This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Armies of Ants, a Truly Epic Space Opera, and a Magical San Francisco That Never Was

Death’s Mistress: Sister of Darkness, by Terry Goodkind
Anyone sad that Goodkind’s Sword of Truth has ended will rejoice to see this book—the first installment of a new series centered on Nicci, once the deadly lieutenant of Emperor Jagang and now the deadliest of Richard Rahl and Kahlan’s allies. With Richard’s rule stabilizing, Nicci is free to have her own adventures, launching Goodkind’s standalone new series with a fast-paced story that sees Nicci teamed with prophet Nathan, a pairing that’s tough on Nicci but delightful for Goodkind’s devoted fans.

The Weight of the World, by Tom Toner
Toner’s second book of the Amaranthine Spectrum is as deeply imagined, deliberately paced, and brain-breakingly opaque (in the best way) as the first, 2015’s The Promise of the Child. The epic plottings of immortals, post-human mutants, and wide variety of other sentient beings inhabiting the 147th century continue: Lycaste follows immortal Hugo Maneker on a dangerous quest he doesn’t understand, Aaron the Long Life furthers his plot to take over the Amaranthine Firmament, and Sotiris searches for his dead sister. While much remains a mystery, Toner’s confident style—and the forceful impact on the reader when pieces do fall into place—give the sequel a heft and power that goes beyond the plot twists. There’s a reason this trilogy has been compared to Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun.

The Skill of Our Hands, by Steven Brust and Skyler White
In 2013’s The Incrementalists, co-authors Brust and White imagined a secret society of immortals who steer the course of history by degrees, making incremental changes that will hopefully put us on the right path. The long-awaited followup shows us that humanity is sometimes surprisingly resistant to being redirected. In 2014, an activist named Phil is murdered following a doomed attempt to help overturn Arizona’s anti-immigration laws. But Phil is an Incrementalist, meaning his consciousness and memories can be transferred to a new body, provided his compatriots can find a suitable host—which means traveling back into the memories his bloody past. The ripped-from-the-headlines plotting avoids excess moralizing as it addresses the responsibility of every one of us to act out against injustice.

Passing Strange, by Ellen Klages
This gorgeous collection of interrelated vignettes from Ellen Klages explores a version of 1940 San Francisco that never was, with an atmosphere of magic and wondrous possibility so palpable, you’ll ache to visit. There are cities within the city: an island where your eyes cannot be trusted, a Chinatown offering “exotic” experiences to Westerners looking for a thill of the other, and, at night, a world where lovers meet in the dark to carry out forbidden affairs. If all of this sounds not that much different from the world as it is, well, maybe that’s intentional: there is magic in the everyday, and great power in the connection between people. With flavors of pulp fiction and screwball comedy, this is an irresistible new work from a World Fantasy Award-winning writer.

A Conversation in Blood, by Paul S. Kemp
Kemp returns with another adventures for his reluctant adventurers, the warrior-priest Egil and the roguish Nix, introduced in The Hammer and the Blade. The classic sword-and-sorcery duo gets mixed up in another outsized, humor-tinged fantasy adventure when Nix, a skilled thief, robs from the wrong grave. The rune-covered golden plates he nicks from a tomb awaken a beast that hungers to consume the world, and we’re only being slightly metaphorical here. Nix and Egil will have to work quickly to fix their little snafu before they’ll have far greater worries than keeping their tavern open for business. Like whether there will be any customers alive to visit it.

Prophets of the Ghost Ants, by Clark Thomas Carlton
Lately we’re digging SFF featuring outsized bugs, and this inventive new fantasy is no exception. Carlton imagines a world in which all of human society, from the food we eat, to the clothing we wear, to our art, to our religion, is hatched from our relationship to the insect world. You see, in this environment, we’re the size of bugs, and bugs are still, well, the size of bugs, which means we are constantly under threat from fleas, spiders, and worse. Meanwhile, we continue doing all the things we do now, as the planet’s dominant predators: in-fighting, prejudice, needless conflicts. One such skirmish is far worse than the others: an amy of people led by a fanatic, who give others the choice to convert or die at the hands of their mounted soldiers, riding atop the ferocious Ghost Ants. Only one slave with a personal connection to the prophet has a chance of stopping them, and saving whatever’s left of us.

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