A Thrilling Gothic Fantasy: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Friday, October 18th, 2019 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

Sorcery-of-Thorns-smallElisabeth has sworn to do her duty onto death, and death has just shown up.

Panicked horses draw a carriage up to the Great Library. A Class Eight grimoire, bound in an iron coffer secured with more than a dozen locks, rattles inside the vehicle. A pair of wardens jump down from the driver’s seat.

The grimoire – the Book of Eyes – is centuries old and has driven dozens of people mad. As an apprentice librarian, Elisabeth shouldn’t be anywhere near it. But the library’s Director specifically summoned her here to help.

The Director must be testing Elisabeth. If she fails, the Book of Eyes will claim her life. But if she manages to survive this encounter, then she’ll show she really is a warden in the making. That is Elisabeth’s dearest wish: to prove herself worthy to the Director by becoming a warden herself. After all, she owes the Director everything. If it hadn’t been for her, Elisabeth would have been raised in an orphanage.

As Elizabeth and the Director carry the foul-smelling book down into the vault where the most dangerous tomes are isolated, it lurches in its bindings and tries to break free. When they reach its appointed cell, the table in the middle is gouged with enormous gashes. It looks like a demon clawed it. Grimoires that are damaged turn into Maleficts, huge monsters of ink and leather that kill the villagers and ravage the countryside. The wardens risk their own lives in hunting down and destroying them.

A Malefict must have been born on that very expanse of wood.

While the Director examines the Book of Eyes for damage, keeping the greasy black volume contained in a circle of salt and wearing iron-lined gloves, the grimoire opens its warty eyes and fastens them on Elisabeth. Sensing her inexperience and vulnerability, it calls to her, a whisper that threads through her mind…

She tries to ignore the voice, but it’s no use. Her gaze drifts down to the book… She feels like she’s sinking… The Director’s voice comes from very far away, as though she’s speaking underwater…

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New Treasures: A Lush and Seething Hell: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror by John Hornor Jacobs

Thursday, October 17th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

A Lush and Seething Hell Two Tales of Cosmic Horror-small A Lush and Seething Hell Two Tales of Cosmic Horror-back-small

I’m hearing a lot about John Hornor Jacobs’ new book, A Lush and Seething Hell. Like, a lot.

Like this starred review from Kirkus:

Two lush, sprawling novellas that are nothing like each other except that they’re both scary as hell… Two spectacular novellas. After a glowing foreword by Jacobs’ fellow fabulist Chuck Wendig, the book launches into “The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky,” a Lovecraft-ian horror story set in a fictionalized South American nation. In it, a young academic named Isabel Certa becomes involved with a famous one-eyed poet named Rafael Avendaño, a cavalier scoundrel who’s heading into a war zone… Then there’s the chill-inducing, artfully paced “My Heart Struck Sorrow,” in which we’re introduced to Cromwell, a librarian from the Library of Congress who specializes in oral tradition [who] accidentally stumbles upon a long-hidden treasure trove of blues recordings from the 1930s… Falling somewhere between House of Leaves (2000) and The Blair Witch Project, it is a terrifying, gothic descent into madness… This book has a fitting title if there ever was one, and these nightmares are worth every penny.

And Sam Reader’s rave review at The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog.

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Sorcery, Romance and Wine: The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019 | Posted by Caitlin McAllister

The Vine Witch-small The Vine Witch-back-small

Cover designed by Micaela Alcaino

A fantasy set in turn-of-the-century French countryside full of sorcery, romance and wine? I couldn’t wait to dive in to this debut novel from Luanne G. Smith.

Elena Boureanu is a vine witch. Not familiar? Vine witches are responsible for curating the most delectable vintages of the Chanceaux Valley, in a fantasy version of rural France. Elena is responsible for Chateau Renard, well known for producing some of the best wine in the Valley. Elena, and the vine witches that have come before her, use their powers to harness the perfect weather, moon phase, and terroir. Paired with their creative tastes they hope to blend the perfect bottle.

Our story opens with Elena cursed, stuck in the body of a toad surviving off slugs, flies and having almost no memory of who she was, and much less who would inflict such a terrible sentence on her. After all, she was so engrossed in creating the world’s best wine, she rarely paid attention to anything but her work.

During the seven years Elena has been missing, Chateau Renard has been sold to Jean-Paul Martel, a city dweller with no knowledge of spells or witches. Instead, he is focused on science and has little use for the folklore and traditions of the Valley. To help with the daily operations of the Chateau, he allowed the previous proprietor, Ariella Gardin, to stay on. As much as she tries to influence him to be more open to the “old ways,” he dismisses her claims as nonsense.

Finally, Elena is able to break the curse return home to her beloved vineyard. She is greeted by Ariella (her Grand Mere), and discovers the truth about the sale of the only home she’s ever known. What’s more, she is able to see a terrible hex has been placed over the entire vineyard. With Jean-Paul’s aversion to magic, Elena must pretend to be someone she’s not, while trying desperately trying to fix things behind his back.

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What Happens After the Greatest Con in History: The Quantum Garden by Derek Kunsken

Monday, October 14th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Quantum Magician-small The Quantum Garden-small

Covers by Justin Adams

Derek first appeared in Black Gate in issue 15 with his short story “The Gifts of Li Tzu-Ch’eng.” He’s been our regular Saturday evening blogger since 2013, producing nearly 150 articles on diverse topics such as web comics, Alan Moore, Star Trek, New York ComicCon, Percy Jackson, Science Fiction in China, and much more.

His first novel, The Quantum Magician, was published by Solaris on October 2, 2018. In his Black Gate review Brandon Crilly said,

The worldbuilding here is intricate, compelling and absolutely fascinating. From the moment concepts were introduced I wanted to know more, especially the different subsets of humanity that Künsken presents, each the product of generations of genetic manipulation. I mean, an entire population of neo-humans nicknamed Puppets because of their diminutive size, who double as religious zealots worshipping their divine beings’ cruelty? Or an intergalactic political hierarchy based on the economics of patrons and clients, complete with the inequalities and social issues you might expect?…

The core plot is a con game perpetrated by a team of ragtag scoundrels, trying to sneak a flotilla of warships through a wormhole controlled by another government… but don’t ask me to explain more than that. Künsken does an amazing job of presenting a bunch of quirky protagonists who play off each other well, but the characters that stand out do so powerfully; between that and the rich worldbuilding of things like the Puppets, I forgot about that flotilla and the original aim of the con for a good third of the novel, until they came back into focus.

Much as I rooted for protagonist Belisarius (who would be the Danny Ocean of these scoundrels) and his partner/love interest Cassandra (who I suppose is Tess and Rusty from Ocean’s Eleven combined), the secondary characters stole the spotlight for me, particularly AI-on-a-religious-mission Saint Matthew and the creepily dangerous Scarecrow hunting these scoundrels down.

Solaris releases the sequel The Quantum Garden tomorrow. Here’s a look at the back cover.

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Of Phibes and Androbots I Sing

Saturday, October 12th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

phibes 5Phibes 4Dr. Phibes is far more than the evocation of the great thriller characters of its creator’s childhood; he is a character that stands proudly alongside Dracula, Moriarty, Nikola, Fu Manchu, Fantomas, and Mabuse as an equal in inventiveness and execution. William Goldstein, as screenwriter and novelist, created an immortal as only the best storytellers do. Phibes is a character who transcends his era, defines his own archetype, and is firmly established in his own mythology to pass from one generation, century, and millenium to the next. The best news for fans is The Master’s work continues with the fifth and latest book in the ongoing series, The Androbots – Book I of The Dr. Phibes Manifest.

Those who have read the first four books in the series or, at the very least, my other Black Gate articles covering these titles, are aware there is a significant tonal difference between the two Vincent Price Dr. Phibes films of the early 1970s and William Goldstein’s novels. The books retain the films’ eccentricities, but are far more tragic than comedic. I do revere the two AIP releases. Director Robert Fuest and his production crew imbued both pictures with a sardonic touch that allowed Vincent Price and several of his co-stars to turn in subdued performance that carefully balance extreme bursts of horror, tragedy, and comedy. One never knows quite what to expect as one scene ends and the next begins when watching the films.

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New Treasures: The Wolf’s Call by Anthony Ryan

Saturday, October 12th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Wolf's Call-smallAnthony Ryan arrived with a splash in 2012 with his debut Blood Song, the opening novel in the Raven’s Shadow trilogy. A little slow on the uptake, I didn’t discover the series until the second volume, Tower Lord — and even then mostly because of the title. For a week after I spotted it in the bookstore, I wanted to add a turret to our house and have all my children address me as Tower Lord. The books in the series were:

1 Blood Song (2012)
2 Tower Lord (2014)
3 Queen of Fire (2015)

I see now that Ace has released The Wolf’s Call, the first novel in a brand new series featuring Vaelin Al Sorna, the legendary blademan of Raven’s Shadow. In a comment on my Tower Lord article, Rogue Blades mastermind Jason M. Waltz said, “I read Blood Song last summer, enjoyed it, want to read Tower Lord. Not revolutionary but definitely fills the heroic-Gemmell-like niche.”

That’s enough of an endorsement for me. Here’s the description for The Wolf’s Call.

Peace never lasts.

Vaelin Al Sorna is a living legend, his name known across the Realm. It was his leadership that overthrew empires, his blade that won hard-fought battles – and his sacrifice that defeated an evil more terrifying than anything the world had ever seen. He won titles aplenty, only to cast aside his earned glory for a quiet life in the Realm’s northern reaches.

Yet whispers have come from across the sea – rumours of an army called the Steel Horde, led by a man who believes himself a god. Vaelin has no wish to fight another war, but when he learns that Sherin, the woman he lost long ago, has fallen into the Horde’s grasp, he resolves to confront this powerful new threat.

To this end, Vaelin travels to the realms of the Merchant Kings, a land ruled by honor and intrigue. There, as the drums of war thunder across kingdoms riven by conflict, Vaelin learns a terrible truth: that there are some battles that even he may not be strong enough to win.

The Wolf’s Call was published by Ace on July 23, 2019. It is 414 pages, priced at $28 in hardcover, and $14.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Cliff Nielsen.

See all our recent New Treasures here.


Future Treasures: The Name of All Things by Jenn Lyons

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The-Ruin-of-Kings-medium The Name of All Things-small

You can learn a lot about the publishing industry by watching what they spend money on. And this year Tor is spending a lot of money and energy promoting the debut fantasy novel by Jenn Lyons, The Ruin of Kings, released this February, and its sequel, The Name of All Things, due in bookstores in three weeks.

It seems to have paid off. The Ruin of Kings scored a rare quadruple crown, with starred reviews from Library Journal (“Stunning”), Booklist (“Dazzling”), Publishers Weekly (“intricate epic fantasy”) and Kirkus Reviews (“Un-put-down-able”). Kirkus calls the new installment “top-notch adventure fantasy written for a 21st-century audience.” Here’s the description.

You can have everything you want if you sacrifice everything you believe.

Kihrin D’Mon is a wanted man. Since he destroyed the Stone of Shackles and set demons free across Quur, he has been on the run from the wrath of an entire empire. His attempt to escape brings him into the path of Janel Theranon, a mysterious Joratese woman who claims to know Kihrin.

Janel’s plea for help pits Kihrin against all manner of dangers: a secret rebellion, a dragon capable of destroying an entire city, and Kihrin’s old enemy, the wizard Relos Var. Janel believes that Relos Var possesses one of the most powerful artifacts in the world― the Cornerstone called the Name of All Things. And if Janel is right, then there may be nothing in the world that can stop Relos Var from getting what he wants.

And what he wants is Kihrin D’Mon.

The Name of All Things is Book 2 of A Chorus of Dragons. On her website Lyons says that, if everything goes according to plan, “Tor will be releasing a book in the series every nine months or so. Two this year, one next year, two the year after that.” That’s a grueling publication schedule, but it should keep fans happy. The Name of All Things will be published by Tor on October 29, 2019. It is 587 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Lars Grant-West. Read a lengthy excerpt at Tor.com.


Mind-blowing in the Best Science-fictional Tradition: This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Monday, October 7th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

This Is How You Lose the Time War-smallAt Wiscon in 2017 I was lucky enough to be in the audience when Guest of Honor (and Black Gate blogger emeritus) Amal El-Mohtar and author Max Gladstone conducted a joint reading of a project they’d been working on together. Here’s how I described it in my convention report for Black Gate.

For the second half of her reading, Amal invited Max Gladstone to the stage to perform a joint reading of their collaborative tale. It’s an epistolary Spy vs. Spy novella, set in a universe where time is a braid, and two timelines exist simultaneously. One where consciousness is embedded, one where it is more abstract. (Think of them as a technologically advanced timeline, and a more natural world.) Both timelines are unstable. There’s a time war between the two realities, and two opposing agents, Red and Blue. At the end of a successful and bloody opp, Red finds a letter left for her by her enemy that reads “Burn before reading. ” She knows it’s a trap, but it’s also a thrown gauntlet, and she cannot resist. Soon she’s leaving her own notes in response.

What starts as inquisitive taunts at mysterious opponents gradually become much sharper, funnier and more poignant as the two take their game — and their taunts — to higher and higher levels. All the while hiding their correspondence from their superiors, and gradually learning at least grudging respect for each other. Once again, the audience got only a tantalizing snippet of a wider story, but it was a fascinating one.

The story is tentatively titled “These Violent Delights.” It does not yet have a publisher.

“These Violent Delights” eventually became the collaborative novel This Is How You Lose the Time War, published by Saga Press in July of this year. It has been widely praised; Martha Wells calls it “rich and strange, a romantic tour through all of time and the multiverse,” and Publishers Weekly says it’s “Exquisitely crafted… Part epistolary romance, part mind-blowing science fiction adventure… dazzling.”

But I think my favorite review comes from our own Matthew David Surridge, writing at Splice Today. Matthew is insightful and illuminating as always, calling the novel “mind-blowing in the best science-fictional tradition.” Here’s the highlights.

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BookRiot on 30 Haunted House Books that will Give You the Creeps

Sunday, October 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Grip of It Jac Jemc-small THE WOMEN IN THE WALLS AMY LUKAVICS-small THE GOOD HOUSE TANANARIVE DUE-small

Ah, October. The month when I finally catch up on all the all the spooky reads I’ve been hoarding all year.

Back in July, Jessica Avery at Book Riot posted a fine survey of 30 Haunted House Books that will Give You the Creeps. Who wants to read haunted house novels in July? But now that the evenings are getting cold and leaves are starting to fall off the trees, a young man’s thoughts naturally turn to… creepy houses and buried family secrets. So I returned to Jessica’s piece, and it features some very intriguing titles indeed. Here’s the highlights.

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc (FSG Originals, 288 pages, $15 paperback/$2.99 digital, August 1, 2017)

This addition to the list was recommended to me as being just absolutely read-through-your-fingers frightening. In one of those plots familiar to many haunted house books, Julie and James need to get out of the city and end up settling in a house in the country. But what was supposed to be a fresh start for the troubled couple soon turns into a nightmare. As the house seems to misshape and decay before their eyes, Julie and James rush to discover its history before they follow suit.

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New Treasures: Straight Outta Deadwood, edited by David Boop

Saturday, October 5th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Straight Outta Tombstone-smaller Straight Outta Deadwood-small

Cover art by Dominic Harman

I was impressed with David Boop’s 2017 anthology Straight Outta Tombstone, one of the better Weird Western volumes of the last few years. So I was excited to see the sequel, Straight Outta Deadwood, arrive this week from Bean. Boop gives us a taste of what to expect in his Foreword, “Histories Mysteries.”

My directive to all the authors in these anthologies [was] to give me the Old West the way it really was, where applicable. I wanted the history within to be accurate, the voices authentic… But I also asked them to give me, and you the readers, the world we wished to see: dragons flying overhead, or the ability to drink with dwarves, or hear how grandpappy fought off zombies in Deadwood…

For those of you who read read Straight Outta Tombstone, this second anthology is my Empire Strikes Back. It’s darker, and include a couple pieces that left me shaken afterward… Don’t worry if you get scared easily, though. I have broken the narrative up with humor, victories over evil, and gunfights.

Lots of gunfights.

There’s been a distinct lack of decent Weird Western recently, and Straight Outta Deadwood addresses that nicely. It contains brand new short fiction by Steve Rasnic Tem, Charlaine Harris, Stephen Graham Jones, Lacy Hensley, Jane Lindskold, Cliff Winnig, D.J. Butler, and many others. Here’s the complete table of contents.

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