For nearly two decades, Jim Killen has served as the science fiction and fantasy book buyer for Barnes & Noble. Every month on Tor.com and the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Jim shares his curated list of the month’s best science fiction & fantasy books.
Canto Bight, by Saladin Ahmed, Rae Carson, Mira Grant, and John Jackson Miller (December 5, Random House—Hardcover)
Four novellas set in the ever-expanding Star Wars universe offer a glimpse at one of the new settings of The Last Jedi: Canto Bight, a city-sized casino where the rich and ruthless mingle to play the odds and make deals. Ahmed tells the story of a working-class salesman whose vacation in Canto Bight is twisted when he meets one of the city’s criminal class; Mira Grant follows a deal for a priceless bottle of wine that goes spectacularly bad; Rae Carson demonstrates the possibilities the casino city offers when a servant is forced to battle the elite; and Miller follows a desperate gambler who has one chance to change his luck—if he can survive the night. Four of the best SFF writers in the business offer deep dives into a place poised to rival Mos Eisley as a wretched hive of scum and villainy: this is the Star Wars book you’re looking for.
The Girl in the Tower, by Katherine Arden (December 5, Random House—Hardcover)
Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale was a lovely jewel of a book, and the sequel is just as precious and rare, reuniting readers with Vasya, a girl living in a 14th century Russia steeped in violence and magic. Disguising herself as a man, armed with a knife, and riding her mysterious horse Solovey, Vasya must flee her home after the death of her father, beginning another grand adventure. In the countryside, accompanied by the frost-demon Morozko, who has an unusual attraction to her, she finds bandits burning villages and kidnapping young girls. She frees several women, and makes her way to Moscow where she finds her brother, now a monk, and her sister, now a stuffy member of court. She becomes embroiled with a plot against Grand Prince Dmitrii Ivanovich and discovers her own growing power, reveling in her freedom even as a threat to the kingdom arises that only she can hope to combat.
Hardcover $21.75 | $28.00
Persepolis Rising, by James S.A. Corey (December 5, Orbit—Hardcover)
The seventh book of The Expanse arrives, delivering the tension, narrative complexity, and human drama we expect from space opera’s answer to Game of Thrones. Survivors of the lost human colony Laconia storm Medina Station and take control of the hub of ring gates that allow access to countless worlds—while using an advanced warship built by the same semi-sentient alien protomolecules that constructed the gates themselves. Once again, the Rocinante and its crew, led by Captain James Holden, is called upon to help defend the Earth-Mars Coalition from a new threat—but old hostilities rise to the surface, and Holden and his companions aren’t sure how far they can trust those they serve. When a second alien warship is dispatched from Laconia, the equation shifts again, as the chaos of old animosities threatens to upset the balance of power. In fine style, and with breathless action and intricate politicking, Corey delivers the beginning of the end of The Expanse. It will leave you desperate for the penultimate volume.
Star Wars The Last Jedi: Incredible Cross-Sections, by Jason Fry and Kemp Remilard (December 15, DK—Hardcover)
A hallmark of the Star Wars universe is the sense that the technology and real estate that make it up are both functional and lived-in. From the sparks flying in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon to the endless button-pushing and lever-pulling, everything in the galaxy far, far away feels tangible. This beautifully designed book, the latest in a series of them, includes intricate cross-sections of 13 vehicles from the upcoming The Last Jedi, each offering a detailed view of the underlying technology and its unique capabilities and flaws. The new film promises to introduce several new ships alongside returning favorites, meaning there is a wealth of new information for die-hard fans to absorb.
The Forever Ship, by Francesca Haig (December 5, Gallery Books—Hardcover)
The third book in the Fire Sermon trilogy returns to a post-nuclear war Earth where all newborns come in twinned sets—one Alpha, perfect in every way, and one Omega, mutated. Alpha and Omegas are linked psychically, each feeling the other’s pain and experiencing the other’s death—and Alphas are still placing their twins into stasis tanks for “safekeeping.” Omega Cass leads a rebellion against the Alphas, fueled by visions of a fresh apocalypse, but when her Alpha brother Zach comes to her with new information, she finds herself facing with an impossible puzzle: how to deal with a sibling who is her enemy, but who she can’t harm in any way—and whose presence brings out the worst in the Omegas she leads. A daring raid frees thousands of imprisoned Omegas, and Cass moves towards a final confrontation with the Alpha general she’s seen in her visions, a confrontation in which every participant will feel their wounds, their exhaustion, even their deaths—twice.
Star Wars The Last Jedi: The Visual Dictionary, by Pablo Hidalgo (December 15, DK—Hardcover)
Star Wars offers one of the richest and most complex fictional universes ever built, and with The Last Jedi hitting movie screens this month, it’s about to get even bigger. Anyone who wants to keep their status as a saga expert is going to need this image-packed guide to the film, featuring the lowdown on more than 100 new characters, creatures, and settings, including droids and other assorted technology, each accompanied by detailed notes from Star Wars information guru Pablo Hidalgo.
Flame in the Dark, by Faith Hunter (December 5, Penguin—Paperback)
Hunter’s third Soulwood novel follows Nell Ingram, new agent in Homeland Security’s Unit Eighteen of the Psychometry Law Enforcement Division (PsyLED), responsible for keeping tabs on the paranormal and people with special abilities. When a U.S. senator is targeted by psychometric attacks, a lab that might be experimenting on paranormals falls under suspicion—and PsyLED is called in. Nell, struggling with her recent escape from a cult and with her feelings for fellow agent Occam, is also still discovering the range and variety of her powers—some of which are expressing themselves in involuntary ways, such as the leaves and branches that grow from her neck and fingernails. As the investigation builds, the body count rises—and Nell may discover if she’s truly ready for her new life sooner than she thinks, or wants.
The Man From the Diogenes Club, by Kim Newman (December 26, Titan—Paperback)
Newman takes a break from the main Anno Dracula books to offer a collection of 10 stories set in the same alt-history world, following Richard Jeperson, the most interesting, skilled, and famous member of the Diogenes Club, a little-known but “most essential” branch of British Intelligence with a portfolio of strategies to fight paranormal threats. Along with the beautiful Vanessa and the dutiful Fred, Jeperson investigates supernatural murders in sex shops, a ghost seeking to set off nuclear war, sentient snowmen, and Nazi zombies, all with the panache and fashion sense of go-go ‘70s.
Hymn, by Ken Scholes (December 5, Tor Books—Hardcover)
The fifth and final book in Ken Scholes sprawling Psalms of Isaak quintet arrives with a thunderous crescendo, as the fate of The Named Lands and the world of Lasthome is finally revealed. Newcomers would be lost here (start instead with the excellent Lamentation), and longtime readers will want to steer clear of spoilers, but suffice it to say, the wait for this finale was worth it, as conflicts wage on fronts from the earth to the moon and kings and gods pick sides in the war to end all wars.
God’s Last Breath, by Sam Sykes (December 5, Orbit—Paperback)
The third and final book in Sykes’ Bring Down Heaven trilogy sees Lenk freeing the demon Khoth-Kapira from its prison, believing it will rebuild the world the gods have abandoned. The remaining mortal population begins to gather under Khoth-Kapira’s banner, desperate for any hope that the world can be. In Cier’Djaal, however, the final forces of humans, tulwar, and shicts have gathered for a last-ditch confrontation, unaware of the followers Khoth-Kapira is amassing—a host Lenk is beginning to suspect will not be used to rebuild, but to destroy. Suddenly, the wars of mortals begin to seem very small indeed.
World’s End, by Joan D. Vinge (December 26, Tor Books—Paperback)
World’s End isn’t the sort of place anyone wants to be: a desert world filled with criminals, dangerous fauna, and outcasts from human society, it’s where policeman B.Z. Gundhalinu must go in search of his estranged brothers and Song, a woman infected with the sybil’s disease by the mysterious Fire Lake. Gundhalinu barely survives the journey to find Song, who is ruling over a small band of misfits—and is, in turn, ruled by Fire Lake, which appears to be imbued with a strange intelligence. When Song infects him with the sybil’s disease, Gundhalinu discovers he has his own new powers—and can hear the Lake, which tells him its surprising tale, a story of ancient technology and a sentient machine that has lost its purpose. This bridge novel is set in the same world as Vinge’s twin Hugo-nominated novels The Snow Queen and The Summer Queen, and finally back in print after far too many years.
What new books are you reading this month?