles and identity, the last of Elison’s “Road to Nowhere” trilogy (after The Book of Etta) offers a sound and satisfying conclusion.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Harrison, Kim. Perfunctory Affection. Subterranean. Mar. 2019. 304p. ISBN 9781596068964. $40; ebk. ISBN 9781596068971. FANTASY
Meg knows her therapist means well, but any scrutiny is hard to handle when coping with overwhelming anxiety. Even driving a car or going out in public too often is stressful. Luckily, her boyfriend Austin is a help, even though he wears his scars on the outside, owing to the car accident they were both in three years ago. Facing a long teaching semester, Meg takes the chance of befriending guest university instructor Haley. Haley is bright, beautiful, and charismatic, everything Meg wants to be. As Meg warms up to her new friend, finally breaking out of the shell of her anxiety, Austin senses Meg is changing fast and not necessarily for the better. She’s looking for a life of perfection, and it might exist—just not in our reality. The story proceeds at a quick clip, with a huge amount of action in a short time frame and a narrator whom readers will feel for.
VERDICT Harrison (“Hollows” series) presents a twisty blend of psychological suspense and fantasy, blurring the edges of what is real, and to whom. —Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Jameson, Hanna. The Last. Atria. Apr. 2019. 352p. ISBN 9781501198823. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781501198847. SF
When nuclear war devastates major cities and nations, historian Jon Keller is attending a conference in Switzerland, far away from his home and estranged family in the States. Although safe, at least temporarily, Jon is anxiously waiting for news/rescue and worrying about the future. He begins documenting his stories and those of other survivors holed up in the L’Hotel Sixième to preserve a record of what has happened to them. When the body of a girl is found in one of the tanks supplying the hotel’s water, Jon assumes the mantle of amateur sleuth, attempting to discover her identity and that of her killer, who may still be among them. Meanwhile, threats from the outside—looters and starving brigands—add to the tension. They can’t stay at the hotel, but where can they go?
VERDICT Jameson’s (“London Underground” mystery series) postapocalyptic tale presents some interesting moral/ethical quandaries, though a lack of specificity and detail occasionally undercut its authenticity as sf. More likely to appeal to readers of the author’s previous works of suspense. —Karin Thogersen, Huntley Area P.L., IL

redstar McGuire, Seanan. That Ain’t Witchcraft. DAW. (InCryptid, Bk. 8). Mar. 2019. 435p. ISBN 9780756411794. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780756411800. FANTASY
That Ain't WitchcraftAntimony Price has been on the run from the Covenant of St. George. Now in debt to the crossroads, she finds the journey that much longer. While her cryptid friends are with her, including furi carnival boyfriend Sam, being away from her infamous family is still taking a toll. However, the group has found a house in the tiny town of New Gravesend, ME, and maybe Annie can rest a little, or not. The crossroads wants to call in its debt: Annie is to kill one James Smith, who lost his best friend to a contract with the crossroads. He wants revenge, and may be one of the few to take it. But Annie doesn’t kill people—not usually. Not even the Covenant’s heir apparent, Leonard Cunningham, who has arrived in town. If there’s a way Annie can make it through this dilemma, she can finally go home, if she doesn’t get herself killed first. The eighth title in the “InCryptid” series showcases McGuire’s dry wit and humor in a story with compelling action and imagination that just keeps getting stronger.
VERDICT With delightful worldbuilding and enjoyable characters, this follow-up to Tricks for Free is another solid entry in a great urban fantasy series. —Michelle Gilbert Doshi, Lake Forest Lib., IL

Marks, Laurie J. Air Logic. Small Beer. (Elemental Logic, Bk. 4). Jun. 2019. 400p. ISBN 9781618731609. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781618731616. SF
An air witch has gone rogue, ignoring the laws of the land of Shaftal. After an attack on their home, Karis the G’deon, Zanja, and family travel to Hanishport to investigate the witch’s identity and followers. Once there, Karis negotiates the donation of a drug from the powerful Lora family to help the city’s sick and addicted. Tashar of house Lora ran away because he disagreed with his clan’s practice of importing drugs. Now he’s come home again and is following the conniving sorceress. Assassin Chaen, who is also following the witch, has been waiting a long time in Hanishport for someone who isn’t coming. Then a fortune teller draws cards for Chaen on the day of her mark’s arrival into Hanishport and tells her to leave the city immediately. But Chaen isn’t going anywhere.
VERDICT Marks (Water Logic) draws a satisfying conclusion to this quartet of novels perfect for readers of K. Arsenault Rivera and previous fans of the series. Newcomers will want to start with book one. —Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Mehrotra, Rati. Mahimata. Harper Voyager. (Asiana, Bk. 2). Mar. 2019. 480p. ISBN 9780062564559. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062564573. FANTASY
While Kyra (heroine of Markswoman) was victorious in her duel with Tamsyn, the fight took its toll mentally and physically. Now she feels out of place back with the Order of Kali, even as she tries to pick up the pieces of her old life. With her teacher Shirin Mam dead, and her best friend Nineth gone, Kyra can’t help but feel she’s on another path. One that could include Rustan, the Marksman who was more than her duel teacher and friend. Rustan is on another journey also, leaving the Order of Khur because of his feelings for Kyra and seeking answers about his parentage. When Rustan meets with descendants tied to the alien Ones and the mysterious doors, he finds there are answers to his questions, but only if Rustan leaves behind his order—and Kyra. But Rustan and Kyra are brought together again, perhaps for their last moments, when the evil Kai Tau, who murdered Kyra’s family, sets out against the Orders of Asiana.
VERDICT Continuing a series that has enchanted readers, Mehrotra delivers another epic, action-packed fantasy in a desert world with a past full of secrets, in which every chapter reveals layered worldbuilding. [See Prepub Alert, 10/1/18.] —Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Powell, Gareth L. Ragged Alice. Tor. Apr. 2019. 208p. ISBN 9781250220189. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250220172. HORROR
A hit-and-run homicide brings DCI Holly Craig back to Pontyrhudd, the Welsh hometown she left 15 years ago. Orphaned at an early age, Holly was raised by her grandfather, who’s since died. Having fled small-town life for London, Holly returns to Wales on a transfer she initiated after blaming herself for a standoff at a school that left seven dead. The straightforward case gets complicated when the primary suspect is discovered dead and mutilated—and is the first in a series of murders. Holly is shocked when the local paper reports that her mother was killed the same way 30 years ago, which is where the story hits its first hiccup. Readers learn that Holly joined the police force because of her mother’s death but never looked into the circumstances. In a pivotal flashback, a younger Holly is even taunted by the story of “Ragged Alice.” Marring this work is a pervasive inattention to detail. Somehow the town mayor has been mayor for as long as anyone can remember even though he’s only 54. Her grandfather’s house, abandoned at least a year since his death, has a copy of yesterday’s newspaper on the table. The mounting pile of mutilated corpses serves only to winnow the pool of suspects and the paranormal aspect of the story fails to elevate this muddled mystery.
VERDICT Too many plot holes and inconsistencies. Not recommended.—Terry Bosky, Madison, WI

redstarReynolds, Alastair. Permafrost. Tor. Mar. 2019. 176p. ISBN 9781250303561. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250303554. SF
The newest novella from Reynolds (Revelation Space) has a simple premise: return to the past to save the future of humanity. The mission’s objective involves the retrieval of genetically modified seeds, those strong enough to grow on Earth in 2080. The complication, as always, involves the effect of time travel on an ever-changing time line. Retired schoolteacher Valentina is the first to connect successfully with a future host named Tatiana through the use of a molecular-level consciousness paradox that Valentina’s mother invented. This connection between past and present host are part of her mother’s discovery of the relationship within a Luba pair, all of which is well explained as the adventure unfolds. Valentina’s time travel produces unexpected complications that both hinder and help the mission, causing her to withhold some findings from the team. During subsequent consciousness transfers, she’s forced to ask whether the motives of her fellow scientists and the AI brothers who assist the project are still aligned with the goal of preserving humanity.
VERDICT This is Netflix’s Travelers series meshed with Jeff Vandermeer’s “Southern Reach” trilogy, and it’s outstanding. —Tina Panik, Avon Free P.L., CT

Zen Cho. The True Queen. Berkley. (Sorcerer to the Crown, Bk. 2). Mar. 2019. 384p. ISBN 9780425283417. pap. $$15; ebk. ISBN 9780698409514. FANTASY
Cho returns to the world of her debut novel, Sorcerer to the Crown , in a story that relegates the Sorceress Royal to the background while bringing to the forefront Malay witch Muna and her best friend Henrietta. Muna’s search for her lost sister takes the women from the ballrooms of England to the court of the Fairy Queen of the Djinn, a capricious and malevolent dragon who punishes her courtiers to cover up for her lack of true power and guilt of usurping her sister’s throne. As Muna and Henrietta dive deeper into the machinations of the Fairy Court—and outrun its dangers—Muna discovers she’s much more than she ever thought she might be and Henrietta accesses her inner fortitude in the nick of time. This Regency-based fantasy starts slowly as new characters and underlying mysteries are introduced. And the patience of those who immerse themselves in this world will be rewarded. Once Muna discovers her truth, the action kicks into high gear and doesn’t let up until the satisfying conclusion.
VERDICT Recommended for fans of the first book in the series and Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Glamourist Histories” series as well as fantasy readers looking for a heroine’s journey, with dragons. —Marlene Harris, Reading Reality, LLC, Duluth, GA

Collections & Anthologies.

Doctorow, Cory. Radicalized. Tor. Mar. 2019. 304p. ISBN 9781250228581. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250228598. SF
This collection showcases the author’s (and genre’s) propensity for comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable with stories of near-future dystopias so close we can see them from here. Only one has an even slightly hopeful ending, as the “poors” in a subsidized building find a way to subvert the paradigm of bad and worse choices that is supposed to control their lives. The stories get less hopeful and more frightening as an extraterrestrial superhero discovers that his respectability and honorary “whiteness” can be easily stripped away when he challenges the racism endemic to American life. Then come the two serious frights. One posits the results of a movement to treat insurance companies that consistently put profits over health care the same way that abortion providers get treated: with murder, doxxing, and terrorism. Finally, a group of rich and entitled survivalists hides out at the end of the world, discovering that the one contingency they have not planned for is their own hubris.
VERDICT The near futures Doctorow ( Walkaway) portrays in these stories are chilling in their possibility and will draw in any sf reader who imagines what might happen if our current situations remain unchanged. Highly recommended. —Marlene Harris, Reading -Reality, LLC, Duluth, GA

LJ Reviews
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