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The New Inn Hall Deception: Tales of Mystery and Fear

John Gaskin. Tartarus, $55 (252p) ISBN 978-1-912586-13-4

The five macabre tales in Gaskin’s fourth story collection (after The Master of the House) give a pleasing antiquarian spin to their contemporary incidents. The title tale, a short novel, is a discursive murder mystery that begins with the theft of antique coins from an old English church, ends with the discovery of a literal skeleton in the closet, and en route to its finale offers quaint and colorful character studies of the eccentric academics at an Oxford college who are enmeshed in the events. “Near Berwick” tells of a man who makes the grave mistake of renewing the acquaintance of a fellow student who humiliated him at college, and “Conditions” of an inherited sculpture endowed with dark powers. “Faces in a Garden,” about a strange influence that imbues a neglected garden, has a classic weird fiction vibe, and “Deadwater” builds on imagery from the Keats poem “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” for its account of a young man’s unfortunate romantic assignation. Gaskin is subtle and indirect in his approach to the uncanny, and the rich atmosphere he builds in his stories makes them enjoyable for fans of classic weird tales. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Phantom of the Opera

Gaston LeRoux. Poisoned Pen, $14.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-4926-9968-2

The inaugural release in the Horror Writers Association Haunted Library of Horror Classics series will be a revelation to those familiar only with the musical based on the 1910 novel by LeRoux (1868–1927). The tale of a Paris opera house inhabited by a spectral figure with seemingly magical abilities remains genuinely creepy today. Much of the book’s power stems from the author’s presentation of his narrative as the factual product of his own diligent archival research and interviews with survivors of the phenomenon. This understated treatment means that even his spoiler-laden prologue heightens rather than lessens suspense. A turnover in the management of the opera house coincides with sightings of the so-called Opera ghost and the grim discovery of the hanged corpse of Joseph Buquet, the company’s chief scene-shifter. These events are followed by an unexpectedly triumphant performance by Christine Daeé, who previously had an undistinguished singing career, which proves to be linked to the phantom. Fans of literate horror, whatever their opinion of Andrew Lloyd Weber, will be gratified. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Revolution

W L Goodwater. Ace, $16 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-451-49105-3

The jam-packed second novel in Goodwater’s intricate Cold War fantasy series (after Breach) blends history, magic, and James Bond–style intrigue. In 1958, Karen O’Neil works as the head researcher for the Department of Theoretical Magic in Washington, D.C., despite struggling with her own magic ever since a battle in Berlin three years ago left her questioning her powers. A package sent by a former colleague puts Karen on the trail of an international mystery involving a missing child and monsters created by the government. Her search for the truth takes her to Havana, Cuba, where the Communist revolution is brewing, magic hungry mobsters vie for power, the Soviets watch Karen’s every move, and what starts as a straightforward mystery spirals into a complex political chess match. Goodwater imbues each member of his extensive cast of spies, rebels, and shadowy villains with a distinct voice and motivation. By turns humorous, suspenseful, and deeply disquieting, this meaty thriller will keep readers on the edges of their seats. Agent: Jennifer Udden, Barry Goldblatt Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Beyond the Gate

Mary SanGiovanni. Lyrical Underground, $4.99 e-book (300p) ISBN 978-1-5161-0684-4

Occult mystery meets cosmic horror in SanGiovanni’s suspenseful fourth Kathy Ryan novel (after Inside the Assylum). When Paragon Corp, a theoretical physics research center, accidentally opens a portal to Hesychia, a new dimension, it sends a team of scientists to investigate, unaware of the threat of mystical parasites which hitch rides through the portal using the scientists as hosts. On the second expedition into Hesychia, the research team vanishes, leading Paragon to tap occult crime expert Kathy Ryan to investigate. When the U.S. military gets involved, they force Kathy to travel through the gateway along with Jose, the lone surviving scientist from the first research team; Markham, a soldier; and Carl, a police officer, all of whom carry the Hesychian parasite. As they navigate the labyrinthine underworld, attempting to evade whatever evil lurks at its center, Kathy makes a chilling discovery about Hesychia’s true nature. SanGiovanni conjures an eerie, otherworldly feel that never fizzles. Readers will be easily immersed in this dark, fast-paced tale. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Gatherer

Colleen Winter. Rebel Base, $4.99 e-book (304p) ISBN 978-1-63573-083-8

A revolutionary invention that generates free, clean energy has devastating repercussions in Winter’s slight but eloquently written dystopian debut, the first in a series. Storm Freeman, creator of a miraculous clean-energy device called the Gatherer, has been hiding out in the Yukon trying to cure the acute sensitivity she’s since developed to electromagnetic fields as a result of prolonged exposure to the Gatherer. Storm is unaware that others are also suffering the Gatherer’s negative side effects until special ops agent Maria Kowalski tracks her down and demands that she fix it. Winter’s accomplished prose paints a convincing portrait of Storm’s debilitating illness and the camaraderie that develops between Maria and Storm as they trek into the city to confront Storm’s mother, who she left in charge of the Gatherer Corporation. The unforeseen consequences of a well-intentioned sustainable energy source make for an original disaster story, but dropped narrative threads and underwhelming plot twists leave this dystopian tale feeling insubstantial. Despite these flaws in execution, Winter’s well-rounded characters and obvious potential will have readers tuning in for the next installment. Agent: Gail Fortune, Talbot Fortune Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Sunspot Jungle: Vol. One

Edited by Bill Campbell. Rosarium, $19.95 trade paper (516p) ISBN 978-0-9987059-7-2

The encyclopedic first volume of Rosarium’s planned thousand-page “SFF mixtape” celebrates the diversity of speculative short fiction. Campbell’s editorial skills are on display in this wide-ranging anthology as he seamlessly connects stories from Lebanon, Senegal, Canada, and Ethiopia through shared imagery, and arranges steampunk adventures, near-future techno-thrillers, and fairy tales to smoothly transition between genres. Standout work includes Jeffrey Ford’s brutal yet tender dystopia, “Blood Drive”; Malagasy author Johary Ravaloson’s brooding political ghost story, “Water in the Rice Fields Up to My Knees!”; John Chu’s exuberant, action-packed road trip, “How to Piss Off a Failed Super Soldier”; and Csilla Kleinheincz’s witchy, dreamlike “Rabbits.” Less successful pieces—including Juan Martinez’s “The Spooky Japanese Girl Is There for You” and Eve Shi’s “A Different Mistake”—feel underdeveloped or, as with K. Tempest Bradford’s “The Copper Scarab,” bogged down by backstory. This comprehensive survey of contemporary speculative fiction is ideal for readers exploring their tastes and anyone looking to get a feel for the impressive breadth of genre storytelling today. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Wild Hunted

Rebecca Flynn. Black Rose Writing, $17.95 trade paper (190p) ISBN 978-1-68433-359-2

Debut author Flynn opens her Pandora Chronicles series with a lively contemporary fantasy that traces playful, globe-trotting characters charged with containing rampant supernatural creatures. After Pandora bursts out of her box in a museum and possesses a 10-year-old girl named Eve, monster hunter Haydeez Blackhawk is on the case. As part of Pandora’s complex plot to bring about the downfall of mankind, she awakens the werewolf Loup Garou, and convinces him to kill the Celtic horned god Cernunnous. Masquerading as human Gavin O’Connell, the werewolf gathers a pack of fellow shifters in Canada before travelling to England to confront the dormant god. Meanwhile, Haydeez enlists her sidekick Linx and the satyr Keeglian to track down the ancient artifacts that will awaken Cernunnous before Gavin can reach them. Flynn blends Celtic and Greek mythology, sophisticated mystery, capable characters, and humor into a unique, high-spirited romp. Readers will eagerly await the further adventures of Haydeez and Linx. Agent: Randi Davis, Davis Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Hanged Man

K.D. Edwards. Pyr, $17 trade paperback (384p) ISBN 978-1-63388-492-2

Edwards skillfully blends rigorous characterization with political intrigue, action, and haunting worldbuilding in the exciting follow-up to 2018’s The Last Sun. The remnants of the Atlantean peoples have settled on the island formerly known as Nantucket after a devastating war with humanity. Rune St. John, reluctant heir to the Sun Throne, a fallen noble house, must protect his ward, Max, when the vicious Hanged Man attempts to claim him in marriage. Breaking Max from the Hanged Man’s claim will require complex political maneuvering and magical battles. In the process, Rune and his allies—including Brandon St. John, who is linked to Rune by a magic bond, and Rune’s boyfriend, Addam—discover the true depths of the Hanged Man’s perversions. To survive the conflict, Rune must embrace the true power of his family legacy. Edwards conjures a believably dangerous setting filled with tarot imagery and supernatural menaces. The strength of the story rests in the characters’ emotional bonds; Rune’s bromance with Brandon is just as strong as his romance with Addam. Series fans and new readers alike will be hooked. Agent: Sara Megibow, KT Literary. (Dec)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Bloodchild

Anna Stephens. Talos, $15.99 trade paper (410p) ISBN 978-1-945863-42-4

Stephens closes her grimdark Godblind Trilogy (after Darksoul) in spectacular style, dexterously balancing heroism, savagery, and heartache. The city of Rilpor has fallen to the invading Mireces, led by King Corvus, but the loss of their evil god, the Dark Lady, leaves their victory a hollow and tenuous one. The Mireces’ only hope to maintain their power lies in raising the Dark Lady once again, using the baby that Corvus’s sister, Rillirin, carries. Meanwhile the surviving Rilporians plot to retake their city, among them the Fox God, who shares a body with human Crys, and his beloved Ash. All three race to eliminate the spirit of the Dark Lady forever in a battle that will decide the fate of all the warring races of mortals. Graphic violence and skin-crawling horror will put off the faint of heart, but Stephens’s characters are strong enough to bear the weight of the darkness. The story builds to an epic crescendo that gives way to a deeply emotional and unexpectedly hopeful ending. This satisfying finale is sure to fulfill series’ fans highest expectations. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Blue Moon

Christopher Webster. Christopher Webster, $13.99 trade paper (364p) ISBN 978-1-7941-2821-7

In this spirited dystopian retelling of the 1980 film The Blue Lagoon, Webster (New Horizons) delivers a rollicking intergalactic tale of survival against desperate odds. Paddington Pin works as an engineer on the Tian, a transport ship hurtling through space in the hopes of finding a safe haven for what’s left of the human population following the “exodus of earth.” When the Tian catches fire, Pin saves two child passengers in an escape pod. They land safely on a beautiful distant moon that promises to be an idyllic retreat from their life aboard ship, until it becomes clear that they are not alone. The creatures that lurk on the moon gradually tear the makeshift family apart, leaving the children to fend for themselves. Webster uses his isolated characters to explore the nature of humanity and describes the awe and terror of space with verve, but to readers with knowledge of the source material, the story will feel a bit stale. Science fiction fans coming to the story with fresh eyes will find plenty to keep their attention in this high-flying adventure tale. (Self-published.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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