Future Treasures: The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Monday, February 17th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Jacket design by Richard Yoo

It good to see a few mainstream publishers still producing collections. The Hidden Girl and Other Stories is Ken Liu’s second, and his second with Saga Press. It follows 2016’s The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, which was nominated for a World Fantasy Award and won the Locus Award for Best Collection, and about which Amal El-Mohtar wrote, “I have never been so moved by a collection of short fiction. I was at times afraid to read more.”

There’s fine reviews of the new collection at Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, but the most insightful reviewer I’ve found is Paul Di Filippo at Locus Online, who compares Liu to Philip K. Dick, Zelazny, and Heinlein.

“The Reborn” shows us an Earth conquered by aliens who impose their own brand of mutable personalities on humans who resist them. A kind of PKD vibe of surreal memory games pervades the creepy piece…. A wave of Zelaznyian SF-fabulism overcame me as I read “Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard,” which blends shape-changing with the lives of the “midden miners,” poor citizens scavenging the remnants of our era… “The Hidden Girl” is the first pure fantasy in this volume, set in a kind of Asian neverland evocative of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. A young girl, trained as an assassin, is forced to acknowledge a higher oath… There’s a faint flavor of Podkayne of Mars inherent in “The Message,” which finds an archaeologist father and his sulky, willful teen daughter marooned on a planet amidst alien ruins.

Here’s the book description.

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Thrilling Magical Realism: Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater

Saturday, February 15th, 2020 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

Call Down the Hawk CoverMeet the brothers Lynch. While all three of them became orphans when their father died, not all of them are human. Arguably none of them are, since their father was a dreamer, someone who can dream things (and people) and bring them back into reality upon waking.

Declan, the eldest, seems the most humanish, since his mother appears to have been a real woman.

Ronan, the middle brother, seems less so, since his mother was a dream. Quite literally. One of the things Ronan’s father brought back from his slumber was an imaginary version of Declan’s mother. This dream woman gave birth to Ronan, who, like his father, is a dreamer.

The youngest brother, Matthew, is most certainly not human. As a child, Ronan dreamed him into existence.

Being not-quite-human is a problem for the Lynch brothers. According to the prophets, a dreamer will someday conjure up the apocalypse, and fire will consume the world. Governments worldwide have created teams of Moderators to stamp out this menace.

Carmen Farooq-Lane, a young woman of extraordinary elegance and poise, is one of these foot soldiers. But no matter how many dreamers she tracks down and kills – including her own brother – the oracles’ visions stay the same. Still, the world is going to burn.

If she finds Ronan, he’s toast.

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New Treasures: The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood

Friday, February 14th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Billelis

Well, damn. We’re midway through February and I haven’t read any fantasy debuts yet. Sub-par performance for someone who’s supposed to be keeping you informed. Fortunately Tor sent me a review copy of their next big-budget debut, The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood. It has the obligatory breathless blurbs (“Spine-tingling prose, gorgeous worldbuilding, powerful older women” — Emily Tesh), starred reviews (“[A] phenomenal debut. Csorwe, a 14-year-old orc princess, is betrothed to the Unspoken One, her world’s god, and is slated to be sacrificed… Epic fantasy fans are sure to be impressed.” — Publishers Weekly), and enough grumpy press to keep everyone honest (“A moderately promising entry” — Kirkus). And its hefty (463 pages), and it’s about an orc priestess who turns into a wizard’s assassin.

I don’t think I can reasonably ask for any more than that. Here’s the publisher’s description.

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does ― she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin―the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn ― gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

The Unspoken Name is the opening novel in The Serpent Gates. It was published by Tor Books on February 11, 2020. It is 463 pages, priced at $25.99 in hardcover, and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Billelis. Read the first 8 pages of Chapter One here, or download a free preview here. See all our recent New Treasures here.

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

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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 Tor.com 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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Rebecca Diem on The New Golden Age of the SFF Novella

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

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I complain frequently about modern publishing (where did mass market anthologies go, damn it!?) but  really, there’s a lot to like. One of the most positive recent trends has been the resurgence of the novella. We’ve spent a lot of time at Black Gate covering popular new novellas like Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s This Is How You Lose the Time War and Tor.com‘s exciting release schedule (in Intergalactic Wars, Ancient Gods, and Living Ships: New Novellas from Tor.com, among others), but we’re not the only ones who have noticed.

Over at Tor.com Rebecca Diem, author of the 4-volume Tales of the Captain Duke novella series, salutes the modern age of the novella. She touches on many truths in her article; here’s a small taste.

With a good novella, I’m able to dip my toes into an adventure, especially when a busy schedule prevents me from dedicating time to longer works. Short stories pair well with your morning coffee; novels are best for long stretches of uninterrupted time on evenings or weekends. Novellas fit nicely into a tote bag for your commute and all those spare moments collected over the course of the day, but can also be finished in a couple hours for a satisfying and immersive reading experience.

When I was researching market opportunities in 2014 after finishing my first novella, I stumbled on a lot of advice similar to this 2008 Writer’s Digest piece advising novella writers to “stick it in a drawer” or pad it out to a full-length work… But novellas are now being actively solicited by all major publishers, and early adopters of the trend toward shorter works (including Tor.com) are leading the field with awards and accolades.

The novella’s comeback can be attributed to the emergence and increasingly popularity of e-books, print-on-demand publishing, and alternative distribution models, making them a more attractive, lucrative option in the digital age. There are rich opportunities here for both writers and readers of concise, efficient storytelling.

Rebecca’s article is Long Live Short Fiction: The New Golden Age of the SFF Novella; it’s well worth the read. And while we’re on the topic, here’s a handful of Tor.com‘s upcoming releases that caught my eye, including Sarah Gailey’s “good old-fashioned horse opera for the 22nd century” (Charles Stross) Upright Women Wanted.

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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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New Treasures: The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet

Sunday, February 9th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Unwilling-smallIt’s tough publishing a debut fantasy. You’re such a blank slate to genre readers that every little notice and review carries enormous weight, and can tilt the trajectory of your entire career.

Take the case of Kelly Braffet, who began her career with thrillers like Last Seen Leaving and Save Yourself, before turning to fantasy with The Unwilling, which arrives in hardcover from MIRA on Tuesday. It’s had enviable early notices; Ellen Datlow called it “Something wonderful. I love it,” and Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus) said it’s “Extraordinary… Fantasy at its most sublime.” Something like that will usually guarantee a fantastic launch.

Unfortunately a handful of readers have expressed their displeasure with the ending, and their one-star reviews are currently the highest-ranked at Amazon. Kitten Kisser wrote “Oh my. The end. For that the book gets 1 star. I’m sorry I spent 10 days reading this #*!@#% book for that total crock,” and QueenKatieMae said “After 572 pages… I threw this book down and simply said, “No”.”

That’s an unlucky and painful turn of events for any writer, though it’s especially hard on someone trying a new genre. I remain quite intrigued by The Unwilling; the complaints haven’t done much to dampen my enthusiasm, and I doubt I’m alone. The major review sites haven’t been silent either; I found this starred review at Bookist this morning.

Judah is foster sister to Gavin, next in line to be Lord of the City. Judah, who was adopted as an infant by Gavin’s late mother, is hated by Gavin’s father, Lord Elban. He and others call her “foundling,” “witchbred,” and worse. It does not help that in a land of pale-skinned, lithe blondes, Judah is short and has dark, almost purple hair. Luckily, Gavin; his brother Theron; and Gavin’s betrothed, Elly, love her. She and Gavin share an even more special bond. Any hurt she experiences, Gavin does as well, and she experiences all of Gavin’s pain. No matter how Elban and his Seneschal try to break this bond, they fail. This mysterious magic that binds them is no accident… Suspenseful, magical, wonderfully written, and never predictable… an essential addition to all epic-fantasy collections.

The Unwilling will be published by HarperCollins/MIRA on February 11. It is 571 pages, priced at $27.99 in hardcover, $12.99 in digital, and $42 in audio formats. The cover was designed by Micaela Alcaino. See all of our recent New Treasures here.

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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New Treasures: Warhammer 40,000: Lord of the Dark Millennium: The Dan Abnett Collection

Tuesday, February 4th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Ignacio Bazan-Lazcano

Recently I’ve been listening to a host of audiobooks on Amazon’s Audible service. I’ve enjoyed Craig Davidson’s The Saturday Night Ghost Club, Martha Wells’ All Systems Red, Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim, and the first two volumes of S.K. Dunstall’s terrific Linesman trilogy. But the best one so far, an audio drama that kept me absolutely riveted for four days, was Dan Abnett’s Warhammer 40,000 novel The Magos, narrated by the great Toby Longworth. Half story collection, half novel, that damn thing absolutely transported me to into a future of superstition, terror, and dark sorcery.

Naturally, it also spurred my interest in the career of Dan Abnett. He’s written dozens of Warhammer 40,000 books, including 16 novels in the Gaunt’s Ghost military adventure series, the Eisenhorn and Ravenor Inquisitor trilogies, several novels in the bestselling Horus Heresy series, and others.

During that time he’s produced numerous short stories set in the war-torn galaxy of the 41st millenium. And now Black Library has issued Lord of the Dark Millennium: The Dan Abnett Collection, a massive 668-page hardcover containing all of his Warhammer 40K short fiction. It’s a gorgeous feast of a book, continuing 37 stories and a brand new introduction. Some of them, including “Regia Occulta,” “The Curiosity,” and “Thorn Wishes Talon,” are some of my favorite science fiction stories of the past two decades.

Lord of the Dark Millennium: The Dan Abnett Collection was published by Black Library on January 21, 2020. It is 668 pages, priced at $27 in hardcover and $16.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Ignacio Bazan-Lazcano. Get the complete details — and download free digital samples — at the Black Library website.

New Treasures: The Ember Blade by Chris Wooding

Sunday, January 26th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Blacksheep-UK

Chris Wooding is the author of the 4-volume steampunk adventure series Tales of the Ketty Jay, the Braided Path trilogy, The Fade, and a healthy number of young adult novels from Scholastic, including Malice and Poison. His latest, The Ember Blade, is the opening novel in The Darkwater Legacy, a new epic fantasy series. It’s been well received, but my favorite review was a grumpy article by Mark Yon at SFF World, who points out that the book treads a lot of familiar territory before taking an unexpected shift about halfway through:

Though undeniably well-written, the initial set up felt like typically Tolkien-esque fare. So much of it was similar to things I’ve read many, many times before… Like many other plots, there’s a quest, but this time for a legendary sword, the Ember Blade, not a ring, where the heroes and heroines of our story have to get the sword. As the story develops we meet others that seem familiar – rebel leader Garrick could be Aragorn, a fighter with a secret past, and there’s a degree of mystical flim-flam with Vika-Who-Walks-the Barrows, a druidess with connections to ‘the old ways’…. a female Gandalf, albeit with a loveable and faithful canine companion….

Once the reader is pretty much resigned into expecting the expected, about half-way through the book – remember, this is after about 400 pages – there’s an abrupt left-turn. Where Tolkien’s story moved from the bucolic rural environment of The Shire to etherial Lothlorien and then the extremes in the mountains of Mordor, here Aren, Cade and the rest of our heroes and heroines have escaped to the Ossian city of Morgenholme, where… we’re into an urban environment, with dark, dirty streets, poverty, disease and original inventions…

The last part of the book is a heist story, with the eclectic group attempting to get The Ember Blade from the hands of the Krodans and generate a revolution amongst the oppressed Ossians.

The Embler Blade was published by Gollancz on July 30, 2019. It is 824 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover, $15.99 in trade paperback, and just $2.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Blacksheep-UK. See all of our coverage of the best new Science Fiction and Fantasy here.

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