Growing up, we are marked and shaped by the environment (and its history) in which we are raised. For sf/fantasy protagonists, that means being molded and changed by some unusual landscapes, whether far-off lands or across the galaxy. Take Nora O’Reilly, the heroine of Jodi McIsaac’s Bury the Living, who grew up during Northern Ireland’s Troubles and whose past plays a role in shaping her time-traveling future. Or the vampires of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things, who have evolved to suit their environments. In the near-future world of Mira Grant’s Feedback, the protagonists are part of the generation that came of age with the zombie apocalypse. Librarian Irene of Genevieve Cogman’s The Masked City hops from world to world for her work, but the Library is the place that forms and guides her actions. And Kate Daniels, star of Ilona Andrews’s Magic Binds has been resisting her family’s legacy of magic for her whole life, but she finally realizes she must embrace it to fight her father and protect the city that she has made home.
Debut of the Month
Gigl, Colin. The Ferryman Institute. Gallery. Oct. 2016. 432p. ISBN 9781501125324. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781501125331. FANTASY
The tasks of ensuring that souls leave this world and travel to the afterlife is apparently a bureaucratic business like any other. Charlie Dawson is the most successful Ferryman in the history of the Institute, called in whenever a transfer goes sideways. But he’s burning out, having been in the position for over 250 years. Then he gets a mysterious message during the job to usher suicide Alice Spiegel, offering him the chance to save the girl and finally stop being a Ferryman. But breaking all the rules of the Institute has consequences, and Charlie and Alice are soon on the run from Javrouche, a fanatical internal affairs inspector. VERDICT While grim reaper stories are not exactly rare in fantasy, this debut brims with wit and thrills. Recommend to fans of Christopher Moore’s A Dirty Job.—MM
Check These Out
Adams, Cat. All Your Wishes. Tor. (Blood Singer, Bk. 7). Oct. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780765375711. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466847866. FANTASY
Celia Graves is a paranormal trifecta—part human, part vampire, part Siren—and her agency, Graves Personal Protection, is finally moving into a new home. When a client asks for Celia’s help getting a genie back in its bottle, the ifrit makes a demand: let him have Celia’s body or he will kill everyone she loves. Of course, if this creature takes control he will free numerous evil djinn, which would not be good for business either. Celia knows she isn’t going to become a homeless spirit, but her client has other ideas, attempting to maneuver her into accepting the ifrit so he can kill it while it is trapped in her body. These options don’t work for Celia, so she rebottles the genie for good. Verdict This latest series installment (after To Dance with the Devil) is penned solely by C.T. Adams under the Cat Adams moniker (the pen name of Adams and Cathy Clamp). The focused Celia makes for a standout protagonist in a dramatic and action-driven urban fantasy
Andrews, Ilona. Magic Binds. Ace: Berkley. (Kate Daniels, Bk. 9). Sept. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780425270691. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780698136786. FANTASY
Curran and Kate, having left the Pack and taken over the Mercenary Guild in Magic Shifts, are dealing with some high-stakes stress. Not only are they planning their wedding, but Kate’s father, the immensely powerful Roland, seems determined to push Kate into all-out war by kidnapping Saiman, her sometime ally. In his own weird head game with Kate, Roland also apparently wants to have input in her wedding plans. The power that Kate has inherited from Roland is something she’s hidden and fought against using, but she’ll have to apply her magic to protect those she loves, not to mention the city of Atlanta. VERDICT Series readers will be pleased that some long-anticipated events finally come to pass in this book, while leaving room for further entries. Andrews’s “Kate Daniels” urban fantasies are among the very best, combining heart-wrenching, dark story lines leavened with the perfect amount of humor and a romantic couple readers will root for through thick and thin.
Birch, Chandler J. The Facefaker’s Game. Simon451: S. & S. Nov. 2016. 464p. ISBN 9781501147753. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781501111990. FANTASY
Ashes is one of the petty thieves and con artists of Burroughside, trying to stay on the good side of Mr. Ragged, the district’s vicious crime lord, while avoiding the wild Ravagers who roam the streets at night. In the midst of running a rigged card game, he catches the attention of Jack Lantern, who sees potential in the young thief and becomes his mentor. Jack takes Ashes into his crew and trains him to use a power that can spin illusions. The crew is planning a heist against one of the cream of society, but Ashes is waging his own war against Mr. Ragged. VERDICT This debut series opener is a natural fit for fans of Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora and Brandon Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law, although the supernatural system is not as well-developed, and the differences in magic types, while repeated several times, never really gels.
Brennan, Marie. Cold-Forged Flame. Tor.com. Sept. 2016. 112p. ISBN . pap. $11.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765391384. FANTASY
Summoned in a circle of power, a woman appears. Charged and bound by the Cruais, the leader of a people unfamiliar to her, she brings to them the blood from the cauldron of the Lhian. On a quest not of her choosing, ignorant of her identity, the woman, accompanied by a young man also seeking the cauldron, makes her way across a strange land filled with both physical and mental threats. Fighting doubts about her own existence, our protagonist faces a decision that could free her from her mystical binds or possibly compel her into a far more dangerous cage. VERDICT Brennan’s (Midnight Never Come; Voyage of the Basilik) novella is an intriguing mix of folklore and fantasy. The heroine’s quest may be a long-standing trope in fantasy, but her character and situation are by no means dated. These mere 100 pages will fly by, leaving readers anticipating the next steps of her journey.
Cogman, Genevieve. The Masked City. Roc: NAL. (Invisible Library, Bk. 2). Sept. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9781101988664. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101988671. FANTASY
Librarian-in-residence Irene should be happily settling into her role in the slightly magical Victorian world to which she has been assigned, with her dragon assistant Kai. When Kai is kidnapped and taken deep into the magical realms of the fae, Irene will do anything to get him back. Her ties to the Library will protect her to some extent from the fae’s powers, but their chaotic environment is poison to Kai. Getting drawn into a power play among fae nobles will require Irene to use all the talents at her disposal. From her introduction in The Invisible Library as a secret Library agent tasked with rescuing obscure novels from alternate versions of Earth, Irene has proven to be a charming, resourceful heroine. VERDICT Fans of this series and its mix of adventure and wit will be pleased that Book 3, The Burning Page, is due in January 2017, with Cogman signed to pen at least two more. [See Eric Norton’s SF/Fantasy Genre Spotlight, “Imagined Multiverses,” LJ 8/16.—Ed.]
Cox, Greg. The Librarians and the Lost Lamp. Tor. Oct. 2016. 288p. ISBN 9780765384072. $27.99; pap. ISBN 9780765384089. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765384065. FANTASY
Eve Baird, Guardian of the newest Librarians, takes her group to Las Vegas to unravel a mystery about a man who is striking it rich in a quick and strange manner. They soon discover that their case ties back to a quest by Librarian Flynn Carsen ten years ago to find Aladdin’s magic lamp before it was discovered by an ancient criminal organization called the Forty. Like Flynn, the Librarians and Baird get caught up in a race with their opponents to find the lost artifact before an angry genie escapes his confined quarters. Fans of the quirky TNT series The Librarians won’t be disappointed by this novel, which captures the show’s spirit of risk. VERDICT Daring, high-stakes action is in no short supply, as Cox, winner of three Scribe Awards from the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, brings his best in this tie-in novel that will please lovers of the show and aficionados of adventure fantasies alike.
Grant, Mira. Feedback. Orbit: Hachette. (Newsflesh, Bk. 4) Oct. 2016. 496p. ISBN 9780316379342. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780316379328. HORROR
Twenty years after the Rising, the world struggles to maintain a “normal” life despite the flesh-eating zombies and those newly infected in its midst. Online reporting has become the journalistic standard, and young Newsies, Irwins, and Fictionals band together to be the first to bring the headlines to the masses. The Masons, a famous brother and sister blogging team, are already covering one of the Republican presidential nominees, and Aislinn, her husband, Ben, and their techie Mat surprise themselves by being selected to follow Democratic nominee Gov. Susan Kilburn. On the campaign trail the team navigates politics, personal relationships, and the rising dead, always striving to report the truth. Such knowledge, however, is more dangerous than ever, and it’s not only the infected the trio has to be worried about, but the living, too. Verdict The events in this sf thriller overlap with the first book in the series, Feed, offering a fresh take on the Newsflesh world, with diverse characters, exciting plot twists and pacing. A definite win for fans of the Masons and an excellent entry point for new readers. [See Prepub Alert, 5/15/16.]
McGuire, Seanan. Once Broken Faith. DAW. (October Daye, Bk. 10). Sept. 2016. 432p. ISBN 9780756408107. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101601822. FANTASY
October Daye, changeling knight of the courts of Faerie, deserves a little peace and quiet with fiancé Tybalt, king of Cats. Alas, she is required to appear at a special convocation to discuss the cure for elf-shot that she and her allies used in A Red-Rose Chain. Considered the only weapon the fae could legitimately use on one another, elf-shot puts its victims to sleep for 100 years. If there’s a cure, what happens to the balance of power in Faerie? An already factious gathering called by The High King and Queen (who happen to also be the parents of October’s squire, Quentin) turns deadly when one of the royal attendees is murdered. McGuire offers a deeper than usual dive into Faerie politics (including a new map of the western kingdoms), but with a cracking good mystery to keep things moving along. VERDICT Balancing long-arc worldbuilding and short-arc sleuthing better than most in the urban fantasy arena, McGuire crafts another winner in a great series.
McIsaac, Jodi. Bury the Living. 47North: Amazon. Sept. 2016. 338p. ISBN 9781503935518. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781503990524. FANTASY
Nora O’Reilly, from a typical Catholic family in Northern Ireland, with rebellion and death following in her footsteps, commits herself to the Irish Republican Army after the death of her brother during the Troubles. A decade later, she’s still haunted by her past and dreams of a man who asks her to go to the church in Kildare and ask for Brigid, one of Ireland’s patron saints. Nora’s hunt for answers leads her to a dead man, a religious order, and a saint’s relic that sends her back 80 years in time to an Ireland steeped in civil war. She now must navigate the perilous waters of politics, prison, and pain to possibly change the course of her country’s tragic history. Doing so may also save those she loves, and Nora is willing to go to battle for her family and country, no matter the time period. The desire to change the past is one many people possess, especially when death separates family members too soon. Nora’s emotional journey is prevalent but never overshadows the action set against the landscape of a war-torn Northern Ireland. VERDICT This series launch by the author of the “Thin Veil” fantasies will please Irish history buffs and fans of time-travel fiction.
Moreno-Garcia, Silvia. Certain Dark Things. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781250099082. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250099099. HORROR
Atl is a vampire on the run and hiding out in one of the few places that have successfully banned the undead: Mexico City. She meets a young, homeless trash-picker named Domingo who offers to help. Atl has been followed to the city by Nick, the spoiled and brutal scion of the rival vampire gang that wishes her dead. One of the bodies Nick leaves in his wake as he hunts Atl catches the attention of cop Ana, who has a history with vampires. With no support from her misogynistic colleagues, she reluctantly partners with local human criminal gangs to find the killers. Atl’s native heritage has a history entwined with Mexico’s Aztec past, but there are other species absorbingly described. Domingo is a hapless and naive helper besotted with Atl, while Atl herself is a vicious yet still appealing heroine to root for as cops, crooks, and vampires hunt her across the steamy streets of the capital. VERDICT The Mexican setting is a huge part of the allure of this new novel from Moreno-Garcia (Signal to Noise), as are the fascinating varieties of vampires she sets forth.
Priest, Cherie. The Family Plot. Tor. Sept. 2016. 368p. ISBN 9780765378248. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466860650. HORROR
When Dahlia Dutton pulls up to the Withrow mansion, she can imagine how gorgeous it once was. Heiress Augusta Withrow wants nothing more than to sell the salvage rights so that the house can be torn down, making it an irresistible opportunity for Dahlia’s father, owner of Music City Salvage. He sends Dahlia out to manage the job, saddling her with her frequently drunk, always unreliable cousin Bobby, Bobby’s son Gabe, and summer helper and grad student Brad. None of them are prepared for the malevolent presence that inhabits the house, as they race to salvage enough to keep their business afloat before the resident ghost escalates her attacks. VERDICT Priest (Boneshaker; Four and Twenty Blackbirds) has created an irresistible mix of horror and home improvement, with plenty of riveting details about the work of salvage operators as well as genuinely scary horror action. The difficult relationship between Dahlia and her cousin rings true, adding human drama to the mix. [See Eric Norton’s SF/Fantasy Genre Spotlight, “Imagined Multiverses,” LJ 8/16.—Ed.]
Tatum, Bradford. Only the Dead Know Burbank. Harper Perennial. Oct. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9780062428752. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062428769. HORROR
As a child, Maddy Ulm wakes in a shallow grave near Vienna, her mouth sewn shut. She claws her way out, almost dies again, and finally finds refuge with a group of traveling players. Maddie is now an undead, never aging, and living a shadowy existence. From those early primitive theatricals she moves on to the fledgling German film industry and eventually to Hollywood at the dawn of the talking picture. Maddie’s unnatural nature gives her an affinity for the horror genre, and she becomes the driving force behind classics such as Dracula and Frankenstein. She mixes with icons including Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney, but while she craves acclaim and success, her childlike appearance keeps her under the radar. The prose, while occasionally quite stylish, is slightly overstuffed. This problem smooths out as the story shifts into gear and the pathos of Maddy’s being pulls readers in. VERDICT Fans of early film, especially of the horror variety, will be satisfied by this uneven yet intriguing novel by actor (Powder) and author (The Monster’s Muse) Tatum.
Winters, Cat. Yesternight. Morrow. Oct. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9780062440860. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062440853. Horror
In 1925, child psychologist Alice Lind travels to the stormy coast of Oregon to test the learning abilities of the local children. Michael O’Daire picks her up at the station and offers her a place to stay while she’s in town. He hopes that Alice can help his seven-year-old daughter, Janie, who believes she lived a past life. As Alice learns more of Janie’s story and gathers evidence that the girl might really be experiencing something beyond scientific explanation, she is also drawn into the lives of the child’s parents, particularly the dangerously handsome Michael. While there’s more than a dash of melodrama in Alice’s romantic entanglements, the author does a good job of building suspense about whether Janie’s experiences could be real, with a skeptical Scully-like Alice confronted with events beyond what her psychology training can explain. VERDICT Atmospheric and spooky with real gothic flair, the latest from Winters (The Uninvited) introduces a realistically flawed heroine stifled by the conventions of her time.
QUOTABLE “I’d grown up and honed my magic on Dungeons & Dragons manuals in the nineteen eighties, raised by an awesome bunch of programmers and gamers after my family kicked me out…. There wasn’t really a D&D spell precedent for what I wanted to do, but that was okay. Role-playing games are just that: games. They aren’t any more real than Godzilla and He-Man. I’d used spells as a sort of channel when I was growing up, a way of learning how to focus and impose my will on the power that flowed naturally within me.”
Collections & Anthologies
Armstrong, Kelley. Otherworld Chills. Plume. (Otherworld Chronicles). Oct. 2016. 464p. ISBN 9780452298361. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780698173569. FANTASY
A One Pack werewolf goes on the hunt for the former Alpha’s father. A half-demon and a werewolf thief are thrown together during an art heist. A spiritualist ends up finding more than anyone expects at the Amityville house. “Yes, that Amityville.” Welcome back to the Otherworld, where werewolves, witches, vampire, and demons do business and seek pleasure the same as regular humans. In the final volume of the “Otherworld” anthology series (after Otherworld Secrets), Armstrong has collected seven hard-to-find, previously published tales and new stories that feature favorite series characters as they face some of their most unusual foes and situations. VERDICT Armstrong fans will be delighted to be immersed once again into her fabulous and fantastical world with these stories that spotlight high drama, humor, and intelligence.
Bellet, Annie. Level Grind. Saga: S. & S. (Twenty-Sided Sorceress, Bks. 1–4). Oct. 2016. 480p. ISBN 9781481479400. $27.99; pap. ISBN 9781481479394. $15.99. FANTASY
Jade Crow resides in small-town Idaho, running her game and comics store. She lives a quiet life, for many reasons. She loves her games and her friends, and she used to enjoy her magic. However, Jade is hiding from Samir, the most powerful sorcerer in the world, one who happens to be her former boyfriend. To grow in power, sorcerers eat the heart of another wizard or enchantress. A heart like Jade’s. The only way she can’t be found is to not wield her skills, but danger arrives in different forms, threatening everything she holds close, unless she turns to her magic, which will lead Samir right to her. Facing her ex may be a losing proposition, but without her friends there’s little chance of survival. VERDICT This omnibus collects the first four books—Justice Calling; Murder of Crows; Pack of Lies; and Hunting Season—of the Hugo Award–nominated series. With solidly drawn characters and robust short- and long-term story arcs, these titles will introduce urban fantasy readers to a fantastic series.
Dees, Cindy & Bill Flippin. The Dreaming Hunt. Tor. (Sleeping King, Bk. 2). Sept. 2016. 464p. ISBN 9780765335159. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466821293. FANTASY
In the sequel to The Sleeping King, our courageous heroes embark on their quest to find the king’s regalia (crown, ring, sword, shield, and bow), return them to his sleeping body, and awaken him once again. Racing for the king, and for their lives, they face old enemies and new, powerful foes.
Herbert, Brian & Kevin J. Anderson. Navigators of Dune. Tor. (Great Schools of Dune, Bk. 3). Sept. 2016. 416p. ISBN 9780765381255. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466878808. SF
Following the events of Mentants of Dune, the final volume of this trilogy (set 10,000 years before the events of Frank Herbert’s Dune) focuses on the Navigators, which will become the Spacing Guild. As they confront the other Great Schools, the Mentants and Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, their battle for the human race will ripple for centuries.
Modesitt, L.E., Jr. Treachery’s Tools. Tor. (Imager Portfolio, Bk. 10). Oct. 2016. 512p. ISBN 9780765385406. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765385420. FANTASY
It has been 13 years since the events of Madness in Solidar, and Alastar is now Maitre of the Collegium. Yet class issues and climate problems lead to heated tempers then violence and murder. When someone targets his students, Alastar must tread a fine political line and unravel the conspiracy that holds all of Solidar hostage.
Duncan, Patrick Sheane. Dracula vs. Hitler. Inkshares. Oct. 2016. 544p. ISBN 9781942645085. $25.99. HORROR
Prof. Abraham van Helsing, now an octogenarian, and his adult daughter, Lucy, are guerillas fighting the Nazi invasion in backwoods Romania during World War II. Their resistance group is largely successful, until a sinister SS agent takes control of operations and begins summarily executing resistance fighters. Van Helsing has only one option left: resurrect Dracula from his lair and recruit the vampire to their cause—because, above all else, Count Dracula loves his homeland. Together with a young John Harker (grandson of Bram Stoker’s original Harker), a brain-addled Scottish explosives expert code-named Renfield, and a band of Romany fugitives, the van Helsings and Dracula shoot, blow up, and shred their way through Nazi strongholds—until the Führer himself gets wind of what is transpiring in Romania. Drawing on the same epistolary form that Stoker used for his 1897 Dracula, Duncan (screenwriter, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Courage Under Fire; novelist, A Private War) makes Stoker’s characters his own in this enjoyable literary salute. VERDICT On the level of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked in terms of rehashing classic literary characters, this entertaining and surprisingly intelligent work might be the most fun book of the year. [See Eric Norton’s SF/Fantasy Genre Spotlight, “Imagined Multiverses,” LJ 8/16.—Ed.]
What the #@&% Is That? The Saga Anthology of the Monstrous and the Macabre. Saga: S. & S. Nov. 2016. 368p. ed. by John Joseph Adams & Douglas Cohen. ISBN 9781481434997. $26.99; pap. ISBN 9781481434935. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481435000. HORROR
From Hugo Award–winning anthologist Adams and editor/author Cohen come 20 short stories gathered under a provocative title. Cohen’s brisk introduction chronicles the book’s lineage from insider joke to losing—midstream—his original coeditor; mishearing Adams’s title suggestion, and a finalized table of contents. This comical aside might strike horror/dark fantasy purists as fluff, but the quality of what is included will likely negate such objections. The editors’ twofold theme—each story must contain (sans “grawlix,” typographical symbols representing profanity) the phrase “What the #@&% is that?” and feature a monstrous entity. The authors were free to use any four-letter expletive, but the craft and dark intensity of the tales themselves belies this gag. Laird Barron’s “Mobility” explores deep geological time by forcing a man to endure its visionary horrors and transcendent truth. “The House That Love Built” is Grady Hendrix’s lacerating take on the power of guilt and its consequences. “#CONNOLLYHOUSE #WESHOULDNTBEHERE” by Seanan McGuire uses formal audacity to pull off the seemingly impossible: dread building to cosmic terror through a series of tweets (140 characters or fewer). VERDICT This anthology’s fusion of literary horror and emotional/psychological depth will appeal to readers tired of formulaic genre fiction. [See Eric Norton’s SF/Fantasy Genre Spotlight, “Imagined Multiverses,” LJ 8/16.—Ed.]