Future Treasures: The Thing in the Close by Jeffrey E. Barlough

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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While Manhattan publishers spend six-figures promoting the latest fantasy doorstopper, on the other side of the continent Jeffrey E. Barlough is quietly producing one of the best and most original fantasy series on the market. The Western Lights novels have steadily been winning readers since the first volume Dark Sleeper appeared in 2000. In his review of Anchorwick, fifth in the series, Jackson Kuhl summarized the setting this way:

In a world where the Ice Age never ended, a cataclysm has reduced humanity to a slip of English civilization along North America’s western coastline. It’s neither steampunk nor weird western; the technology is early 19th century. It’s kinda-sorta gaslamp fantasy, except there doesn’t seem to be any natural gas. Barlough’s creation is best described as a Victorian Dying Earth — gothic and claustrophobic yet confronted by its inhabitants with upper lips held stiff. As the books are fantasy mysteries, the less said about their plots, the better… mastodons and mylodons mixed with ghosts and gorgons? Yes, please.

In 2016 Fletcher Vredenburgh reviewed Dark Sleeper for us, saying:

For nearly twenty years now Barlough has been creating a truly unique series that has seems to have escaped too many readers’ attention… If you have the slightest affinity for the works of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, or the steampunk works of Tim Powers and James Blaylock, then I highly recommend Dark Sleeper.

The Thing in the Close, the tenth volume in the series, arrives in trade paperback in December from Gresham & Doyle. Its has been long awaited in the Black Gate offices.

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Derek Strikes the TBR pile and finds Fonda Lee’s Jade City

Saturday, October 27th, 2018 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


I think everyone’s to-be-read pile is always in danger of collapsing on them so that rescuers can only find cat-gnawed bones. For that reason, I listen via Audible and don’t have a cat.

But still, my to-be-read pile is huge and growing and I’d been wanting to read Fonda Lee’s Jade City for some time. It just won the Aurora and did quite well with Hugo and Nebula readers. Also how cool does a magical Asian Godfather story sound?

Lee has created the world of Janloon, what felt to me as a kind of magical Hong Kong, set sometime after cars, airplanes and phones, but before cell phones and computers. It’s a world of increasing modernity and one where ancient traditions (magical jade) come into conflict.

The Kaul family and the Ayt family are the two big mafia families that run Janloon through politicians and businesses. The people of Janloon are the only ones who can wear magical jade without having major toxicity/withdrawal/addiction problems. In the hands of a trained green-bone, jade can enhance perception, strength, speed, toughness, etc and the uneasy stalemate between the No Peak Clan (the Kauls) and the Mountain Clan (the Ayts) begins to unravel with the possibility of a drug called SN1 which allows foreigners to use jade.

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Future Treasures: Mage Against the Machine by Shaun Barger

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Mage Against the Machine-smallIn his feature at The Verge earlier this month, 9 new sci-fi and fantasy books to check out this October, Andrew Liptak describes Mage Against the Machine as “Harry Potter meets The Terminator,” which certainly got my attention.

I don’t quite know what to make of it, though. It’s the debut novel by Shaun Barger, so I can’t look to his previous books for any clue. There aren’t a lot of early reviews. It’s got a mage army, vast machine intelligences, a human resistance, Arnie posters, heroes with cybernetic enhancement, and even a dome. I love all those things.

Will they be great together? I gotta know. And there’s only one way to find out.

The year is 2120. The humans are dead. The mages have retreated from the world after a madman blew up civilization with weaponized magical technology. Safe within domes that protect them from the nuclear wasteland on the other side, the mages have spent the last century putting their lives back together.

Nikolai is obsessed with artifacts from twentieth-century human life: mage-crafted replica Chuck Taylors on his feet, Schwarzenegger posters on his walls, Beatlemania still alive and well in his head. But he’s also tasked with a higher calling — to maintain the Veils that protect mage-kind from the hazards of the wastes beyond. As a cadet in the Mage King’s army, Nik has finally found what he always wanted — a purpose. But when confronted by one of his former instructors gone rogue, Nik tumbles into a dark secret. The humans weren’t nuked into oblivion — they’re still alive. Not only that, outside the domes a war rages between the last enclaves of free humans and vast machine intelligences.

Outside the dome, unprepared and on the run, Nik finds Jem. Jem is a Runner for the Human Resistance. A ballerina-turned-soldier by the circumstances of war, Jem is more than just a human — her cybernetic enhancement mods make her faster, smarter, and are the only things that give her a fighting chance against the artificial beings bent on humanity’s eradication.

Now Nik faces an impossible decision: side with the mages and let humanity die out? Or stand with Jem and the humans — and risk endangering everything he knows and loves?

Mage Against the Machine will be published by Saga Press on October 30, 2018. It is 512 pages, priced at $25.99 in hardcover, $16.99 in trade paperback, and $7.99 for the digital edition. The cover art is by Marko Manev. See all our recent coverage of the best in upcoming SF and Fantasy here.

In 500 Words or Less: An Advance Review of The Fall by Tracy Townsend

Friday, October 19th, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

The Nine Tracy Townsend-medium The Fall Tracy Townsend-small

The Fall (Thieves of Fate, Book 2)
by Tracy Townsend
Pyr (400 pages, $18 paperback, $9.99 eBook, Jan 15, 2019)

Let’s start with something my friend Matt Moore would call a “hand grenade” on a panel: The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie.

Why? Because it splits up our beloved characters and challenges them with new locales and crises, all while introducing brand new favorites and raising the stakes. I can still remember watching it for the first time as a kid (fine, it was on VHS) and learning back then that one of my main measures for the quality is how many times I gasp out loud at what’s happening. That sort of reaction is tough to achieve with a debut, let alone a sequel, but Lucas and his team pulled it off. And Tracy Townsend has done the same with The Fall, her follow-up to breakout novel The Nine, which I reviewed last year as my Top Book 0f 2017.

And good gods, The Fall is just as amazing. It even reminded me of Empire in a lot of ways, which may or may not have been intentional. Young Rowena Downshire is still very much the star, as she tries to find her footing in the company of Erasmus Pardon and Anselm Meteron, retired campaigners determined to keep her from realizing she’s one of nine subjects being studied by God as part of His Grand Experiment. But each of our valiant heroes gets their moments in the sun, as we learn how far they’re willing to go on the side of right. Much like Empire, The Fall expands various characters like Rowena’s mother Clara, but also adds a bunch of new faces to the mix. There’s even a Palpatine-esque shadow cast by Anselm’s father, Bishop Meteron, though he isn’t quite the Big Bad you’d expect – if he’s a villain at all.

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Future Treasures: Restless Lightning by Richard Baker

Sunday, October 14th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Valiant-Dust-medium Restless Lightning

Richard Baker’s new military SF series Breaker of Empires, set in an era of great interstellar colonial powers, began with Valiant Dust last year, and the second installment is scheduled to arrive in trade paperback from Tor next week.

I’m glad to see it. Baker began his career as a game designer at TSR where he co-designed the Birthright campaign setting. His first novel was Forgotten Realms: The Adventures: The Shadow Stone (1997). He wrote nearly a dozen more for TSR over the next decade, but Breaker of Empires is his first non-licensed project. It’s generated plenty of interest — Booklist called the first volume “a great start,” and Michael Stackpole proclaimed it “an excellent example of military SF at its best.”

Richard Baker continues the adventures of Sikander North in Restless Lightning, the second book in his new military science fiction series Breaker of Empires and sequel to Valiant Dust.

Lieutenant Sikander North has avoided an outright court martial and finds himself assigned to a remote outpost in the crumbling, alien Tzoru Empire―where the navy sends trouble-makers to be forgotten. When Sikander finds himself in the middle of an alien uprising, he, once again, must do the impossible: smuggle an alien ambassador off-world, break a siege, and fight the irrational prejudice of his superior officers. The odds are against his success, and his choices could mean disgrace ― or redemption.

We covered Valiant Dust here.

Restless Lightning will be published by Tor Books on October 23, 2018. It is 429 pages, priced at $18.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Larry Rostant.

A Love Letter to the Paranormal Western: The Shadow by Lila Bowen

Thursday, October 11th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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If you’re a Weird Western fan like me, you know some years are a lot leaner than others. Like pioneers on the prairie, you learn to survive by keeping your eyes sharp for unexpected bounty.

So I have no idea how Lila Bowen’s The Shadow series managed to evade me this long. I stumbled on a remaindered copy of the second book over at Bookoutlet, and quickly tracked down the other two volumes. And I just learned today that the fourth and final book, Treason of Hawks, arrives on Tuesday — perfect timing.

“Lila Bowen” is a pseudonym for Delilah S. Dawson, the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Phasma and Servants of the Storm. Wake of Vultures, the opening novel in The Shadow, won the RT Fantasy of the Year Award, and in a starred review Publishers Weekly said, “The unforgiving western landscape is home to supernatural beasties as diverse as the human inhabitants… the narrative is a love letter to the paranormal western genre.”

In a featured review last year at Tor.com, Alex Brown offered a tantalizing summary of the story so far. Here’s his take.

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Future Treasures: The Razor by J. Barton Mitchell

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Razor J Barton Mitchell-smallI flipped open J. Barton Mitchell’s science fiction thriller The Razor today, just to get a sense of what the prose was like, and before I knew it I was deep in Chapter 2, following new convict Marcus Flynn as he plummets through the raging atmosphere and then is processed into the Razor prison planet, named for the tiny habitable zone separating the burning day and freezing night zones.

The Razor is an adventure novel about an engineer stuck in a very, very bad situation after the staff and guards at his remote prison suddenly evacuate, leaving nothing but dark mysteries behind. And yeah, the book certainly draws you in. I’m a huge fan of SF adventure novels, and this one has an enticing premise and smooth, readable prose.

I don’t know much about J. Barton Mitchell, but the press packet that came with my advance copy says he’s also the author of “the critically acclaimed Conquered Earth trilogy,” which at least gives him some street cred. Whatever, I’d sold. Time to kick the cat out of my favorite recliner and settle in for the evening.

Brilliant engineer Marcus Flynn has been sentenced to 11-H37 alongside the galaxy’s most dangerous criminals. A hard labor prison planet better known as the Razor, where life expectancy is short and all roads are dead ends.

At least until the Lost Prophet goes active…

In a few hours, prison guards and staff are evacuated, the prisoners are left to die, and dark mysteries begin to surface.

Only Flynn has the skills and knowledge to unravel them, but he will have to rely on the most unlikely of allies — killers, assassins, pirates and smugglers. If they can survive each other they just might survive the Razor… and claim it for their own.

The Razor will be published by Tor Books on November 27, 2018. It is 398 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $13.99 in trade paperback.

Read the complete first chapter here, and see all our coverage of the best in upcoming SF and fantasy here.

Future Treasures: The Islevale Series by D. B. Jackson

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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D. B. Jackson is the author of four novels in the popular Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy set in pre-Revolutionary Boston, which Kirkus Reviews calls “Splendid… with [a] contemporary gumshoe-noir tone… An unusual series of great promise.” Fletcher reviewed D.B.’s collection Tales of the Thieftaker for us, saying:

I enjoyed myself, ripping through the book at a quick pace. Jackson’s prose is clean; he’s a good storyteller. The stories are tense, the mysteries good, the characters well-drawn. His Boston reeks believably of crowded, dirty streets and you can smell the creosote from the wharves… Tales of the Thieftaker is a brisk read with an engaging lead, a colorful supporting cast, and a nicely detailed setting.

‘D.B. Jackson’ also happens to be Black Gate contributor David B. Coe, whose “Night of Two Moons” was the most popular story in Black Gate 4, and whose Books and Craft blog posts here have covered topics as diverse as World Building and Nicola Griffith’s 90s classic Slow River.

David’s latest release is Time’s Children, arriving next week from Angry Robot. It’s the opening novel in the Islevale series, and David tells us “This is my best book to date.” Sequel Time’s Demon is scheduled for May. Here’s what we know so far.

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Uncanny as a Ventriloquist’s Doll: Nothing is Everything by Simon Strantzas

Monday, September 17th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Art by Aron Wiesenfeld

In 2014 I wasn’t familiar with the work of Simon Strantzas, but I bought his collection Burnt Black Suns mostly on the reputation of its lead story “On Ice,” a grim novella of arctic horror. By 2018, however, Simon is the one with the reputation, and it’s growing steadily with every story.

His new collection Nothing is Everything, on sale in hardcover and trade paperback from Michael Kelly’s Undertow Press next month, has already drawn a lot of attention. Kij Johnson says “Simon Strantzas is Shirley Jackson-grade eerie,” and Camilla Grudova, author of The Doll’s Alphabet, says:

Simon Strantzas captures the creepiness of small town Ontario; there is something of Seth, of Alice Munro in his work, wonderfully tangled with the likes of Aickman and Jackson. Uncanny as a ventriloquist’s doll, but with a real, beating heart.

Undertow is simultaneously releasing hardcover and trade paperback editions with different covers. Both are very fine, but the hardcover, with art by Aron Wiesenfeld (above), is particularly arresting. The trade paperback (below) features art by Tran Nguyen. Both were designed by Vince Haig.

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Future Treasures: Strange Ink by Gary Kemble

Saturday, September 15th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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No surprise that as we slip into Fall, publisher schedules start to fill up with more horror volumes. What is surprising is the number of intriguing debuts I’m seeing, like Gary Kemble’s Strange Ink, arriving in trade paperback from Titan next month. Publishers Weekly thought very highly of the book; here’s a snippet from their review.

In Kemble’s taut, suspenseful debut set in Brisbane, Australia, local and international concerns combine with the supernatural. Small-time journalist Harry Hendrick wakes up after a stag party with a hangover and a new tattoo he has no memory of getting. When he starts having intense nightmares, he quickly realizes his new tattoo is far from ordinary. More inexplicable tattoos begin appearing, bringing more nightmares, which Harry suspects may actually be someone else’s disturbing memories. Those memories have strong political implications, and Harry must solve the mystery they present before a depraved villain becomes prime minister. The novel’s gritty realism viscerally and effectively conveys the discomfort of new ink, the oppressive heat of the Queensland summer, and the horrors of war and murder… This is a strong debut by a promising new voice.

Strange Ink will be published by Titan Books on October 9, 2018. It is 391 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback and $7.99 for the digital edition. The cover art is by Studio London.

See all our recent coverage of the best in upcoming fantasy here.

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