Readers typically differentiate stereotypical High Fantasy (elves, dwarves, wizards-with-pointy-hats with a slant toward happy adventuring) vs. Low Fantasy (more “realism” & “earthier” milieu, with a focus on humans defending trenches at a battlefront or crawling through crypts to save a maiden or rob a god). The latter encompasses sub-genres like Sword & Sorcery and the contemporary-named Grimdark.
Why stop at regular Grimdark when you can go further? This post highlights two New Treasures that are arguably Grimdark, but still push the boundaries of what is expected. At the very least, they should appeal to dark fantasy readers who desire something fresh (whatever label the books deserve). To learn if these are right for you, read on:
Ten Low by Stark Holborn (Titan Books, June 2021). Cover design by Julia Llyod
I spend a lot of time browsing new releases online. But you know what? Nothing beats a trip to the bookstore. As I wandered through the well-stocked science fiction section of Barnes & Noble last Saturday I found no less than four new releases that insisted on coming home with me.
Perhaps the most interesting was Stark Holborn’s latest Ten Low, which The Book Beard calls “stunning… gritty, intriguing sci-fi/ Western brilliance.” Here’s a snippet from Publisher’s Weekly‘s warm review.
The House of Styx (Solaris, May 2021). Cover uncredited.
It’s been a genuine pleasure to watch Derek Künsken’s career take off. We published his third story in Black Gate 15, and he’s been a blogger with us since 2013, publishing nearly 200 articles here. But it’s his recent novels that have really grabbed the spotlight, including The Quantum Magician (2018) and The Quantum Garden (2019).
His latest is The House of Styx, released in hardcover by Solaris in May, and this one has breakout novel written all over it. SciFiNow calls it “Stunning,” Locus labels it “Wonderful,” and Library Journal proclaims it an “electrifying planetary adventure.” Here’s an excerpt from the rave review at Publishers Weekly.
The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman (Tor Books, May 2021)
Christopher Buehlman has accumulated an impressive rep with some powerful horror novels over the past decade. Those Across the River was nominated for the World Fantasy Award, The Lesser Dead won the American Library Association’s award, andThe Suicide Motor Club made The Best Horror Books of 2016 list at the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog.
His latest is an interesting departure — the kick-off for an epic fantasy series. One thing it has in common with his previous books? The critics love it. Here’s an excerpt from Paul Di Filippo and Adrienne Martini’s joint review at Locus Online.
The Red Man and Others (March 2021). Cover artist uncredited
Back in May I was contacted by author Remco van Straten, who was promoting his new Heroic Fantasy collection The Red Man and Others, written with Angeline B. Adams. Here’s what he told me.
These are interconnected stories around a small but tough sell-sword, Kalia, her disabled forger girlfriend Ymke, and their teenage thief and con-artist protégé Sebastien, each with a grudge against the Brotherhood of the Wheel. In their attempts to get back at the cult, they find each other, and a new purpose for their skills. The paperback is illustrated throughout and also contains background material.
I’m a sucker for modern heroic fantasy, so I was glad to take a look. And what I found was a well-packaged collection that has already garnered some surprising attention.
One of my favorite anthologies from last year was A Quiet Afternoon, edited by the Canadian duo of Liane Tsui and Grace Seybold and published by Grace & Victory Publications. So I was very pleased to see an ambitious follow-up arrive this month, packed with 27 stories by Stewart C. Baker, Gabrielle Bleu, L. Chan, Jessica Cho, and many others.
What’s it all about then? Here’s Laura DeHaan, from her introduction.
We are tried and overstimulated and wrung out. The real world is presenting us with more than enough actual life-or-death struggles that we frequently feel powerless to affect. We don’t need to read more of that in our escapist literature. Instead, we take comfort in stories featuring manageable goals and which celebrate small victories.
There are, of course, bittersweet tales as well: broken hearts, lost recipes, forgotten words. Even so, there are triumphs, That which is broken can be fixed, the lost found, the forgotten remembered. After every small deep breath is the long exhale.
An anthology dedicated to low-stakes speculative fiction is welcome and oh-so timely. Filled with tales of talking cats, home-cooked meals, robots, cryptids, weather magic, haunted houses, aliens, and knitting, A Quiet Afternoon 2 is waiting with a warm cup of tea to comfort and entertain you.
Here’s the publisher’s description and the complete contributor list.
Mike Brooks’ Dark Run space opera trilogy was published in 2016/17, and was warmly received. Kirkus Reviewscalled it an “old-fashioned space Western… an entertaining page-turner,” and Andrew Liptak at the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog said it “deserves to be this year’s break out. A space opera in the rollicking tradition of Timothy Zahn [and] John Scalzi…”
For the past few years Brooks has been playing around in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, writing novels like Rites of Passage and Brutal Kunnin’. This spring he re-invented himself again, this time as an epic fantasy novelist, kicking off The God-King Chronicles series with the novel The Black Coast. It was named an Amazon Editors’ Pick for Best SFF in February, and Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review. Here’s a snippet from their enthusiastic review.
Juneteenth was just marked a federal holiday in the United States to commemorate the June 19th, 1866 end to slavery. Like many memorial dates, it resonates with equal parts celebration and reflection. This June 19th, 2021, we highlight the book release of Eda Blessed II, appropriately published by a champion of Black Speculative Fiction, Milton Davis (author and editor of MVmedia, a publishing company specializing in Afrofuturism, and Steamfunk). Notably, Milton Davis has been a proponent and publisher of works by Sword & Soul originator Charles Saunders who is known for his Imaro/Nyumbani series (check out the tour guide to the Imaro Series on Black Gate). Omari Ket is the protagonist of Eda Blessed and his first name is an anagram for Imaro, but apparently, that was not done intentionally; in any event, Omari is a very different personality than Imaro.
Omari Ket is a rogue warrior; an Agency onto himself
From the first Eda Blessed, we know that Omari Ket is a rogue warrior, not a spy, but he is as suave, cunning, and as lethal as any Secret Agent Man. ‘Agency’ is a term for the capacity of a character to act independently, and Omari is an Agency onto himself: he reports to no one. Omari is a ladies’ man in a dog-eat-dog world. If you like a cut-throat, libertine, action-oriented protagonist, then you are ‘Eda Blessed.’
“It’s just because I have picked a little about mystics that I have no use for mystagogues. Real mystics don’t hide mysteries, they reveal them. They set a thing up in broad daylight, and when you’ve seen it it’s still a mystery. But the mystagogues hide a thing in darkness and secrecy, and when you find it, it’s a platitude.” ― G. K. Chesterton
After a few unforeseen delays, Mystics in Hell has finally arrived. This is the latest edition in the long-running, shared-universe series, Heroes in Hell™. The gathering of real people from across our historical timeline, and the casting of fictional characters born of myth and legend, folklore and literature, is what makes this such a unique and fun series. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the series or for those readers who may wish to be brought up to date, once again I’ll do my best to recap what’s been happening in our favorite Afterlife.
Mystics in Hellfollows on the hot hooves of Lovers in Helland the two volumes preceding it. The plagues which first manifested themselves in Doctors in Hell are evolving and mutating. In Pirates in Hell, disastrous floods swept through Hell, leaving behind wrack and ruin, and new islands and coastlines. The damned sought the help of pirates and other seafarers, seeking refuge and passage, hoping to escape to dry land and whatever safe harbor they could find. But there is no such thing as a safe harbor in Hell, and there is no escape.
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2020, edited by Rich Horton (Prime Books, June 2021). Cover by Argus
The print version of Rich Horton’s 12th Year’s Best volume was delayed roughly six months by the pandemic, and it finally arrives next week. The delay was a little frustrating for those of us who look forward to this book every year, but considering how deeply the pandemic impacted the publishing world overall, I figure it could have been a lot worse. (The digital version has been available since December, but I remain stubbornly a print guy.)
Rich’s introductions to the early volumes belonged to the get-out-of-the-way-and let-the-fiction-do-the-talking school, but over the years they’ve loosened up a bit, and this year’s is one of his best, a lively and thoughtful look at the impact of this very eventful year on science fiction, and some thoughts on famous genre pandemic fiction. Here’s part of his comments on the tales within.