Future Treasures: The Vanished Queen by Lisbeth Campbell

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

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The Vanished Queen (Saga Press, 2020). Cover design by Alan Dingman.

On Monday I mentioned that the publishing house that’s impressed me the most with their late-summer line up was Skybound Books, in large part because of Linden A. Lewis’s debut The First Sister, an epic space opera that Library Journal selected as their Debut of the month. Coming in a close second is the always-reliable Saga Press, and the star in their crown is Lisbeth Campbell’s debut fantasy The Vanished Queen, which Beth Cato calls “One of the best fantasy books out this year.” It arrives in hardcover next week.

Buzzfeed‘s feature 17 Summer Must-Reads For Fantasy Lovers called The Vanished Queen “One of the best epic fantasies I’ve read in a long time,” and the starred review at Library Journal says it’s “filled with political intrigue, personal anguish, and family ties that bind.” Here’s an excerpt from the Publishers Weekly review.

Campbell skillfully balances action and introspection as rebellion rises against an oppressive regime in this promising epic fantasy debut. The city of Karegg is under the control of the brutal King Karolje. When college student Anza breaks into one of the libraries that Karolje has ordered closed, she discovers the journal of Mirantha, the former queen who Karolje had disappeared. After Anza’s father is executed for unknown reasons, Anza joins the resistance movement against Karolje, inspired, in part, by reading Mirantha’s tale… By situating Anza within a larger resistance movement, Campbell steers refreshingly clear of typical “chosen one” tropes, instead illuminating the collective effort required for revolution while drawing pointed parallels to the current U.S. political climate.

The Vanished Queen will be published by Saga Press on August 18, 2020. It is 488 pages, priced at $27.99 in hardcover and $7.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Alan Dingman. Read the complete first chapter (14 pages) or listen to an audio excerpt at the Simon & Schuster website.

See all our coverage of the best upcoming SF and fantasy here.

New Treasures: The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis

Monday, August 10th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The First Sister-small The First Sister-back-small

The First Sister (Skybound Books, 2020). Jacket design by Nerd Productions.

When the pandemic hit the US hard in mid-March, the flow of review copies to the Black Gate offices dried up virtually overnight. It’s like the whole publishing industry came to a complete standstill, holding its collective breath.

Things are slowly returning to normal in August, and we’re starting to receive a regular flow of books again. And to my surprise, the publishing house with the most impressive late-summer line up (so far) is Skybound Books. It includes Linden A. Lewis’s debut The First Sister, an epic space opera which follows a comfort woman, a soldier questioning his allegiances, and a non-binary hero seeking save the solar system. Library Journal selected it as the Debut of the month, calling it “A layered, action-filled plot… a powerful entry into the space opera genre.” And in her feature review at NPR, Jessica Wick said it “might be just the book you’ve been waiting for.”

Are you interested in political maneuverings and space economics, fantastically rich worldbuilding and sneaky spy stories? … First Sister might be just the book you’ve been waiting for….

The titular First Sister’s role is to act as confessor and provide wordless “comfort” for any Gean soldier — unless the captain claims exclusive rights by naming her “First.” Abandoned by one captain, she scrambles to keep her position when a new captain — the dashing hero, Saito Ren — takes command of the warship Juno. Then she is tasked by her Sisterhood with breaking their own commandments to report her captain’s secrets…

There’s a great deal of heart in The First Sister, where the future is sleek and messy, saturated colors and gritty shadows both. The scientific marvels of the Icarii will stay with me, poisonous environment and physical bodies transformed, as full of glory as a sunset… The First Sister is also an enjoyable action-adventure in space with likable characters, engagingly cinematic visuals, and high Cool Factor.

The First Sister was published by Skybound Books on August 4, 2020. It is 344 pages, priced at $26 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The jacket design is by Nerd Productions. Read a generous excerpt, the complete first two chapters (33 pages) at Tor.com.

See all our recent New Treasures here.

The Alternate History You’ve Been Waiting For: A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry

Sunday, August 9th, 2020 | Posted by Steve Case

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians-smallA Declaration of the Rights of Magicians
H.G. Parry
Redhook (545 pages, $28 in hardcover/$14.99 digital, June 23 2020)
Covered designed by Lisa Marie Pompilio

Susanna Clarke’s monumental Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell created a believable history of English magic and interwove this history into the story of her main characters. In A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians, H. G. Parry attempts to do something similar. Whereas Clarke’s book was set during the Napoleonic Wars, Parry’s takes place in the decades leading up to this, chronicling the abolitionist movement in England, slave revolutions in the Caribbean, and the French Revolution. And whereas Clarke invented her own eponymous characters, Parry brings actual historical actors to life in her magical alternate history.

In 1779, the trade in African slaves flourishes. Besides the horror of kidnapping and the Middle Passage, in Parry’s history slaves are also force-fed alchemical substances that make it physically impossible for them to resist commands. They are imprisoned in their own bodies. In England, where only the aristocracy can use magic freely, the young member of parliament William Wilberforce is working with his close friend and eventual Prime Minister William Pitt to pass legislature outlawing the slave trade. In France, meanwhile, magic is even more tightly regulated, with commoner magicians forced to wear bracelets that burn when they illegally use their magic. (For commoners, this means any time they use their magic.) This system of control exists because of the Vampire Wars of the previous centuries, when vying vampire sovereigns used Europe as their personal chessboard. When the vampires were defeated, dark magic was banished outright and nations signed a concord to never use magic in war again.

This is the background against which Parry’s novel follows three main strands of revolution: a revolution of slaves in Haiti through the eyes of Fina, a former slave learning she has a unique magic; the French Revolution, triggered by the desire to give commoners the right to practice magic but quickly becoming something much darker; and the idealistic revolution for abolition Wilberforce and Pitt are pursuing in the halls of the British Parliament. The plot has the feel of a gathering storm, as our characters realized someone is pulling strings to plunge Europe back into war.

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Your Standard Consume-all-life-in-the-galaxy Deal: Aurora Burning, Book 2 of The Aurora Cycle by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Saturday, August 8th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Charlie Bowater

Aurora Rising, the first volume of The Aurora Cycle by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, had Black Gate reviewer Elizabeth Galewski drawing comparisons to Firefly, Anne McCaffrey’s The Rowan, The Fifth Element and Star Wars.

Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff [are] the New York Times bestselling authors of The Illuminae Files… While this novel features all new characters and a different universe from their previous books, it offers the same nonstop action, messy romantic relationships, sarcastic voice, and space operatics that will please longtime fans and win new ones… The perspective shifts between many different characters, and fun schematics interrupt the flow of text at intervals. The Hadfield’s survivor, Aurora, has a similar plot function to the weird psychic girl in the Firefly movie Serenity and looks like Anne McCaffrey’s famous female telepaths in The Rowan and Damia. There appears to be a cameo by the opera diva from The Fifth Element, as well as a scene set in the famous Star Wars bar.

Kaufman and Kristoff both live in Melbourne, Australia. The second volume in The Aurora Cycle, Aurora Burning, features “an ancient evil — you know, your standard consume-all-life-in-the-galaxy deal… [but] Squad 312 is standing by to save the day.” It was published by Knopf Books on May 5, 2020. It is 512 pages, priced at $18.99 in hardcover and $10.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Charlie Bowater (who also produced the stellar cover for Shveta Thakrar’s upcoming Star Daughter.) Get all the details on the first volume here.

See all our coverage of the best new SF and Fantasy series here.

New Treasures: Savage Legion by Matt Wallace

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Chris McGrath

Matt Wallace is the author of the 7-volume Sin du Jour series from Tor.com, which began with Envy of Angels. I first heard whispers of his ambitious new fantasy trilogy Savage Rebellion back in 2018, when the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog announced “a Trope-Smashing New Epic Fantasy Trilogy from Matt Wallace,” saying (in part)

You probably know [Matt] for the Sin du Jour novellas. It’s a brilliantly subversive, totally wackadoo contemporary fantasy series about a NYC catering company that services the supernatural communities of the world, from goblin kings to the lord of Hell, and for fantasy fans or foodies, it’s a full meal… A few years from now, however, Matt will likely be best known for something else: today, we’re pleased to announce that he’s signed a deal with Simon & Schuster’s Saga Press to publish his first novel — or rather, his first trilogy. It’s a fantasy epic that promises to be just as daring as his novellas. The first book is called Savage Legion, and it sounds primed to grind genre tropes into a fine paste.

What’s so different about Savage Legion? It has a very different take on fantasy action. I think the Publishers Weekly starred review encapsulates it nicely.

Cunning plotting and brisk action elevate this impressive tale of swords and super-science, the first in the Savage Rebellion series from Hugo Award winner Wallace (Sin du Jour). At first glance, Evie is a belligerent drunk. That’s why the Empire of Crache dragoons her into the Savage Legion, a hapless mob of suicide commandos culled from the downtrodden masses of the empire and forced to fight and die on its behalf. But Evie is secretly a warrior on a mission, infiltrating the Legion to rescue her former lover who was kidnapped after discovering government corruption… Wallace masterfully subverts readers’ expectations. As the plot spins through convincing battlefield combat and personal confrontations, Evie rallies the Savage Legion to turn against the empire that exploits them. Readers will be left thoroughly satisfied and eager to know what’s to come.

Savage Legion was published by Saga Press on July 21, 2020. It is 498 pages, priced at $27.99 in hardcover and $7.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Chris McGrath. Listen to an audio excerpt at the Simon & Schuster website.

See all of our recent New Treasures here.

Tales of Attluma by David C. Smith: A Review and Oron Series Tour Guide

Tuesday, August 4th, 2020 | Posted by SELindberg

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David C. Smith was the 2019 Guest of Honor at Howard Days 2019 for good reason, having written the acclaimed Robert E. Howard: A Literary Biography in 2018 to complement his decades of writing Sword & Sorcery (he has 26 novels written or co-written, including the Red Sonja series with Richard L. Tierney, the Oron and The Fall of the First World series, and more). He crafts his own flavor of adventure-horror with his Tales of Attluma (teased earlier at  Black Gate), heavily influenced by Robert E. Howard (REH) and Clark Ashton Smith (CAS). Attluma is an island continent inspired by the mysterious Atlantis. These sixteen tales cover its cursed history and doomed end. Many entries were written in the 1970’s and are gathered now in one place for the first time.

The collection fits the Sword & Sorcery label, with an emphasis on Sorcery, specifically necromancy and demon summoning. These are fantastically dark and exciting stories, a true blend of REH’s action and CAS’s dreaded atmosphere. On Attluma, ancient gods live in mountain temples and underground. Humans struggle to survive on the surface and intrude on land made for, and by, demons. Excerpts are the best way to share the poetic, dark conflict readers should expect:

“Dressed in scarlet wounds and running with blood, here was my mother, her face beseeching mercy, gashes across her face and body. There came my father, hobbling on a split foot and one arm gone, strings of meat and tendon trembling from the open shoulder. Here was my brother, once a strong and handsome man, now in death a broken thing with no legs, pulling himself forward with his arms, his wife beside him, on her belly and kicking her feet as her head rolled beside her.” — from “The Last Words of Imatus Istum”


“And there was Yadis, The All Mother, the hag with one eye and triple teats whose spittle had made the stars and whose defecation made the earth. Her mad singing had awakened humans to life; we crawled from the muck and ever since wondered about the dark heart of life.”  — from “Dark Goddess”

Interestingly, there are no Oron tales, Oron being the warrior protagonist (i.e., the heroic “Conan” of Attluma) that the original Zebra series was named after. Yet he is not needed here. Attluma is saturated with lore and conflict, armies of ghosts, lost loves seeking retribution, and hungry demons just looking for some attention. The last several stories ramp up the demonic uprising (or retaking) of the island continent. “The End of Days” finale is epic in scope, a sprawling battle with loads of mayhem and militant sorcery.
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New Treasures: The Sin in the Steel by Ryan Van Loan

Friday, July 31st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Sin in the Steel-smallI have a foreboding TBR (to-be-read) pile by my big green chair, and I’m not the kind of guy who just turns my back on something like that…. except for a really promising fantasy debut, maybe. One with pirates. And a rave review from Tor.com. One like Aidan Moher’s July 23 piece on The Sin in the Steel by Ryan Van Loan, which reads something like this:

Like the best buddy pictures, Ryan Van Loan’s debut, The Sin in the Steel, finds all its heart in the space shared by its two wildly divergent protagonists, Buc and Eld. Brought together under unlikely circumstances, Buc is a young street kid with a mind and a mouth that race faster than anyone can keep up, and Eld is an ex-soldier that doesn’t say much. They’re known for getting the job done no matter the circumstances.

When this unlikely pair is bring their practice to the Shattered Coast — a Caribbean-esque archipelago newly settled, but once wracked by centuries of violent hurricanes — they’re soon hired (err, well… blackmailed) by the Kanados Trading Company to track down the infamous Widowmaker, who has been sinking ships along a popular sailing route, threatening the import and export of sugar, a vital element in the Shattered Coast’s economy. Buc and Eld depart on an adventure that will take them to the Shattered Coast’s farthest reaches to discover a secret that has the potential to challenge the fate of the gods themselves…

The Sin in the Steel is a rip-roaring epic fantasy that mixes a genuinely unique world with an equally standout magic system. It’s full of characters you’ll root for and despise, who’ll make your skin crawl, and who you’ll cheer on from the sidelines. Packed full of action, tempered by genuinely thoughtful themes about mental health and trust. The Sin in the Steel tells a good self-contained narrative… If Scott Lynch wrote Pirates of the Caribbean, it’d be a lot like The Sin in the Steel.

The Sin in the Steel features a pirate queen, dead gods, shape-shifting sorcerers, and a Sherlock-like teenage sleuth… that’s a compelling mix in my book. It’s advertised as the opening novel in The Fall of the Gods.

The Sin in the Steel was published by Tor Books on July 21, 2020. It is 431 pages, priced at $27.99 in hardcover and $14.99 in digital formats. Read the complete first chapter at the Tor/Forge Blog.

See all our recent coverage of the best new fantasy and SF releases here.

Behind Where the Veil Is Thin

Friday, July 31st, 2020 | Posted by Alana Abbott

Where the Veil Is Thin-smallWhere the Veil Is Thin, an anthology of original stories where humans run afoul of faeire-like creatures (or sometimes, faeries run afoul of humans), is a project of my heart, and I’m so pleased that it began to show up on bookshelves—at least, virtual ones—earlier this month! It is a project that was years in the making.

And it almost didn’t happen.

Back in 2017, the publisher of the company now folded into Outland Entertainment approached me with an idea. He and his wife loved fairy stories, he said; what would I think about doing an anthology of original stories based on the Seelie and Unseelie courts? I liked the idea, but I wanted to go one better; I didn’t want to limit our tales to the Celtic tradition of Seelie and Unseelie. What would an anthology look like if it reached into different parts of the world, with stories from authors who wouldn’t just retell tales from a European tradition? I was excited about the idea of pairing tales that could feature fox spirits or boo hags with the types of stories and fairies I was more familiar with.

I didn’t want to do it alone, so I reached out the Cerece Rennie Murphy, whose work I had deeply admired on the website Narazu. The mission of Narazu is to bring the best of Indie Sci-Fi to a wider audience, and to celebrate the cool works that indie writers and artists are creating. Cerece was interested in the idea, and we started hashing out plans.

And then the publishing company where we’d started the idea fell apart. It closed its doors in November 2017.

After some maneuvering, Outland Entertainment decided to keep moving forward on the anthology, and Cerece agreed to stick with the project. We started reaching out to authors, some that Cerece knew, some I had worked with before on other projects, some recommended to us by other contributors. We planned to line up the writers and have all their stories completed by July 2018, when we would launch the anthology.

The best plans, however, were a bit ambitious. Outland Entertainment already had two anthologies slotted for 2018, and because we were a new company at putting together anthologies and fulfilling their Kickstarters — not to mention completing some projects that the previous publisher had left unfinished — we had no idea we’d bitten off more than we could chew. Eventually, Outland released two really fantastic anthologies from those 2018 Kickstarters, which I was excited to help edit, but it took a long time.

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New Treasures: The Shadows by Alex North

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Shadows-smallAlex North’s previous novel was the bestselling thriller The Whisper Man. With his new novel The Shadows he creeps into horror territory — and does it with style. Publishers Weekly calls it a “terrifying spine-tingler… impossible to put down,” and The New York Times says “This is absorbing, headlong reading, a play on classic horror with an inventiveness of its own… As with all the best illusions, you are left feeling not tricked, but full of wonder.”

It was published in hardcover two weeks ago. Here’s the description.

You knew a teenager like Charlie Crabtree. A dark imagination, a sinister smile–always on the outside of the group. Some part of you suspected he might be capable of doing something awful. Twenty-five years ago, Crabtree did just that, committing a murder so shocking that it’s attracted that strange kind of infamy that only exists on the darkest corners of the internet — and inspired more than one copycat.

Paul Adams remembers the case all too well: Crabtree–and his victim — were Paul’s friends. Paul has slowly put his life back together. But now his mother, old and suffering from dementia, has taken a turn for the worse. Though every inch of him resists, it is time to come home.

It’s not long before things start to go wrong. Paul learns that Detective Amanda Beck is investigating another copycat that has struck in the nearby town of Featherbank. His mother is distressed, insistent that there’s something in the house. And someone is following him. Which reminds him of the most unsettling thing about that awful day twenty-five years ago.

It wasn’t just the murder.

It was the fact that afterward, Charlie Crabtree was never seen again…

The Shadows was published by Celadon Books on July 7, 2020. It is 336 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. Read an excerpt at EW.com.

See all our recent coverage of the best new releases here.

New Treasures: Shimmer: The Best Of, edited by E. Catherine Tobler

Friday, July 17th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Sandro Castelli

How did I not know there was a Best of Shimmer anthology? Time to get some better inside contacts in the publishing biz, I think.

Shimmer was one of the best of the small press fantasy magazines. It received a Hugo nomination for Best Semiprozine last year, and editor E. Catherine Tobler was honored with a Best Professional Editor, Short Form nomination. The magazine published science fiction, fantasy, and “a dash of literary horror.” The final issue, #46, appeared in November 2018.

Shimmer was constantly interesting, and we covered over half a dozen issues as part of our magazine coverage over the years. Their greatest skill was spotting talent, and they did plenty of that. Shimmer: The Best Of contains stories by many of the brightest stars of modern fantasy, including Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Amal El-Mohtar, Karin Tidbeck, Mary Robinette Kowal, Carmen Maria Machado, Sunny Moraine, Arkady Martine, Fran Wilde, Sonya Taaffe, A. C. Wise, Sarah Gailey, Vajra Chandrasekera, K.M. Szpara, and many, many others, all packed into a massive 489-page volume.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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