Vic James’s Debut of the Month, Cogman, Gladstone, Lafferty, plus New Series Lineup | SF/Fantasy Reviews, December 2016

The world of publishing is changing constantly. While in the past there have been well-defined sequences of events in publication patterns—hardcover release, paperback release, sequel—ebooks have disrupted many of those patterns. With publishers breaking away from these rhythms, we are seeing a lot more variety in how books are put out. For example, multiple titles in a series may be published in one year, such as with Jodi Taylor’s “Chronicles of St. Mary’s” time-travel adventures (see A Trail Through Time, LJ 11/15/16) or Genevieve Cogman’s “Invisible Library” series, which is up to Book 3 with The Burning Page, reviewed below.

We also see publishers such as Simon & Schuster’s Saga imprint picking up series previously issued as ebooks and giving them the omnibus treatment, as with Annie Bellet’s “Twenty-Sided Sorceress” series (Boss Fight, which collects Books 5–7, is reviewed below). Saga has also acquired the print rights to digital publisher Serial Box’s experiments in episodic storytelling, in which a team of writers collaborate on a “season” of stories set in a shared world. The first of these collections, Bookburners (reviewed below), created by Max Gladstone, offers fun urban fantasy pieces. And short stories that previously might have had a harder time finding a home, such as those in John Scalzi’s new collection Miniatures (see review, p. 76), are a natural fit with Subterranean Press, a publisher that has always been open to offbeat projects.—MM

Debut of the Month

redstarJames, Vic. Gilded Cage. Del Rey: Ballantine. (Dark Gifts, Bk. 1). Feb. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780425284155. $20; ebk. ISBN 9780425284131. FANTASY

gildedcage-jpg111816Every person in England lacking the gifts of an Equal dreads their slave days, the ten years they must labor without wages or rights. Thanks to eldest daughter Abi, the Hadleys believe they have a better deal than most, as they have arranged to serve their decade together at the Jardine family estate. Things go wrong almost immediately, as son Luke is sent instead to the Millmoor workhouse where he falls in with a group plotting the end of slavery while the rest of the family are at the mercy of the Jardines. Debut novelist James does an excellent job of creating a dark contemporary world in which magic is used to prop up a corrupt aristocracy at the expense of ordinary people. Hopefully the details of this realm’s powers will be fleshed out in the next volume, which readers will eagerly anticipate after the cliff-hanger ending here. VERDICT With solid YA crossover potential, this first novel should especially appeal to fans of Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games” trilogy. [See Prepub Alert, 8/22/16.]—MM

Check These Out

Bellet, Annie. Boss Fight: Heartache; Thicker Than Blood; Magic to the Bone. Saga: S. & S. (Twenty-Sided Sorceress, Vol. 2). Jan. 2017. 416p. ISBN 9781481491990. $27.99; pap. ISBN 9781481491983. $15.99. FANTASY

Previously, Jade Crow and her friends went up against the sorcerer Samir—her former teacher and ex-boyfriend—and lost. With the group now scattered across the globe, Jade knows that Samir is after both her power and her heart. To be able to meet him head-on, she will have to turn to the one person she never thought she would see again: her father. Jade has always used her gaming experience to concentrate her skills, but to combat Samir, she is going to have to level up and prepare for a battle that requires every roll of the dice. Will her competence be enough to defeat the sorcerer who taught her everything? Or will she be faced with the future that she so desperately tried to avoid? VERDICT Bellet’s second compendium (after Level Grind) brings a strong ­finish to this original ebook series.—KC

Brodsky, Jordanna Max. Winter of the Gods. Orbit: Hachette. (Olympus Bound, Bk. 2). Feb. 2017. 480p. ISBN 9780316385916. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316385893. FANTASY

Selene DiSilva, aka the Greek goddess ­Artemis, has always thought of herself as a loner. But the events of The Immortals caused her to reach out to her Olympian siblings in order to stop a cult that sought to use the death of a god to gain immense authority. She even found a tentative romance with classics professor Theo Schultz, who helped her catch the god’s killer. Unfortunately, someone spilled the secret of divine sacrifice, and Selene is furious to discover that she and her fellow deities are once again in the line of fire. Selene is forced to confront conflicted feelings about members of her extended family, as well as her growing affections for Theo. What happens to the goddess of chastity if she falls in love? VeRDICT Readers who enjoyed the first book won’t be disappointed, as this time around the stakes are much higher.—MM

Cogman, Genevieve. The Burning Page. Roc: NAL. (Invisible Library, Bk. 3). Jan. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781101988688. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101988695. FANTASY

Librarian Irene Winters is on probation after the events of The Masked City, but when rogue agent Alberich threatens to destroy the Invisible Library, it’s all hands on deck, and that includes Irene and her dragon assistant Kai. She and Kai are sent to St. Petersburg to steal a book when they encounter Alberich, and it is up to Irene to stop this power-mad former librarian. Alberich has a personal vendetta against Irene, using people she thinks she can trust to further his plans. VERDICT This enjoyable series, of which three initial volumes came out in 2016, reliably combines adventure and fantasy. Clever dialog, time-hopping through fun locales, plenty of action, and hints of fresh plotting will have readers looking forward to further library missions.—MM

Crilley, Paul. Department Zero. Pyr: Prometheus. Jan. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781633882010. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781633882027. FANTASY

Crime scene cleanup isn’t glamorous, but it’s a regular paycheck for Harry Priest. When he and his boss’s obnoxious son, Jorge, get called to a hotel to clean after a spectacularly grisly incident, their work is intercepted by agents from the Interstitial Crime Division (ICD), who claim jurisdiction over the area. If only Jorge hadn’t tampered with evidence at the scene. The creatures that come to retrieve the stolen items are eldritch horrors from another dimension. Soon Harry is working for the ICD, trying to prevent Lovecraftian Old Ones from destroying the universe. While Harry is a sympathetic protagonist, the other characters don’t really jell. The team that Harry begins with in the ICD rapidly falls by the wayside, leaving only the character of Graves, whose personality seems to change from chapter to chapter. VERDICT After a promising start, this occult adventure from the author of Poison City and Daredevil rapidly gets frustratingly messy.—MM

Gladstone, Max & others. Bookburners. Saga: S. & S. (Bookburners, Bk. 1). Jan. 2017. 800p. ISBN 9781481485579. $34.99; pap. ISBN 9781481485562. $21.99. FANTASY

Det. Sal Brooks is always there to bail her brother out of trouble. This time he has been dabbling in dangerously magical books and is possessed by a demon. Luckily, a team of experts from the Catholic Church are there to help Sal contain the book and the evil spirit. She then agrees to join them, traveling the world to track down supernatural texts and store them in a Vatican archive where they can do no further harm. Originally released as an online series by digital publisher Serial Box, this first episodic novel is a collaborative work by four authors: Gladstone (Four Roads Crossed), ­Margaret Dunlap (TV’s Eureka and The Middleman), Mur ­Lafferty (Six Wakes), and Brian Michael Slattery (Liberation). Gladstone is credited as the creator of the project: think The X-Files with its combination of large arc and monster-of-the-week stories. The next “season” of stories is already in progress for this high-octane urban fantasy. ­VERDICT Each cast member of the Bookburner crew gets a moment to shine, as does every contributor, offering a different take on the individual characters and their plights. [See Prepub Alert, 8/1/16.]—MM

Kadrey, Richard. The Wrong Dead Guy. Harper Voyager. (Another Coop Heist, Bk. 2). Feb. 2017. 448p. ISBN 9780062389572. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062389596. FANTASY

Coop is a thief with an immunity to magic who works for the Department of Peculiar Science (DOPS). Because he steals for the feds, Coop has lost some of his disrespect for authority, but girlfriend Giselle mostly keeps him on mission. Coop’s job this time out is to remove a mummy from a low-rent Los Angeles museum of antiquities. But the mummy, once a powerful Egyptian sorcerer named Harkhuf, has plans of his own, starting with finding his mummy bride and enslaving the world. Kadrey, who began this series with The Everything Box, and who also writes the “Sandman Slim” series, gives readers a great tour of the seedier bits of L.A. VERDICT Some readers will find the nonstop barrage of quips, wordplay, and banter a blast, but Kadrey’s story might have been better served by occasionally playing it straight. [See Prepub Alert, 8/22/16.]—MM

redstarLafferty, Mur. Six Wakes. Orbit: Hachette. Feb. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9780316389686. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316389693. SF

sixwakes-jpg121216Waking up on a spaceship in gravity failure surrounded by dead bodies, the six crew members climb out of their cloning chambers, baffled by what might have caused the carnage. While they can see that their former bodies were attacked, none of them have any memories of the events. In fact, they have no recollection of the past 20-odd years they have apparently been aboard the Dormire. In all their other lives, the clones were brought back to life using stored mind maps that allowed them to keep a continuity with their earlier selves. But now the six survivors must figure out who killed their previous bodies and why. VERDICT Lafferty (Bookburners) delivers the ultimate locked-room mystery combined with top-notch sf worldbuilding. The puzzle of who is responsible for the devastation on the ship keeps the pages turning.—MM

Mari, Christopher & Jeremy K. Brown. Ocean of Storms. 47North: Amazon. Dec. 2016. 410p. ISBN 9781503938779. pap. $14.95. SF

When an electromagnetic pulse destroys Earth’s electronic infrastructure, it causes thousands of casualties around the globe. The pulse’s origin? An explosion on the moon, which created a lunar crevasse that must be investigated. However, humans have not been to the moon in decades, and China and the United States are caught in a political struggle. But the two countries will have to work together to bring a skilled astronaut team, plus a couple of renowned archaeologists, back to the lunar surface. The group soon faces disaster, both in space and back home, discovering that the fissure holds an incredible secret that may change the mission—and humanity—forever. ­VERDICT Mixing political intrigue with space exploration, this near-future thriller, a collaboration between Mari (The Next Space Age) and Brown (Ursula K. Le Guin; Calling off Christmas) is a solid choice for sf ­readers.—KC

Marion, Isaac. The Burning World: A Warm Bodies Novel. Emily Bestler: Atria. Feb. 2017. 500p. ISBN 9781476799711. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781476799735. HORROR

In the postapocalyptic world established in Warm Bodies, some of the undead are returning to life, like R. But while a few are only “Nearlies”—zombies who are continuing their journeys, R is truly alive. Slowly regaining human memories and skills, R continues to pursue the relationship that grows between him and new love interest Julie. Then the helicopters arrive: the Axiom Group has risen from the ashes to restore order. R, Julie, her best friend Nora, and a few others are on the run, traveling the country looking for answers to this new crisis. But R’s recollections may hold clues, and the past may resurface to bite him harder than any zombie could. VERDICT This sequel to Warm Bodies (The New Hunger was a prequel) continues R’s quest to personhood and relearning how to function in a world forever changed. [See Prepub Alert, 8/22/16.]—KC

Stross, Charles. Empire Games. Tor. Jan. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780765337566. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466835160. SF

In 2003, the Revolution overthrew the last king of the New British Empire. Now, 17 years later, the North American Commonwealth seeks to spread democracy throughout the world. The Ministry of Intertemporal Research and Intelligence is an espionage agency that has helped the Commonwealth spearhead its development and power in this time line. That’s right: it’s a time-traveling agency. Ministry head Miriam Burgeson knows that eventually their dimension will be crossed (as she and her crew did in the past), and the Americans will arrive. In another parallel universe, Miriam’s daughter, Rita—abandoned at birth by her on-the-run parent—has been recruited by the United States to look for these “world walkers” and stop them from threatening its national security. Yet, from the beginning, it is obvious that Rita is not getting the entire truth from her handlers. With two paratime agencies trying to avoid confrontation, the stage is being set for a battle between a pair of nuclear powers—and an estranged mother and daughter are caught in the middle. VERDICT With this series launch, Stross draws on the world of his “Merchant Princes” series and its paratime travelers. Contemporary power plays mixed with historical notes make for an ­entertaining, action-filled start to this trilogy.—KC

Vaughn, Carrie. Martians Abroad. Tor. Jan. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9780765382207. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466886476. SF

Growing up on Mars, Polly Newton has always dreamed of becoming a starship pilot. Leaving the colony and traveling the galaxy is finally within her grasp, until her mother, president of the Mars Colony, decides to send Polly and twin brother Charles to Galileo Academy on Earth—the one place Polly never wanted to see. As Polly and Charles are introduced to life at the academy, Polly has a difficult time fitting in with the antagonistic Earth teens and accepting that she has limited choices. Charles, on the other hand, uses his smarts to ease his transition, while cautioning his sister about deeper motives at work. As unusual circumstances begin to affect some of their classmates, Polly and Charles need to discover the truth before these incidents turn deadly. VERDICT Vaughn, moving away from her popular “Kitty Norville” urban fantasies, has penned a riveting sf stand-alone tale with broad YA crossover appeal.—KC

portalist-jpg121216newsworthy Open Road Media, a digital publishing company that sf/fantasy fans should know about owing to its efforts to reintroduce many out-of-print sf, fantasy, and horror novels, has launched, which should appeal to fans of, with its mix of speculative books coverage, geeky popular culture, and science news.

Collections & Anthologies

Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales. Pegasus Crime. Feb. 2017. 320p. ed. by Ellen Datlow. ISBN 9781681773216. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681773803. Horror

Birds have long served as symbols and omens to many cultures. In this collection of 16 stories, noted horror anthologist Datlow (Nightmares) reveals the darker side of avian myths and their meanings. In Seanan McGuire’s “The Mathematical Inevitability of Corvids,” a young girl understands that counting birds portends the future. A widow dreams of the power of her winged neighbors in Joyce Carol Oates’s “Great Blue Heron.” Stephen Graham Jones highlights how tragic mistakes cannot be hidden away in “Pigeon from Hell.” These stories reveal that having wings does not always mean you get to soar. VERDICT This haunting anthology presents an amazing array of writers who use avian tales to touch upon the shadows and light that exist in human lives. Aficionados of dark fantasy and horror will appreciate.—KC

Galactic Empires. Night Shade. Jan. 2017. 636p. ed. by Neil Clarke. ISBN 9781597808842. pap. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9781597806176. SF

As editor Clarke points out in his introduction, when most people hear the term galactic empire, they immediately picture Darth Vader and Star Wars. But there is a long history of star-faring empires in the genre, with stories that imagine our human tendencies to explore and conquer among the stars. While some of the writers here consider the human-alien conflict, as in Paul J. ­McAuley’s “Winning Peace,” there are other tales about the attempts to communicate and cooperate as recounted in Ruth Nestvold’s “Looking Through Lace” and Gwendolyn Clare’s excellent “All the Painted Stars.” Standouts from authors’ established worlds include Ann Leckie’s “Night’s Slow Poison,” set in the universe of her “Ancillary” novels, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “The Impossibles,” about an overworked lawyer in the world of Rusch’s “Retrieval Artists” series. VERDICT The stories gathered here, all of which have appeared elsewhere, show the huge range of possibilities of the chosen theme. Contributors make for a mix of newcomers and seasoned veterans alike, including Aliette de Bodard, Brandon Sanderson, Naomi Novik, Robert Silverberg, and Ian McDonald.—MM

Modesitt, L.E., Jr. Recluce Tales: Stories from the World of Recluce. Tor. Jan. 2017. 480p. ISBN 9780765386182. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765386199. FANTASY

In his 18-volume “Saga of Recluce” novels, Modesitt chronicled the 1,000-year history of the Island of Recluce. This new collection features 21 short stories (four are reprints) that span the history of the series. It opens with an essay on how the author developed the complex magic system used on Recluce; the following pieces offer a time line of both familiar and new highlights. A young mage faces a choice between saving the lives of his people or their wealth, but will his dilemma be enough to warrant “Madness?” When readers want to know what happens to a favorite character after they wander off the page, Modesitt shows that the answer is not always what it is “Worth.” VERDICT Fans of Modesitt’s best-selling saga will find this collection enhances their enjoyment of that series. New stories offered here serve as a foil to the main series, with the same rich detail and exciting lands to explore.—KC

Scalzi, John. Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi. Subterranean. Dec. 2016. 144p. illus. by Natalie Metzger. ISBN 9781596068124. $40; ebk. ISBN 9781596068131. SF

Who do you call when you need to schedule a superhero to rescue your city or country in crisis? An interview with “Denise Jones, Superbooker” shows you how. Can you really say the world wouldn’t be improved if yogurt took over control of the planet? These 18 works (with no piece longer than 2,300 words) represent 25 years of Scalzi (Redshirts) at his most brief. Balancing sharp humor with descriptions of outer-space locations and a side step into ideas “that really can’t be possible, right?” Scalzi demonstrates that his narrative skills dominate, no matter how many or how few words he uses. VERDICT Short sf is a boon to a genre that is too often weighed down with massive tomes. Scalzi readers will find these refreshingly concise tales delightful.—KC

Series Lineup

Arthur, Keri. Winter Halo. Signet: NAL. (Outcast, Bk. 2). Dec. 2016. 368p. ISBN 9780451473516. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698185388. SF

This sequel to City of Light returns to a dystopian future that includes not only genetically engineered supersoldiers such as heroine Tiger but shapeshifters as well. Tiger’s vow to help the children of the city leads her to a mysterious pharmaceutical company called Winter Halo.—MM

natureofapirate-jpg121216Dellamonica, A.M. The Nature of a Pirate. Tor. (Hidden Sea Tales, Bk. 3). Dec. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9780765334510. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466812376. FANTASY

This third entry in a portal fantasy series (after A Daughter of No Nation) has marine biologist Sophie Hansa using her modern skills on the watery world of Stormwrack. Here, she is looking into a strange case of magical sabotage and running from pirates.—MM

Hunter, Sylvia Izzo. A Season of Spells. Ace: Berkley. (Noctis Magicae, Bk. 3). Dec. 2016. 464p. ISBN 9780425272473. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780698144675. FANTASY

Sophie and Gray, last seen in Lady of Magick, travel with Lucia, heir of Alba, as she arrives in London to wed Roland, crown prince of England. When the young couple don’t seem to hit it off, Sophie convinces them to travel with her to Oxford where she hopes to reopen a women’s college.—MM

QUOTABLE “A boy is walking alone on the highway. He has been walking a long time. His Nikes fell apart years ago and his feet have become their own shoes, tender flesh encased in callus. The boy is Dead but does not rot. His brown skin is ashen but firm, preserved through the years by a powerfully simple refusal. The plague has not won him. He holds it at arm’s length and considers its offer.”—Issac Marion, The Burning World: A Warm Bodies Novel

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 December 1, 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.