Adventure in One of the Most Famous Locales in Fantasy: The City of Brass by S. A Chakraborty

Friday, February 1st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The City of Brass-small The Kingdom of Copper-small

The fabled City of Brass, magical home to djinni and efreet, is the setting for but a single tale from The Arabian Nights, but it has nonetheless loomed large in readers hearts and minds through the centuries. For D&D players of course it has a special significance, as it features prominently in the history of the game (including on the famous cover of Gary Gygax’s Dungeon Masters Guide). But no modern writer has laid claim to it as passionately and as effectively as S. A Chakraborty, with her bestselling debut novel The City of Brass, named one of the Best Books of 2017 by Library Journal, Vulture, The Verge, and SYFYWire.

Some of you may recall Brandon Crilly’s enthusiastic review of The City of Brass at Black Gate. Here’s the highlights.

Chakraborty creates a world that’s nuanced and detailed. It has exactly the vivid freshness we continue to need in the fantasy genre, as a balance for the variations on the same Eurocentric worldviews that are still widely common…. But the novel is much more than its world – at the end of the day, my interest is always characters. Our two main protagonists, Cairo street urchin Nahri and immortal warrior Dara, are great counterparts; they’re equally passionate and protective, but in different ways, and both are seeking to find their place in the world… The City of Brass is excellent. It’s rare that I find a fantasy novel that’s so vividly detailed.

Last week the sequel The Kingdom of Copper, the second novel in what’s now being called The Daevabad Trilogy, arrived in hardcover from Harper Voyager. Here’s the description.

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New Treasures: Breach by W.L. Goodwater

Monday, January 28th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Breach W L Goodwater-smallFantasy comes in all shapes and sizes. I enjoy epic fantasy (like The Lord of the Rings), sword & sorcery, horror, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, dark fantasy, weird westerns, and virtually everything in between. But more and more these days I find myself drawn to work that truly strikes out into new territory.

W.L. Goodwater’s debut novel Breach is a great example. It was published late last year by Ace, and is described as the opening novel in a new Cold War fantasy series, in which the Berlin Wall is made entirely of magic. When a breach unexpectedly appears, spies from both sides descend on the city as  World War III looms ever closer.

I discovered Breach almost wholly by accident, as I browsed the shelves at B&N a few weeks ago. I knew nothing about it, and the cover didn’t particularly grab me. But the brief blurb on the back cover did, pretty much immediately. As modern fantasy goes, this is about as original as it gets. This is the kind of book that kicks off a whole new sub-genre. Alternate history political thriller fantasy? Cold War apocalypse fantasy? Whatever; I’m on board. Here’s the blurb that grabbed my attention.


When Soviet magicians conjured an arcane wall to blockade occupied Berlin, the world was outraged but let it stand for the sake of peace. Now, after ten years of fighting with spies instead of spells, the CIA has discovered the unthinkable…


While refugees and soldiers mass along the border, operatives from East and West converge on the most dangerous city in the world to either stop the crisis, or take advantage of it.

Karen, a young magician with the American Office of Magical Research and Deployment, is sent to investigate the breach in the Wall and determine if it can be fixed. Instead, she discovers that the truth is elusive in this divided city — and that even magic itself has its own agenda.


Breach was published by Ace on November 6, 2018. It is 336 pages, priced at $16 in paperback and $11.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Pete Garceau. See all our recent New Treasures here.

In 500 Words or Less: Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield

Friday, January 25th, 2019 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

Alice Payne Arrives-small Alice Payne Arrives-back-small

Alice Payne Arrives
by Kate Heartfield
Tor (176 pages, $15.99 paperback, $3.99 eBook, November 6, 2018)

Has anyone else noticed that time travel fiction still seems to be REALLY popular? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a massive Whovian, and some of my favorite books and movies involve time travel. But I feel like time travel is everywhere. Tom Sweterlitsch’s The Gone World has gotten a ton of acclaim. Gregory Benford’s Timescape series continued this year with Rewrite, about people using time travel to change events (usually selfishly), and Maria V. Snyder combines far-future SF with time travel investigation in Navigating the Stars. Hells, I reviewed Derek Künsken’s The Quantum Magician and discussed its time travel elements, and I even sold a time travel story of my own in 2018 – twice. My point is that time travel is still hot, somehow, and it doesn’t seem to be cooling down.

The idea of “time travel wars” and competing forces trying to rewrite history isn’t a new concept. I think its popularity now is a symptom of people feeling like the world is spiralling out of control, and that’s definitely a component to Kate Heartfield’s Alice Payne Arrives, the first in what I’m told will be a series of novellas from Tor. In this particular slant on time travel, two rival organizations are fighting to correct the course of history – one with a heavy hand and the other trying to slow them down – resulting in a story that jumps between multiple periods, in a world that’s already different than our own because of repeated time travel. As a history teacher I found this really compelling, especially with focuses on the First World War and earlier 18th and 19th century society.

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New Treasures: Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Lavie Tidhar is the World Fantasy Award-winning author of Osama. His “Guns & Sorcery” novella Gorel & The Pot Bellied God won the British Fantasy Award, and his Sword & Sorcery collection Black Gods Kiss was nominated for the British Fantasy Award. His novel The Violent Century was called “A masterpiece” by both the Independent and Library Journal, and “Watchmen on crack” by io9. Our previous coverage includes his recent collection Central Station and The Bookman Histories trilogy.

His latest novel Unholy Land was selected as a Best Book of 2018 by NPR Books, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and the UK Guardian. Warren Ellis, who compares Tidhar to Michael Moorcock in the afterword, calls it “A jeweled little box of miracles. Magnificent,” and Guardian calls it “A gripping thriller: clever.. and twisted.” Here’s a snippet from Library Journal’s starred review:

On the suggestion of his agent, pulp fiction writer Lior Tirosh flies back to the home he hasn’t seen since childhood: Palestina, an East African Jewish state formed in the early 20th century. He soon discovers a lot has changed. In the capital, Ararat, unrest is at an all-time high. Palestina is creating a border wall to deter refugees from entering. Lior then learns from an old childhood friend that his niece Deborah is missing and takes on the persona of one of his own detective novel characters as he searches for her, only to be hunted by his own state’s security… Shifting perspectives will keep readers trying to catch up with this fast-paced plot involving incredible twists on multiple realities and homecoming…. fascinating and powerful.

Unholy Land was published by Tachyon Publications on November 6, 2018. It is 288 pages, priced at $15.95 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Sarah Anne Langton.

See all our recent New Treasures here.

Interspecies Conflict in a Universe with More Aliens than the Star Wars Cantina: Sholan Alliance by Lisanne Norman

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Lisanne Norman Turning Point-small Lisanne Norman Fortune's Wheel-small Lisanne Norman Fire Margins-small
Lisanne Norman Razor's Edge-small Lisanne Norman Dark Nadir-small Lisanne Norman Stronghold Rising-small
Lisanne Norman Between Darkness and Light-small Lisanne Norman Shades of Gray-small Lisanne Norman Circle's End-small

Covers by Romas Kukalis, Jim Burns (#6) and Chris Moore (#8,9)

There haven’t been many times when it’s better to be a science fiction fan than right now. Big-budget SF is king at the box office and on the small screen, the shelves are groaning with new releases, and truly exciting new authors are appearing every year. But there are a few things I still miss. The humble paperback original (PBO) has become less and less common as more and more top-tier SF appears first in hardcover or trade paperback, and much of it never sees a mass market paperback reprint at all.

I like hardcovers just fine, but it was paperbacks that introduced me to SF, and it’s paperbacks — compact, accessible, and cheap — that still draw in young and casual readers and gradually turn them into fans. More publishers have been turning their backs on paperbacks, and the result is our field has less to offer curious young readers browsing the SF shelves for affordable and enticing titles. And thus, fewer young fans discovering science fiction at all.

But it wasn’t just paperbacks that made me a lifetime science fiction fan in my teens — it was great science fiction series, like Frank Herbert’s Dune, Asimov’s Foundation, Farmer’s Riverworld, Fred Pohl’s Heechee Saga, David Brin’s Uplift Saga, H. Beam Piper’s Fuzzy novels, and many, many more. DAW is one of few publishers willing to make a significant investment in PBO series, and it’s paid off well for them over the years, with now-established writers like C. J. Cherryh (the Alliance-Union Universe and the long-running Foreigner series), Julie E. Czerneda (the Trade Pact Universe), Gini Koch (the Kitty Katt novels), Jacey Bedford (Psi-Tech), and many others.

For many years DAW’s bread and butter has been extended midlist SF and fantasy series that thrive chiefly by word of mouth. I’m frequently drawn to them just by the sheer number of volumes. You won’t connect with them all of course, but when you find one you like they offer a literary feast like no other — a long, satisfying adventure series you can get lost in for months.

Lisanne Norman’s Sholan Alliance is a perfect example. It only recently caught my attention, after decades of patiently waiting on the shelves. It began with Turning Point way back in 1993, and recently wrapped up with the ninth volume, Circle’s End, in 2017. In between it quietly gathered a lot of accolades. B&N Explorations called it “fast-paced adventure… [with] more alien species than the Star Wars cantina!” And SF Chronicle labeled it “big, sprawling, convoluted… sure to appeal to fans of C.J. Cherryh and others who have made space adventure their territory.”

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New Treasures: For the Sake of the Game: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger

Friday, January 18th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

For the Sake of the Game-smallLaurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger have edited four popular Holmes-themed anthologies: A Study in Sherlock (2011), In the Company of Sherlock Holmes (2014), and Echoes of Sherlock Holmes (2016). Their newest features contributions from a stellar list of authors, including Peter S. Beagle, F. Paul Wilson, William Kotzwinkle and Joe Servello, Duane Swierczynski, and Gregg Hurwitz. Publishers Weekly says it presents a wide range of genres “from cozy to horror;” here’s a snippet from their full review.

The 14 selections include a poem, Peter S. Beagle’s “Dr. Watson’s Song,” which provides a deeper look at the doctor’s emotional life, and a comic, William Kotzwinkle and Joe Servello’s “The Case of the Naked Butterfly,” which continues the exploits of insects Inspector Mantis and Dr. Hopper. Fans of the BBC’s Sherlock will appreciate Alan Gordon’s take on Holmes’s relationship with Mycroft in “The Case of the Missing Case.” Reed Farrel Coleman weighs in with one of the more memorable contributions, the metaphysical “A Study in Absence,” in which a book editor asks for help tracing an author using the pseudonym of I.M. Knott. The best light entry is Harley Jane Kozak’s “The Walk-in,” featuring a Sherlockian British intelligence agent, which opens with the tantalizing line “It’s not every day that you walk into your apartment and find that your cat has turned into a dog.”

Here’s the description.

For the Sake of the Game is the latest volume in the award-winning series from New York Times bestselling editors Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, with stories of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and friends in a variety of eras and forms. King and Klinger have a simple formula: ask some of the world’s greatest writers ― regardless of genre ― to be inspired by the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle.

The results are surprising and joyous. Some tales are pastiches, featuring the recognizable figures of Holmes and Watson; others step away in time or place to describe characters and stories influenced by the Holmes world. Some of the authors spin whimsical tales of fancy; others tell hard-core thrillers or puzzling mysteries. One beloved author writes a song; two others craft a melancholy graphic tale of insectoid analysis.

This is not a volume for readers who crave a steady diet of stories about Holmes and Watson on Baker Street. Rather, it is for the generations of readers who were themselves inspired by the classic tales, and who are prepared to let their imaginations roam freely.

Leslie S. Klinger’s previous books include In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe and The Annotated Watchmen; Elizabeth Crowens interviewed him for Black Gate last year. For the Sake of the Game was published by Pegasus Books on December 4, 2018. It is 264 pages, priced at $25.95 in hardcover and $12.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Christine Van Bree.

The 2019 Philip K. Dick Nominees

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Alien Virus Love Disaster-small Time Was Ian McDonald-small THE BODY LIBRARY by Jeff Noon-small

The nominees for the 2019 Philip K. Dick Award, given each year for distinguished science fiction originally published in paperback in the United States, have been announced. They are (links will take you to our previous coverage):

Time Was by Ian McDonald (
The Body Library by Jeff Noon (Angry Robot)
84K by Claire North (Orbit)
Alien Virus Love Disaster: Stories by Abbey Mei Otis (Small Beer Press)
Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman (Europa Editions)
Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories by Vandana Singh (Small Beer Press)

Special shout-out to Small Beer Press for placing two fine collections on the ballot.

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Future Treasures: Fog Season, Book II of Tales of Port Saint Frey by Patrice Sarath

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

The Sisters Mederos Patrice Sarath-small Fog Season Patrice Sarath-small

I was proud to publish Patrice Sarath’s short story “A Prayer for Captain LaHire” in Black Gate 4, and see it reprinted in Year’s Best Fantasy 3 (2003). She turned to novels with the popular Gordath Wood trilogy (Gordath Wood, Red Gold Bridge, and The Crow God’s Girl). But her real breakthrough came last year with her first release from Angry Robot, The Sisters Mederos, the tale of a once-great family fallen on hard times, and the two sisters — one a masked bandit, and another with secret supernatural powers — who reverse their family’s downfall. Louisa Morgan (A Secret History of Witches) called it:

A colorful Dickensian fantasy that leads the reader on an unpredictable path of murder, intrigue, and mystery… It’s a tale of magic lost and recovered, fortunes made and squandered, and broken lives healed, all of it engineered by Yvienne and Tesara, two resourceful and delightful protagonists, in the company of some charming and often dangerous sidekicks.

Publishers Weekly gave it a rousing review saying,

The young women, newly returned from boarding school to a fantasy version of a preindustrial European port city, are determined to restore their family’s fortune and revenge themselves on the corrupt Merchant’s Guild, whose machinations lie behind House Mederos’s downfall. Yvienne, “the smartest girl in Port Saint Frey,” provokes through newspaper editorials, takes a governess job as an entrée into the houses of the powerful, and eventually discovers the excitement of committing armed robbery. Tesara, who conceals supernatural powers that she blames for the shipwreck that ruined her family, ingratiates herself with the upper classes at gambling tables… [The] heroines are entertaining company, and the dynamic between the two sisters — occasionally contentious, often secretive, always loving — is the most enjoyable part of this effervescent tale.

I’m delighted to see the sequel, Fog Season, scheduled to arrive February 5, less than a year after the release of the first, and I hope it’s the sign of more to come. Here’s the description.

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A Gritty Medieval Fantasy of Battles, Treachery, and Monsters: The Tales of Durand by David Keck

Sunday, January 13th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

In the Eye of Heaven-small In a Time of Treason-small A King in Cobwebs-small

The Christmas break, traditionally my longest reading holiday of the year, is over, and it’ll be a month or two at least before I can contemplate tackling another epic fantasy trilogy. But it’s not too early to start stacking by my bedside in preparation.

I’ve already picked out a promising series to start the new stack: David Keck’s Tales of Durand. Publishers Weekly praised the first book, In the Eye of Heaven (2006) as a “winning debut, a gritty medieval fantasy full of enchantment… deftly told,” and called the sequel, In a Time of Treason (2008) “grand-scale storytelling.” But they reserve their strongest praise for the long-awaited concluding volume A King in Cobwebs, saying

Keck concludes his Tales of Durand trilogy with this superlative fantasy epic, which sees the warrior Durand Col take his place among battles and treachery that threaten the kingdom of Errest the Old. Durand stands as champion to Abravanal, Duke of Gireth and holder of the Duchy of Yrlac. Although the Yrlacies are restless under Abravanal’s rule, the duke is commanded to ride with his household to the Fellwood Marches by his unhinged king, Ragnal. Yrlaci rebels harry the soldiers of Gireth on the road to the Fellwood, and, once there, they are chased by the inhuman host of maragrim, “hideous in their innumerable deformities.” … Keck sends the stalwart Durand through darkness and a lost land, facing terrors and beset by the dead. Human politics and dreadful foes are combined in this tale that stands with the very best fantasies.

A King in Cobwebs was published by Tor Books on December 4, 2018. It is 444 pages, priced at $28.99 in hardcover, $17.99 in trade paperback, and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by David Grove. Read an excerpt from In the Eye of Heaven here, and see all our recent coverage of the best in new fantasy series here.

New Treasures: Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

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

Occupy Me-smallTricia Sullivan is the author of Lethe (1995), a Locus Award nominee for Best First Novel, Someone to Watch Over Me (1997), and the Clarke Award-winning Dreaming in Smoke (1998). Her latest novel is something different — the tale of an angel on Earth who gets caught up in a tale of international intrigue, and much more. Here’s the description.

A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world. Breathtaking SF from a Clarke Award-winning author.

Tricia Sullivan has written an extraordinary, genre defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over.

And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.

It was Mahvesh Murad’s review of the original Gollancz UK edition that first intrigued me. Here’s the money quote.

Occupy Me is full to bursting with intriguing ideas and concepts, philosophy and complex physics. It’s high concept and heady. It’s also got a lot of humour… Sullivan takes the whole ‘strong female protagonist’ to a literal level too, giving Pearl massive physical strength (she can lift a truck!), the ability to fly and pure, brute will to survive and make things right. She’s a likeable character, easy to relate to even though her origins are mysterious and shrouded.

Occupy Me is… clever and complex and forces you to think outside of your comfort zone. It’s a thriller, complete with international hijinks, corporate corruption and an evil megalomaniac. What it isn’t is a standard paranormal fantasy featuring angels — it’s much more compelling in its originality.

Occupy Me was published by Titan Books on September 4, 2018. It is 361 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback and $8.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Sidonie Beresford-Browne. See all our recent New Treasures here.

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