For nearly 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 Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017, edited by John Joseph Adams and Charles Yu (October 3, Mariner Books—Paperback)
The Best American anthologies tend to reflect the state of the world in the year they’re published, and the 2017 installment is just as paranoid, terrified, and despairing as you might expect—though shot through with a persistent thread of hope for better times. Standouts of the 20 stories selected by Adams and guest editor Carles Yu include N.K. Jemisin’s “The City Born Great,” Catherynne M. Valente’s “The Future Is Blue,” and E. Lily Yu’s “The Witch of Orion Waste and the Boy Knight,” but any and all of them are sharp, imaginative blasts from possible futures and alternate presents that reflect and comment on our world in ways realistic fiction simply can’t.
The Core, by Peter V. Brett (October 3, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Brett delivers the fifth and final book of the Demon Cycle series, which finds the heroes of mankind—Arlen Bales, the Warded Man, and Jardir, The Deliverer—facing defeat despite their best efforts and incredible power. Their victories have pushed demonkind to the breaking point, calling forth something that might very well destroy humanity completely—a swarm of demonic beings. In order to prevent complete disaster, Arlen and Jardir must somehow force a demon prince to do their bidding and lead them to the Core, where the Mother of Demons breeds an infinite, unbeatable army. But the demon prince is devious and frighteningly intelligent, and Arlen and Jardir—and their closets allies—know that even if they make it to the Core, there is very little chance that they will return from their trip into the heart of evil.
Machine Learning: New and Collected Stories, by Hugh Howey (October 3, Mariner Books—Paperback)
This collection shows Howey’s true range and impact as a writer, offering up stories (including two previously unpublished) that dip into both established universes (the Wool series) and new ones. Howey explores perception and emotion from human, non-human, and artificial intelligences in a collection divided into three distinct sections—the first dealing with aliens and alien worlds; the second, artificial intelligence; and the third, fantasy. His stories take a more modern approach in their consideration of classic themes, hitting all the harder as a result. Best of all, Howey provides liner notes for each story explaining how they came to be.
The Bloodprint, by Ausma Zehanat Khan (October 3, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
The first book in Khan’s Khorasan Archives tells the story of Arian, First Oralist of the Companions of Hira, a group seeking to preserve the Claim, a written work encompassing the land’s religion and magic. Although courted by Daniyar, the Silver Mage, Arian focuses on saving enslaved women from the growing forces of the Talisman, a male-dominated movement of violence and oppression led by the terrifying One-Eyed Preacher. The Talisman is ignorant and brutal and seeks to subjugate all women—and is growing larger by the day. Arian learns of a powerful text known as the Bloodprint, which might be capable of stopping the Talisman and destroying the One-Eyed Preacher. Arian and another warrior named Sinnia set off to locate the Bloodprint, knowing the journey may well kill them.
Blackwing, by Ed McDonald (October 3, Ace—Paperback)
This exceptional fantasy debut tells the story of bounty hunter and agent of the Republic Ryhalt Galharrow, a gruff, bitter man who leads the Blackwings through the twisted, blasted land known as the Misery. The Misery was created decades earlier at the end of a brutal war between the Deep Kings and the Republic; the former were only stopped by the use of Nall’s Engine, a weapon so terrible it cowed the powerful Deep Kings—and created the Misery. Galharrow is sworn to follow his god-like patron Crowfoot, so when he’s ordered to rescue a noblewoman named Exabeth Tanza in the Misery, the Blackwings must obey. When the Deep Kings attack, only Ezabeth’s unexpected magic save them—in the process revealing a conspiracy surrounding the truth behind the Engine that puts the world in terrible danger.
The Seven, by Peter Newman (October 3, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
The concluding volume of Newman’s Vagrant trilogy begins some years after the Vagrant entered the Shining City. His adopted daughter Vesper has closed the tear between worlds, trapping the Infernal—but now, the Vagrant faces a new challenge that might be the most difficult one of all: co-existence. But just as he tries to gather the leaders of the various factions that have been tearing the world apart in the hopes of engineering peace, something unexpected happens: the Seven, the immortals who ruled the world before the Infernals’ invasion, awaken from their slumber and once again walk the world—and seek to “purge” the planet of the Infernal taint—which bodes well for exactly nobody.
Under the Pendulum Sun, by Jeannette Ng (October 3, Angry Robot—Paperback)
This engaging, original fantasy debut follows Laon Helstone, a British missionary on a perilous quest into Arcasia, the land of the Fae, hoping to convert them. When he stops writing, his sister Catherine fears the worst—and travels north into Arcadia herself in order to save him. Laon is not at Gethsemane, the home given to him by the Queen of the Fae, and his retainer is reluctant to tell her anything. Catherine finds herself confined in the house, where she locates the journal of a previous missionary named Reverend Roche, rumored to have died in Arcadia, and another book written in a mysterious language. When Laon finally returns, it is alongside Queen Fab, and as Catherine gets her first taste of the Fae—cruel, prankish, amused at the misery of their human guests— she and Laon suspect they aren’t in Arcadia on missionary work at all, but merely for the amusement of the Fae.
The Tiger’s Daughter, by K. Arsenault Rivera (October 3, Tor Books—Paperback)
This epic fantasy debut is the story of two women born a month apart in a time of desperate need, joined from birth by a powerful set of omens. Shizuka is the niece of the Hokkaran Emperor Yoshimoto; Barsalyya Shefali Alshar is the daughter of Kharsa Burqila, Queen of the horsemen and women of the Qorin steppes. Their mothers know a magical bond when they see one, and so the girls are raised to be the best of friends despite their cultural differences. As they grow into their incredible supernatural powers, they experience a series of adventures that make them living legends. But darkness is gathering on the empire’s borders—and it’s drawing closer every day. In gorgeous prose, Rivera creates a fascinating setting drawn from Mongolian lore, and an adventure headlined by strong, queer female heroes the likes of which are rarely found in fantasy.
The Name of the Wind (10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition), by Patrick Rothfuss (October 3, DAW—Hardcover)
This deluxe edition of the first book of Rothfuss’ instantly classic Kingkiller Chronicle is perfect for fans who want an excuse to experience the adventure all over again, as Kvothe, secret hero of a thousand legends, tells his life story to Chronicler. His fascinating tale— growing up as part of a nomadic family, seeing them slaughtered, living on the street, becoming a student of magic at an elite school, and later a hero and legend—is plenty entertaining, but hints that the storied hero is both greater and lesser than the sum of his experiences. This handsome anniversary edition features a striking new cover, interior illustrations by Dan Dos Santos, an updated world map, a new author’s note, and more.
The Murders of Molly Southbourne, by Tade Thompson (October 3, Tor.com Publishing—Paperback)
This slim debut is crazed and horrific in the best way. Molly Southbourne’s childhood is oppressed by her parents’ rigid rules: “If you see a girl who looks like you, run and fight. Don’t bleed. If you bleed, blot, burn, and bleach. If you find a hole, find your parents.” The reason for these cryptic instructions lies in Molly’s unique condition: if she bleeds, an identical copy of herself is created. If left to its own devices, this copy (known as a molly) will turn murderous and try to kill her—and so mollys must be destroyed on sight. Molly spends her youth protecting herself from harm and murdering her identical copies, which would mess with anyone’s head. As she enters college, she wearies of the rules and begins sliding into a dark place—but there are mollys out there willing to take advantage of her weakness. The revelations behind Molly’s condition are twisty and twisted, and as the body count rises, she has reason to wonder if the last thing she’ll ever see is herself.
From a Certain Point of View, by Various (October 3, Del Rey—Hardcover)
You might think it would be a challenge to find a new way of looking at Star Wars, but the more than 40 brilliant authors in this anthology have proven you wrong. Each story retells a moment from A New Hope from the point-of-view of a supporting character you’ve probably never considered before, offering an entirely fresh takes on the 40-year old film. With stories by the likes of Nnedi Okorafor, Delilah S. Dawson, Daniel José Older, Chuck Wendig, and Ken Liu, we get to Luke’s origin story through the eyes of characters like Aunt Beru, Grand Moff Tarkin, and even the trash compactor monster. All authors’ proceeds are being donated to charity, making an easy purchasing decision that much easier.
Quillifer, by Walter Jon Williams (October 3, Saga Press—Hardcover)
Half flashman, half hero, Quillifer is a quick-witted young man living an easy life in the city of Ethlebight in the realm of Duisland. When the city is attacked and his family killed, Quillifer is rocketed into a life of adventure, relying more on his charm and brains than his swordplay. Getting in and out of trouble with a exhausting regularity, he takes up with a gang of bandits, finds himself drowning in court politics, and the toy of a jealous, flighty goddess. He makes his way to the capital city to begin a career, only to find himself in the midst of a civil war and reluctantly serving as a soldier—where his quick wit is finally able to change his fortunes. Walter Jon Williams has proven once again he’s a writer who can’t be confined to a single genre—and when the books are this addictively readable, who would want to?
The Stone in the Skull, by Elizabeth Bear (October 10, Tor Books—Hardcover)
In grand style, Bear begins a new epic set in her Eternal Sky universe. The Gage—an automaton crafted around a human being by a powerful wizard—and the Dead Man—a bitter ronin-esque bodyguard—are escorting a convoy into the Lotus Kingdoms. Once a single powerful empire, the Kingdoms have shattered into many squabbling fiefdoms. The Gage and the Dead Man are secretly carrying a message from The Eyeless One, a powerful mage, to Mrithuri, who rules Sarathai-tia. Mrithuri is locked in a power struggle with her male cousins, and the words carry will cause Gage and The Dead Man to become enmeshed in the struggle as well.
Children of the Fleet, by Orson Scott Card (October 10, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Card returns to the universe of Ender’s Game with his first solo-Ender novel since 2008. It’s the first book of the new Fleet School series, which runs parallel to the events of Ender’s Shadow. Ender Wiggin defeated the Formics, and the terraformed worlds are now open to human settlement, with the International Fleet now part of the Ministry of Colonization. Fleet School is still recruiting the brightest children, and Dabeet Ochoa is one of the brightest, though he’s sorely lacking in social skills. He doesn’t think he has a chance of making it in, but secretly applies anyway—and is stunned when Minister Hirum Graff shows up at his house to interview him, and clue him in to his secret connection to the Fleet. Dabeet struggles to make friends and bond with his new classmates—at least until a raid forces him to think fast and act faster, launching him into the sort of fast-paced space adventure that is Card’s trademark.
The Book of Swords, edited by Gardner Dozois (October 10, Bantam—Hardcover)
An anthology linked by a sword motif might suggest an unending parade of high fantasy riffs, but Dozois has something more subtle—and more effective—in mind. While there are some expected—albeit excellent—examples of just that in here (including a standout from Robin Hobb, set in her Farseer universe and, of course, a new story from George R.R. Martin that provides a new verse in the Song of Ice and Fire) many of the stories play with the iconic image of the sword while offering up something unexpected. With stories from Elizabeth Bear, Ken Liu, K.J. Parker and many more, it’s a can’t lose anthology.
The Power, by Naomi Alderman (October 10, Little, Brown and Company—Hardcover)
In the near future, women all over the world discover they have the ability to unleash “skeins” of electricity powerful enough to hurt, injure—even kill. The world order slowly erodes under the new math of this power imbalance. Revolts begin in oppressive, male-dominated societies like Saudi Arabia, but on scales both large and intimate, society resets as new paradigms form: an abused orphan girl establishes a new religion focused on the female figures from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. A woman founds a new nation and strips all men of their rights. An American woman rises through the traditional power structures of democracy, but the taste of power corrupts her. The world seems destined to spin into complete chaos, as Alderman’s arresting novel investigates what might happen if we torn down the systems that have supported the world for centuries.
Hardcover $19.79 | $21.99
It Devours!: A Welcome to Night Vale Novel, by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (October 17, Harper Perennial—Hardcover)
The second Welcome to Night Vale novel is a smart exploration of the divide—and overlap—of science and religion. Being a scientist in Night Vale is hard enough for Nilanjana Sikdar, but when she’s sent into the desert to investigate an ominous rumbling, she meets Darryl Ramirez, of the Church of the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God. She and Darryl hit it off and she asks him out, but as her investigations continue, she comes to believe the Congregation is connected to the disturbance. Plot twist: instead of squaring off, Nilanjana and her fellow scientists join forces with the worshipers to get to the bottom of things and defend the town. The result is a thrilling adventure and a fascinating argument that science and belief aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
A Scandal in Battersea, by Mercedes Lackey (October 17, DAW—Hardcover)
Lackey’s twelfth Elemental Masters novel is set in an alternate 20th century England on Christmas Eve—a time of celebration for all mankind, including Doctor John Watson and his wife Mary. It’s also a time of reckoning for ancient forces, dark and hungry, that begin to awaken on the Longest Night. Lowborn women disappear unnoticed—only to reappear broken and insane. Dr. Watson, called to treat them, can see no ordinary horror has broken them—but when women of higher social castes begin to similarly disappear, the country turns to the world’s greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes, to wrestle with the problem. Yet even Holmes is no match for the encroaching darkness—it will take magic, psychic powers, and Holmes’ considerable intellect working together if England is to see another dawn.
A Plague of Giants, by Kevin Hearne (October 17, Del Rey—Hardcover)
The first in a new fantasy series from Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles) takes a deep dive into a complex fictional world. It’s a story told by a bard with the ability to take on the appearance of the subjects of his tale. A year ago, a volcano erupted, destroying an island inhabited by giants, who then invade the lands of Teldwen seeking refuge. A second race of towering beings, mysterious and destructive, also arrive to do their own killing and rampaging. A soldier, Tallynd, must put aside her grief at the death of her husband to fight the giants. A young boy from a family of hunters sets off on a quest of self-discovery and finds a powerful magic that might be the key to defeating the giants before they destroy everything. And a scholar (the audience for the bard’s tale) begins to suspect there’s more in the telling than the bard is letting on.
Infinite Stars, edited by Bryan Thomas-Schmidt (October 17, Titan—Hardcover)
Combining classics from names like Anne McCaffrey and Cordwainer Smith with brand-new stories from modern masters like Elizabeth Moon and Nnedi Okorafor, this anthology celebrates the breadth and scope—and storytelling power—of space opera. Of particular interest is “The Waters of Kanly” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, a new tale set during the events of Frank Herbert’s Dune, but the balance of stories explore every aspect of space opera, from military clashes (in stories by Lois McMaster Bujold and David Drake), to space pirates, and the cultural and biological conflicts any galactic civilization would inevitably encounter.
The Tethered Mage, by Melissa Caruso (October 24, Orbit—Paperback)
In the land of Raverra, the best laid plans of young noble ladies oft go awry. When Amalia Cornaro, heir to her mother’s seat at the ruling Council of Nine, saves a young fire warlock Zaira from her own balefire spell, she becomes Zaira’s Falconer. The two are magically linked—and automatically conscripted into Raverra’s military forces. Under the direction of the Doge himself, Amalia and Zaira must learn to work with each other as war creeps closer. Complicating matters are Amalia’s complicated feelings about the Falconer second-in-command, the dull and socially inferior—but well-meaning—Lieutenant Marcello Verdi. Beneath their personal struggles is a city that’s already a boiling cauldron of restless energy threatening to burn out of control, meaning that Amalia and Zaira may be tested in battle long before they’re ready.
Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr, by John Crowley (October 24, Saga Press—Hardcover)
Master fantasist John Crowley (Little, Big) offers a rich, unexpected story that begins with the sad memoir of a recent widower in a world collapsing due to climate change. Admitting he is not well in mind or body, the narrator finds a sick crow in his backyard and impulsively takes it in to nurse it back to health. The crow, however, is no dumb animal. It teaches the man its crow language, reveals it has often dealt with humans (a human gave it its name, Dar Oakley) and begins to tell him stories of its adventures in Ka, the land of the crows, and Ymr, the world of men. As Dar Oakley tells his story, it becomes clear that this ancient bird may possess the secrets that could save the world—now that he’s found someone to tell them to.
Above the Timberline, by Gregory Manchess (October 24, Saga Press—Hardcover)
Combining an old-school sci-fi adventure story with Manchess’ stunning paintings, Above the Timberline tells the story of Wes Singleton, a young man in the far future searching for his father, an explorer who disappeared while seeking a city buried deep under the snow. The world of the 36th century is one of eternal winter, with some areas so deeply buried in snow, no one knows how far down it goes. Wes believes his father is still alive in the snowy wasteland above the timberline. The technology is limited and much of the world is populated by non-technological tribes, making a rescue mission difficult at best and deadly at worst. The story is told as a series of journal entries, with the more than 100 full-page illustrations containing a wealth of stunning worldbuilding and character work supplementing the sparse text.
The Beautiful Ones, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (October 24, St. Martin’s Press—Hardcover)
Effortlessly evoking 19th century France in a tale combining magic and authentic historicity, Moreno-Garcia tells the story of Antonina Beaulieu, visiting the gorgeous city of Loisail for her first Grand Season, where she traditionally would seek a suitable husband. Shepherding the naive and country-mannered Antonina is Valerie Beaulieu, Anotnina’s cousin—cold, reserved, and beautiful. Antonina has unfortunate bouts of uncontrolled telekinesis which make her the butt of vicious gossip among the so-called Beautiful People, but Hector Auvray, an accomplished telekinetic, courts her, promising to teach her how to control her gift. But Hector has a history with Valerie, which he seeks to rekindle through his deceptive—and heartbreaking—courtship of Antonina.
Malice of Crows, by Lila Bowen (October 31, Orbit—Hardcover)
The third book in Bowens’ Shadow series finds Rhett Walker facing the unsettling certainty he’s the Shadow, destined to go wherever there are things that must be set right. The Necromancer Trevisan has stolen the body of Cora’s sister Meimei, but Rhett can only follow where the Shadow leads, and his companions have no choice but to trust his acquiescence to fate. Along the way, Rhett and his allies must decide what they truly mean to each other—because surviving the final confrontation with the alchemist will leave no room for doubts. The story hurtles along at a thrilling pace, rushing toward an explosive finale that sets up the fourth and final chapter in this weird western saga.
Siege Line, by Myke Cole (October 31, Ace—Paperback)
Cole continues to chart almost a genre unto himself—call it modern military fantasy. This third entry in the Shadow Ops: Gemini Cell series finds resurrected former Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer finally realizing the only way he’ll ever escape the government entity that brought him back from the dead—and then declared him a national security threat like no other when he went rogue—is to destroy the Gemini Cell for once and for all. That’s not going to be easy, so Schweizer travels to the desolate, freezing north in search allies—elite soldiers from Canada and the U.S. in a race to locatethe site of a secret magic that could distort the balance of power in the world, leaving the Gemini Cell firmly in control of everything.
A Darker Shade of Magic: B&N Exclusive Collector’s Edition, by V. E. Schwab (October 31, Tor Books—Hardcover)
This new classic of alternate worlds has been reissued in a beautiful, signed collector’s edition featuring illustrated endpapers, an interview between Schwab and her editor, an exclusive cover, and more. Kell is the adopted brother of the Prince of Red London, a version of the city where magic is everywhere. Kell is the only living magician who can travel between the various parallel Londons—White London, where magic has gone bad and the struggle to bring order to the world has sapped its strength; magic-free Grey London, similar to the London of our own Regency Era; and Black London, destroyed by magic. Kell is also a smuggler of magical artifacts, and he comes into possession of a dangerous Black London artifact—something that shouldn’t exist. Worse, the artifact is quickly stolen by the dashing, smart-mouthed thief Lila Bard, putting all the worlds at risk and forcing Kell and Lila into a breathless quest to make things right—before it’s too late.
Barbary Station, by R. E. Stearns (October 31, Saga Press—Paperback)
Stearns roars onto the bookshelf with a crackling debut set in a solar system decimated by economic collapse and war, leaving engineers Adda and Iridian jobless and desperate. Their idea is simple: hijack a colony ship and deliver it to the legendary pirates living in luxury at Barbary Station in deep space, and seek to sign on and make their fortunes—the ultimate job interview. But when they arrive, they discover they’ve got it wrong: the pirates (and now, Adda and Iridian) are prisoners of a crazed AI thats seeks to murder all living things—and won’t let any ships leave. In order to earn their place with the pirates (and live long enough to enjoy it), Adda and Iridian have to do what every previous engineer has failed to do: find the artificial intelligence’s weakness, fight it, and live to tell the tale.
What new books are you looking forward to this month?