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Guran strikes again! The Year’s Best of Dark Fantasy & Horror, Volume 2

Guran strikes again! The Year’s Best of Dark Fantasy & Horror, Volume 2

The Year’s Best of Dark Fantasy & Horror, Volume 2 (Pyr, October 2021)

Widely known, well respected, prolific editor of dark fiction Paula Guran returns with a new volume of her Year’s Best of Dark Fantasy & Horror. This new, huge anthology collects thirty short stories that previously appeared in 2020 in various books and magazines.

Clearly it would be impossible (and tedious) to comment upon each one, hence I will only mention those which especially impressed me. In other words my personal “best” among Guran’s best.

“Recognition” by Victor Lavalle is a disquieting story set in a New York apartment building where flats are vacated little by little during the first COVID outbreak, while “ Odette” by Zen Cho is the neat description of the difficult relationship between a young orphan, her stern uncle, and the house where they live.

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Crisis and Mystery at the End of the Universe: The Divide Series by J. S. Dewes

Crisis and Mystery at the End of the Universe: The Divide Series by J. S. Dewes

The Last Watch and The Exiled Fleet (Tor, April and August 2021). Cover art by Shutterstock

As days get shorter and nights get longer, my reading ambitions begin to grow. Recently I’ve been on the hunt for a more substantial reading project, and I think I’ve found it in J.S. Dewes debut series The Divide. The opening book The Last Watch received plenty of breathless notices; in her mid-year wrap-up of The Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books of the Year, Sadie Gennis at Vulture called it “one of the most stunning sci-fi series debuts of recent years… [a] nail-biting space epic,” and Booklist proclaimed it “a bravura debut that blends great action with compelling characters.”

The first volume was released in April, and sequel The Exiled Fleet followed hot on its heels four months later. Dewes has announced a third volume on her website, to be released next year. An epic space opera with more volumes in the pipeline is just what I had in mind for a fall reading project. Here’s a sample from Matt Matkowski’s enthusiastic review of the audiobook version of The Last Watch at Booklist.

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New Treasures: The Conductors by Nicole Glover

New Treasures: The Conductors by Nicole Glover

The Conductors (John Joseph Adams Books, March 2021). Cover art by Elizabeth Leggett. Click for bigger versions.

As we near the end of 2021 (thank God!), I’m already starting to look back at the big fantasy releases and debuts of the year. One that surprised me was Nicole Glover’s The Conductors, the opening novel in her Murder & Magic series, which follows the adventures of black detectives Hetty and Benjy Rhodes, who pry into cases white police officers deign to investigate in Reconstruction era Philadelphia.

The Conductors was published and edited by John Joseph Adams, the man who pulled my own debut novel out of the slush pile and published it in 2018, so perhaps you can forgive me if I think the man has superb taste. I’m not the only one, however. NPR praises The Conductors as “A history buff’s dream fantasy novel,” and P. Djèlí Clark calls it “a tangled mystery of murder, spellwork, and freedom amid the remnants of slavery’s lingering memories.” Here’s an excerpt from the starred review at Publishers Weekly.

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Killer Dolls and Murderous Dimensions: DAW’s The Year’s Best Horror Stories I (1972), edited by Richard Davis

Killer Dolls and Murderous Dimensions: DAW’s The Year’s Best Horror Stories I (1972), edited by Richard Davis

The Year’s Best Horror Stories (DAW, 1972). Cover by Karel Thole

The first Year’s Best Horror Stories, DAW No. 13, published in 1972, was edited by British author and editor Richard Davis, who would go on to produce many more horror and sci-fi anthologies throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He also edited the next two Year’s Best Horror Stories for DAW, but he primarily published through British outlets.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories, No. 1, was first published by Sphere in the UK in May 1971, and reprinted by DAW in the US fourteen months later, dropping the No. 1 from the title in the process. The cover of the DAW edition was by Dutch painter Karel Thole (1914–2000), a regular on sci-fi covers during the time. I think the cover is more psychedelic than horrific. In 1975 DAW reprinted the book with a new cover by Hans Arnold, one much more fitting to the horror genre.

This first volume has a strong lineup, and I can see why Donald A. Wollheim sought to get Davis’ Sphere release as the debut for his new Year’s Best Horror Stories series. It was also, somewhat surprisingly for the time, quite diverse.

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Future Treasures: Swashbucklers by Dan Hanks

Future Treasures: Swashbucklers by Dan Hanks

Swashbucklers (Angry Robot, November 2021)

Dan Hanks’ first novel was Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire (Angry Robot, 2020), which the author admits was “all about my love for Indiana Jones.”

His follow-up features an ancient pirate ghost, supernatural battles, and 80s video games, which makes we wonder why no one has tried that combo before. I’m definitely ready to sign up, anyway. Nils Shukla at Fantasy Hive says it “brings all the magic of the 80’s back to life, and delivers a fun, action-packed tale with heart.”

Swashbucklers arrives in paperback next month from Angry Robot. Here’s the publisher description.

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Hard SF and Cosmic Lovecraftian Horror: The Fallen, Book 2 of The Outside by Ada Hoffman

Hard SF and Cosmic Lovecraftian Horror: The Fallen, Book 2 of The Outside by Ada Hoffman

The Outside and The Fallen (Angry Robot, June 2019 and July 2021). Covers by Lee Gibbons.

Ada Hoffman’s The Outside (Angry Robot) hit the sweet of my favorite genres. The B&N SciFi & Fantasy Blog called it “starkly original, and tinged with hints of horror fantasy – truly operatic stuff,” and Kate Sherrod at The Skiffy and Fanty podcast labeled it

A boffo combination of hard science fiction, cosmic Lovecraftian horror, both cyber-and-god-punk, some ridiculously charismatic aliens, and a fascinating female protagonist somewhere on the autism spectrum… Ada Hoffmann’s The Outside feels like it was made to order for us.

OK, maybe my favorite genres are a little eclectic, but you gotta admit that sounds good. And you can understand my immediate interest in the sequel, The Fallen, which arrived this summer. Here’s all the details.

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New Treasures: Among Thieves by MJ Kuhn

New Treasures: Among Thieves by MJ Kuhn

Among Thieves by M.J. Kuhn (Saga Press, September 2021)

It’s been a long week, and it’s time to relax with a good fantasy novel. Lucky for me, Saga Press has just released M.J. Kuhn’s debut, the tale of a high-stakes heist in a world of magic and malice. It sounds like just what I’m looking for. Here’s the enthusiastic review from Publisher’s Weekly.

Kuhn debuts with an electrifying fantasy that takes readers into the seamy heart of Dresdell, one of the five kingdoms of Thamorr, where rival crime syndicates vie for jobs. When Toliver Shadowwood, the King of Edale, arranges a meeting with the Kestrel Crowns, Ryia Cautella, an infamous member of the Saints of the Wharf, snoops on their rendezvous. She discovers that Shadowwood is after an ancient, magical quill belonging to the Guildmaster of Thamorr, the most powerful person in all the five kingdoms. It’s this quill that gives the Guildmaster his uncanny powers, so when the Crowns reject the offer, Ryia seizes the opportunity to poach the job… Kuhn successfully builds a fast-paced mystery around both the quill’s powers and Ryia’s troubled past. Fantasy fans won’t want to miss this.

Among Thieves was published by Saga Press on September 7, 2021. It is 343 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover, $12.99 in digital and $19 in audio formats. The cover is by Chris McGrath. See all our recent New Treasures here.

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Aztecs and Iron Chandeliers – Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Return of the Sorceress

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Aztecs and Iron Chandeliers – Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Return of the Sorceress

The Return of the Sorceress (Subterranean, June 2021). Cover by Fang Xinyu

One of the best things about Moreno-Garcia is that she writes whatever the hell she wants, and it is up to others to categorize it. In an era where authors are often told to “stay in their lane” (be that about what ethnicities or cultures they write about, or what genres the can write in without resorting to pen names), SMG has, in a short span of years, written Gothic horror,  vampires, in a pseudo-cyberpunk dystopian near future, edited a feminist anthology of Cthulhoid terror, a dark fairytale of Mayan gods set in 1920s Mexico, romance, and a thriller set in 1979. Much like Quentin Tarantino, Moreno-Garcia takes the themes and tropes of pulp fiction — noir, crime, romance, horror, fantasy, and infuses it with something new; in her case, often via the landscape of 20th century Mexico.

Now, with her novella, The Return of the Sorceress, the prolific author adds sword and sorcery to the mix. It’s a slender volume, the long novelette or novella being sword & sorcery’s preferred and most effective form, and the tale is a fairly straightforward story of revenge vs. redemption. Yalxi rose from insignificance to leadership of the Guild of Sorcerers; a position she only achieved by murdering her master, Teotah, the Guild’s previous Supreme Master. Unfortunately, at the heart of her power, was a diamond “heart,” set in a pectoral collar, rested from Teotah, and not stolen by Yalxi’s lover and confidant, Xellah.

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Ghosts of the Past, Ghosts of the Present: December Tales, edited by J.D. Horn

Ghosts of the Past, Ghosts of the Present: December Tales, edited by J.D. Horn

 

December Tales: A Collection of New and Classic Ghost Stories
Edited by J.D. Horn; Foreword by Colin Dickey
Curious Blue Press (468 pages, $19.95 paperback/$5.95 digital formats, September 28, 2021)

The title of the present anthology refers to the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas time, a tradition enforced by Charles Dickens, who not only wrote the famous “A Christmas Carol” but also edited Victorian era magazines regularly featuring ghost stories in their Christmas issues.

Truth be told, ghost stories are now available throughout the year and, fortunately, modern writers are still devoted to the genre.

Editor J.D. Horn has developed the brilliant idea of assembling in one volume both classical ghostly tales from various parts of the world and brand new stories by contemporary authors.

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New Treasures: We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen

New Treasures: We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen

We Have Always Been Here (DAW, July 2021). Cover by Yurly Muzur

We’re back! Well, we never left, but a corrupted database table made it…. challenging to publish new articles. That happens when your site is 20 years old and has half a million subscribers. So they tell me.

I’m sick of looking at database tables, let me tell you. What do I want to look at? Books! Come on, that was an easy one.

So tonight I settle down with a new science fiction debut, a creepy novel of deep space exploration by Lena Nguyen. Kirkus Reviews calls it “claustrophobic and dark, full of twisting ship corridors and unreliable characters…. A promising, atmospheric debut,” and The Chicago Review of Books praises it as a “multi-layered ghost story in space… [set in] an increasingly horrific labyrinth.” Here’s the publisher’s description for We Have Always Been Here.

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