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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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The Big Red Herring

Andrew Farkas. Kernpunkt, $16.99 trade paper (366p) ISBN 978-1-7323251-3-5

Farkas (Sunsphere) gleefully blends disparate elements—among them Nazi spacecraft, baseball, and broadcast radio—into a bizarro, metafictional alternate history. In Farkas’s reimagining of contemporary America, a stately palace in Area 51 hosts a murder mystery reality TV show, dispatches from the Alternate History Channel interrupt scenes to reveal the Nazi conquest of space during WWII, and Gestapo agents use a radio show to uncover the identity of a traitor who leaked the existence of Nazi flying saucers to the Soviets. Wallace Heath Orcuson (“WHO”) becomes the unfortunate target of their interrogation after a dead body turns up in his apartment. The subsequent radio conversations are orchestrated by Edward R. Murrow (but not the Edward R. Murrow), working from a doughnut shop whose clerk spends his shifts practicing his knuckleball pitch. Farkas leaves narrative convention lying dizzy on the floor, with prose that invokes Thomas Pynchon and Neal Stephenson, but the conspiracies that lace the story lack subtlety and nuance. Though Farkas’s cleverness occasionally veers into self-indulgence, readers will enjoy this humorous, high-energy romp. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Blood of Empire

Brian McClellan. Orbit, $29 (672p) ISBN 978 -0-316-40731-1

McClellan concludes his terrific Gods of Blood and Powder trilogy (after Wrath of Empire) with this explosive finale. Col. Ben Styke, master spy Michel Bravis, and Gen. Vlora Flint each work different angles to keep Ka-Sedial, the mastermind pulling the strings behind the Dynize Imperial throne, from capturing the three godstones and using them to enhance his already formidable power. Ben and his Mad Lancers, joined by Ka-poel, Ka-Sedial’s granddaughter and equal in mystical power, sail to Dynize to capture and destroy the first stone. In Landfall, the largest metropolis on the continent of Fatrasta, Ka-Sedial has been murdering the Palo minority by the thousands in his quest to unlock the second godstone, and Michel, Palo himself, seeks to unite his people against him. Vlora, at the head of the most formidable military force on the continent, has secured parts of the third stone and battles her way to Landfall, where she can destroy them. McClellan sustains the tension throughout, keeping readers’ hearts pounding across epic battles and backroom machinations alike. Fans will devour this action-packed series ender. Agent: Caitlin Blasdell, Liza Dawson Assoc. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Light of All That Falls

James Islington. Orbit, $29 (864p) ISBN 978-0-316-27418-0

Islington wraps up his saga of ancient evils, treachery, and time travelers in the dense final installment of his Licanius trilogy (after An Echo of Things to Come). With evil forces looming in the north of the land of Andarra, Northwarden Wirr faces the legacy of his father’s failures while keeping his own plans secret. Wirr’s friend, Asha, must hide her illicit powers as she fights to strengthen the magical Boundary that holds back the Northern monsters. Meanwhile, time traveler Davian struggles to escape the prison world that has held him captive since the end of the previous book in order to go back in time and set a series of events in motion, and Caeden, the legendary king called Tal’kamar, faces the consequences of his hapless past. Even with the inclusion of a 19-page refresher on the previous books in the series, new readers will be lost. Unnecessary intrigue drags down an already overstuffed story, and Islington’s tired characters are not dynamic enough to support the heavy burden of the plot. Devoted fans will be glad to see loose ends tied up but exhausted by the long trudge to the series’ ending. Agent: Paul Lucas, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Stormsong

C.L. Polk. Tor.com, $17.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-7653-9899-4

Polk follows her gaslamp fantasy Witchmark with a superb sequel blending political intrigue, witchcraft, and queer romance. Spirited Dame Grace Hensley—fresh from helping her brother, Miles, the protagonist of the first book, foil an assassination plot against Aeland’s Queen Constantina—is appointed chancellor of the England-like country and elected Voice of the secret group of witches that protect Aeland from storms. At the request of the queen, Grace and Miles investigate a delegation from Laneeri, a rival country, that may have been involved in the assassination plot. Meanwhile, norm-bucking journalist Avia Jessup works to get to the bottom of the role the Hensley family played in the discontinuation of Aeland’s use of aether, a power source that draws from human souls. Grace exhausts herself navigating the mass demonstrations over the loss of aether power, her attempts to reform antiwitchcraft laws, and her strong attraction to Avia. When the Laneeri heir dies under mysterious circumstances while in Aeland, Grace and Miles pivot their investigation to find his murderer. Polk’s ambitious world-building never encumbers her assured, action-packed pacing, deep characters, and genuine emotion. This delectable treat is a worthy follow-up to her debut. Agent: Caitlin McDonald, Donald Maass Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Golden Key

Marian Womack. Titan, $14.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-78909-325-4

Womack‘s ethereal debut novel (following 2018’s short story collection Lost Objects) is precise and eerie, but emotionally flat. In the late-Victorian era, Samuel Moncrieff, a melancholy university student escaping a tragedy, the details of which remain murky, joins his godfather in London and falls in with a demimonde of actors and occultists. Meanwhile, Eliza Waltraud mourns her breakup with her “life companion,” Mina, by retreating to a family property haunted by her mother in the strange stretch of English countryside called the Fens. Connecting Eliza and Samuel is respected medium and master of disguise Helena Walton-Cisneros, whose investigation into a 20-year-old disappearance in the Fens puts her on the trail of both Mina and Samuel. Plot and character alike are subordinated to dazzling atmospherics and a pervasive humorless gloom. With a slow, dreamlike pace, this could hardly be considered a page-turner, and readers looking for a more traditional supernatural detective story will be dissatisfied. Patient readers willing to wade through Womack’s murky, off-kilter world will be rewarded with moments of disquieting beauty. Agent: Alexander Cochran, the C&W Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Day

Andrew Hunter Murray. Dutton, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4581-3

Murray’s impressive eye for detail compensates for the scientifically preposterous premise of his debut. When a “rogue” white dwarf star passed dangerously close to Earth, it left the planet half scorched in sunlight and half frozen in darkness, with humanity barely hanging on in the dim zone between the extremes. Forty years after the disaster, dubbed “the Stop,” Britain, in the middle zone, has descended into fascism. Depressed scientist Dr. Ellen Hopper conducts oceanic research on a rig in the North Sea, despite feeling her work is pointless. When Hopper is summoned to the deathbed of her Oxford mentor, Edward Thorne, a government scientist responsible for the deaths of countless refugees after the Stop, she catches wind of a secret that could spell further disaster for humankind. To save what’s left of the world, Hopper launches an investigation into the government secret, rediscovering her hope for humanity along the way. Murray’s despairing characters are convincing and his descriptions of the broken Earth are vivid, but his apocalypse is too conceptually contrived to be believable. Readers will easily invest in Hopper’s mission, but will struggle to buy into Murray’s vision of the future. Agent: Kim Witherspoon, Inkwell. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Imaginary Corpse

Tyler Hayes. Angry Robot, $12.99 trade paper (388p) ISBN 978-0-85766-831-8

Hayes puts a fanciful spin on classic mysteries, inviting readers to the Stillreal, a land where imaginary Friends, Nightmares, and cast-off Ideas go when their creators no longer need them. The Man in the Coat, a terrifying Nightmare, murders Friends—something thought impossible until now—and Tippy, a plush triceratops with a knack for solving mysteries, is on the case. As Tippy and his allies—including superhero Miss Mighty, an octopus named Breaker, and information broker Big Business—pursue their enemy, they discover the truth about the Man in the Coat’s origin. To end the killings, they’ll have to risk their own existences. Hayes’s debut is an affectionate, lightly mocking homage to noir tales. Tippy is an unexpected hardboiled detective, one who asks new acquaintances for their pronouns and resolves matters with hugs as often as with violence. A strong psychological thread weaves through the story as characters confront the trauma of being imaginary and forgotten, adding depth to what at first may seem a silly concept. Readers will revel in this strange, fully realized world. Agent: Lisa Abellera, Kimberly Cameron & Assoc. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Stars Beyond

S.K. Dunstall. Ace, $16 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-399-58764-1

The Australian sisters writing as S.K. Dunstall follow their rip-roaring far-future Stars Uncharted with a vigorous sequel exploring the depths of space and human deceit. As the Honesty League attempts to bring order to a galaxy governed by a corrupt justice department that is in the pocket of exploitative rival trading companies, the ragtag crew of the spaceship Another Road plan their next big score. Nika Rik Terri, a “modder” specializing in dramatic physical makeovers, desperately works to keep Capt. Hammond Roystan alive as his body deteriorates and mercenaries and the justice department alike pursue their ship. When Eaglehawk Company chairman Wickmore and his mercenary captain Norris threaten the Zell colony near the dreaded galactic Vortex, only Nika can rescue them. Another Road’s colorful crew of criminals links up with honest Alistair Laughton, a disgraced justice department official trying to protect the Zell colonists and the alien Ort to save the colony. Readers unfamiliar with this universe will struggle to untangle the complex story lines, but the vivid action and lovable characters keep the pages turning. Series fans won’t be disappointed. Agent: Caitlin Blasdell, Liza Dawson Associates. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Where Gods Fear to Go

Angus Watson. Orbit, $16.99 trade paper (560p) ISBN 978-0-316-31745-0

Dark humor and a strong narrative voice are the high points of the violent, plodding epic fantasy that concludes Watson’s West of West series (after The Land You Never Leave). Finn the Deep (formerly known as Finnbogi the Boggy) and the surviving members of his party, comprising the formerly feuding Wootah and Calnian tribes, trek through a hostile landscape to the Meadows, where a dark force is gathering. Finn tasks Sofi Tornado, a powerful warrior, with protecting young prophet Ottar the Moaner and his sister, Freydis the Annoying, from the monsters that attack them along the way, not knowing that the nefarious Warlock Queen wants to use Ottar as an agent of her apocalypse once they reach the Meadows. Watson competently reimagines an early North American landscape replete with magic and monsters, and draws from Norse myth to characterize the Viking-like Wootah. While Finn is a dynamic protagonist, other characters become indistinguishable and the many bloody battles blur with repetition, giving the quest the feeling of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign that drags on too long. Even dedicated series readers will be frustrated. Agent: Angharad Kowal Stannus, Kowal Stannus Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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