When the Berlin Wall Falls: The Cold War Magic Novels by W.L. Goodwater

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

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I bought W.L. Goodwater’s debut Breach earlier this year, about five minutes after picking it up in the bookstore. The back cover blurb did it for me. I’m a sucker for an original premise, and a Cold War apocalypse fantasy hit all the right buttons. Here’s an excerpt from the review at BookPage.

In the waning hours of World War II, Soviet magicians conjured a wall of pure magic, dividing Berlin in two and protecting their hold on East Germany. While the world was aghast, there was little the West could do. The wall was impenetrable except at specific, predetermined crossing points like Checkpoint Charlie. Until now. The wall is failing, and to avoid World War III, the US needs to find out why — and try to reverse the process. The CIA calls on Karen, a young researcher from the American Office of Magical Research and Deployment. As she searches for a way to repair the wall, Karen quickly realizes that the truth is never straightforward in Berlin, especially when it comes to the story behind the Wall itself….

Goodwater’s debut novel is tightly wound in the way that only good suspense stories can be. At any moment it seems that the fragile peace built between the West and East could fall apart with disastrous consequences, which is a testament to Breach’s overall success with dramatic timing… Breach combines the magical world building of The City & the City with the suspense of Cold War thrillers like Bridge of Spies, resulting in a cinematic suspense story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very last page.

The second book in the series, Revolution, arrives in two weeks, and I’m very much looking forward to it. In this installment, set some years after Breach, American magician Karen O’Neil travels to Cuba to find a missing girl intertwined with a new kind of magic that threatens to upend the global balance of power. Here’s the description.

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Vintage Treasures: Cats Have No Lord and The Tangled Lands by Will Shetterly

Thursday, October 31st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Janny Wurts and E. T. Steadman

Will Shetterly has a fine back-catalog of fantasy novels, most from the 80s and 90s. They include Witch Blood (1986), Elsewhere (1991), and his most famous book, Dogland (1997). With his wife Emma Bull he created and edited the popular Liavek shared universe anthologies.

He began his career as a novelist with the wonderfully-titled Cats Have No Lord, released back in April 1985. It came in sixth in the annual Locus Poll for Best First Novel (losing out to Tad Williams, Guy Gavriel Kay, Michael Swanwick, and Carl Sagan, but ahead of Geoff Ryman, Judith Tarr, Sheila Finch, and Dan Simmons — no shame placing 6th in a year like that!) Four years later he published a prequel, The Tangled Lands. In a 2012 post on his blog, Shetterly looked back fondly at Cats Have No Lord, while openly acknowledging its flaws.

Cats Have No Lord is my first novel. I had tried to write several more ambitious — meaning, more pretentious — books and gave up on them because they were awful, so I finally decided to learn how to write by writing something with everything I’d loved as a kid. If I missed any fantasy cliches of the ’70s, I don’t know what they were: this book has a spunky female thief, a mysterious swordsman, a magician, and a big barbarian. Oh, and a talking horse.

It sounds awful, but my love must’ve shown through, or maybe readers were more desperate or more kind in those days. Booklist said, “The first-rate world building, the unique cast of characters, and the author’s clever whimsey make it absorbing reading. Recommended.”

“Unique” must mean they thought I did good things with the characters, but every single one began with a trip through Central Casting to see who was available. Literally.

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New Treasures: Grave Importance, Book 3 of Dr. Greta Helsing, by Vivian Shaw

Tuesday, October 29th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Vivian Shaw’s debut fantasy novel was Strange Practice (2017). It introduced the world to Dr. Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead, and SFFWorld labeled it “a triumph.” The sequel, Dreadful Company, in which Dr. Helsing uncovers a coven of vampires underneath Paris, was released last year. Liz Bourke at Tor.com raved, saying “Dreadful Company is fast, fun, and immensely readable… [and] laugh-out-loud funny… it’s delightful.”

I’ve been looking forward to the third volume of this witty fantasy adventure series, and it finally arrived last month. Here’s the description.

Oasis Natrun: a private, exclusive, highly secret luxury health spa for mummies, high in the hills above Marseille, equipped with the very latest in therapeutic innovations both magical and medical. To Dr. Greta Helsing, London’s de facto mummy specialist, it sounds like paradise. But when Greta is invited to spend four months there as the interim clinical director, it isn’t long before she finds herself faced with a medical mystery that will take all her diagnostic skill to solve.

A peculiar complaint is spreading among her mummy patients, one she’s never seen before. With help from her friends and colleagues — including Dr. Faust (yes, that Dr. Faust), a sleepy scribe-god, witches, demons, a British Museum curator, and the inimitable vampyre Sir Francis Varney — Greta must put a stop to this mysterious illness before anybody else crumbles to irreparable dust…

…and before the fabric of reality itself can undergo any more structural damage.

You can read the first four chapters of Strange Practice at the Orbit website, and get more details on the series hereGrave Importance was published by Orbit on September 24, 2019. It is 448 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Will Staehle. See all our recent coverage of the best Series Fantasy here.


Future Treasures: Quillifer the Knight by Walter Jon Williams

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Gregory Manchess and Alejandro Colucci

Walter Jon Williams is one of the most versatile writers we have. Space opera, military science fiction, cyberpunk, alternative history, SF police procedural — you name it, he’s done it. He’s written historical adventures, disaster novels (The Rift) and even a Star Wars novel (The New Jedi Order: Destiny’s Way). In his Locus review of the opening novel in William’s ambitious new fantasy series, Quillifer, Gary K. Wolfe says “Williams has been cheerfully genre-hopping for most of his career, sometimes even in the same novel.”

Quillifer is worth a second look — and not just because it’s one of Williams rare attempts at historical fantasy. Booklist calls it a “swashbuckling tale reminiscent of George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman.” The second novel in the series, Quillifer the Knight, arrives in three weeks. Here’s Gary on the first volume.

Quillifer belongs to the ranks of what we might call displaced historical fantasies, stories which make meticulous use of actual historical detail (Williams’s character quote Elizabethan poets, and his weapons and ships are all historically real), but which are set in imaginary nations or kingdoms, often with restrained use of fantasy elements – such as we see from writers like Ellen Kushner, K.J. Parker, or Guy Gavriel Kay (although Kay is far more specific in his historical analogues).

In classic adventure-novel tradition, Quillifer comes from modest beginnings: the son of a butcher, he studies law in the port city of Eth­lebight, but is also something of a classic 18th-century rake, and the novel opens with his comical escape out the window of the young woman with whom he’s currently in love… things quickly begin to change when Ethlebight is invaded, plundered, and destroyed by pirates from the rival empire of the Aekoi. Quillifer survives, but is later captured by a notorious bandit calling himself Sir Basil…

With the aid of a nymph-goddess who finds him appealing, he manages to escape again, but rejects her advances as he realizes that joining her in her kingdom might result in his returning to his world as much as a century later (one of the few classic fantasy motifs that Williams employs). Spurning her sets up a threat that will hang over Quillifer for the rest of the novel, which consists largely of fully realized independent episodes: Quillifer finds his way into the court of Duisland, where he assumes the title “Groom of the Pudding” and almost accidentally proves himself to be a champion stag-killer (drawing on his background as a butcher), later a brilliant naval strategist, and eventually an effective field-marshal in a crucial land battle to save the kingdom from usurpers…  a thoroughly enjoyable series of historical adventures in a faux-Europe that is as meticulous in its details as it is vague in time and place.

Here’s a look at the back cover.

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What Happens After the Greatest Con in History: The Quantum Garden by Derek Kunsken

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

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Covers by Justin Adams

Derek first appeared in Black Gate in issue 15 with his short story “The Gifts of Li Tzu-Ch’eng.” He’s been our regular Saturday evening blogger since 2013, producing nearly 150 articles on diverse topics such as web comics, Alan Moore, Star Trek, New York ComicCon, Percy Jackson, Science Fiction in China, and much more.

His first novel, The Quantum Magician, was published by Solaris on October 2, 2018. In his Black Gate review Brandon Crilly said,

The worldbuilding here is intricate, compelling and absolutely fascinating. From the moment concepts were introduced I wanted to know more, especially the different subsets of humanity that Künsken presents, each the product of generations of genetic manipulation. I mean, an entire population of neo-humans nicknamed Puppets because of their diminutive size, who double as religious zealots worshipping their divine beings’ cruelty? Or an intergalactic political hierarchy based on the economics of patrons and clients, complete with the inequalities and social issues you might expect?…

The core plot is a con game perpetrated by a team of ragtag scoundrels, trying to sneak a flotilla of warships through a wormhole controlled by another government… but don’t ask me to explain more than that. Künsken does an amazing job of presenting a bunch of quirky protagonists who play off each other well, but the characters that stand out do so powerfully; between that and the rich worldbuilding of things like the Puppets, I forgot about that flotilla and the original aim of the con for a good third of the novel, until they came back into focus.

Much as I rooted for protagonist Belisarius (who would be the Danny Ocean of these scoundrels) and his partner/love interest Cassandra (who I suppose is Tess and Rusty from Ocean’s Eleven combined), the secondary characters stole the spotlight for me, particularly AI-on-a-religious-mission Saint Matthew and the creepily dangerous Scarecrow hunting these scoundrels down.

Solaris releases the sequel The Quantum Garden tomorrow. Here’s a look at the back cover.

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New Treasures: The Wolf’s Call by Anthony Ryan

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

The Wolf's Call-smallAnthony Ryan arrived with a splash in 2012 with his debut Blood Song, the opening novel in the Raven’s Shadow trilogy. A little slow on the uptake, I didn’t discover the series until the second volume, Tower Lord — and even then mostly because of the title. For a week after I spotted it in the bookstore, I wanted to add a turret to our house and have all my children address me as Tower Lord. The books in the series were:

1 Blood Song (2012)
2 Tower Lord (2014)
3 Queen of Fire (2015)

I see now that Ace has released The Wolf’s Call, the first novel in a brand new series featuring Vaelin Al Sorna, the legendary blademan of Raven’s Shadow. In a comment on my Tower Lord article, Rogue Blades mastermind Jason M. Waltz said, “I read Blood Song last summer, enjoyed it, want to read Tower Lord. Not revolutionary but definitely fills the heroic-Gemmell-like niche.”

That’s enough of an endorsement for me. Here’s the description for The Wolf’s Call.

Peace never lasts.

Vaelin Al Sorna is a living legend, his name known across the Realm. It was his leadership that overthrew empires, his blade that won hard-fought battles – and his sacrifice that defeated an evil more terrifying than anything the world had ever seen. He won titles aplenty, only to cast aside his earned glory for a quiet life in the Realm’s northern reaches.

Yet whispers have come from across the sea – rumours of an army called the Steel Horde, led by a man who believes himself a god. Vaelin has no wish to fight another war, but when he learns that Sherin, the woman he lost long ago, has fallen into the Horde’s grasp, he resolves to confront this powerful new threat.

To this end, Vaelin travels to the realms of the Merchant Kings, a land ruled by honor and intrigue. There, as the drums of war thunder across kingdoms riven by conflict, Vaelin learns a terrible truth: that there are some battles that even he may not be strong enough to win.

The Wolf’s Call was published by Ace on July 23, 2019. It is 414 pages, priced at $28 in hardcover, and $14.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Cliff Nielsen.

See all our recent New Treasures here.


Future Treasures: The Name of All Things by Jenn Lyons

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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You can learn a lot about the publishing industry by watching what they spend money on. And this year Tor is spending a lot of money and energy promoting the debut fantasy novel by Jenn Lyons, The Ruin of Kings, released this February, and its sequel, The Name of All Things, due in bookstores in three weeks.

It seems to have paid off. The Ruin of Kings scored a rare quadruple crown, with starred reviews from Library Journal (“Stunning”), Booklist (“Dazzling”), Publishers Weekly (“intricate epic fantasy”) and Kirkus Reviews (“Un-put-down-able”). Kirkus calls the new installment “top-notch adventure fantasy written for a 21st-century audience.” Here’s the description.

You can have everything you want if you sacrifice everything you believe.

Kihrin D’Mon is a wanted man. Since he destroyed the Stone of Shackles and set demons free across Quur, he has been on the run from the wrath of an entire empire. His attempt to escape brings him into the path of Janel Theranon, a mysterious Joratese woman who claims to know Kihrin.

Janel’s plea for help pits Kihrin against all manner of dangers: a secret rebellion, a dragon capable of destroying an entire city, and Kihrin’s old enemy, the wizard Relos Var. Janel believes that Relos Var possesses one of the most powerful artifacts in the world― the Cornerstone called the Name of All Things. And if Janel is right, then there may be nothing in the world that can stop Relos Var from getting what he wants.

And what he wants is Kihrin D’Mon.

The Name of All Things is Book 2 of A Chorus of Dragons. On her website Lyons says that, if everything goes according to plan, “Tor will be releasing a book in the series every nine months or so. Two this year, one next year, two the year after that.” That’s a grueling publication schedule, but it should keep fans happy. The Name of All Things will be published by Tor on October 29, 2019. It is 587 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Lars Grant-West. Read a lengthy excerpt at Tor.com.


New Treasures: Straight Outta Deadwood, edited by David Boop

Saturday, October 5th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover art by Dominic Harman

I was impressed with David Boop’s 2017 anthology Straight Outta Tombstone, one of the better Weird Western volumes of the last few years. So I was excited to see the sequel, Straight Outta Deadwood, arrive this week from Bean. Boop gives us a taste of what to expect in his Foreword, “Histories Mysteries.”

My directive to all the authors in these anthologies [was] to give me the Old West the way it really was, where applicable. I wanted the history within to be accurate, the voices authentic… But I also asked them to give me, and you the readers, the world we wished to see: dragons flying overhead, or the ability to drink with dwarves, or hear how grandpappy fought off zombies in Deadwood…

For those of you who read read Straight Outta Tombstone, this second anthology is my Empire Strikes Back. It’s darker, and include a couple pieces that left me shaken afterward… Don’t worry if you get scared easily, though. I have broken the narrative up with humor, victories over evil, and gunfights.

Lots of gunfights.

There’s been a distinct lack of decent Weird Western recently, and Straight Outta Deadwood addresses that nicely. It contains brand new short fiction by Steve Rasnic Tem, Charlaine Harris, Stephen Graham Jones, Lacy Hensley, Jane Lindskold, Cliff Winnig, D.J. Butler, and many others. Here’s the complete table of contents.

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The Case Against Environmental Exploitation: The Deathworld Trilogy by Harry Harrison

Friday, October 4th, 2019 | Posted by James Enge

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The Deathworld Trilogy, Science Fiction
Book Club edition (1974). Cover by Richard Corben

James Nicoll recently reviewed Harry Harrison’s The Deathworld Trilogy on his blog, saying “The Deathworld books haven’t aged badly. They were dire in the 1960s and they are still dire.”

I still have fond memories of the first book in this series (which may or may not be dispelled by a reread). For one thing, it really made a case against hyper-militarism and environmental exploitation. Because it’s Harrison we’re talking about, the case was not subtle, but I think it was effective.

The second novel is a self-righteous, tedious morality play about a self-righteous, tedious character who has the misfortune to partake in a different morality than his self-righteous, tedious creator. The third book is a step up from that, because anything would be. The laziness of the worldbuilding pained me even as a teenager: a cartoony version of Harold Lamb’s version of Mongols, inexplicably transplanted to another planet. On the other hand, I always enjoyed Harold Lamb’s books about Mongols, so…

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Space Opera for Today: The Axiom by Tim Pratt

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Tim Pratt’s Axiom series began with The Wrong Stars (2017). That was quickly followed by The Dreaming Stars (2018), and Angry Robot will release the highly anticipated third book, The Forbidden Stars, next week. The Axiom is one of the more successful modern space opera series; and I think Sam Reader at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog nicely captured its appeal with his fine review of the opening volume.

The Wrong Stars... is a work every bit as vast as you expect from space operas, but with a character-focused touch that keeps the action feeling intimate.

On a routine mission, Captain Kalea “Callie” Machedo and the borderline-shady crew of the salvage vessel White Raven find a “Goldilocks ship” — an undisturbed generation ship from 500 years in Earth’s past. Looking for parts from this priceless relic of a bygone era to strip and sell for a profit, Callie stumbles upon two things: a perfectly preserved scientist still in suspended animation within a cryo-pod, and a strange wormhole-generating black box patched into the ship’s propulsion system. When the cryo-pod’s inhabitant, Doctor Elena Oh, wakes up, she warns the crew of immanent first contact with sapient life… only to be told that humanity actually made contact with a race of body-modifying octopus traders known as “Liars” three centuries earlier. But Elena’s descriptions don’t match that of the Liars, and when an indescrible something begins following the White Raven, leaving a trail of death and destruction in its wake — along with a single clue: the name “Axiom” — the crew realizes what Elena’s brought them might be something far older and and far more alien, something that has been waiting for the right time to wake up…

Through his wit, dialogue, and vast, varied cast, Tim Pratt has created a space opera for today — one filled with diverse characters and cultures that feel nuanced enough to be real — while still delivering the sense of wonder that made you love the genre in the first place.

Tim Pratt has been nominated for the Nebula, World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Stoker, and Mythopoeic Awards, and won the Hugo Award for his short story “Impossible Dreams.” His novels include The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, and the Pathfinder Tales novels Liar’s Island and Liar’s BargainThe Forbidden Stars will be published by Angry Robot on October 8, 2019. It is 400 pages, priced at $8.99 in paperback and $7.99 in digital formats. See all our coverage of the best new SF and fantasy series here.


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