New Book Roundup: SF/F for Social Change, a Fantastical South African Import, and Magical Dinner Theater

windowwallFrom a propulsive new epic fantasy, to a horrific survival story, to a short fiction collection that pushes SF/F to its limits, this week’s new releases offer yet more proof the genre can do almost anything.

A Crown for Cold Silver, by Alex Marshall
Much of the buzz surrounding this inventive new epic fantasy has focused on the identity of its pseudonymous author, but that intrigue pales in comparison to what’s on the page. A grim and gritty story of a massacre and the resulting quest for revenge blends the blood-soaked adventure of Joe Abercrombie with the snappy, accessible prose of John Scalzi, and earns extra points for a protagonist who feels wholly original—an aged woman warrior who thought she was out of the revenge game until an ill-timed attack on her village pulled her back in.

The Silence, by Tim Lebbon
It’s best to go into this gripping end-of-the-world tale knowing as little as possible. Fortunately, you don’t need to know very much to get your pulse racing: a tight-knit group of family and friends wander a strange landscape that has been overrun by creatures who hunt by sound. The only way they can hope to survive is to not make a single noise. Forget not blinking; how are you supposed to stop breathing?

Apocalypse Now Now, by Charlie Human
South African writer Charlie Human’s debut is just as gonzo strange as the name suggests. Baxter Zevcenko is a teenage criminal, the mastermind behind a teen porn ring within his high school. Despite brewing tensions with rival (teen) operators, he believes he’s untouchable, until his girlfriend Esmé is kidnapped. All evidence points to the Mountain Killer, a brutal murderer who has been carving his sigil all around Cape Town. The only person who can help Charlie is an alcoholic bounty hunter named Jackson Ronin. As the two seek to rescue Esmé, Human pulls back the curtain on the weird supernatural underworld of Cape Town, where monsters stalk the night and much of the population lives in poverty. A strange mix of crime novel, noir adventure, monster mash, and urban fantasy, this debut promises big things from an exciting new writer.

Octavia’s Brood, edited by Walidah Imarisha and Adrienne Maree Brown
This powerful collection of “visionary fiction” (a term meant to represent sci-fi, fantasy, magical realism, and horror) was inspired by the work of the revered SF/F master Octavia Butler, and seeks to explore the connection between fantastical writing and real-world movements for social change. In these stories, unnatural occurrences reflect social ills and injustice, as in “The River,” by the collection’s co-editor Adrienne Marie Brown, in which the Detroit River comes to embody the violence of gentrification and displacement that has been visited upon the residents of the city. Including essays by Tananarive Due and Mumia Abu-Jamal, a roster of exciting new writers, and a few familiar names (including LeVar Burton and Terry Bisson), this is a vital, visceral, and essential collection.

The Forgotten: An American Faerie Tale, by Bishop O’Connell
In this companion volume to The Stolen, O’Connell twists the familiar horror story of faeries who steal children from their beds and replace them with changelings. Children are disappearing, but the fae don’t seem to be the culprits. Street kids, homeless orphans living in ragtag gangs, suddenly begin manifesting magical abilities. Just as suddenly, they begin to vanish, as if some malevolent force is hunting them down. Dante, ruler of the fae’s Rogue Court, attempts to solve the mystery, while on the streets, a young girl named Wraith attempts to stay one step ahead of the darkness tracking her and her friends, but her magic may not be strong enough to save them.

Window Wall

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Window Wall, by Melanie Rawn
The fourth book in Rawn’s Glass Thorns series once again follows the travails of the members of  Touchstone, a magical theater group, as they seek to put on a good show while facing off against otherworldly threats at every turn. This time, the drama (both onstage and off) centers on Cade, a young performer who has been avoiding tapping into his magical gifts that allow him a glimpse into the future (his “Elsewhens”). When his refusal bars him from potentially averting a disastrous construction accident on his Namingday, his companions convince him to embrace the inevitable—but when Cade finally does look into the future, he sees only darkness. Lots of it. Fans new to this unique, endearing series will want to start with the first volume, Touchstone.

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