Let’s hear it for the girls! The 2016 Nebula Awards were presented on May 14 at the Chicago Palmer House Hilton, in what turned out to be a sweep by women authors. Winners included Naomi Novik’s Uprooted (best novel), Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti (best novella), Sarah Pinsker’s “Our Lady of the Open Road” (best novelette), and Alyssa Wong’s “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” (best short story).
Strong female writers tend to produce strong female characters, and there is no dearth of either in this month’s picks. N.K. Jemisin knocks it out of the park with The Obelisk Gate, the follow-up to The Fifth Season, tracing main character Essun and her daughter’s discovery of the obelisks and the stone people. Sarah Beth Durst’s newest, The Queen of Blood, demonstrates that one’s power is not always immediately apparent but will be there when it counts. Craftswoman Tara Abernathy returns in Max Gladstone’s Four Roads Cross, in which gods and humans battle for control. Mary Robinette Kowal’s Ghost Talkers puts female mediums at the center of the war effort in World War I as they use ghosts to get military intelligence. And The Big Book of Science Fiction, a massive survey of sf, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, highlights many lesser-known female sf writers, giving their contributions a well-deserved place in the history of the genre.
Debut of the month
Levine, David D. Arabella of Mars. Tor. (Adventures of Arabella Ashby, Bk. 1). Jul. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9780765382818. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466889491. FANTASY
Growing up in the British colony on Mars, Arabella Ashby would rather be working with her father on his automatons or outside with her brother and her Martian nanny. Yet her mother wants her to be a proper young lady and decides to take Arabella and her sisters to Earth, specifically London, to reside. When the news of her father’s death as well as a threat to her Martian home arrive, Arabella knows that she would rather save her brother than save face. Disguised as a boy, she gets a job with the crew of the Diana, a ship that serves as part of the Mars Trading Company. Learning of her knack for clockwork, the captain puts her in charge of the ship’s lifelike navigator. Dealing with the intricate automaton would be enough, but Arabella also must learn to sail across the stars—while dealing with a less-than-happy crew and the British and French naval war. It will take all of Arabella’s skills to survive the skies, and she only hopes to ensure her family stays alive on Mars, too. Embedded in the chaos of clockwork and space adventure, Arabella is a delightful heroine with more than enough fortitude to traverse the solar system. VERDICT A fanciful romp through a cosmic 1812, Hugo Award–winning Levine’s first novel is a treat for steampunk fantasy fans.
Check These Out
Black, Levi. Red Right Hand. Tor. Jul. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9780765382481. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466887602. HORROR
After a disastrous date with her not-quite-boyfriend Daniel, Charlie Moore is attacked by three skinless dogs. She is rescued just in time by a tall man wearing a long black coat and carrying a black-bladed sword in his gruesome red right hand. However, this is only the start of her nightmare, as the Man in Black calls upon her, Charlotte Tristan Moore, a descendent of H.P. Lovecraft, to become his acolyte. He’s an Elder God and wants Charlie to help him hunt down other gods in order to preserve the human race. While Charlie knows there is much more to the situation than she’s being told, the mysterious figure keeps her working for him by forcing Daniel to come along. Their travels introduce Charlie and Daniel to horrors beyond imagination, and they must fight to remain, as their victory may hinge on the outcome of the Man in Black’s quest—if he is truly the lesser evil. Verdict Fans of dark fantasy and horror in full and gory detail will be entranced by this debut novel. It is impossible to turn away once you dive in.
Caine, Rachel. Paper and Fire. NAL. (Great Library, Bk. 2). Jul. 2016. 368p. ISBN 9780451472403. pap. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698180826. FANTASY
The Great Library regulates all the knowledge of the world. Rebellion is fought to the ground, and book ownership is tantamount to treason. Jess Brightwell (Ink and Bone) is now a member of the Library’s army, but it is not the service he dreamed of doing. His best friend Thomas has been convicted of heresy against the institution and is gone, and his girlfriend Morgan is in the Iron Tower. Still, he is determined to go to task for the Library, and on a mission in Alexandria, Jess and his squad learn something that forces them to step out on their own, putting them in the crosshairs of the Library’s automatons. They flee to London, where Jess hopes some of his family will support him. However, London is no safer than Alexandria; fires are overtaking the city and the Welsh army is on its way. Jess may have to choose among his family, friends, and the Library, which is willing to destroy anything in its pursuit for total control. Verdict This exciting, fast-paced adventure from the prolific Caine (Prince of Shadows) will appeal to fans of fantasy with a sense of camaraderie.
Cato, Beth. Breath of Earth. Harper Voyager. Aug. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9780062422064. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062422071. FANTASY
The year is 1906. The United States and Japan have forged the Unified Pacific, a powerful group set on world domination, with China standing in their sights. In San Francisco, Ingrid Carmichael is secretary to one of the five geomancer wardens in the Earth Wardens Cordilleran Auxilliary. The wardens absorb earthquake energy, controlling the tremors and transforming it into electrical capacitor crystals known as kermanite. Daughter of a deceased warden, Ingrid carries a secret—she is a geomancer herself, the first woman with this incredible talent. When assassins attack and kill the wardens, Ingrid escapes with her mentor. However, without the full group of wardens, San Francisco faces one of the worst earthquakes in history. Added to this, Chinese refugees begin to force a wedge between the allied forces. Ingrid soon learns that her magic is even stronger than she realized, and she will need all of that strength to meet the conflict that may be contingent entirely on her actions. Verdict The acclaimed Cato (The Clockwork Dagger) creates an alternate early 20th-century San Francisco of stunning detail. Drawing on the power struggles of the refugees and women’s work, this vivid reality will keep readers intrigued to the very end.
Chu, Wesley. Time Siege. Tor. (Time Salvager, Bk. 2). Jul. 2016. 432p. ISBN 9780765377548. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466856028. SF
James Griffin-Mars broke the time laws and left his job as a salvager for ChronoCom in order to rescue the people he loves and maybe even protect planet Earth. At the end of Time Salvager, James and Elise Kim, a scientist he reclaimed from the past, were living among the barbaric-seeming survivors on a poisoned Earth. The hope is that Elise can develop a cure for the plague that killed so many of the planet’s inhabitants, but James has made too many jumps to the past to bring the remedy himself. They require another salvager, and they also need to hide from the Valta corporation, which will kill anyone who gets in the way of them retrieving Elise. The portrait of a far-future Earth devastated by disease is gripping, especially in the story’s last third as the Chronmen and Valta get closer to the community that Elise leads in a former skyscraper in a desolate future Manhattan. VERDICT Chu (“Tao” series) delivers another riveting sf entry, although newcomers will have to do a bit of work to catch up.
Das, Indra. The Devourers. Del Rey: Ballantine. Jul. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781101967515. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781101967522. FANTASY
On a summer night in Kolkata, India, Asok Mukherjee meets a man who claims to be a werewolf. The two talk, and Asok gets drawn into a relationship with the stranger, who gives him documents to transcribe that tell the story of a 17th-century shapeshifter and the human woman with whom he becomes obsessed. The shapeshifter, who called himself Fenrir after the wolves of Norse myths, was fixated on the idea of having a half-human child and betrayed his two packmates by raping a woman named Cyrah. Gévaudan, one of Fenrir’s packmates and lovers, agrees to help Cyrah seek her revenge. A sensual tale of violence and desire, Das’s debut will take readers from the streets of modern Kolkata to the site of the construction of the Taj Mahal during the height of the Mughal empire. VERDICT For fans of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire but with a fascinating setting beautifully described. Occasional footnotes provide historical context.
Durst, Sarah Beth. The Queen of Blood. Harper Voyager. (Queens of Renthia, Bk. 1). Sept. 2016. 368p. ISBN 9780062413345. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062413369. FANTASY
The universe is made of living things, and spirits reside in the trees, the wind, and the water. However, the spirits are not fond of the humans who encroach on their lands and would destroy them all but for the queen, the sole person who can control the undead. Still, the queen is human, with weaknesses like everyone else. To ensure the spirits stay bound, young women who show some magical powers are chosen to attend the academy and become the queen’s heirs. Daleina, who saved her family when the rest of her village was struck down by spirits, knows that her magic isn’t substantial and that the throne is out of her reach. As spirit attacks become more frequent, Daleina joins with the disgraced champion Ven to figure out why the invasions are increasing. If they are unable to stand strong against the oncoming forces, their land will fall under a siege of darkness, death, and blood. The captivating characters will draw readers into a world of magic and intrigue and keep them wanting more. VERDICT Durst, an award-winning YA author (Vessel) and three-time Andre Norton Award finalist, presents a thrilling beginning to a sweeping series about searching for sovereignty and truth in order to save one’s land.
Gladstone, Max. Four Roads Cross. Tor. (Craft Sequence, Bk. 5). Jul. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9780765379429. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466868410. FANTASY
In the city of Alt Coulumb, the moon goddess Seril is back from the (supposed) dead, and her gargoyle enforcers try to protect the people, even those who wish she was still gone. The fire god, Kos Everburning, is facing an onslaught by powerful creditors attempting to take over his church—and his power. Tara Abernathy, the fire god’s Craftswoman, must face off against an old classmate and the necromantic firm of magician lawyers arriving in Alt Coulumb. Blacksuit Catherine Elle and vampire Raz Pelham are working in town as well, facing off against monster pirates and the zombie trade. As tensions rise in the community, it will take all Tara, Cat, and Raz possess to calm the city and protect both the people and the church. Verdict Gladstone’s fifth outing in the “Craft Sequence” series (after Last First Snow) brings back many familiar faces. A tight yet intricate plot, accompanied by a slew of amazing characters, make this utterly delightful either as a stand-alone or for series fans.
Higgins, C.A. Supernova. Del Rey: Ballantine. (Lightless Trilogy, Bk. 2). Jul. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9780553394450. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780553394467. SF
Following the events of 2015’s Lightless (and ranging back in time as well), this title has computer scientist Althea still on the Ananke, a ship that has gained sentience thanks to the tinkering of rebel thieves Ivan and Matthew. Even though Ananke is a child in her experience of the world, Althea finds that the more Ananke learns, the more difficult she is to control. Meanwhile, Mattie and Ivan are lost and presumed dead after their escape at the end of Book 1. The bulk of the story concentrates on Constance, aka Mallt-y-Nos, who heads the efforts to annihilate the current rigidly controlling System. Constance has destroyed Earth but encounters opposition not only from the System but also from former allies. While this second volume of the trilogy widens the setting from one claustrophobic spaceship to a whole solar system, the focus remains on the characters, all of whom struggle, especially Constance, to deal with the fallout of their decisions. VERDICT Recommend to sf readers who savor character-driven stories.
Jemisin, N.K. The Obelisk Gate. Orbit: Hachette. (Broken Earth, Bk. 2). Aug. 2016. 448p. ISBN 9780316229265. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316229289. SF
The Fifth Season has begun, and a cold darkness signals the end of the world. Orogene Essun, formerly known as Damaya, formerly Syenite, has found relative safety in Castrima, but her daughter, Nassun, remains lost. Instead, Essun has met Alabaster, destroyer of the world, now being slowly devoured—both figuratively and literally—by his incredible power and his stone eater Antinomy. Alabaster tries to teach Essun how to tap the obelisks and possibly deliver civilization, with drastic consequences. Meanwhile, far away, Nassun travels with her father. Her love for him battles her desire to acknowledge her skills as an orogene, despite knowing that same power is what cost her baby brother his life. As Essun and Nassun deal with both their strengths and weaknesses, the non-orogene people and the stone eaters make a play for Castrima, and Nassun learns that her choices may alter the fate of the universe and tip the scales of authority. While time and location shift with the different points of view, the dual chain of events is masterly crafted. The epic journeys of mother and daughter through this dying realm are dynamic and emotional. Verdict Jemisin’s follow-up to The Fifth Season is exceptional. Those who anxiously awaited this sequel will find the only problem is that the wait must begin again once the last page is turned.
Kowal, Mary Robinette. Ghost Talkers. Tor. Aug. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9780765378255. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466860735. FANTASY
American Ginger Stuyvesant is able to channel the spirits of the dead. Her skills, along with those of other psychics, are being put to use by a special branch of the British Army known as the Spirit Corps during World War I. Working out of a base in Le Havre, Ginger leads one of several circles whose members take intelligence from deceased soldiers who report what they saw on the battlefields. One day a fighter checks in who has been killed by a British officer, not a German enemy. Ginger has a hard time getting her male superior officers to take her seriously, but she is tenacious as she pulls on the threads of a mystery that threatens the whole of the Spirit Corps. VERDICT Hugo Award–winning Kowal (“The Glamourist” series) has a good feel for the era, creating a premise and setting that make this a refreshing historical fantasy.
Kuhn, Sarah. Heroine Complex. DAW. (Heroine Complex, Bk. 1). Jul. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9780756410841. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780698197718. FANTASY
Being the personal assistant for a superhero isn’t easy, even if she is your best friend. Evie Tanaka spends her days managing Aveda Jupiter’s schedule and public appearances, but when Aveda is injured in a demonic attack, Evie is bullied into taking her place. Another attack forces Evie to reveal that she, too, has superpowers, but her lack of confidence to control them could be a problem. The diva superhero and her wallflower best friend is an entertaining setup, but while there is plenty of quipping and banter, no real new ground is covered. The details of the world of powered heroes and demonic invaders is not fully fleshed out, but as this is the first book in a new series, there is room for that development to take place. It’s nice to see two Asian American women at the forefront of a fresh urban fantasy series, and Kuhn (The Ruby Equation) has laid a solid foundation with her characters. VERDICT For fans of superhero novels such as Carrie Vaughn’s After the Golden Age.
MacNaughton, Laurence. It Happened One Doomsday. Pyr: Prometheus. Jul. 2016. 280p. ISBN 9781633881877. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781633881884. FANTASY
Dru Jasper knows that magic is real. Her shop, the Crystal Connection, allows her to scrape by selling artifacts, crystals, and other enchanting items. But times are tough, and she worries that she could lose the business if she doesn’t get more sales. Then in walks Greyson. He’s tall, dark, handsome—and owns a possessed car and is turning into a demon prophesied to end the world in six days. Strangely, Dru’s own minor crystal abilities seem to flare with him around. Searching for a cure for Greyson, Dru discovers the work of seven sorcerers called the Harbingers. They, along with the Apocalypse Scroll, show that a new, supernatural beginning will end all humankind. It seems extremely unlikely that Dru has the power to stop the approaching doomsday and free Greyson from his curse, but she’s going to give it her best shot anyway. MacNaughton (The Spider Thief) blends a good bit of humor, intriguing secondary characters, and a pinch of romance, yet the doomsday plot isn’t overshadowed by these elements. Verdict This engaging urban fantasy will have readers anticipating the next book in the series.
Miéville, China. The Last Days of New Paris. Del Rey: Ballantine. Aug. 2016. 224p. ISBN 9780345543998. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780345544001. SF
In a Paris devastated by a bomb that distorted reality itself, the Nazis still patrol the streets in 1950. Yet they are far from the only danger to rebels like Thibault. The S-bomb, as it became known, set loose bizarre manifestations. These “manifs” might be plants that swallow airplanes or a woman merged with a bicycle. Thibault works on the side of the surrealists, monitoring the manifs while dodging Nazis and the demons they summon from hell. He encounters a photographer named Sam who is documenting the manifs of New Paris, but she appears to have a deeper purpose in France. As is typical for Miéville (Perdido Street Station) and his dizzying love of language, readers may want to have a dictionary on hand, and in this case an art history encyclopedia would not go amiss. While readers don’t have to catch every surrealist reference as it occurs (there is an index to them at the back), some knowledge of the movement will probably enhance the reading experience. VERDICT For fans of the author’s previous books and enthusiasts of speculative fiction with an intellectual bent. [See Prepub Alert, 2/21/16.]
Snodgrass, Melinda. The High Ground. Titan. (Imperials, Bk. 1). Jul. 2016. 356p. ISBN 9781783295821. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781783295838. SF
The emperor of the Solar League has no male heir, but he is determined to put his oldest child, daughter Mercedes, on the throne after him. To that end, he pressures her to enroll in the High Ground, the elite military academy that trains all the scions of the first families of the empire. Meanwhile, Tracy has been accepted to the school as a scholarship student, and he faces adjustments of his own from the wealthy pupils who question his right to be there. Their difficulties, different for each but no less isolating, make Mercedes and Tracy allies and perhaps more. Snodgrass, a writer for Star Trek: The Next Generation, has a knack for the group dynamics of prep school, including the expected bullies and snobs. Her worldbuilding choices are a little more bizarre, with a future that appears to have a rigid class structure dominated by Spanish court customs and the Catholic Church. VERDICT The juxtapositions between courtly manners and teenage slang occasionally jars, but the author has such a sure hand for the action scenes that many will be eager for the next volume.
Walton, Jo. Necessity. Tor. (Just City, Bk. 3). Jul. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780765379023. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466865709. SF
When we last left the Platonic experiment of the Just City, its citizens had fought wars over art and been transplanted by Zeus to a new planet to continue their attempts to live lives of excellence. This third and final volume of the trilogy opens with the planet of Plato in crisis. Apollo, who had lived there as a mortal, has recently died; Athena, the goddess who set up the whole experiment, hasn’t been seen in a while; and a spaceship appears in orbit over Plato representing the human society that the Just City circumvented with their isolation. In this satisfying if not completely tidy end to the series (after The Just City and The Philosopher Kings), Walton brings back characters from the other books, making these titles that should be read in order. The author isn’t afraid to pose questions that leave readers thinking and takes a deep dive into classical philosophy. VERDICT The rewards are plentiful for fans of thoughtful speculative fiction as well as for aficionados of the classical world.
QUOTABLE “My part in this story began the winter before winters started getting warmer, on a full-moon night so bright you could see your own shadow on an unlit rooftop. It was under that moon—slightly smudged by December mist clinging to the streets of Kolkata—that I met a man who told me he was half werewolf.”—
Carriger, Gail. Imprudence. Orbit: Hachette. (Custard Protocol, Bk. 2). Jul. 2016. 368p. ISBN 9780316212212. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780316212199. FANTASY
In the follow-up to the popular Prudence, Rue and the crew of the Spotted Custard return from India and discover that everyone from Queen Victoria to the vampires to the werewolves are having issues. Add to that a slew of parental problems and an engagement-hungry best friend, and Rue may be in over her head.
Davidson, Rjurik. The Stars Askew. Tor. (Caeli-Amur, Bk. 2). Jul. 2016. 416p. ISBN 9780765329899. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429945127. FANTASY
The city of Caeli-Amur has begun a new age of peace, or so it seems. As seditionist leaders are killed, former House powers are vying for control and mired in conspiracy, and gods still walk in the world. Kata and Max continue to fight for their city in the sequel to Davidson’s Unwrapped Sky.
Hieber, Leanna Renee. Eterna and Omega. Tor. (Eterna Files, Bk. 2). Aug. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780765336750. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466829268. FANTASY
English and American paranormal fighters clash in a hide-and-seek game for the key to immortality—the Eterna Compound in this second entry in Hieber’s gaslamp fantasy series (after The Eterna Files). Two women with similar backgrounds must decide if they stand on opposite sides or if they are willing to work together to save humanity.
Palmatier, Joshua. Threading the Needle. DAW. (Ley, Bk. 2). Jul. 2016. 464p. ISBN 9780756411756. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780756411763. FANTASY
After the hub that gathers all the magical ley lines in the city was devastated in Shattering the Ley, Wielder Kara Tremain and ex-Dog Allan Garrett have led a group of refugees to the Hollow. Now they will need to repair the ley system, which means going back to Erenthrall.
Collections & Anthologies
The Big Book of Science Fiction. Vintage. Jul. 2016. 1216p. ed. by Jeff VanderMeer & Ann VanderMeer. ISBN 9781101910092. pap. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781101910108. SF
With 97 stories and more than 1,200 pages, this latest collection attempts to survey the sf genre. Editors Jeff and Ann VanderMeer focus on the 20th century, though they dip into the 19th for the earliest story from H.G. Wells (“The Star”) and edge over into the 21st century for the final piece, Johanna Sinisalo’s “Baby Doll.” In between there are award-winning tales from canon authors such as Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Ralph Ellison. The editors made efforts to cast the widest net possible, however, making this a true voyage of discovery of underappreciated female writers such as Clare Winger Harris, Katherine MacLean, and Josephine Saxton. There are also stories from dozens of countries, many of which are translated into English for the first time or for which the editors commissioned new translations. Each story gets a lengthy introduction, placing the authors and their work in historical context, which allow new sf readers a fun and solid genre education. Some pieces showcase the playful language and surreal subjects covered in depth in the editors’ compilation The Weird. VERDICT Libraries will want this on their shelves for years to come—although their patrons might also appreciate the lighter digital version.
Urban Allies: Ten Brand-New Collaborative Stories. Harper Voyager. Jul. 2016. 304p. ed. by Joseph Nassise. ISBN 9780062391346. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062391353. FANTASY
These ten shared stories brings together the work of 20 different authors. “Ladies’ Fight” matches up Caitlin Kittredge’s hellhound Ava and reaper Leo with Jaye Wells’s Chosen, Sabina Kane, her partner Adam, and demon Giguhl as they search for the Grim Reaper’s scythe. In “Tailed,” Seanan McGuire’s Verity Price hunts a cryptid poacher and discovers a werewolf with her kids and Kelley Armstrong’s Elena, Kate, and Logan. More pairings of fan-favorite characters, including Peter Octavian and Dahlia Lynley-Chivers, and Joe Ledger and Kitty Norville, bring fresh outings and fun crossovers sure to delight many readers. Verdict This anthology highlights incredible authors and their best lead protagonists. Readers will devour these stories, which answer the question many fans pose: “What if these two characters met?”
Magary, Drew. The Hike. Viking. Aug. 2016. 278p. ISBN 9780399563850. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780399563867. FANTASY
While on a routine business trip to a hotel in the Pocono Mountains, Ben decides to go for a walk in the woods before his meeting. Along the way, he encounters two men wearing masks who appear to have killed a little girl. In his desperate attempt to avoid the same fate, Ben becomes lost and unwittingly enters an alternate world complete with talking animals, giants, monsters, and apparitions that test the limits of his sanity. There is only one rule: Ben must stay on the path if he ever hopes to make it home. Magary’s second novel (after The Postmortal) features elements reminiscent of Homer’s Odyssey, Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and the PC game King’s Quest. Mostly, it is a reminder of not only how easy it is to get lost but also how difficult it can be to find one’s way back. VERDICT Fast-paced and immensely entertaining, this is highly recommended for sf fans and adventurous literary readers. [See Prepub Alert, 2/21/16.]