Welcome to our monthly roundup chronicling the books the B&N SFF stable of bloggers loved in the previous month. Old or new, it doesn’t matter—these are the best sci-fi & fantasy books we’ve read in the past 30 days.
Paperback $17.53 | $17.99
Rich: Kurt Busiek’s Astro City may have been released in the mid-’90s, but I just discovered it—so it’s new to me. This gorgeous first collection of the anthology series is kind of like the Silver Age version of Watchmen. It may be notably less dark, but it feels familiar, as Busiek drops readers into the titular city, where an endless array of caped crimefighters (and villains) are the norm. Each chapter covers a separate storyline, though all are interwoven. Brent Anderson’s artwork captures that nostalgic feel perfectly. Bonus points for cover art from the mighty Alex Ross.
Aidan: On her website, Ilana C. Myer lists Guy Gavriel Kay as a major influence, and it’s easy to see his fingerprints all over Last Song Before Night. The layered relationships between the small cast of characters, is very much in his mold, or that of Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion and its follow-ups. Add to that a lyrical world, a wrenching emotional journey, and an interesting magic system based on song, and you’ve got a winner. Myer’s just beginning her career as a novelist, but I can see big things for her in the future.
T.W. O’Brien: One of the characters in Helene Wrecker’s The Golem and the Jinni calls the title pair “troublesome creatures.” They are that, but I was amazed at how human these fantastic beings feel. Wecker’s detailed rendering of turn-of-the-century New York City, and how she weaves their stories through it, is marvelous.
Nicole: A pick-me-up read, The Postmortal is not. It is, however, a compelling story that is at once disheartening and uproarious for its realism. Drew Magary’s latest novel, The Hike, has gotten so much buzz I decided to circle back and check out his debut—and I wasn’t disappointed. The story takes place in a near future where science has made the ultimate breakthrough: a cure for aging. With a relatively simple vaccine, you become inoculated to death by natural aging. The political, environmental, spiritual, and ethical debates this discovery kicks off are far-reaching, and Magary explores them through the eyes of John Farrell, a lawyer who experiences every high and low in this post-Cure society. Magary’s background as a journalist serves him well, as every facet of what John relays to us seems perfectly plausible, down to the most disturbing details.
Joel: When I edited Ross’s review of Kai Ashante Wilson’s A Taste of Honey, in which he called the author “the future of fantasy,” I raised my eyebrows a bit, but let the superlatives slide for their undeniably clickable appeal. Then I read the book myself, and holy cow, was I wrong to doubt. This slim novella does more in 150 pages than many epics accomplish in seven books, creating a rich fantasy landscape I’m aching to explore further, layering it with oblique details of godlike beings who threaten to propel the story into the realms of science fiction, and delving into the breaking heart of a seemingly doomed love affair between two men whose lives couldn’t be more different. The language is dense and delightful, the setting is sublime, but its the characters who will grab you—them, and the note-perfect twist at the end.
Paul: Second in the Dandelion Dynasty series, Ken Liu’s The Wall of Storms introduces new characters, particularly women reaching for their own autonomy and power as the problems of authority and managing a government descend upon now-Emperor Kuni. It also introduces the in-universe equivalent of a Mongol civilization, which arrives with dragons to invade the islands. The epic scale fantasy started in The Grace of Kings only gets bigger and better in this second book.
Renay: The Scorpion Rules, the first book in the Prisoners of Peace series by Erin Bow, is about a society brought to its knees by technology and ruled by the power of personal connections and a snarky artificial intelligence. Every sovereign ruler sends one of their own children as a hostage to peace. If they break the peace to wage war their hostage is killed. This story, about uses of power and how we wield them, and the strength of our love for one another, manages to be both heartbreaking and hopeful in equal measure.
Shana: Mur Lafferty’s Six Wakes is an Agatha Christie novel and a space-hopping game of Clue wrapped together. The mystery starts from page one, as six clones wake among the floating corpses of themselves. Lafferty keeps the reader guessing and throws in just enough twists and turns to keep us on the edge of our seat. We learn the backstory of each clone during the course of the story, revealing more possible clues to help solve the ultimate mystery of what happened. I loved this book and am excited to read what Lafftery has in store for us next.
Paperback $13.60 | $16.00
Meghan: Do you ever forget that you’ve bought a book? I do it all the time. After knocking over my towering and majestic TBR pile, I discovered The Invisible Library with a six-month-old receipt still stuck in it’s pages. I’m so glad I found it. It’s an excellent novel, reading like a cross between Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog and Jim C. Hines Libriomancer series. It’s whip smart, action packed, and full to the brim with fascinating concepts and lore. I couldn’t put it down. The characters are especially rich and wonderful. Don’t miss out on this great new series!
Ed: I was about to start my biennial reread of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings when I decided to finally tackle The Silmarillion instead. It has a reputation for being hard to read, but it’s a bit like reading Bible stories about Middle Earth. You get Tolkien’s version of the Book of Genesis and then some epic tales of the early elves and their battles against Morgoth. Civilizations rise and fall, there’s betrayal, glory, and a giant werewolf. Plus, next time you read LotR you’ll be thoroughly immersed in the history of Middle Earth.
Martin: A post-Ragnarock tale of vengeance, violence, wisdom, wit, and war, Chris Sharp’s Cold Counsel follows the early exploits of Slud, son of the last chief of the Blood Claw Clan of mighty trolls who lived atop a mountain. Slud’s birth, wracked with supernatural moments and bends of fate, spurs his father to spread the Clan once more, and reclaim the mountain as theirs. While the attacks are glorious, they are short-lived: the elves and goblins of the land strike the entire Clan down, each fearing a world of Trolls in charge. Only Slud escapes, smuggled out by an older hag by the name of Aunt Agnes, who tutors, trains, torments, and fills his mind with stories of revenge against those who wronged the Clan. One day, Slud strikes out on his own: swaggering, strong on magics and bloodshed, and filled with a no-nonsense pragmatism that belies his behemoth stature, he’s on a quest to rid the mountain of the goblins who take it for granted. Sharp’s world is rich with detail, small bits of worldbuilding and sensory wonder that only serves to heighten the desperate, muddy, bloody ground we trudge alongside Slud. But of course, it is the characters you’ll fall in love with: Aunt Agnes with all her edges and her secrets, whose story is not what it seems; Dingle, the tiny goblin who comes to worship Slud as a god; Neither-Nor, a legendary goblin soldier whose talents include swearing, killing, and dying; and of course, Slud himself, whose wisdom, wit, and wiles are equally balanced out by his thirst for blood, vengeance, and a chance to prove himself. Don’t let the description fool you; this is not another grimdark romp, but a deep character study, with a lot to say about the lore and genre it is steeped in.
Sam Reader: After reading Grau’s standout entry in the Lost Signals anthology, I managed to track down his debut collection, The Nameless Dark. Grau’s unusual stories manage to weaponize the reader’s own imagination, allowing the most terrifying things to linger just outside the blank spaces, waiting for us to fill in the gaps ourselves. The result is something that shows the influence of the greats, but exists in a supremely unnerving class all its own.
Ceridwen: I’m a sucker for the ontological mystery plot—a small group of people wake up not knowing who or what they are, and then must work out the mystery of their own existence. In Faller, Will McIntosh takes this mystery one step further: not only does no one in this few city blocks know who they are, but this few blocks makes up the entirety of the world. It’s like a chunk of a city was broken off, and is now adrift in space. We follow a small group of people as they try to make their way through the unknown. Additionally, we’re given glimpses into what must be the past, taking us up to whatever cataclysm split the world and wiped everyone’s memories. McIntosh really makes the most of this unnerving setup, and Faller is a fascinating study in culpability and redemption.
Jeff: I find Bowen’s character Nettie Lonesome, who returns in Conspiracy of Ravens, fascinating—in part because this is kind of outside my usual taste. But Bowen writes Nettie—a bi-racial and sexually fluid woman who’s uniquely qualified to kick butt in Bowen’s alternate old west, filled with magic and monsters—with such compelling verve she becomes real. Frankly, I need more Nettie Lonesomes on my shelf.
John: Dan Wells’ Extreme Makeover surprised me. I’m a fan of dystopian tales, but I wasn’t too sure about the beauty product angle. That skepticism didn’t last long. This one snagged me with its crisp opening chapters and dragged me through the depths of human vanity, all without taking itself too seriously. A glorious and depressing read: two things you rarely find together at the end of the world.
What’s the best book you read this month?