This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Norse Gods, a Return to the Hollows, and Lesbians in Space

The Stars are Legion, by Kameron Hurley
A woman named Zan wakes up in a sick bay minus most of her memories. She is greeted by a woman named Jayd, daughter to the lord of the Katazyrna, who says they are sisters, and that Zan is the only one who can help her people. From this intriguing beginning, Hurley throws us furiously into a universe where women fight and die for and aboard living worldships, organisms populated by maintained by their solely female populations, who give birth to everything needed to keep the ships healthy: children, monsters, even fleshy mechanical parts. But the Katazyrna is a dying world, and the coveted worldship Mokshi may hold the secret that will save it. Before Zan can get her bearings, Katazyrna is ambushed, and Zan and Jayd are thrust into dangerous new roles and a fight for their lives in a landscape that’s constantly shifting underneath them—and the reader. This is space opera like you’ve never seen it—angry, feminist, furiously inventive, and not a little frightening.

The Turn: The Hollows Begins with Death, by Kim Harrison
Harrison thrills long-time readers of The Hollows with a prequel set 40 years before the start of Rachel Morgan’s adventures to depict the Turn: the moment when a genetically-altered tomato unleashed a plague that killed a billion humans and forced the magical Inderlander races out into the open. Geneticist Trisk Cambri, an elf, takes a job as an industrial spy, helping to develop the new vegetable that might change the world. Her rival Trent “Kal” Kalamack sabotages the project—and inadvertently unleashes the plague. The magical creatures are suddenly threatened with exposure, the only beings notably unaffected by the plagues,. They’re left to try to save humanity without revealing their true nature. This page-turner is more than just backstory, though—it’s a compelling thriller and a welcome return to a beloved urban fantasy setting

Magic of Blood and Sea: The Assassin’s Curse; The Pirate’s Wish, by Cassandra Rose Clarke
This bind-up of two previously publish novels provides another chance to explore the early work of one of the most interesting cross-genre writers to hit the scene in the last five years. In this duology, she throws creative caution to the wind, spinning out a story that is exuberant in its love for just about every fantastical idea possible—and somehow pulls it all together into a charming, surprising coming-of-age story. Ananna is a young pirate. Naji is the young assassin sent to kill her. When Ananna saves him instead, a curse is invoked that compels him to protect Ananna, and to feel pain when she is in danger. The two set off through a world populated by pirates, blood magic, and talking sharks to find out how to break the spell. Naturally, it involves completing three impossible tasks and experiencing true love’s first kiss. This is a charming all-ages story, and a herald of great things to come from their talented author.

All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai
Mastai’s debut hinges on a brilliant twist to time travel formula: a visitor to the past mucks about with history and trigers a dystopian future—which turns out to be the world we’re all living in today (or, more accurately, the slightly less dystopian world we left behind in 2016). Tom Barren grew up in a world modeled on the 1950s utopian vision of the future—jetpacks, flying cars, endless clean energy. He time travels back to 1965 to witness the invention of that boundless energy source—and his presence causes the experiment to fail. Leaping forward, he finds himself in our present, and is suitably horrified at our backwards ways and feeble technology. He sets about trying to prove his story to a woman he promptly falls in love with, causing him to question whether he really wants to set things right. Mastai, a debut novelist but an accomplished screenwriter, crafts a cinematic narrative that lives up to that brilliant setup.

Amberlough, by Lara Elena Donnelly
Combining CasablancaCabaret, and John le Carré, Donnelly’s intoxicating debut whisks us away to Amberlough, a seductive, permissive enclave in a setting not exactly unlike 1920s Europe. The city is targeted by a conservative, nationalist One-State Party, which seeks to unite all nations into an orderly empire. Cyril DePaul is a shattered intelligence agent forced reluctantly back into the field—where his spectacular failure puts him at the mercy of blackmail by the OSP. But everyone in this story is a double-agent of sorts; no one is precisely who they seem, and their complex relationships and cover stories weave together into an complex web of intrigue. As the OSP tightens its grip, every character is forced to make hard choices, even as their freedoms wither around them. It’s dark, powerful, and affecting stuff, destined to be a book remembered—truly a book for our times.

A Perfect Machine, by Brett Savory
Henry Kyllo is a Runner. Every night, he is chased by Hunters with guns, the chase part of a secret tradition, a hidden world of ritual and myth. When Henry is hit, he goes to the hospital, but he doesn’t let go of his bullets—because he believes that when he achieves full-body lead content, he will “ascend.” Rumor is that no Runner has successfully ascended—but this isn’t exactly true. And Henry isn’t as prepared to get what he wants as he thinks he is. With a breathless pace that mimics the hunts the story hinges upon, and a compelling character in Henry, single-minded in pursuit of mysterious goals, this grim thriller crackles with tension and intrigue from the first page to the last.

Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show, by Eric Scott Fischl
In the post-Civil War 19th century, a group of performers, con artists, and criminals travel as part of the Medicine Show led by disgraced surgeon Dr. Alexander Potter. They entertain, whore, and steal, but their main grift is selling Chock-a-saw Sagwa Tonic, a patent medicine supposedly guaranteed to cure whatever ails you—in other words, snake oil. But true alchemy is involved, practiced by a desperate man who is quickly running out of time, and Sagwa Tonic sometimes affects people in unusual, horrifying ways—leading to the revenge plans of Josiah McDaniel, a drunk for whom Sagwa has been a fate worse than death. You’ll feel slightly dirty after spending time with some of these characters, but you’ll never forget them—or this gritty, down-and-dirty debut.

With Blood Upon the Sand, by Brad Beaulieu
Beaulieu’s second novel in the Song of Shattered Sands finds heroine Çeda serving as a Blade Maiden for the hated kings of Sharakhai. Bonded to the asirim, she feels their pain and hunger for freedom after centuries of enslavement, and they hope she is the one who will be their savior. The Kings, however, are regrouping after their defeat by the Moonless Host, and their revenge upon the city is bloody and cruel. As Çeda is pulled deeper into the rebel’s cause, she learns a secret that could be the key to defeating the Kings—but only if she can survive long enough to understand it. In the shifting web of relationships and power in Sharakhai, nothing is certain for long—including her control over the asirim she is bonded to.

Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman
Working from the original Norse legends, Gaiman applies his novelist talents to craft the old myths into a cohesive narrative in which the gods emerge as characters with motivations and flaws, telling us the story of Odin, father of the gods, and his sons Thor and Loki from the beginning, but not quite like we’ve experienced it before, from how Asgard was built to how Thor came into possession of his famous hammer. Gaiman is true to the apocalyptic tone of the old myths, stories that cast the world as a place of struggle and violence, where dying in battle was probably your best option. If you’ve read American Gods, you know Gaiman has a gift for making old stories not just new, but unmistakably his own.

Hungry Ghosts, by Stephen Blackmoore
The long-awaited third installment in the Eric Carter urban fantasy series finds our favorite necromancer in a bit of a pickle. He never wanted to be wed to Santa Muerte (that’s “Saint Death,” if your Spanish isn’t up to snuff) in the first place; now, her former flame, the Aztec king of the dead, has returned. Even as an enchantment begins turning Eric’s flesh to stone, both sides of that unhappy relationship are trying to enlist him to bump off the other. Figuring out which god is telling him the truth, which one he should kill (answer: both), and how to survive will require a quick stop-off in the land of the dead. This book arrives a few years later than expected, but we’re thrilled to see Eric Carter back in business.

Idle Ingredients: A Sin du Jour Affair, by Matt Wallace
The fourth big job for the Manhattan catering crew-to-the-supernatural (and other gods and monsters) finds the Sin du Jour crew laying out a spread for a motivational speaker with a mojo like no other. This Tony Robbins-from-hell soon begins to sow discord within the company’s ranks, but the bad vibes only seem to be affecting the men. Sorting the whole mess out while keeping the courses coming and the plates spinning is going to be a tall order, but it’s just another day on the serving lines for our favorite urban fantasy event planners.

Crown of Doom and Light, by Jayde Brooks
The sequel to Brooks’ unique urban epic fantasy Inherit the Crown returns to the battleground of New York City, where a chosen warrior woman fights for the fate of the world, vamps stalk the streets, and a power as old as the Earth itself is trying to reclaim it. Eden, an ancient god in the body of a reluctant twentysomething Brooklynite, is the only person who can put an end to the darkness, but first she has to overcome the darkness within her soul.

The People’s Police, by Norman Spinrad
Veteran sci-fi and fantasy author Norman Spinrad is back with a late-career oddity that may be one of the most enjoyable things he’s ever written—and certainly the most relevant to today. Cop Martin Luther Martin grew up in a gangland and pulled himself across the thin blue line in a drowning New Orleans by a sheer act of will. When he falls on hard times (like the rest of the crumbling city) and receives an order to evict himself from his own home, he decides he’s had enough and helps organize a police strike. Meanwhile, brothel proprietor J.B. Lafitte is facing foreclosure on his house of ill repute, and he’s none too happy about it. When Martin goes on the television show of voodoo queen MaryLou Boudreau to try to drum up support for his cause, he ends up inadvertently awakening a dark spirit who may be able to help them all set things right in the Big Easy—for a price. Spinrad is a master of melding real world politics and otherworldly weirdness, and The People’s Police finds him in top form.

Elisha Mancer, by E.C. Ambrose
The fourth volume of Ambrose’s Dark Apostle historical fantasy series takes us back to 14th century England, where former surgeon Elisha Barber has already used his rare magical gifts to end a war, kill a king, and rescue the heir to the throne. Now working for the new and rightful monarch, Elisha is battling his greatest foe yet: a group of dark wizards that has already infiltrated the palace to the highest levels. Fighting this threat from the inside will mean forging shaky alliances and risking the full use of his powers, which he fears would make him little better than those he is fighting against.

Infernal Devices, by K.W. Jeter
You’ve heard of steampunk, right? Read the book that started it all: K.W. Jeter’s genre-defining classic turns 30 this year, and is out in a new edition from Angry Robot Books this month, in anticipation of the releases of the long-awaited third book in a loose trilogy, Grim Expectations, due in June.

What are you reading this week?

 

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