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We Are Happy, We Are Doomed

Kurt Fawver. Grimscribe, $20 trade paper (230p) ISBN 978-0-578-99129-0

Small towns, apocalypses, deformed bodies, and sensory oddities wind through this strong collection of weird fiction from Fawver (The Dissolution of Small Worlds). While some of these 14 stories recall the pulp horror narratives of the 1980s yet come off as more goofy than horrific, most are Thomas Ligotti–influenced weird fiction and body horror. Fawver is not a stylist and has a largely formulaic approach to story structure, but his ideas are highly original and memorable. “The Man in the Highchair” is the masterpiece, telling of a man living in a high chair atop his town’s city hall and the haunting impact his presence has on the townspeople. “Extinction in Green,” about a group of survivors hiding from a green light that deforms anything it shines upon, embodies a genuine sense of dread. In the strange and strong final novelette “Pwdre Ser,” a cometlike hunk of jelly crashes into a small-town high school, heralding the arrival of “the wobbly people.” The result is a solid collection with plenty to please horror fans. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Untold Story

Genevieve Cogman. Ace, $16 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-984804-80-8

Cogman’s thrilling eighth Invisible Library fantasy (after The Dark Archive) finds librarian Irene Winters and her motley crew investigating a conspiracy rooted in the origins of the Library itself. Cogman skillfully gets new readers up to speed on the rich worldbuilding—in which an interdimensional library preserves the balance between worlds through the stories it houses—as Irene is assigned a top-secret mission to hunt down Alberich, a nefarious traitor to the library who she’s recently learned might be her father. Irene and friends—a human detective, a dragon prince, and a fae apprentice—delve into myths and folklore with scholarly diligence to fill in the gaps about Alberich’s past amid mounting rumors of worlds disappearing, and increased political unrest between dragon and fae. When Irene discovers an obscure story of the Library’s founding that hints at a secret at the heart of the Library—and may explain Alberich’s betrayal—Irene faces a terrible choice between protecting her friends and fulfilling her mission. Bibliophiles new to the series will be charmed by the premise and find this an easy starting point, while returning readers will be thrilled with the nail-biting conclusion. It’s a joy to see this series going strong. Agent: Lucienne Diver, the Knight Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Girl in the Corn

Jason Offutt. CamCat, $24.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-7443-0499-2

Offutt (So You Had to Build a Time Machine) pushes the boundaries of plausibility with this unholy mash-up of creepy, high-body-count paranormal thrills and the trope in which a special kid is chosen to save a magical land, but somehow sticks the landing. A fairy leads young Thomas Cavanaugh into his family’s cornfield for a near-fatal encounter with Dauðr, a dark force that has already sucked the life out of the Norse-flavored fae world and now has its eye on Earth. The resulting nightmares land Thomas in a psychiatric program where he meets Bobby, who beat a boy to death for coming on to him, and Jillian, who killed her rapist stepfather. Years later, Thomas reencounters both Jillian and a still-disturbing adult Bobby—and, from Bobby’s perspective, the reader sees how Dauðr drives him to increasingly unhinged behavior. Meanwhile, Thomas and Jillian’s relationship turns to romance, but her agenda becomes increasingly uncomfortable and cryptic. The parameters of the final battle will be unsatisfying for readers who hoped to see Thomas emerge as a hero and those drawn to the supernatural horror of the premise may find the evil forces somewhat caricatured. Still, Offut generally makes the disparate elements work in a way that will appeal to non-purists. Readers will find themselves well sated before the end. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Rise of the Mages

Scott Drakeford. Tor, $27.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-250-82015-0

Plural title aside, Drakford’s bracing epic fantasy debut and trilogy launch focuses on the rise of a singular challenger to an imprisoned and vengeful god. Emrael Ire, refugee son of an exiled general and a powerful healer, struggles to earn his Master of War title, while his brother, Ban, studies the art of Crafting, channeling infusori magic into artifacts. Then the ambitions of a governor to become king of the United Provinces and the escape of an imprisoned deity bring about a war that sweeps across continents. Triggered by this desperate situation, Emrael’s latent, unique ability to directly handle infusori makes itself known—and makes him a target for both the witchcraft-hating Watchers and the eerie Malithii priests who serve the Fallen God. Drakeford takes great care with the intricacies of sword fighting and castle storming, as well as Emrael’s conflicted feelings over his legacy as both his father’s heir and a mage. Less developed are his positive emotional bonds with companions and potential love interests, and without these connections, he comes across as angsty, awkward, and self-involved. Still, it’s an immersive world epic fantasy fans will be glad to return to. Agent: Matt Bialer, Sanford J. Greenburger Assoc. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Justice of Kings

Richard Swan. Orbit, $28 (496p) ISBN 978-0-316-36138-5

Swan (The Art of War Trilogy) launches his Empire of the Wolf series with this riveting but uneven fantasy crime novel. The story is relayed decades after the fact by Helena Sedanka, once the assistant to Justice Sir Konrad Vonvalt, a detective and prosecutor for the Sovan Empire’s Imperial Magistratum. Now an old woman, Helena tells of how Vonvalt’s operation in the village of Rill possibly triggered the Empire’s downfall. Her account begins with Vonvalt penalizing the village dwellers who practice paganism. Though Patria Bartholomew Claver, a devout priest tagging along with Helena and Vonvalt, urges him to burn the villagers on mere suspicions, law-abiding Vonvalt insists on only executing avowed heretics. Along with Vonvalt’s right-hand man, Dubine Bressinger, the group makes for Galen’s Vale next, where they spend much of their time solving the high-profile murder of a lord’s wife—until the disgruntled Claver makes a rash decision. Though the investigative element sparks intrigue as Vonvalt and his team juggle multiple cases, Helena’s direct address to the reader often disrupts the flow and keeps the suspense in check. Still, Swan crafts a strong, dynamic character in Vonvalt, and the whodunit twists will keep readers turning the pages. This promises good things from the series to come. Agent: Harry Illingworth, DHH Agency (U.K.). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Jurassic Ark

David Niall Wilson.. Crossroad, $16.95 trade paper (270p) ISBN 978-1-63789-934-2

God speaks at the beginning of this clever alternate take on biblical myth from Wilson (the DeChance Chronicles series), commanding Noah to build a boat that will save a righteous few from an oncoming flood. The story develops several ingenious and challenging notions as Noah's family contends with deciding who deserves to be saved. Noah's son Ham travels to the wicked city to ask sage rabbi Balthazar for information on how to care for the myriad animals that will be shut up in the ark. As he befriends Balthazar's apprentice, Ezra, he discovers that some city folks aren't so bad after all. Meanwhile, another of Noah's sons, Shem, realizes construction of the ark would go much faster if they used tame dinosaurs to move timber, though Noah has dismissed such creatures as "unclean." And what's to be done with the Nephilim, offspring of fallen angels and human women? These meaty moral quandaries carry the story forward, and the insertion of wicked sorcerer Onan for the sake of a climactic battle scene feels comparatively cheap. Though Wilson barely sketches in some of the worldbuilding elements, the tension between the implacable divine will and the characters' evolving, empathetic understanding of their world makes for a fascinating tale. Readers will be hooked. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Bone Shard Emperor

Andrea Stewart. Orbit, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-0-316-54150-3

Stewart’s heart-pounding second Drowning Empire epic fantasy expertly picks up the pace from The Bone Shard Daughter, immediately putting the new leader of the Phoenix Empire to the test with multiple enemies gunning for her and the clock ticking for her to prove herself. Lin Sukai must show her subjects—and, most importantly, the governors of each of her empire’s islands—that she’s a better emperor than her megalomaniacal late father and gain support in battling myriad foes, among them the Shardless Few, a rebel group working to dethrone her; an army of the undead; and the Alanga, a godlike enemy from centuries ago now rumored to have returned. Meanwhile, islands are suddenly, inexplicably sinking, citizens fear that their island will be next, and Lin hides dangerous secrets of her own. Hiring the smuggler turned folk legend Jovis as her Captain of the Guard is Lin’s first step to currying favor, but neither anticipate how much they’ll come to need each other. Stewart keeps the energy up across the many engrossing plotlines, with immersive battles aplenty to keep readers on the edges of their seats. This page-turning installment is sure to please series fans. Agent: Juliet Mushens, Mushens Entertainment. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Heretics

V.S. Holmes. Amphibian, $15.99 trade paper (356p) ISBN 978-1-949693-67-6

The fun fourth space opera in Holmes’s Stars Edge series (after Strangers) takes rough-edged heroine Nel Bently back to Earth in search of the source of a deadly audio signal. After the explosive events on Samsara in the previous installment, Nel isn’t on the best of terms with the ruling superpower, IDH. Its members don’t trust her, and she doesn’t trust them—not even her maybe girlfriend, Lin Nalawangsa, an IDH lieutenant. On Earth, Nel uses her skills as an archaeologist to unearth clues that could lead to the source of the audio signal and its creator. Along the way, she discovers hazardous, and familiar, technology that makes her question the IDH’s role on Earth and the purpose of her mission. Now caught between the IDH and a dangerous Earth group known as the Founders, Nel finds herself under threat yet again. Though the action is a bit slow to start, once it revs up it’s delightful. Holmes blends archaeology and science fiction into a unique romp that’s sure to be a hit with series fans. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 10/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Road of Bones

Christopher Golden. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-250-27430-4

Bestseller Golden’s eerie, inventive latest (after Red Hands) takes readers on a hair-raising adventure through frozen Siberia. After working on a ghost-hunting TV show, documentarian Felix Teigland is eager for a more substantial project. His new goal is to record daily life along the Kolyma Highway, a road hewn through the Siberian wilderness by prisoners in Stalinist Russia that passes through Akhurst, the coldest inhabited place in the world. But when Teigland and his cameraman, Prentiss, reach Akhurst, they find the settlement abandoned save for a catatonic young girl, and it becomes clear that something is gravely wrong. Desperate to uncover the mystery of Akhurst’s abandonment, Teigland and Prentiss are thrown headlong into a tense game of cat and mouse with a mysterious shaman lurking on the edges of the settlement. They have something the shaman wants, and he will stop at nothing to get it. Golden’s prose is taut and undeniably unsettling, exploring the dark recesses of the Siberian landscape. Indeed, the unforgiving environment is just as grave a threat as the shadowy shaman. Golden is writing at the top of his game. Agent: Howard Morhaim, Howard Morhaim Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Every Leaf a Hallelujah

Ben Okri, illus. by Diana Ejaita. Other Press, $22.99 (96p) ISBN 978-1-63542-270-2

Booker Prize winner Okri (The Famished Road) delivers a charming, heartfelt environmentalist fairy tale about a young girl’s quest to save her dying mother—and planet Earth. When Mangoshi is sent to pluck a flower said to possess healing properties from an old tree, she discovers many paths through the woods and overhears the trees whispering among themselves, but returns home empty-handed. A year later, both her mother and their village at large have grown sicker, and Mangoshi is sent out to try again. This second attempt leads her on a magical adventure guided by an elderly baobab tree, who teaches her about the plight of trees around the world and gives her the courage to stand up against those who plan to level the forest. The result is a heartwarming, encouraging look at how a child’s act of courage can impact the world, as well as the power of protest to combat climate change. Coupled with vibrant illustrations by Ejaita, this gem will resonate with both adult fantasy readers and their children. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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