Debuter Maaren Joins Cogman, Hunter, Okorafor, Yolen, & Many More | Sf/Fantasy Reviews

Sometimes READERS lack the time to dive deep into a massive multivolume fantasy or work of sf. This month, several selections of short fiction will delight both longtime fans checking out their favorite authors and newcomers who want to sample the genres. Ellen Datlow, editor of Mad Hatters and March Hares, recruits noted sf/fantasy writers to explore Lewis Carroll’s famous protagonist and world. In her first collection in 12 years, Jane Yolen adds a twist to favorite fairy tales with The Emerald Circus, while Nnedi Okorafor concludes her award-winning novella series with Binti: The Night Masquerade.—KC

DEBUT of the month

redstarMaaren, Kari. Weave a Circle Round. Tor. Nov. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780765386281. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765386298. FANTASY

Like any teenager with an eccentric family, Freddy Duchamp just wants to get through high school as an ordinary student, but her precocious little sister Mel, who wants to be a detective, and deaf stepbrother Roland, who’s a huge geek, aren’t much help. However, when a van crash next door leads them to meeting their new neighbors Cuerva Lachance and Josiah, any attempt at normalcy gets thrown out the window. Even odder is their house, just barely larger than a TARDIS (the time-traveling machine of the British Doctor Who), which suddenly whisks Freddy away with the neighbors—thousands of years into the past. Maaren’s characters are by turns charming, annoying, and frequently hilarious. The quick pace and dialog may remind readers of Madeleine L’Engle or Jasper Fforde, making the protagonists timeless in their own way. VERDICT With definite YA crossover appeal but enough action and intrigue for adults, Maaren’s enchanting debut is for anyone who enjoys stretching their imagination or is nostalgic for their teenage years.—KC

Check These Out

Cogman, Genevieve. The Lost Plot. Ace: Berkley. (Invisible Library, Bk. 4). Jan. 2018. 384p. ISBN 9780399587429. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780399587436. FANTASY

Librarian Irene Winters is tasked with tracking down a colleague who is believed to be involved in a political dispute between two dragons. As it is strictly forbidden for agents of the Library to interfere with the affairs of either of the two great powers—dragons and fae—it is important that Irene finds out what happened. She and apprentice Kai, who also happens to be a high-ranking dragon lord, follow the errant Librarian’s trail to an alternate Earth in the Jazz Age. They wind up in New York, navigating the dangerous waters of not only dragons but mobsters and thuggish police officers. The premise of Cogman’s series, with agents able to hop from alternate worlds and times in search of their desired rare books, offers endless variety. Each adventure allows the intrepid Irene the scope to visit new worlds; each a slightly twisted mirror of history populated with varying amounts of magic. While this entry sets aside the archvillain Albrecht, supposedly killed in The Burning Page, there is still plenty of danger and excitement. VERDICT A light, fun series for fans of Gail Carriger and Jodi Taylor.—MM

Hunter, Faith. Flame in the Dark: A Soulwood Novel. Ace: Berkley. (Soulwood, Bk. 3). Dec. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780451473332. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698184510. FANTASY

Nell Ingram and her crew from PsyLED, the paranormal Homeland Security team, are called to investigate a fiery attack at the mansion where a fundraiser for Sen. Abrams Tolliver was being held. No one knows for sure if there was paranormal involvement, but the would-be assassin had vanished on the security cameras. As the attacks continue, Nell and the PsyLed team discover that malevolent forces are involved. Defeating this group will take all of Nell’s powers—and that may not be enough. Further threaded into the main plot are several emotional secondary story lines involving Nell’s relationships, old and new. VERDICT Set in the same world as Hunter’s “Jane ­Yellowrock” novels, this final volume in the trilogy (Blood of the Earth; Curse of the Land) is an exciting paranormal adventure and satisfying conclusion to this urban fantasy series.—KC

Landon, Kristin. Windhome. Candlemark & Gleam. Dec. 2017. 333p. ISBN 9781936460793. pap. $20.95; ebk. ISBN 9781936460786. SF

Vika, Anke, and Pierre wake from their cryogenic sleep to find the rest of their team missing or dead, but their mission must go on. Sent to learn more about the aliens that already destroyed one civilization and now threaten Earth, the trio is now marooned on the planet Windhome and must somehow survive among its pretechnology inhabitants. However, these descendants of a previous attack do not trust humans and fear the mission will bring the Destroyers back. Forced to align themselves with a party of outsiders, the human crew face a strange world, harsh rules, and must adjust to survive—or die. In their struggle, the protagonists reveal their inner strengths and weaknesses. VERDICT This striking tale of survival and fortitude in an icy, alien world by the author of the “Hidden Worlds” trilogy is recommended for readers who enjoy character-driven stories.—KC

Marshall, Alex. A War in Crimson Embers. Orbit: Hachette. (Crimson Empire, Bk. 3). Dec. 2017. 592p. ISBN 9780316340724. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780316340748. FANTASY

In her quest for vengeance, former warrior queen Cold Zosia has destroyed her reputation and her alliances. Her world is now burning, and her former allies are scattered and caught up in their own dangers. Sullen has been left to carry out orders of a dead goddess, and Purna is off on a wild goose chase to learn if the barbarian Maroto, a captive of a demonic army determined to destroy the Crimson Empire, is still alive. But Zosia must rally her old comrades one last time for a final battle. While the conclusion will have heavy consequences for the protagonists in unexpected ways, this action-packed, fast-paced dark epic fantasy will satisfy readers impatiently awaiting George R.R. Martin’s next opus. VERDICT This last entry in the “Crimson Empire” trilogy (A Crown for Cold Silver; A Blade of Black Steel) will please series followers with its expansive setting and well-rounded characters.—KC

Okorafor, Nnedi. Binti: The Night Masquerade. Tor.com. (Binti, Bk. 3). Jan. 2018. 160p. ISBN 9780765393135. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765393128. SF

In the conclusion to Okorafor’s Hugo- and Nebula Award–winning trilogy (Binti; Binti: Home), her heroine has returned to her home planet from space and is trying to put the violence of the Meduse behind her. While her people are relatively peaceful, not everyone has forgotten what the Meduse have done. While Binti is away, the Khoush come to her village to find her Meduse comrade Okwu, leaving destruction in their wake. As Binti rushes back with her newest friend Mwinyi, death has already struck too close to home. Hoping to save her people, even though the elders don’t trust her new affiliations, Binti tries once again to negotiate a truce between two warring groups. This time, however, it may be too late. Family and friendship remain at the heart of this remarkable trilogy as it comes to a fulfilling close. ­VERDICT The worldbuilding here continues to be unparalleled as Okorafor’s deliberate yet delicate prose transports readers to a place in the stars once again.—KC

Savile, Steven. Glass Town. St. Martin’s. Dec. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781250077837. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466890152. FANTASY

At the funeral of his beloved grandfather, Josh Raines meets a man who introduces himself as his cousin Seth Lockwood. The Raines and the Lockwoods have a century of bad blood behind them, but Seth wants to bury the hatchet. The root of the enmity is a love triangle almost a century old. In the 1920s, Josh’s great-grandfather Isaiah Lockwood, and his brother Seth both loved Eleanor Raines, a beautiful young actress. But when Eleanor rejected Seth’s advances, he turned to a dark magic to steal her from this world. With the help of a stage magician who found a way to hide a slice of the world out of sync with our time line, Seth kept Eleanor imprisoned for decades. But now the walls of this “glass town” are collapsing, so Seth leaves his pocket world and steps into Josh’s present, determined to repair Eleanor’s prison and rejoin her there. Only Josh stands in his way. The prolific British author who writes for such popular franchises as Doctor Who makes an astoundingly inventive U.S. debut. VERDICT With a vivid London setting and a tantalizing dose of cinematic history (including Alfred Hitchcock’s lost directorial debut), this dark fantasy should appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman.—MM

Wallace, Matt. Gluttony Bay. Tor.com. (Sin du Jour, Bk. 6). Nov. 2017. 192p. ISBN 9780765393227. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765393210. HORROR

The celebration of the return of some of paranormal caterer Sin du Jour’s staff is quickly quieted when one member does not appear. Then Bronko and Lena are taken by Allensworth to a very special restaurant: Gluttony Bay. With a spectacular view of Guantanamo Bay, Bronko discovers he is the “special guest chef,” with Lena as his sous chef, at Gluttony Bay. In this highly exclusive dining room, only one thing is on the menu: humans. As the rest of the crew comes to rescue them, Bronko and Lena are forced with preparing a truly terrifying menu and taking on brutish restaurant workers, all hoping to escape a hellish kitchen deadlier than any they have faced before. Witty humor balances out macabre actions, with the fast pace and supernatural settings blending horror and fantasy into a delightful meal for the mind. VERDICT The penultimate novella of the “Sin du Jour” series (after Greedy Pigs) continues Wallace’s imaginative romp through New York City restaurants, supernatural diners, and all-out devilish fun.—MM

Collections &Anthologies

Mad Hatters and March Hares: All-New Stories from the World of Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Tor. Dec. 2017. 336p. ed. by Ellen Datlow. ISBN 9780765391063. $29.99; pap. ISBN 9780765391070. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765391087. FANTASY

For more than 150 years, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have entranced readers with their bizarre and imaginative wordplay, surreal settings, and memorable characters. Hugo Award–winning editor Datlow has collected 17 stories and poems inspired by Carroll’s masterpieces. “Gentle Alice” by Kris Dikeman has the battle-worn conqueror of the Red Queen looking for peace. Priya Sharma’s “Mercury” sees Alice and her father sitting in debtor’s prison and trapped by agents of illness and lost hope. In Seanan McGuire’s “Sentence like a Saturday,” a young Cheshire Cat discovers a doorway that takes her into a world unlike her own, in a body not hers, on a search for the door to home. Other contributors include ­Catherynne M. Valente, ­Genevieve Valentine, Jane Yolen, Jeffrey Ford, and more. VERDICT Whether a one-page poem or a short story, these poignant and lyrical selections from well-known names in sf and fantasy highlight new ways to view an enduring classic. [See Prepub Alert, 6/26/17.]—KC

redstarYolen, Jane. The Emerald Circus. Tachyon. Nov. 2017. 288p. notes. ISBN 9781616962739. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616962753. FANTASY

Beauty sneaks out to get a Christmas gift for the Beast, the first of several wrong decisions in “The Gift of the Magicians, with Apologies to You Know Who.” In “Blown Away,” Dorothy’s twister takes her away, not to a magical land but the Emerald Circus, and she returns home as a gymnastic performer who changes many lives. Wendy leads a labor strike against the Lost Boys in “Lost Girls.” After more than a decade, Yolen (Briar Rose; Sister Emily’s Starship and Other Stories) returns with 16 stories that take readers sideways and upside down through beloved fairy tales and classic tales such as Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz, while also reimagining the lives of famous storytellers such as Hans Christian Anderson, Edgar Allan Poe and ­Emily Dickinson. VERDICT These delightful retellings of favorite stories will captivate newcomers and fans of Yolen as she once again delivers the magic, humor, and lovely prose that has attracted readers for years.—KC

QUOTABLE “I sighed, bringing the golden ball from my pocket. I no longer thought of it as an edan; I saw it more like a little planet. No reason. It was just what was. And I was floating around it, untethered, homeless.”—from Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti: The Night ­Masquerade

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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