Book List

Best Indie Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2015

An unmissable fantasy tale that marries gorgeous prose to a lavishly detailed plot.

FEAST OF FATES

In this rousing epic-fantasy debut, two unlikely lovers forge a bond in the midst of a war between immortal kings.

The city of Eod, in the land of Geadhain, is home to Morigan Lostarot, the handmaiden of a reclusive sorcerer. While shopping for supplies one day, she stumbles into the shop of a blacksmith named Caenith. His bestial manner shocks and allures her—and it intrigues her even more when he reveals himself to be a werewolf. He then helps unlock her latent psychic talent, but the deluge of other peoples’ thoughts and memories threatens to cripple her, so she consults with her magik-wielding boss, Thackery Thule. Meanwhile, Magnus, the Everfair King, has become possessed by a dark, virulent force, and he suspects that his brother, Brutus, is responsible, so he marches with an army to his brother’s kingdom in search of answers. This leaves Queen Lila to rule Eod, and she begins her own investigation by summoning Thackery, who hasn’t told Morigan just how famous a sorcerer he is. At the same time, in the wretched land of Menos, the covetous Gloriatrix schemes against Magnus and Brutus in a bid to rule as a Black Queen. It would have been difficult for Brown to present a more sensual, or satisfying, debut. His motifs run the epic-fantasy gamut, from ancient forests pulsing with life to malevolent phenomena looming in the depths of space. His excellent prose, however, truly sets this book apart from the fantasy herd. Every page crackles with images full of vibrant emotion, such as the “miracle of Brutus’s horde, dusted in frost and as still as a portrait of war.” There’s also an erotic heft to the author’s writing during romantic moments; for example, Caenith tells Morigan that perhaps “the world worked slower for you, so that it might savor your beauty, as I am.” Elsewhere, readers experience Eod’s magical opulence, which contrasts fabulously with Menos’ repugnance. After a cataclysmic finale, the heroes rest up, possibly for a sequel.

An unmissable fantasy tale that marries gorgeous prose to a lavishly detailed plot.

Pub Date: July 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-1495907586

Page Count: 540

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

An invigorating sci-fi mystery that’s so plugged in it may leave readers’ brains buzzing.

Oversight

An investigator uncovers a conspiracy to launch a viral attack in Claburn’s (Reflecting Fires, 2001) sci-fi thriller.

In 2050, Capt. Luis Cisco brings in “data speculator” Sam Crane to investigate the murder of scientist Dr. Xian Mako. Sam takes Mako’s peculiar rose-colored glasses to his friend Jacob to find out how much they might be worth. The case quickly becomes personal when Jacob is found dead and the glasses go missing. Sam looks further into Mako’s purchase of the specs and, because the scientist was poisoned with tetrodotoxin, he pays a visit to a restaurant that serves fugu. It seems, however, that some people don’t want the murder solved: Luis warns Sam off the case, and a mysterious, “sharply dressed man” follows Sam around. Before long, the feds are accusing the investigator of ties to terrorists. Meanwhile, a biological attack that causes blindness prompts another investigation. The novel is a chic fusion of the sci-fi and detective genres. For example, Sam is roughed up by FBI agents who forcibly hook him up to a device to read his mind; he also converses, via helmet mic, with a network agent who has Marilyn Monroe’s voice. Sam is a solid protagonist who’s always ready to employ a snappy line or his fists when the situation calls for it. But he’s also sympathetic: he’s unquestionably upset over Jacob’s death, for example, and regularly sees his comatose 5-year-old daughter, Fiona, who needs constant medical care. The story piles on the mysteries; at one point, for example, the affluent Harris Cayman, whom Sam has never met, bumps Fiona to the top of the list for a drug trial. Claburn also injects a notable satirical theme involving advertising—the network agent endlessly pitches products, depending on what Sam’s doing, and even ominously suggests life insurance. (Sam can only temporarily silence Marilyn by paying.) The narrative is self-contained, ultimately answering every question it raises, but it leaves the door open just a crack for a potential sequel.

An invigorating sci-fi mystery that’s so plugged in it may leave readers’ brains buzzing.

Pub Date: March 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-0986101601

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Lot 49 Labs, LLC

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

A fine debut collection from a gifted chronicler of contemporary queer discontents.

DAYDREAMERS

STORIES

The search for security, and the longing to break free from it, roils the lives of young gay men in these wry, hopeful stories.

In his first collection, Harper gives us a gallery of 20-somethings, many with older lovers or husbands, trying to reconcile inchoate ambitions with prosaic realities: a ne’er-do-well crashes at his brother’s house and descends into a feud with his scheming fiancee; a callow student undergoes an extreme body-piercing ritual as a seemingly supportive entree into a domestic household; a pastry chef reluctantly goes house hunting with his older lover but is drawn to the disheveled artist next door; an uncouth renter disrupts a couple’s staid lives; a grad student ponders the hidden exploitation lurking in his estranged father’s conservative church; a group of friends spends a weekend reliving their high school fantasy-gaming rituals as their leader slips into a breakdown; an older man’s offer of help to a young strip-club dancer turns rather dark; a young novelist becomes obsessed with the corpse of a woman that washes ashore in the fishing village where he is summering. Harper’s protagonists are sensitive, talented (but not too talented) youths with dreams of creative lives that they find difficult to square with their circumstances and relationships. Far from the glitter of New York and San Francisco, they are dependent on stable, boring partners, whom they often resent, and are immured in the sterile strip malls and bland apartment complexes of a downscale suburbia that has few beguiling, treacherous oases of bohemian grunge. Harper draws this landscape with a superb eye for detail and feel for atmosphere, writing with a limpid, pitch-perfect prose, suffused with a mordant humor and flashes of wistful lyricism. He perfectly captures the fecklessness of a certain age and mindset while investing it with real psychological depth and emotional resonance—and even with an air of mystery and possibility that belies the seeming banality of his characters’ lives.

A fine debut collection from a gifted chronicler of contemporary queer discontents.

Pub Date: March 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1590212967

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

A hard-edged collection of finely wrought stories.

TALES OF IRAN

In this short story collection, Rashidi (The Outcast, 2014) offers dark tales of rural Iran.

The setting of Rashidi’s fiction is one of meager village life, characterized by the ubiquitous “dust, bits of hay and the stench of dung.” In “Galeen Khanum,” a young girl is forced into an early marriage with a local lord, and the trauma of the consummation leads her to an unhealthy fascination with Islamic promises of the afterlife. In “Ashura,” a peasant boy has a disturbing first experience with the eponymous holy day, during which men lament the memory of the ancient Battle of Karbala by shedding their own blood with cleavers. In “Omar Koshan,” a family attends a yearly festival, the “rowdiest of carnivals, initiated by religious hatred, ever held anywhere in the history of humankind.” Ostensibly an occasion to burn an effigy of Caliph Omar the Cursed, the festival devolves into a chaotic excuse for insults and score-settling. Each of the 16 stories explores the intersection between the individual and an oppressive, tradition-dominated society: the people, lacking the language or vision to transcend the weight of inherited culture, generally come away worse for the encounter. Rashidi is an adept chronicler of village color; his tales are full of gossiping women in flowery chadors, scampering children, destitute beggars, dancing gypsies, scheming mullahs, and old men lazing with their chibouks and opium pipes. The world he creates is so detailed and frenetic that it feels like a documentary, not historical fiction. Most stunning of all is that Rashidi makes no attempt to romanticize the past: the livestock and excrement, the cold and dust, the threat of dangerous neighbors and of the wilderness outside the village make his Iran a legitimately unsettling locale. He doesn’t try to psychoanalyze his characters through a modern lens, but he’s clearly interested in the traumatic effects that the hierarchy and ritual of this world have on its inhabitants, particularly the children. The context of religious and ethnic history is often lost on the characters, if it’s even explained; even so, the ripples of tradition, embodied in the wealthy, the ordained, and the mad, influence their lives in ways that they cannot escape.

A hard-edged collection of finely wrought stories.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-1629211664

Page Count: 302

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

Like Charlaine Harris’ Midnight, Texas saga this is cutting-edge genre fiction that will appeal to genre fans as well as...

Masters' Mysterium

LAS VEGAS

This rousing sequel to Reynolds’ debut novel (Masters’ Mysterium: Wisconsin Dells, 2013) continues a paranormal fantasy saga chronicling the epic battle between angels and demons and the humans entangled in their war.

After what happened in Wisconsin Dells, the world now knows of the existence of angels and demons. With the ladder (the angels’ means of traveling to and from Earth) in Wisconsin Dells destroyed, the primary mission for the humans involved in the angels’ plight—like former waitress Trudy Masters and her husband, Gavin, who now has the ability to heal others with his touch—is to somehow quietly relocate an entire town to a new location: Calamity, Nevada, 30 miles outside of Sin City. But setting up a ladder in Calamity proves to be a dangerous venture, especially when a group of Vegas demons attempts to manipulate the situation to its advantage. The already volatile situation becomes even more complicated when Trudy’s father—who owns the museum of oddities known as Masters’ Mysterium—literally makes a deal with the devil. This saga is simply extraordinary on several levels. Reynolds takes the angels-vs.-demons genre—one filled with mind-numbing stereotypes and clichés—and creates a profound new mythos. His vision is unique, his characters well-developed, the pacing relentless. It’s paranormal fantasy, yes, but that shouldn’t dissuade readers disinterested in the genre. Powered by utterly readable writing and a diverse cast of characters for whom readers will undoubtedly cheer, this novel isn’t so much about angels and demons as it is about the people ensnared in the conflict and their own intimate journeys of self-discovery.

Like Charlaine Harris’ Midnight, Texas saga this is cutting-edge genre fiction that will appeal to genre fans as well as mainstream fiction readers. It’s a storytelling tour de force no matter the categorization.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0988679733

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Masters' Mysterium Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

Assassin Rabbit from the Dawn of Time

Seattle slackers accidentally gain superhuman powers of perception and space-time manipulation, causing an entirely different group of superior beings to wonder what exactly to do about them.
Taylor’s debut may sport a gonzo title, but it’s more like the sophisticated sci-fi satire of Kurt Vonnegut, mildly tweaked for Pacific Northwest sensibilities. Outside Seattle, five young college dropouts enjoy the slacker lifestyle—smoking dope, fiddling with computers, and working barista-level jobs. One of them, Uli, is a rogue biochemical scientist with a habit of experimenting secretly on his friends. His latest experiment—lacing their marijuana with a fancy offshoot of Ecstasy as a way to grow fresh brain tissue—goes too well. Suddenly, their brain waves amped enough to create radio interference, Tony, Kaitlin, Astrid, and Alan possess superhuman powers of perception, telepathy, bilocation, materialization, and dematerialization—things that might be considered dangerous if these youths were more than latter-day hippies with short attention spans and no ambition. Nevertheless, they catch the attention of virtually immortal, normally invisible cosmic entities, the ones who inspire legends of angels, leprechauns, faeries, tricksters, and Native American spirit-animals (including the assassin rabbit). These various supernatural, virtually immortal beings meet with the “new people” (as they call the newly gifted slackers)—whose godlike powers may just exceed their own—to assess what kind of threat the kids pose. Meanwhile, in addition to numerous (albeit never belabored) sci-fi inside jokes and Starfleet references, Taylor throws the bewildered reader several semiconnected plotlines: a mildly Ray Bradbury/Jack Finney–esque paranormal traveling circus; an insidious computer virus in the process of taking over and controlling all data technology; and illegal dumping of industrial waste (by one of the god-kids’ parents) that comes alive and evolves into a golemlike “purple dirt yeti” creature arbitrarily named Mike. By the end, most of these story threads are left dangling, suggesting either that Taylor has a planned sequel up his Seahawks-jersey sleeve or that Washington state slacker types, even granted possibly limitless superpowers, would rather just go surfing, have sex, and chill.
Postmodern ironic gods must be crazy—or just a bit lazy—in this wry, absurd, yet sophisticated sci-fi.

Pub Date: May 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-692-30424-2

Page Count: 234

Publisher: Impossibly Small Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

This debut features a string of startling, satisfying twists wrapped up in mesmerizing fantasy.

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The Ghost Princess

From the Graylands series , Vol. 1

In this subversive debut fantasy, a fallen heroine is drawn into the schemes of madmen.

Alcoholic Katrina Lamont is in the frontier town of Dictum in the untamed Graylands that separate the Two Empires. While drinking away memories of her tragic past, she’s approached by the suave Rasul Kader who needs help tracking down a mystery woman with a grand destiny. “I’ve had enough destiny in my life,” she declares. Meanwhile, Capt. Deacon Marcus of the Sentry Elite has arrived in Dictum on a hunt for the stolen Dragon’s Fang dagger. He meets with Guardian Mage Elijah Warren, who informs him that a sickness is brewing in the nearby forest and he must investigate a possible breach into the Black, where evil rules. South of Dictum, in a fortress near the Dark Lands, the vile Jacob Daredin waits for his machinations to bear fruit. He possesses the Dragon’s Fang and needs only to spill royal blood during the Devil’s Moon to become all-powerful. And finally, there’s the legendary pirate Krutch Leeroy, whose agents have assaulted Katrina, pushing her to join Deacon Marcus on his quest in the Derelict Woods. Katrina, however, has no idea that she’ll soon confront the brutal, invincible Enforcer and a girl named Lily, whose fate overlaps with her own. If these “Travelers on a mission” and “talk of quests and destiny” make author Walsh’s debut seem like every other fantasy adventure, think again. His self-aware approach to genre blending (using not just orcs and gargoyles, but also a serial killer) provides a rigorous example of tight, engaged storytelling. The playful prose dances the line between silly and epic, like when Krutch is described as “a legit, real-deal pirate.” After the complex chess-style setup, Walsh begins savagely removing pieces from the board in ways that should satisfy fans of gory creature features. It’s Katrina and her incredible past, though, that make this a must for casual and hard-core fantasy readers.

This debut features a string of startling, satisfying twists wrapped up in mesmerizing fantasy.

Pub Date: April 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5088-7319-8

Page Count: 324

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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