Space Pirates, a Murderous AI, and a Haunted House in Space: The Shieldrunner Pirates Trilogy by R. E. Stearns

Thursday, February 13th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Barbary Station-small Mutiny at Vesta-small Gravity of a Distant Sun-small

Covers by Martin Deschambeault (left, middle) and Jon McCoy Art (right)

R. E. Stearns’s science fiction debut Barbary Station, the opening novel in the Shieldrunner Pirates trilogy, featured two engineers who hijack a spaceship to join a band of space pirates, only to discover the pirates are hiding from a malevolent AI. Kirkus called it “Super cool… It mixes unpredictable mysteries, a murderous AI, space battles, [and] an awesome and fashionable Pirate Leader… a blend of Die Hard and The Illuminae Files.” We covered it enthusiastically in 2017Mutiny at Vesta arrived in 2018, and in her review, Liz Bourke wrote:

If Barbary Station was a variant on the gothic novel in space (complete with a haunted house in the form of a space station), Mutiny at Vesta is a nested, layered series of capers in which Adda and Iridian work with limited resources and the pressure of time and other people’s competing priorities to pull off the damn-near impossible… Stearns writes measured, tense, and intense space opera, filled with a diverse selection of believable characters. I really enjoyed this book.

The Shieldrunner Pirates trilogy is the kind adventurous space opera I really enjoy. Unfortunately, if Amazon reviews are anything to go by, it doesn’t seem to have found an audience. Barbary Station had a healthy 32 reviews when it was released in 2017; Mutiny at Vesta had only two, a disaster in publishing terms. The third, Gravity of a Distant Sun, will not have a hardcover release; it arrives in trade paperback on February 18.

If you’ve read and enjoyed this series, do me a favor and write an online review. And if you haven’t, here’s a peek at the back covers for all three books, with just a sample of the praise they’ve received. Have a look — this just may turn into your favorite new series.

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Future Treasures: The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha Pulley

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover design by David Mann 

Natasha Pulley reunites the heroes from her breakout fantasy The Watchmaker of Filigree Street in a brand new novel, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow, on sale next week. In his review of the first book for us, Damien Moore was enchanted by Pulley’s narrative gifts.

Pulley’s descriptions of High Society London burst from the pages. The exquisite portrait she paints of the interior of a quiet tea shop will linger in your mind long after you’ve read about it. So, too will Pulley’s descriptions of the watchmaker’s wondrous creations. If they don’t enchant you, well, then I guess you’re not into the whole gorgeous automaton craze. Hopefully, Pulley succeeds in getting you to fall in love with Mori’s creations.

The sequel switches up the setting, moving the action to 19th-Century Japan. It’s being enthusiastically received; Kirkus Reviews says “Pulley’s witty writing and enthusiastically deployed steampunk motifs — clockwork, owls, a mechanical pet, Tesla-inspired electrical drama — enliven [the] plot.” Here’s a look at the back covers for both books, and an excerpt from the starred review at Publisher’s Weekly.

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Women and Magic in an Unfair Society: The Women’s War by Jenna Glass

Saturday, February 8th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Jonathan Bartlett

One thing I love about modern fantasy is how different it is. There’s something for every reader, every mood, and every taste. For example, I’ve never read any of Jenna Black’s fantasy novels, such as her Faeriewalker trilogy, her Nikki Glass series, or her more recent Nightstruck novels for Tor teen. But she’s recently taken to writing more serious fantasy under the name Jenna Glass, starting with The Women’s War, and I find these books very intriguing indeed.

The Women’s War is the tale of a patriarchal society, and a revolutionary spell that abruptly gives women control over their own fertility — and the predictable (and unpredictable) events that follow. Here’s an excerpt from Sabaa Tahir’s review in The New York Times Book Review.

The Women’s War is an epic feminist fantasy for the #MeToo era. . . . The Women’s War does what so many classic adult fantasy books do not: It gives us a nuanced portrayal of grown women dealing with a wretchedly unfair society. It is rare to read a fantasy novel with a middle-aged mother as a main character. And it is refreshing to see women becoming heroes in a world that wishes to keep them muzzled.

The Women’s War was published by Del Rey in March of last year. The sequel, Queen of the Unwanted, is due in May. Here’s all the details.

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Future Treasures: Twilight of the Gods by Scott Oden

Wednesday, February 5th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover designs by Jimmy Iacobelli

It’s enormously satisfying to see Scott Oden, who’s been a critical darling for his intelligent historical fantasies like Men of Bronze (which Bob Byrne discussed here) and The Lion of Cairo (which Brian Murphy summed up as “Pulse-pounding sword play, leagues of warring assassins, political intrigue, a hint of evil sorcery, and the clash of armies on a grand stage”) finally have a bonafide hit with his new Grimnir Series, an epic Viking fantasy. In his review of the first volume Fletcher Vredenburgh wrote:

Oden’s novel knocked the heck out of any prejudices I had. New or old, this book kicks ass, and is one of the best swords & sorcery novels I’ve read in a while…. A Gathering of Ravens belongs on the same shelf as the best modern swords & sorcery novels, and on the shelf of any serious swords & sorcery reader.

A Gathering of Ravens also garnered a starred review at Publishers Weekly — not something you see every day. Here’s a snippet.

In this lovingly crafted tale of high adventure, Oden creates an alternate early medieval Europe in which mortal men have defeated entire races of vicious magical creatures. Some nightmares have faded from memory as magic and ancient beliefs are supplanted by a new religion, Christianity. Grimnir, last of the giants called kaunar, is on a mission for vengeance several centuries in the making… This fast-paced thrill ride might have been bleak or unsettling, but it’s rendered so lovingly that it reveals new layers of familiar territory. The fresh viewpoint is steeped in an appreciation for the terrifying and powerful characters of high fantasy, and Oden does them justice.

After a gap of nearly three years, Oden finally delivers the long-awaited second volume in the series, Twilight of the Gods. It arrives in hardcover from St. Martin’s Press in two weeks. Here’s all the details.

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Future Treasures: The Light Years by R.W.W. Greene

Saturday, February 1st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Light Years R.W.W. Greene-smallWelcome to February, a month absolutely packed with new releases. There’s lots to keep your eyeballs busy but, no big surprise, I find my eyes are drawn to the debuts.

R.W.W. Greene, whose fiction has appeared at Stupefying Stories and Daily Science Fiction, releases his first novel The Light Years next week, and in a cover reveal/interview at SciFiNow, he talked about how he was inspired to write book after attending Boskone (and the story story it grew from, “Love in the Time of Light Speed,” originally published at

This book is an unusual blend of ideas — relativity, refugees, devolution, folk music, and arranged marriages. Where did they all come from?

R. W. W. Greene: The Light Years revealed itself as a short story first (‘Love In The Time Of Light Speed’). We’d just gotten home from the 2014 Boskone (an annual sci-fi convention in Boston), and I was buzzing from all the panels and conversations and thinking about the week of classes ahead. At the time I was teaching at a really diverse high school and I had all these kids – Indian kids, Hispanic kids, gay kids, trans kids, kids from the Middle East – and their lives stomping around in my brain… The story downloaded into my head while I showered off the convention. As soon as I turned the water off, I grabbed a towel and hit the writing room. About a year after that I started expanding the thing into a novel.

The Light Years is already accumulating good notices, including this great review at Publishers Weekly.

The toll difficult moral choices take on families is the core conflict of this clever far-future debut from Greene. In the 33rd century, wealthy Traders travel space while the poor struggle to survive planetside. Trader Adem Sadiq enters an arranged marriage with faster than light worm-drive technology expert Hisako Saski at the urging of his mother, Maneera. Hisako’s parents agree to the marriage contract that gives Hisako money in exchange for studying supposedly obsolete worm-drive technology… Sophisticated worldbuilding and diverse, emotionally-resonant characters make Greene an author to watch.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb.

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Future Treasures: Straight Outta Dodge City, edited by David Boop

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover art by Dominic Harman

On February 4th, David Boop’s Straight Outta weird western anthology series becomes a trilogy with the arrival of Straight Outta Dodge City, the third (but hopefully not final) volume. It follows Straight Outta Tombstone and Straight Outta Deadwood, and it looks like a strong addition to the series. Here’s a peek at the Publishers Weekly review.

This dark, diverting anthology of 14 original tales, the third in a series edited by Boop (after Straight Outta Deadwood), continues to explore “the weird Wild West.” By tossing weird fiction concepts into western settings, these tales give rise to unusual what-ifs. What if the unquiet ghost of Doc Holiday haunted his six shooter, as in “The Dead Can’t Die Twice” by Sam Stone? What would happen if, as in “The Adventures of Rabbi Shlomo Jones and the Half-Baked Kid” by Eytan Kollin, Jewish magic created a golem to confront a mob of anti-Semitic bad guys?… the ever-enjoyable Joe R. Lansdale is on hand with “The Hoodoo Man and the Midnight Train,” an energetic tale of a mystical gunfighter, and Harry Turtledove presents the delightful “Junior & Me,” set in an alternate world in which evolution favored reptiles rather than mammals, and the ornery galoot narrating the yarn is actually a highly evolved dinosaur.

Here’s the publisher’s description.

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Future Treasures: Mazes of Power by Juliette Wade

Friday, January 24th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Mazes of Power-smallWhat’s cooler than a cave cty? Nuthin’! Juliette Wade understands this fundamental truth, and she has set her debut novel Mazes of Power in the thousand-year-old cave city of Pelismara.

Just to be clear, that’s all I needed to be sold on this novel. However, I admit it does have other things going for it. Publishers Weekly calls it (in a starred review), “Excellent… [it] invites readers into an intricately constructed and morally ambiguous world full of complex political maneuvering,” and Laura Anne Gilman says it’s “A twisty ride… into a world of love and treachery.”

Mazes of Power is being described as a “work of sociological science fiction,” which strikes me as kind of heavy for a novel set in a cave city. Well, let’s not be picky. Here’s the publisher’s description; make up your own mind.

The cavern city of Pelismara has stood for a thousand years. The Great Families of the nobility cling to the myths of their golden age while the city’s technology wanes.

When a fever strikes, and the Eminence dies, seventeen-year-old Tagaret is pushed to represent his Family in the competition for Heir to the Throne. To win would give him the power to rescue his mother from his abusive father, and marry the girl he loves.

But the struggle for power distorts everything in this highly stratified society, and the fever is still loose among the inbred, susceptible nobles. Tagaret’s sociopathic younger brother, Nekantor, is obsessed with their family’s success. Nekantor is willing to exploit Tagaret, his mother, and her new servant Aloran to defeat their opponents.

Can he be stopped? Should he be stopped? And will they recognize themselves after the struggle has changed them?

Mazes of Power is the opening novel in The Broken Trust series. It will be published by DAW on February 4, 2020. It is 405 pages, priced at $26 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Adam Auerbach. Read the first seven pages of Chapter One here.

See all our coverage of the best upcoming science fiction and fantasy here.

A Cyberpunk Video Game Between Two Covers: The Cry Pilot Trilogy by Joel Dane

Sunday, January 19th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Matt Griffin

“Joel Dane” is the pseudonym of an author of over 20 novels who launched an intriguing new military SF trilogy in August. The opening novel Cry Pilot followed a recruit with a secret drawn into a desperate war against lampreys, biological horrors created by the terra fixing process remaking a ruined Earth. Publishers Weekly raved, summing it up as “Riveting action paired with a sharp psychoemotional landscape.. the explosive launch of a futuristic trilogy.” In a review titled “The Closest Thing to an Immersive Cyberpunk FPS Video Game Between Two Covers,” S. Qiouyi Lu at The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog said:

Terrafixing gives abandoned machines and technology a new life, turning them into violent creatures that are both organic and inorganic — a fusion of weapon and mutated animal. After proving himself as a cry pilot, Kaytu becomes part of a squad training to defend against the latest of these threats (not to mention the most dire to date) — mysterious, ruthless creatures called lampreys hell-bent on destruction. With no known weaknesses and a casualty count mounting higher and higher, the pressure is on Kaytu and his squad to keep their reflexes quick and use all their training to fight against this seemingly unbeatable foe…

Cry Pilot… is a vivid, immersive novel that leans strongly into its military science fiction identity. Its main asset is its voice: Kaytu’s strong personality and first-person narration creates an intimate reading experience… Cry Pilot feels like a high-definition cyberpunk first-person shooter video game, with sleek, polished graphics and tons of lore to explore. If that’s your thing, suit up and dive in — this book will take you for a hell of a ride.

Hot on the heels of Cry Pilot comes Burn Cycle, with the third volume Kill Orbit already in the pipeline for July 2020. Here’s all the details.

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An Alien Mystery in the Heart of an Ancient Space Object: The Embers of War Trilogy by Gareth L. Powell

Saturday, January 18th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Julia Lloyd

Gareth L. Powell is the author of the popular Ack-Ack Macaque series, and two short story collections, The Last Reef (2008) and Entropic Angel and Other Stories (2017). His new space opera trilogy began with Embers of War (Titan Books, 2018), and folks took notice immediately. Here’s Joel Cunningham at The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

Gareth L. Powell’s Embers of War is a space opera that does everything right: it’s expansive in scope, but character-focused. It nods to genre tropes, but interrogates them too, considering the real-world ramifications of the lasting trauma of war. Oh, also: it has a great sentient starship. It quickly became a favorite of ours — not to mention the voters who handed it this year’s British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel — and our enthusiasm was not at all muted by the recent release of the just-as-good sequel Fleet of Knives.

Powell’s series is one of the more popular space operas on the market (and you all know how I feel about space opera). I was intrigued by the first two books immediately, but hesitant to jump in until the third one arrived. So this week I was delighted to receive a review copy of Light of Impossible Stars, the third installment in Embers of War, which formally goes on sale February 18 from Titan.

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Future Treasures: The Bard’s Blade, Book I of The Sorcerer’s Song by Brian D. Anderson

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover art by Felix Ortiz

Brian D. Anderson is a self-published author who’s sold over half a million copies of his books worldwide — no mean feat. His bestselling series include The Godling Chronicles and Dragonvein. This month he makes the move to mainstream publishing with his first book for Tor, The Bard’s Blade. It’s the opening novel in The Sorcerer’s Song, which Publisher’s Weekly calls “an ambitious, enjoyable tale.” Here’s the description.

Mariyah enjoys a simple life in Vylari, a land magically sealed off from the outside world, where fear and hatred are all but unknown. There she’s a renowned wine maker and her betrothed, Lem, is a musician of rare talent. Their destiny has never been in question. Whatever life brings, they will face it together.

But destiny has a way of choosing its own path, and when a stranger crosses the wards into Vylari for the first time in centuries, the two are faced with a terrible prophecy. For beyond the borders, an ancient evil is returning, its age-old prison shattered.

The two must leave their home behind, and in doing so will face sorcerers and thieves, con-men and assassins, treachery and greed. How far down this path will they have to go to stop the rising darkness and save their home? And how much of themselves will they have to give up along the way?

The Bard’s Blade will be published by Tor Books on January 28, 2020. It is 430 pages, priced at $17.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Felix Ortiz. It will be followed A Chorus of Fire, coming in August. Read a brief excerpt at the Tor/Forge Blog, and see all of our recent coverage of the best upcoming science fiction and fantasy here.

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