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Glass Town

Steven Savile. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $25.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-07783-7

English author Savile (Moonlands) sets this clichéd and grating urban fantasy in a barely recognizable 1994 London. After the death of Josh Raines’s grandfather, the aimless Josh finds out that the old man spent most of his life obsessed with a woman named Eleanor, who disappeared in 1924. Despite 70 years having passed, Josh recognizes Eleanor on the street, as young as when she vanished, identifiable from having appeared for a few minutes in a lost Hitchcock silent movie. Unfortunately for both Eleanor and the reader, her disappearance has to do with an estranged branch of Josh’s family, specifically his grandfather’s brother, Seth, a two-dimensional mobster and murderous sociopath who took Eleanor and a part of London itself with him out of time and space. Seth is evil for the sake of being evil, Josh has no actual characterization, and Eleanor serves mainly as an unattainable ideal off in the distance. Lacking strong leads, the novel is forced to rely on its sense of place, which is so poorly wielded that London could be replaced with Chicago by changing the names of the streets and the mobsters. The lost Hitchcock movie is by far the most intriguing element of the book, but Savile mostly ignores it. This effort is a poor introduction of Savile to a U.S. audience. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Emerald Princess and Other Decadent Fantasies

Félicien Champsaur, trans. from the French
by Brian Stableford. Snuggly, $14.95 trade paper (178p) ISBN 978-1-943813-51-3

The career of Champsaur (1858–1934), a journalist and novelist most widely known as a writer of light erotica, was a bit late to be classified as truly a part of the French decadent movement, but the decadents were certainly his greatest influence. This collection includes several short and inconsequential sketches, a long and intensely visual—but ultimately merely pretty—prose portrait describing the commedia dell’arte clown Pierrot rising from the grave to attend the Paris Opera, and the titular short novel, which contains the sort of enjoyable excess that would have made a great Busby Berkeley musical. The Emerald Princess rules a desperately poor city from which she occasionally selects young men to be her husbands. They then mysteriously disappear. In an effort not to select Myram, the pearl fisher whom she truly loves, she takes his brother instead, and the result is pitched somewhere between Turandot and Conan the Barbarian. Orientalism and archaic language mar an otherwise enjoyable pulp fantasy that fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard will appreciate. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Under a Watchful Eye

Adam Nevill. Pan MacMillan, $12.95 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-5098-2041-2

Nevill (Lost Girl) generates few scares in this unremarkable horror novel, which starts stronger than it finishes. English novelist Seb Logan has written several successful books that benefited from the publishing industry’s decision to promote horror as the hot new trend. But his tranquil life is unsettled by visions of a man dressed in dark clothing who seems to magically vanish and reappear, images that cause Seb to question his sanity. Seb’s identification of the spectral figure haunting him only magnifies his unease; Ewan Alexander, whom he’d not seen in a dozen years, had shared a room with Seb while both were undergraduates and served as a mentor for Seb’s nascent writing career, introducing him to the works of horror authors such as M.R. James. Ewan’s reentry into Seb’s life triggers a devastating series of events that will neither surprise nor unsettle veteran genre readers. Despite the genuinely creepy opening chapters, this effort disappoints. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Windhome

Kristin Landon. Candlemark & Gleam, $20.95 trade paper (346p) ISBN 978-1-936460-79-3

After an eight-year hiatus, Landon (The Dark Reaches) returns with a complex fourth novel that combines dystopian and first-contact themes. Vika Jai, a young female xenobiologist, wakes from 40 years of cryogenic sleep to a ravaged ship and crew. Only three humans survive to make landfall on Shothef Erau, an inhabited planet known to have been bombed by an alien force. The lightly sketched backstory hints that Earth and Shothef Erau have a shared genetic history and may share a devastated future if Vika and her crewmates cannot transmit details about the alien attack to Earth. Vika negotiates first contact with Kelru, a native drawn to the lander’s flaming entry. He’s part of an urban, progressive academia, and his community is at odds with the matriarchal pastoralists, who quickly take custody of Vika’s party. The human presence radically escalates the native conflict. This is a quiet, tense book, saturated with dread. Vika, barely out of adolescence, is convincingly depicted as maturing just a hair too slowly in an environment with little room for error. The culture of the inhabitants of Shothef Erau, however, seems crudely designed, with societal roles wholly determined by sexual dimorphism. Agent: Caitlin McDonald, Donald Maass Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Black Star Renegade

Michael Moreci. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-11784-7

Moreci (the Roche Limit comics series) delivers a story that recalls his work for the Star Wars franchise: it brims with exotic locales, weird aliens, an evil empire, and a Jedilike hero with a cohort of misfits. Cade Sura and his older brother, Tristan, spent 10 years studying to be Rai warriors, planning to defend the Galactic Alliance from Praxis and its evil Queen Ga Halle. Certain that Tristan is the legendary Paragon, their teacher, Ser Jorken, sends them to recover an ancient weapon called the Rokura—but a Praxis assassin murders Tristan. Cade, escaping with the Rokura, is now assumed to be the Paragon, but he’s not reconciled to that role, and neither is the sentient artifact. On the run from Praxis forces, Cade assembles a crew of oddballs who set off to find the real Paragon and take out the War Hammer, a planet-killing Praxian space ship. Moreci’s sci-fi adventure delivers plenty of action for fans willing to overlook the unoriginal story. Agent: Jason Yarn, Jason Yarn Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The King of Bones and Ashes

J.D. Horn. 47north, $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5039-5431-1

Horn (Shivaree) opens a supernatural series with an intricate family saga centered on a young woman who happens to be a witch. Magic seems to be waning, but Alice Marin, age 21, is more powerful than ever, and she’s still haunted by the evil entity called Babau Jean. She has just been released from a secret facility that houses emotionally disturbed witches. Her grandfather, Celestin, has died, and her family is determined to send him out in full New Orleans style. Alice doesn’t want to see her estranged father, Nicholas, feeling that he abandoned her, but she reluctantly returns to New Orleans and finds that her family is in disarray. Meanwhile, Evangeline Caissy, Nicholas’s lover, is tasked by her mother’s coven to find The Book of Unwinding. According to myth, the witch who possesses the book “would, in the end, control the last breath of magic and determine what was to come next.” Horn’s rich characterizations and setting, sparkling magic, and creepy villains bolster the narrative, and his focus on women as major players is particularly refreshing. The terrifying conclusion will have readers looking forward to the next installment. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Starlings

Jo Walton. Tachyon, $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-61696-056-8

This collection of fiction and poetry from Hugo- and Nebula-winner Walton (The Just City) showcases her trademark focus on genre and philosophical questions. Most of the fiction is very brief, and fans of the form will have plenty to appreciate. The strongest story is the relatively long “The Panda Coin,” which follows the path of a gold coin as it passes through the economy of a space station. Cleverest is “Sleeper,” the story of a future biographer interviewing a simulation of her 20th-century subject. The inclusion of “Tradition,” however, is unfortunate, as it’s an undisguised, nearly point-for-point rehashing of a very common joke, and the play “Three Shouts on a Hill” fails to rise above the tropes and clichés it attempts to interrogate. Of the poetry included at the end, “Machiavelli and Prospero” stands out as a rewarding and clever piece of character insight, and “Sleepless in New Orleans” is particularly striking for its voice. The collection will appeal most strongly to Walton’s dedicated fans and those with academic interest in her work. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Daughters of the Storm: Blood and Gold, Book 1

Kim Wilkins. Del Rey, $27 (448p) ISBN 978-0-399-17747-7

Australian author Wilkins’s unsophisticated fantasy epic falls flat. In the generically European fantasy kingdom of Almissia, the king is in an enchanted sleep, and his five daughters set out together to find a magic user who may be able to wake him. The journey, too straightforward to be called a quest, is punctuated by predictable challenges that make the plot feel plodding and inevitable. The stereotypical characterization of the sisters, each of whom is selfish and unpleasant in her own way, forecast the attempted plot twists: the warrior thinks with her sword, the mystic has plot-convenient abilities, the flighty one and the strumpet cause political troubles with ill-advised affairs, and the religious zealot will betray anyone to serve her god. Readers hoping for an exciting female-led take on epic fantasy will instead find this book drearily familiar. Agent: Selwa Anthony, Selwa Anthony Author Management. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Dark Network: An Imogen Trager Novel

James McCrone. CreateSpace, $12.99 trade paper (260p) ISBN 978-0-692-79784-6

McCrone’s second political thriller featuring FBI agent Imogen Trager builds on the dramatic tension of its predecessor, 2016’s Faithless Elector, in which the tightly contested 2016 presidential campaign seemed to conclude with an electoral college triumph for Democrat Diane Redmond, who had the necessary 271 electoral votes on election night. But the country was thrown into chaos after charges of voter fraud led to electors in three states to switch their support to the Republican, James Christopher, despite his having been widely regarded as having run a “dismayingly incoherent campaign.” Now the country is without a president-elect, and Trager, described by a superior as a “wonk who gets things done,” must deal with a network out to capture the presidency for some powerful special interests. Meanwhile, Trager finds herself in the investigative crosshairs after her personal relationship with a crooked colleague, who died in a gun battle in the last book, comes to light. Baldacci and Meltzer fans will appreciate the plot’s twists and the easy-to-empathize-with lead. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Wishing Caswell Dead

Pat Stoltey. Five Star, $25.95 (230p) ISBN 978-1-4328-3440-1

This odd but effective novel from Stoltey (Dead Wrong) opens in the spring of 1834, when the bloody corpse of 19-year-old Caswell Proud is found propped against a tree near the pioneer settlement of Sangamon, Ill. The mystery isn’t so much whodunit as who wouldn’t have wished Caswell dead. The teen was well on his way to becoming the village sociopath, doing everything from torturing animals to forcing his 13-year-old sister, Jo Mae, into prostitution. Being struck by lightning just made him degenerate into an even more loathsome and dreadful menace. Stoltey zigzags back and forth in time and between observers to show how complex human relationships are. Town midwife Annie Grey, for example, is genuinely kind to Jo Mae, but she’s thoughtlessly domineering in her lesbian affair with the village’s meek schoolmarm. The characters, who also include Caswell and Jo Mae’s self-absorbed mother, a desperately devout preacher, and the wise elder who becomes Jo Mae’s protector, are unexpectedly complicated and wonderfully individual. Only some stiff writing mars this worthy historical. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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