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H Worldshaper

Edward Willet. DAW, $16 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-7564-1346-0

This rollicking secondary-world contemporary fantasy opens with a bang. Karl, a portal traveler, bursts into a world where he doesn’t know anyone or anything except that he must find the world’s creator, Shawna. She’s just opened a pottery studio and has no idea that she created the world she’s in, until she unknowingly turns back time to save her own life from a man called the Adversary. He steals part of Shawna’s shaping ability and forces her and Karl to go on the run and find a new way into the next world, learning more about her powers on a cross-country road trip. They grapple with the ethics of changing the world, the question of what makes people “real” when the worldshapers can change everything about them with nothing more than a thought, and the need to save the universe. Willet (I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust) meticulously includes small details that make the constantly changing scenery feel solid and real, such as Shawna’s hometown being the apple-growing capital of the country. This novel sets up a fascinating, fluctuating universe with plenty of room for growth for the main characters, and readers will eagerly join their journey. Agent: Ethan Ellenberg, Ethan Ellenberg Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Forget the Sleepless Shores

Sonya Taaffe. Lethe, $20 (294p) ISBN 978-1-59021-210-3

The magical realism of poet and fantasist Taaffe’s luscious, melancholy, and literary second collection of stories (after 2005’s Singing Innocence and Experience) drowns the reader in watery imagery and complex sensory landscapes while exploring the theme of mundane relationships transformed by the intrusion of the mystical and uncanny. In the heartbreaking “Chez Vous Soon,” a woman devastated by her failure to keep her lover from fatally succumbing to insanity and artistic obsession encounters his embodied muse. “The Dybbuk in Love” leans heavily into nostalgia and Jewish heritage as a century-old ghost disturbingly inhabits the minds of a suburban woman’s partners to entreat her to accept him as her beloved. “All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” gracefully takes on the logical legacy of the Lovecraftian mythos with a deep empathy for those called to the sea but still connected to the human world. Though most of Taaffe’s stories hit their unsettling emotional mark when encountered individually, her style falls into common patterns and her prose into lulling rhythms, so that readers who indulge in the entire collection at once may lose subtle distinctions and find themselves overwhelmed by a uniform sad strangeness. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Constance Verity Saves the World

A. Lee Martinez. Saga, $16.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-4814-4355-5

Martinez’s follow-up to 2016’s The Last Adventure of Constance Verity is just as merry and entertaining. Battling giant cosmic sea creatures, alligator people, evil cheese, and various other baddies is all in a day’s work for Constance “Connie” Verity, adventurer and saver of worlds—but maintaining a long-term romantic relationship while grappling with her mortality is something else entirely. Connie is happy with her (very normal) boyfriend, Byron, and she’s determined to make their relationship work, but then she’s summoned by her childhood friend Larry, aka Lord Peril, whose evil genius mother, Lady Peril, has (maybe, but probably not) died and left him to run her international criminal organization. He has no interest in taking the reins; in fact, Larry wants Connie to help him save the world. When Byron is abducted, Connie will need her friend and sidekick Tia, a little luck, and all of her considerable talents to save him and face her destiny. Martinez has a gift for snark and snappy dialogue, and he lovingly packs every genre trope possible into this witty romp. Genuinely likable characters and imaginative set pieces drive the breathless narrative all the way to a fitting finale. Readers who like a lot of sass with their derring-do will find much to love here. (July)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Report to Megalopolis, or The Post-Modern Prometheus

Tod Davies. Exterminating Angel, $15.95 trade paper (248p) ISBN 978-1-935259-31-2

Davies’s fourth journey to bucolic Arcadia and its technophilic sister world of Megalopolis (after The Lizard Princess) cleverly explores the motifs of Frankenstein, debating the presence of a soul in a created being. Aspern Grayling, an Arcadian expatriate and scientist, rails against the limitations of the society he grew up in and seeks to gain power within the advisory council of Megalopolis, aiming at eventual rulership over Arcadia itself. Grayling’s account is part sociological treatise contrasting the culture of imagination in Arcadia with the technological supremacy of Megalopolis, and part personal history of the conquering of Arcadia by his genetically engineered creation, Pavo Vale. The misogynistic unreliable narration skillfully highlights Davies’s true message of social balance, respect for family, and faith. Pavo’s rampage through Arcadian life, including rape, murder, and war, is explained but not excused by his lack of biological and emotional connection to other people, while his search for the key that provides Arcadia’s power gives the reader welcome reminders of the earlier books. SF fans will appreciate the intriguing perspective on a familiar theme. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Charmcaster

Sebastien De Castell. Orbit, $15.99 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-0-316-52584-8

De Castell continues to underwhelm in his third Spellslinger fantasy novel (after 2018’s Shadowblack). Teenage mage Kellen is still partnered with two eccentric traveling companions. Ferius Parfax is an Argosi, “enigmatic card players who travel the continent” for an unknown purpose; Reichis is a bloodthirsty squirrel cat. En route to the land of Gitabria, the trio rescue a stranger from religious fanatics who view magic as devil worship. Kellen is stunned to realize that the intended victim was a friend from back home, Nephenia, who has been searching for him since her exile. When the four reach Gitabria, they try to ascertain the purpose of an elaborate mechanical bird that may have the power to “change or even destroy entire civilizations.” De Castell fails to make the high stakes, and Kellen’s struggle to be more than just an “outcast, trapped inside the machinations of great nations,” resonate as consequential, in part because of his lead’s snarky reactions to peril. This bland series will hold little appeal to seasoned fantasy readers. Agent: Heather Adams, HMA Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Love Uncovered

Diane Holiday. City Owl, $4.99 e-book (345p) ISBN 978-1-944728-93-9

Holiday’s second Love Beyond Danger romance (after Love in Hiding) blends the tension of a high-stakes corruption case with the charm of a well-realized small-town setting to create a fun, fast-paced story. Two years ago, DEA Agent Scott Fisher broke archeologist Maddie Cooper’s heart when he left on an undercover assignment and severed all contact. She is hardly prepared to find him working with the local police in Tuckerton, the town where she is on a career-defining dig for Native American artifacts, or to be forced to work with him when her storage facility is burgled and a corrupt developer begins threatening her. Blaming himself for his brother’s drug-related death, Scott is determined to keep Maddie at arm’s length—but he can’t forget the passion they shared, or ignore the threats to her safety. Though there is intrigue aplenty, the stereotypical, sexist villains (“At least this bitch could follow instructions and knew her place. If not, she’d be ashes in the wind”) stick out awkwardly in a plot filled with generally sympathetic characters. Though the emphasis remains on the authoritative hero’s growth rather than the free-spirited heroine’s, the chemistry between them feels genuine, providing appeal for series fans and newcomers alike. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Mecha Samurai Empire

Peter Tieryas. Ace, $16 trade paper (464p) ISBN 978-0-451-49099-5

Tieryas expands on the universe introduced in United States of Japan, an alternate history in which Japan and Germany won WWII, in this terrific coming-of-age story. Makoto “Mac” Fujimoto, an ambitious war orphan, dreams of becoming a mecha combat robot pilot but lacks the social connections or grades to enter Berkeley Military Academy, where mecha pilots are trained. Mac is preparing to take exams that will determine his academic future when an incursion by a terrorist group, the National Revolutionaries of America, kills his best friend and alters the course of his life. Mac’s journey from dispossessed youth to heroic avenger is accompanied by a colorful cast, inhabiting a vibrant world that confronts the high cost of war without becoming mired in its darkness. The middle’s sluggish pacing, which threatens to grind events to a halt, is the book’s only flaw; otherwise, Tieryas perfectly balances humor, action, and romance. Agent: Judith Hansen, Hansen Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Dying Peasant

Karel van de Woestijne, trans. from the Dutch by Paul Vincent. Snuggly, $10 trade paper (62p) ISBN 978-1-943813-76-6

In this philosophical 1918 novella by Flemish poet van de Woestijne, a dying peasant is visited by his five senses in the anthropomorphic guises of women he knew in the past. Nand lies alone, recalling his family and his life, and begins to feel discontent with his approaching death. When he laments that he will never get what he wants, his eyes appear to him as a young woman and remind him of everything he has seen, along with the memory of his contentment with the beauty of his farmland, his wife, and his family. As each subsequent woman speaks, the years of Nand’s life return to him, filled with bright colors, shimmering birdsong, and brash, cold winds. While Vincent’s translation starts out somewhat clunky in the opening expository moments, the language used by the five senses redeems him with its lushness and clarity; those familiar with van de Woestijne will recognize the same stark, vividly real imagery that he employs in his poems. The parochial nature of Nand’s experiences may resonate less with a modern audience, but the question Nand struggles with is universal: what makes a worthwhile life? Van de Woestijne’s tale speaks to the common humanity of gratitude, humility, and awe as Nand is shown by his senses that even the simplest life is worth cherishing. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Time’s Convert

Deborah Harkness. Viking, $29 (400p) ISBN 978-0-399-56451-2

In Harkness’s rich but meandering new novel, the first in a new series set in the world of her All Souls trilogy, vampire Marcus Whitmore, son of Matthew de Clermont, is set to marry 23-year-old human Phoebe Taylor, who will be made a vampire herself. Marcus’s required 90-day separation from Phoebe during the process inspires him to seek comfort at the home that his father shares with his wife, the witch Diana Bishop. Diana, through her magic, senses that Marcus hasn’t come to terms with his past as a field doctor during the Revolutionary War and the events leading up to his rebirth as a vampire in 1781, and attempts to draw him out. Meanwhile, Diana and Matthew’s delightful brightborn (half-vampire, half-witch) twins Philip and Becca are already manifesting an alarming aptitude for magic, and Philip has summoned a new familiar, a griffin named Apollo. Harkness’s busy, meticulously researched narrative moves back and forth between present-day Paris and the days of the Revolutionary War, and her easy familiarity with her fully realized characters will make readers feel at home. Phoebe’s transition from warmblood to vampire is particularly fascinating, as is the fraught history of vampires and witches. The large cast can be daunting, and those not already familiar with the All Souls trilogy may be lost, but returning readers will find this a delightful excursion. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Dig Deep My Grave

Cheryl Honigford. Sourcebook Landmark, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-4926-2867-5

Set in 1939, Honigford’s diverting if muddled third Viv and Charlie mystery (after 2017’s Homicide for the Holidays) takes radio actress Vivian Witchell and her beau, PI Charlie Haverman, from Chicago to Geneva Lake, Wis., to introduce Charlie to Viv’s rich relatives. The pair attend a garden party at Viv’s mother’s summer estate, where they encounter Hap Prescott, Viv’s youthful indiscretion, who flew supplies during the Spanish Civil War. Hap makes a play for Viv and otherwise tries to make Charlie jealous. After Charlie disappears, Viv goes looking for him in the estate’s grand house, where she walks into the game room and sees Charlie propping Hap up—and then Hap falls to the floor and Charlie is left holding a pair of bloody scissors. After the police arrest Charlie for Hap’s murder, he urges Viv not to miss her long-planned screen test in Hollywood. Charlie later goes on the run, and Viv returns to Geneva Lake determined to find the real killer. Honigford loads the plot with a host of contrivances, but her upper-class heroine’s busy sleuthing will keep readers turning the pages. Agent: Elizabeth Trupin-Pulli, JET Literary Assoc. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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