This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Dragon Hunters, Dogs in Space, and a Bird’s Eye View of the Zombie Apocalypse

Hollow Kingdom, by Kira Jane Buxton
Kira Jane Buxton’s debut puts a deliriously original spin on the viral zombie apocalypse as human civilization’s collapse is witnessed—and challenged—by S.T., a pet crow. S.T. may be a bird, but he loves many aspects of human culture, and he’s alarmed when his owner, Big Jim, begins to behave strangely and undergo physical changes. Realizing that something is terribly wrong, S.T. teams up with bloodhound Dennis and is soon tasked with saving as many pets as possible, even as humanity descends into chaos. It’s a darkly hilarious twist on the formula, proving again why the zombie novel subgenre is nigh-unkillable.

Reticence, by Gail Carriger
Gail Carriger’s steampunk fantasy-of-manners (and airships, and monsters) series the Custard Protocol reaches its delightful conclusion. The ragtag crew of the flying vessel Spotted Custard sets off to Japan to investigate reports of attacks by shapeshifters. They’ve brought along a new crew member, Dr. Arsenic Ruthven, who falls quickly into a proper romance with ship’s navigator Percy. Well, technically two new crew members, as Captain Prudence is also pregnant, though questions linger over whether her child will turn out to be entirely human, or something else altogether. These found family dramas play out against a backdrop of supernatural intrigue (and plenty of puns and lightly comedic set-pieces) in the capital city of Edo, where the game is definitely afoot. It will be hard to say goodbye to this entirely lovable series.

The Gossamer Mage, by Julie E. Czerneda
In the world of Tananen, mages can harness the forces of magic—but doing so costs them a bit of their life force, given up in sacrifice to the Deathless Goddess. Worse, sometimes they pay that price and still the spell goes awry, creating a strange creature known as a gossamer. Mal is a master mage who wants to end the goddess’ tyranny and allow mages to cast spells without killing themselves by degrees. He meets Kait, one of the goddesses’ disciples; she and her sisters have stopped hearing the deity’s  voice, so Kait has set out to find out why. Their quests turn out to be intrinsically linked, as together they discover that the goddess’s toll may be a necessary price to keep their world safe from yet darker forces. This dense, lyrical novel is a rare thing: an epic fantasy standalone.

Cry Pilot, by Joel Dane
Joel Dane, a pseudonym for a mysterious “full-time writer” who has published 20 novels and written for television, delivers the first installment in a new series set centuries in the future. With the environment ruined, humanity lives inside corporate-run compounds, waiting for the world outside to be slowly terraformed back to viability. Unfortunately, fallout from the process allows for the creation of rogue bioweapons. Maseo Kaytu is a man with secrets, but he hides them in order to volunteer as a “cry pilot”—a sort of human key needed to operate futuristic weapons—and join the infantry. Training is brutal, but Kaytu forms a true bond with his fellow troops—one that is quickly tested when they’re deployed against a new biological terror that has destroyed every other unit thrown against it.

Bursts of Fire, by Susan Forest
The first volume of the Addicted to Heaven series follows three magically gifted sisters, daughters of the imperial mage of the kingdom of Orumon. The sisters’ mother was once lauded for protecting her people though her communication with the gods using one of the rare prayer stones. But after war lays waste to the kingdom, a violent king determines to sever humanity’s connection to magic and the divine by destroying all of the stones, forcing the girls to flee into the wilds, where they will learn to master their powers and meet their destinies. Political scheming and the corrupting power of a dogmatic religion come together against the trio, who must grow into their roles—as a killer, a general, and a powerful mage—if they hope to reclaim what they’ve lost and bring peace to the land. Amid compelling family drama and well-rendered action, this first volume of a planned seven-book series deals with timely themes of fear and xenophobia.

Raging Storm, by Marcus Heitz
German author-in-translation Marcus Heitz returns with another installment of the internationally acclaimed fantasy series The Dwarves, delivering another double-fistful of fantasy action and in-depth worldbuilding. A great enemy has been defeated, and the Hidden Land—home to races of dwarves, elves, and men—bears the scars of victory against the marauding Älfar. Aiphatòn, the son of  emperor of the Älfar emperor, has turned against his own people, swearing to hunt down any remnants who would again stoke the fires of conflict. But when a new threat arises, the Älfar may turn out to be the only hope for the Hidden Land’s continued survival.

The Dragon Republic, by R.F. Kuang
R.F. Kuang’s followup to the bestselling, award-nominated debut The Poppy War opens on a world in tatters. The Third Poppy War has left Nikan shredded, and gifted magic-user Rin in hiding, addicted to opium and unable to silence the whispers of the Phoenix, whose power changed the course of the war. Betrayed by Empress Su Daji and burning for revenge, Rin and the Cike accept an alliance with the Dragon Warlord Yin Vaisra, who tells them to destroy the Empress. But Rin, wracked with guilt and already broken by all that she has seen and suffered, begins to see new possibilities that might lead to a wholly unexpected destiny.

Blood of an Exile, by Brian Naslund
Brian Naslund’s lushly written and compellingly plotted debut introduces Silas Bershad, called the Flawless Bershad. Once a powerful lord, he was accused of war crimes by the king and exiled. He was doomed to hunt dragons, a fate tantamount to a death sentence. But the Flawless Bershad has strange healing powers that allowed him to instead grow into a legendary dragon hunter—and to live long enough for a chance at redemption. The king’s daughter Kira has been kidnapped, and if Bershad can rescue her and defeat a mad emperor intent on slaughtering all the precious dragons in the world, he can return to his life and lands. (You know that’s going to take more than one book to accomplish; this is but the first in the Dragons of Terra series.)

First Cosmic Velocity, by Zach Powers
Zach Powers spins a story firmly rooted in the plausible in this darkly satirical Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers pick, imagining that the 1960s-era Soviet space program was only half successful—while they’ve sent five capsules into space, none have actually returned successfully. In order to hide this fact, the U.S.S.R. has been recruiting twins into its program, allowing them to stage triumphant return trips. The story follows the last of the twin sets, both named Leonid: while one is in orbit, the other is on tour and under tight control—but as the latter’s doubts about his role in the sham grow, the complications for the engineers threaten to spiral out of control when Premier Krushchev decides his own dog should be the first canine in space.

What are you reading this week?

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