This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Pale Kings, Irrelevant Gods, and Lawyers Fighting for the Future

Rule of Capture, by Christopher Brown
Christopher Brown’s newest—a prequel to the harrowing, ripped-from-tomorrow’s headlines dystopia Tropic of Kansas—finds a shattered America licking its wounds after losing a war with China that cost it control of the islands of Hawaii. A new regime, thrust into power by a dubious election, is intent on subduing the growing resistance movement, and with the courtroom as his battlefield, attorney Donny Kimoe is determined to do everything he can to stop the slide into dictatorship. As his latest case puts not only his client’s life but his own in danger, Donny has to find a way to twist the system to his needs—until he stumbles on a secret that might force him to choose between the good of the many and the good of the one.

Shrouded Loyalties, by Reese Hogan
Mila Blackwood is an officer on a Belzene submarine, fighting for her country against their Dhavnak enemies. Belzene’s greatest military secret is Shrouding—the ability to traverse an alternate dimension, which in turn lets them travel vast distances in their own in a matter of seconds. But Mila’s sub has been infiltrated by a Dhavnak spy named Klara, and her brother has been seduced by an enemy soldier, putting the secret at risk. And when both Mila and Klara discover they can travel through the alternate dimension without assistance, they’re placed in the power of a group of ruthless scientists and must work together to discover why they have this strange ability—and the devastating consequences it might bring. Packed with inventive worldbuilding, this one offers a decidedly different take on military SF.

The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday, by Saad Z. Hossain
Saad Z. Hossain’s zippy new novella begins with Melek Ahmar—the Lord of Mars, the Red King, the Lord of Tuesday, Most August Rajah of Djinn—returning to Earth to discover, to his horror, that the humans that once worshiped him with reverential terror have pretty much forgotten all about him, embracing technological gods in his absence. In an ecologically ruined world, the humans have all installed implants that allow them to live inside microclimates while an AI called Karma monitors and judges their every move. Melek tries to spin up some chaos and revolution to inspire a bit of that old wrath-of-god belief, but finds the modern world a hard slog. He also catches the attention of Karma, putting him and his one human ally, the soldier Bhan Gurung, on a collision course with a grim future.

The Heart of the Circle, by Keren Landsman
Israeli author Keren Landsman’s first novel in translation is set in Tel Aviv, where Reed Katz works as a waiter and struggles with his abilities as an empath (they’re called “Moodies”); he’s part of an oppressed community of sorcerers who are frequently subjected to brutal attacks. Reed’s ex-lover Blaze returns with an American girlfriend and her brother Lee in tow; Lee turns out to be empathic too, and Reed is soon in love again. When the anti-sorcerer faction targets Reed, his friends and family must take an enormous chance in order to save him. You don’t have to dig too deeply to uncover the real world parallels to xenophobia and intolerance in this unusual and compelling English-language debut.

Knaves Over Queens: A Wild Cards Novel, edited by George R.R. Martin
In the expansive shared universe of the Wild Cards series, Earth’s history was changed utterly in the 1946s by the release of an alien virus over Manhattan that had a devastating effect on those infected: most of them died, and a few suffered horrible mutations that turned them into beings referred to as “jokers.” But then there were those lucky few who not only survived exposure, but gained superhuman abilities—those are the Aces. Most of the previous two dozen novels and story collections—generally co-authored by the shifting stable of writers—take place in an altered American. This volume heads over the pond to discover what happened when the virus reached the U.K. It’s a good place for new readers to jump in, as it features a new cast of characters while sticking close to the formula that has worked for 25 earlier books. Contributing writers include Paul Cornell, Marko Kloos, Mark Lawrence, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Emma Newman, Peter Newman, Peadar O Guilin, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Caroline Spector, and Charles Stross.

The Mage-Fire War, by Lee Modesitt, Jr.
At this point, Lee Modesitt, Jr.’s Saga of Recluce is a fantasy institution, producing new volumes at a regular clip that jump backward and forward in time to explore every corner of a richly imagined secondary world. The Mage-Fire War is the 21st novel in the overarching series, and the third volume of a story arc that began in The Mongrel Mage. It reacquaints us with Beltur, a mage who is shunned because he has the ability to use both black and white magic, drawn from the powers of order and chaos, respectively. Beltur and a few fellow mages are given control over a poor community known as Haven, and seek to turn it into just that—a place welcoming to outsiders. Their efforts are complicated by the desires of the duke of a neighboring city who wishes to route his troops through Haven. Though the action of the plot concerns Beltur and his allies’ attempts to resist the soldiers’ invasion, the novel—like most of the author’s works—also excels at depicting the day-to-day lives of its characters, who struggle with mundane questions (fixing the plumbing, finding a good spot to eat when the day’s labor is done) alongside more magical ones. 

Do You Dream of Terra-Two?, by Temi Oh
Temi Oh’s debut imagines a future in which a team of six teenagers begin training for the 23-year trip to Terra-Two as young children so they will be young and able enough to survive when they reach their destination. Their decades-long trip (alongside two trained astronauts) seems likely to be a deadly dull affair—six people growing up trapped in a tiny space with only each other for company and sanity—but when everything goes sideways while they’re in the middle of empty space and have zero hope of rescue, it becomes a deadly adventure of survival. But the real drama here comes from Oh’s willingness to simply throw together a cast of wildly competitive, highly disparate young personalities together in a pressure cooker environment to see how they come together—or tear apart.

The House of Sacrifice, by Anna Smith Spark
Anna Smith Spark has gained as reputation as one of the queens of grimdark fantasy, and the final volume of the Empires of Dust trilogy (The Court of Broken Knives, The Tower of Living and Dying) will do nothing to unseat her from her throne. After years of bloody warfare, Marith, the King of Death, rules the continent of Irlast, but he may not have the strength left to hold it. Tormented by the loss of three several would-be heirs before their births, he fears that his wife Thalia’s current pregnancy will end the same way, even as his sanity is further tested by the reappearance of the voices that intrude into his mind, egging him to commit unspeakable acts. With the mad king seemingly marching toward war once again, it’s clear there is no neat and tidy ending in store for the denizens of this harsh fantasy world.

Pale Kings, by Micah Yongo
Micah Yongo’s sequel to Lost Gods returns us to a richly imagined adventure inspired by African folklore and mythology, and finds former assassin Neythan on a quest that risks everything, including his own soul. The Five Realms are at peace, but there is a terrible threat lurking at the edges of the world. An ancient scroll in Neythan’s possession may hold the only key to repelling it. Neythan gathers allies and travels beyond the realms to find answers—a quest that requires delving into his own dark, magical origins—on a path involving epic destruction, old gods, and plenty of twists and turns.

What new SFF is on your list this week?

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