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 can’t-miss new SFF releases.
Battle Hill Bolero, by Daniel José Older (January 3, Roc—Paperback)
Older closes out his fantastic Bone Street Rumba trilogy with a bang. Half-dead couple Carlos and Sasha get pulled into the growing rebellion against the Council of theDead, which is supposed to mediate disputes between the occult residents of New York—but there’s growing evidence its true purpose is much less benign. Older has crafted a complex world of shifting loyalties and explosive secrets, and everything comes home to roost as Carlos and Sasha chase down magical books that might be the key to the conflict—and eventually, they must take the fight to the highest (or is that lowest) levels. It all spins towards a final confrontation in a world that perfectly combines the quirky realness of Brooklyn and a fog of the supernatural. Can’t we have a few more of these? Please?
Bookburners, by Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, and Brian Francis Slattery (January 31, Saga Press—Paperback)
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.
Hardcover $26.99 | $29.99
Death’s Mistress: Sister of Darkness, by Terry Goodkind (January 24, Tor Books—Hardcover)
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.
Defiant, by Dave Bara (January 3, DAW—Hardcover)
The third book of the Lightship Chronicles opens on a moment of peace: Peter Cochrane and his new wife Karina on their way to Sandosa, the newest member of the Union formed from the ashes of the old Empire. When they arrive onboard Cochrane’s newest command, The Defiant, however, the forces of Sandosa attack, attempting to assassinate both Peter and Karina. Cochrane responds with the devastating power the ship represents—but this is just the beginning of a breathless series of events that will bring Cochrane and his new wife to the assistance of his old lover Dobrina Kierkopf against the Butcher of Carinthia, Prince Arin. The politics and the firefights fly fast and furious, as Cochrane discovers hidden secrets about the Union’s powerful allies, the Earth Historians, and rockets towards a final confrontation with Arin that will determine the future of humanity. Bara continues to spin a complex and well-constructed military SF series that stands proudly alongside well-decorated examples of the subgenre.
The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden (January 10, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Arden’s debut novel is an incredible achievement, fusing Russian folklore and history into a thoroughly modern fantasy exploring themes of belief, feminism, and magic. Vasilisa “Vasya” Petrovna is the beautiful daughter of a 13th century Russian noble. Her father, conflicted because he blames Vasya for the death of her mother, nonetheless seeks to protect her in the one way he believes he can: by marrying her into royalty. Vasya, however, prefers to commune with the spirits of wood, home, and water that lurk in the forests on her father’s estate—spirits who have protected the land for centuries. With the arrival of a new priest and Vasya’s new mother-in-law, who both see the spirits as demons to be destroyed, the villagers begin to reject the ancient beings just when the village needs them the most. It falls to Vasya to harness the power she holds within to save her family and her home. Arden’s lyrical prose serves a story that combines beauty and power into a tale that feels like a fairy tale of old—ideal for a cold winter night’s reading.
The Burning Page, by Genevieve Cogman (January 10, Ace Books—Paperback)
The third installment in The Invisible Library series finds Librarian-slash-spy Irene and her dragon apprentice Kai in a bad odor and on probation in the infinite inter-dimensional library that connects all the alternate universes. The timing is terrible, because rogue Librarian Alberich is back, fomenting disorder and disruption on the worlds he controls—as well as within the Library itself. Worse, Irene begins to suspect there’s a spy in her circle working against her. As in previous installments, Cogman’s worldbuilding across the various alternate universes never ceases to delight, providing a sense of verisimilitude that only increases as the plot slowly tightens and Alberich’s true intentions—nothing less than the destruction of the Library itself, no matter the consequences—become clear.
The Hanging Tree, by Ben Aaronovitch (January 31, DAW—Paperback)
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.
The Heart of What Was Lost, by Tad Williams (January 3, DAW—Hardcover)
Williams authored one of the most influential epic fantasies of all time with the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy. In The Heart of What Was Lost, he returns to the world of Osten Ard in spectacular style, picking up the story immediately in the wake of Ineluki the Storm King’s defeat in To Green Angel Tower. Ineluki’s loyal servants, the Norns, are on the run northward, pursued by Duke Isgrimnur and the mortal army he’s amassed for their final destruction. As the army moves northward, the desperate Norns use all of their magic in order to reach their mountain stronghold of Nakkiga, where a final confrontation is destined to settle the fate of Osten Ard for all time. Williams certainly hasn’t lost his touch for the epic, and this volume is but a herald of a new Osten Ard trilogy in the making—all of which is great news for fantasy fans.
The Last Sacrifice, by James A. Moore (January 3, Angry Robot—Paperback)
Moore launches the epic fantasy series Tides of War with the breakneck story of battle-hardened mercenary Brogan McTyre, who returns home from war to find his wife and children have been carried off by the terrifying Grakhul, servants to the gods themselves. The Grakhul only take mortals they intend to sacrifice to appease the gods, and the tough McTyre is shaken to his core at the thought of losing his family. Gathering a rescue party, he risks not just his life but the fate of the entire world to rescue his family—because defying the Grakhul means defying the gods themselves. His actions have consequences all over the world, setting up a chain reaction that might result in the end of all things, as the gods seek to reassert the old order—at any price. Fans of Moore know the man can build a world like no other, and he doesn’t disappoint here, pitting a fearsome—but mortal—warrior against impossible odds.
Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty (January 31, Orbit—Paperback)
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.
Martians Abroad, by Carrie Vaughn (January 17, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Vaughn jumps from the Kitty Norville urban fantasy series to a smart, fun story centered on smart, fun Polly, a resident of Mars. Polly has her life planned out: she just knows she’s going to be a starship captain someday. When her mother thwarts her dreams of attending the astrodome in favor of sending her and her twin brother “dirtside” (that is, to old Earth) to attend the prestigious Galileo Academy, she’s angry and unhappy. When she doesn’t fit in or get along with the elitist students she meets,sensing something “off” about the place, her unhappiness worsens, even as her more level-headed brother settles in. As Polly comes to terms with her new friends and her new life, the sinister goings-on at the school come dangerously close to the surface, challenging Polly’s deep reserves of intelligence, bravery, and luck. In Polly, Vaughn has crafted a pitch-perfect young adult voice and a top-notch sci-fi action story, every bit the feminist answer to the so-called Robert Heinlein “juveniles” that inspired it..
Hardcover $24.29 | $26.99
The Weight of the World, by Tom Toner (January 24, Night Shade Books—Hardcover)
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.
Crossroads of Canopy, by Thoraiya Dyer (January 31, Tor Books—Hardcover)
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.
Hardcover $23.39 | $25.99
Empire Games, by Charles Stross (January 17, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Launching a new series within the Merchant Prince universe, Empire Games is nonetheless a standalone work that readers unfamiliar with the previous books will find perfectly accessible—and entertaining. Different timelines in alternate universes develop the ability to time travel and shift between dimensions—setting them up for a mind-bending interdimensional cold war that could go hot if cards aren’t played just right. In one, the Department of Homeland Security drafts Rita to follow in the footsteps of her mother Miriam, a woman who was able to walk between dimensions. In an alternate world, Miriam heads up the Ministry of Intertemporal Research and Intelligence—and knows the alternate-world Americans are coming, and prepares for wars both cold and hot as a result. With mother and daughter caught in the middle, great powers cross dimensional lines to bump up against each other in a complex story that spins on capital-B “Big Ideas.”
The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner and Other Stories, by Terry Pratchett (January 3, Harper Collins—Paperback)
The great Terry Pratchett left the disc two years ago, but we still haven’t seen the last of his wondrous work. This volume collects more bits of the Discworld creator’s long-obscure “juvenilia,” following 2015’s The Dragons at Crumbling Castle, and Other Stories. Most of these 14 stories date from the 1960s and ’70s (when the author was a teenager), and were originally published in Pratchett’s hometown newspaper. Here’ they are given new titles and slight editing (at least, according to the introduction from the posthumous Pratchett). Though familiar faces from his long-running series are absent, and the sense of humor is hardly as well-formed or sharp-edged as it would become in later decades, these silly stories of oddballs heading off on grand adventures will delight Sir Terry’s many fans.
HYPE, by Jimmy Palmotti and Justin Gray, with illustrations by Javier Pina and Alessia Nocera (December 29, Adaptive Studios—Paperback)
With a creative team behind DC’s zany brilliant recent run of Harley Quinn and Jonah Hex, HYPE is an illustrated sci-fi adventure novel with a propulsive premise: Noah Heller is the U.S. government’s secret weapon, a man gifted with a power to grant himself an incredible boost of speed, strength, and intelligence. The downside: his superhuman abilities burn out after just 45 minutes; then he crashes; it takes his body 23 hours to completely rebuild itself. With so little time to spend solving all the world’s problems, it’s no wonder Noah has trouble connecting with mere mortals. Enter scientist Amanda Marr, who hopes to help him get a handle on his gifts—provided a world-ending threat by a terrorist organization doesn’t render her efforts moot first. Originally envisioned as a screenplay, this novel rockets forward with all the speed and pyrotechnics of a summer blockbuster.