This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Fighting Dragon Fire, a Transdimensional Anthropologist, and a Magical Mod Squad

Lake Silence, by Anne Bishop
Anne Bishop returns to the universe of the Others in this standalone novel set in the town of Sproing in the Finger Lakes region. After a brutal divorce, Vicki DeVine takes possession of the Jumble, a compound of rotting buildings near Lake Silence she intends to turn into a resort. Vicki is a normal human, however, and completely unaware that in an area like this—where the shape-shifting Others are dominant—it’s their rules, that matter, and Vicki is unaware that her lodger Aggie Crowe is an Other. When a dead body turns up on the property, the police seem intent on pinning the murder on Vicki, who soon realizes the man was part of an effort led by her ex-husband to ruin her and take back the Jumble. While Vicki learns to navigate the dangers of living with the Others, her ex and his sketchy allies discover that crossing the Others is never a good idea. Bishop fans who lamented the “ending” of the series in Etched in Bone will be happy to learn the author hasn’t missed a single step.

Burn Bright, by Patricia Briggs
The fifth book in the Alpha and Omega series (spun off from the long-running Mercy Thompson saga) finds Charles Cornick and Anna Latham living as a mated werewolf pair, stepping into the role of pack leaders and watching over the Wildings, werewolves too dangerous to live with the pack formally, but existing on the fringes and still in need of protection. When a Wilding is kidnapped, Charles and Anna set off to the rescue, but there’s an unknown enemy circling the pack. As Charles and Anna seek to protect the Wildlings and discover the identity of their enemy, they will be tested like never before. Briggs crafts another addictive volume of urban fantasy sprung from Native American lore and legends.

Good Guys, by Steven Brust 
The Mod Squad meets magical bureaucracy! Magically-gifted Donovan, Marci, and Susan are all recruited by The Foundation, responsible for regulating and monitoring magic and the supernaturally gifted, and for keeping magic secret from the everyday human world. In return for minimum wage, the trio struggles with paperwork, expense reports, and all the other frustrations of a bureaucracy even as they set off to identify and stop an assassin using illegal magic to carry out their hits. As they dig into the mystery and get mired in red tape, they all begin to wonder—is the Foundation really the good guys in all of this? What’s the story behind the organization’s ancient enemies, The Mystici? What of the rumors of a mole  operating from within? And what moral obligations do sorcerers have to us mundanes, anyway? Brust crafts another intriguing high-concept procedural that sits nicely alongside the Incrementalists novels.

The Last Jedi: Expanded Edition, by Jason Fry
The novelization of the most recent entry in the stories franchise is more than your average page-to-screen affair. Writer Jason Fry worked with director Rian Johnson to deepens the story and incorporate scenes deleted from or not present in the theatrical film, to the point that the book is billed as an “expanded edition.” Yes, it’s going to tell the same story as the film—Rey’s training with Luke Skywalker, Finn heist-style adventure to help the desperate Resistance, and Kylo Ren’s continuing issues with hating everything and everyone—but it is more than just a the same flavors in a new package, offering greater insights into the events depicted in the film. That’s more than enough to make it a must-read for every Star Wars—and the exclusive Barnes & Noble edition also includes a 16-page photo insert you’ll find nowhere else.

Blood of the Four, by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon
In Quandis, everyone is a slave to someone. The royals, living in comfort and luxury, are slaves to the gods, performing their duties as carefully as any servant. All others are slaves to the royals—or they are part of the Bajuman, a caste below even slaves able only be priests, or to be killed. This system works in part because the use of magic has been limited, and because everyone has been conditioned to know their proper place—but still, beautiful, ambitious Princess Phela chafes at the limitations around her. Even though she knows the dangers of magic, and knows there are others in line for the throne ahead of her, she embarks on an ambitious plan for her own advancement, threatening the balance of the entire world. Two accomplished novelists team up for the engrossing start to a propulsive, accessible fantasy epic.

Smoke Eaters, by Sean Grigsby
In the near future, the world finds itself suddenly invaded by dragons—actual fire-and-smoke breathing dragons. While the firefighters of the world become the first line of defense against the monsters, a small number of people immune to dragon smoke are drafted into the elite anti-dragon force known as the Smoke Eaters. Cole Brannigan was a firefighter for 20 years before the dragons came, and has been battling them ever since. On the verge of retirement, he suddenly discovers he’s able to withstand dragon smoke, and quickly becomes a rookie in the Smoke Eaters, the low man on the ladder, but tasked with a monumentally important new mission. When they stumble onto a conspiracy, Brannigan and his fellow Smoke Eaters have no choice but to protect their city and its people on their own, no matter the cost. In his debut, Grigsby more than delivers on a truly perfect premise—which is to say, this book is as fun as it sounds.

The Hunger, by Alma Katsu
Katsu reimagines the horror of the Donner Party as a tale of supernatural terror and the genetic legacy of evil. In 1846, George Donner is leading his party of families westward when they discover letters left behind by previous travelers warning them to turn around or die. Everyone in the party is escaping something back east, and as they find mutilated bodies that appear to have been ritualistically sacrificed, they find not the wide-open spaces of the the untouched wilderness, but walls closing in, crushing them. Eventually, a kind of insanity settles over them all, and they focus their hate—and sudden craving for human flesh, transmitted almost like a disease—on Donner’s wife Tamsen. This is a horrific alternate history that asks whether evil can be caught like a disease, or if it’s always there, in the blood.

Lady Henterman’s Wardrobe, by Marshall Ryan Maresca
The second Streets of Maradaine novel (and the seventh novel to take place in the fictional city of the same name) finds the neighborhood of North Seleth still reeling from the Holver Alley fire, a deliberate act of arson intended to drive the residents out. The Holver Alley crew, led by brothers Asti and Verci, have already brought street justice down upon the people who set the blaze, but the ones truly responsible have remained elusive. When clues point to the aristocrat Lord Henterman, Asti hatches a plot to infiltrate the noble household to find proof—but encounters his old lover-turned-betrayer Liora Rand already there, ensconced as Lady Henterman. As a rival gang and political developments complicate life for everyone in the neighborhood, the tense game of cat and mouse between Lord Henterman, Liora, and the Holver Alley crew leads Asti to the secrets contained in Lady Henterman’s wardrobe.

Tricks for Free, by Seanan McGuire
Seanan McGuire jumps back into the tongue-in-cheek urban fantasy world of the InCryptid series. The seventh book picks up where the last left off, with Antimony Price on the run and on her own. As cryptozoologists, the Price family has dedicated themselves to protecting the hidden magical creatures of the world, and to keep everyone safe, Antimony must hide—and what better place to do so than Lowryland, the largest amusement park in Florida? There, she intends to lay low and make plans, but she finds herself surrounded by magic and magical creatures, and, soon enough, drawn into a mystery. Accidents begin to plague the park, and a corpse reveals Antimony’s presence to the folks who run Lowryland—a secret group of powerful magic users. They want Antimony and her powers for themselves, and she finds herself caught, desperate and alone. McGuire is famously an obsessive fan of theme parks, and her enthusiasm for the setting makes this the most entertaining installment of the series yet.

The Warrior Within, by Angus McIntyre
Karsman is the de facto leader of a planet on the edges of civilization where the Muljaddy, a benign religious order, dominate everything, trading wages and food for simple devotion and prayer, and spurring a thriving economy dealing in the artifacts of a long-dead civilization. Karsman has risen to his position of authority in part due to the many personalities in his head, each with their own set of skills and experience, all of which fight daily for control of his body. When a group of mercenaries arrive hunting a mysterious woman, their failure to locate her leads them to slowly ratchet up their campaign of terror, until they’re challenging the Muljaddy itself—and Karsman begins to use the various skills his many personas possess to protect the planet and the people who live there. McIntyre’s debut offers an impressive, original twist on the classic superhero story, and a fascinating, hugely complex lead character—who’s really many characters in one.

Quietus, by Tristan Palmgren
All you really need to know about Quietus is that one of the main characters is a transdimensional anthropologist—when’s the last time you read a book with one of those as the protagonist? Anthropologist Habidah’s universe is beset by a deadly plague. By way of study, she’s been assigned to research a similar calamity in our universe, and is dispatched to witness the Black Death as it swiftly decimates Florence. Moved by the tragic scene of a young Carthusian monk named Niccolucio, who watches as one after another of his brothers succumbs to the disease, Habidah breaks all the rules and saves him. This merciful act sets off a chain reaction that ultimately reveals there’s more to the plague in Habidah’s own universe than a simple illness, and her assignment to observe our world is not the task she believed it to be. There is a conspiracy at work, threatening to destroy a huge empire—and now, she and Niccolucio are part of it. The bells and whistles of sci-fi with the depth and worldbuilding of historical fiction make this another standout Angry Robot debut.

Master Assassins, by Robert V.S. Redick
The first book in Redick’s (The Charthand Voyages) new series The Fire Sacraments takes place on the war-torn and blood-soaked continent of Urrath. Squabbling brothers Kandri and Mektu have been drafted into the army of an insane prophet, and their daily survival depends on pretending to be true believers—a script Mektu, who thinks he sees demons, has trouble sticking to. When the brothers are blamed for an assassination—the prophet’s army believes them to be professional killers—they must flee into the desert known as “the Land that Eats Men” in order to survive. There, they meet an array of strange and deadly allies and enemies, and learn a secret that could change the course of Urrath’s history for better or much, much worse—if they can survive long enough to reveal it. Redick’s long-awaited return to fantasy is the start of a truly satisfying epic.

A Call to Vengeance, by David Weber, Timothy Zahn, and Thomas Pope
The third book in the Manticore Ascendant series finds the Star Kingdom in disarray after a series of devastating attacks by mercenaries sent by an unknown enemy across impossible distances. The Royal Manticoran Navy is in shambles, but even worse is the political dangerthey face, as an anti-Navy faction in the government gains power and influence, determined to destroy the kingdom’s only hope in the shortsighted pursuit of political gain. Officers Travis Long and Lisa Donnelly must gather every ally they can find—old and new, trustworthy and otherwise—in order to shore up defenses both internal and external before the next attack…provided they aren’t betrayed by their own government first.

Daughters of the Storm, by Kim Wilkins
In this epic fantasy inspired by Norse myths, Aelthric, King of Thyrsland is hit with a magical curse that puts him into a coma. His five daughters work to keep the king’s ailment a secret to prevent their hated stepbrother from using it to his advantage in his quest for the throne. When they hear of a witch living far to the North who might be able to lift the curse, they set off to find her—but the five daughters have five distinct personalities that often come into conflict, even as their unique abilities serve as both their greatest strengths and biggest weaknesses. Warlike Bluebell, devout Willow, passionate Rose, flighty Ivy, and magically-gifted Ash must find common ground as they face dangerous obstacles in their efforts to save their father and preserve the kingdom—and time is quickly running out.

Guardian Angels and Other Monsters, by Daniel H. Wilson
Wilson collects 14 stories linked by the general theme of artificial intelligence, including a few set in the universes of his bestselling novels Robopocalypse and Clockwork Dynasty. The stories are dark but oddly human: a young boy links the brain implant that fends off his seizures to a robot intelligence; a scientist finds a way to spend one last day with his young daughter; a robot designed to protect a child rises from the dead over and over again, determined to serve out its programming; a virtual avatar pines for his true love in a digital simulacrum. Lark Iron Cloud from Robopocalypse and Elena Petrova from Clockwork Dynasty make welcome appearances in other stories, and the result is an unusually cohesive collection that nevertheless offers plenty of variety.

What are you reading this week?

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