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The Queen of the Cicadas

V. Castro. Flame Tree, $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-78758-603-1

Writing in breathtaking, atmospheric prose, Castro (Hairspray and Switchblades) merges brutal realism and supernatural terror to create a fierce, memorable tale of Mexican folklore and horror. In 2018, Belinda Montoya, a divorced mother in her 40s who sees herself as a monster and a failure, attends her childhood best friend’s wedding at an imposing Victorian farmhouse in Alice, Tex. There, she meets Hector, the property’s owner, who recalls the tale of La Reina de Las Chicharras, an urban legend about a hate crime that occurred on the farm decades before. The narrative alternates between the present-day wedding and the truth of what happened all those years ago. In 1952, Milagros Santos, an undocumented immigrant worker from Mexico, is subjected to racist harassment from the white women on the farm that escalates until Milagros is lynched. The farm then “falls into the clutches of a curse” as one by one those responsible for the murder meet their end at the hands of Mictecacíhuatl, the Aztec Queen of the Dead, who appears as a woman without skin. Castro uses this well-constructed narrative of supernatural retribution to tell an urgent story of the plight of migrant workers. Visceral and disturbing in the best of ways, this is sure to impress. (May)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Shadowed Steel

Chloe Neill. Berkley, $17 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-10262-6

Neill’s enthralling third Heirs of Chicagoland urban fantasy pits vampire against vampire with a violent stalker on the loose. Following the events of Wicked Hour, in which Elisa Sullivan was forced to turn her first vampire—without the proper authorization—in order to save a woman’s life, she and her boyfriend, Connor Keene, prince of the North American Central Pack of shape-shifters, return to Chicago. Soon after, Elisa is visited by the Compliance Bureau, who inform her she broke vampire law and must stand trial. Elisa knows she made the right choice, but soon discovers that there are more sinister reasons why the Bureau is targeting her. With the help of Connor, their friends, and their families, she searches for a way to dodge the punishment the Bureau has in store for her. At the same time, a stalker sets his sights on Elisa—and takes it upon himself to “help” her by murdering all those who cross her. Neill ratchets up the intensity from the previous volumes, threading together multiple exciting mysteries and making space for Connor and Elisa’s relationship to heat up. Readers will be thrilled to return to Elisa’s adventures. Agent: Lucienne Diver, the Knight Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Wendy, Darling

A.C. Wise. Titan, $15.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-78909-681-1

Wise (Catfish Lullaby) explores the dark side of Neverland in this impressive fantasy. Ever since returning to the real world, Wendy Darling has clung to the memory of her time in Neverland while her brothers, John and Michael, chose to forget. Her refusal to let go caused her brothers to commit her to St. Bernadette’s asylum, where she met and befriended Mary White Dog. Only through her friendship with Mary and the comfort of the very same memories that landed her there in the first place did she survive the asylum. But when her school-age daughter, Jane, is whisked away by Peter Pan just as Wendy was 27 years earlier, Wendy follows, determined to bring Jane home. With Neverland on the horizon once again, Wendy must confront the dissonance between her memories and reality. Meanwhile, Jane struggles to cling to her identity as Peter tries to mold her into “the Wendy,” forcing her to be a mother for himself and the other lost boys. Seen through Wendy’s adult eyes and Jane’s childlike but scientific perspective, this second visit to Neverland is more nightmare than dream, and Wise expertly captures the shift in perspective that comes with growing up. This rich tale of memory and magic is sure to resonate with fans of reimagined children’s stories. (June)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Rich Man’s Sky

Wil McCarthy. Baen, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-1-982125-29-5

McCarthy (The Queendom of Sol series) delivers a thought-provoking sci-fi novel set against a near-future space race led by a group of trillionaires. When the ESL1 solar shade, owned and operated by wealthy, notorious drug addict and pervert, Igbal Renz, grows large enough to influence weather conditions on Earth, nervous governments decide to act. As former air force pararescueman Alice Kyeong is recruited by the U.S. president to represent her government’s interests in a joint initiative to infiltrate ESL1 and assume command of the station, McCarthy raises questions on the male-dominated nature of space exploration and wealth accumulation. Though Alice borders on incompetent when compared to her fellow operatives from France and New Zealand, her determination to get the job done at any cost, capacity to improvise, and critical thinking makes for a character readers will root for. On reaching ESL1, Alice discovers that Renz’s plans are far more dangerous than controlling the climate—and that her fellow operatives are not as firmly on her side as she believed. McCarthy blends a convincing view of space exploration with thoughtful, nuanced ruminations on the merits of government vs. privately controlled enterprises. Fans of slow-burning sci-fi should check this out. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Within Without

Jeff Noon. Angry Robot, $14.99 trade paper (376p) ISBN 978-0-85766-898-1

Noon’s fourth supernatural mystery featuring private investigator John Nyquist (after Creeping Jenny) is less successful than his others, with a mind-bending plot that’s both nonlinear and confusing. In 1960, Nyquist and his assistant, Teddy Fairclough, take a case in the appropriately-named city of Delirium, a place where many people have reportedly been trapped forever, “walking the streets at night aimlessly, seeking a doorway, an entrance, a port or gate, a border to cross, just any goddamn way to escape.” Despite some rational reservations about the locale, Nyquist accepts movie star Vince Craven as a client and—after he and Fairclough maneuver their way into Delirium, which proves no easy feat—he learns that Craven is missing his “image,” Oberon, the version of himself that he uses for public appearance. Somehow, Oberon’s spirit was involuntarily removed from Craven’s body. The quest to retrieve him sends Nyquist into a labyrinthine world and leads to encounters with various literary figures, including Gregor Samsa and Miss Havisham. Noon’s world is weird as ever, but here the off-kilter environment overwhelms the plot and the further Nyquist wanders into Delirium, the harder it is to follow his adventures. Fans will hope for a return to form in the next book. Agent: Michelle Kass, Michelle Kass Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Angel of the Overpass

Seanan McGuire. Daw, $17 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-7564-1689-8

The impeccable third Ghost Roads urban fantasy (after The Girl in the Green Silk Gown) explores and expands on McGuire’s modern-day mythology, brilliantly marrying old traditions and more recent urban legends to create an enthralling tapestry of highway hauntings and hard-traveling horrors. Following the destruction of the malevolent crossroads, teenage ghost and accomplished hitchhiker Rose Marshall, aka the Phantom Prom Date, finally has an opportunity to permanently eliminate her immortal murderer, former film star Bobby Cross. But even bearing Persephone’s favor and operating at the behest of the road goddess known as the Ocean Lady, Rose has a hard path ahead of her. Her quest sends her hitchhiking across America and through the ever-shifting, increasingly hazardous layers of the afterlife. As Rose runs a gauntlet of threats, she must accept that her mission may change her forever. Rose’s resilience and resourcefulness pairs well with McGuire’s signature blend of pop culture references, humor, and mythological deep dives. As the finale to this particular story arc, this love letter to the open road is not an ideal starting point for series newbies, but existing fans will be thrilled with the end of Rose’s current road trip—and excited for her next adventure. Agent: Diana Fox, Fox Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Witness for the Dead

Katherine Addison. Tor, $25.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7653-8742-4

Addison returns to the land of Ethuveraz in this vivid stand-alone sequel to The Goblin Emperor. Thara Celehar, a Witness for the Dead who is capable of speaking to the deceased, leaves the Royal Court behind when he is appointed to serve the provincial city of Amalo. Though unable to escape politics entirely, Celehar enjoys that his position allows him to help the Amaleise people. But his quiet life is disrupted when he is summoned to witness for an elven opera singer, Arveneӓn Shelsin, after she is found dead in a canal in a dodgy part of the city. Thrust into a murder investigation, Celehar’s search for answers leads him from the glamorous halls of the Vermilion Opera to the bustling streets of Cemchelarna, all while he tries to balance the increasing requests of other townspeople who seek his aid. Addison’s steampunk-infused scene-setting and assemblage of characters from all walks of life combine to create a vibrant fantasy world. The story is driven more by character than plot, with Celehar’s personal and professional relationships, and unwavering duty to his calling as a Witness, taking center stage. This is more spin-off than sequel, and returning fans and new readers alike will find it easy to be swept up in Celehar’s story. (June.)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Ninth Metal

Benjamin Percy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $15.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-328-54486-5

Percy (The Dark Net) launches the Comet Cycle series with this wildly entertaining and highly original melange of northern Minnesota lore and slam-bang near-future SF action. A year after the comet Cain passed near Earth, the planet spun into a welter of comet debris and the world changed forever—but human greed did not. The debris spawned energy-rich “omnimetal,” attracting a strange, apocalyptic cult that worships the substance and a gold-rush-style economic boom in Northfall, Minn. The influx of outsiders consider the locals “flannel-wearing loon-loving Lutherans” to be taken advantage of in an all-out war between the locally founded Frontier mining corporation and Texas-based Black Dog Energy, both pursuing control of the town’s rich omnimetal sites. Against this backdrop, Percy’s hero, John Frontier, transformed Superman-wise by immersion in omnimetal debris, sets about redeeming a prodigal youth by beating himself into someone new: a knight-errant bent on atonement. Percy’s dead-on local color, strong central characters, and well-integrated flashbacks into the making of a modern samurai will delight and entertain both comics fans and serious science fiction readers. This is an impressive series starter. Agent: Katherine Fausset, Curtis Brown. (June)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Alias Space and Other Stories

Kelly Robson. Subterranean, $40 (464p) ISBN 978-1-64524-025-9

Across 14 short pieces, Robson (Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach) demonstrates a dizzying versatility, dipping into both science fiction and fantasy—and sometimes blurring the line between the two. Whether historical fantasies like “Waters of Versailles” and “What Gentle Women Dare,” or far-flung future explorations like “We Who Live in the Heart” and “Intervention,” her disparate stories are subtly tied together by recurring themes. Many share a strong sense of family, both found and biological, as in “Two-Year-Man” and “Two Watersheds.” Robson’s work also frequently touches on feminism, gender, and queerness, as in her three-story Toronto cycle, comprising “The Desperate Flesh,” “Skin City,” and the title story. Meanwhile, with the Nebula Award–winning “A Human Stain” and the terrifying “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill,” Robson delves into horror to explore violence against women. Some of these stories are uncomfortable, even disturbing, in their raw emotion and uncompromising vision, and even the more reassuring tales still challenge preconceptions and the status quo. This is a superb showcase of Robson’s talents. Agent: Hannah Bowman, Liza Dawson Assoc. (May)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Black Water Sister

Zen Cho. Ace, $17 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-425-28343-1

A young woman confronts a formidable god in this stirring paranormal fantasy from Cho (Sorcerer to the Crown). Jessamyn Teoh, an unemployed, recent college graduate, moves back to Malaysia with her parents. While coping with being uprooted from her life and struggling with her now long-distance relationship, Jess begins to hear a disembodied voice and is horrified to discover that it belongs to her late grandmother, Ah Ma. The fierce, plucky Ah Ma refuses to move on to the next life until Jess helps her exact revenge against gangster Ng Chee Hin, who’s planning on tearing down the temple of her god, the Black Water Sister. Jess reluctantly agrees to become her grandmother’s medium—but while working to save the temple and attempting to make an ally of Ng Chee Hin’s son, Sherng, Jess accidentally angers the Black Water Sister. Now the god stalks her, demanding retribution for her wrongful deed—and Jess has no choice but to pay her debt or she’ll lose everything she has left. Cho’s multifaceted characters, like her masterful plot, are never quite what they first appear. Unpredictable twists keep the pages turning while the comic but endearing relationship between Jess and her sassy grandmother provides the story’s heart. This is must-read fantasy. Agent: Caitlin Blasdell, Liza Dawson Assoc. (May)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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