For her latest dark fantasy series, Bishop (Twilight’s Dawn, 2011, etc.) invents an entire Earth-like world, Namid, populated by a fascinating array of supernatural Others—and the humans who are their prey.
On the continent of Thaisia, humans are tolerated for their technical and inventive talents, but they tread very carefully, knowing that if they transgress, they’ll be lunch for shape-shifting wolves, raptors, bears, vampires or worse. Into the northeastern city of Lakeside, in the middle of winter, staggers Meg Corbyn, freezing, friendless and desperate. A cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn sees the future when her skin is cut—for her, the result can be agony or ecstasy. She and a number of like young women were slaves of the Controller, whose rich clients pay well for their visions. Naïve but resourceful Meg escaped and now seeks refuge in the Lakeside Courtyard, the business district operated by the Others. Against his wolfish instincts—Meg is human, but doesn’t smell like prey—Simon Wolfgard hires her as Human Liaison, a job that entails running the local delivery office. And Meg proves adept at looking after Sam, Simon’s orphaned nephew, so traumatized by his mother’s death that he’s locked in wolf form. Simon has other problems too: pushy Asia Crane, secretly a spy for the mysterious Bigwig; disturbing and unaccountable reports from out west of humans and Others running berserk and slaughtering both each other and their own kind; and the human police, who have been instructed to urgently locate someone who looks very much like Meg Corbyn. It all adds up to a stunningly original yarn, deeply imagined, beautifully articulated and set forth in clean, limpid, sensual prose.
A must for fans desperate to move beyond boilerplate urban fantasy.
Second in the series (This Case Is Gonna Kill Me, 2012) about New York lawyer Linnet Ellery and the vampire law firm she works for, set in a world dominated by the Powers—vampires, werewolves and Álfar (elves)—who revealed themselves less than half a century ago.
Last time out, Linnet found herself battling werewolves. This time, exquisitely beautiful Álfar are snaffling all the plum roles in Hollywood, much to the chagrin of human actors, who, naturally, bring a lawsuit against the studios and networks. Since Álfar charm fails to translate to the screen, the humans insist that they’re using magic to get the parts. Nobody in the Screen Actors Guild wants the dispute in the public domain, so Linnet and her vampire boss, David Sullivan, must fly to California and serve as arbitrators. Complications ensue when Human First agitators make themselves annoyingly obtrusive; and an Álfar actor who slaughtered his beloved human wife now claims to have no memory of the event. Still, the old, influential Álfar observer, Qwendar, seems helpful enough. But when handsome actor-turned-director Jeff Montolbano invites Linnet to the set of his latest movie, his lead actress, an Álfar, bursts in and, sporting enough weapons to stock a small arsenal, starts shooting the place up. Why? What’s really going on? Does Linnet have a secret protector or hidden talents? Bornikova accurately depicts Hollywood with warmth and wit, her puzzles will keep readers guessing until the end, and she tops it off with a smart, sassy heroine willing to poke and prod those more powerful than she.
Refreshingly different, intriguing and involving: a sequel that’s even better than the splendid opener.
Eighteen tales of gaslamp fantasy, that is, historical fantasy set in an alternate 19th century where magic worked or supernatural events occurred, together with an extensive and informative introduction from editor Windling tracing historical roots and adding context.
A majority of the tales here use historical events or biography as their foundation. Delia Sherman, then, portrays Queen Victoria as a highly effective wizard. Genevieve Valentine probes a highly unsavory aspect of London’s 1851 Great Exhibition. Elizabeth Wein spins a tale of writer-designer William Morris and artist Edward Burne-Jones. Kaaron Warren writes movingly of a house where unwanted women are confined and how they gain revenge. Dale Bailey takes an actual case of spiritualism and fakery and demonstrates how it is not always clear which is which. Veronica Schanoes strikes sparks both real and figurative in her account of the unionization of the all-female workforce at a lucifer-match factory. And Jane Yolen reimagines the relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and Queen Victoria. Other tales take their inspiration from Victorian literature. Catherynne M. Valente, for instance, revisits the fantasies of the Brontë children. Tanith Lee offers a steampunk variant on the Frankenstein’s Monster theme. In Gregory Maguire’s continuation of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge marries and has children, and Tiny Tim’s life takes an unexpected turn. And Theodora Goss offers up an existential literary-games scenario à la Jasper Fforde. Elsewhere (via Jeffrey Ford, Ellen Kushner and Caroline Stevermer, Maureen McHugh, Kathe Koja, Elizabeth Bear, James P. Blaylock and Leanna Renee Hieber), the fiction is purer, the surprises no less welcome.
Splendid tales that illuminate a bygone era’s darker corners.
An addition to Douglas’ medium-future alien-warfare series (Singularity, 2012, etc.).
To get newcomers up to speed quickly and efficiently, and refresh the memories of series regulars, Douglas opens with a briefing paper from the Agletch, aliens willing to trade information for metals. The belligerent alien Sh’daar and their myriad client races, of whom the Agletch are one, have technology superior to Earth’s and seemingly intend to prevent human technology from progressing beyond the point the Sh’daar consider threatening. Now, a human research vessel has been destroyed under suspicious circumstances, and the Earth Confederation has sent a fleet to combat the presumed invaders. On Earth, meanwhile, former space Navy commander Alexander Koenig, now the newly re-elected president of North America, ponders how to implement his mandate—independence from the increasingly authoritarian and incompetent Earth Confederation. But as the space fleet engages the powerful Slan, another Sh’daar client race, the Confederation’s European faction launches a pre-emptive strike against North America and its most powerful ally, Konstantin, an artificial intelligence buried beneath a crater on the far side of the moon. As regulars might hope and expect, the action is full-blooded and almost nonstop, yet the well-developed background is surprisingly rich and logical. The Slan, for instance, far more than boilerplate weirdos with a few extra tentacles and eyestalks, are heavy-planet beings with radically different senses, motivations and psychology. Neither are the characters mere stock villains or heroes, but personalities with doubts and fears and hopes. Still, tension and excitement drive the narrative, and Douglas supplies them convincingly and relentlessly.
From one of the great masters of modern speculative fiction: Gaiman’s first novel for adults since Anansi Boys (2005).
An unnamed protagonist and narrator returns to his Sussex roots to attend a funeral. Although his boyhood dwelling no longer stands, at the end of the road lies the Hempstock farm, to which he’s drawn without knowing why. Memories begin to flow. The Hempstocks were an odd family, with 11-year-old Lettie’s claim that their duck pond was an ocean, her mother’s miraculous cooking and her grandmother’s reminiscences of the Big Bang; all three seemed much older than their apparent ages. Forty years ago, the family lodger, a South African opal miner, gambled his fortune away, then committed suicide in the Hempstock farmyard. Something dark, deadly and far distant heard his dying lament and swooped closer. As the past becomes the present, Lettie takes the boy’s hand and confidently sets off through unearthly landscapes to deal with the menace; but he’s only 7 years old, and he makes a mistake. Instead of banishing the predator, he brings it back into the familiar world, where it reappears as his family’s new housekeeper, the demonic Ursula Monkton. Terrified, he tries to flee back to the Hempstocks, but Ursula easily keeps him confined as she cruelly manipulates and torments his parents and sister. Despite his determination and well-developed sense of right and wrong, he’s also a scared little boy drawn into adventures beyond his understanding, forced into terrible mistakes through innocence. Yet, guided by a female wisdom beyond his ability to comprehend, he may one day find redemption.
Poignant and heartbreaking, eloquent and frightening, impeccably rendered, it’s a fable that reminds us how our lives are shaped by childhood experiences, what we gain from them and the price we pay.
First novel in quite a while (Gift from the Stars, 2005, etc.) from writer/anthologist Gunn.
A galactic civilization, weary of centuries of war—the latest caused by upstart humans intruding on space occupied by other alien races—tries to get on with business despite the stultifying bureaucracy that seems to run things. War veteran Riley, at loose ends following the conflict, accepts a job offer from powerful and mysterious employers—who implant in his head a know-it-all artificial intelligence which he cannot remove and which has the means to force him to obey instructions. He will join beings from many different worlds aboard a ship guided by an unknown prophet who can help them achieve transcendence. Riley’s orders, however, are to kill the prophet rather than permit aliens to transcend. Deadly violence flares among the travelers, however, before the ship even departs. The captain, Hamilton Jones, with whom Riley served during the war, admits he doesn’t know their destination and periodically receives new coordinates from somebody aboard. Among Riley’s fellow travelers are Tordor, a massive, heavy-planet alien; the weasellike Xi; an intelligent plant known as 4107; and Asha, a human female who needs no sleep and has other strange capabilities. As the ship heads for the Great Gulf between the galaxy’s spiral arms, the travelers—like Riley, most, if not all, have hidden agendas—relate tales of themselves and their races. But violence is a constant threat; the tales may be simple truth, calculated disinformation or anything in between. And why are Riley’s employers so intent on stopping the prophet? Impeccably plotted, with absorbing human and alien characters and back stories, Gunn’s narrative expertly cranks up the tension and paranoia as, piece by piece, answers emerge.
Gunn’s best in years—quite possibly his best ever.
In the same universe as Saturn’s Children (2008) but thousands of years later, Stross invents an entire interstellar banking system, shows us how it works—and then how to defraud it.
Interstellar spaceships take hundreds of years to crawl between systems, so the fastest means of communication is by laser beacon. Fast money is cash. Medium money is represented by interplanetary investments that take decades to mature. Slow money accumulates from the vast expenditures required to establish new interstellar colonies, and therefore, it’s millions of times more valuable than cash. Metahuman Krina Alizond-114, a scholar of the historiography of accountancy practices, travels to the water world of Shin-Tethys to find her missing sister, Ana. The only way she can reach the planet is by signing on as crew aboard Deacon Dennet’s Interstellar Church of the Fragile, a church on an interplanetary spaceship staffed by animated skeletons. Before long, however, pirate underwriters capture the ship. The pirate chief, (ac)Count(ant) Rudi, claims to know Ana via an insurance policy he sold her. Krina’s real goal, though, is the investigation of a fraud of truly galactic proportions, perpetrated centuries ago under the guise of establishing a scientific colony whose purpose was to develop a faster-than-light drive. The colony collapsed spectacularly, but the debt, a mountain of slow money, still exists if anyone can prove ownership. Krina has one half of the key, Ana the other—maybe; she might equally well be dead. Rudi and Dennett clearly know more than they’re telling; there’s an assassin on Krina’s trail; and these are just the beginning of the complications, including a petulant subaquatic monarch and a society of intelligent communist squid. If you begin by thinking that a narrative about banking, debt and accountancy might be dull, Stross will quickly disabuse you—there’s always a mad glint in his eye, even when he’s explaining some seriously weird and alluring concepts.
Agreeable characters, a fascinating backdrop and brilliant plotting, with a further outlook of lengthy grins and occasional guffaws.
First of a wisecracking supernatural horror series, from an author who’s better known as Caitlín R. Kiernan (The Drowning Girl, 2012, etc.).
Narrator Siobhan Quinn—she insists, fiercely, on Quinn—a street-dwelling heroin addict, became a monster-slayer after killing a ghoul (though, as she finally admits, it was by accident). She has a steady supply of good dope and an apartment thanks to her benefactor, the mysterious fixer and manipulator she calls Mean Mr. B (he uses different names, all beginning with B, depending on circumstance and whim), since he considers it useful to have a monster-slayer in his debt. Having come to believe in her own notoriety, she goes werewolf hunting in Rhode Island. Instead of staying alert, however, Quinn shoots up and gets bitten by the werewolf—just as a vampire shows up! When she regains consciousness, astonished to have survived either antagonist, let alone both, she finds she’s now a werewolf and a vampire. At least she’s no longer an addict, and when Mr. B shows his pleasure at her new condition, she begins to suspect she’s now somebody’s weapon—but whose, and aimed at what? Clearly, she’d better find out—and fast. The New England setting is colorful and convincing, and Tierney populates it with a weird and splendid set of supernatural beings. Quinn isn’t the most reliable of narrators, though eventually she’ll stumble out with the truth; nor, as an investigator, does she prove the sharpest of wits, but she gets there. Add in the downbeat tone that somehow manages to be uplifting and the sort of gratuitously gory action that used to be called splatterpunk and readers are in for a memorably exhilarating and engaging experience.
New, independent fantasy from the author of the fine Milkweed Triptych (Necessary Evil, 2013, etc.)—and it’s a doozy.
Imagine a gumshoe noir yarn, embedded in a fundamentally theology-free medieval heaven underpinned by known or extrapolated scientific cosmological theory. Further posit that a minor fallen angel named Bayliss has assumed the persona of Philip Marlowe—why? Eventually readers will find out—and that as the story opens, he watches the death of the angel Gabriel spread across the skies of Earth in a spectacular shower of meteors and particles. Bayliss has been ordered by his superiors in the angelic Choir to recruit a replacement—someone pliable and not too bright. And the victim must die before being resurrected as an angel. So, Bayliss arranges an accident—but instead of his chosen dupe, he kills Molly Pruett, a highly intelligent, strong-willed and stunning redhead. Bayliss, being Marlowe, thinks of Molly as his client and carefully tells her little of what she needs to know to assume her angelic mantle. Impossible as it seems, Gabriel was murdered, somebody has stolen the Jericho Trumpet, and Bayliss is determined to find out why. The trail leads him to Father Santorelli, who’s been handing out powerful plenary indulgences—get out of hell free cards. Molly, meanwhile, after a series of mishaps and a scolding from METATRON, the Voice of God, learns that the recipients of the indulgences cannot sleep for fear of the terrible dreams of angelic violence that now plague them. All this barely scratches the surface of what’s going on here, as Molly (and the reader) gradually comes to realize that Bayliss may not be the most reliable of narrators and that his Marlowe persona is one part of a vast, intricate plot a billion years in the making.
From the accomplished author of Home Fires (2011, etc.), a new fantasy that seamlessly blends mystery, travelogue, authoritarianism and the supernatural.
Grafton, an American travel writer, becomes intrigued by a remote and unnamed Balkan country that chooses to make itself extremely difficult to visit—no flights land there, roads turn back on themselves in the mountains, and so the only way in is by train. But at the border, guards remove him from the train and confiscate his passport and luggage. Instead of prison, though, he’s housed with the surly thug Kleon and his attractive wife, Martya, with the proviso that if Grafton absconds, the police will shoot Kleon. Martya, with whom he’s soon having an affair, tells him of a treasure hidden in an abandoned house. Unfortunately, the house is haunted—confirmed by their discovery of a mummified corpse behind an old mirror. Then, Grafton’s kidnapped by the Legion of the Light and conveyed to the capital, where he agrees to help them broadcast their religious/supernatural philosophy. Soon enough JAKA, the secret police, capture him and throw him in jail, where he finds fellow American Russ Rathaus—apparently some kind of sorcerer who soon manages to escape by unknown means. Grafton realizes that the only way he’ll resolve the situation is by figuring out what’s really going on, so when he’s interrogated by Naala, a senior JAKA agent in pursuit of a thoroughly unpleasant black-magic cult known as the Unholy Way, he agrees to help her. But is Grafton a reliable narrator, and is Rathaus as innocent as he seems? Wolfe, in masterful mood, builds his characters, explores the puzzles, links the elements together and contrives to render the backdrop both intriguingly attractive and creepily sinister.