Ancestral Night and Machine (Saga Press, March 2019 and October 2020). Covers by Getty Images and Jae Song
Elizabeth Bear is chiefly known as a fantasy writer these days. She won the 2005 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and she’s had a hand in more than eight acclaimed series in the years since, including The Edda of Burdens trilogy, the Eternal Sky trilogy, and The Lotus Kingdoms trilogy, all from Tor. When I wrote about her new space opera novel Ancestral Night back in 2019, I quoted the Publishers Weekly review that first got my attention.
Outstanding… Bear’s welcome return to hard SF after several years of writing well-received steampunk and epic fantasy. As an engineer on a scrappy space salvage tug, narrator Haimey Dz has a comfortable, relatively low-stress existence, chumming with pilot Connla Kuruscz and AI shipmind Singer. Then, while aboard a booby-trapped derelict ship, she is infected with a not-quite-parasitic alien device that gives her insights into the universe’s structure. This makes her valuable not only to the apparently benevolent interstellar government, the Synarche, but also to the vicious association of space pirates… Amid a space opera resurgence, Bear’s novel sets the bar high.
While shipping for some Christmas break reading at B&N last week, I laid eyes on the sequel for the first time. The trade edition of Machine was released in July of 2021, and now looks very handsome on my bookshelf next to the first one.
Deathweave and Darkloom (Ace Books, 1998 & 1999). Covers by Royo
I bought a collection of vintage paperbacks on eBay a while back (I do that a lot), and buried in the mix was one I knew nothing about, a midlist ACE SF adventure titled Deathweave by Cary Osborne.
Now, I love midlist paperbacks. They’re basically an undiscovered country. If you’re an entry-level author, the theory is that if you work long enough, like countless writers before you, you’ll eventually build an audience large enough to break out of midlist and start hitting the bestseller lists. Of course, the vast majority of writers never make it, which means that most midlist titles vanish after a few months in the sun, never to be seen or mentioned again. There are many, many talented writers who never had the good fortune (or perseverance, or celebrity connections, or whatever pixie dust it takes) to break into the front rank, and toil away in undeserved obscurity their entire career.
What does all this mean? It means these eBay lots I buy are littered with undiscovered gold, that’s what it means. Which means that when Deathweave finally fell into my eager hands 24 years after Ace first published it, I treated it as exactly that. Especially when I found out it had a sequel, Darkloom, which I tracked down a few weeks later.
The novels of The Weep: Nightwatch on the Hinterlands and Nightwatch Over Windscar
(DAW, October 2021 and November 2022). Covers by Tim Green/Faceout
I’m pretty much an impulse buyer. When I pick up a book and it mentions monsters, interstellar Confederations, extra-dimensional horrors, subterranean ruins, witches, and decommissioned battle mechs — all in the first two paragraphs — I’m usually sold.
That’s exactly what happened when I read the inside jacket copy for Nightwatch Over Windscar, the new novel by K. Eason. I paid for that damn thing and had it home before I even finished the third paragraph of the jacket copy.
If I’d paid even the teeniest bit of additional attention, I might have also noticed that it’s the second book of The Weep, a two-book series set in the world of Eason’s popular science fantasy Thorne Chronicles, which opened with How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse and continued in How the Multiverse Got Its Revenge. Doesn’t look like you need to read those books to enjoy The Weep… good thing, because tracking down the first book, Nightwatch on the Hinterlands, is effort enough. I was looking forward to riding out this massive winter storm and Christmas break with what I have on hand.
All four volumes in Michael Moorcock’s Elric from Titan Comics (2014 – 2022)
There’s been a lot of comic adaptations of Michael Moorcock’s Elric over the years. Perhaps the most famous is the French artist Philippe Druillet’s ambitious rendition of The Eternal Champion, but there have been many others associated with the character, including P. Craig Russell, James Cawthorn, Walter Simonsen, Mike Mignolia, Howard Chaykin, and many more. First Comics had a lengthy association with Moorcock for many years, producing highly regarded adaptations of Elric, Hawkmoon, and others. I think my favorite was Mark Shainblum’s lengthy Chronicles of Corum adaptation.
Titan Comics has had a long partnership with Moorcock, and recently it has released the best Elric adaptation I have ever seen, in any medium. The four volumes, The Ruby Throne, Stormbringer, The White Wolf, and The Dreaming City, are among my favorite comics of any kind in the past few years. Produced by the French team that includes the writer Julien Blondel and several enormously talented artists, including Didier Poli, Julien Telo, Robin Recht, and Jean Bastide, these books belong in every decent library of modern fantasy.
The Shadow of the Gods and The Hunger of the Gods (Orbit, 2021-22). Covers by Marcus Whinney
As we head into the the holidays, prime reading season, I’m in the market for a good adventure saga. John Gwynne’s Bloodsworn Saga looks like it could fit the bill. It’s got Saga right there in the title, and big-ass monsters front and center on the covers. The universe doesn’t usually serve me stuff on a platter but, I dunno, maybe this is just one of those times.
These books are popular, and that’s not a bad sign either. The Shadow of the Gods has a whopping 19,231 ratings, and a stellar 4.29 score on Goodreads, barely a year and a half after release. It’s popular with critics, too. Medium proclaims it “Magnificent… Gwynne shows why he’s one of the genre’s best,” and Publishers Weekly calls it a “jam-packed epic… [with] blood-soaked battles against trolls and frost-spiders.”
Trolls and frost-spiders! That’s exactly what I’m talking about right there. But the review that really caught my attention was at Vulture, who included it in their Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books of the Year last year.
Sticking with my assessment that it’s better than The Shannara Chronicles, but not as good as Wheel of Time, it’s back to The Rings of Power.
Previously, I visited the sad story of Miriel (Tar-Miriel). Tolkien speculated on a couple back-stories to her marriage to Ar-Pharazon, but dropped all of them. Click on over and check that one out. He had some neat ideas.
I will say that I think that Numenor is one of the two strongest points in the show. It helps offset the fan-fiction level plotting and all the harfoot clutter.
Numenor is one of my favorite things in The Silmarillion. Not surprisingly, The Rings of Power has been a bit free with adapting it. But overall, I think Numenor is one of the highlights of the show, and they could have done a lot worse.
Visually, Numenor is stunning. It was a great island empire in The Silmarillion, and they did a terrific job of conveying the splendor of Armenolos, the capital city. As Halbrand and Galadriel arrive on Elendil’s ship, the city is unveiled in majestic fashion. The big CGI budget absolutely pays off.
The Argonath – two giant statues of Isildur and Anarion, on the River Anduin – were a highlight of Peter Jackson’s movies. They stand, with their hands out in a gesture of defiance from the folk of Gondor.
Shattered Walls, Book 4 of Ulff Lehmann’s Light in the Dark Book series, released this November, 2022. This post reviews Book 1, Shattered Dreams, to lure dark fantasy readers into the Dark. Do you like Tolkien-esque worlds with a unique perspective, perhaps sprinkled with Grimdark battle and horror? Shattered Dreams will whet your appetite. It’s a fresh, dark spin on traditional fiction. You’ll be thrown into a mire of fractured perspectives and nightmares, and Lehmann controls the process of refining it all with a host of characters (the cursed Drangar Ralgon stealing the limelight). You’ll enjoy this if you enjoy mysteries, brutal melee, and Elvin worlds.
Shattered Dreams Cover Blurb
Epic Fantasy filled to the brim with Grimdark Reality.
If one looks too long into the abyss, the abyss looks back. Drangar Ralgon has been avoiding the abyss’s gaze for far too long and now he turns to face it. For a hundred years the young kingdom of Danastaer has thrived in peace. Now their northern neighbor, mighty Chanastardh, has begun a cunning invasion. Thrust into events far beyond his control, the mercenary Drangar Ralgon flees his solitary life as a shepherd to evade the coming war and take responsibility for his crimes.
In Dunthiochagh, Danastaer’s oldest city, the holy warrior Kildanor uncovers the enemy’s plans for invasion. As ancient forces reach forth to shape the world once more, the sorceress Ealisaid wakes from a century of hibernation only to realize the Dunthiochagh she knew is no more. Magic, believed long gone, returns, and with it comes an elven wizard sent to recover a dangerous secret.
The Border Keeper and Second Spear (Tor.com, July 2019 and August 2022). Covers by Kathleen Jennings and Jamie Jones
Kerstin Hall is the Senior Editorial Assistant at Scott Andrews’s excellent online magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and perhaps it was years of reading submissions that gave her the chops to write her acclaimed debut, the Tor.com novella The Border Keeper, a 2020 Nommo Award Finalist. (Yeah, I didn’t know what a Nommo Award was either, but I googled it and it’s legit — it’s presented by The African Speculative Fiction Society.) The Guardian called it “A phantasmagorical picaresque through a lushly realised underworld, populated by a grotesque bestiary of fantastical creatures… [a] twisty example of the new weird,” and Max Gladstone summed it up as “A labyrinth of demons, dead gods, [and] cranky psychopomps.” That sounds pretty cool.
The Border Keeper appeared in 2019, and the follow-up Second Spear arrived in August. Looking at the covers above, radically different in design and tone, the two books don’t look related (at all), but they are both part of what’s now being called The Mkalis Cycle. I much prefer Jamie Jones’s dynamic cover for Second Spear over Kathleen Jennings’ more abstract effort for The Border Keeper, but I gotta believe the dramatic cover shift was risky, and probably confused a few readers. I hope it pays off.
The Citadel of Forgotten Myths (Saga Press, December 6, 2022). Cover artist unknown.
No, your eyes don’t deceive you. That’s a brand new Elricnovel, arriving in hardcover next week.
Described as a prequel, The Citadel of Forgotten Myths takes place between the first and second books in the Elric Saga, Elric of Melniboné (published a whopping 50 years ago, in 1972) and The Sailor on the Seas of Fate (1976). It’s the first new Elric novel since The White Wolf’s Son, way back in 2005, and is highly anticipated.
Because of Moorcock’s stature in the field these days, the back cover of his new novel is strewn with glowing quotes from J. G. Ballard, The New Yorker and NPR — and I have to admit, that NPR quote is pretty darn good. It’s taken from a 2014 piece titled (of all things) These Nautical Reads Will Put Wind In Your Sails, and is written by novelist Jason Sheehan. Here’s the whole thing; it’s worth the read.
After Sundown, Beyond the Veil, and Close to Midnight
(Flame Tree Press, 2020, 2021, and 2022). Covers: Nik Keevil and Flame Tree Studio
I’ve been enjoying Mark Morris’ recent run of unthemed annual horror anthologies. He kicked it off with the highly regarded After Sundown in 2020; the success of that volume convinced the publisher, Flame Tree Press, to make it an annual event. Beyond the Veil followed last year, and Close to Midnight arrived just last month.
The newest installment looks like it could be the best one yet. It contains 20 original stories, 16 commissioned from established names and four selected from new writers who sent in stories during an open submissions window. The result is a terrific cross section of horror from the most acclaimed writers in the business — including Steve Rasnic Tem, Ramsey Campbell, Muriel Gray, Alison Littlewood, Seanan McGuire, Brian Keene, and Adam L.G. Nevill — alongside some talented and exciting newcomers.