For nearly two decades, 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 best new science fiction and fantasy releases.
A Study in Sable, by Mercedes Lackey (June 7, DAW—Hardcover)
Lackey returns with the 11th (or 12th, depending on where you start counting) book in the fairytale-twisting Elemental Masters series, and taps a fresh vein of excitement with two key decisions: bringing back Nan and Sarah, last seen as youngsters in previous entries of the series (The Wizard of London and Home from the Sea) and now powerful young women and roommates; and enlisting Sherlock Holmes and the Watson key supporting characters. Readers will need to do some research to figure out the fairytale connection in this one, as Sarah assists an opera singer with a ghost problem, and logical Holmes’ investigations keep Nan, Sarah, and readers on their toes.
Hardcover $24.30 | $27.00
Age of Myth, by Michael J. Sullivan (June 28, Random House—Hardcover)
Sullivan returns to Elan with a standalone prequel set 3,000 years before the events of The Riyria Chronicles, and offers up an irresistible premise: when Raithe and Herkimer of the Dureyan clan venture across the Bern River into the forbidden land of the gods, they are almost immediately detected and confronted. In the ensuing conflict, Raithe kills a Fhrey—which should be impossible, as the Fhrey are thought to be immortal gods. This sets in motion an epic chain of events, as the foundations of society are shaken by the revelation; after all, if your gods can be killed, why would you worship them if you could make war on them? Sullivan brings his masterful world-building and agile imagination to bear on a host of interesting characters and a story that feels new and vibrant.
An Affinity for Steel, by Sam Sykes (June 7, Orbit—Paperback)
Sykes’ popular Aeon’s Gate trilogy is collected here in a single, truly massive volume, reminding fantasy fans that the author’s way with dialogue and his approach to exploring and deconstructing epic fantasy tropes are a hell of a lot of fun, without sacrificing the sense of magical awe or the tense battle scenes the genre calls for. Lenk and his fellow adventurers have little to offer aside from their blades, fighting skill, and willingness to do anything for money—which is good, because demons are rising throughout the land, and need swift dispatching. Lenk’s band of mercenary adventurers is made up of well-shaded characters readers will love spending time with both in and out of battle, making this a three-in-one volume a bargain for anyone looking for a game-changing modern epic.
Paperback $10.29 | $14.00
Autumn Princess, Dragon Child, by Lian Hearn (June 7, Farrar, Straus and Giroux—Hardcover)
The second installment of Hearn’s Tale of Shikanoko picks up precisely where the first book, Emperor of the Eight Islands, left off, with Shika now a broken, guilt-ridden man, slinking back to the sorcerer who trained him. Hearn brings her mythical feudal Japan to life with lush poeticism as the story grows, weaving multiple threads into an increasingly complex and beautiful tapestry. This series offers a refreshing change of pace for anyone who loves fantasy but is looking to break out from the traditionally Western tropes of sword and sorcery. True, there are swords and sorcery aplenty, and political maneuverings, betrayals, and impassioned love, but the setting and lyrical style will be a thrill to both longtime fans and newcomers seeking something exotic.
Blood In the Water, by Taylor Anderson (June 14, Penguin—Hardcover)
Anderson returns with the 11th book in his Destroyermen series, which takes the concept of alternate history to and exciting extreme, imagining World War II-era American and Japanese ships transported mid-battle to an alternate Earth where humans never evolved, where two dominant races—one descended from Lemurs, with whom the humans ally; and one resembling Velicoraptors, known as the Grik—wage a war of endless animosity. After so much time and so many battles, the destroyer USS Walker, commanded by Matt Reddy, is in desperate need of repairs, but there’s little respite to be found as the Grik plan a massive counterattack and an insane adversary from Reddy’s past promises to finally break the Grand Alliance the humans rely on to survive.
Death’s Bright Day, by David Drake (June 7, Baen—Hardcover)
At the start of the eleventh book in Drake’s RCN series, Captain Daniel Leary and his friend, master spy and information specialist Adele Mundy, are hoping to find some peace and quiet—Leary with his new wife, and Mundy in her library. As might be expected, neither gets their wish, as another threat of war between the Republic of Cinnabar and the Alliance of Free Stars sees them assigned to visit a distant star system, where a political conflict threatens to erupt into a hot war. Leary and Mundy once again make for a fantastic pair of characters, different as can be, and yet totally reliant on one another—which is good, because they quickly come to suspect that not only were they set up to fail in their mission, they might have been set up to die trying.
Descendant, by Jenna Black (June 28, Gallery—Paperback)
Black’s Descendant series gets the omnibus treatment, collecting three novels (Dark Descendant, Deadly Descendant, and Rogue Descendant) along with a previously digital-only novella (Pros and Cons) that bridges the story between the second and third books. In a world where all the ancient gods are real—and, more importantly, all of their children, variously immortal and super-powered (and, to say the least, maladjusted)—Nikki Glass is a descendant of Artemis the Huntress working as a private investigator. In Glass, Black has created a well-rounded character who rises above cliché and reacts in believable ways to incredible events, making it a series worth devouring in one go.
Hope and Red, by Jon Skovron (June 28, Orbit—Paperback)
Skovron’s first foray into adult fiction is an unexpected ride into a richly-imagined fictional world. On an island realm ruled by amoral and self-interested Biomancers—men and women skilled in a powerful combination of magic and science—two children from vastly different backgrounds come of age. Bleak Hope survives the destruction of her village by a biomancer and is trained by a group of warrior priests for revenge. Red is the son of drug addicts and prostitutes, trained to be the greatest thief the world has ever known. That their fates are intertwined is a given, but Skovron’s briskly-paced story doesn’t skimp on the world-building—and thank goodness, because it’s quite a world.
Icon, by Genevieve Valentine (June 28, Saga Press—Hardcover)
Valentine continues to explore the politics of the fascinating near-future world first introduced in Persona, once again following Suyana Sapaki, the “Face” of the United Amazonia Rainforest Confederation. In an age where politics operates with the flash and spectacle of reality TV, Faces are the celebrity representative of a country—attractive, charismatic people who simply deliver the decisions made those who hold the real power. After surviving the deadly events of the last book, Suyana and her official paparazzi Daniel Park get involved with the Face of America as Suyana rises to giddy heights of fame—until unpredictable events result in worse than a simple assassination attempt: public disapproval. Valentine deepens and broadens one of the best-conceived futures in recent sci-fi, and adds in plenty of tension and twists to keep the pot boiling.
Infomocracy, by Malka Older (June 7, Tom Doherty Associates—Hardcover)
Older’s debut novel imagines a world where the entire population is divided into groups of 100,000, known as centenals. Each centenal can vote for the government they wish to belong to—governments ranging from corporate-dominated PhilipMorris, to policy-based groups with names like Liberty. A global organization called Information seeks to police elections and ensure that the many governments keep their promises and play by the rules—and when a researcher for a government called Policy1st stumbles onto a conspiracy to rig elections, he’s teamed with an agent of Information as they struggle to find out the truth, expose the plot—and, naturally enough, stay alive. Older’s fierce imagination and eye for detail make her future world seem entirely plausible, and her characters believably flawed. It’s one of the year’s most promising debuts, and we can’t wait to see where she goes with the recently announced sequel.
League of Dragons, by Naomi Novik (June 14, Random House—Hardcover)
The ninth and final installment of Novik’s Temeraire series opens with Napoleon’s ignominious retreat from his disastrous invasion of Russia, harried by Captain Laurence and the dragon Temeraire. Napoleon’s near-miraculous escape from this disaster is as demoralizing as it was in our timeline, but even worse is what happens next: the French dictator makes an offer of humane treatment and autonomous lands to any dragon that will serve him, a rich offer for the often-mistreated flying beasts. Meanwhile, Temeraire’s egg and mate are stolen and transported to China, where his old enemy the Celestial Dragon Lien lies in wait. Novik bids farewell to her magnum opus with a book that packs incredible detail, deep knowledge of history, and a simple, gleeful love of dragons into a remarkably satisfying conclusion to a remarkable series.
Rise, by Mira Grant (June 21, Orbit—Hardcover)
Fans of the lively zombie-cum-virus-cum-survival universe explored in Grant’s Newflesh series can rejoice: Rise collects all of her Newsflesh-set short fiction into one epic volume. What has always set Grant’s zombie universe apart is her focus on the way society bends and snaps under the pressure, but people still fall in love, still need to live their lives, still need to attend sci-fi conventions—even if it means occasionally having to shoot an old friend or loved one in the head. Best of all, in addition to the eight published Newflesh stories, there are two never-before-published novellas, making this collection an absolute must-have for fans.
The Best Science Fiction of the Year, by Neil Clarke (June 7, Night Shade Books—Paperback)
Keeping up with the sheer volume of SFF short fiction published every year can be daunting, so collections like this one are therefore essential to if you want to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in genre. Clarkesworld publisher Neil Clarke brings his reputation and impeccable taste to this anthology of the best short fiction of 2015, including stories by David Brin, Ken Liu, Alastair Reynolds, Seanan McGuire, and many others. It’s an incredible collection of work from some of today’s most celebrated writers, assembled under the direction of one of our most respected editors. You simply can’t go wrong with this one.
Paperback $13.60 | $16.00
The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman (June 14, Penguin—Paperback)
We’re all readers. We know the peculiar power of books to transport us and transform the world. Cogman makes that power literal in this popular series-starter, a runaway hit when first published in the U.K. The Library is an organization that traverses space and time to collect unique books from alternate realities and catalog them for posterity. Into that fascinating premise is thrust Irene, a spy for the Library tasked with flitting into alternate realities—say, a vampire-infested London—in order to acquire invaluable books for the collection. With trainee Kai in tow, Irene’s latest quest goes awry and she has to delve into London’s underworld to set things right, battling not only bloodsuckers, but werewolves and Fair Folk as well. She must rely on more than her fighting skills if she wants to make it out with the books and her body intact.
The Medusa Chronicles, by Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds (June 7, Saga Press—Hardcover)
Arthur C. Clarke’s award-winning 1971 novella A Meeting with Medusa casts a long shadow, and continuing the story of Howard Falcon, whose body was rebuilt using cybernetics and prosthetics after he was injured exploring Jupiter, is a task best left to experts. Luckily, we have the combined minds of Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds, who return to the story 45 years later, crafting a sequel overfull with cutting edge SF-nal ideas. Falcon’s storied journey to Jupiter has inspired Earth to stretch out beyond the planet’s boundaries, but the technology developed and refined by humanity begins to assert its own autonomy and intelligence. Preserving the tone and feel of Clarke’s original, Reynolds and Baxter expand the scope of the story in thrilling ways, making this a must-read for any fan of the Golden Age master.
The Perdition Score, by Richard Kadrey (June 28, HarperCollins—Hardcover)
Sandman Slim is back, and once again embroiled in a supernatural plot that holds dark implications, not just for James Stark and his band of demons and freaks, but for every single soul on the planet. Called in by the Sub Rosa Council to investigate a missing child case, Slim acquires a vile of mysterious black liquid with which a friend is inadvertently poisoned. The only place to secure an antidote is, of course, Hell itself, and Slim and Candy head there determined to save the day. Along the way, they discover evidence that Wormwood’s undead servants have made a deal with rebel Angels seeking to block humanity from Heaven—and the consequences might be worse than anything Sandman Slim has ever encountered before.
The Shadowed Path, by Gail Z. Martin (June 14, Solaris—Paperback)
For those who loved the character of Jonmarc Vahanian in Martin’s Chronicles of the Necromancer series, this spinoff volume is a must-read, collecting a host of short stories that fill in the gaps in Vahanian’s life and adventures, exploring the motivations and background of one of a complex and charismatic character. Offering a deeper dive into a Chronicles fan favorite, this collection is ideal book for longtime readers and an excellent introduction to those who aren’t yet familiar with Martin’s popular fantasy series.
Vicky Peterwald: Rebel, by Mike Shepherd (May 31, Penguin—Paperback)
Shepherd returns to his Kris Longknife universe with a third installment of the adventures of Vicky Peterwald—Imperial Duchess, spoiled brat, libidinous expert in court politics, and now, fully-fledged rebel against her stepmother the Empress. The Vicky books offer a fascinating new perspective on the Longknife universe, but new readers can also appreciate this brisk, sexy tale of court intrigue, military exploits, and satisfying space opera shenanigans, as Vicky consolidates her support against the Empress and survives any number of tense action scenes on her way to securing her destiny.
Wasteland King, by Lilith Saintcrow (July 26, Orbit—Paperback)
The third and concluding book of Saintcrow’s Gallow and Ragged series, set in a world where the Fae inhabit greasy spoons, junkyards, and dive bars, opens on a world in chaos, as the events of the prior two books have set a calamity into motion. Jeremiah Gallow finds himself simultaneously hated and needed by the Unseelie King, who puts his grudge against Gallow aside long enough to assign him a desperate, impossible mission—the success of which doesn’t just mean the continued existence of the sidhe, but the survival of the mysterious Robin Ragged as well. Saintcrow combines a smart sense of humor with impeccable instincts for pacing and action, delivering an explosive and emotionally satisfying end to an imaginative not-so-urban fantasy series.