Praise for Newcomers Drayden, Bates, Bennis, Gailey, Tidbeck, plus New Series Lineup | SF/Fantasy Reviews

For all of the solo journeys embarked upon by fantasy heroes, it’s the travels with others and the bonds that are forged that make the adventure worthwhile. Facing trials with a companion, a comrade at their back, family waiting back home—these connections form the bedrock of strength our protagonists rely on to reach their destinations. In Marie Brennan’s Lightning in the Blood, Ree will need both her only friend Aadet and her new acquaintances to rediscover her true identity. Amber Benson’s The End of Magic sees Lyse MacAllister tasked with reuniting her coven family before the world ends. And in Robyn Bennis’s debut, The Guns Above, Josette Dupre must prove her worth as the first female airship captain when she leads her subordinates into battle. Four strangers exploring their new powers must work together to stop a vengeful goddess in newcomer Nicky Drayden’s The Prey of Gods.—KC

Debut of the Month

redstarDrayden, Nicky. The Prey of Gods. Harper Voyager. Jun. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9780062493033. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062493040. FANTASY

Once a demigoddess of immense powers, Sydney schemes to return to her rightful place while working in a beauty salon in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. When she hears about a new street drug that produces vivid hallucinations and strange abilities, awakening slumbering godlike powers in humanity, she plots to use it to her advantage. Meanwhile, 16-year-old Muzi and his best friend (and tentative love interest) Elkin also try the drug. As Nomvula, a young Zulu girl in a nearby township, is coming into powers of her own, Muzi, along with a pop star, a cross-dressing politician, and a newly sentient AI, must stop Sydney before her reign of terror can really begin. Drayden’s first novel is set in a near future with personal robots, making the magical elements unusual yet effective. VERDICT Fans of Lauren Beukes and N.K. Jemisin will want to check out this winning mashup that mixes genres and moods with gleeful abandon, heralding a fresh new talent. It also has a truly fantastic cover.—MM

Check These Out

Bates, Callie. The Waking Land. Del Rey: Ballantine. Jun. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9780425284025. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780399177392. FANTASY

DEBUT Elanna always knew she served as a hostage to guarantee the good behavior of her family, who opposed the rulers of Eren after they conquered her homeland of Caeris. Comfortable in her cage-like existence, she’s grown to love King Antoine, who treated her as a daughter and allowed her to indulge her love of plants. When the king is poisoned and she’s accused of murder, Elanna goes on the run. With allies willing to escort her to her family home in Caeris, including Lord Jahan, the emperor’s alluring envoy, and in unfamiliar surroundings, Elanna releases the magic she has always suppressed, proving she is heir to the power of the land. She also opens up to Jahan, who has forbidden abilities of his own. Bates deftly builds Elanna’s character, transforming her from an overly naïve pawn into a confident woman growing into her powers as she allows herself to explore love. ­VERDICT This debut is ideal for fans of romantic fantasy such as Naomi Novik’s Uprooted or Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest. It should have great teen crossover appeal.—MM

Belcher, R.S. The Queen of Swords. Tor. (Golgotha, Bk. 3). Jun. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780765390097. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765390110. FANTASY

Maude Stapleton has temporarily left the frontier town of Golgotha, NV, to deal with some family business. Her father has taken control of her money and custody of her daughter Constance in a bid to get Maude to return to Charleston, SC, and behave like a proper widow. But Maude is no ordinary Victorian. She is a Daughter of ­Lilith, an assassin endowed with special skills that she will need to use to rescue Constance after she’s kidnapped by enemies. Alternating with Maude’s story is the equally entertaining tale of her ancestor, the notorious pirate Anne Bonney. Both tales are exciting, action-packed adventures, with some additional emotional punch in Maude’s struggles to gain the understanding of the father she once adored. VERDICT The shift of setting from the Weird West of the first two books (Six-Gun Tarot, The Shotgun Arcana) makes this an ideal place for new readers to jump into the series. Belcher hints that Maude will be heading back to Golgotha and her budding romance with a certain local deputy.—MM

redstarBennis, Robyn. The Guns Above. Tor. (Signal Airship, Bk. 1). May 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780765388766. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765388773. FANTASY

DEBUT Josette Dupre thought it was bad that she crashed the airship she had taken control of during battle. It became worse: she was lauded as a hero and handed the Corps’s newest command, the chasseur Mistral. Saddled with a “revolutionary new design,” aka an untested death machine, and a crew who find it hard to believe a woman is capable of being in charge, Josette really does not need an ensign to monitor her. The young, powdered, and perfumed Lord Bernat, who had been commissioned by his family into the military, now must scrutinize Josette’s every action for deficiency. Bernat and Josette verbally spar and cross swords, but the reality of war steps in when the enemy makes a move that threatens the Mistral and the rest of the Corps. VERDICT This military steampunky fantasy debut, filled with quick action, witty dialog, and appealing characters, will bring joy to fans of Naomi Novik’s “Temeraire” series.—KC

Benson, Amber. The End of Magic. Ace: Berkley. (Echo Park Coven, Bk. 3). May 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780425268698. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781101630563. FANTASY

Magic has been loosed upon the planet, and the world’s witches struggle to survive when the Flood, the antimagic group that has destroyed so many of their blood sisters, turns humans against them. Lyse ­MacAllister, who was left in charge of the Echo Park coven after her great-aunt ­Eleanora’s death, knows that her choices have led to this moment. Lyse must find a way to unify her estranged coven to engage in the final battle of good vs. evil. If Lyse does not make the right decision, humanity will be lost. ­VERDICT Benson’s final entry (after The Last Dream Keeper) in her trilogy keeps readers zipping along on a roller-coaster ride of magic and emotion. Those who lamented the end of her Calliope Reaper-Jones fantasies should pick these books up.—KC

Brennan, Marie. Lightning in the Blood. Tor.com. (Varekai, Bk. 2). May 2017. 128p. ISBN 9780765392015. pap. $11.99.ebk. ISBN 9780765391438. FANTASY

Bound by the chains of prophecy, Ree, a roaming Archeron, appears present in her physical body yet has no recollection of her past. During the seasons since she arrived in Soliake, Ree has continued to explore strange lands, but she never roams too far from her friend Aadet. However, Aadet is heavily involved in his people’s lives after the revolution, so Ree heads back into the forests where she encounters a group of Korenat refugees she agrees to accompany to talk to the new king. After meeting Mevreš, another Archeron like herself, she realizes she might be clued in about her origins. VERDICT ­ Brennan’s follow-up to Cold-Forged Flame continues the saga of one woman’s quest for discovery and truth. This immersive fantasy novella proves that brevity does not undermine a story’s depth.—KC

Durst, Sarah Beth. The Reluctant Queen. Harper Voyager. (Queens of Renthia, Bk. 2). Jul. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780062413352. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062413376. FANTASY

Everything in the world has a spirit, and those spirits want to kill you. Queen ­Daleina learned this from a young age, and her battle with these beings, and the old queen, gained her the crown. Now Daleina knows another truth—she is dying. If there is no one to succeed her, the spirits will set forth uncontrolled across the land and destroy everyone. Naelin has the power to tame the spirits, but her world revolves around her family and her tiny, remote village. When the queen’s champion Ven arrives, looking for a new candidate to train, Naelin’s avaricious husband reveals her abilities, which Naelin desperately denies to protect her children. But the monarch’s power is waning, and dark rumors from the north reveal challenges from more than wild spirits. Soon Naelin realizes that defending the realm may be the only way to save her family. VERDICT This sequel to The Queen of Blood introduces new protagonists while bringing back familiar characters. Durst’s strongly woven story supported by solid worldbuilding will please epic fantasy readers.—KC

Gailey, Sarah. River of Teeth. Tor.com. May 2017. 176p. ISBN 9780765395238. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765395221. FANTASY

DEBUT Winslow Houndstooth is assembling a crack team made up of a sharpshooter, a con woman, a demolitions expert, and an assassin. But don’t call it a caper he’s plotting; he’s running a legitimate operation, employed by the federal government, to take care of a wild hippo problem in southern Louisiana. It seems that in this alternate version of late 19th-century U.S. history, the government imported hippos to America to use as a food source. Ranchers raised them, riding some of the smarter breeds like horses. But an unscrupulous riverboat entrepreneur named Travers has allowed hundreds of feral hippos to threaten commerce on the Mississippi. Houndstooth has a job to do, and some scores to settle, but his crew all have their own agendas as well. VERDICT First-timer Gailey assures us that her premise for this novella, bizarre as it seems, was really contemplated by Congress. Along with her swift-moving plot, she includes a sweet romance between Houndstooth and his gender-ambiguous demo expert Hero. Readers will wish they had their very own hippo to ride around the bayou.—MM

Goss, Theodora. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. Saga: S. & S. Jun. 2017. 416p. ISBN 9781481466509. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481466523. FANTASY

After her mother’s death, Mary Jekyll is penniless. Her father had died not long before, and in searching through her mother’s few papers, Mary finds a reference to payments to a person named “Hyde.” Mary remembers her father’s disturbing associate, Edward Hyde, who disappeared after murdering a man. If she can collect the reward for information about Hyde’s whereabouts, she may be able to stay afloat. But the slim clue leads not to Edward, but to his illegitimate daughter Diana, and Mary turns to renowned detective Sherlock Holmes for help. Not only do Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson’s characters get an outing, but we dip into Frankenstein, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and Nathaniel ­Hawthorne’s story “Rappaccini’s Daughter” for a cast of women who join Mary’s adventure and constantly interrupt the story more in the manner of a peanut gallery than a Greek chorus. veRDICT World Fantasy Award winner Goss (In the Forest of Forgetting) takes us on a delightful romp through Victorian gothic literature, with a decidedly feminist slant.—MM

Kadrey, Richard. The Kill Society. Harper Voyager. (Sandman Slim, Bk. 9). Jun. 2017. 416p. ISBN 9780062474148. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062474186. FANTASY

Jim Stark, aka Sandman Slim, is in hell again. The difference this time is that he’s actually dead. In the Tenebrae, the farthest reaches of the lost dead, he sees a dust storm approaching. As the dust gets closer, he realizes it is actually an enormous convoy of humans and hellions, and seeing no better option, Stark cons his way into the group, which is led by a messianic leader who seeks the ultimate weapon to use against heaven in the ongoing war. But Stark just wants to find a way back to Los Angeles and Candy, or at least to a less depressing part of hell. With all the violence and smart-alecky snark readers expect from Stark, this sojourn in hell might scratch a Mad Max itch for some readers. But while the war between heaven and hell is referenced, this volume doesn’t move things along. VERDICT A solid, if not particularly memorable, entry in the long-running series (last visited in The Perdition Score), with some nice callbacks to familiar characters we haven’t seen for a while. [See Prepub Alert, 1/8/17.]—MM

Tidbeck, Karin. Amatka. Vintage. Jun. 2017. tr. from Swedish by Karin Tidbeck. 224p. ISBN 9781101973950. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101973967. SF

DEBUT Vanja, an information specialist, has traveled to the colony of Amatka on a mission from the central government. She is to survey the residents as to their use of hygiene products, probing their willingness to try new brands. Vanja is placed in a local house with Nina, Ivar, and Ulla, who have little to share. Amatka is a cold, poor place, where the tenets of society have to be obeyed rigidly. Vanja knows these rules well, as does everyone else: mark everything around you, say the name of every object around you, or risk it losing its shape and coherence. But she finds these rules failing her in Amatka and begins to believe there is another way to live. Amatka’s dystopian landscape, vaguely Soviet in flavor, offers a fresh twist: everything is made of a fungus-like material that needs to be vigilantly reminded to remain in its form. Vanja begins as something of a cipher but becomes more sympathetic as she questions her assumptions and grows closer to roommate Nadia. VERDICT ­Tidbeck’s ­(Jagannath) first novel, translated by the author from her native Swedish, is grim, spare, and fascinating.—MM

redstarValente, Catherynne M. The Refrigerator Monologues. Saga: S. & S. Jun. 2017. 160p. ISBN 9781481459341. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481459365. FANTASY

“Refrigerated” comic book women are characters who are abused, killed, or otherwise taken out of the story line, usually to a comic (male) superhero’s benefit. Valente introduces six members of the Hell Hath Club, refrigerated women who gather at the local coffee shop to share their stories of how they arrived in Deadtown, either by accident or through the intent of their superhero boyfriends or their own superpowers. Tales of a villainous face-off, a choice between good and evil, a savior-turned-destroyer, and more chronicle the devastating effects of love and hate. VERDICT Valente (Radiance, Palimpsest) proves her adroitness with imagery and emotion in this extraordinary book of linked stories.—KC

Vaughn, Carrie. Bannerless. John Joseph Adams: Houghton Harcourt. Jul. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9780544947306. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780544947634. SF

Decades after technological and economic failure, the United States has become a dystopian society of mandated households and governed by committee rule and population control. To be proven fit to bear children, households are awarded banners, showing they prosper in these tough times. Enid lives in Haven and is an Investigator who settles disputes along the Coast Road region. While young for her job, she has resolved some minor disturbances successfully. Called in to examine a suspicious death in Pasadan, Enid travels with her mentor and enforcer Tomas to discover that the deceased Sero was an outcast, and that the village committee and residents all have nothing to say, leading Enid to probe further. Armed with the history of the world’s demise and rebirth, Enid works to discover what Pasadan is hiding. Her revelations will ultimately lead to questioning the rules of the universe itself. VERDICT Urban fantasy author Vaughn (Dreams of the Golden Age) switches gears with this compelling deft ­postapocalpytic tale.—KC

QUOTABLE “Paige Embry died watching her boyfriend save New York City. When the fires went out in Manhattan, they went out in her eyes too. It’s nice to be famous for something, I guess.”—Catherynne M. Valente, The Refrigerator Monologues

Collections & Anthologies

Klages, Ellen. Wicked Wonders. Tachyon. May 2017. 288p. ISBN 9781616962616. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616962623. FANTASY

What would you miss if it was your last morning on Earth? Best friends Corry and Anna fantasize about what Corry will leave behind when she departs on a multi­generation space journey in “Amicae Aeternum.” A little girl in “The Education of a Witch” discovers the appeal of becoming a wicked witch-queen, especially after she believes she is displaced in her parents’ affections by a baby sister. Klages’s (Portable Childhood; Scott O’Dell Award–winning The Green Glass Sea) second collection of short stories highlights a decade of the writer’s work, articulating childhood wonders, supernatural situations, and sometimes the mere spirit of speculative fiction itself. ­VERDICT Klages’s fans won’t be disappointed by these poignant and relatable tales that push the ­barriers of the fantastical realism and beyond.—KC

Nebula Awards Showcase 2017. Pyr: Prometheus. May 2017. 320p. ed. by Julie E. Czerneda. ISBN 9781633882713. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781633882720. SF

Every year, members of the Science ­Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America vote for Nebula Award winners in various categories. Since 1966, the winning and nominated short stories, novellas, and novelettes, along with poems and excerpts from other lauded works, have been collected in an annual volume. This 51st edition features the winners and finalists for the year 2015 (the awards were announced in May 2016). As heated as the last couple of years have been in the speculative fiction universe thanks to the Sad Puppies controversy (ow.ly/ckLK30b1QDH), the tales showcased here push the boundaries of sexuality, diversity, and genre, reflecting the ability of sf/fantasy always to surprise and reward. Contributors include Naomi Novik and Nnedi Okorafor, Naomi Kritzer, as well as Michelle Sagara, Betsy Wollheim, and others. ­VERDICT This collection will speak to anyone who has a passion for diverse, ­imaginative speculative ­fiction.—KC

Series Lineup

Brody, Jennifer. The United Continuums. Turner. (Continuum Trilogy, Bk. 3). Jul. 2017. 464p. ISBN 9781681622620. pap. $17.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681622644. SF

As Earth begins to repopulate from the surviving Continuums, Aero, Seeker, and Myra face off against enemies, both from their own colonies and a dark force from beyond. The final chapter of this trilogy (The 13th Continuum; Return of the Continuums) reunites the Carriers for what may be their last battle. This dystopian YA crossover does not disappoint.—KC

Charish, Kristi. Owl and the Electric Samurai. Gallery. May 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781501139734. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781501139727. FANTASY

In this third outing (after Owl and the City of Angels) for the antiquities thief known as O, the International Archaeology Association has declared war on the two designers of an online role-playing game. As Owl relies on the game to help plan her heists, she needs to find the designers before the bounty hunters do.—MM

Kroese, Robert. The Last Iota. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. May 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781250088468. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250088475. FANTASY

Eccentric PI Erasmus Keane and his partner Blake Fowler from The Big Sheep are back with another blend of mystery, sf, and humor set in 2039 Los Angeles. The pair are hired by studio boss Selah Fiore to find a rare coin, but things quickly go awry.—MM

Wallace, Matt. Greedy Pigs. Tor.com. (Sin du Jour, Bk. 5). May 2017. 180p. ISBN 9780765393203. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765393197. FANTASY

The Sin du Jour crew caters to a large supernatural clientele, but serving the U.S. president is not the norm. However, with a shadow government in trouble, politics being played, and pork on the menu, this fifth outing (after Idle Ingredients) will feed voracious readers.—KC

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

 

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