io9 on 28 New Sci-fi and Fantasy Books to Add to Your Shelves in May

Thursday, May 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Glory of the Empress-small Compulsory Games-small Wrath of Empire-small

Cheryl Eddy at io9 has a gift for you folks who’ve run out of things to read already this month (Seriously, how does that happen?? Whatever, we don’t judge.) A tidy list of 28 New Sci-fi and Fantasy Books to Add to Your Shelves.

28! How does she do that, and with astonishingly little overlap with John DeNardo’s list of the Best Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror in May? I have no idea, but perhaps dark magics were involved, and maybe we shouldn’t question it. Let’s just dive into the list, and see what grabs us.

The Glory of the Empress by Sean Danker (Ace, 352 pages, $4.99 digital, May 1, 2018)

Amid a raging interstellar war, a group of soldiers develops a new weapon they hope will turn the tide in their side’s favor — not realizing their test runs in a far-off pocket of the galaxy will have unexpectedly towering consequences.

The Glory of the Empress is the third book in the series that began with Admiral (2016), which was selected by Amazon as one of the Best Books of 2016, and continued with Free Space (2017). While the first two were published in print and digital formats, this one is only available digitally.

Eeep! Is that a thing now? Hope that doesn’t frustrate too many old school readers… I’m frustrated, and I haven’t even read the first one yet.

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When Long-Sheathed Knives are Drawn Again: The Waking Land by Callie Bates

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Waking Land-small The Memory of Fire-small

When Callie Bates’ fantasy novel The Waking Land appeared last June, it was called “A wonderfully stunning debut” by RT Book Reviews, and Terry Brooks said “She is clearly a writer of real talent.” I remember being very intrigued when I picked it up in the bookstore. Here’s the description.

Lady Elanna is fiercely devoted to the king who raised her like a daughter. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Elanna is accused of his murder — and must flee for her life.

Returning to the homeland of magical legends she has forsaken, Elanna is forced to reckon with her despised, estranged father, branded a traitor long ago. Feeling a strange, deep connection to the natural world, she also must face the truth about the forces she has always denied or disdained as superstition — powers that suddenly stir within her.

But an all-too-human threat is drawing near, determined to exact vengeance. Now Elanna has no choice but to lead a rebellion against the kingdom to which she once gave her allegiance. Trapped between divided loyalties, she must summon the courage to confront a destiny that could tear her apart.

I was pleased to see the sequel, The Memory of Fire, will be published early next month. Del Rey reprinted the first volume in trade paperback in January, so there’s plenty of time to grab a copy before the second volume arrives. Here’s all the details, and links to tasty sample chapters.

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Into the Grimness: Shadows Linger by Glen Cook

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

SHDWSLN1984Let me start off with a warning: there will be spoilers galore in this and all future Black Company posts. There’s just no way to avoid them at this point. So if you haven’t read the books, do us all a favor and read them.

Shadows Linger (1984) amps up the proto-grimness of Cook’s seminal epic fantasy series, at the same time taking much of the focus away from the titular Black Company and the previous book’s narrator, Croaker. It’s a surprising approach when so much of the initial book’s story was about the company itself as an almost living thing, complete with its own complicated history and traditions. It works though, due to Cook’s jaundiced view of human nature, and skill at crafting a harsh, noir atmosphere and setting.

At the end of The Black Company, ex-nobleman and all-around badass Raven realized that Darling, the nine year-old girl the Company rescued, was the White Rose. It was prophesied that the White Rose, who in centuries past had defeated and imprisoned the Dominator and the Lady, would be reincarnated when the need for her again arose. Now is that time.

Shadows Linger begins nine years after the close of The Black Company. The Company has become the Lady’s fire brigade, marching back and forth across her vast empire, forever extinguishing any signs of rebellion. Resistance leaders are hunted down and killed and the peace of iron-fisted repression is enforced. Still, the Company holds on to a sliver of its members’ humanity.

The Lady’s service has not been bad. Though we get the toughest missions, we never have to do the dirty stuff. The regulars get those jobs. Preemptive strikes sometimes, sure. The occasional massacre. But all in the line of business. Militarily necessary. We’d never gotten involved in atrocities. The Captain wouldn’t permit that.

The Dominator, the Lady’s husband and once the the North’s resident Dark Lord, remains imprisoned in the Barrowlands, held in place by spells, soldiers, and a dragon. Something, though, is stirring and it seems as if he is preparing to somehow escape his bonds. An investigation leads members of the Company and two of the Taken, the Lady’s own ringwraith sort of wizards, to Juniper. Juniper exists in the most remote part of the North on a bay that is free from ice only half the year. There, a strange black castle has been growing year by year. Somehow it is connected to the Barrowlands and the Dominator.

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The Roots of Grimdark:The Black Company by Glen Cook

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

No one will sing songs in our memory. We are the last of the Free Companies of Khatovar. Our traditions and memories live only in these Annals. We are our only mourners.

It is the Company against the world. Thus it has been and ever will be.

from The Black Company

oie_1471611MVbvsrErYou never know, when you pick up a book, the impact it will have on your life. In 1984, my friend Carl tossed me a copy of The Black Company (1984), a book I’d end up rereading half a dozen times over the next thirty-five years. It turned out to be the first book in what eventually grew into a ten book series (eleven actually, as the first new Black Company book in eighteen years, Port of Shadows, is to be published in September) and one of my favorite works of epic fantasy. Several of Cook’s other books are better written, better plotted, and more cohesive than The Black Company, but none of them has left as indelible a mark on me as this one.

The setup of the novel is this: a mercenary company unknowingly signs on to the service of Sauron’s wife the Lady, a great and powerful sorceress. Her empire has risen up in rebellion against her and her minions, the Nazgul Taken. Assassinations, intrigue between world-shaking sorcerers, and massive battles unfurl in a world notable mostly for its corruption, constant deceit, and an assumption that nothing ever really goes right. Never an especially good bunch of guys, by the book’s end, several important members of the company have grasped the awfulness of their employer and have started to have second thoughts about remaining in her pay. That may not sound original in 2018, but back in 1984, villains as protagonists was mind-blowing.

The novel is presented as a volume from the annals of the Black Company, a notorious band of sell-swords, as written by the company’s annalist and surgeon, Croaker. Not a senior officer, but not a grunt either, he serves as the perfect narrator of the book’s calamitous and epic events. He’s rarely in on the plotting out of the Company’s next missions, but he’s usually in a position to participate in the more important aspects of them.

There’s a sizable epic fantasy-sized cast in The Black Company, but by focusing so intently on a single character, Croaker, the story’s told on a very human scale. Croaker’s primary concerns, as a member of the company and as its doctor, are for the lives of his brothers-in-arms, more than for the concerns of empire. Through him we get a feel for the most prominent of the company’s soldiers and wizards. We see huge events from the perspective of someone effected by them but without any significant control over them. This is not a book about the destinies of kings and princes or heroes and wizards, but men who carry spears, grumble about bad rations, and worry about paying off their debts from losing at cards.

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Tell Me a Story: Upside-down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins

Monday, May 14th, 2018 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

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When it comes to my own preference, I like my audiobooks dark, spooky, snarky, and full of drama. But I’m not the only person in this house! In fact, I share it with (among several other mammals) a pair of elementary school aged girls for whom I am the staff. I mean mom. They’re five and eight, and some of my favorite books aren’t appropriate to play when they’re around. (I’m fairly progressive but I’m not ready to explain what exactly they’re doing on the movie set in Jim Butcher’s Blood Rites, for example.)

Finding strong, good quality stories that are suitable for them and tolerable to me is a priority. Enter  Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and emily Jenkins’ Upside-Down Magic, a series of children’s novels that are delightful, original, and convey the kind of messages I don’t have to worry about them repeating in school the next day.

The central protagonist of Upside-Down Magic is Eleanor “Nory” Horace. Her father is the headmaster of a prestigious boarding school, and she’s preparing for entrance exams. By studying her shapeshifting. Nory is a “fluxer”, someone whose magic manifests as allowing her to change form. Nory is in most ways going through a normal adolescence in the world of Upside Down Magic. All people develop some kind and degree of magical ability, which manifests around their tenth birthday. Fifth grade, then, means transitioning from general education to magic school. Nory is expected to follow her father and siblings’ footsteps by entering the American magical equivalent of Eton.

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John DeNardo on the Best Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror in May

Sunday, May 13th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Artificial Conditions Martha Wells-small Fury From the Tomb-small Afterwar Lilith Saintcrow-small

Over at Kirkus Reviews, the always organized John DeNardo has already compiled his list of the most interesting genre fiction of the month. And as usual, it’s crammed with titles that demand our immediate attention. Starting with a new release by one of the most popular authors to ever appear in Black Gate, the marvelous Martha Wells.

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells (Tor.com, 160 pages, $16.99 in trade paperback/$9.99 digital, May 8, 2018) — cover by Jaime Jones

Looking for a short novel that packs a punch? Check out the fun Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells. In the first one, All Systems Red, attempts by the people of a company-sponsored mission on another planet to mount a rescue are complicated by a rogue robot who hacked its own governing module and ends up with identity issues. In the new book, Artificial Condition (the second of four planned short novels), the robot’s search for his own identity continues. To find out more about the dark past that caused him to name himself “Murderbot,” the robot revisits the mining facility where he went rogue where he finds answers he doesn’t expect.

All Systems Red was nominated for the 2018 Philip K. Dick Award, and is currently up for both the Locus Award and Hugo Award for Best Novella. The third installment in the series, Rogue Protocol, will be released on August 7, 2018. Read the first two chapters of Artificial Condition at Tor.com.

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New Treasures: Master Assassins by Robert V. S. Redick

Thursday, May 10th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Master Assassins-smallRobert V. S. Redick is the author of The Red Wolf Conspiracy and its three sequels in the Chathrand Voyage sequence. In her review for Black Gate Sarah Avery called the series,

Delightful… The first three books were delicious, but will he pull off the conclusion well enough to justify the time it takes you to reread the whole set? Yes…. I’ve just finished The Night of the Swarm, which I dove into without reacquainting myself with the earlier books, and though it was immensely satisfying, I will definitely be rereading the whole series.

Redick kicks off an ambitious new series The Fire Sacraments, with Master Assassins, in which two village boys mistaken for assassins become the decisive figures in the battle for a continent. It was released in hardcover and trade paperback in March by Talos.

Kandri Hinjuman was never meant to be a soldier. His brother Mektu was never meant for this world. Rivals since childhood, they are drafted into a horrific war led by a madwoman-Prophet, and survive each day only by hiding their disbelief. Kandri is good at blending in, but Mektu is hopeless: impulsive, erratic — and certain that a demon is stalking him. Is this madness or a second sense? Either way, Kandri knows that Mektu’s antics will land them both in early graves.

But all bets are off when the brothers’ simmering feud explodes into violence, and holy blood is spilled. Kandri and Mektu are taken for contract killers and must flee for their lives — to the one place where they can hope to disappear: the sprawling desert known as the Land that Eats Men. In this eerie wilderness, the terrain is as deadly as the monsters, ghouls, and traffickers in human flesh. Here the brothers find strange allies: an aging warlord, a desert nomad searching for her family, a lethal child-soldier still in her teens. They also find themselves in possession of a secret that could bring peace to the continent of Urrath. Or unthinkable carnage.

On their heels are the Prophet’s death squads. Ahead lie warring armies, sandstorms, evil spirits and the deeper evil of human greed. But hope beckons as well — if the “Master Assassins” can expose the lie that has made them the world’s most wanted men.

Master Assassins was published by Talos on March 6, 2018. It is 460 pages, priced at $25.99 in hardcover, and $14.99 for both the trade paperback and digital editions. Listen to Redick read the first 20 pages of the book here.


A Demon Rising: Ardneh’s World by Fred Saberhagen

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_3043513UJFHNzOyAnd so we come to the end of the Empire of the East, Fred Saberhagen’s sword & science trilogy. Originally titled Changeling Earth (1973), Ardneh’s World (1988), provides the answers to mysteries raised in the previous two books, The Broken Lands and The Black Mountains, as well as an explosive conclusion. When it’s done, great powers have been broken and the world has been changed again.

The last book ended with the destruction of one of the Empire’s great commanders, Som the Dead, and of one of the great demons at its command, Zapranoth. The armies of the Free Folk of the West, now under the command of Prince Duncan of Islandia, are marching on the Empire. In the East, the utterly bad Emperor John Omninor is himself leading his legions onto the field of battle for a final confrontation.

Moving behind and through the characters is the mysterious and powerful Ardneh. No one knows who or what Ardneh is. He speaks to the commanders and wizards of the West telepathically. To the emperor and his minions, he remains an elusive enemy who must be dealt with by any means necessary if the West is to be defeated, its army crushed, and its people enslaved.

Following an unsuccessful attempt to trick Ardneh into revealing himself, Omninor dispatches a force under his his High Constable, Abner, to find his enemy. Magical divination and electronic tracking has told the emperor that Ardneh resides in a mountain far to the north of civilization.

Simultaneously, farm boy hero Rolf and ex-imperial Chup have been tasked with tracking down a mystic stone and bringing it to Ardneh. Because Rolf has a strange, innate affinity for technology, Ardneh has chosen him as his special connection with the West.

At length and not unexpectedly, the two parties meet, an old villain reappears, and violence ensues. Eventually, Rolf and a new companion, Catherine, are split from Chup and the rest of the company.

So much of Ardneh’s World is exposition, but, oh, what exposition it is. When Rolf and Catherine finally meet Ardneh, his pre-catastrophe origins and how magic came into existence are unveiled. Saberhagen’s big idea is pure pulp insanity. Part of what makes Empire of the East original is its ostensibly realistic take on magic, but there’s absolutely none of that here. In order to prevent Earth’s destruction in the face of a nuclear war, untested new technological safeguards were put in place in America. When the war finally came, those precautions proved invaluable. In the wake of the mostly-averted war, the deepest nature of reality was changed. Ardneh, an intelligent, self-aware being is a result of the change.

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Future Treasures: Blood Orbit by K.R. Richardson

Monday, April 30th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Blood Orbit KR Richardson-small Blood-Orbit-back-small

Kat Richardson is the author of the bestselling Greywalker paranormal detective novels. For her first off-world SF noir novel Blood Orbit, the opening book in the Gattis Files, she’s chosen to don a new literary identity, “K.R. Richardson.” Comic writer Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Shipwreck) calls it,

A clever, twisting, and savage science fiction crime story that fuses colonization fiction with genuine deep noir. The end result is original, culturally rich, and as ruthless as a novel about murder, secrets, and lies should be.

And author Diana Pharaoh Francis (Diamond City Magic) says,

Richardson has written a diabolically delicious twisty murder mystery set on a faraway planet against a backdrop of corporate greed, racial tensions, corrupt law enforcement, and secrets that refuse to stay buried. This is Criminal Minds meets Sherlock Holmes in space.

Blood Orbit will be published by Pyr on May 8, 2018. It is 493 pages, priced at $18 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital version. The cover is by Maurizio Manzieri. Read the first three chapters over at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, and get more details at K.R. Richardson’s website.


A Tale of Two Covers: Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunday, April 29th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Akata Warrior-small Sunny and the Mysteries of Osis-small

Nnedi Okorafor is one of the most exciting novelists at work in the field of fantasy. She’s won the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards, and the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. She writes Black Panther comics for Marvel, and her World Fantasy Award-winning novel Who Fears Death is being developed by George R.R. Martin as an HBO series.

Her latest novel, Akata Warrior, was published by Viking Books for Young Readers last October (above left, cover by Greg Ruth). It was republished in the UK in March by Cassava Republic Press under the title Sunny and the Mysteries of Osisi (above right, design by Anna Morrison). Both books (er, the single book) are (is?) the sequel to 2011’s Akata Witch.

Although the books are being sold to separate markets with different titles and different covers, I was struck at just how similar the cover images are. In fact, both use Greg Ruth’s core image of a woman with a black scarf (albeit flipped), and both make use of overt spider imagery, along with an overlay of curvy white Nsibidi symbols on her skin. Both also use the same quote by Neil Gaiman. Note the differences, however — the British cover has markedly different hair, and a completely different color tone. She’s looking in different directions as well.

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