New Treasures: Terra Incognita: Three Novellas by Connie Willis

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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I need to read more Connie Willis. She’s one of the most acclaimed modern SF writers, and what I’ve read of her so far has been fabulous.

I don’t even have the excuse that her books are all too long — she’s made it a habit to regularly publish short, digestible novels over the years, like the alien western Uncharted Territory (1994), Remake (1994), a tale of future Hollywood, and D.A. (2006), an SF conspiracy thriller. In fact, I’d read all three of those if they weren’t all long out of print and impossible to find.

Maybe that’s what was going through the mind of the editors at Del Rey when they decided to publish Terra Incognita, an affordable trade paperback collecting all three short novels. The reviews have been terrific, especially for a reprint collection: Kirkus Reviews said “A master of fantasy playfully combines science fiction with other genres in three antic novellas… Clever, funny, thought-provoking, and sweet, these stories are classic Willis,” and Shelf Awareness said:

Willis’s lively, funny forays into futuristic territory shine as brightly today as when originally released… In all three stories, the protagonists find their narrow concepts of life challenged and expanded by possibilities created through technology. As a collection, these smart, accessible shorts make for an entertaining initiation or reintroduction into the world of one of sci-fi’s greatest treasures.

Here’s all the details.

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A High-Octane Thriller in a Post-Pretty World: Imposters by Scott Westerfeld

Sunday, November 25th, 2018 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

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Bullets fly as an assassin shoots up the ballroom with an assault rifle. On stage, teenager Frey huddles behind a fallen table with her twin sister Rafia, taking cover. Rafia just finished delivering her first public speech when the attack began. In the audience, people die.

Frey has been training for this moment her entire life. She’s probably going to fall under the bullets, but that doesn’t matter. The only thing that does is saving Rafia. Grabbing her military-grade pulse knife, she rises from the table and rushes the gunman.

He never even has a chance.

Frey isn’t just her sister’s body double. She’s also Rafia’s secret last line of defense. She knows how to use every weapon with lethal force, as well as every quotidian object – scarves, tablets, vases. Rafia was born twenty-six minutes before her, so she’s the heir. Their father, a ruthless dictator, rules over the city-state of Shreve.

Successfully taking down the assassin, Frey feels giddy with triumph. Finally, she has done what she was born to do. Better yet, the way the attack went down, no one saw there are two Rafias. The secret of Frey’s existence has been preserved.

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New Treasures: The Nissera Chronicles by Hannah West

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

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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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Fantasy on an Postapocalyptic Frontier: The Raven’s Mark Trilogy by Ed McDonald

Saturday, November 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Ed McDonald’s debut novel Blackwing is a curious mix of genres. Set on a postapocalyptic frontier, it’s a gritty fantasy of a bounty hunter caught in an attack that may signify an end to a century-long peace. Anthony Ryan (Tower Lord, Queen of Fire) calls it “A remarkably assured fantasy debut that mixes of the inventiveness of China Miéville with the fast paced heroics of David Gemmell,” and that’s a pretty rousing endorsement in my book.

Blackwing was published by Ace in October 2017, and slid under my radar. Ace sent me a copy of the sequel Ravencry this summer, and it intrigued me enough to go searching out the first book. The concluding volume, Crowfall, arrives in June. Here’s the book blurbs for all three.

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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

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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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Romance and Ancient Magic: The Earthsinger Chronicles by L. Penelope

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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One of the nasty little secrets of American fantasy is that for years virtually no major publisher would put non-white characters on a cover. The situation was so dire that even Ursula K. Le Guin, whose classic A Wizard of Earthsea featured a non-white cast, had to put up with having her hero Ged depicted as white on countless covers for decades. And as recently as this year, Nnedi Okorafor saw the skin tone of her heroine dramatically lightened for the US release of Akata Warrior (compare it to the UK version here.)

Fortunately the situation has been steadily — if slowly — improving, and it’s no longer quite so remarkable to see black characters on mainstream covers. Recent examples we’ve featured include Claire O’Dell’s A Study in Honor, and The High Ground by Melinda Snodgrass. But I can’t recall seeing a mainstream fantasy cover as black and as beautiful as Song of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope, which I think is one of the most gorgeous covers of the year. Publishers! More like this, please.

Song of Blood & Stone, Penelope’s debut novel, was self-published in 2015 through her Heartspell Media company (which designed the cover); it won the 2016 Self-Publishing eBook Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was soon picked up by St. Martin’s Press, which republished it in hardcover in May of this year (with the same cover). The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog listed it as part of the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of May.

According to Penelope’s website St. Martin’s will be republishing the entire Earthsinger Chronicles, including Whispers of Shadow and Flame (released by Heartspell in 2015 and now out of print), and the forthcoming Breath of Dust & Dawn (due Winter 2019). Song of Blood and Stone will also be reprinted in an expanded trade paperback next July with a brand new cover (above right).

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Conquerors, Betrayers, and Lovers: Not One of Us: Stories of Aliens on Earth, edited by Neil Clarke

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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I ran into Neil Clarke at the World Fantasy Convention two weeks ago and had the chance to catch up, however briefly, as we chatted in the Dealer’s Room. Since retiring from his day job Neil has become something of an editing dynamo. In addition to editing and publishing Clarkesworld every month, one of the most acclaimed magazines in the field, he’s also produced some of my favorite anthologies of the past two years, including Galactic Empires, The Final Frontier, and of course his annual Best Science Fiction of the Year books, the most recent of which was Volume Three.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to pick up his latest, the generously-sized reprint anthology Not One of Us: Stories of Aliens on Earth, which contains work by Nancy Kress, Steve Rasnic Tem, Robert Reed, Liu Cixin, Rich Larson, Kelly Robson, James Patrick Kelly, Molly Tanzer, Caroline M. Yoachim, Judith Berman, Ian McDonald, Paul McAuley, Ken Liu, Ted Chiang, and others. Publishers Weekly gave it a rave review; have a look.

Collecting 21 stories from the last two decades, this hefty and fascinating theme anthology focuses on one of SF’s major issues: If aliens aren’t just bug-eyed monsters with no more than rape and plunder on their minds, what else — who else — could they be?… The short stories frequently make good use of their length to shift perspectives abruptly, putting readers not just in the presence but inside the skins of aliens who might be conquerors, teachers, betrayers, or lovers — or some all-too-human combination. They also aren’t afraid to tackle contemporary political hot topics such as immigration, citizenship, and belonging. Outstanding works by Nancy Kress (“Laws of Survival”), Judith Berman (“The Fear Gun”), and Ted Chiang (“Story of Your Life”) are highlights, but there are no inferior pieces here. This is a fine, thoughtful book.

Read the complete review here. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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A Galaxy in its Scope: The Noumenon Series by Marina J. Lostetter

Monday, November 19th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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If you’ve been reading Black Gate for any length of time at all, you know I’m a fan of space opera. But space opera takes many forms, as demonstrated by Marina J. Lostetter’s tale of a generation ship manned by clones, Noumenon, the opening novel in an epic saga of exploration and adventure in deep space. Publishers Weekly called it “An ambitious and stunning debut… the lingering sense of wonder and discovery thoroughly justifies its title,” and it was selected as one of the Best Books of 2017 by Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog. Here’s a snippet from the starred review at Kirkus.

In Lostetter’s ambitious debut, the year is 2088, and humankind is finally ready to explore deep space, preparing to send convoys of clones on eons-long missions to investigate the outskirts of the galaxy.

Astrophysicist Reggie Straifer is convinced that something funny is going on with a distant star; there seems to be something surrounding it and obstructing its light. When Straifer convinces the organization building interstellar convoys to send one of its 12 missions to the mysterious LQ Pyxidis, he and hundreds of other brilliant experts are chosen to have their genes replicated into generations of clones who will staff the ships… So far removed from their home planet, are the clones doomed to repeat the flaws written in their DNA, or will they prove that people really can change, even if it takes a few lifetimes to get there? This spectacular epic examines everything from the nature of civilizations and societies to the tension between nature and nurture. Lostetter expertly balances the thrill of discovery with the interpersonal consequences of an isolated community. The tools of speculative fiction are deployed with heart-rending attention to emotional reality in this enthralling odyssey… A striking adventure story that could hold a galaxy in its scope, this is an expedition that delves as deep into the human thirst for purpose as it does into the wonders of the universe.

Noumenon was published last year; the sequel Noumenon Infinity arrived from Harper Voyager in August, and the publisher discounted the digital version of the first to just $1.99. Now’s your chance to check out one of the best SF debuts of last year for under $2. Here’s a look at the back covers.

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New Treasures: There Before the Chaos by K.B. Wagers

Sunday, November 18th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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I first noticed K.B. Wagers in 2016, with Behind the Throne, the first novel in The Indranan War trilogy, which Publishers Weekly called “An excellent addition to any SF collection.” Last month Orbit released There Before the Chaos, the opening volume of a new space opera trilogy featuring gunrunner empress Hail Bristol, who this time must set aside her gunrunning ways to navigate alien politics and deadly plots and prevent an interspecies war. Over at Liz Bourke give it an enthusiastic review… but beware that cliffhanger ending!

I’ve been thinking about how to review There Before The Chaos for weeks. K.B. Wagers’ fourth novel, the opening volume of a second trilogy about gunrunner-turned-empress Hail Bristol (star of Behind the Throne, After the Crown, and Beyond the Empire), it turned out to be the kind of character-driven, deftly-wrought, emotive space opera that I adore. And that I find difficult to discuss with any kind of measured distance or attempt at assessment. Does it live up to its predecessors? Does it succeed at what it sets out to do?

I’m not entirely sure I can tell, because it succeeds so well at being exactly the kind of book I wanted it to be. (Though I shake my fist at the cliffhanger ending! What a hook.)…

Wagers writes compelling space opera action, full of character and incident. She has a very deft touch with action — which is good, because There Before The Chaos has a bunch of it — and a brutal sense for where to leave her start-of-trilogy cliffhanger. That ending! I want to know what happens next this instant. Waiting a whole year will be torment.

The book includes a teaser chapter from the forthcoming sequel, Down Among the Dead, the second installment in The Farian War trilogy.

There Before the Chaos was published by Orbit on October 9, 2018. It is 465 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Lauren Panepinto.

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