New Treasures: The Nissera Chronicles by Hannah West

Sunday, November 25th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Kingdom of Ash and Briars-small Realm of Ruins-small

I’m still not done unpacking my free book bag from the World Fantasy Convention, but the wheels of publishing stop for no man. Review copies continue to pile up at the Black Gate headquarters, and they demand attention. At least, that’s what Realm of Ruins did when I pulled it out of an envelope on Tuesday, anyway.

First, Daniel Burgess’ cover is great. He also did the cover for the first volume, Hannah’s debut novel Kingdom of Ash and Briars, released by Holiday House in 2016. I was completely unaware of that book until Tuesday but, second, there’s ample praise for it on the back of Realm of Ruins, including a snippet from this starred review from Kirkus:

Bristal, a teenage kitchen maid, never expected to survive being forced into the Water, a pool designed to prove that a mortal may be an elicromancer, an ancient breed of ageless and immortal beings that once populated the realm of Nissera. But she does.

With elicrin stone in hand, Bristal is thrust from the Water, proving her birthright as an elicromancer. With Bristal’s true identity revealed, the last two remaining elicromancers, Brack and Tamarice, materialize to rescue Bristal from kidnappers. They begin to train her to use her gift as a Clandestine: the ability to transform into any human or animal form… Greatly influenced by the likes of “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Hua Mulan,” and arguably Harry Potter, debut author West mixes fairy-tale charm with contemporary mysticism to create a world both terrifying and wonderful… Sweet romance and strong supporting characters complete this impressive debut.

Third, all the Black Friday madness put me in a buying mood. so I ordered a copy of the first book yesterday. Will it turn out to be as lightly sweet and charming as promised, or was I just another victim of unchecked consumerism? Stay tuned to find out.

Realms of Ruins goes on sale December 4th. Here’s the description for the first book.

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Mystical Beings, Power Struggles, and a Delicious Villain: The Empirium Trilogy by Claire Legrand

Thursday, November 22nd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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One of the best things about the free book bag at the World Fantasy Convention is that it introduces you to books you’d never have paid attention to otherwise. That’s exactly what happened when I reached inside the bag this morning and pulled out Furyborn by Claire Legrand.

I’ve never heard of Claire Legrand. Turns out that’s something of an oversight, as she’s the bestselling author of Winterspell, Foxheart, the YA horror novel Sawkill Girls, and the Edgar Award finalist Some Kind of Happiness. Furyborn, the opening novel of The Empirium Trilogy, was an instant New York Times bestseller, and my hardcover comes laden down with plenty of praise (“A veritable feast of magic: mystical beings, ruthless power struggles, and gorgeously cinematic writing” – Traci Chee, author of The Reader trilogy; and “A delicious villain, non-stop action, and heart-pounding romance… A fantastic read!” – Morgan Rhodes, author of the Fallen Kingdoms series).

Still, not exactly my cup of tea. One more tale of ill-fated royals who must discover secret magic to reclaim their rightful seat on the throne? Not usually the kind of thing that interests me. But the book worked its magic and drew me in almost immediately, and the dual narrative — short alternating chapters set a thousand years apart — features two unapologetically powerful women, and is heavy with both cliffhangers and twists. Heaven help me, I’m enjoying it so far, and will probably pick up the sequel Kingsbane when it arrives next May.

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Future Treasures: Hollow Empire, Volume II of The Poison Wars by Sam Hawke

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

City of Lies-small Hollow Empire-small

When I arrived at the World Fantasy Convention in Baltimore I was handed a heavy bag of complementary books, one of the perks of that fine convention. After a few horse trades I ended up going home with about two dozen brand new books, a very nice haul indeed.

I’ve been pulling them out one at a time, and when I reached deep into the bag last night the book that came out was City of Lies, the debut novel by Australian Sam Hawke, which looks like one of the most promising reads in the whole batch. In his review Paul Weimer called it “an exemplar of the form” of city-state fantasy.

City of Lies tells its story from the perspective of Jov and Kalina, a pair of young siblings of noble rank who are coming of age in the city-state of Silastra. Jov is a poison expert in training, and the male equivalent of a maid-companion to Tain, nephew and heir to the Chancellor of Silatra. Kalina, on the other hand, whose path was to follow Jov’s, is physically disabled and has been trying to find her own path and her own role. The city-state is attacked from within and without: the Chancellor is assassinated, and it is up to Tain, Jov, and Kalina to face the beseiging army that has very coincidentally shown up as all this occurs, while the city-state’s own army is far away on a venture. City of Lies is the story of a city-state under siege, and of two siblings who must grow into their roles, inherited and self-selected, in order to try and save it…

This is a novel of discovery and unearthing of secrets, not only of the physical nature of the city, but also of its population. As Jov, Kalina and the rest of their peers learn the physical and topographical secrets of their city, they learn about their fellow inhabitants as well. As a reader, we learn about these factions and social strata, and get to see them change and evolve while under stress, changes that often surprise the protagonists themselves in the process…  City of Lies succeeds very well as a city-state fantasy, an exemplar of the form.

City of Lies is the opening novel in The Poison War, a new series from Tor. It will be followed by Hollow Empire, due in trade paperback next December. Here’s the back cover blurbs for both.

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Future Treasures: The Salvager Series by Alex White

Friday, November 16th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Alex White’s Salvager series began with A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, a book which has one of the most promising titles of the year at the very least. I snapped it up shortly after reading Corrina Lawson’s enthusiastic review over at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog:

To call this book fast-paced or action-packed is underselling it… It begins with Nilah, the best driver in the galactic version of the Grand Prix. These “cars” are a mix of galactic tech and magic, as is Nilah herself…. Soon, Nilah is being attacked on the track — something that should be impossible — and witnesses another racer being murdered before she accidentally teleports to an unknown location… the viewpoint shifts to Elizabeth “Boots” Ellsworth, who has her own problems… she’s a veteran of a war from the losing side, [and] she’s a failed media personality whose one big triumph exploring the legends of lost ships is long in the past.

Everything goes promptly sideways as Nilah, Boots, Cordell and the crew of the Capricious wander recklessly into a greater conspiracy that points them to yet another legendary lost ship — a very big ship, way out in the far reaches of space (at the edge of the universe, even)…

The crew of the Capricious are terrific, original creations, from the captain determined to protect the crew that is all he has left from the war, to the intense first officer, to the ship’s chef. (Orna, the cynical force of nature that is the ship’s quartermaster, steals every scene she’s in, alongside her robot battle suit, Ranger.)… It’s this crew up against the most powerful beings in the universe, and our rag-tag heroes will take those odds. This is fantastic stuff, in every sense of the word.

Corrina mentioned at the end of her review that more titles were forthcoming, and it looks like her sources were true. A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy arrives in trade paperback from Orbit next month, and the third title in the series, The Worst of All Possible Worlds, is promised for Summer 2019.

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

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

The Thing in the Close-small The Thing in the Close-back-small

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, Alex Brown offered a tantalizing summary of the story so far. Here’s his take.

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