For over a decade, Jim Killen has served as the science fiction and fantasy book buyer for Barnes & Noble. Every month on the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog and Tor.com, Jim shares his curated list of the month’s can’t-miss new SF/F releases.
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A Crucible of Souls, by Mitchell Hogan (September 22, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
The first volume in the Sorcery Ascendant series tells the story of Caldan, orphaned by murderers, raised in a monastery where he is taught the art of sorcery. Cast out as a young man with nothing but a few mysterious heirlooms and a little bit of money, he sets off to find out the truth about his family and to continue to magic. Discovering the world beyond the cloister is a complex and often dark place, Caldan learns that dark, destructive, forbidden forms of sorcery, thought by many to be impossible, actually do exist—and finds himself embroiled in an ancient conflict that threatens to consume the world.
A Red-Rose Chain, by Seanan McGuire (September 1, DAW—Paperback)
The latest October Daye novel starts off with our favorite half-fae, half-human adventurer-cum-investigator so happy and stable, our suspicions are automatically raised. Sure enough, events soon contrive to put Toby into an uncomfortable position in the Fae world, playing the diplomat when the Queen’s seneschal is put into a magical sleep by agents linked to the Kingdom of Silences. Toby is tapped to travel to Portland and find a way to avoid all-out war. What she finds there is shocking, even to someone who has just about literally seen it all—and the enemy turns out to be something she’s quite familiar with.
Blackbirds, by Chuck Wendig (September 15, Saga Press—Paperback)
Great writers play a trick: they present you with a universe and explain its rules, and then just as quickly proceed to break them. Wendig pulls it off masterfully in Blackbirds and Miriam Black, about a woman cursed to see visions of peoples’ eventual deaths when she touches them. She learned long ago that she can’t alter death’s design, and must simply try to maintain her sanity. One day she touches a man and sees his murder—and hears his final words: her own name. Knowing that she will be the next to die, Miriam must break the rules and escape fate for the first time in her life. Dark, fast-paced, and dealing with issues of free will and predestination, Blackbirds is the first book in a fantastic series being relaunched by Saga Press.
Breakout, by Ann Aguirre (August 25, Ace—Paperback)
The third volume of the Dred Chronicles. The decommissioned battleship Perdition is a fantastic setting, a black hole of a one-way prison where the worst of the worst are left to their own devices, to form whatever sort of society they can. Queen Dred is a fantastic character, violent and intelligent, with a morality of deepest gray. With the Conglomerate eager to take back the ship and clean out the prisoners, Perdition has become a scarred battleground in which both the prisoners and the brutal soldiers sent to destroy them are being hunted by something even worse: the trained, tongueless assassins of Silence. An uneasy alliance with the mercenaries is both totally logical and completely surprising, and keeps the tension and pacing in the red.
Crucible Zero, by Devon Monk (September 1, Roc—Paperback)
Casting an immortal protagonist as your central character presents an interesting challenge: the stakes would appear to be very low if the hero can’t be permanently removed from the game. Monk solves this in the A House Immortal series by making heroine Matilda “Tilly” Case incredibly loyal to those she considers family. Their stakes are her stakes. In this third outing, Tilly—a “Galvanized” immortal stitched into another woman’s body—has saved the world, but finds herself in a plague-ridden alternate universe, even as her own is threatened with destruction. Taken to be the woman whose body she inhabits, she travels through time to try and set things right and encounters an almost impossibly powerful figure determined to stop her.
Guerilla, by Mel Odom (August 25, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
Odom continues the Makaum War series with a story that begins with a stalemate between the invading Terran and Phrenorian forces and the natives of the planet Makaum. The tense truce is threatened when Master Sergeant Frank Sage stumbles on an illegal Phrenorian military installation in the wilderness and witnesses the arrival of a legendary Phrenorian warrior—one who doesn’t show up unless trouble is coming. When a group of Makaum natives stage an insurgent attack on a Terran base, the situation quickly reaches a boiling point—with Master Sergeant Sage caught in the middle.
HALO: Last Light, by Troy Denning (September 15, Gallery Books—Paperback)
Those who only know the Halo universe as the setting for a video game may be surprised at complexity and intricacy of this tie-in novel. As the decades-long Covenant War draws to an end, pockets of hostility and instability remain. On a planet where an underground cavern system is rumored to have miraculous healing powers, a series of brutal murders implicates the UNSC research battalion that has recently arrived, guarded by Spartan Blue Team and the famous Spartan-II Fred-104. Native investigator Veta Lopis’ search for answers includes the Spartan forces—but the discovery of powerful ancient technology on the planet destabilizes an already-unstable situation, sending the plot into overdrive.
Last Song Before Night, by Ilana C. Myer (September 29, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Eivar is a complex and wholly unique fantasy creation, a world where music, poetry, and other art forms are the gateways to magic—and exclusive to men. Lin, a girl fleeing a horrific family life, has been surreptitiously trained in music, and evades persecution in order to explore her art. When someone begins spilling blood in order to cast dark spells, the ancient plague of The Red Death returns, and Lin and other artists must reclaim their magical connection to the Otherworld in order to combat the threat and take back their magical legacy. The idea of magic channeled through art is a powerful one, which Myer layers into a realistically flawed world.
Luna: New Moon, by Ian McDonald (September 22, Tor Books—Hardcover)
McDonald trades the Earthbound settings of lauded works like River of Gods and The Dervish House for a story of political intrigue and deadly gamesmanship between the Five Dragons, the powerful families that control civilization on the Moon, where the scarcity of resources means literally every breath you take comes with a price. With each of the families laying claim to the production of separate-but-equally-essential resources, a thwarted assassination sets the stage for a struggle that could upset a perilous balance. Corporate intrigue on the moon!
Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho (September 1, Ace—Hardcover)
Zen Cho’s irresistible debut is set in an intriguing alternate-Victorian world ruled by sorcery, layering issues of racial and gender inequality into a fast-moving magical mystery tour. When the mixed-race Zacharias Whythe, the orphaned child of slaves, magically inherits the title of Sorcerer Royal after the strange death of his adopted father and mentor, England’s magicians are thrown into an uproar. Their short-sighted squabbling only obscures a far more serious problem: the country’s magic is running out, leaving them vulnerable to attack by Napoleon’s (also magically imbued) forces. As Zacharias journeys to the borders of Fairyland to discover the source of the problem, Prunella Gentlewoman, who keeps house at a school that teaches women to suppress their supernatural abilities, makes a startling discovery about her past, one that could prove vital to restoring England’s place in the magical world.
The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass, by Jim Butcher (September 29, Roc—Hardcover)
Butcher takes a break from his bestselling urban fantasy series The Dresden Files for an epic steampunk fantasy adventure featuring airships, sky pirates, and giant talking cats. Clouds of war are gathering around the Spires, towers citadels that house humanity and produce the technological marvels that have changed the world. Captain Grimm, commander of the airship Predator, is loyal to Spire Albion, which has a bitter rivalry with Spire Aurora. When the Predator is damaged, Grimm is roped into undertaking a secret mission on Albion’s behalf…and soon discovers that the conflicts between the spires are mere set dressing in the face of a greater threat: the return of an ancient enemy that hasn’t been seen in 10 millennia. This series-opener is good stuff, and proves that Butcher can apparently write anything he sets his mind to.
The Desert and the Blade: A Novel of the Change, by S.M. Stirling (September 1, Roc—Hardcover)
Stirling’s next novel of The Change, following The Golden Princess. The Desert and the Blade finds Reiko, Empress of Japan, and Orlaith, heir to the throne of Montvial, striking out for the Valley of Death in search of the fabled Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, the Grass-Cutting Sword, which supposedly grants its bearer victory in any conflict. In this world, which has experienced a shift from a technologically-advanced modern day to a Bronze Age where technology doesn’t work at all, their quest is complicated by rumors of war, treachery, and fiendish plots-within-plots.
The Drafter, by Kim Harrison (September 1, Gallery Books—Hardcover)
With a brilliant, punchy premise and plenty of action, The Drafter is a thriller with a sci-fi edge that both newcomers and longtime fans of Harrison’s Rachel Morgan urban fantasy series will love. Peri is a Drafter, someone with the ability to rewind time 30 seconds and change the past. But every time she Drafts, her own memories are muddled—a confusion Jack, her lover and partner at Opti, the secret government agency they are both a part of, helps her deal with. When Peri discovers her own name on a list of corrupt Opti employees, she suddenly has reason to doubt Jack—and her own memories, soon realizing her entire existence is the product of manipulation.
The Sleeping King, by Cindy Dees (September 8, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Based on the live-action role-playing game universe of Dragon Crest (in which Dees has been involved for two decades), this epic fantasy explores a world in which the people of Urth are being conquered by the savage and oppressive Kothite Empire. Their final hope is a legend: the story of an Elven King, slumbering for the past 5,000 years, to be awakened only in the moment of most dire need. The task of finding him falls to a pair of unlikely heroes: teenagers Will and Raina, who will navigate a perilous world and face formidable enemies on their quest. Dees brings her love of both fantasy and gaming to bear in this series-starter.
The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson (September 15, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Baru Cormorant hates the Empire of Falcrest for what it did to her family and her people when she was just a girl: arriving in force upon the shores of their small island, taking control, absorbing her people and erasing the markers of cultural identity deemed “unhygenic” by imperial science. Luckily, Baru is a prodigy when it comes to revenge. To destroy Falcrest, she must first become a part of it, win its trust, and earn a seat at its heart, where she can strike with a killing blow. With his debut novel, Seth Dickinson joins the ranks of the great evil geniuses in speculative fiction, authors able to make you care immensely for incredibly realized, complex, flawed, frustrating, fascinating characters, then to repay your indulgence by doing terrible things to them. But when you are reading a novel this well-constructed—wound tight as a watch, the plot ticking along with the intricacy and inevitability of a sweeping second hand—the result is so satisfying, it’s worth the torment.
Updraft, by Fran Wilde (September 1, Tor Books—Hardcover)
The setting of Wilde’s marvelous fantasy debut—a city of living bone, in which the residents of isolated, skeletal towers struggle to survive under the strict rule and laws of the Singers and the constant threat of attack by the skymouths, creatures of tentacles and teeth that haunt the clouds—is just the backdrop for a compelling coming-of-age story with a dark political undercurrent. Kirit is a girl who dreams of the day she will earn her wings and join her mother as a trader, one of the few to soar the skies between the towers. But when a terrible accident reveals in Kirit the almost unheard of ability to control the skymouths, she is forced to abandon her family and join the secretive Singers. But even as she begins to learn their strange rituals, she uncovers a generations-long conspiracy of control that has allowed some towers to rise while others have fallen, secrets that, if exposed, will change everything.
Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, by Bradley P. Beaulieu (September 1, DAW—Hardcover)
Beaulieu launches his second epic fantasy trilogy (following The Lays of Anuskaya) with the story of 19-year-old Çeda, a gladiator in the fighting pits of Sharakhai, a desert kingdom ruled over by 12 immortal lords who live in luxury while their subjects must scrape to survive. Determined to avenge her mother, who was executed by the Twelve Kings, Çeda schemes and searches for a way to upset their ironclad rule—and comes to uncover hidden truths about the source of their power, and her own destiny, that could upset the balance of the entire world. Beaulieu’s intricate world-building and complex characters are quickly becoming the hallmarks of his writing, and if this opening volume is any indication, The Song of the Shattered Sands promises to be one of the next great fantasy epics.
Green Lantern/New Gods: Godhead , by Robert Venditti, Van Jensen, and Billy Tan (September 15, DC Comics—Hardcover)
This formidable volume collects the Godhead arc in one volume. The New Gods and their leader the Highfather believe that in order to defeat Darkseid, they he must capture the Life Equation, an immensely powerful weapon briefly accessed by Kyle Rayner, the White Lantern, when he saved creation at the Source Wall. The Highfather regards the Lantern Corps as mortal interlopers stealing his rightful power, and demands each ring bearer to surrender their power sources to his generals, setting the stage for a crossover event that promises to impact every living creature in the universe, including the Lanterns, who will either comply with Highfather’s demand, or die.