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Shattered Bonds

Faith Hunter. Ace, $7.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-0-399-58798-6

Hunter drives the danger to dizzying heights in the emotionally charged 13th novel to feature skinwalker and vampire hunter Jane Yellowrock. Jane hasn’t recovered from the effects of acquiring magic in 2018’s Dark Queen. Her newly developed powers make her gravely ill, and even shapeshifting into her supernaturally healthy Beast form won’t heal her. When Shimon Bar-Judas, the psychotic 2,000-year-old vampire known as the Flayer of Mithrans, comes after her, Jane will need all the dwindling strength she has. At Yellowrock Clan Home, a converted inn outside Asheville, N.C., Jane gathers her allies to prepare for an all-out war against Shimon. Her business partners, Eli and Alex Younger; her lover, Bruiser; and her best friend, witch Molly Everhart-Trueblood, agree to help her, but in the end it will be down to Jane and Beast to take out the threat. In a series chock-full of preternatural villains, Shimon stands out as the scariest of the lot. Hunter delivers the fast pace, high stakes, and flawlessly crafted fight scenes fans expect. This is one of her best yet. Agent: Lucienne Diver, The Knight Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/04/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Quillifer the Knight

Walter Jon Williams. Saga, $16.99 trade paper (544p) ISBN 978-1-4814-9001-6

Lively adventure, court politics, and clandestine romance combine in the exquisitely detailed, if occasionally tedious, follow up to 2018’s Quillifer. Knighted at the end of his previous outing, Quillifer continues to build his reputation in the kingdom of Duisland through a series of episodic quests. His exploits, as he recounts to one of his many paramours, include dragon-slaying, duels, entrepreneurial endeavors, and royal intrigue. Many of the friends and enemies Quillifer made in the first novel return, most notably the spiteful nymph Orlanda, who continues to torment him for rejecting her advances. Williams eases away from the picaresque form of the previous installment to provide more of a through line; each of Quillifer’s adventures embroils him further in Duisland’s politics as the kingdom prepares for war and a treasonous plot brews around the queen’s sister, Floria. Although Quillifer’s self-confidence sometimes veers into smug arrogance and his boasting can grow tiring, he is a savvy and skilled hero. Series fans will enjoy checking back in with Quillifer and be gratified by the more cohesive plot. Agent: Eddie Schneider, JABberwocky. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/04/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Realm of Ash

Tasha Suri. Orbit, $16.99 trade paper (480p) ISBN 978-0-316-44975-5

Suri’s sumptuous second fantasy in the Books of Ambha series (after Realm of Sand) returns to the Mughal, India–inspired Ambhan Empire. Arwa, a widowed noblewoman, does all she can to hide the fact that she is descended from an Amrithi barbarian mother and has feared but powerful Amrithi blood in her veins. The sole survivor of a massacre, Arwa retreats to a hermitage to grieve. But when she discovers that her blood may be the key to saving the crumbling Ambhan Empire from a curse, Arwa agrees to travel to the Imperial palace. There, she must navigate politics, the intricacies of courtly manners, and the whims of the emperor’s family. With help from the emperor’s illegitimate son, Zahir, Arwa peels back the layers of her mother’s culture and learns more about the forbidden magic of her blood. Meandering passages exploring Arwa’s mental state occasionally go on too long, pulling the reader out of the rich, sensuous culture of Ambha. Suri’s exquisitely detailed world and complex plotting make up for any shortcomings. Agent: Laura Crockett, Triada US Literary (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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A Trick of Light

Stan Lee and Kat Rosenfield. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-358-11760-5

Fresh and inventive, but fundamentally flat, this cinematic fantasy cowritten with Rosenfield (Inland) contains all the ingenuity fans will expect of the late Stan Lee (1922–2018) but not much depth. Nia, a lonely girl born with a gift for hacking, whose controlling father allows her to interact with the outside world exclusively via social media, meets Cameron Ackerson online. Cameron obtained cyberkinetic powers, the ability to control computers with his mind, after being struck by lightning. The teens decide to use their technical gifts to fight for justice via cyber stunts such as manipulating the livestream of a hateful newscaster to make him appear to sing showtunes . But when Nia discovers a virtual world that may hold the truth behind her sheltered life and a skin-stealing alien begins pursuing Cameron, the pair realizes that they’ve put themselves and the planet in grave danger. The plot moves quickly, and the young characters are sympathetic and modern, if lacking in interiority. Though Lee’s many fans will find plenty here to keep their attention, this narrative would be better served as a movie. Agent: Yfat Reiss Gendell, Foundry Media (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Vine Witch

Luanne G. Smith. 47north, $14.95 trade paper (268p) ISBN 978-1-5420-0838-9

The vineyards of the fictitious Chanceaux Valley play home to magic, romance, and mystery in Smith’s contemporary debut fantasy. Before the start of the novel, vine witch Elena Boureanu is transformed into a toad by a curse. When she returns to her body, she discovers that her Grand-Mère has sold Chateau Renard, Elena’s renowned vineyard home, to handsome former lawyer Jean-Paul Martel. The Chateau’s vines, grieving Elena’s absence, have begun to produce mediocre wine, and scientifically minded Jean-Paul refuses Elena’s offer to use her magic to cure them. But as Elena works to restore her vineyard to health and seeks revenge against her ex-fiancé, Bastien, who she believes is responsible for her curse, she and Jean-Paul grow closer, and he comes to accept that her magic is real. When Bastien turns up dead, a biased, antiwitch policeman arrests Elena for his murder, and Jean-Paul takes the case as her defense attorney. The specter of savage, early European witch hunts ups the stakes, mixing real history with folklore. Though the conflict of science vs. superstition never quite comes together with the theme of female empowerment, this is an ambitious debut from a promising author. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Anaïs Nin at the Grand Guignol

Robert Levy. Lethe Press, $13 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-59021-717-7

The seductive blurs with the macabre in this phantasmagoric novella written as an imagined entry into Anaïs Nin’s erotic diaries by Levy (The Glittering World). In 1933 Paris, Anaïs has grown bored with the domesticity of her marriage to Hugo and the routine of her affair with Henry Miller now that Henry’s wife, June, with whom Anaïs was obsessed, has left for America. Anaïs seeks fulfilment for her perversions in the grotesque, sexual pantomimes at the Theatre du Grand-Guignol. There she meets actor Paula Maxa, the “Maddest Woman in the World.” Anaïs finds a new obsession in Maxa but learns that she has sold her soul to another: the parasitic Monsieur Guillard, the “Dark Angel of Music.” Guillard bestows preternatural theatrical talent on those who summon him in exchange for devotion. Hoping to free Maxa from Guillard’s lecherous clutches, Anaïs must first face her own desires head-on. Levy’s disquieting erotic imagery masterfully evokes Nin’s original prose. This sensual confection will enthrall readers looking for an intimate, disturbing thrill. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Starship Alchemon

Christopher Hinz. Angry Robot, $12.99 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-0-85766-817-2

Hinz (The Paratwa Saga) leans heavily on familiar tropes in this by-the-numbers sci-fi novel. Gifted psionic LeaMarsa de Host is assigned to the crew of the starship Alchemon for an 18-month mission to investigate an “anomalous biosignature” on the planet Sycamore. There, she discovers an odd carbon-based organism which seems to be gestating a fetus. Once brought onboard the Alchemon, the thing, dubbed Bouncy Blue by LeaMarsa, shape-shifts and attacks the crew. This often predictable plot plays out against the backdrop of a universe in which planets are named after contemporary brands, among them Buick Skylark and Pepsi One, and celebrities are cloned with lowered mental capacity so they can be kept as pets by the wealthy. These nods towards a fully realized future with a complex relationship to the present go frustratingly unexplored in favor of archetypical characters advancing through a formulaic plot. Science fiction fans will find little to keep them invested in this competent but unoriginal space opera. Agent: Mark Gottlieb, Trident Media Group (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Cunning Man

D.J. Butler and Aaron Michael Ritchey. Baen, $16 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-982124-16-8

An attempt at charity during the Great Depression turns into a protracted fight against supernatural forces in this admirable paranormal mystery from Butler (Witchy Kingdom) and Ritchey (Inferno Girls). In 1935 Utah, rumors of a malignant spirit in the Kimball coal mine cause work to grind to a halt. As the three Kimball siblings squabble over how to run their business and the various ethnic groups who work the mine turn against each other, Mormon beet farmer Hiram Woolley seizes the opportunity to help by using his folk magic skills to investigate the spirit. During his research, Hiram meets Mary McGill, a fearless labor organizer trying to unionize the miners, and Gus Dollar, a local general store owner and fellow “cunning man.” When Hiram discovers that Gus is hexing him to stifle the investigation, he realized he may be up against a far more dangerous evil than he knew. Though some story elements resolve too quickly, the richly imagined magic system and glimpses of Mormon culture create a fully realized world. Historical fantasy fans will delight in the zigzagging plot of this mystery. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The General Zapped an Angel

Howard Fast. Ecco, $16.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-0-06-290844-5

The late Fast (1914–2003), best known as the author of Spartacus, marshals elements of science and fantasy into sharp social commentary in this arresting collection, first published in 1970. In the title tale, military and religious authorities attempt to contain the public relations nightmare after a combat-crazy general shoots down an angel at the height of the Vietnam War. “The Movie House” tells of an insular society of movie theater patrons that lives in denial of the world beyond the theater doors, and “The Interval” of people who discover that they are merely actors in a world of replaceable stage sets. Fast’s tone is largely light and satirical and his tales firmly rooted to their time, but “The Mouse,” a poignant story of a mouse trapped between its rodent nature and human consciousness after visiting extraterrestrials boost its intelligence, delves into deeper emotions, and “The Wound” and “The Insects” both explore surprisingly contemporary themes of eco-awareness. Fast’s insights and acute analysis of human nature keep these half-century-old stories fresh and exciting. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The House in the Cerulean Sea

TJ Klune. Tor, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-21728-8

Quirk and charm give way to a serious exploration of the dangers of complacency in this delightful, thought-provoking Orwellian fantasy from Klune (Heartsong). Caseworker Linus Baker of the Department in Charge of Magical Youths (DICOMY) believes he is doing right by the preternaturally gifted children placed in DICOMY-sanctioned orphanages. But Linus begins to question DICOMY’s methods when the ominous Extremely Upper Management tasks Linus with evaluating the isolated Marsyas Island Orphanage and reporting not only on the island’s extraordinary children—among them a female gnome, a blob of uncertain species who wants to be a bellhop, and a shy teenage boy who turns into a small dog when startled—but also on the orphanage master, Arthur Parnassus. The bonds Linus forms with the children and the romantic connection he feels for Arthur set Linus on a path toward redemption for the unwitting harm he caused as a cog in an uncaring bureaucratic machine. By turns zany and heartfelt, this tale of found family is hopeful to its core. Readers will revel in Klune’s wit and ingenuity. Agent: Diedre Knight, The Knight Agency (March)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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