Science Fiction/Fantasy Reviews | January 2014

I’m happy and honored to be joining Library Journal as the new sf/fantasy columnist, taking over for Jackie Cassada, who so ably held the reins for almost 30 years. My relationship with these genres goes back to my earliest reading days. Books such as A Wrinkle in Time hooked me early (reading about a heroine who was a fellow Meg didn’t hurt!), and I never really got unhooked. From a steady diet of sf and fantasy in my teen years, I branched out to reading anything and everything, but these genres still feel like home to me. I look forward to sharing great books with you every month and hope to use these columns as a place to talk about readers’ advisory for speculative fiction titles. I’ll also try to share news with you from the world of sf/fantasy publishing that will better help you better promote the genres with your readers.

Sf and fantasy books have always had a lot of cross-pollination between the adult and YA aisles, with coming-of-age stories a staple of both genres. Tales in which an ordinary young protagonist can experience something amazing or even become something incredible resonate with teens. Fully a third of the titles in this month’s column feature protagonists under the age of 20. The dystopian series from Julianna Baggott that began with Pure finishes up in Burn, with her heroes still in their teen years. C.S. Friedman, taking a break from her usual epic fantasies, tests out the urban fantasy waters with a 16-year-old protagonist in Dreamwalker.

I have also noticed a sudden uptick in authors who appear to be aging down their series by focusing on teenage protagonists. Both Rhiannon Held’s Reflected and Carrie Vaughn’s Dreams of the Golden Age are next generation books, and while they can be a way to bring in a teen audience, the question becomes whether the adults will stick around. The huge adult readership of teen fantasies such as Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games” books and Cassandra Clare’s “The Mortal Instruments” series seems to have spurred more authors to try and bridge adult and teen audiences. When done well, as with Pierce Brown’s debut, Red Rising (LJ 9/15/13), these kinds of books can be handed to adults and teens alike. But while the tendency to use teen protagonists can bring in younger readers, too much wallowing in teen angst can turn off some older ones. By trying to balance elements to attract older and younger audiences, authors gamble that their book will appeal to both groups, but of course the fear is that the gamble won’t pay off and the book won’t work for either. The only sure bet is that we haven’t seen the last of the teen hero.

redstarWalton, Jo. What Makes This Book So Great. Tor. Jan. 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780765331939. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466844094. LIT

whatmakesthisbooksogreat013014The Hugo and Nebula Award–winning author of Among Others believes there are two types of readers: those who reread and those who don’t. She tells of her own experience as a rereader in this collection of more than 130 essays, which first appeared as blog entries on the website. Walton’s case for revisiting favorite books, eloquently made in the introduction but illuminated in each essay, is that the practice can be simply comforting but can also provide endless opportunities for new perspectives and even revelations about works that readers thought they knew well. Walton shares not only her deep love for sf and fantasy in general and these novels in particular but the insights of a truly thoughtful reader. Especially enjoyable is her book-by-book analysis of Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Vorkosigan Saga.” VERDICT Although readers will miss out on some of the spirited discussions that appeared in the comments for these blog entries, it is still worth the time and money for any serious sf or fantasy fan, akin to a genre version of Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust. Walton’s affection for many of these titles is contagious, and fans will find their own reading lists growing. Since the author covers many core texts of the genre, this volume is also useful for collection development librarians seeking to fill holes in their sf shelves.

adarklingsea013014Cambias, James L. A Darkling Sea. Tor. Jan. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780765336279. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466827561. SF

On the planet of Ilmatar, a team of humans have set up an underwater base beneath the thick shelf of ice in order to study the native life-forms that live in the planet’s depths. They work under strictures that forbid any direct contact with the ­Ilmatarans, strictures put in place by the alien Sholen, who believe that humanity is too dangerous to be allowed loose on the galaxy. When one of the humans gets too close and is captured and killed by an Ilmataran, the Sholen intervene. But the human team won’t leave Ilmatar quietly. ­VERDICT Guerilla warfare at the bottom of the sea makes for an exciting sf adventure, but most of the interest comes from the aliens that Nebula-nominated short story writer Cambias has created in his debut novel rather than the bland human characters.

VanderMeer, Jeff. Annihilation. Farrar. (Southern Reach, Bk. 1). Feb. 2014. 208p. ISBN 9780374104092. pap. $13. SF

annihilation013014A small scientific expedition crosses the border into Area X, including our narrator, known only as the biologist. They are the 12th group to be sent with vague instructions to map this quarantined zone, the previous expeditions all having suffered terrible fates of one kind or another. Evidence of strange creatures lurking just out of sight and a general feeling that there are many things that the expedition hasn’t been told combine to give this story a sense of creeping paranoia. VERDICT Appropriate for a book by an author who is always straddling borders, World Fantasy Award winner VanderMeer’s (City of Saints and Madmen) latest falls somewhere between a long novella and a short novel. But this short work packs a big punch, as the author has rare skills for building tension and making the reader feel the claustrophobic dread of his characters. Readers will be unsettled, intrigued, and eager for the next volume in this new trilogy. [See Prepub Alert, 9/1/13.]


redstarEdison, David. The Waking Engine. Tor. Feb. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780765334862. $25.99. fantasy

thewakingengine013014If death is just the first stop on a journey, the end of the line is the City Unspoken. For many of the souls of the metaverse, who are truly born only once but die countless times, this place is the one gateway to True Death. Cooper, a misfit from New York, wakes in the City Unspoken at a time when the paths to Death have stopped working, and there are those who think he might be the key to the undying. But the City is a dangerous place, full of vampiric undead, ancient queens, fallen angels, and sadistic faeries. Cooper picks up allies and enemies but must find his own power or be the tortured pawn of others. VERDICT This debut fantasy is a fever dream of vivid imagery and dark luscious prose, reminiscent of China Miéville in its byzantine, steampunk-influenced cityscape.

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Check These Out

Baggott, Julianna. Burn. Grand Central. (Pure, Bk. 3). Feb. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9781455502998. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781455503025. SF

Bledsoe, Alex. He Drank, and Saw the Spider: An Eddie LaCrosse Novel. Tor. Jan. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780765334145. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466808270. FANTASY

Brooks, Terry. The High Druid’s Blade. Del Rey: Ballantine. (Defenders of Shannara, Bk. 1). Mar. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780345540706. $28. fantasy

Clines, Peter. Ex-Purgatory. Broadway: Crown. (Ex-Heroes, Bk. 4). Jan. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780804136617. pap. $14. SF


“We knew that members of the second expedition to Area X had committed suicide by shotgun and members of the third had shot each other. Not until several subsequent expeditions had suffered zero casualties had our superiors issued firearms again. We were the twelfth expedition.”—Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation

Friedman, C.S. Dreamwalker. DAW, dist. by Penguin Random. Feb. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780756408886. $19.95. FANTASY

Held, Rhiannon. Reflected. Tor. (Silver, Bk. 3). Feb. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780765330390. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429991148. Fantasy

Leonard, Anne. Moth and Spark. Viking. Feb. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780670015702. $27.95. FANTASY

Nicholas, Douglas. The Wicked. Emily Bestler: Atria. Mar. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9781451660241. pap. $15. ebk. ISBN 9781451660265. FANTASY

Vaughn, Carrie. Dreams of the Golden Age. Tor. (After the Golden Age, Bk. 2). Jan. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780765334817. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466815452. FANTASY

Weber, David. Like a Mighty Army. Tor. (Safehold, Bk. 7). Feb. 2014. 672p. ISBN 9780765321565. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429945080. SF

redstarWells, Jaye. Dirty Magic. Orbit: Hachette. (Prospero’s War, Vol. 1.) Jan. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780316228435. pap. $10; ebk. ISBN 9780316228442. Fantasy

Wheeler, Ramona. Three Princes. Tor. Feb. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780765335975. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466826311. FANTASY

Collections & Anthologies

Dark Duets: All-New Tales of Horror and Dark Fantasy. Harper Voyager. Jan. 2014. 432p. ed. by Christopher Golden. ISBN 9780062240286. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062240293. HORROR

Norton, Andre. Tales from High Hallack: The Collected Short Stories of Andre Norton. Premier Digital. (Collected Short Stories of Andre Norton, Bk. 1). Jan. 2014. 280p. ISBN 9781624671890. pap. $22.95. SF

Megan McArdle has worked in collection development in public libraries for 10 years and is currently the Adult, Teen and Collection Development Manager for the Berkeley Public Library (Berkeley, CA). She is a past chair for The Reading List Council (ALA’s award for genre fiction) and currently serves on ALA’s Readers’ Advisory Research and Trends Committee. Megan has a book coming out from ALA Editions in 2014 on readers’ advisory for genre-blended books


The World Fantasy Awards were given out in Brighton, England, on November 3. This award is never afraid to go a little off the beaten path for its winners, choosing titles that are decidedly fantasy but that are often big hits with literary fiction fans as well. Past winners include literary darlings such as Haruki Murakami and Louise Erdrich as well as more traditional luminaries from the fantasy genre. This means that winners can easily be promoted beyond your genre shelves, and this year’s choice of the marvelous G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen is no exception. Why not take the opportunity to display some past winners in your library? Previous years’ winners can be found on the World Fantasy Convention’s homepage (

The 2013 Best Novel award nominees:

The Killing Moon, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)

Some Kind of Fairy Tale, Graham Joyce (Doubleday)

The Drowning Girl, Caitlin R. Kiernan (Roc)

Crandolin, Anna Tambour (Chomu)

Alif the Unseen, G. Willow Wilson (Grove)—WINNER

Simon & Schuster is launching a new science fiction, fantasy, and horror imprint. The new line, which does not yet have a name, will be headed by publisher Jon Anderson and by editor Joe Monti. S. & S. is the last of the “Big Five” publishers to add a dedicated imprint for speculative fiction, although they have long had prominent genre authors such as Ursula Le Guin and Anne McCaffrey on their list. The first titles should appear as early as the end of 2014, and the publisher’s goal is to release a dozen or more hardcovers annually for “YA and above.” It’s great to see a company make a new commitment to genre publishing, and I hope to be reviewing books from the new line this time next year!

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