When urban fantasy first made the scene 20 years ago, early stars of the genre included Laurell K. Hamilton’s “Anita Blake” series and the “Newford” books by Charles de Lint. With the arrival of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden and Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan, the subgenre took over a significant portion of the fantasy shelves. Over the years, however, urban fantasy has fallen into a bit of a rut, with the countless plucky kick-butt heroines (and a few heroes) facing the monsters that secretly roam the city streets. Despite the stale tropes, these books remain popular, perhaps in part because the juxtaposition of the magical realm with the human world is still considered a winning combination.
This month we see classic series entries that stick close to the category’s roots, such as Patricia Briggs’s always satisfying “Mercy Thompson” fantasies continuing with Fire Touched, as well as Faith Hunter’s Blood in Her Veins, a collection of stories set in her “Jane Yellowrock” universe (see the interview with Hunter).
There are intriguing variations on the conventions as well. The heroine of Kristi Charish’s Owl and the City of Angels is pricklier than most and travels to more exotic locales. Mishell Baker’s Borderline features a paraplegic heroine recruited to an underground organization that monitors the border between Hollywood and Fairyland. Anne Bishop’s fabulous “Others” series (Marked in Flesh) flips the usual narrative with supernatural creatures playing the heroes, facing off against a hostile human race.
Authors are also having fun with new paranormal systems. For instance, in Paul Krueger’s new series opener Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, a secret society of bartenders make magic with their cocktails. Looks like urban fantasy is alive and kicking.
DEBUT OF THE MONTH
Baker, Mishell. Borderline. Saga: S. & S. (Arcadia Project, Bk. 1). Mar. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9781481453066. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481429795. FANTASY
Millie Roper lost both her filmmaking career and her legs in a failed suicide attempt. After six months in a psychiatric center, she is presented with a second chance at life—one filled with magic. Recruited by the Arcadia Project, Millie joins an elite group that watches over the fae that travel between their own reality and Hollywood. Her first charge is to track down a Seelie Court nobleman who is also a movie star. Millie finds that both faerie and Hollywood glamour only disguise the ugly truth in the world. With both physical and mental limitations in play, Millie must discover what has happened to the missing royalty. Failure is not an option, as it would not only cost Millie her job but could instigate a devastating rift between the two realms. Verdict Baker’s debut takes gritty urban fantasy in a new direction with flawed characters, painful life lessons, and not a small amount of humor. Millie’s inner battles serve as a unique foil of realism against the otherwordly action.
Check These Out
Belcher, R.S. The Brotherhood of the Wheel. Tor. Mar. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9780765380289. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466872530. FANTASY
The medieval order of the Knights Templar was known for protecting travelers on the roads to the Holy Land. Today a small offshoot known as the Brotherhood of the Wheel patrol the highways of America as truckers, bikers, bus drivers, and others. Among these road knights is trucker Jimmy Aussapile, who is sent on a quest by a ghostly teen hitchhiker to rescue scores of missing children. Along the way he crosses paths with Louisiana State Police investigator Lovina Hewitt, who is pursuing the same cases. Together, their investigation leads them to Four Houses, a town not on any map, and the creepy Black-Eyed Kids, who hold a terrible secret. VERDICT The author of The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana launches a new series that blends religious history and modern alchemy. Urban fantasy enthusiasts will embrace this supernatural tale.
Bishop, Anne. Marked in Flesh. Roc: NAL. (Others, Bk. 4). Mar. 2016. 416p. ISBN 9780451474476. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698190429. FANTASY
Things are coming to a head for the terra indigene and the humans who live around the Lakeside Courtyard. With long-held treaties frayed and extremist organizations such as Humans First and Last expanding, Simon Wolfgard, head of the Lakeside Courtyard, and Meg, the blood prophet, must decide whom they will protect and whom they can trust. As increased attacks by the radical human groups become more deadly, Meg’s warnings don’t always arrive in time. What the humans have forgotten is that the shapechangers and vampires they deal with are not the strongest powers, and these ancient forces are ready to take back what once belonged to them. Verdict In Bishop’s fourth dark fantasy adventure (after Vision in Silver), the stakes have grown higher. There are plenty of parallels to draw between current events and Bishop’s alternate world, but it is the stories of the characters woven through the action that keep the books fresh. Vivid worldbuilding and myth creation are Bishop’s strengths, and this title is a welcome addition to the series.
Bonesteel, Elizabeth. The Cold Between. Harper Voyager. (Central Corps, Bk. 1). Mar. 2016. 528p. ISBN 9780062413659. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062413666. SF
On shore leave on the colony Volhynia, Commander Elena Shaw is out of sorts owing to a recent breakup. She meets Treiko Zajec in a local bar, pegging him as former PSI, a mysterious group that have always been allies to the Central Corp. Elena and Treiko have a great night together, but as Elena prepares to return to her ship, she learns that her ex-lover has been killed and that Treiko has been arrested for the crime. In her defense of Treiko, Elena gets snarled in a bigger conspiracy that goes back decades. VERDICT Fans of sf romance will cheer to have a new author entering the genre. While this is setting the stage for a longer arc, Bonesteel’s novel more than satisfies with Elena and Trey’s story. Suggest to readers of Ann Aguirre’s “Sarantha Jax” books and Linnea Sinclair.
Briggs, Patricia. Fire Touched. Ace: Berkley. (Mercy Thompson, Bk. 9). Mar. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9780425256763. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698180918. FANTASY
There has been an uneasy peace between mortals and the Fey since the latter retreated to live on reservations such as the one near Mercy Thompson Hauptman’s home in Washington State. In the course of stopping an attacking troll released from the Walla Walla reservation, coyote shifter Mercy and her alpha werewolf husband, Adam, meet Aiden, a changeling held for years by the Fey. Old friend Zee convinces Mercy and the pack to protect Aiden, putting the clan at odds with not only the powerful Grey Lords but also the Marrock, leader of all North American werewolves. This is another exciting adventure for Mercy, who continues to struggle for her place among the werewolves as a conflict between Fey and mortals appears to be inevitable. VERDICT While not the strongest entry in the series, its fans will drive demand. Small but important developments add to the rich world that Briggs has created in both the “Mercy Thompson” (Night Broken) and “Alpha and Omega” (Fair Game) series.
Charish, Kristi. Owl and the City of Angels. Gallery. (Owl, Bk. 2). Mar. 2016. 432p. ISBN 9781501122101. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781476779881. FANTASY
Working for a dragon has its dangers. Antiquities thief Alix “Owl” Hiboux steals for Mr. Kurosawa (the aforementioned dragon) but gets into trouble when she does a little extra pilfering on her own time. In addition, the IAA (International Archaeology Association) is after her because she is suspected of lifting artifacts from the off-limits Syrian City of the Dead. For once, Owl didn’t commit the crime, but she agrees to retrieve some of these relics for Mr. Kurosawa from a collector in Los Angeles. In the process, she winds up cursed by the stolen goods and has to find a way into the city and clear her name, or be faced with deadly consequences. VERDICT Charish (Owl and the Japanese Circus), who never lets the action slack, delivers another captivating adventure. Readers might wish that Owl would show more personal growth, yet her prickly antisocial tendencies do soften a little as she tries to make her relationship with succubus boyfriend Rynn work.
Clines, Peter. Ex-Isle. Broadway: Crown. (Ex-Heroes, Bk. 5). Feb. 2016. 385p. ISBN 9780553418316. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780553418323. SF
In 2009 the world ended. Now, five years later, zombies roam the streets of Los Angeles, but there is a safe haven for survivors: the Mount, an old movie studio–turned–fortress. Led by St. George, along with Cerberus, Zzzap, and Stealth, the superheroes continue to protect the humans, while fighting the never-ending zombie horde just outside their walls. On an exploratory expedition, the superheroes discover a large number of ships in the Pacific, tethered to some kind of island. Excited to find other survivors, St. George, Zzzap, and a small team go to meet this new group and possibly share resources. Yet they quickly realize that this community has secrets of its own—secrets that its leader is willing to kill to protect. Verdict Cline’s latest (after Ex-Purgatory) offers a fast pace and plenty of zombie action that will remind readers of John Ringo’s “Black Tide Rising” books.
Kadrey, Richard. The Everything Box. Harper Voyager. Apr. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9780062389541. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062389565. FANTASY
As a thief with a special immunity to magic, Coop is often hired for heists that involve the supernatural. After a job lands him in jail, an old friend offers to set Coop up with a new caper when he’s released. It seems simple: steal a box, but don’t open it. Unfortunately Coop isn’t the only person after the box, with a bumbling doomsday cult, agents from a shadowy government agency, and the angel who lost the box but a few of the players on the board. The fate of the world might very well hang upon who controls the box. VERDICT Heaven and hell (not to mention the grimier corners of L.A.) are familiar territory for Kadrey as seen in his entertaining “Sandman Slim” series. Here the author takes a decidedly more lighthearted approach, creating a must-have for fans of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s comic novel, Good Omens, or those who enjoy the zany situations and amusement of Christopher Moore. [See Prepub Alert, 11/15/15.]
Knaak, Richard A. Black City Saint. Pyr: Prometheus. Mar. 2016. 390p. ISBN 9781633881365. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781633881372. FANTASY
Nick Medea guards the gate between the human world and the Feirie realm; his constant internal companion is the dragon he slew centuries before when he was St. George (yes, that dragon of medieval legend). A curse has left the essence of the dragon living inside him, struggling to get free and take control of the body they share. Nick works in Prohibition-era Chicago these days as a kind of supernatural PI, taking care of any creatures that breach the gate from Feirie. New client Claryce poses an unexpected problem for Nick—not only is she a reincarnation of a former love whom Nick has lost throughout the centuries, but her case heralds an escalation of a war in Feirie that could spill into our reality. VERDICT It seems the Jazz Age is quite popular these days (see Lee Kelly’s A Criminal Magic and Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom, reviewed below). Knaak is best known for video game tie-in fiction, and while Nick is compelling, the rest of the characters are more two-dimensional. The world and relationships of Feirie are sketched in, and the pacing slumps among action sequences, wasting a colorful setting.
Krueger, Paul. Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge. Quirk. Jun. 2016. 290p. ISBN 9781594747595. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781594747793. FANTASY
College graduate Bailey Chen is scraping by as a bar-back in her friend Zane’s uncle’s establishment. Bailey quickly realizes her personal demons are nothing compared to the ones she discovers on the streets of Chicago. When she learns about the demon hunters, which include Zane and a group of monster-battling bartenders, she figures out that the key to fighting these apparitions is literal spirits: vodka grants superstrength, rum provides pyrokinesis, and whiskey gives the power to move objects. Even with this mixology magic, these creatures are not playing by the rules, and it appears there are even more threats from less savory individuals. Attempts to concoct the world’s most powerful cocktail—the Long Island Iced Tea—has not been successful in centuries. Can Bailey, Zane, and their group come through before that power is lost again, or worse, ends up in hands of the wrong people? Verdict This action-packed first novel serves smooth sips of new adult angst with a twist of humor.
LaValle, Victor. The Ballad of Black Tom. Tor.com. Feb. 2016. 160p. ISBN 9780765387868. pap. $12.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765386618. Horror
Charles Thomas Tester is not a very good musician, but he can fake it well enough to make a rough living hustling on the streets of Prohibition-era New York. He takes a job at the home of Robert Suydam, a wealthy man from Red Hook, only to find Sudyam’s occult ambitions involve opening a portal to other dimensions and summoning the Sleeping King to Earth. VERDICT LaValle (The Devil in Silver) crafts a gem of a Lovecraftian novella, cleverly keeping his horrors just offstage. The real power of the story is Tom’s experiences of prejudice as a black man living in early 20th-century Harlem, and how he overcomes and subverts that prejudice, taking on whatever role he has to in order to get by: he is “Charles” to his father, “Tommy” to his friends, and eventually “Black Tom”—one to be feared.
McGuire, Seanan. Every Heart a Doorway. Tor.com. Apr. 2016. 176p. ISBN 9780765385505. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765383877. FANTASY
Sometimes children disappear, and when they come back, their stories of fantastical lands are too much for their families to handle. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is a place for such “troubled” youth. One new resident is Nancy, who is surprised to find out this home is different, and occupied by many children, like herself, who have been cast out of their otherworldly dwellings. Learning to deal with the strangeness of reality is hard enough; interacting with peculiar children even more so. When tragedy strikes at the home, Nancy and her new friends must root out the darkness at the heart of their lives, otherwise they will never return to their families. VERDICT McGuire’s (“October Daye” series) lyrical prose makes this novella a rich experience. Readers will be unable to resist the children’s longing for home, no matter how bizarre or fanciful that destination may be.
Parker, K.J. Downfall of the Gods. Subterranean. Mar. 2016. 112p. ISBN 9781596067554. $40. FANTASY
Lord Archias murdered his best friend after finding the man in bed with his wife. Stricken with remorse, he goes to the temple to pray for forgiveness, bringing along a prostitute for company, who tries to tell him that there will be no forgiveness—and she would know, being the Goddess in disguise. So begins a short but delightful tale of a divinity and the penitent who goes from awed to annoyed to despairing. The Goddess makes a pact with Archias to save him from eternal damnation and then leads him on a quest to hell and back. VERDICT Parker (The Folding Knife; Sharps) channels his alter ego Tom Holt to bring a full measure of snark to this novella. The Goddess’s interactions with her family are laugh-out-loud funny as is the increasingly hapless Lord Archias, who soon prays that the Goddess will just leave him alone. Regrettably, this delightful book is currently only available as a $40 special edition hardcover.
Sawyer, Jamie. The Lazarus War: Artefact. Orbit: Hachette. (Lazarus War, Bk. 1). Feb. 2016. 544p. ISBN 9780316386371. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316386388. SF
Capt. Conrad Harris commands an elite squad in the SOP (Simulant Operations Programme). He and his team link to remote avatars who fight battles in situations no other soldier could survive. Of course, the simulants don’t usually survive either, but they tend to take out a number of the enemy Krell before they die. Harris has perished so many times in his simulant bodies that others have started calling him Lazarus. Chosen to go deep into Krell space to check on a science station observing an alien artifact that might be the key to defeating the Krell, Harris and company are soon fighting for their lives in their own skins. VERDICT The use of remote bodies has been done before (the film Avatar for example), but debut author Sawyer digs into the psychic damage simulant operators like Harris suffer from by dying repeatedly. While at times the dialog is a bit clichéd, the novel works best with its action and battle scenes. For fans of Robert Heinlein, John Scalzi, and Joe Haldeman.
Steele, Allen. Arkwright. Starscape: Tor. Mar. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780765382153. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466886438. SF
At the funeral of famous sf author Nathan Arkwright, his estranged granddaughter Kate meets three of the novelist’s closest friends. They ask her to serve on the board of a foundation that Nathan had established in an effort to get humanity to live among the stars. As the story jumps forward generations, readers follow the efforts of the Arkwright foundation to build and launch the starship Galactique toward a distant planet deemed the best hope for a habitable new world. VERDICT While the plot of Steele’s (“Coyote Chronicles” series; Angel of Europa) latest is not new to the genre, the author adds lovely touches of his own, including an homage to sf’s golden age and a compelling take on what the human race might look like if it had to adapt to a completely new environment. One important message is the capacity for sf to inspire scientific advancement.
Brown, Pierce. Morning Star. Del Rey: Ballantine. (Red Rising, Bk. 3). Feb. 2016. 544p. ISBN 9780345539847. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780345539854. SF
Born in the mines of Mars, Darrow continues his quest to topple the ruling Gold class from his place embedded among them in this conclusion to Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy (after Golden Son), one of the most anticipated sf titles of the month. [See Prepub Alert, 7/13/15.]
Hogan, Michael. Blood of Innocents. Harper Voyager. (Sorcery Ascendant, Bk. 2). Feb. 2016. 592p. ISBN 9780062407252. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062407276. FANTASY
Beginning with Crucible of Souls, Hogan’s originally self-published series picks up here with Caladan and his companions fleeing the city of Anasoma. Our protagonist will do anything to help the devastated Miranda, even if it means breaking the laws of the Protectors.
Maresca, Marshall Ryan. The Alchemy of Chaos. DAW. (Maradaine, Bk. 2). Feb. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9780756411695. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780756411701. FANTASY
In this outing a series of campus pranks turns deadly when Veranix Calbert, who began his vigilante career in The Thorn of Dentonhill, returns to shut down the drug gangs while studying at the University of Maradaine.
Reynolds, Alastair. Poseidon’s Wake. Ace: Berkley. (Poseidon’s Children, Bk. 3). Feb. 2016. 608p. ISBN 9780425256794. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698188723. SF
While Ndege Akinya remains under house arrest, her daughter, Goma, joins a mission to track the source of a message sent across the galaxies in this final installment (after On the Steel Breeze) of Reynolds’s hard sf epic featuring the Akinya clan.
Salyards, Jeff. Chains of the Heretic. Night Shade. (Bloodsounder’s Arc, Bk. 3). Feb. 2016. 608p. ISBN 9781597808132. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781597805971. FANTASY
Following Veil of the Deserters, this entry sees Capt. Braylar Killcoin and his company of Jackals tasked with helping the deposed emperor regain power after Emperor Cynead gains control of the memory witches and solidifies his hold on the throne.
Shearin, Lisa. The Brimstone Deception. Ace: Berkley. (SPI Files, Bk. 3). Feb. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9780425266939. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101618455. FANTASY
A new magical drug called Brimstone is hitting the streets of New York, and it’s up to Supernatural Protection & Investigation (SPI) seer Makenna Fraser to face-off against the cartels. This urban fantasy series (last seen in The Dragon Conspiracy) is reliably light and fun.
Underwood, Michael R. The Absconded Ambassador. Tor.com. (Genrenauts, Bk. 2). Feb. 2016. 176p. ISBN 9780765387905. pap. $12.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466891951. SF
Leah Tang (first introduced in series opener, The Shootout Solution) is a new recruit to the genrenaughts, who repair damage in the story worlds. This time she and her team are headed to the sf universe where peace treaty negotiations among warring alien races have deteriorated.
Wallace, Matt. Lustlocked. Tor.com. (Sin du Jour, Bk. 2). Feb. 2016. 224p. ISBN 9780765387783. pap. $12.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466892835. FANTASY
The chefs of Sin du Jour are back (after Envy of Angels), catering the wedding of the son of the Goblin king. This series continues to combine magic, food, and a hefty scoop of humor.
Collections & Anthologies
Hunter, Faith. Blood In Her Veins: Nineteen Stories from the World of Jane Yellowrock. Roc: NAL. Feb. 2016. 560p. ISBN 9780451475756. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780698196988. fantasy
The world of Jane Yellowrock, vampire hunter and skinwalker, expands with this collection of 19 stories, including several fan favorites and two brand-new novellas. In “The Early Years,” an 18-year-old Jane returns to the spot where she was found as a child and discovers the truth about her inner Beast. Other pieces offer more background on her supporting characters, such as witch Molly Everhart Trueblood in “Haints,” and Rick LeFleur in “Cat Tats.” Louisiana and the bayou serve as the steamy backdrop to Yellowrock’s personal and professional situations. Verdict A heady mix of magic, blood, and claws, the stories in this collection follow a time line from the distant past to the present, allowing readers to see how Yellowrock and her friends have developed along the way. [See Q&A with Hunter.]
QUOTABLE “He looked so comical. They always do. Quite often at that point they fall at my feet and grovel, which I don’t care for at all. To his credit, he did nothing of the kind; just stared at me. I guess he’d just realized just how much trouble he was in, and that nothing he could do would fix it, and that the only person who could save him had just refused to do so.”
Alder, Mark. Son of the Morning. Pegasus. Feb. 2016. 736p. ISBN 9781605989501. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681770994. FANTASY
The Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453) was a series of conflicts between England and France for the control of the French kingdom. Many novels have been written about this, but Alder (a pseudonym for Mark Barrowcliffe, author of Lucky Dog) has added a supernatural twist. Edward III has overspent and can little afford to send massive numbers of troops into the battlefield. Having used up much of his support from longtime allies, the English king is in grave danger of losing his French holdings. Philip of France has more men to send into the conflict, but the angels refuse to fight for his side. Both kings enlist the help of priests and holy relics to persuade the angels to battle on their behalf. The infusion of angels, demons, and devils into a novel of medieval history is so realistic one wonders why it hasn’t been done before. A massive cast of characters, both fictional and historical, add to the rich complexity. Since the story ends before the war concludes, one hopes a sequel will be forthcoming. VERDICT This dramatic retelling of the events of the Hundred Years’ War will find an audience with fans of historical and fantastical fiction.
Hill, Joe. The Fireman. Morrow. May 2016. 384p. ISBN 9780062200631. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062200655. HORROR
Like his father, Stephen King, Hill has a talent for depicting fascinating characters caught in terrible situations. In his latest novel (after NOS4A2) a terrifying infection is causing humans worldwide to spontaneously combust. The bacteria, nicknamed Dragonscale, marks the skin of its victims with black and gold tattoo-like ribbons before they burst into flames. While working as a volunteer at the local hospital, elementary school nurse Harper contracts Dragonscale; she also discovers that she is pregnant. To escape the Cremator Squads hunting and killing infected people, she is aided by a mysterious man known as the Fireman, who brings her to a secret colony where victims of the disease have learned to enter “The Bright” and avoid self-combustion. As readers might imagine, this colony has dark secrets and things are not as they seem. A blossoming romance between Harper and the Fireman grows along with the suspense. VERDICT With a full cast of characters and multiple story lines to keep the reader hooked, Hill’s enthralling fourth novel hits another home run. [See Prepub Alert, 11/2/15.]