Actor Snipes and Norman’s Debut of the Month, Cato’s Latest “Breath of Earth,” Yoon Ha Lee, Levine, and More | SF/Fantasy Reviews

Setting is a huge draw for sf and fantasy readers, promising total escape from the humdrum real world. While many are imagined, these fictional universes often carry an author’s cultural influences or borrow from an actual society or physical place. This month’s titles give readers a sense of the variety in cultures and settings in both genres. Traces of Yoon Ha Lee’s Korean American heritage could be lost among the sheer delightful weirdness of his sf landscape in Raven Stratagem, but it exists around the edges, seen in the way he approaches cultures assimilated into the hexarchate. Natasha Pulley’s The Bedlam Stacks takes readers to Victorian-era Peru, with added magical clockwork inventions. We have immortal Egyptian pharaohs in Michael F. Haspil’s Graveyard Shift, a Soviet-style mining planet undergoing a revolution in Mike Brooks’s Dark Sky, and a half-Chinese witch seeking revenge in the Old West in J. Danielle Dorn’s Devil’s Call. Racing to the other planets in the solar system is still exciting, but in David D. Levine’s Arabella and the Battle of Venus, the indigenous populations and warring factions from the Napoleonic times cause issues.—MM

Debut of the month

redstarSnipes, Wesley & Ray Norman. Talon of God. Harper Voyager. Jul. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780062668165. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062668189. FANTASY

Dr. Lauryn ­Jefferson is a skeptic, believing only in science, until a former patient becomes demonically possessed. Then she meets Talon Hunter, a man of God, who aims to train her as a spiritual warrior despite her doubts. A new drug available on the streets is turning its users into slaves for Satan’s army. After discovering a sinister plot, supported by the world’s most powerful men, to establish a kingdom of Hell on Earth, Lauryn has no choice but to find her faith. VERDICT This urban fantasy debut by actor Snipes (Blade; Passenger 57) and coauthor Normans (WorldVision International) is an exciting, fast-paced, religious thriller that will draw in even the most cynical reader with its mash-up of science and faith. Fans of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden and Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim will enjoy. [See Prepub Alert, 2/6/17.]—KC

Check These Out

Aaronovitch, Ben. The Furthest Station. Subterranean. Jul. 2017. 144p. ISBN 9781596068339. $40; ebk. ISBN 9781596068346. FANTASY

British cop and apprentice wizard Peter Grant is investigating reports of ghosts on the London Underground. Ghosts, normally unseen by the less magically inclined, seem to be clustering on certain lines and making themselves noticed. Peter not only has to track down these apparitions with the help of a colleague from the transit police, but he also needs to figure out what they want before their behavior escalates to violence. This novella will satisfy fans of ­Aaronovitch’s protagonist, last visited in The Hanging Tree. Peter brings his young cousin Abigail along for the investigation, deciding her burgeoning magical talents might come in handy, which helps to keep things light. VERDICT A fun, if optional entry in an always enjoyable urban fantasy series.—MM

Brooks, Mike. Dark Sky. Saga: S.&S. (Keiko, Bk. 2). Jul. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781481459570. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481459587. SF

The crew of the Keiko, still reeling from Capt. Ichabod Drift’s secrets (revealed in series opener Dark Run), need a new smuggling job. Spending their ill-gotten gains on a pleasure planet, they are offered a job they can’t refuse by a crime boss with a long reach. It seems simple enough: head down to the mining planet Uragan and retrieve a message before a planet-wide storm shuts down access. But everything goes wrong, and Drift and his crew members are separated as they get pulled into a local revolution. Ironically, the former pirate ends up on the side of law and order. VERDICT Fans will delight in the new adventures of Brooks’s motley space crew. While the setting is mostly underground on the Soviet-influenced mining planet, the action is pretty much nonstop, making this a good bet for fans of light space opera.—MM

redstarCato, Beth. Call of Fire. Harper Voyager. (Breath of Earth, Bk. 3). Aug. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780062422118. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062422125. FANTASY

Having survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake caused by her father’s godlike powers, geomancer Ingrid Carmichael and friends Cy, Fenris, and Lee flee the devastated city and head north. Ingrid wants to learn more about her father, from whom she has inherited her magical abilities, but she also seeks escape from Ambassador Blum’s machinations to exploit her skills for political purposes. When Lee and Fenris are captured in Portland, OR, Ingrid and Cy make their way to Seattle with the help of another mysterious Unified Pacific ambassador, ­Theodore ­Roosevelt. As she attempts to free her friends, can Ingrid avoid becoming the spark that ignites war? VERDICT Cato’s sequel to Breath of Earth takes readers further into an alternate turn-of-the-20th-century America, wrapping a dark time in U.S. history in a bright fantasy veneer. The incorporation of sympathetic characters results in a gritty, imaginative, and unforgettable read.—KC

redstarDorn, J. Danielle. Devil’s Call. Inkshares. Jul. 2017. 275p. ISBN 9781942645603. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781942645610. FANTASY

DEBUT Descending from a long line of witches, Li Lian met Matthew Callahan when she was 14. She ran away from her Missouri home and straight into trouble in a Texas saloon. Matthew saved her from being burned as a witch and returned her to her family. But she doesn’t stay out of mischief for long, and after he rescues her again, Li Lian and Matthew begin a courtship that leads to marriage and a baby on the way. In 1859, now living in the Nebraska Territory, where Matthew serves as a local doctor, their happiness is destroyed when Matthew is killed by three men, one of whom is not quite human. Pregnant Li Lian immediately sets off to find the killers and exact her revenge. VERDICT Narrated in the form of a diary written for the protagonist’s unborn daughter, this debut excels in setting a tense mood and introducing a prickly yet compelling heroine. Highly recommended for fans of weird Westerns like Lila Bowen’s Wake of Vultures or Laura Anne Gilman’s Silver on the Road.—MM

Haspil, Michael F. Graveyard Shift. Tor. Jul. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780765379627. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466869226. FANTASY

DEBUT Once a pharaoh in ancient Egypt, the man now known as Alex Romer works for the paranormal department of the Miami Police. With his vampire partner Marcus, he gets sucked into several cases that seem to be heating up tension between the city’s humans and vampires. One involves the hunt for a vigilante vampire killer known as Abraham, while another hinges on someone tainting the synthetic blood supply with a substance that can drive vampires into a violent frenzy. To top it off, a new ancient vampire has moved into the Miami area, with plans cloaked in shadows. Local regional details make an interesting backdrop, and while we’ve seen just about everything in this subgenre, a former pharaoh is definitely new. VERDICT Those who enjoy police action mixed with urban fantasy may want to try this series launch, but the squeamish should be prepared for a hefty amount of violence, much of it against women.—MM

redstarLee, Yoon Ha. Raven Stratagem. Solaris. (Machineries of Empire, Bk. 2). Jun. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781781085370. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9781786180469. SF

Gen. Shuos Jedao, a 400-plus-year-old master strategist and mass murderer, was anchored to Capt. Kel Charis in the Hugo- and Nebula Award–nominated Ninefox Gambit. As this sequel opens, Jedao has survived an assassination attempt and taken over another military Swarm. While he is willing to fight off the Hanf who have invaded local space, his goal seems to be the destruction of the hexarchate, the rigid social and political structure that he feels has grown corrupt. Meanwhile, the hexarchate leaders are scrambling to control the man they use as their ultimate weapon. Lee has leveraged the adage that any seemingly advanced science can look like magic to create truly bizarre technologies, starting with a society based so rigidly on a special calendar that any who stray from its rules are executed as heretics. While the parasitic arrangement between Charis and Jedao created interesting character developments in book one, it shifts here to an even more unreliable narrator dynamic. VERDICT While there is plenty of gripping space opera action, the real pleasure of this series is the inventive worldbuilding.—MM

Levine, David D. Arabella and the Battle of Venus. Tor. (Adventures of Arabella Ashby, Bk. 2). Jul. 2017. 416p. ISBN 9780765382825. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466889507. FANTASY

Napoleon Bonaparte has escaped from the Moon, and Arabella Ashby learns that her fiancé, Capt. Prakash Singh, and his crew have been captured and imprisoned by the French on Venus. Arabella must find a way to get to the enemy-controlled planet, then release her captain through either bribery or a fight. She enlists the less-than-inspiring privateer Capt. Daniel Fox and his ship Touchstone, but Arabella’s brother insists their straitlaced neighbor, Lady ­Corey, accompany her as chaperone. Arriving on Venus, Arabella soon discovers that ­Napoleon has developed a secret weapon that could change the course of the war; can Arabella, Singh, and Fox, drawing on their skills and wiles, stop him? VERDICT Levine’s sophomore work (after the Nebula Award–­winning Arabella of Mars) brings back his plucky heroine and introduces charismatic characters for another engaging steampunk adventure among the stars.—KC

MacNaughton, Laurence. A Kiss Before Doomsday: A Dru Jasper Novel. Pyr: Prometheus. (Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions, Bk. 2). Jul. 2017. 290p. ISBN 9781633882676. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781633882683. FANTASY

After battling the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, new sorceress Dru Jasper returns to Denver to find that her store has been broken into and that undead creatures are attacking sorcerers. The wizards also are behaving even more strangely than usual, and signs indicate that someone is using forbidden necromancy to fulfill the Apocalypse Scroll’s prophecy. Dru could use the help of half-demon Greyson and his car Hellbringer, but Greyson is nowhere to be found, and most believe him dead. Dru must rely on her friends to confront the mysterious sorcerer determined to make doomsday a reality. VERDICT The follow-up to It Happened One Doomsday is a fun turducken of humor, magical exploits, and entertaining characters. More urban fantasy than supernatural romance, this offers fans of both subgenres a fun crossover read.—KC

Newman, Emma. All Good Things. Diversion. (Split Worlds, Bk. 5). Jun. 2017. 362p. ISBN 9781682306161. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781682306178. FANTASY

Introduced in Between Two Thorns, the secret Victorian world of the Nether lies between Mundanus, the place for ordinary humans, and Exilium, the kingdom of the patriarchal Fae. William Iris, who has been consolidating his power in Nether society, must retrieve his wife, Cathy, who has left him, if he is to maintain his status. Cathy, finding that her escape from the Nether is not complete, agrees to join the sorceress Bea in her plans to unite these separate worlds. But Bea has enemies, and a final battle to control all of the Split Worlds may come at a high cost. VERDICT The final volume of ­Newman’s historical urban fantasy series (after A Little Knowledge) brings the conflicts of these diverse worlds to a strong close. Series fans won’t want to miss this.—KC

Pulley, Natasha. The Bedlam Stacks. Bloomsbury USA. Aug. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781620409671. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781620409688. FANTASY

Merrick thought his adventuring days were finished after an injury forced him to resign from the East India Company and retire to his brother’s estate. In 1859, a desperate need for cinchona trees, a rich source of quinine and part of Merrick’s family history in Peru, requires him to travel there to smuggle cuttings past a Peruvian government blockade. He and an old companion head for the New Bethlehem settlement where Merrick’s father and grandfather once lived but find more than they bargained for. VERDICT Fans of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (who will be pleased that a character from that novel makes a cameo appearance) know that ­Pulley has a way with damaged characters who are looking for a new purpose in life. While there are steampunk elements, including clockwork lamps, there’s also a subtle inexplicable magic running throughout the unusual, remote setting. [See Prepub Alert, 2/27/17.]—MM

Ridler, Jason. Hex-Rated: A Brimstone Files Novel. Night Shade. Aug. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781597809030. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781597806329. FANTASY

Korean War vet James Brimstone, once a child magician, is now a private ­investigator in 1970 Los Angeles. It may be stardust and fame for many who come to La La Land, but cults and real magic are creeping into the glamour. After the funeral of his former mentor, James lands his first case. A beautiful but physically scarred actress named Nico claims to have been attacked by black magic. And while the police have discounted her story, blaming drug use, James senses that Nico’s chilling tale of demons, snakes, and the supernatural on the set of a porn movie is a troubling reality. VERDICT Pulp mystery meets urban fantasy in this gritty retro series launch by the author of the “Spar Battersea” thrillers. Hard-boiled humor and an action-packed plot combine in this deep dive into sex, death, and the movie industry.—KC

Saintcrow, Lilith. Cormorant Run. Orbit: Hachette. Jun. 2017. 388p. ISBN 9780316277969. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316277938. SF

No one knows for sure what caused the event that opened rifts across the Earth and killed those caught inside. Despite the devastation, some entered these anomalies and returned, bringing with them strange, valuable technologies. When Ashe, the most famous of the rifters, dies, her student Svinga, who has been in prison for murder, is ordered to enter the Cormorant Rift and discover whatever killed Ashe, and bring it back. If she refuses the job, she rots in jail. Either way could be a death sentence, but Svinga has not survived this long without reasons. VERDICT Reading Saintcrow’s (“Gallow and Ragged” series) postapocalyptic adventure is like riding a high-speed train. After a slow start owing to footnoted vernacular, the pace quickens and readers will be caught up in the ­excitement.—KC

Willett, Edward. The Cityborn. DAW. Jul. 2017. 416p. ISBN 9780756411770. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780756412890. SF

Twenty years ago, a special mission sent a resistance agent to the highest levels of the City to steal an important child named Danyl. Raised in the middens, the garbage heaps that skirt the bottom of the towering self-contained city, he scavenges for the funds that will earn him a pass to enter the City itself, even if he can reach only the lowest tiers steeped in poverty and oppression. Alania, who was missing from the nursery the night Danyl was kidnapped, was fostered by an officer and grew up as a member of the privileged class on the Twelfth Tier. She and Danyl are both potential catalysts for reviving the City, and when their paths intersect, they will have to decide whose vision of the City’s future they will follow. VERDICT The rigid dystopian society of the City is nothing new, but the young protagonists give this latest novel from Willett (“The Shards of Excalibur” series) possible appeal for teen readers. Unfortunately, the plot loses a little coherence as it races to a muddled conclusion.—MM

Wilson, Daniel H. The Clockwork Dynasty. Doubleday. Aug. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780385541787. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780385541794. SF

June travels the world seeking rare antique automatons. Her interest in such objects was fixed from an early age when her Russian grandfather told her a story of seeing a man on a World War II battlefield and then gave her a relic from that encounter, which seems to be a piece of intricate clockwork. When her employers hear about the artifact, June’s life is in jeopardy. She soon learns that there are clockworkmen and -women, known as avtomat, who live among us. One such clockworkman calling himself Peter offers to assist her. In alternating chapters, readers learn Peter’s history, from his awakening in the court of the tsar to his realization that he has a greater purpose, which June is uniquely placed to help him achieve. In short chapters, each ending on moments of tension, Wilson (Robopocalypse) keeps readers engaged, and even if the origins of the avtomat and their goals could have been explored more, many readers will be happy to settle into the momentum. VERDICT A well-crafted summer read. [See Prepub Alert, 2/27/17.]—MM

Collections & Anthologies

Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries & Lore. Prime. May 2017. 384p. ed. by Paula Guran. ISBN 9781607014898. pap. $15.95. FANTASY

In this collection of 24 stories from such acclaimed fantasy and sf authors as Ellen Klages, Ruthanna Emrys, Ken Liu, and Scott Lynch, noted anthologist Guran (Beyond the Woods; Blood Sisters) celebrates librarians and libraries. Klages’s “In the House of the Seven Librarians” revolves around the inhabitants of an abandoned Carnegie Library and the orphaned baby girl who helps them discover a new life. Esther M. Friesner’s “Death and the Librarian” features an elderly librarian facing off against the Grim Reaper. A fifth-year student wizard faces the last challenge before moving up—returning a library book—in Lynch’s “In the Stacks.” VERDICT This anthology showcases an amazing range of sf and fantasy centered on a favorite ­institution and the people who serve it.—KC

Maberry, Jonathan & George A. Romero. Nights of the Living Dead: An Anthology. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jul. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781250112248. pap. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250112255. HORROR

In 1968, director Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which depicted 48 hours of a zombie outbreak, took the movie world by storm. Here, author Maberry (Patient Zero) and Romero bring us back to those two days of the newly risen dead with this anthology of 19 tales. Along with original stories by both men, there are entries such as Joe R. Lansdale’s “Dead Man’s Curve,” in which a brother and sister come face to face with the undead during a drag race, and Mira Grant’s “You Can Stay All Day,” about a young zookeeper. All of these stories highlight the fear, darkness, hope, and humor facing the living dead can bring. ­VERDICT Zombie fiction fans can’t get enough of their favorite monsters, but this masterly collection of tales from some of today’s greatest speculative writers will sate their appetite—for a while.—KC

Series Lineup

Brooks, Terry. The Black Elfstone. Del Rey: Ballantine. (Fall of Shannara, Bk. 1). Jun. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780553391480. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780553391497. FANTASY

After launching one of the most popular fantasy series 40 years ago with The Sword of Shannara, Brooks concludes the “Shannara” books with this first installment of a final quartet. After generations of peace, mysterious invaders attack the Four Lands.—MM

Chen, Curtis C. Kangaroo Too. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. (Kangaroo, Bk. 2). Jun. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781250081896. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250081902. FANTASY

The irrepressible secret agent Kangaroo, introduced in Waypoint Kangaroo, must investigate when his teammate Jessica is accused of murder. Fans of sf/mystery blends with plenty of snarky humor will want this sequel.—MM

de Castell, Sebastien. Tyrant’s Throne. Jo Fletcher: Quercus. (Greatcoats, Bk. 4). Jun. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781681441955. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781681441924. FANTASY

Channeling the swashbuckling action and camaraderie of The Three Musketeers, the latest entry (after Saint’s Blood) in this epic historical series finds Falcio and his Greatcoat companions close to fulfilling their vow to restore the king’s daughter Aline to the throne. But their old enemy Trin has found new allies.—MM

Husberg, Christopher. Dark Immolation. Titan. (Chaos Queen, Bk. 2). Jun. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781783299171. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781783299188. FANTASY

Husberg’s debut Duskfall introduced the amnesiac human warrior Knot and his almost-bride Winter, a woman of the elf-like tiellan race. In this outing, Winter is imprisoned, Knot is trying to deal with his true nature, and the prophetess Jane Oden’s new religion is growing in power.—MM

Additional SF/Fantasy

Hudson, Gabe. Gork, the Teenage Dragon. Knopf. Jul. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9780375413964. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781524732479. FANTASY

DEBUT Gork is an alien dragon attending an elite military academy in preparation for a life conquering other planets. Bullying is encouraged at WarWings Academy and deaths are frequent, but Gork doesn’t have the requisite fiendish disposition for success. His horns are too small and his heart too big. He is boastful and self-aggrandizing. As the novel opens, Gork must pick a mate or forever become a slave; he sets his sights on the most unattainable female at WarWings. As Gork’s day progresses, it seems every clique wants to burn him to ash, and the distractions add up, for both Gork and the reader. Before he can pick his queen, he must discover the whereabouts of his missing grandfather Dr. ­Terrible, uncover treachery among his closest companions, and grow his courage and his horns. Hudson burst onto the writing scene with his breakthrough collection of short stories, Dear Mr. President. Unlike his previous book, the humor and satire here fall flat, and Gork’s narration is repetitive and sophomoric. VERDICT Fans of ­Hudson’s earlier work may be confused by this first novel, which might find an audience in older teens but is otherwise an optional purchase. [See Prepub Alert, 2/9/17.]—­Jennifer Beach, ­Longwood Univ. Lib., Farmville, VA

Kenyon, Kay. At the Table of Wolves. Saga: S.& S. Jul. 2017. 432p. ISBN 9781481487788. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481487801. FANTASY

Kim Tavistock possesses a hidden power known as the spill. People can’t help but reveal their secrets to her, but she has very little control over when and how she uses her ability. Which is a shame, because it would sure come in handy when she tries to unmask Nazi agents operating in the heart of 1936 London. And when those agents also have paranormal powers and are plotting an invasion, England’s very survival may be in jeopardy. Kenyon’s (“The Entire and The Rose” series) focus is very much on creating a wartime spy thriller, and in that she succeeds. However, she could have spent more time developing her characters and exploring the consequences of their psychic abilities. VERDICT Fans of Connie ­Willis and V.E. Schwab should appreciate this historical fantasy, set in a pre–World War II Britain.—Laurel Bliss, San Diego State Univ. Lib.

Percy, Benjamin. The Dark Net. Houghton Harcourt. Aug. 2017. 272p. ISBN 9780544750333. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780544750579. HORROR

There’s a deep global net in the virtual world, accessed only by those wishing to remain anonymous. Black-market trading and illicit dealings occur here, along with programs that provide prurient services. Keeping their operations vital but nearly untraceable is the task of people who are well paid to keep these servers up and running. What happens when demonic forces acquire log-in abilities at these dark levels? Can a computer hacker, a onetime child evangelist, a technophobic journalist, and a little girl with prosthetic eyes come to grips with hell on earth if it’s only a keystroke away? VERDICT Percy (The Dead Lands) turns in a fast-paced dark thriller with crisp, honest dialog and well-imagined characters. His premise is fanciful yet anchored in believability. [See Prepub Alert, 2/27/17.]—Russell Miller, Prescott P.L., AZ

QUOTABLE “I’d thought that something was gone in me and I would never be uncircumspectly pleased about anything again. But all at once it came back. The place where my father had stood and my grandfather, a place that was in my bones and stories and home but had been as lost to me as Byzantium for years—here it was. I felt like I’d drawn a door on the wall at home in chalk and gone through into an imaginary place where the river was a dragon and somewhere in the forest was something stranger than elves.”—Natasha Pulley, The Bedlam Stacks

 

Megan M. McArdle is a Collection Specialist at the Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Kristi Chadwick is Advisor for the Massachusetts Library System. In addition to being a 2013 LJ Reviewer of the Year and 2014 Mover & Shaker, she was also a finalist judge for the 2015 LJ SELF-e Award in Fantasy

 

This article was published in Library Journal's June 15, 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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