This week, we highlight new books from Susan Elizabeth Phillips, William Barber, and Allison Montclair.

The Ghosts of Sherwood

Carrie Vaughn., $11.99 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-250-75211-6

Vaughn (the Kitty Norville Series) turns her formidable talents to the legend of Robin Hood in this impeccable novella and series launch. When Robin of Loxley learned of the death of heroic King Richard, he reluctantly swore loyalty to Richard’s wicked brother, King John. Though the decision caused tension among Robin’s former merry band, it enabled Robin and his beloved wife, Marian, to settle down and raise their children in peace. But when a band of rogues kidnap the three Locksley children, the aging Robin and Marian brave Sherwood Forest once again, reuniting with old friends as they confront a new threat. Vaughn brings nuance and empathy to Robin of Loxley, granting him the dignity of age without detracting from the sprightliness that animates his youthful incarnations, but her true triumph is in the characterization of the Locksley children as they try to escape their abductors: Mary, the oldest, will need to marry soon; John, the middle child and only boy, struggles with the burden of his father’s legacy; and the phenomenally clever youngest child, Eleanor, is nonverbal. Vaughn’s masterful worldbuilding and lovable cast promise more good things to come in future adventures. Agent: Seth Fishman, Gernert Company. (June)

Dance Away with Me

Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Morrow, $28.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-297305-4

Two people determined to withdraw from society instead discover the power of human connection in this deeply felt romance from Phillips (First Star I See Tonight). Midwife Tess Hartsong retreats to remote Runaway Mountain, Tenn., following the death of her husband. While letting loose with a cathartic one-person dance party, Tess provokes the anger of Ian North, a reclusive artist who just moved nearby and confronts Tess over the volume of her music. He’s quickly followed by the pregnant Bianca, who introduces herself as Ian’s wife and strikes up an easy friendship with Tess. When Bianca goes into early labor with no time to get to the hospital, Ian calls upon Tess’s help in a tense, deeply emotional scene that ends with Bianca’s death. Ian hires Tess to help take care of the premature baby and, despite her best efforts, Tess can’t help getting attached to the newborn. Raising the baby together while facing a firestorm of town gossip, Tess and Ian grow close and open up about their secrets, among them the true nature of Ian and Bianca’s relationship. Phillips layers this poignant love story with robust descriptions of mountain scenery and society, and a well-handled subplot about Tess’s fight for comprehensive sex education for the town’s teens. This stirring romance is sure to capture readers’ hearts. Agent: Steve Axelrod, the Axelrod Agency. (June)

Outside the Lines

Ameera Patel. Catalyst, $15.95 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-946395-35-1

Set in contemporary Johannesburg, South Africa, playwright and actor Patel’s exceptional debut is told by five narrators of different races and religions, whose paths cross in unexpected ways. Cathleen Joseph, the sly, drug-addled teenage daughter of a once well-to-do family, enters the terrifying world of addiction; meanwhile, her ineffectual father, Frank, sinks deeper into depression. Flora, the Josephs’ maid, is attracted to handsome, silent housepainter Runyararo, and begins to reexamine the part she has played in the lives of her employers. Runyararo, who recently arrived from Zimbabwe and whose goal is to send money back home to his family, is on the lowest societal rung and an easy target for exploitation. Farhana, who’s the girlfriend of Flora’s son, Zee, and has “dimples deep enough to hide secrets,” must find a way to reconcile her Muslim beliefs with a future made uncertain by her being pregnant with Zee’s child. One lie alters the lives of all of them, leading to a brutal, impulsive act of rage. Patel displays an exceptional ability to plumb the depths of her characters, each of whose points of view throws light on the realities of the other narrators. Rays of hope and gentle overtures to love lift this vibrant novel. (June)

We Are Called to Be a Movement

William Barber. Workman, $8.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-5235-1124-2

Barber (Revive Us Again), a MacArthur Fellow and pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C., demonstrates his rhetorical gifts in this expansion on a 2018 sermon he delivered at the National Cathedral. Barber attained national attention by organizing “Moral Monday” protests throughout 2013 against legislation hurting the poor, and draws on the Psalms and the Gospel of Luke to develop his principal theme—“God uses the rejected to lead the moral revival.” The rejected, he argues, are the 140 million Americans who are poor or “low wealth” (those within the bottom third of earners). He makes an argument for all rejected to form a mass movement and come together to be the “chief cornerstones” of a more just and economically equal America. Barber’s impassioned oratory (“Revival power! Resurrection power! Love power! Mercy power! Telling the truth power!... when the stones that have been rejected come together, something powerful can happen.”) shows the influence of Dr. Martin Luther King, whom Barber cites as a model for his thinking. Christians looking for inspiration toward collective action will love this. (June)

A Royal Affair

Allison Montclair. Minotaur, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-17839-8

In Montclair’s stellar sequel to 2019’s The Right Sort of Man, former British intelligence operative Iris Sparks and widow Gwen Bainbridge, who teamed up after WWII to run a business seeking to match up prospective spouses, are offered a highly sensitive assignment in 1946 London. Gwen’s titled cousin, Lady Patience Matheson, who works for Queen Elizabeth, the consort of George VI, wants the partners of the Right Sort of Marriage Bureau to vet Prince Philip, the intended of the heir apparent, the future Elizabeth II. The then-princess has received an anonymous letter, intercepted by her protectors, stating “I have what Talbot found in Corfu” and that there will be a price for returning “them” to Alice, Philip’s mother. Iris and Gwen agree to investigate what the message is referring to, so that Lady Matheson can assess whether the prince is a suitable mate for the princess. Montclair successfully combines the insightful characterizations of Jacqueline Winspear with the witty banter of Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles. Fans of the British royal family will have fun. (July)

Winds of Wrath

Taylor Anderson. Ace, $27 (544p) ISBN 978-0-399-58756-6

Anderson’s world-spanning Destroyermen saga comes to a tense and well-crafted climax in the thoroughly satisfying 15th and final entry (after Pass of Fire), which continues the adventure of the USS Walker, a WWII destroyer translocated to an alternate Earth populated by dinosaurs and cat people. Capt. Matt Reddy, commander of the armed forces of a Grand Alliance of humans, humanoid Lemurians, and reptilian Grik, their former enemies, faces the final resistance of rebel Grik in Africa while also directing an invasion of South America to topple the Dominion, a group of bloodthirsty religious fanatics. But the biggest threat to the Alliance remains the fascist League of Tripoli, who greatly outgun the Alliance and its scrappy flagship. Anderson successfully juggles the various fronts and the large cast while also providing the best battle sequences in the series. Readers following the adventures of this “rusty old ship” will be pleased to find that its success is due less to its armament and more to the honor and loyalty of its displaced destroyermen and women. Anderson sends the series out with a bang. Agent: Russell Galen, Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary. (June)

Superpower Showdown: How the Battle Between Trump and Xi Threatens a New Cold War

Bob Davis and Lingling Wei. Harper Business, $29.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-295305-6

Wall Street Journal reporters Davis and Wei deliver an essential look at recent U.S.-Chinese relations, up through the January 2020 trade deal. Going back to the beginnings of China’s economic rise in the 1980s, they trace the deterioration in the country’s relationship with the U.S., which Beijing officials once likened to an “old married couple who needed each other, even though they might bicker.” Davis and Wei remind readers that Bill Clinton, “now seen as the great globalizer,” initially ran as an advocate for reviving U.S. manufacturing and as a harsh critic of China’s human-rights record, only to forge close economic ties to the country once in office. The potentially dry subject matter is made vivid by the authors’ references to relevant aspects of their family backgrounds—Wei's as the granddaughter of a veteran of Mao’s Long March, and Davis’s as the son of a factory owner who encountered intractable competition from Asian manufacturing—and by portraits of such key players as Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro. They end by listing options for the next U.S. president, whether Trump or Joe Biden, to take on China, including more multilateral use of tariffs abroad, and greater use of tariffs at home. This is required reading for anyone concerned about America’s economic future. (June)

Agnes at the End of the World

Kelly McWilliams. Little, Brown, $17.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-3164-8733-7

The Red Creek compound is the only life Agnes, 16, has known. Adhering to the belief that “perfect obedience produces perfect faith,” she and her siblings have been taught by Red Creek’s prophet that women are inferior to men and that outsiders are not to be trusted. Devout though she is, Agnes secretly seeks outside help to save her brother, who has type 1 diabetes, and she experiences doubt when faced with an arranged marriage and her outsider mother’s pleas that she run away. When a viral pandemic encroaches, Agnes uncovers an aural realm long forgotten. In three parts, McWilliams (Doormat) follows faithful Agnes and her doubting 15-year-old sister, Beth. As Agnes learns more about the virus—a disease infecting animals and humans that causes hardened red skin, hostility, and grouping together in grotesque nests—she must come to grips with the tension between science and faith. Strong apocalyptic worldbuilding alternates with dialogue-laden scenes, while minor characters, such as the Burn Squad captain charged with eradicating nests, move the plot forward in absorbing and dynamic ways. Ages 12–up. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel, Goderich and Bourret. (June)

The Cheapest Nights

Yusuf Idris, trans. from the Arabic by Wadida Wassef. Penguin Classics, $18 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-14-313398-8

Wassef’s new translation of Idris’s seminal 1967 story collection is a bracing glimpse into the lives of Egypt’s poor and middle classes after WWII. In “Did You Have to Turn on the Light, Li-Li,” a recent graduate of Al-Azhar University ministers to the destitute and addicted deep in the slums of mid-century Cairo, only to hopelessly fall for a beautiful congregant. In “The Shame,” rumors of an indiscretion between two villagers prompts rage from their families and sets a countryside community on edge. In “The Dregs of the City,” a judge coerces his maid into a sexual relationship, but soon finds his dominance challenged. Idris’s assured prose, translated capably by Wassef, captures the high drama in the lust, labor, and resilience of daily life in a rapidly evolving Egypt. A doctor by trade, Idris saves his most cutting profiles for trained professionals—the undertaker, judges, and doctors whose paternalism is thin cover for greed, vanity, and sexual opportunism. While the collection will be of particular interest to readers drawn to the fiction of the modern Middle East, Idris’s imagination, craft, and emotional insight make this a must-read for all short story enthusiasts. (June)