This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Clone Murders, Forest Kingdoms, and Very Bad Books

Bookburners, by Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, and Brian Francis Slattery
With a punchy, episodic style, this story about a NYPD Detective who joins a Vatican-based team of demon-hunters after they help her save her brother from possession is brisk and hugely entertaining. The ragtag team consists of Detective Sal Brooks, tortured priest Father Menchu, warrior Grace, hacker Liam, and slightly magical archivist Asanti. These form a group of distinct and distinctly enjoyable personalities who track down the magical books demons use to create portals into our world—and, yes, burn them. With its beginnings as a weekly serial story with an accompanying audio podcast, its breakneck pace never feels rushed, and its balance between the horrifyingly demonic and the hilariously clever never falters.

The Hanging Tree, by Ben Aaronovitch
The sixth book in Aaronovitch’s delightful River of London urban fantasy series finds Peter Grant, England’s last Wizard and one of just two people authorized to practice magic in the kingdom, asked to investigate the overdose death of a young girl. Charged with establishing the innocence of Lady Cecelia Tyburn-Thames’ daughter in connection with the death, Grant finds evidence that the dead girl had been practicing magic illegally. This volume introduces a few “real world” wrinkles into Aaronovitch’s gritty and textured fantasy world: a ledger kept by legendary Victorian criminal Jonathan Wild, and Isaac Newton’s lost alchemy papers—as he builds a deadly mystery centered on the Marble Arch in London, once the sight of the Tyburn gallows, known as the Hanging Tree.

Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty
A locked-room mystery nestled comfortably inside a big-idea sci-fi premise, Lafferty’s latest is a interstellar page-turner. Societal and climate collapse drives humanity to send 2,000 cryo-frozen people to a distant, Earth-like planet on a ship crewed by six criminals who volunteer to be cloned again and again as they shepherd their precious cargo to its final destination. Every time the crew is cloned, they maintain their collective memories. When they wake up at the beginning of the novel, however, their former bodies are dead—brutally murdered in various ways; the ship is in shambles (gravity is off, the controlling artificial intelligence is offline, and they’re off-course); and their memories (and all other records) have been erased. The six have to clean up the mess—but they also have to figure out who killed them and why, and how to survive within a paranoid pressure-cooker of a ship. Lafferty ramps this one up steadily, from the jarring first pages to the nail-biting conclusion.

Crossroads of Canopy, by Thoraiya Dyer
The first in Dyer’s Titan’s Forest trilogy, Crossroads of Canopy tosses us high into a complex world, mythology, and society. The great forest is huge, with trees stretching hundreds of feet high and containing entire cities within their branches. The upper reaches, where the sun penetrates, are divided into 13 kingdoms, ruled by gods who are routinely reincarnated into human bodies. The city of Canopy spans this sunny, abundant layer of the forest, while life grows progressively worse for the pale denizens of the lower areas. Unar worships Audblayin, the goddess of birth and life, and expects to be promoted to be the goddesses’ bodyguard when she is reincarnated. When that doesn’t happen, her sense of self comes unmoored, and she embarks on a journey that takes her ever further below the treeline—and exposing her to uncomfortable truths about the very foundations of the society she has served her whole life. Lush and detailed, this is the ideal debut: a book that immediately makes you want to read the sequel.

Dawn Study, by Maria V. Snyder
Snyder’s Poison Study series, about a young orphan woman accused of murdering the son of an important politician (though she acted in self-defense) who received a stay of execution when she agreed to be a food taster for Ixia’s military commander, comes to a close with the sixth installment. Yalenda has managed to survive many intrigues and conspiracies over the years, forging a bond with the magic-immune Valek, who oversees security in Ixia and is the commander’s chief bodyguard. Now, as Ixiaand neighboring Sitia stand on the brink of war, the pair must work together one last time to put a stop to a plot that could lead both kingdoms to ruin. We’re sorry to say goodbye to this series—an addictive blend of magic, intrigue, and romance.

The Ghoul Vendetta, by Lisa Shearin 
The fourth volume of Shearin’s SPI Files stretches urban fantasy info amusing new shapes. Makenna Fraser and her fellow agents at the Supernatural Protection & Investigation agency root out evil in a world where “evil” looks a lot like real monsters. In their latest case, they investigate the kidnapping of the nephew of a prominent vampire gangster by a band of slimy swamp creatures and a spate of zombie bank robberies (the zombies are the robbers; zombie banks are a different kind of horrific). Fraser, her boyfriend Rake (a magic-wielding ghoul) must stop the madness and rescue her SPI partner Ian, who has been kidnapped by a powerful shapeshifter bent on sowing chaos and maybe, you know, brining about the end of the world. This fourth volume welcomes new readers, but you owe it to yourself to read each irresistible volume.

Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor
The story of Binti Ekeopara Zuzu Dambu Kaipka of Namib is fascinating, filled with ideas that go beyond typical sci-fi trappings. Okorafor used Binti to explore concepts of what it means to be Other, personal identity, and struggle, set against a colorful world of living ships and a galactic civilization that feels anchored and comprehensible because we view it through the lens of a single girl. Binti was much changed by the end of the first book, and in the second, she struggles to reacclimatize when she returns to Earth, hoping to take part in a traditional pilgrimage of her people—but finds her home, too, has changed in her absence.

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