This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: A Vengeful AI, Rampaging Robots, and a Fantasy Epic Inspired by 20th Century China

Dragon Road, by Joseph Brassey
Brassey returns to the world of Skyfarer, the city-sized ship Iseult, and the story of portal mage Harkon, his apprentice Aimee de Laurent, and new recruit Elias. The ship needs to appoint a new captain, but no single candidate in the officer’s court has enough support, so Harkon is called in to render. Politics in the court are ruthless and complicated, and their task is made more ominous by Elias’ dark dreams of an ancient terror slowly making its way through the ship, intent on sending millions of people to their deaths. The crew doesn’t quite accept Elias—formerly known as Lord Azreal, Lord Commander of the Eternal Order, before being saved and recruited by Harkon in the first book in this fabulously entertaining science fantasy series—which makes a complex challenge even more difficult, and the danger, all the greater.

Medusa Uploaded, by Emily Devenport 
Oichi is a domestic servant on the generation ship Olympia, cybernetically-modified so that most of her sensory input is diverted to the Executives who run society. Partially blind, deaf, and mute, she is assisted by a link to a powerful AI, known as a Medusa, that “feeds” her sensory data from time to time. Oichi is more than she seems, however; her parents were killed when the Executives destroyed the Olympia’s sister ship—punishment for their subversive work attempting to transmit information that would enable anyone to bond with a Medusa, transforming the way of life onboard the immense starship. After she survives an attempted assassination, Oichi is officially declared dead, leaving her free to begin the methodical, bloody work of killing those in power and fomenting a revolution, even as she learns more about her own identity and the ship’s true mission. This sharp-edged novel from a Philip K. Dick Award-winner Davenport (Broken Time, written under a pseudonym) is a revenge thriller told from a unique and unforgettable point-of-view.

Dark Queen, by Faith Hunter
Twelve books in, this addictive urban fantasy series shows zero signs of slowing down—even as this volume brings major changes to the status quo for our vampire-hunting Cherokee shapeshifter. For quite a while now, a war has been brewing with the vampires of Europe, and here, it finally boils over, forcing Jane to ally with the enemy, Leo, the vampire master of New Orleans, to put down the threat once and for all., as Leo faces the emperor of the Eurovamps in a duel to the death, with an entire city on the line. Secrets from Jane’s past come to light, and new questions arise. It isn’t over yet, however—at least two more books are on the way.

Black Helicopters, by Caitlin R. Kiernan
An expanded version of a novella previously nominated for a World Fantasy Award, Black Helicopters is set in a world where logic and the laws of nature seem to be decaying. Off the coast of Maine, huge monstrosities appear, and head inland. Forces assemble to hold back the darkness, among them Sixty-Six, the scion of a CIA experiment, while across the ocean in Dublin, an immortal secret agent tracks down twin sisters with incredible powers to recruit them for the cause. As the world descends into paranoia and chaos, buried connections come to light that change everything. As a companion piece to the fungal horror of 2016’s Agents of Dreamland, this novella doesn’t disappoint.

The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang
In a world inspired by the recent history and culture of China, the Nikan Empire defeated the Federation of Mugen in the Second Poppy War, and the two countries have since coexisted in a fragile state of peace. Orphaned peasant girl Rin lives a life of misery in Nikan, but when she sits for the Keju, the empire-wide examination designed to find talented youth and assign them to serve where they will be most useful, she scores in the highest percentile and is shocked to be assigned to the prestigious Sinegard military school, home to the children of the Empire’s elite. At Sinegard, Rin is bullied for her dark skin and low social status—but with the help of an insane teacher, she also discovers she is a shaman, able to wield powers long thought lost to the world. As she grows into her power and communicates with living gods, Rin sees clearly that a third Poppy War is coming—and she may be the only one who can stop it. The author is a Chinese-American, and the book’s worldbuilding is informed by her study of twentieth century Chinese history. And did we mention she hasn’t even graduated from college yet? The “year’s best debut” buzz around this one was warranted; it really is that good.

Only Human, by Sylvain Neuvel
The conclusion to the Themis Files trilogy opens, our heroes—a group of scientists led by the brilliant Rose Franklin, whose life has been defined by her childhood discovery of a giant robotic arm buried deep in the earth—have been transported to the distant planet Esat Ekt inside of the giant machine they assembled together, having successfully used it to ward off a robotic invasion from deep space. In the wake of violence, Rose found life among the Ekt to be peaceful and pleasant, she returns to Earth 10 years later to find it worse off than when she left, the United States and Russia at the brink of war. Russian agent Katherine Lebedev sees in the giant robot that was used to defend the planet—called Themis—a weapon that could subdue enemy nations, but she needs Rose’s help to make that happen—and is willing to do anything to persuade her. Rose recoils from what she sees as an intentional attempt by the whole human race to “lobotomize” itself, and as the world sinks into a quagmire of war and spiraling chaos, she races to find a way to stop the horror without becoming a pawn in a doomsday game. Presented as a form of found documents and interview transcripts, this trilogy has put a new twist on sci-fi tropes, and the ending is just as exciting and explosive as you could ask for.

Song of Blood and Stone, by L. Penelope
In the land of Elsira, Jasminda is an outcast due to her dark skin and her Earthsong powers, which are feared and shunned. Living alone, she’s powerless to stop a group of soldiers from invading her cabin to use as shelter, and bringing with them an injured spy whose mission was to prove that the Mantle between Elsira and the land of Lagrimar is failing—and that an ancient evil, growing in power, threatens to return. The spy, Jack, accomplished his mission, but must carry his findings back to his masters in order to save Elsira and its people. When Jasminda meets Jack, she’s smitten, and risks healing him with her Earthsong. The pair escape the cabin and head off on a dangerous quest for knowledge necessary to save the world, but navigating a place where neither is welcome or trusted means they must trust each other totally—and both carry secrets that could ruin everything. This debut, which won awards when originally self-published, introduces an exciting new voice to the wider world of fantasy readers.

Fury from the Tomb, by S.A. Sidor
As the first entry in The Institute for Singular Antiquities series begins, Romulus Hardy is a young Egyptologist digging into ruins at Saqqara in 1888. While seeking the tomb of an ancient sorcerer, he and his team unearth five coffins and a disturbingly large sarcophagus. The career-making discovery turns sour, however—curses will do that. The expedition suffers from a classic mummy’s tomb-style consequences, leaving everyone but Rom dead in short order. He returns to America with the coffins in order to deliver them to his wealthy, reclusive sponsor, but his train is hijacked by ghouls—yes, ghouls—and the mummies are taken to Mexico. Rom must suit up and team up with a band of misfits to head south and bring them back—but they quickly discover they’re up against a lot more than some bandits. There are vampires, evil monks, monsters, and gunslingers lurking about, and as Rom’s mission grows increasingly wild—and increasingly dangerous, the book only grows more compulsively readable.

An Argumentation of Historians, by Jodi Taylor
The ninth volume in Taylor’s delightful series about a hapless group of time-traveling historians finds Dr. Maxwell and the rest of the historians at St. Mary’s on the hunt for Clive Ronan, a fiend who has stolen time travel tech and plans to use to to disrupt the course of history. But then, unfortunate events see Max trapped in the past, leaving her future in doubt as well. Several books back, we called this series “impossible to stop reading,” and, well, we haven’t stopped yet.

What new SFF books are you looking forward to this week?

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