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Carved from Stone and Dream

T. Frohock. Harper Voyager, $16.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-282564-3

Frohock seamlessly blends fantasy and WWII history into a heart-wrenching story of war in the action-packed second Los Nefilim novel. Seven years have passed since the events of Where Oblivion Lives: Spain is under Franco’s control, and Los Nefilim, a group of powerful Spanish immortals led by Guillermo Ramírez, have fled to Paris. Now, Guillermo and Diago, a unique nefilim of both angelic and demonic descent, are on the run from Guillermo’s traitorous brother, Jordi. When they accidentally stumble into a realm controlled by Jordi—and where Diago’s son and husband are secretly held captive—they learn that Jordi has been working with both Franco’s regime and the German nefilim, who plan to invade France. To stop him, Guillermo and Diago have to find their way back to their own dimension. Frohock raises the stakes in the battle between angels and demons by entwining their celestial warfare with the simmering human conflict, and the wildly imaginative plotlines are balanced by intimate family struggles as Frohock works toward an explosive ending. Series fans and new readers alike will be enthralled. Agent: Lisa Rodgers, JABberwocky Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/20/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Gordon Place

Isaac Thorne. Lost Hollow, $14.99 trade paper (362) ISBN 978-1-938271-45-8

An admirable, albeit simplistic, critique of racism and toxic masculinity pervades this well-crafted horror novel from Thorne (Plant). Newly elected Lost Hollow, Tenn., constable Graham Gordon, who is white, sets out to rehabilitate his family’s dilapidated former property, which the townspeople believe to be haunted. On one of his visits, a mysterious force pushes him down the stairs into the dank cellar, where his body is overtaken by his father’s ghost. Lee Gordon was a racist, sexist, and brutally abusive drunk when he was alive, and he’s no different in the afterlife. As Graham and Lee fight for control of Graham’s mind and body, Lee reveals that he is responsible for a string of decades-old murders. Meanwhile, black newscaster Afia Afton returns to Lost Hollow for the first time since she was 12, when her father was murdered in an unsolved hate crime, to write a Halloween fluff piece about the town. While following a story lead, Afia stumbles on the possessed Graham in his basement, giving rise to a heart-pounding series of events. With the right amount of gore and a permeating sense of dread, this work proves Thorne to be a gifted storyteller. (Self-published.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Alien Secrets

Ian Douglas. Harper Voyager, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-282538-4

This ambitious series opener from Douglas (Bright Light) throws military sci-fi tropes and time-honored conspiracy theories into a blender to create a bonkers alternate present. When Lieutenant Commander Mark Hunter of the Navy SEALs spots a flying saucer during a mission, he is drawn into an intricate web of government lies, learning that aliens and time travelers have secretly manipulated human culture for decades, and that even now, Earth is the focal point for a conflict raging across space and time. The generically heroic Hunter joins the newly formed Interstellar Fleet Marine Force to travel to distant planets to assess the current threat. Much of this installment is dedicated to laying the groundwork of the series’s universe, filling readers in on the alien truths behind 20th-century history. Douglas gleefully combines an eclectic mix of conspiracies, among them Roswell Greys, humanoid lizards, and space-faring Nazis, while launching his characters into intergalactic battles with the skillful combat sequences fans will expect. Readers who can forgive the tinfoil hat–wearing wackiness of the premise will look forward to the next in the series. Agent: Ethan Ellenberg, Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Creeping Jenny

Jeff Noon. Angry Robot, $14.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-857668-40-0

Noon (The Body Library) remixes classic horror elements in this outstanding paranormal mystery, his third to feature British PI John Nyquist. In 1959, Nyquist receives an envelope of photographs from an unknown sender, one of which depicts Nyquist’s long-lost father. Seeking answers, Nyquist travels to the village of Hoxley, where the photos seem to have been taken. Hoxley’s residents are largely hostile to his visit and unhelpful in his investigation. Their community is bound by bizarre traditions, and every day they honor a different saint. On Saint Meade’s Day, for example, Hoxleyans refrain from speech, and on Saint Edmund and Saint Alice Day, they all wear masks and answer only to the names of Edmund or Alice. As Nyquist attempts to find out more about his father, Noon piles on the disquieting oddities, including a sinister plant called the Creeping Jenny, to build a palpably foreboding atmosphere. This creepy tale will delight fans of weird, understated horror from authors like Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood. Agent: Michelle Kass, Michelle Kass Associates. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Jack of Thorns: Inheritance Book 1

A.K. Faulkner. Ravensword, $15.99 trade paper (402p) ISBN 978-1-912349-11-1

Faulkner (Mirror Flower, Water Moon) kicks off the Inheritance series with a captivating love story pulsing with complex Celtic mythology. San Diego florist Laurence Riley, a recovering heroin addict who has visions of the future and a mystical green thumb, prays to the Celtic fertility god Cernunnos for a blessing and is soon visited by a manifestation of the deity calling himself Jack in the Green. Jack agrees to train Laurence to control his psychic powers but demands payment in the form of erotic energy. Laurence seeks a sexual partner but runs into a complication when he falls hard for reserved telekinetic Quentin, Earl of Banbury, whose traumatic past makes him unlikely to just fall into bed. As Laurence and Quentin bond, Jack grows desperate for the power that sexual activity gives him, becoming a threat both to Laurence and to the city of San Diego. Effortlessly handling weighty issues of addiction, class, and sexuality, Faulkner keeps her heady mythology grounded in reality and lays a promising foundation for future installments. Readers will be eager for the next in the series. (Self-published.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Hidden Girl and Other Stories

Ken Liu. Saga, $26 (432p) ISBN 978-1-98213-403-7

Cycles of violence, unquiet ghosts, and troubled parent-child relationships pervade Hugo Award–winner Liu’s inconsistent second collection. Though Liu’s dexterous prose is on display throughout, static story structures and sketchy characters plague these 19 idea-driven tales. At their best, these stories inject high-minded scientific concepts with deeper themes: “Maxwell’s Demon” uses Maxwell’s equations to explore cycles of violence and the loyalty oaths forced on Japanese Americans during WWII, “The Gods Will Not Be Chained” transcends the ghost-in-the-machine subgenre with its familial tenderness, and the title story resonates with a stubborn, determined protagonist. Weaker offerings violate Liu’s assertion in the preface that “a good story cannot function like a legal brief,” forgoing narrative momentum in favor of overexplaining their conceits. The worst offenders are “Byzantine Empathy” and “Real Artists,” which read as infomercials for fictional technologies. Readers will also be disappointed in how the female protagonists frequently descend into cliché. Though some readers will struggle to find a way in to these emotionally flat stories, Liu’s strong sentences and intelligent what-ifs will appeal to fans of Asimov-ian science fiction. Agent: Russel Galen, Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Goblets Immortal

Beth Overmyer. Flame Tree, $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-78758-362-7

Overmyer (Circus in a Shot Glass) fails to deliver on the promising premise of this slow-moving series opener. Six goblets grant magic powers to anyone who drinks from them. Once protected by a group of magic users called the Circle, the goblets are now lost. Aidan is one of the Blest, the revered offspring of former Circle members, but he lives with the crushing guilt of having unintentionally used his powers to make his family disappear when he was a child. Aidan’s seemingly impossible hopes of getting his family back are kindled when the dangerous mage Meraude appears to him in a dream and offers a bargain: if Aidan finds her the Questing Goblet, one of the six, Meraude will return Aidan’s family. Aidan embarks on a wild-goose chase while skirting another enemy, Lord Dewhurst, who has put a price on his head. Overmyer’s plot is dense and well-constructed, but a sluggish opening makes it difficult to invest in the characters and will lose impatient readers before the story picks up. The conclusion, meanwhile, leaves too many threads dangling. Epic fantasy fans will be disappointed. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Light Years

R.W.W. Greene. Angry Robot, $14.99 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-0-85766-836-3

The toll difficult moral choices take on families is the core conflict of this clever far-future debut from Greene. In the 33rd century, wealthy Traders travel space while the poor struggle to survive planetside. Trader Adem Sadiq enters an arranged marriage with faster than light worm-drive technology expert Hisako Saski at the urging of his mother, Maneera. Hisako’s parents agree to the marriage contract that gives Hisako money in exchange for studying supposedly obsolete worm-drive technology and a two-year stay on her future husband’s starship. Life aboard the luxurious starship is intercut with flashbacks to Hisako’s early life, as she grows bitter at the realization that her newfound privilege as a Trader comes at the cost of her freedom. Meanwhile, the Saskis struggle with their choice to give up their daughter, and Maneera cooks up larger plans for Hisako than just to be a match for her son; she needs Hisako’s knowledge in order to integrate a worm-drive into the starship to make it the fastest in the galaxy. Sophisticated worldbuilding and diverse, emotionally-resonant characters make Greene an author to watch. Agent: Sara Megibow, KT Literary (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Garden of Bewitchment

Catherine Cavendish. Flame Tree, $25 (288p) ISBN 978-1-78758-341-2

Cavendish (The Darkest Veil) draws from the best conventions of the genre in this eerie gothic novel about a woman’s sanity slowly unraveling within the hallways of a mysterious mansion. In 1893, twin sisters and aspiring authors Claire and Evelyn Wainwright leave their Yorkshire home for a reclusive life on the expanse of England’s moors. Their retreat is disrupted when a strange toy turns up inside their new house: a miniature mansion surrounded by a beautiful garden. Entranced by the toy, Claire believes herself to be able to enter its halls and gardens and becomes increasingly possessed by its ghostly inhabitants. As Claire loses her grip on reality, Evelyn tries to uncover the truth behind the dollhouse and free her sister from its power. Though numerous red herrings create unnecessary confusion, Cavendish successfully maintains the suspense as she dives into the intricacies of her carefully-constructed world. Fans of gothic tropes will appreciate the atmosphere and intensity of this horror tale. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Hazel and Holly

Sara C. Snider. Double Beast, $7.99 e-book (452p) ISBN 978-91-87657-07-8

Snider (A Shadowed Spirit) transports readers to a world full of magic and mystery with this light, fast-paced fantasy. Witch sisters Hazel and Holly have grown up in the comfort of the Grove, a peaceful forest community of witches. Where 17-year-old Holly is wild and fun-loving, 23-year-old Hazel is responsible and staid, having shouldered the burden of caring for their dead mother’s soul, which is trapped between worlds. When Hazel learns that their absentee father, Ash, is the one who trapped their mother using the forbidden black magic of necromancy, she is determined to undo his treachery. Aided by warlock brothers Hawthorn and Hemlock, the sisters attempt to track down their father, venturing beyond the Grove for the first time. Their subsequent adventure strikes a delightful balance between introspection and playfulness with dynamic, multifaceted characters who come to realize that neither magic, nor family relationships, are as simple as black or white. Moral ambiguity, humor, and heart combine in this fun, fulfilling romp. (Self-published.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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