Romance in speculative fiction is not new. Just about any book that has both men and women in the cast of characters has at least the potential for romantic entanglements. It does seem, however, that the new crop of fantasy and sf titles is more likely to include a love story than ever before. Some readers applaud the trend, enjoying the emotional depth a romantic narrative can bring to a story. Other readers would prefer no kissing ever, ever, ever!
This month’s selections feature a wide range of romance. Bridging the paranormal romance and urban fantasy aisles are stories of affection that still create fantasy worlds, such as Jennifer Armentrout’s series opener The Return or Shannon K. Butcher’s Binding Ties, the latest of the “Sentinel Wars” books. Shifting the focus more to fantasy but with romantic leanings are Jinn and Juice by Nicole Peeler and Maria V. Snyder’s Shadow Study. And the latest works from Lisa Shearin (The Dragon Conspiracy) and Jaye Wells (Deadly Spells) may have characters exchange a heated glance or two but keep the focus on the crime fighting and world saving.
It’s not just fantasy that’s getting romantic. A love story lies at the heart of the sf series by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard (returning with Empire) even if the star-crossed lovers are currently separated. And postapocalyptic fiction gets added angst with young love in Lee Kelly’s City of Savages. Adding a romance to any speculative fiction novel can raise the emotional stakes and make the characters more relatable, even if there is some k-i-s-s-i-n-g.
Bacigalupi, Paolo. The Water Knife. Knopf. May 2015. 384p. ISBN 9780385352871. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385352895. SF
Angel is a water knife for the South Nevada Water Authority, pitting himself against anyone who threatens Las Vegas and its control of water rights from the precious reserves of the Colorado River even if it means cutting desert communities off at the knees. Lucy is a journalist chronicling the desperate state of affairs in drought-ridden Phoenix. Maria is a refugee from Texas struggling to make ends meet. Their lives converge in a city dying from a lack of water but drowning in violence, and all become tangled in the search for long-lost water rights that could change the power structure of the American Southwest. VERDICT Hugo and Nebula Award winner Bacigalupi (The Windup Girl) has written a fresh cautionary tale classic, depicting an America newly shaped by scarcity of our most vital resource. The pages practically turn themselves in a tense, taut plot of crosses and double-crosses, given added depth by riveting characters. This brutal near-future thriller seems so plausible in the world it depicts that you will want to stock up on bottled water. [See Prepub Alert, 11/24/14; seven-city tour; highlighted in “Editors’ Spring Picks,” LJ 2/15/15, p. 35.]
Debut of the Month
Maresca, Marshall Ryan. The Thorn of Dentonhill. DAW. (Maradaine, Bk. 1). Feb. 2015. 400p. ISBN 9780756410261. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698180093. FANTASY
As a student mage at the University of Maradaine, Veranix has a secret: at night he sneaks off campus to thwart the drug dealers operating in the slums of nearby Dentonhill. He is determined to get as much of the drug known as effitte off the streets as possible, having seen its devastating effects when his own mother was forcibly fed the drug and left brain dead. Balancing his studies and his secret work as a vigilante gets much more difficult after he takes something stolen from the local crime boss that a local mage circle desperately want back. VERDICT Veranix is Batman, if Batman were a teenager and magically talented. His uncompromising devotion to crushing the local crime boss encourages him to take foolish risks, but his resourcefulness keeps our hero one step ahead of those who seek to bring him down. Action, adventure, and magic in a school setting will appeal to those who love Harry Potter and Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind.
Smale, Alan. Clash of Eagles. Del Rey: Ballantine. (Hesperian Trilogy, Bk. 1). Mar. 2015. 410p. ISBN 9780804177221. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780804177238. FANTASY
Gaius Marcellinus commands a Roman legion intent on conquering North America in 1200 CE, and they have made a bloody progress despite resistance from the Iroquois. But real disaster strikes when the legion attempts to take the great city of the Cahokia and Gaius’s men are wiped out. Spared by the Cahokia, Gaius decides to help them in their ongoing struggles against neighboring tribes. VERDICT Just when it seems there is nothing new in the category of alternative history comes this debut; the novella on which this novel is based won the 2010 Sidewise Award for Alternate History. The world of pre-Columbian mound-building peoples who lived along the Mississippi is full of wonders both real and wildly improbable (if entertaining). Even Smale’s wildest fancies, such as hang-gliding native braves, somehow seem possible as they are described so convincingly in the many violent battle scenes. Not much is actually known about the mound builders, leaving lots of room for Smale to play in what looks to be an ongoing series.
QUOTABLE “Lady Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama was enjoying her evening exceedingly. The evening, unfortunately did not feel the same about Lady Prudence. She inspired, at even the best balls, a sensation of immanent dread. It was one of the reasons she was always at the top of all invitation lists. Dread had such an agreeable effect on society’s upper crust.”
Butcher, Shannon K. Binding Ties. Signet: NAL. (Sentinel Wars, Bk. 9). Mar. 2015. 384p. ISBN 9780451240835. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101635353. FANTASY
Combining suspense, fantasy, and romance, the latest volume in Butcher’s series (after 2014’s Willing Sacrifice) features Lyka Phelan, a slayer living among a rival faction, the Theronai. She must make a bargain with Theronai leader Joseph to keep their people from war, but Joseph wants her heart as well as an alliance.
Elliott, Will. Shadow. Tor. (Pendulum Trilogy, Bk. 2). Feb. 2015. 400p. ISBN 9780765331892. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429943123. FANTASY
Eric Albright traveled through a door in London to an epic fantasy world in The Pilgrims. The story continues here as Eric fights the forces of Lord Vous now that the Wall at World’s End is down and war spills over the land.
Enge, James. The Wide World’s End. Pyr: Prometheus. (Tournament of Shadows, Bk. 3). Feb. 2015. 375p. ISBN 9781616149079. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781616149086. FANTASY
This concludes the series (after 2012’s A Guile of Dragons and 2013’s Wrath-Bearing Tree) following the adventures of Morlock Ambrosius, son of legendary wizard Merlin, as he and his wife, Aloe Oaij, must depart in order to fight the Sunkillers to save the world.
Hearne, Kevin. Heir to the Jedi. Del Rey: Ballantine. (Star Wars: Empire and Rebellion, Bk. 3). Feb. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9780345544858. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780345544872. SF
This latest book set in the Star Wars universe takes place during the years of the original movie trilogy and has attracted some of the brightest talents in speculative fiction including Martha Wells (2013’s Razor’s Edge) and James S.A. Corey (2014’s Honor Among Thieves). In this volume, Luke Skywalker gets a solo adventure from the author of the “Iron Druid Chronicles.”
Stavely, Brian. The Providence of Fire. Tor. (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, Bk. 2). 2015. 608p. ISBN 9780765336415. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466828445. FANTASY
A coup in The Emperor’s Blades left the emperor of Annur dead and his children scattered. Here Adare and her brothers are gathering allies to recover what their family lost.
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Check These Out
Armentrout, Jennifer L. The Return. Spencer Hill. Feb. 2015. 335p. ISBN 9781939392626. pap. $9.95; ebk. ISBN 9781939392619. FANTASY
Aycliffe, Jonathan. The Silence of Ghosts. Night Shade. Feb. 2015. 192p. ISBN 9781597805544. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781597805582. HORROR
Carriger, Gail. Prudence. Orbit: Hachette. (Custard Protocol, Bk. 1). Mar. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9780316212243. $20; ebk. ISBN 9780316212236. FANTASY
Christopher, Adam. The Machine Awakes. Tor. (Spider Wars, Bk. 2). Apr. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9780765376404. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466851344. SF
Connolly, John & Jennifer Ridyard. Empire. Atria. (Chronicles of the Invaders, Bk. 2). Feb. 2015. 448p. ISBN 9781476757155. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781476757179. SF
Cooper, Brenda. Edge of Dark. Pyr: Prometheus. (Glittering Edge, Bk. 1). Mar. 2015. 410p. ISBN 9781633880504. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781633880511. SF
DeAngelis, Camille. Bones & All. St. Martin’s. Mar. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9781250046505. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466846777. HORROR
Grant, Mira. Rolling in the Deep. Subterranean. Apr. 2015. 128p. ISBN 9781596067080. $40. HORROR
Kelly, Lee. City of Savages. Saga: S. & S. Feb. 2015. 416p. ISBN 9781481410304. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 978148141032. DEBUT SF
Peeler, Nicole. Jinn and Juice. Orbit: Hachette. (Jinni, Bk. 1). Apr. 2015. 384p. ISBN 9780316407359. pap. $10; ebk. ISBN 9780316407342. FANTASY
Shearin, Lisa. The Dragon Conspiracy. Ace: Berkley. (SPI Files, Bk. 2). Feb. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9780425266922. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101618431. FANTASY
Snyder, Maria V. Shadow Study. Mira: Harlequin. (Poison Study, Bk. 4). Feb. 2015. 416p. ISBN 9780778317401. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781460379226. FANTASY
Tierney, Kathleen. Cherry Bomb. Roc: NAL. (Siobhan Quinn, Bk. 3). Feb. 2015. 272p. ISBN 9780451416551. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101594896. FANTASY
Valentine, Genevieve. Persona. Saga: S. & S. Mar. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781481425124. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481425148. SF
Wellington, David. Positive. Harper Voyager. May 2015. 448p. ISBN 9780062315373. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062315380. HORROR
Wells, Jaye. Deadly Spells. Orbit: Hachette. (Prospero’s War, Bk. 3). Feb. 2015. 400p. ISBN 9780316228428. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780316228411. FANTASY
Brooks, Jayde. Daughter of Gods and Shadows. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9780312591113. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250036735. FANTASY
Pratchett, Terry. A Blink of the Screen: Collected Shorter Fiction. Doubleday. Mar. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9780385538329. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385538312. F
Tidhar, Lavie. The Violent Century. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9781250064493. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466870628. SF