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The Arcana of Maps and Other Stories

Jessica Reisman. Fairwood, $17.99 trade paper (302p) ISBN 978-1-933846-91-0

Reisman (Substrate Phantoms) showcases her mastery of immersive worldbuilding in these 17 speculative short stories, which range from fable to space opera. Science fiction tales, including “Threads” and “An Irdish Tale,” provide glimpses into potential future worlds that utilize radical advanced technology, while others are quieter and more dreamlike. “When the Ice Goes Out” draws from Slavic folklore to imbue a familiar narrative of familial grief with subtle magic. Similarly, “Nights at the Crimea” puts a mythological twist on the world of art house movies. Reisman’s well-tuned ear for description is most on display in “Before the Rain,” the only previously unpublished piece in the collection, which captures the distinct feeling of steadily rising humidity. Though there is little besides Reisman’s well-crafted sentences to link these stories together, they all center around a theme of connection, whether between lovers, friends, gods, or animals. Readers will enjoy sinking into the strange and lovely landscapes of this collection. Agent: Prentis Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/20/2019 | Details & Permalink

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At Death’s Door: A Deadman’s Cross Novel

Sherrilyn Kenyon. Tor, $27.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7653-8574-1

Overfilled with piratical melodrama and plot twists galore, the final romantic historical fantasy in Kenyon’s Deadman’s Cross trilogy (after Death Doesn’t Bargain) is an over-the-top adventure. As a member of the Deadmen, a crew of reanimated pirates sworn to fight demons, Valynda has never fit in, cursed as she is into the body of a doll made of straw. Throughout Valynda’s tenure aboard the Sea Witch II, the only person to make her feel whole has been Nibo, a powerful Voodoo spirit. When one of the demons known as the Malachai reveals to Valynda that Nibo betrayed her, she no longer knows who to trust. As the Deadmen prepare for battle and Valynda works to break the curse and regain her human form, she struggles to untangle her romantic feelings for Nibo. But the focus on their overdramatic love story comes at the expense of the action, and the cast of supporting characters is so vast and their shifting loyalties so convoluted that even returning readers will find it difficult to keep track of everything. This bloated series finale suffers for attempting to do too much. Agent: Robert Gottlieb, Trident Media Group. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/13/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Eridani’s Crown

Alex Shvartsman. UFO, $15.99 trade paper (276p) ISBN 978-0-9992690-1-5

Shvartsman (H.G. Wells, Secret Agent) skillfully confronts the ways power can corrupt in this smart political fantasy. Teenage Princess Eridani and her brother, Danchu, are receiving an education abroad when the Patriarch of the North attempts to assassinate them and consolidate power. Though both survive, Danchu is wounded by a poisoned sword and Eridani must visit a sorceress, Oshekzhothep the Seer, to procure an antidote. Before Oshekzhothep helps Eridani, she delivers a prophecy: “Besides [Danchu], everyone you know and trust will come to betray you.” Made paranoid and ruthless by the Seer’s warning, Eridani allows her suspicion to guide her political career over the next decade as she rises to the position of Queen Mother. The idealism of her youth hardens into callousness as the misogyny she faces, the passage of time, and her own mistrust force her closer to political corruption. Shvartsman has a gift for subtle, believable character arcs and a firm grasp on the specific setbacks faced by female politicians. Tight plotting and an intricately crafted universe will keep readers hooked. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/13/2019 | Details & Permalink

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A Sanctuary of Spirits

Leanna Renee Hieber. Rebel Base, $3.99 e-book (368p) ISBN 978-1-63573-059-3

The New York City police department’s secret Ghost Precinct investigates crimes committed against spirits in this engaging sequel to 2018’s Spectral City. In 1899, someone is stealing body parts from corpses for an unknown purpose. Police spiritualist Eve Whitby and her team of mediums must uncover who’s behind this abominable practice in order to lay the victims’ souls to rest. Working closely with dashing Det. Jacob Horowitz, Eve cannot help developing feelings for the man, but there is little time to explore their attraction as the investigation draws the attention of powerful enemies. Hieber juggles the romantic and procedural elements of the plot against the atmospheric backdrop of turn-of-the-last-century spiritualism. Eve and Jacob’s will-they-or-won’t-they relationship can be frustratingly repetitive, but their chemistry is undeniably charming, and the investigation that drives the plot is serviceable, if never shocking. The diverse, lived-in world will draw readers in to this paranormal mystery. Agent: Paul Stevens, Donald Maass Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/13/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Into Bones Like Oil

Kaaron Warren. Meerkat, $12.95 trade paper (95p) ISBN 978-1-946154-42-2

A grieving mother is haunted by ghosts from her past in this dark, ethereal novella by Warren (The Gate Theory). Insomniac Dora, mourning the death of her two young daughters, comes to the Angelsea, a beachside rooming house, to escape her troubled life—but the Angelsea is anything but a peaceful respite. The ghosts of those drowned in a shipwreck visit each night to speak their last words through the mouths of the inn’s sleeping inhabitants. When the Angelsea’s owners pressure Dora to become a vessel for a ghost, she worries that she will encounter the spirits of her girls and that they will confirm her worst fears by blaming her for their deaths because she failed to protect them. No one in the small, eccentric cast of rooming house boarders is without their faults, and despite Dora’s flaws, readers will sympathize with her struggle to find forgiveness. This grim portrait of broken people in a broken setting reckoning with trauma, paranoia, and grief will especially appeal to horror readers who appreciate melancholic and atmospheric stories. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/13/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Truer Love and Other Lies

Edd Vick. Fairwood, $17.99 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-933846-85-9

The eclectic stories in Vick’s provocative first collection span from the serious to the whimsical and from hard-edged science fiction to gauzy fantasy. In opening tale “Moon Does Run,” an artificial intelligence has an identity crisis in the midst of a war as its memory is wiped several times over by ever-changing programmers to reflect which political group is in power. In a strong tonal contrast, “Silver and Scythe,” cowritten with Manny Frishberg, tells the quaint but unsatisfying story of the fae cutting off ties with the human world. “The Great Depth” leaves humanity behind altogether to follow a whale on a desperate mission to save her kind, and perhaps the sea itself, from a ravenous monster of the deep. Despite the broad range of subject matter, the authorial voice is strikingly assured throughout. Though some stories, including “Rebel the First and Only” and “Innermost Box,” feel more like premises than fully realized plots, Vick’s facility with language will keep readers engaged. There is a bit of something for everyone in this competent and quirky work. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/13/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Something Wicked This Way Comes

Amy Rae Durreson. DSP, $17.99 trade paper (328p) ISBN 978-1-64405-336-2

Drawing from the dark history of the Scottish borderlands, this supernatural thriller from Durreson (Philip Collyer vs the Cola Thief) is richly detailed but unevenly told. Leon Kwarteng came to Becky’s Children’s Trust, a school for orphans, at age six after surviving the car crash that killed his Ghanaian immigrant parents. Almost 30 years later, Leon, now a senior manager at the Trust, travels to the English-Scottish border to inspect a crumbling former orphanage the school has recently inherited. He is shocked to recognize the area from the night his parents died and terrified to discover an ancient evil lurking within the orphanage walls. His only comfort comes from a chance meeting with Niall Forster, a gruff but handsome local blacksmith, grieving the recent death of his daughter. The men band together to hunt the horrific spectral presence feeding on the village’s children, developing a romantic connection along the way that may be strong enough to lead them both out of despair. Despite frequent changes in tone and a plodding pace, the diverse, earnest characters will keep readers invested. A huge helping of heart distinguishes this queer ghost story. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/13/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Whitetooth Falls

Justin Joschko. JournalStone, $15.95 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-1-950305-12-4

This gripping paranormal thriller from Joschko (Iron Circle) is packed with grit, twists, and murder. Det. David Moore and his partner, Walter Pulaski, investigate a mutilated body discovered outside a strip club in present day Niagara Falls. Though at first they suspect an animal attack, they are forced to consider murder when more tattered bodies turn up. Teacher’s assistant Iman al-Qaddari worries when her boss, literature professor Enoch Motes, begins acting erratically. Suspecting that Motes may be related to the murders, she sneaks into his home to get some answers and discovers far more than she expected. Iman seeks out Moore to explain what she’s seen. Moore brings Motes in for questioning, and he confesses to his part in the murders. Just as the full truth is revealed, Motes is kidnapped, and Iman and Moore must team up to find the professor and face down the real threat. Though the characters’ relationship is underdeveloped, the mystery is suspenseful throughout, and the supernatural reveal is masterfully handled. Joschko’s complex storytelling will keep readers hooked until the final bloody scene. Agent: Alec Shane, Writers House. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/13/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Devil Dancers

Robert E. Waters. eSpec, $14.95 trade paper (194p) ISBN 978-1-942990-98-7

These nine middling linked short stories create a kaleidoscopic portrait of a future wracked by decades of galactic war fought by Apache dancer fighter pilots. Capt. Victorio “Tomorrow’s Wind” Nantan, the protagonist throughout, leads his team, the Devil Dancers, in the fight against the Gulo, a wolverine-like species of aliens. Most of the stories focus on Nantan’s battle tactics and the Apache dances that the squadron incorporate into their flight preparations and fighting style. As they struggle to balance the demands of their culture with those of military service, the Devil Dancers face loss, betrayal, and racism. Standout tales include “I Give My Heart to the Hawks,” in which Nantan and his lover Blue Bird train hawks (which become an allegory for their relationship), and “The First Peace,” which takes a look at the origins of war itself. While the writing is solid and the concept original, readers will long for a deeper connection to Apache culture and a more thorough exploration of the complexities of war and power. This solid collection, while promising, never quite lives up to its potential. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/13/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Best of Jerry Pournelle

Edited by John F. Carr. Baen, $16 trade paper (640p) ISBN 978-1-982124-17-5

This thorough collection of short works from the late Pournelle (1933–2017), interspersed with remembrances of his life from colleagues and collaborators, is an engrossing retrospective of the half-century career of a defining author of the military sci-fi genre. The tales range from the famous, like “The Mercenary,” the first story in the Falkenberg Legion series, to the lesser-known, among them “Kenyons to the Keep,” which explores a postapocalyptic California, and “The Last Shot,” an unpublished story in the Nuclear General series that Pournelle promised Harlan Ellison he would only release posthumously. Among the essays on Pournelle’s life comes a barrage of memories from Larry Niven, whose short collaborations with Pournelle are all included, and a touching recollection of an interaction between Pournelle and Ellison from author David Gerrold. Carr, Pournelle’s longtime friend and assistant, contextualizes each story in brief introductions that provide a glimpse behind the scenes for fans and will help new readers navigate this extensive collection. Lovers of classic military speculative fiction will enjoy this walk back through a brilliant career. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/13/2019 | Details & Permalink

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