The books we love coming out this week include new titles by C.J. Box, Naomi Novik, and Greg Wade.
Edgar winner Box’s excellent fifth Cassie Dewell novel (after 2019’s The Bitterroots) sets the former police officer, now a PI in Bozeman, Mont., on the trail of a con man who bilked wealthy widow Candyce Fly out of $5 million and vanished. Fly earlier employed another PI—the marvelously noxious J.D. Spengler—to track the man down, but both Spengler and his quarry disappeared into the old mining town of Anaconda, Mont. Cassie travels there to investigate, and soon realizes that she has stumbled on a lethal conspiracy that goes far beyond the victimization of her client. A second case involving a buried treasure adds to the intrigue. Box has rarely been better in his plotting, with shifting timelines revealing the scope of the crimes. The criminal conspirators are both inventively corrupt and chilling, and the cleverly constructed mystery is leavened with generous doses of Montana history, along with the welcome appearances of characters from earlier Cassie novels. The story culminates with one of Box’s most satisfying payoffs. Hopefully, fans won’t have to wait another three years for the intrepid Cassie’s next adventure.
Novik dazzles in her brilliant and compulsively readable final Scholomance fantasy, which picks up immediately after the events of The Last Graduate. Galadriel “El” Higgins has successfully trapped 92% of all wizard-hunting monsters, or mals, in the magical boarding school Scholomance, now her alma mater, and led her fellow students to safety—all except for her enemy turned true love, Orion Lake. El’s desperate attempts to save Orion from a fate worse than death in the belly of the same “maw-mouth” monster that ate her father can’t succeed unless she gets power from the enclaves, groups of privileged wizards living in protective pocket universes. However, several enclaves have mysteriously vanished into the void, the powerful London enclave is under attack, and the New York and Shanghai enclaves are on the brink of war. To save Orion, El and her classmates must first save the world they have struggled so hard to rejoin and a future threatened by dangers built into the foundations of the enclaves themselves. This exquisitely well-crafted work engages deeply with genre classics like the Lord of the Rings and The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas while offering up its own detailed and original world full of clever parallels and a fascinating magical catch-22. Novik beautifully closes out El’s and Orion’s character arcs, paying off on groundwork laid in previous installments, and her focus on hope, resilience, and collective action makes this finale as moving as it is satisfying. This is a knockout.
In this exceptional guide, Wade, head baker of Chicago’s Publican Quality Bread, calls on his knowledge and good humor to show home bakers how to “increase the tools in your toolbox one by one.” As much as it refers to both his own career path—no formal training—and his urgings to use sustainably grown grains, Wade’s “road less traveled” could also apply to his unorthodox yet appealing flavor pairings, as seen in an apple and peanut loaf, and a celery root–rosemary pizza. The book sets itself apart by introducing flours, techniques, and simple recipes (heritage cornbread, oat dinner rolls) and then building upon that know-how with flair and flavor. Recipe ingredients are helpfully expressed in tables of weight, volume, and baker’s percentages—a thorough vetting of the latter is provided at the back of the book. Defending why his bread dough are often enough for two loaves, he debunks any notion of wastefulness: “When you’re learning to make bread, it’s helpful to repeat the process a second time.” With skills of both fermentation and attentiveness well in hand, readers are then tempted with more challenging recipes that call for baking in stages, “laminating,” and various fillings: marzipan stollen, buckwheat canelés, and a sorghum shortbread fig tart among them. This is sure to banish any remnants of sourdough fatigue.
Emotionally complex, wildly inventive, and full of squirming terror, Ennes’s debut begins when the doctor assigned to the Château de Verdira dies under mysterious circumstances. The Interprovincial Medical Institute sends another of their own to replace him. The nameless protagonist arrives on a mission to discover how the previous doctor died while harboring one of the biggest secrets in this postapocalyptic world: the Institute is not only a medical association. It’s a hivemind of parasites that have systemically taken over the minds and bodies of every human medical professional to fulfill a mandate to protect and care for the human race—who have proven incapable of doing so themselves. The death of the chateau’s previous doctor marks the first time the Institute’s lost a body without remembering how. As the protagonist discovers it’s not the only parasite within the chateau’s walls, both the health of the chateau’s residents and the ironclad hold the Institute has on its hosts begin to crumble. Ennes builds a postapocalyptic world with an expansive history and innumerable creeping horrors hiding in its shadows. The author’s greatest strength is in narrative voice, rendering the Institute’s hivemind with laser precision. This is a must-read for readers looking for something new from the horror genre.
In this vibrant tour de force, Yang (The Black Tides of Heaven) presents a simultaneous embrace and inversion of Chosen One narratives. Misery Nomaki, an apparently unremarkable resident of a down-and-out mining planet, is able to shape and manipulate holystone, a skill only available to two classes of people: saints of a holy order and those in the lethal throes of voidmadness. Misery’s unsure which they fall into. As the increasingly powerful voice of the angel that Misery hears in their head draws them into a galaxy-wide political conflict, they must decide whether to trust new allies, including the intense and magnetic royal renegade Lady Lee Alodia Lightning, and determine whether their purpose is truly divine—or irreversibly damned. Yang’s prose is lush and gripping throughout, and they accomplish the tall order of seamlessly weaving worldbuilding into the dynamic motion of the story, incorporating fascinating details without ever risking expository fatigue. Themes of faith, suffering, queerness, and duty are given plenty of room to breathe as Misery and their ragtag gang of friends struggle to navigate a universe as complex and gorgeously rendered as it is hostile to those on its margins. This is a triumph.
Breathlessly paced and dripping with gothic decadence, Henderson’s second novel (after The Year of the Witching) cements her status as one of horror’s best new voices. Marion Shaw toils away in the poor South of Prane, dreaming of escaping her miserable life of low pay and abuse for the North, where rich nobles from old money live in debauched elegance, drinking the blood of young women called bloodmaids to keep themselves healthy and preserve their youth. After Marion applies for one of these bloodmaid positions, she is whisked away to the service of Countess Lisavet of the notorious House of Hunger. There, Marion is pampered beyond her wildest dreams, but also drained of blood daily for the reclusive and chronically ill countess, who needs the supply of several bloodmaids to stay alive. Marion rises to become Lisavet’s favorite, and their bond deepens beyond servant and mistress. But Marion also grows close to her fellow bloodmaids, and when her new friends fall physically and mentally ill, Marion must risk her opulent new life and budding love with Lisavet to uncover the truth about the House of Hunger and the role of the bloodmaids. It’s a fascinating new spin on vampires that combines gory but gorgeous imagery and searing social commentary. This compulsively readable novel gives readers something to sink their teeth into.
The discovery of a body in the trunk of a stolen car propels bestseller Archer’s expertly plotted 33rd Joe Gunther novel (after 2021’s Marked Man). Aided by other members of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, Joe soon identifies the victim as a petty thief who’s stolen from targets all over Vermont and New Hampshire. A number of suspicious items found at the crime scene, including discarded cell phones, lead to the arrest of a child pornographer and a link to a child’s unsolved disappearance. Gunther and his team work across state lines as part of a task force, and Archer’s skill at researching and writing about police procedure is on full display as the case grows more complex and disturbing. As always, the author takes an unsparing view of life in northern New England, capturing the region’s beauty and economic disparity, while spinning a heart-pounding tale in which each character, clue, and subplot comes together with purpose. Even this far into the series, the supporting characters surrounding Gunther continue to grow and surprise. New and returning readers alike will be richly rewarded.
The Skeptics’ Guide to the Future: What Yesterday’s Science and Science Fiction Tell Us about the World of Tomorrow
Neurologist Novella (The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe) and his siblings, cohosts of the podcast The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, deliver an entertaining evaluation of futurism and an account of why the majority of predictions miss the mark. As they note, “predictions of the future are really just reflections of the present. And that means we’re really bad at predicting what the future will bring,” thanks largely to cognitive biases. The authors cite scientist and sci-fi author Isaac Asimov as a prime example: in the 1950s, his fiction imagined that in thousands of years, the future would be analog and consist of “hat-wearing, cigar-smoking, male domination.” As for what might actually come to be, the authors cover synthetic life (“still likely a few decades off”), artificial intelligence (there “does not appear to be any reason” human-level AI is impossible to achieve), and wearable tech (the “loader exosuit” in Aliens isn’t too far off). It’s a cogent look at what is and isn’t plausible, infused with plenty of sci-fi references, from Wall-E to The Matrix. The result is pop science done right.