This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Atwood and King, Doors to Other Worlds, and a Locked Room Mystery in a Space Castle

The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood’s unexpected followup to her groundbreaking feminist dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale is sure to be the biggest science fiction novel of 2019—and we say that without having read a word of it yet. A lot has changed in the 35 years since the first book was published, but little that makes its dark vision of the future—in which an environmental disaster and an idealogical uprising have seen America toppled and replaced by the theocratic state of Gilead and increasingly rare fertile women are forced to bear children for the wealthy and powerful—seem any less prescient. There’s no telling how The Testaments will end the story of resilient Handmaid Offred, but we’re hopeful it will live up to the legacy of its forebear.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow 
Some of the very best fantasy stories ever written begin with a magical portal to another world, but there’s a lot more than familiar tropes on offer in this buzzy debut (a Barnes & Noble 2019 Discover New Writers selection). January Scaller finds just such a portal in 1901—a doorframe standing in the wreckage of a ruined house that opens onto the seaside cliffs of another world—but is whisked away from it by Mr. Locke, the wealthy benefactor who employs her father, and told what she experienced was simply a fit of madness. She forgets the experience—until years later, a book stained with magic leads her back to that childhood discovery, which may hold the key to discovering the fate of her father, lost on an expedition to seek out ancient artifacts Mr. Locke covets for mysterious—perhaps even sinister—reasons. Alix E. Harrow’s debut entrances with a captivating story told in rich, artful prose.

The Imaginary Corpse, by Tyler Hayes
We all have cherished ideas that we eventually must let go. In his delightfully odd debut, Hayes asks a simple question: what happens to ideas that are too real to truly die? For an idea like imaginary friend Tippy the triceratops, who once helped a little girl make sense of her world, what awaits is the Stillreal, a place where once deeply held, now abandoned ideas continue to exist. Tippy makes a living in the Stillreal by solving crimes for his fellow ideas until one day he encounters the impossible—the Man in the Coat, who can somehow kill an idea permanently. It’s up to Tippy to confront his loss and save his fellow ideas from oblivion in the most unusual SFF-mystery mashup you’ll read this year.

An Orc on the Wild Side, by Tom Holt
Tom Holt’s latest hilarious dive into fantasy finds the Dark Lord Mordak facing resistance from his goblin hordes, who don’t appreciate his efforts to be slightly less terrible than previous Dark Lords. With his efforts at comprehensive healthcare and peace in his time in tatters, Mordak turns his attentions to the humans who have recently entered his realm from another reality and quickly set about buying cheap housing and gentrifying the most terrifying place in the universe in hopes of retiring in magical style. Humanity’s plans run afoul of the rules-loving Elves and the greedy dwarves—but an ancient prophecy that spells doom for everyone might make the point moot.

At Death’s Door, by Sherrilyn Kenyon
SherrilynKenyon returns to an alternate past where 18th century pirates share the seas with Deadmen, undead sailors charged with defending the world against demonic hordes. Valynda Moore has always believed herself to be cursed, so when a spell goes awry and she finds herself trapped in a voodoo doll, she’s not surprised. Then Thorn, leader of the Hellchasers, offers her a chance at a new life. Which means that when the Malachai—which these Deadmen have sworn to contain—rises from the deep, she must fight for her own salvation as well as the world’s.

The Institute, by Stephen King
With chapter two of It hitting theatres, it’s King’s world this month and the rest of us just live in it. As with It, King’s new book concerns a group of children fighting back against monsters—but this time, the monsters are adults, and the fight takes place not in a creepy small town like Derry but the eminently sinister Institute. Each child at the Institute has been kidnapped; their parents murdered. Each child has paranormal abilities that are being exploited for an unknown purpose. Escape seems impossible, but staying at the Institute, where abuse runs rampant, is not an option either. Grab some popcorn and a big ol’ can of soda so you can stay up all night reading this one.

Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir 
Tamsyn Muir’s absolutely gobsmacking science fantasy debut tells the tale of Gideon Nav, an orphan trained as a swordswoman who wants nothing more than to escape her indentured servitude with the Ninth House of necromancers. She finally gets her chance when the the Ninth House’s ruler, Harrowhark Nonagesimus—a skilled bone adept—is invited by the Undying Emperor to compete to become a near-immortal Lyctor, and Harrowhark selects Gideon to be her cavalier primary—and perhaps for reasons more intimate (though if you mention the L-word, Gideon will stab you in the eye). Gideon soon finds herself in the decaying Canaan House on the imperial planet, where the Lyctor competition turns out to be more fraught than she imagined—their competitors are prickly and standoffish, the food leaves something to be desired, and, oh, folks soon start showing up dead, the victims of secrets lurking within and beneath the ancient space fortress. Agatha Christie meets Mervyn Peake in a Reddit sub-forum in this gonzo grand guignol fantasy—truly one of the books of the year.

A Song for a New Day, by Sarah Pinsker
Sarah Pinsker’s debut novel is a lovely ode to the power of emotion and music, set in a near future where a desire for security and safety has led almost everyone to live isolated lives, and where connections to others are mostly virtual. Luce Cannon is a rock musician who defies the law against public gatherings to perform live for tiny audiences. Her music awakens something in Rosemary Laws, who has been raised in emotionless solitude and works for the StageHolo corporation recruiting musicians like Luce to be reality stars—a gig that requires her to actually go out into the world, and possibly connect with someone on a dangerously personal level. This is an unusual, heartfelt take on dystopian themes from a celebrated author of short fiction.

A Choir of Lies, by Alexandra Rowland
Alexandra Rowland’s followup to the subtle and delightful A Conspiracy of Truths finds storyteller Ylfing wandering the world, broken by his experience with his master Chant. A Chant himself now, he finds a new life in the prosperous town of Heyrland, working with a wealthy merchant who asks him to use his storytelling prowess to market a flower called stars-in-the-marsh. When his success sets off a speculative frenzy that nearly destroys his new home, Ylfing must decide whether he is more like his disgraced master than he wants to believe.

Boundless (Barnes & Noble Exclusive Edition), by R.A. Salvatore
The second book in R.A. Salvatore’s new Drizzt Do’Urden trilogy (after Timeless) focuses on Drizzt’s father, Zaknafein, who finds himself not quite as dead as he expected and transported hundreds of years into the future. The world his son inhabits has changed a great deal since Zaknafein’s own time—for better and for worse—and he struggles to adapt. But there are certain aspects of the world that never change, including the need to fight demons and the subtle manipulations of drow matrons, both of which still require the same response from a warrior of Zacknafein’s stature: a fight. The B&N exclusive edition includes a bonus short story featuring Kane.

The Resurrectionist of Caligo, by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga (September 17, Angry Robot—Paperback)
In the land of Myrcnia, the ruling royal family gain their authority by divine right—and the magic that flows through their bloodline. But the world is changing; science is beginning to challenge magic in terms of power and effectiveness. Roger Weathersby is a man of science—as well as a former convicted criminal—and a “resurrectionist” who works with corpses. When he’s framed for a murder of one of the bodies he brought back to life, he has to rely on magic to save him in the form a ritual performed by old friend Princess Sibylla that binds him to her perpetually. Using his special knowledge and skills, Weathersby hunts a serial killer, a quest that leads him to no end of magical, political, and personal skulduggery.

What’s new on your SFF reading list this week?

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