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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A YA Novel that Violates Contemporary Writing Conventions: How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse by K. Eason

Friday, January 17th, 2020 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse CoverYoung Adult fiction is populated with fast-paced novels that sweep readers into adventure from the very first page, only letting up when the final page reads The End. Their prose shows in gorgeous detail, transporting readers into whole new universes, rather than merely telling what’s going on. Novels that feature heroines begin when they are old enough to be the targets of romance; starting when they are younger not only provokes no interest, but also threatens to confuse booksellers, who must decide where to shelve them. According to many writing experts, passive voice must be scoured from the pages. The first chapter should be comprised exclusively of action; exposition kept to a minimum, and sentences clipped short. The author must avoid entire discursive paragraphs like, say, this one.

Eason’s How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse is marketed as a Young Adult Hardcover. But it violates these contemporary writing conventions.

We begin before Princess Rory Thorne is born. Indeed, while she is still in the womb. Our heroine, who will cause many kerfluffles throughout her childhood, creates her first by being born a girl, when everyone had planned for her to be a boy.

Shortly after Rory’s birth, thirteen fairies descend onto the palace for Rory’s Naming Ceremony, even though no one really believes in fairies anymore, and the only reason they were invited was as a nod to tradition, silly as it may be. But still, the thirteen fairies suddenly appear in the ballroom, coming from out of nowhere. The first eleven give Rory various gifts, some of which are obviously quite useless, like playing the harp.

The thirteenth fairy gives Rory the ability not just to tell when people are lying, but also to hear the truths they are covering up.

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New Treasures: One Man by Harry Connolly

Thursday, January 16th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Harry Connolly was one of the most popular writers we published in Black Gate magazine, starting right out of the gate with his first fiction sale “The Whoremaster of Pald,” which you can read here and which appeared way back in Black Gate 2. His career really took off with his first novels, including the 4-volume Twenty Palaces series (which opened in 2009 with Child of Fire) and The Great Way trilogy, which M Harold Page called “More hardboiled than the Dresden Files.” It’s been some four years since Harry published a new novel, so the arrival of One Man in November, from Harry’s own Radar Avenue Press, was a very welcome surprise. He explains on his blog.

It’s been four years since I released a new novel… This book is the reason.

I spent two years writing One Man. It’s is a big book, over 150,000 words. It’s complicated, with lots of POV characters and locations. The setting is limited – almost every chapter takes place in a single city – but it’s complex. Which is another way of saying that a lot of time and sweat went into this novel, and I’m proud of the result.

See, I wanted to try an experiment. Most fantasy novels have huge stakes: A Dark Lord trying to conquer all. A usurper seizing the throne, pushing a kingdom toward civil war. A world-shattering magical cataclysm. Invasion of monsters. Return of monsters. Whatever. But what if I wanted to create a fantasy story about a quest for something small. Something important, but not world-shattering. For instance: the life of a single little girl. Not even his own, just someone he knows…

I think it’s a good book. A thriller with strange magic, desperation, betrayal, and murder. But it’s an odd book, too, with bourgeois hobbit vampires, and sleeping giants whose flesh can heal you, and a sprawling city built inside the skeletons of two gods… I’m hoping you’re interested in a big, odd, ambitious book about crime and magic and a screwed-up guy who has one last chance to do something decent in this world.

One World is the first novel in The City of Fallen Gods (which is maybe the name of a new series, I dunno?) It was published by Radar Avenue Press on November 26, 2019. It is 637 pages, priced at $17.99 in trade paperback and $4.99 in digital formats. Read the first two chapters here, and see all our latest coverage of Black Gate writers here.

The Best in Modern Sword & Sorcery: The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Volume 3

Sunday, January 12th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Zoltan

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly has been published, like clockwork, every quarter since June 2009. And every eight issues, like clockwork, the editors of HFQ assemble a Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly volume, as a way to celebrate another milestone and promote their worthy magazine.

These books are top-notch examples of modern sword & sorcery (and I’m not just saying that because I was invited to write the introduction for Volume I.) In his review of Volume I, Fletcher Vredenburgh wrote:

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is… the most consistent forum for the best in contemporary swords & sorcery. Some may think I’m laying it on a little thick, but The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly: Volume 1, 2009-2011, a distillation of the mag’s first three years, should prove that I’m not.

Volume III has just arrived, with a dynamic cover by Zoltan and stories by Charles Gramlich, P. Djéli Clark, Adrian Simmons, David Farney, and many others — plus an introduction by Darrell Schweitzer, and original art for each story by Miguel Santos, Justin Pfiel, Garry McCluskey, Robert Zoltan, and others. It’s an all-around gorgeous package, and a fine reminder that Heroic Fantasy is still a vibrant genre in the 21st Century. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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New Treasures: Unnatural Magic by C. M. Waggoner

Sunday, January 12th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Tomas Almeida

In these days of effortless online shopping, it still pays off to visit your local bookstore.

Yesterday I did exactly that, with my regular Saturday trip to our local Barnes & Noble in Geneva, Illinois. There I picked up my usual batch of magazines (Asimov’s SF, Analog, F&SF, and Interzone), and spent 20 minutes browsing the science fiction section. I’m pretty good about keeping on top of new releases in the industry, but the staff stocking the shelves at B&N always manage to surprise me — and they didn’t disappoint. I found nearly a dozen new titles, including a few that insisted they come home with me. Top of the list was Unnatural Magic by newcomer C. M. Waggoner, which Martin Cahill treated with a rave review over at

Unnatural Magic, a debut from author C. M. Waggoner, is utterly delightful.

It has all the elements of a parlor room mystery, with the depth and complexity of any sturdy secondary world fantasy, with just enough sense of humor, danger, and reality to round out the whole book into a startling sort of debut. Waggoner has created a world set at about the turn of the century, with a feel of industry sitting alongside a pastoral and intimate world, one which humans share with the mysterious clans of long-lived trolls, who hold a different sort of magic away from their human neighbors. Both have opinions on the others, as human and troll culture are wildly different from the other, but this world exists with mostly respect for each other, until the murders begin….

Unnatural Magic contains something for everyone. It has gentle, but efficient worldbuilding, with a colorful cast of characters… It has lush prose, with poetic turns of phrase scattered throughout. It has romance, certainly, and daring in heaping amounts. It has magic, and it has a mystery at its core. But mostly, what this brilliant debut novel has, is a massive amount of heart. It made me smile and it made me happy, and mostly, it made me very excited to see what Waggoner has cooking next. If it’s anything like Unnatural Magic, sign me up now. She’s absolutely an author to watch.

Unnatural Magic was published by Ace Books on November 5, 2019. It is 390 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback and $11.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Tomas Almeida. Read an 8-page excerpt from Chapter One here. See all our recent coverage of the best new science fiction and fantasy here.

Gothic Noir in the Tradition of Weird Tales: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, Book One: Mad Shadows by Joe Bonadonna

Sunday, January 5th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Joe Bonadonna’s first swords and sorcery collection Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, which won the 2017 Golden Book Readers’ Choice Award for Fantasy, is one of the most successful modern S&S offerings — especially among our readers. It contains many fine stories, including the novelette “The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum,” perhaps the most popular piece of online fiction ever published at Black Gate.

Mad Shadows was originally published in January 2011, and last month Pulp Hero Press released a second revised edition with a new cover, new maps, revised text, and an expanded Afterword on Heroic Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery. In his 2012 review Fletcher Vredenburgh wrote “Mad Shadows is good stuff. It’s got no pretensions to be anything other than a worthy addition to the canons of S&S and there it’s wildly successful.” And in his BG article “The Coming of Dorgo the Dowser,” William Patrick Maynard wrote:

Joe Bonadonna describes his fiction as ‘Gothic Noir’ and it is entirely appropriate. As much as Mad Shadows succeeds in carrying on the tradition of Weird Tales, the brooding, darkly-humored Dorgo could have easily found a home in the pages of Black Mask if only his (dowsing) rod shot lead rather than divined spirits. The six stories in Mad Shadows offer a mixture of traditional sword & sorcery necromancers and demons as well as werewolves, vampires, witches, and bizarre half-human mutations that H. P. Lovecraft would happily embrace.

Joe followed up his original collection with Mad Shadows II: Dorgo the Dowser and The Order of the Serpent in 2017 (which Fletcher reviewed for us here). Read an excerpt right here at Black Gate.

The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, Book One: Mad Shadows was published by Pulp Hero Press on December 8, 2019. It is 282 pages, priced at $14.95 in paperback, and is available worldwide in paperback and Kindle editions. Check it out, and read all our previous coverage of Dorgo’s adventures here.

New Treasures: War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi

Saturday, January 4th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

War Girls-smallTochi Onyebuchi’s debut Beasts Made of Night made a big splash in 2017. VOYA said it was “Unforgettable,” and Buzzfeed called it a “compelling Nigerian-influenced fantasy… [with] brilliant worldbuilding.”

His latest is the science fiction novel War Girls, which he describes as “Gundam in Nigeria.” I’m always on the lookout for something new, and that’s definitely a pitch I don’t hear every day. Booklist calls it “Brilliant,” and in a starred review Publishers Weekly said:

Set amid the horrors of war in a world ravaged by climate change and nuclear disaster, this heart-wrenching and complex page-turner, drawn from the 1960s Nigerian civil war, will leave readers stunned and awaiting the second installment.

Here’s the publisher’s description.

Two sisters are torn apart by war and must fight their way back to each other in a futuristic, Black Panther-inspired Nigeria.

The year is 2172. Climate change and nuclear disasters have rendered much of Earth unlivable. Only the lucky ones have escaped to space colonies in the sky.

In a war-torn Nigeria, battles are fought using flying, deadly mechs and soldiers are outfitted with bionic limbs and artificial organs meant to protect them from the harsh, radiation-heavy climate. Across the nation, as the years-long civil war wages on, survival becomes the only way of life.

Two sisters, Onyii and Ify, dream of more. Their lives have been marked by violence and political unrest. Still, they dream of peace, of hope, of a future together.

And they’re willing to fight an entire war to get there.

War Girls is the opening novel in a new series. It was published by Razorbill on October 15, 2019. It is 464 pages, priced at $18.99 in hardcover and $10.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Nekro. Read the complete first chapter at Gizmodo, and listen to an audio sample here.

See all our recent New Treasures here.

One of the Most Richly Detailed Settings in Fantasy: The Maradaine Novels by Marshall Ryan Maresca

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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The Maradaine Constabulary trilogy by Marshall Ryan Maresca (DAW). Covers by Paul Young.

Marshall Ryan Maresca is one of the hardest working writers in fantasy.

It started in 2015 with his debut novel The Thorn of Dentonhill, which introduced Veranix Calbert, diligent college student by day and crime-fighting vigilante by night in the crime-ridden districts of the port city of Maradaine. The book was an unexpected hit, and was nominated for the Compton Crook award. I’ve quoted Library Journal‘s pithy review (“Veranix is Batman, if Batman were a teenager and magically talented”) a few times here, mostly because it’s the quote that first got my attention.

You’d expect a sequel or two to follow after that, but Maresca has delivered far more — he’s produced no less than eleven full novels set in what the Barnes & Noble Sci-fi and Fantasy Blog calls “One of the most richly detailed settings in fantasy… In one fast-paced, funny, highly readable novel after another, Maresca continues to build out every nook and alleyway of Maradaine.” All told the fast-growing Maradaine Universe has grown to three full trilogies, with a fourth underway.

While they share a setting, each series has a different focus and cast. The Maradaine trilogy follows the adventures of Veranix Calbert, struggling magic university student by day and armed vigilante by night; the Maradaine Constabulary books are gritty fantasy mysteries focused on Inspectors Satrine Rainey and Minox Welling in the city constabulary; The Streets of Maradaine are caper novels featuring Asti and Verci Rynax, former thieves attempting to go straight but dragged back into their old lives; and Maradaine Elite blends fantasy and political intrigue as it follows Dayne Heldrin and Jerinne Fendall, hopeful members of the Tarian Order.

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John DeNardo on the Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Books for December

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Splintegrate Deborah Teramis Christian-small The Best of Uncanny edited by Lynne M. Thomas-small Invocations Warhammer Horror-small

The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, one of my favorite genre websites, essentially shut down on December 16th of this year, firing all freelancers and halting production of new content. They’ve left older content up, thankfully, so our many links to articles by Jeff Somers, Joel Cunningham, and others still work (for now). Like Penguin’s much-missed Unbound Worlds (formerly Suvudu), the B&N Sci-Fi Blog was an inventive and far-ranging publisher-funded genre site that never found a business model, or managed to consistently prove value to its owner in the rapidly-changing publishing industry. I’ll miss many things about the site, but most of all I’ll miss their monthly round-up of the best new SF and fantasy titles.

Fortunately we still have the tireless John DeNardo, who still does a top-notch round-up as part of his regular article series at Kirkus Reviews. This month John calls out new books by Deborah Teramis Christian, Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Jeff VanderMeer, Tomi Adeyemi, Rachel Atwood, Charles Soule, Joe R. Lansdale, and others. Here’s a few highlights.

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A Brainy Psychological Fantasy: Fireborne by Rosaria Munda

Sunday, December 29th, 2019 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

Fireborne-smallUpon successfully overthrowing the cruel dragonborn families, the leaders of the Revolution imprison their previous masters to await trial. But the oppressed population is hungry for revenge. Vigilantes overrun the building and start to exact their own bloody justice.

Atreus, the new realm’s First Protector, discovers one group still in the process of murdering the Drakarch of the Far Highlands’ family. Only the dragonlord himself and his youngest son, a boy of about seven or eight, are still alive when Atreus arrives.

The Drakarch begs Atreus to spare his son. Atreus murmurs an order to a guard, who takes the boy away. Then he slits the dragonlord’s throat.

Lee, the Drakarch’s son, becomes the only member of the dragonborn caste to survive the Revolution. He grows up in an orphanage in Cheapside, where he befriends another orphan, Annie. No one knows who he really is. Even the First Protector, his savior, appears to have forgotten him. He knows he must keep his identity secret, but at the same time, he thirsts to regain the exalted position that had once been his birthright. Stripped of his privileges, Lee must fight for his rank like everyone else.

Now a teenager, Lee stands on the brink of attaining his dream: to become Firstrider, the best dragonrider in the land and commander of the dragon fleet. He has aced the entrance exam, been chosen by a dragon, and gained recognition as an elite rider. Now he must compete against the other top riders to prove he’s the best. Perhaps it’s ironic that Lee rides to serve those who killed his family. But if he can become Firstrider, not only will he win back the power that his father lost, but also he will prove himself to have been worthy of his birthright all along.

Prevailing over his classmates is Lee’s greatest concern, that is, until he learns that he isn’t the last remaining member of the dragonborn, after all. His cousin, with whom he played as a child, contacts him in secret. She reveals that members of the other dragonborn families escaped and created a refuge in another land. They have their own dragons and riders. Now the time has come for them to retake their ancestral country, restoring the old order.

Lee must choose. Will he defend the life he’s made for himself under the new regime? Or will he help the dragonlords recapture the possibilities he had thought were dead?

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