For 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 best science fiction & fantasy books.
The Cunning Man, by D.J. Butler and Aaron Michael Ritchey (November 5, Baen—Paperback)
In 1935 Utah, there are witches—evil and scheming—and there are cunning men—people who know the lore and magic necessary to defend against them. When the Kimball coal mine descends into chaos amidst rumors of a malevolent spirit in its depths, beet farmer Hiram Woolley steps forward as a cunning man and offers to help. As his efforts bring him into contact with a spirited union organizer named Mary McGill, Woolley also runs up against Gus Dollar, local business owner and fellow cunning man, and begins to realize the darkness he’s up against might be beyond his understanding—and his power to stop.
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The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Illustrated Edition), by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Elise Hurst (November 5, Harper Voyager—Hardcover)
It’s perfectly natural that this Gaiman classic is getting a lushly-illustrated reissue, as reading it again is very much like returning to a childhood home after a long time away. It is the story of a man who returns to his own hometown in Sussex to attend a funeral, sparking a flood of tragic childhood memories involving the not-quite-human Hempstock family, their young daughter Lettie, and a dark force brought into the world by a despairing man’s suicide. As the unnamed protagonist’s past blurs with the present, the beautiful details of the story are perfectly captured by Elsie Hurst’s vintage style, which incorporates hints and visual feints to evoke the mood of the story while still leaving much to the reader’s imagination.
The Fate of the Fallen, by Kel Kade (November 5, Tor Books—Paperback)
Self-publishing bestseller Kel Kade makes her major publishing debut with a dark, fascinating subversion of fantasy tropes in the story of Mathias, who is destined by prophecy to be the savior of the world. He gathers his best friend Aaslo and a team of allies for what promises to be a grand adventure ending in prophesied victory. But when things turn out to be much more challenging than expected, Mathias finds himself shedding allies, and the people he’d sought to save begin to openly contemplate surrender, thinking the prophecy misinterpreted. Mathias and Aaslo realize that perhaps the title “hero of destiny” isn’t something that’s conferred to you via ancient prophecy—but something you have to truly earn.
The Novice Dragoneer, by E.E. Knight (November 5, Ace—Paperback)
Ileth is an orphan, and has dreamed of becoming a Dragon Rider for all of her 14 years. When she applies to the Serpentine Academy in the Vale Republic, she secures her place, and spends years doing drudge work and learning the ropes, eventually being promoted to dancer of the dragons. With her new status comes a downside, however; when a political hostage is needed, the Masters of Apprentices choose Ileth, and she must travel to a neighboring kingdom, where she faces misogyny and the dense intrigues of a foreign court. Centering a protagonist who will appeal to anyone who loves strong, adventurous heroes—and shares her wish to someday ride a dragon—and a world that recalls the dragon-packed adventures of Anne McCaffrey, this series-starter makes for an addictive reading experience.
Clash of Kings: The Illustrated Edition, by George R.R. Martin, illustrated by Lauren K. Cannon (November 5, Bantam—Paperback)
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of the second volume in George R.R. Martin’s legendary series, this special edition features more than 20 new color and black-and-white illustrations by Lauren K. Cannon, best-known for her cover work on Peter V. Brett’s books. These beautiful illustrations bring key scenes and characters to vivid life, making this a perfect way to re-experience masterful sequences like Arya’s escape from King’s Landing and meeting with Jaqen, Jon’s thrilling mission in the North with the Halfhand, and Theon’s less-than glorious return to the Iron Islands. Whether you want an excuse to reread the books or need to flush the TV series’ imagery out of your head, this is the perfect excuse to return to Westeros.
Fortuna, by Kristyn Merbeth (November 5, Orbit—Paperback)
Kristyn Merbeth’s latest (she wrote The Wastelanders under the name K.S. Merbeth) is a dark and gritty space opera bringing thriller-style crime fiction into a sci-fi universe. The criminal Kaiser family’s smuggling operation relies on the old cargo ship Fortuna. Scorpia resents her brother, and when he leaves to fight in the war she sees the opportunity to finally prove her worth and ascend to captain. But things go disastrously wrong just as her brother, Corvus, returns. The siblings have to put their rivalry aside in order to deal with the fallout of a bloody massacre, fighting to keep themselves alive and their family business up and running. But there’s a lot of history—and a lot of self-dealing—in the mix, which means the right choices are increasingly difficult to make.
The New Voices of Science Fiction, edited by Hannu Rajaniemi and Jacob Weisman (November 5, Tachyon Publications—Paperback)
This quasi-sequel to the award-winning anthology The New Voices of Fantasy shifts into a new genre with a powerhouse collection of short stories by some of the best writers working today, revealing visions of a futureby turns disturbing, amusing, and thought-provoking. Authors represented include Nino Cipri, Rebecca Roanhorse, Jason Sanford, Rich Larson, Amal El-Mohtar, Amman Sabet, Sam J. Miller, and many more. Editors Hannu Rajanjemi (The Quantum Thief) and Jacob Weisman offer up unexpected gems like Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s “A Series of Steaks,” about a bio-printer who forges fancy cuts of meat, and Sarah Pinsker’s award-nominated “Our Lady of the Open Road,” a near-future rock and roll road trip that inspired her marvelous novel A Song for a New Day.
Resistance Reborn (Star Wars): Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (B&N Exclusive Edition), by Rebecca Roanhorse (November 5, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Hugo- and Nebula-winner Rebecca Roanhorse delivers a must-read for Star Wars fans: a prequel to the upcoming The Rise of Skywalker that reveals what happened to the forces of good in the wake of their devastating defeat at the end of The Last Jedi. With the Resistance reduced to a tiny band of survivors and no one answering Leia’s desperate plea for assistance, the general sends out her best and brightest to seek help from the heroes of the past—the people who once led a rebellion against an Empire—and find new allies so they might mount one final stand against the First Order before it can crush them completely and seize the galaxy entire.
Life and Limb, by Jennifer Roberson (November 5, DAW—Hardcover)
Jennifer Roberson launches a new urban fantasy series in which biker Gabe Harlan and cowboy Remi McCue discover that they’re not really human—rather, they are made of “heavenly matter” sealed inside bodies of blood and bone. Their task is to fight the many, many monsters and forces of evil arrayed against heaven’s purposes, with assistance from an angelic adviser they dub “Grandaddy” and other magical forces. The learning curve is steep, and Gabe and Remi soon find out that their new life might be short—and very fatal—if they don’t learn fast. Readers who loved the monster-fighting camaraderie of Supernatural will definitely dig it.
The Deep, by Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes (November 5, Gallery/Saga Press—Hardcover)
A short novel that builds on a mythology originally created by electronic music duo Drexciya, and furthered by rappers William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes, and Tony-winner Daveed Diggs (collectively known as clipping.) in the song of the same name, The Deep tells the story of the wajinru, a race of mer-people living under the ocean who are descended from pregnant African women thrown overboard by slave-traders. As the history of the wajinru is too painful to bear, they exist without it, forgetful and at peace—except for Yetu, the historian whose purpose is to hold those terrible memories, releasing them once a year during a ceremony called the Remembering, and then take them back. Yetu struggles with this burden, and flees to the surface to try and escape it—but only finds trouble and complication as her choice to flee has terrible consequences. Award-winner Solomon finds a deep vein of anger, resistance, and redemption in the song’s haunting, harrowing narrative.
Made Things, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (November 5, Tor.com Publishing—Paperback)
Adrian Tchaikovsky is an author who excels at writing both expansively and in shorter, concentrated bursts; his latest expertly balances darkness and hope with a slender page count. It’s set in a crowded, oppressed city where everyone is under the heel of the ruling mages. Coppelia is an orphan and a puppet-maker scrambling survive by picking pockets and stealing what there is to steal. She’s assisted by Tef and Arc, two tiny homunculi made from wood and metal. When Coppelia and her mentor are tasked with tracking down a golem, Coppelia stumbles onto a vicious evil brewing under the streets of the city and becomes ensnared—and it’s up to her two inhuman companions to save her, proving along the way that humanity is about more than flesh and bone.
Unnatural Magic, by C. M. Waggoner (November 5, Ace—Paperback)
In C.M. Waggoner’s debut, two young women from vastly different cultures converge on the same goal. Onna is better at magic spells than any man in her village, but is denied an education due to her sex, so she sets off to the city of Hexos in hopes of finding a more enlightened university. Instead, she finds four dead trolls. Tsira is a troll with her own problems, who also leaves home, and stumbles on a grievously injured human soldier. She nurses him back to health, but is attacked by a mysterious mage. Onna and Tisra set out to discover who is attacking trolls—and why—each woman bringing their own powerful talents to bear on their quest as they slowly draw closer together. Humor, heart, non-human characters, and a mathematical magic system make this one a winner.
Quillifer the Knight, by Walter Jon Williams (November 5, Gallery/Saga Press—Paperback)
At the end of Quillifer, Williams’ titular rogue-turned-hero was knighted, but he’s not one to rest on his laurels. In the sequel, he’s still building a name for himself by taking on quests—and then telling his lovers and friends all about them without much humility. Slowly, Quillifer finds himself drawn into the politics of Duisland, a kingdom descending inevitably into open war, and court intrigue including a plot involving the Queen’s sister. Quillifer may be a braggart, but he’s good at the whole hero job, and knows how to tell a story. Walter Jon Williams has a proven talent for writing in any genre, and “adventure fantasy” is certainly one of them.
Queen of the Conquered, by Kacen Callender (November 12, Orbit—Paperback)
Kacen Callender’s first novel for adults focuses on Sigourney Lund, the only black landowner on the island of Hans Lollik, a place where the white citizens rely on black slave labor. Lund is resented and hated by the slaves for betraying his people, but what they don’t know is that Lund isn’t what she seems—she’s living under an assumed identity after surviving a brutal massacre at the hands of the ruling whites, and plots her bloody revenge from behind her mask. But when Lund begins her revenge, she finds that giving up power and privilege isn’t as easy as she thought—and that there is a price for everything.
The Killing Light, by Myke Cole (November 12, Tor.com Publishing—Hardcover)
The concluding book in Cole’s Sacred Throne series whips the story into a frenzy as the devils finally push through the tear in the veil and invaded. On humanity’s side, only 16-year old Heloise Factor—on her way to the capital in her magically powered armor to finally extract revenge for the desolation of her homeland—has any chance of defeating them. But the force Heloise has pulled together is an uneasy alliance between the Traveling People and the Red Lords, and she finds that holding together an army divided by factionalism and mistrust isn’t easy—a fact that drives her to make an alliance with the most unlikely person of all.
Starship Alchemon, by Christopher Hinz (November 12, Angry Robot—Paperback)
In a society where planet naming rights are sold to corporations, resulting in planets named Buick Skylark, and celebrities are cloned to be kept as mentally-impaired pets, LeaMarsa de Host is a powerful psionic. When a strange biological signature is recorded on the planet Sycamore, she is assigned to the crew of the starship Alchemon to investigate. Once there, she retrieves a strange blue organism apparently gestating a fetus. She brings the creature on board the ship—but when it demonstrates the ability to shape-shift and escapes confinement, the crew soon realizes they’re facing a threat not just to themselves, but to the human race itself.
The Pursuit of William Abbey, by Claire North (November 12, Orbit—Paperback)
In France during the First World War, Sister Ellis works as a nurse and meets William Abbey suffering under a curse. As a young doctor in South Africa three decades earlier, he failed to save a young boy’s life, and the boy’s mother cursed him—he can see the true nature of anyone he meets, but the shadow that chases him will kill anyone he loves if it catches up to them, which has left him wracked with guilt and tragedy. Working as a spy for Great Britain, Abbey’s curse allows him to see the evil of the empire he serves.
The Last Wish: Introducing the Witcher, by Andrzej Sapkowski (November 12, Orbit—Hardcover)
This reissued hardcover collection of stories framed by Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher, recovering from injuries and reflecting the recent events in his life, is earliest in the storied Witcher chronology—and thus the ideal introduction for anyone just venturing into the world of the internationally beloved fantasy saga, which is soon to become a series on Netflix. The stories here establish why Geralt, a man imbued with magic power through a combination of nature, training, and potions who hunts down the monsters that attack the innocent, is one of the most compelling heroes of modern fantasy.
Realm of Ash, by Tasha Suri (November 12, Orbit—Paperback)
The second entry in Suri’s Books of Ambha (after Empire of Sand) returns to the Ambhan Empire, a land inspired by the real history of the Mughals, where a grieving noblewoman named Arwa hides her secret half-Amrithi bloodline. The Amrithi are feared and loathed by many, considered powerful and dangerous barbarians. When she is the sole survivor of a bloody attack, Arwa goes behind walls to grieve in private, but learns that her half-Amrithi blood might hold the secret to the empire’s salvation. She agrees to go to the imperial palace, where politics and intrigue await her as she learns the forbidden magic of her birthright.
War of the Spark: Forsaken (Magic: The Gathering), by Greg Weisman (November 12, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Weisman returns to the Multiverse in his second book in the Magic: The Gathering setting, picking up after the epic events of War of the Spark: Ravnica. The Planeswalkers are triumphant—Nicol Bolas has been defeated. But the cost was high—Gideon Jura, shield of the Gatewatch, is lost, and the survivors are left to mourn. Kaya is charged with a secret mission to track and take revenge on Liliana Vess, to punish her for her treachery, but Liliana’s story isn’t that simple, and tracking her down won’t be easy.
Spectrum 26: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, edited by John Fleskes (November 15, Flesk Publications—Hardcover)
After more than 25 years, Spectrum remains the standard among SFF art books, and the 26th volume is no exception. Spectrum prides itself in rejecting rules and limitations, valuing imagination and ability over everything else—and this mammoth collection sports more than 600 works of incredible variety and visual genius, including work from artists like Yuko Shimizu, Donato Giancola, Tyler Jacobson, Greg Ruth, Annie Stegg Gerard, and more than 300 others, representing the cutting edge in fantasy and sci-fi art.
Upon the Flight of the Queen, by Howard Andrew Jones (November 19, St. Martin’s Press—Hardcover)
Howard Andrew Jones continues his riveting Ring-Sworn Trilogy with the champions of the Altenerai setting out to protect the Allied Realms from the savage intentions of the Noar, using subterfuge, fighting skill, simple heroism, and magic to fight against increasingly long odds. The Altenerai numbers are dwindling, and a desperate journey into the Shifting Lands to reseal an ancient alliance that offers the only chance they might have against the dragons of the Noar. As the Altenerai struggle to hold back the Noar, their queen desperately tries to solve the magical riddle of the hearthstones, a feat that might save them all, or doom them.
Knight of the Silver Circle, by Duncan M. Hamilton (November 19, Tor Books—Hardcover)
The second book in Duncan M. Hamilton’s Dragonslayer trilogy brings us back to his French-inspired universe, in which hero-turned-sodden country lord Guillot dal Villerauvais deals with the return of dragons after a thousand years. But the dragons’ reemergence is only a harbinger of something darker and even more dangerous. Gill has to somehow figure out how to slay three of the terrible beasts when slaying one required a magical sword and a magical relic. In his moment of need Solène, the young magically-gifted woman he rescued, abandons him, disturbed by her own power and refusing to kill again. Even as Gill works to defend the land, the power hungry Prince Bishop plots against him, willing to risk everything for the magic he carries.
The Cloud Roads: Volume One of the Books of the Raksura, by Martha Wells (November 19, Night Shade—Paperback)
In the wake of her success with the Murderbot novellas, Martha Wells’ Books of the Raksura—which we won’t hesitate to call modern classics of inventive fantasy—are getting a new trade paperback reissues. First volume The Cloud Roads tells the story of Moon, who has grown up an outcast from humanity and apart from others of his species, the Raksura—shapeshifting creatures whose natural form is a sort of bipedal winged dragon. Moon has spent his life hiding his shapeshifting abilities, having no memory of what he really is. When cast out by yet another group of humans, he finally meets another shapeshifter—who reveals to him a chance at a new life with others like him. But no sooner has Moon found his new home that he finds it threatened with destruction by the Raksura’s greatest enemies, the terrifying creatures known as the Fell.
What new science fiction & fantasy is on your list this month?