This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: A Winter’s Tale, Visions of Our Future, and a Return to an Interdimensional Library

The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden
Arden’s debut novel is an incredible achievement, fusing Russian folklore and history into a thoroughly modern fantasy exploring themes of belief, feminism, and magic. Vasilisa “Vasya” Petrovna is the beautiful daughter of a 13th century Russian noble. Her father, conflicted because he blames Vasya for the death of her mother, nonetheless seeks to protect her in the one way he believes he can: by marrying her into royalty. Vasya, however, prefers to commune with the spirits of wood, home, and water that lurk in the forests on her father’s estate—spirits who have protected the land for centuries. With the arrival of a new priest and Vasya’s new mother-in-law, who both see the spirits as demons to be destroyed, the villagers begin to reject the ancient beings just when the village needs them the most. It falls to Vasya to harness the power she holds within to save her family and her home. Arden’s lyrical prose serves a story that combines beauty and power into a tale that feels like a fairy tale of old—ideal for a cold winter night’s reading.

The Burning Page, by Genevieve Cogman
The third installment in The Invisible Library series finds Librarian-slash-spy Irene and her dragon apprentice Kai in a bad odor and on probation in the infinite inter-dimensional library that connects all the alternate universes. The timing is terrible, because rogue Librarian Alberich is back, fomenting disorder and disruption on the worlds he controls—as well as within the Library itself. Worse, Irene begins to suspect there’s a spy in her circle working against her. As in previous installments, Cogman’s worldbuilding across the various alternate universes never ceases to delight, providing a sense of verisimilitude that only increases as the plot slowly tightens and Alberich’s true intentions—nothing less than the destruction of the Library itself, no matter the consequences—become clear.

The Cold Eye, by Laura Ann Gilman
The sequel to Gilman’s celebrated Weird Western Silver on the Road offers the further adventures of Izzy, a girl who made a quite literal Devil’s bargain, agreeing to serve as the the boss’s left hand,ensuring that the people of the Territory hold up their end of a deal they made, and pay what’s owed for the protection they’ve been granted. After all, this isn’t the horned baddie you’ve read about in the good book, but the pragmatic, fearsome, and fair overseer of a landscape littered with monsters and magic.  When Izzy encounters a natural disaster even her devil-granted powers can’t easily combat, however, she learns there are some situations even the Left Hand may not be able to face down. And at the worst time—something is poisoning the very land the residents of the territory depend on for survival, and without it, the devil’s bargain means nothing.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day, by Seanan McGuire
McGuire’s latest novella is a standalone work of fantasy and a touching supernatural tale. A woman named Jenna dies, having never forgiven herself for the earlier suicide of her big sister Patty. But Jenna has died before her time—that sliver of guaranteed existence every soul is granted—and must pay back the life she wasted. Unwilling to let the still living shoulder the debt, she finds work at a suicide prevention hotline, trying to keep others from making their own mistakes. But then, a dark force moves into the city, and the ghosts of New York begin falling prey to a something that can control them, and make them spend their afterlives in terrible ways. If Jenna can stop it, she might find true redemption. This is vintage Mcguire: an intriguing world with a cast of characters you’ll love so hard it hurts, and an ending that hits you in all the right places. 

The El Sombra Trilogy, by Al Ewing
This three-in-one volume collects the complete El Sombra trilogy (including El Sombra, Gods of Manhattan, and Pax Omega); the series follows the Nazi-hunting title character, born out of legend in the sleepy Mexican town of Pasito, who traveled to New York City and beyond in order to rid the world of the Reich’s archane experiments. If you can’t tell from that description, these stories are the best kind of pulp: self-aware and addictive in equal measure.

Sin du Jour: The First Course, by Matt Wallace
If you’re not reading Matt Wallace’s novella series about the mishaps that befall a Manhattan catering crew with a clientele of demons, goblin kings, and other monsters that exist alongside the modern world, you are missing out on some of the most delectable urban fantasy books around. This three-course tasting menu offers you the perfect opportunity to gorge yourself in preparation for the release of volume four, Idle Ingredients, coming in February. Insert additional food pun here.

Chasing Shadows: Visions of Our Coming Transparent World, presented by David Brin and edited by Stephen W. Potts
Though he’s known for writing some of the most award-winning science fiction novels ever published (The Uplift trilogy), David Brin is also a highly respected futurist. He lends his stamp of approval to this  collection of stories non-fiction essays imagining what the world is going to look like tomorrow (if not sooner), as our society is reshaped by the omnipresence of survelliance, drones, and social media. Contributors include familiar names such as Robert J. Sawyer, William Gibson, James Morrow, and others.

What new books are you picking up this week?

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