This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Tales from the Dresden Files, an Intergalactic Chocolate War, and Bowie in Space

The Memory of Fire, by Callie Bates
The sequel to 2017’s The Waking Land, which we called “the year’s most hopeful fantasy.” As a child, Lady Elanna “El” Valtai was taken as a political prisoner by the new king, who sent her father into exile. Years later, she was framed for the despot ruler’s murder, and caught up in a political conspiracy even as she discovered her own nascent power to control plant life. As book two begins, El and her ally Jahan Korakides have helped free the people who once lived under the thumb of an empire, even as she has spent most of her magic trying to restore lands destroyed by the conflict. When the pair learns of a coming invasion by the resurgent forces of the empire, Jahan heads off on a mission to protect this fragile peace. But magic is forbidden in the empire, andhiding his abilities makes Jahan’s job that much harder—as do the deadly killers on his trail.

Adrift, by Rob Boffard
In a galaxy still recovering from a devastating war, the passengers onboard the spacefaring cruise ship The Red Panda are hoping to witness life-changing beauty as they do a flyby of the Horsehead Nebula, but the voyage turns out to be anything but relaxing. A mysterious ship suddenly appears and destroys a nearby space station and the interstellar transport gate used to reach it, leaving the small group of passengers onboard the Panda stranded. Tour guide Hannah Elliott is in way over her head, but it falls to her to make sure everyone works together to stay alive and figure out why they are being attacked. Boffard (the Outer Earth trilogy) crafts a fast-moving and intriguing SF mystery-thriller, with a host of memorable characters, including a 10-year-old kid named Corey Livingston, who turns out to have much more to offer than his “pudgy five-foot-frame” and “stupid hair” would suggest.

Brief Cases, by Jim Butcher
Butcher offers up 12 stories set in the world of Harry Dresden, wizard and private investigator working an alternate, magic-filled Chicago. Several stories follow Harry’s adventures with River Shoulders, a smart sasquatch with a half-human son. Others involve Harry’s apprentice Molly Carpenter, crime boss John Marcone, and even Wyatt Earp. The novella “Zoo Day” follows Harry as he takes his young daughter Maggie to the zoo—and since this is Harry Dresden, you know there’s more in store than daddy/daughter bonding. Dresden fans may have encountered some of these stories before, but rereading them in this collection, alongside one all-new tale, should help ease the pain for waiting for Harry’s next novel-length adventure.

The Traitor God, by Cameron Johnston
Unscrupulous magician Edrin Walker has endured a decade of hard living on the road, but when a close friend is horrifically murdered—an act that Edrin experienced in his body and bones, thanks to a magical bond between them—he finally heads home, determined to avenge the brutal act. It seems Lynas had stumbled upon some dark secret the sorcerers in control of the city didn’t want discovered, but that doesn’t slow Edrin in his determination to punish even mage, daemon, or god who had something to do with his friend’s death. Epic fantasy meets hardboiled noir, with a foul-mouthed, seen -it-all narrator you won’t soon forget.

The Hills Have Spies, by Mercedes Lackey
Mercedes Lackey begins a new series set within the wider world of the Valdemar novels. Heralds Mags and Amily (who appeared in the Herald Spy series) are raising their children to continue their legacy, protecting the realm via subtlety and subterfuge. Their eldest child Justyn can speak to animals, and hopes to one day soon find his own horse companion and become a full-fleged Herald Spy. First, though, he needs training, so his mother sends him off to join a group of traveling players, to see what valuable intel he can glean from associating with common-folk across the land. Justyn soon begins to hear whispers of a growing conflict to come involving the indigenous people of Valdemar, known as the Hawkbrothers, whom some fear dangerous, and treat as less than human. Someone appears to be trying to turn the general populace against the Hawkbrothers, and the results of those efforts could prove deadly. It’s another compulsively readable fantasy adventure, but not without something to say about our own world’s politics of racism, hatred, and oppression.

Outbreak, by Melissa F. Olson
THe third book in Olson’s Nightshades novella series, a gritty urban fantasy saga about a plague of vampires attacking Chicago and the government agents of the Bureau of Prenatural Invesitgation who are here to keep a lid on the problem. With an internal invesitgation underway and hampering their efforts to do their jobs, agents Alex and Lindy must contend with a horde of escaped “shades”—and stay one step ahead of the biggest bad of them all.

Free Chocolate, by Amber Royer 
In the distant future, Earth is part of a larger universe of alien civilizations, valued for the one thing that we can supply that no other planet can: chocolate. In order to protect our sole valuable export, chocolate plantations are heavily guarded, and theft is swiftly punished—bad news for Bo Benitez, who’s just been caught trying to steal a cacao pod. Jumping onto an unmarked alien ship to escape the police, she’s believes she’s safe—only to discover the vessel is crewed by beings known for eating stowaways. Hunky aliens, a universe that prizes chocolate above all else, and a smart heroine on the run are the key ingredients in this sweet sci-fi adventure, equal parts space opera and soap opera.

Koko Uncaged, by Kieran Shea
The final book in Shea’s gleefully violent, action-heavy Koko series, which puts the “punk” back in “cyberpunk” while flipping you off at the same time. Ex-government mercenary Koko Marsteller would prefer to live out her days quietly (or as quietly as one can live as the owner of a hi-tech brothel on the lawless pleasure archipelago The Sixty Islands), but bad people from her past keep making that difficult. This time around, he’s been hired to serve as a bodyguard for a wealthy businessman, but it turns out Bogart Gong has more people who like to see him dead than she expected. On the way to a happy retirement (or an early grave), she’ll face political conspiracies, hired killers, and a nasty visit from someone Koko thought was dead and gone.

The Book of M, by Peng Shepherd
This literary-leaning dystopian novel is set in a world set upon by a truly strange affliction: all over the globe, people are losing their shadows, a loss that grants then extranormal powers, at the cost of their memories. To escape the Forgetting plague, lovers Max and Ory flee to the wilderness. They think themselves safe, until Max loses her shadow and is forced to go on the run, lest she become a danger to the man she loves. Knowing his wife’s time, and memories, are running out, Ory sets out after her, exploring a landscape devastated by the unrest that rose up in the wake of humanity’s strange evolution, and, along the way, finds answers, and some cause for hope.

Star Trek: Discovery—Fear Itself, by James Swallow
Set in the Star Trek: Discovery series, Swallow’s story focuses on Lieutenant Saru, a Starfleet Officer on the U.S.S. Shenzhou. Saru was born into a prey species, hunted on his native planet by a horde of fierce and terrifying predators; his psychology is thus defined largely by fear. Saru intends to rise above his base nature, but his fierce efforts to prove to both himself and his shipmates crew is more than his genes suggest leads him to act recklessly when the Shenzhou picks up a distress call. Saru soon finds himself in an uncomfortable command position, caught between two alien forces and his own duty as an officer. Discovery has breathed new life into a 50-year-old franchise, and this tie-in will hold you over until the next season begins streaming.

A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising, by Raymond A. Villareal
Vampires have come to the United States—and they expect their civil rights to be respected. Lauren Scott, a CDC virologist, is called to Arizona to investigate a corpse with unusual bruising and contusions—but the body is missing when she arrives. A fresh corpse with the same injuries confirms her suspicions: vampires, known as gloamings, are on U.S. soil. Scott finds herself paired with FBI agent Hugo Zumthor and Father John Reilly of the Catholic Church in the struggle against a rising wave of vampiric transformations—and as more and more people are turned, the question of whether or not vampires and humans can coexist becomes more than theoretical.

Strange Stars, by Jason Heller
This one isn’t a novel, but a work of non-fiction, but it’s no less essential reading for sci-fi fans for that. Heller (a Hugo-winning author and a music journalist) heads back to the trippiest musical trips of the 1970s to explore the fusion between rock ‘n’ roll and out space weirdness, tracing a line between the symbolic freedoms represented by the burgeoning space program of the ’60s and the free-loving, glam-rocking excess of ’70s rock and pop culture. Exploring the the influences and impact of artists like David Bowie, Sun Ra, and Pink Floyd, he finds science fictional roots supporting many of the decade’s counter-cultural icons—and considers how those tendrils have stretched across the subsequent four decades and change. Pairs delightfully well with Catherynne M. Valente’s recent space opera of excess, um, Space Opera.

What are you reading this week?

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