This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Shattered Identities, Aliens in Nigeria, and a Record Deal with the Devil

Soulless: Illustrated Edition, by Gail Carriger
This is Gail Carriger’s The Parasol Protectorate like you’ve never seen it before. The bestselling urban fantasy-cum-comedy of manners  series follows “soulless” Alexia Tarabotti, whose condition makes her this alternate Victorian London’s ideal defender against threats of the supernatural variety (which helps make up for the fact that she’s a spinster with no social prospects to speak of). This illustrated hardcover edition of Alexia’s first encounter with the shapeshifting investigator Lord Maccon features a new cover and 10 evocative full-page illustrations by Jensine Eckwall (The Land of Yesterday), with eccentric detail worthy of Edward Gorey.

Charmcaster, by Sebastien de Castell
Here is the third of four volumes of the new series from Sebastien de Castell (The Greatcoats series)Orbit Books is releasing before the end of the year, following Spellslinger and Shadowblack. The series follows Kellen, the youngest member of a powerful magical family in a world that values magical ability above all else. The problem is, Kellen has no magical ability of his own. Still living as an outlaw after the events of the first two books, Kellen is caught up in the fallout from a stunning, world-changing discovery in the city of Gitabria, where he has been traveling is search of the cure for a magical plague he is afflicted with. Three books in as many months sounds like a lot of fantasy to throw at you, but when the novels are this fast-moving, funny, and fun to read, it’s a welcome excuse for a reading binge.

The Queen of Crows, by Myke Cole
It’s hard to believe Cole has the time to write books; after a career in the military and intelligence services, he worked on the reality show Hunted on CBS and consults for the NYPD. His experience shows in his writing; his depictions of military life and tactics have the gritty ring of truth. The Queen of Crows, which follows last year’s The Armored Saint, is set in a world where the knights of The Order, religious zealots, hunt down wizards in hiding, often massacring anyone who gets in their way in the meantime. Heloise was a poor village girl who dared to stand up to the Order, and acquired magical armor that transformed her into a ferocious warrior. The Queen of Crows finds her transformed into a leader—but her revolution has a long way to go.

We Sold Our Souls, by Grady Hendrix
Schlockmeister Grady Hendrix from from the good, the bad, and the good-bad when it comes to horror, and his new novel, which follows 2016’s gloriously lurid My Best Friend’s Exorcism, gets everything right (or wrong, depending on how you want to look at it). It’s the story of Kris Pulaski, who was once a guitarist for the mega-successful metal band Dürt Würk, before the lead singer, Terry Hunt, decided to leave the group and strike out on his own—with backing in the form of a literal deal with the devil. Decades later, Kris wallows in poverty and obscurity while Terry headlines his farewell tour—but the past is catching up with both of them. Kris sets off for the site of Terry’s last show in the Nevada desert, where he hopes to gather thousands of faithful fans whose souls will pay off his supernatural debts. She and the other former members of Dürt Würk are the only ones who can stop the music, but  getting the band back together is going to be rougher than any cross-country tour in a broken-down bus.

Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary—New Edition, by Pablo Hidalgo and David Reynolds 
Fully updated to include the most recent films, this compendium of all things from a galaxy far, far away is unparalleled in its detail. Exploring everything from ship schematics, to the subtle meanings hidden in Queen Amidala’s costumes, to the inner-workings of Darth Vader’s armor, it also goes beyond the hardware to explore the backstories of both major and minor characters. The authors have serious cred; Hildalgo’s been serving as a story consultant for the franchise since 1995, and Reynolds, who holds a doctorate in archeology, has written five other deep-dive Star Wars books.

Secret Passages in a Hillside Town, by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen, translated by Lola Rogers
This new novel-in-translation from Finnish author Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen (The Rabbit Back Literature Society) is another lightly fantastical wonder. Small-town publisher Olli Suominen lives a quiet, discontented life, unhappy in his marriage and constantly losing his umbrella. After joining Facebook, he begins connecting with people online—some of whom claim to know him, even if he doesn’t quite remember them. One such person is a womannamed Greta, who Olli realizes too late is his “first great love.” Her reappearance in his life throws his family’s measured existence into upheaval, as memories of the past begin resurfacing, causing Olli to recall childhood days spent exploring strange secret passages that snake through the town. This is a book of slippery logic and constantly shifting expectations; a fantastical literary delight.

How to Invent Everything, by Ryan North 
North, a regular comics writer and the author of a pair of pick-your-path novels based on Shakespeare, knows a lot of stuff, and in this ingenious book, styled as a user’s manual for time travelers, he puts all of it to good use. Exploring everything from numbers, to language, to the importance of domesticating animals in punchy, bite-sized entries, it is styled as the only book you’ll ever need, should you be transported hundreds of thousands of years into the past and tasked with recreating civilization. Imagine an enormously entertaining science textbook disguised as a roguish sci-fi guidebook. It will appeal equally to creative types looking to see the world in a different light and to those who just like learning about why things work the way they do.

Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds, by Brandon Sanderson
Sanderson is famous for lengthy, meticulously detailed fantasy series like Mistborn and The Stormlight Archive, but over the years he’s also been quietly publishing sci-fi novellas featuring the character of Stephen Leeds, a man who can learn anything and master any skill in a matter of hours by creating a separate personality in his head. Leeds calls these personalities Aspects,’ and he’s gotten to the point where there are almost too many of them fighting for space in his brain. This book collects the previously published Leeds novellas—Legion and Legion: Skin Deep—as well as a new, concluding novella, Lies of the Beholder, which offers a glimpse into Stephen’s origins as he’s hired to recover a stolen camera that reportedly takes photos of the past. Signed copies are available from Barnes & Noble, while they last.

Rosewater, by Tade Thompson 
Thompson’s novel-length debut, published last year in ebook but now out in print from Orbit, is set in the near future, in the wake of Earth’s settlement by alien visitors, who have constructed a huge biodome in Nigeria. The newcomers are rumored to have healing powers, and the sick and suffering gather around the biodome, forming the city of Rose Water around it. Thompson, whose sci-fi/horror novella The Murders of Molly Southbourne was released last year to significant acclaim, was born in London to Yoruba parents, and brings a unique worldview to a story that runs the disparate threads of those disparate cultures through a sci-fi idea machine. The result combines a sprawling timeline, engaging speculative concepts, and aspects of old-school detective fiction to craft one of the most unique books of the year.

Mecha Samurai Empire, by Peter Tieryas
Tieryas follows up and expands on his 2016 novel United States of Japan, an alternate history story set in a world where the Axis Powers won World War II and Japan has occupied the U.S. The first book—in which an underground video game featuring giant battling mecha, distributed by a rebel group called the George Washingtons, urged Americans to question the official history of Japan’s noble victory—moved much like a detective novel. The sequel spins a different sort of story set in the same universe, focusing on young Makoto “Mac” Fujimoto, a war orphan who wants to be a mecha pilot—but just as he sits for the exams that will determine his future, a terrorist attack by the National Revolutionaries of America kills his best friend, setting Mac on a darker path. Even more so than its excellent predecessor, Mecha Samurai Empire fulfills the promise of a book with a giant robot on the cover.

Through Darkest Europe, by Harry Turtledove
The latest alternate history from Harry Turtledove leaves behind his recent explorations of a skewed second world war to reimagine the clash between European and Islamic cultures. In a timeline in which a democratic Middle East has become the dominant power, the greatest kingdoms of North Africa and the Middle East are facing a threat from the uncultured denizens of Europe, where the ancient monarchical systems are collapsing, civil unrest is on the rise, and terrorist actions are commonplace as the most violent groups call for a “crusade.” Investigator Khalid al-Zarzisi is sent to Rome to look into rumors of a terrorist plot, protect the beleaguered Pope, and keep the country and the continent from utter collapse, which could trigger the unthinkable: a World War.

What are you reading this week?

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