When a new year begins, people tend to reflect upon their perspective on the world. Whether moving forward with resolutions, or looking back on what has been done, having a new viewpoint can open doors to adventures and journeys never before seen. Sf and fantasy, with a wealth of epic characters and worlds, give readers fresh outlooks on both old and new. Fan favorite Nicci, from Terry Goodkind’s “The Sword of Truth” series, takes off on her own adventure in Death’s Mistress. The dissolution of utopia is seen through myriad characters in Ada Palmer’s Seven Surrenders, and former ship intelligence Lovelace must face the galaxy in a brand-new body in Becky Chambers’s A Closed and Common Orbit.
Pick of the month
Ahlborn, Ania. The Devil Crept In. Gallery: S. & S. Feb. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9781476783758. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781476783802. HORROR
Young Jude Brighton disappears from his Oregon hometown of Deer Valley one day, leaving his cousin and best friend Stevie Clark distraught. Stevie, with his history of delusions and verbal tics, had retreated from the bullies who tormented him by watching endless TV crime shows and wandering the nearby woods with Jude. He takes it on himself to look for Jude but finds more than he bargains for when he sees a monster near a remote house on a logging road in the woods. Deer Valley is a small community with a strange quirk: pets constantly vanish into the woods. Ahlborn (Within These Walls; The Bird Eater) does a creepily effective job of keeping her monster offstage and out of sight for a good long while, as we get to know Stevie and follow his efforts to find out what happened to Jude. VERDICT The twin horrors—something nasty in the woods and a child gone very wrong—combine here for a deeply chilling read.
Check These Out
Aaronovitch, Ben. The Hanging Tree. DAW. (Peter Grant, Bk. 6). Feb. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780756409678. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698151970. FANTASY
While police constable/wizard apprentice Peter Grant has settled into a domestic routine with Beverley Brook (at least as domestic as you can get with the physical incarnation of the goddess of one of London’s rivers), he still approaches Bev’s big sister, Lady Tyburn, with caution. Tyburn calls in a favor when her daughter Olivia is arrested in conjunction with a death at a posh London apartment, but the case soon grows into something Peter and his boss cannot keep off the books. Especially when former colleague Lesley May shows up and they finally have a lead on the identity of the Faceless Man. The world of Peter Grant and the Rivers of London (last visited in Foxglove Summer) is extremely English, the British police jargon especially might go over American readers’ heads. VERDICT The mix of humor, fantasy, and meticulous attention to the police procedural continue to make this an enjoyable series for urban fantasy fans.
Bishop, Anne. Etched in Bone. Roc: NAL. (Others, Bk. 5). Mar. 2017. 416p. ISBN 9780451474490. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698190450. SF
After the uprising from the Humans First and Last movement left the Others with no choice but to take action, there is tentative peace in Thaisia; the Elders now must decide if they should allow any humans at all in their lands. The Courtyard where Simon Wolfgard and Meg Corbyn live is their test case. The Elders watch Meg and her “human” friends and wait to see if they can be trusted. Into this fragile blend comes a dangerous man accustomed to taking what he wants and using everyone around him. While Simon and the Others who live at the Courtyard would prefer to take care of him their own way (teeth and claws would do the job), the Elders want to wait and see what happens. The world of the Others is as compelling as ever, but this particular entry seems to be spinning its wheels a bit. VERDICT While the human vs. Others conflict was mostly resolved in Marked in Flesh, the long-unresolved romantic tension between Simon and Meg remained. Fans will be pleased Bishop finally has the pair addressing their feelings.
Blackmoore, Stephen. Hungry Ghosts. DAW. (Eric Carter, Bk. 3). Feb. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780756409418. pap. $7.99. FANTASY
Necromancer Eric Carter is driving the roads of Mexico looking for the avatar of Santa Muerte, the former Aztec goddess of the dead worshipped throughout Latin America. He has vowed to kill her despite technically being married to her. She has manipulated Eric, leading him to her former power base in Mexico City and promising him that if he will slay her ex-husband, Mictlantecuhtli, he can save himself from the growing infection that is turning him to stone. And yet another Aztec god has made Eric promise to destroy both death gods and burn their palace to the ground. VERDICT While Blackmoore provides the backstory on Carter’s path to his current predicament (as traced in Broken Souls), this is probably not the place for new readers to jump in. The learning curve is complicated by the high number of Nahuatlan (Aztec language) words and names embedded throughout the author’s refreshingly different worldbuilding.
Briggs, Patricia. Silence Fallen. Ace: Berkley. (Mercy Thompson, Bk. 10). Mar. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780425281277. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698195813. FANTASY
On an emergency run to the store to pick up cookie-making supplies, Mercy Thompson Hauptman is taken captive after her truck is rammed. When her husband, Adam, alpha of the Columbia Basin pack, feels her pain through their mate bond, he rushes to the scene, but she has been whisked away, and he can no longer sense her. The Lord of Night, the master vampire ruling most of Europe, believes that Mercy is the key to the delicate balance of power that has been achieved in the region. While not physically powerful, Mercy is no one’s victim, and part of her strength lies in her many allies. Since she discovered that she is the daughter of native trickster spirit Coyote, Mercy (Fire Touched) better understands why her life seems to attract drama, but that doesn’t mean she finds it easy to get out of the dangerous situations fate seems to reserve just for her. VERDICT The vampires of Briggs’s world are one of the biggest secrets still being kept from humanity, and it makes a nice change for series fans to delve deeper into their dark realm.
Carey, Jacqueline. Miranda and Caliban. Tor. Feb. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780765395047. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765386809. FANTASY
A young girl lives with her mage father on a remote island, lonely but safe from whatever threats her powerful parent had stirred up in the past. Then a strange, wild boy is brought into their midst, bespelled by her father to serve him. This poignant retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest alternates between Miranda and Caliban’s perspectives as they grow up under the watchful eye of the sorcerer Prospero. While their relationship develops, the two discover the truth about Prospero, his journey to the island, his magical machinations, and finally his ultimate search for revenge. No one will be left untouched when the storm finally comes. VERDICT In this stand-alone, Carey evokes the same stunning worldbuilding and imagery of her “Kushiel’s Legacy” and “Sundering” series, as she stirs new emotions from an old story and reveals another side to Shakespeare’s epic play. [See Prepub Alert, 8/22/16.]
Chambers, Becky. A Closed and Common Orbit. Harper Voyager. (Wayfarers, Bk. 2). Feb. 2017. 464p. ISBN 9780062569400. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062569424. SF
At the end of A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Lovelace, the artificial intelligence (AI) of the starship Wayfarer, had undergone a hard reboot that wiped out her former personality. She decides to leave the ship in an illegal body kit and try to make a new life on Port Coriol with engineers Pepper and Blue. Lovelace, now known as Sidra, struggles to find a place where she belongs while hiding that she is an AI. Her chapters alternate with flashbacks to the struggles of a child called Jane who was raised in a brutal dehumanizing factory, who has a significant bond with a different AI. As with her amazing debut, the power of Chamber’s second space opera is in her appealing characters. VERDICT While readers might initially be disappointed to leave the Wayfarer behind, they will quickly find this an equally compelling story that gains intimacy with its smaller focus. Her protagonists might not all be human, but they possess more humanity than most.
Goodkind, Terry. Death’s Mistress. Tor. (Sisters of Darkness: The Nicci Chronicles). Jan. 2017. 512p. ISBN 9780765388216. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765388223. FANTASY
The Imperial Order has been defeated, and the D’Haran Empire rises under Lord Richard Rahl and Kahlan. Serving as “Death’s Mistress” under Emperor Jagang, Nicci was converted to Richard’s following, standing as one of his closest friends—and an unrequited love. Now Nicci is ready for new adventures, accompanied by the wizard and former prophet Nathan. Her first task is to inform other lands of the new regime, but an initial stop with the old witch and oracle Red reveals more obstacles than expected. While prophecy may no longer exist, the power it wrought is still in play. The wizard must discover how to make himself whole again. And the sorceress Nicci? She just needs to save the world. VERDICT Goodkind returns to the world of “The Sword of Truth” with this series launch featuring a favorite character. The addition of Nathan serves as a charming foil to the reserved Nicci. This action-packed book will delight epic fantasy enthusiasts.
Hendee, Barb & J.C. Hendee. The Dead Seekers. Ace: Berkley. (Dead Seekers, Bk. 1). Jan. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780451469342. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780698154469. FANTASY
Baronet Tris Vishal travels across the land, using his power over disturbed spirits to send them to rest. Working alone has never been an issue; the closer people are around him, the more death he has to deal with. Then he meets a young Móndyalitko woman named Mari Kaleja who saves his life. Mari has been on her own for many years, searching for “the Dead’s Man,” the one responsible for the death of her family. Now she travels with Tris to confirm her suspicion, seeking her revenge. However, the danger they find comes not from the spirits but from those still occupying the living world. VERDICT Set in the same universe as the “Noble Dead” saga, this dark fantasy features fresh protagonists whose struggle with their pasts only highlight the bleak landscape of their present.
Hurley, Kameron. The Stars Are Legion. Saga. Feb. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781481447935. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481447959. SF
Waking on a sickbed with scars and a muddled memory, Zan quickly realizes she is in a dangerous world at war. A woman named Jayd claims to be her sister and tells her she is needed. Anat, Lord of the Katazyrna, has been waging battle with her nearby rivals, the Bhavajas, and seeks to broker peace by giving Jayd to their leader. Jayd has her own schemes, however, and informs Zan that she is the only one who can successfully attack the nearby world-ship Mokshi, which holds the key to saving dying planets like Katazyrna. These world-ships are living tissue, and the residents are women who birth a variety of beings that the world needs, whether they be children or fleshy cogs or monstrous creatures. VERDICT Hurley’s first foray into sf (her fantasies include the “Worldbreaker Saga,” which began with The Mirror Empire), shows that the author hasn’t lost any of her taste for exotically fantastic creations. Fans of unreliable narrators will enjoy puzzling out who owes loyalty to whom in this stand-alone. [See Prepub Alert, 8/22/16.]
McDermott, Joe M. Fortress at the End of Time. Tor.com. Jan. 2017. 272p. ISBN 9780765392817. pap. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765392800. SF
Socially inept ensign Ronaldo Aldo is disappointed to be assigned to a remote station for his first posting out of the academy. When he is cloned and sent through the ansible to the Citadel, he finds that most of his new shipmates are either bored, bad-tempered, corrupt, or in the case of his commander, a combination of all three. While most clones hope to move on to better postings for their next iteration (a process known as transcendence), the Citadel is considered a career dead end. The suicide rate is astronomical, and station personnel often escape to the nearby planet, taking refuge in the monastery there. Aldo manages to alienate everyone he meets, and finds himself a pawn in the growing struggle between planet and station. He is also rigid and humorless, and the narrative framework McDermott employs of Aldo addressing a confessor doesn’t help his likability. VERDICT With its intriguing look at cloning and an otherwise enchanting cast of officers stuck at the end of the galaxy, this short novel is marred by the singularly unappealing lead character.
McGuire, Seanan. Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day. Tor.com. Jan. 2017. 192p. ISBN 9780765391421. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765383884. FANTASY
When Patty committed suicide in 1972, her little sister Jenna blamed herself for not being there for Patty. When, after her sister’s funeral, Jenna ends up dead—she condemns herself for that, too. Now in 2015, Jenna must earn back the years she lost until the time her death should have happened. Working for a suicide hotline seems the best way for a ghost to earn her too brief life back. However, now the phantoms in New York are disappearing, and not because they have earned their lost time. What is happening to them is worse than death, and Jenna may be the only one who can stop it. VERDICT McGuire’s novella (Every Heart a Doorway) weaves a touching paranormal tale of lifetimes lived and cut short, challenging the usual tropes of ghosts and magic.
Palmer, Ada. Seven Surrenders. Tor. (Terra Ignota, Bk. 2). Mar. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9780765378026. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466858756. SF
The world is at peace; there has been no war for as long as anyone can remember. Automation is in play, the global Hives have replaced most nationalities, and gender and religious identities have not only dissipated but been forbidden. Yet the full depths of humanity cannot be subsumed completely. Something new has arisen, a power that can bring inanimate objects to life. A force that will be hidden, used, and fought over. The power of a child named Bridger. VERDICT Palmer’s sequel to Too Like the Lightning brings the next phase of Mycroft and Bridger’s journey in a sphere that is beginning to collapse. While the dense prose may be rough going for some readers, the eloquence of Palmer’s reflections on social issues cannot be denied.
Shearin, Lisa. The Ghoul Vendetta. Ace: Berkley. (SPI Files, Bk. 4). Feb. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781101989401. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101989418. FANTASY
Headquartered in New York City, the agents of Supernatural Protection & Investigations (SPI) serve as the paranormals’ law enforcement around the world. Makenna Fraser is a seer for SPI, using her power to suss out the supernatural bad guys. While on a (reconnaissance) date with goblin boyfriend Rake Danescu aboard the yacht of a vampire gangster’s nephew and heir, Makenna and Rake are forced to watch said heir be kidnapped by swamp creatures and a kraken. At the same time, ghouls embark on a bank robbing spree in mid-Manhattan. Last but not least, Makenna’s partner Ian is seized by the leader of these crime sprees, a shapeshifter whose ultimate goal is the destruction of humankind. Featuring plenty of fast-paced action and smart humor, Shearin’s fourth SPI book (after The Brimstone Deception) highlights her heroine’s sassy nature and supernatural strengths. VERDICT Urban fantasy fans who enjoy a touch of romance and a lot of wit will be delighted with this series.
QUOTABLE “Lovelace had been in a body for twenty-eight minutes, and it still felt every bit as wrong as the second she woke up inside it.”
Collections & Anthologies
Latin@ Rising: An Anthology of Latin@ Science Fiction & Fantasy. Wings. Jan. 2017. 272p. ed. by Matthew David Goodwin. ISBN 9781609405243. pap. $16.95. SF
Exploring such themes as mythology, technology, and the imagination, this collection gathers 24 stories of sf and fantasy by well-known Latino/a writers living in the United States. In Sabrina Vourvoulias’s “Sin Embargo,” the wonder of birds and magic blend together in a range of refugee voices. In Ernest Hogan’s “Flying Under the Texas Radar with Paco and Los Freetails,” the narrator, who had headed a rock band on Earth and who is in exile on Mars, relates how he insulted the CEO of Texas. In the aftermath of a sexual assault, a young woman realizes she can hear internal soundtracks in Carmen Maria Machado’s “Difficult at Parties.” VERDICT Editor Goodwin (English, Univ. of Puerto Rico) has compiled an intriguing mix of stories that expands the Latino/a presence in speculative fiction beyond magical realism.
Bedford, Jacey. Silverwolf. DAW. (Rowankind, Bk. 2). Jan. 2017. 432p. ISBN 9780756411916. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780756411923. FANTASY
In Winterwood, lady pirate Ross Tremayne helped launch a revolution in which the rowankind, kin to the fae, threw off their bondage to humans. Now war between England and Napoleon’s France is brewing, wild magic is growing, and Ross is caught in the middle of dangerous conflict.
Older, Daniel José. Battle Hill Bolero. Roc: NAL. (Bone Street Rumba, Bk. 3). Jan. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780425276006. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698166820. FANTASY
The Council of the Dead has been caught in one too many cover-ups and deceptions, and the fed-up supernaturals plan to take over. Agent Carlos Delacruz’s third outing (after Midnight Taxi Tango) places himself on the line between his work and his friends.
Banks, Lucy. The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost. Amberjack. (Dr. Ribero’s Agency of the Supernatural, Bk. 1). Mar. 2017. 266p. ISBN 9781944995041. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781944995126. FANTASY
Kester Lanner is a shy, quiet introvert who aspires to nothing more than to live an ordinary life with his indulgent mother. But the safety and security that he has always known is stripped away when his mother succumbs to cancer, and on her deathbed asks him to find his long-lost father, Dr. Ribero. Finding Dr. Ribero isn’t hard, but what else Kester discovers has him terrified to stay. His father and his eclectic associates run the Agency of the Supernatural, catching spirits and sprites in recycled water bottles and banishing bloodthirsty ghosts through homemade gadgets. Kester is a self-described coward but can’t help coming back to Dr. Ribero to learn more about his mother’s hidden past with the agency. As with many debut series, this worthwhile launch has a lot of ground to cover in introducing this paranormal agency and its investigators, but readers will forgive its initial slow pace and eagerly anticipate the second volume. VERDICT Recommended for readers interested in modern-day ghost stories or edgier cozy mysteries.