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The Restoration

J.H. Moncrieff. Flame Tree, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-78758-705-2

Restoring an old house reveals secrets that the owner’s family members—both living and dead—will do anything to keep hidden in this spine-tingling horror outing from Moncrieff (the GhostWriters series). Terri Foxworth is thrilled at the prospect of a high-paying job living in and restoring the faded Glenvale mansion. Miss Vandermere, the last living descendant of the estate’s original owners, warns Terri that she’s fired previous restorers for “too much imagination.” After Terri’s 10-year-old daughter, Dallas, arrives to stay with Terri for the summer, it doesn’t take long for the pair to realize that “too much imagination” is a euphemism for believing in ghosts—especially after meeting Miss Vandermere’s long-dead brother, Niles. Pulled into the mystery of Niles’s death, mother and daughter discover the history of dangerous people at Glenvale, learn of more deaths that occurred there over the years, and, most disturbingly, realize how few have made it out of the house alive. The story is slightly hampered by sketchy characterization, but the well-plotted mystery will keep readers guessing who Terri and Dallas can trust right along with them. This is sure to please readers looking for spooky haunted house tales. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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This Weightless World

Adam Soto. Astra House, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-66260-063-0

Soto’s debut, a purported alien contact novel, disappoints, arguably lacking both aliens and contact. Like characters in a 1970s New Yorker story, his raft of protagonists drift verbosely through purposeless lives—among them Sevi del Toro, a cellist who settled for teaching rather than performing and endlessly regrets it; his ex-girlfriend Ramona, a hacker turned Google employee who can’t find a reason to use her skills; and Eason, one of Sevi’s students, who’s tugged into drug-running by his cousin. Their angst gains an external focus when, on New Year’s Day 2012, SETI announces the discovery of an intentional radio signal emanating from the distant planet Omni-7xc. The focus could as easily have been the Occupy movement or the Syrian war, two among many big-issue cameos, but it all ends up just fodder for the characters’ internal churn. The signal eventually stops, and neither characters nor reader care much. The lone truly science fictional narrator, astronaut He Zhen, develops a distinct perspective on the meaninglessness, but she’s removed from the others by culture and light years, so what insight she gains is as drearily empty as all the rest. Sci-fi fans can skip this one. Agent: Marya Spence, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Undertakers

Nicole Glover. Mariner, $15.99 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-0-358-19710-2

Glover’s charming sequel to The Conductors digs deeper into the captivating Black society of a post–Civil War Philadelphia that’s infused with celestial magic. Magical married detective duo Hetty and Benjy Rhodes have enjoyed a quiet life of late. Their new funeral home isn’t seeing much business and their most recent case, involving fires spontaneously sparking in their neighborhood and claiming the life of Raimond Duval, resolved almost too easily—until Raimond’s son, Valentine, also dies, and questions about an old mission from Hetty and Benjy’s days as conductors on the Underground Railroad resurface. Overnight, what seemed a simple investigation turns into a cryptic cipher the couple must puzzle through. Layers of intrigue and tension build into a gripping whodunit, while drama within Hetty’s group of friends and tender moments between Hetty and Benjy offer juicy character beats. The easy momentum will keep both new and returning readers racing along to the end. It’s fun, twisty, and richly detailed. Agent: Jennie Goloboy, Donald Maass Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Foxhunt

Rem Wigmore. Queen of Swords, $4.99 e-book (320p) ASIN B09897J93H

Earth is much changed in this dazzling solarpunk novel from Wigmore (Riverwitch). Civilization has pulled itself back from the brink of climate apocalypse with the institution of new laws and customs that preserve and protect the planet. Human greed is kept in check by the mythic Order of the Vengeful Wild, hunters-for-hire who are called into action when someone commits crimes that endanger the well-being of the planet. When the singer Orfeus becomes a target of the Wolf, one of the Order, she’s determined to discover who took out the contract on her, since she has committed no such crime. Dealing with both the Order and the Elders of Eldergrove, who demand answers about how Orfeus has the Blood, their closely guarded nanites that grant abilities likened to magic, Orfeus is surrounded by those she isn’t sure she can trust—but she has no choice but to turn to them for help when people start to go missing. It’s an inclusive, optimistic vision of the future, rounded out by beautiful imagery and an effortlessly diverse cast. This enthralling story is a winner. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Cosmogramma

Courttia Newland. Akashic, $24.95 (300p) ISBN 978-1-61775-978-9

Newland (A River Called Time) delivers a powerful collection of 15 speculative shorts that traverse time and space. He immerses readers in dystopian worlds in stories like “You Meets You,” in which newly developed narcotics engineered to be stronger than ever keep humanity in a tight grip of addiction, and “Percipi,” in which the creation of hyper-intelligent robots by a capitalist powerhouse brings catastrophic violence to the world. Other tales take on more mystical rather than scientific elements, among them “Seed,” which sees mysterious seeds crop up across the planet overnight, eventually sprouting into fully grown human beings. Newland easily engages readers with complex worldbuilding, well-shaded characters, and stories as entertaining as they are meaningful. It’s no small feat to so immediately and repeatedly appeal to readers’ hearts and minds, and Newland’s mastery of short-format storytelling is sure to impress. Speculative fiction fans won’t be able to put this down. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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True Dead

Faith Hunter. Ace, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-451-48873-2

Hunter’s gripping 14th installment to her bestselling Jane Yellowrock series (after Shattered Bonds) has the eponymous former hunter turned Dark Queen facing down rivals old and new—and even those previously presumed dead. Not everyone is content with Jane’s new position as reluctant ruler of vampires—which sees her reforming some of their crueler practices—and treacherous ancient forces conspire to usurp her throne. While struggling to control her now-unstable shape-shifting abilities and fending off repeated assassination attempts on her and those closest to her, Jane must make time to attend a dear friend’s New Orleans nuptials while ensuring the safety of everyone around her. Meanwhile, Bruiser, the love of her life, adapts to his new role as Consort and finally settles into a home with Jane. With twists aplenty to keep the pages turning as old secrets are unearthed, this fast-paced volume is a can’t miss for Hunter’s fans—and proves there’s plenty of life left in this long-running series. Agent: Lucienne Diver, the Knight Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Boys in the Valley

Philip Fracassi. Earthling, $50 (318p) ISBN 978-1-73692-840-0

Fracassi (Beneath a Pale Sky) spins a gothic, gory Lord of the Flies tale that captures both the hope of youth and the rapture of religion. It’s 1905 and 16-year-old Peter Barlow is the de-facto older brother to his fellow residents at St. Vincent’s Orphanage for Boys following the murder-suicide of his parents years prior. Haunted by his past but eager for a better future, Peter’s torn between following the path of his mentor, Father Andrew Francis, into priesthood, or following his heart in the form of local farm girl Grace Hill. But when an injured, raving man is brought to the priests of St. Vincent’s, his poison seeps into the hearts of many of the boys, and Peter and the remaining orphans must fight for their survival before they too succumb to the allure of his demonic rot. The horror here is as much a warning on the dangers of human corruption as a testament to hope in the face of nigh-insurmountable darkness. Occasionally the tone careens from creeping, literary gothic tale to bloody slasher film, but these odd shifts don’t diminish the overall quality of the haunting, visceral story. Horror readers will be hooked. Agent: Elizabeth Copps, Copps Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Year’s Best Fantasy and Dark Fantasy and Horror, Vol. 2

Edited by Paula Guran. Pyr, $21.95 (408p) ISBN 978-1-64506-032-1

The stellar lineup of 30 stories selected by Guran for this annual “best-of” volume attest to the imaginative breadth of dark fantastic fiction written in 2020. Victor Lavalle’s “Recognition” is a ghost story set in contemporary Manhattan during the Covid-19 pandemic. By contrast, Alix E. Harrow’s “The Sycamore and The Sybil” and Alison Littlewood’s “Swanskin” approach their explorations of gender roles through traditional fairy and folktales. Elizabeth Bear mixes the whimsical with the weird in “On Safari in R’lyeh and Carcosa with Gun and Camera,” while Brian Evenson’s “The Thickening” and Elizabeth Hand’s “The Owl Count” end with nightmarish thunderclaps of genuinely unsettling horror. The familiar weird fiction themes of the haunted house and the vampire get creative makeovers in John Wiswell’s “Open House on Haunted Hill” and Craig Laurance Gidney’s “Desiccant,” respectively, while A.C. Wise’s “To Sail the Black” and Elaine Cuyegkeng’s “The Genetic Alchemist’s Daughter” probe the relatively underexplored dark side of science fiction. There’s not a story in the mix that doesn’t merit the appellation of “best,” and the diversity of the selections bodes well for future annuals. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Nightwatch on the Hinterlands

K. Eason. DAW, $27 (416p) ISBN 978-0-7564-1533-4

A murder launches a wild chase in Eason’s disorienting space opera, a return to the universe of her Thorne Chronicles series. Lieutenant Iari and Ambassador Gaer i’vakat’i Tarsik arrive at a bloody scene in B-Town, where an artificer, Pinjat, has been butchered. Pinjat’s cousin claims to have seen a riev escape the area after slaughtering Pinjat—an impossible scenario because riev, beings created from corpses and metal, are nonsentient and incapable of causing harm. Iari and Gaer report to Knight-Marshal Tobin, who entrusts them to find whoever must be reprogramming riev to kill civilians. Over the course of the investigation, Iari realizes that the riev are beginning to gain consciousness. Worse, she and Gaer learn that someone may have awoken Oversight, a communication network that connects all riev, and is likely planning to hack into it, enabling control of all riev at once. It’s up to Iari and Gaer to find this mastermind before they can activate a lethal army. The relationships are strong and the action scenes pack a punch, but keeping up with the onslaught of invented terminology and futuristic expletives (“oh, voidspit”) proves exhausting. Though billed as a standalone, the half-baked worldbuilding assumes a level of familiarity with this universe. Eason’s diehard fans are the best fit for this. Agent: Lisa Rodgers, JABberwocky Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Plague Birds

Jason Sanford. Apex, $16.95 trade paper (308p) ISBN 978-1-937009-94-6

This head-scratchingly loopy novel from Sanford (Heaven’s Touch) begins thousands of years after human civilization collapsed due to contamination with brute animal genes. Now most people are too dangerous to live together and must stay in separate, small settlements protected by AIs. Lawbreakers are punished by roving individuals called plague birds who share their bodies with blood AIs that threaten to erupt into horrendous violence at any moment. When one plague bird is fatally wounded in an encounter with a superpowered, dimension-spanning man named Ashdyd, young villager Christina de Ane is forced to take over the role. She and the cranky blood AI Red Day set off in pursuit of Ashdyd and his followers, the Veil, while also seeking Seed, the wonderful living city described by Christina’s mother. Along the way, they pick up some odd companions, among them Diver, an apparently immortal little girl who may have the power to destroy the world. The characters fear—rightly—that they’re constantly being manipulated by competing superhuman forces, and the mass of ingenious complications sometimes squeezes the life out of the story. The resulting tale isn’t for everyone, but those who imagine something like The Wizard of Oz as retold by A.E. van Vogt sounds like a good time should take note. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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