Subscriber-Only Content; You must be a PW subscriber to access feature articles from our print edition. To view, subscribe or log in.
Site license users can log in here.

Get a digital subscription to Publishers Weekly for only $19.95/month.

Your subscription gives you instant access exclusive feature articles on notable figures in the publishing industry, he latest industry news, interviews of up and coming authors and bestselling authors, and access over 200,000 book reviews.

PW "All Access" site license members have access to PW's subscriber-only website content. To find out more about PW's site license subscription options please email: pw@pubservice.com or call 1-800-278-2991 (U.S.) or 1-818-487-2069 (all other countries), Monday-Friday between 5am and 5pm Pacific time.

Stormland

John Shirley. Blackstone, $26.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-09-401782-2

With this gripping dystopian novel, Shirley (Eclipse) extrapolates a grim vision of a late-21st-century U.S. wracked by climate change. Former U.S. Marshal Darryl Webb is now a world-weary freelance tracker hired to find a missing serial killer believed to be in Stormland, a 400-mile stretch of devastated southeast U.S. coastline. Some 2,000 squatters live in the ruins of Charleston, inhabiting lawless, flooded enclaves—among them an eerie pseudo-religious cult, a gang of drug dealers, scavenger-refugees, and Gerald Fogle, Webb’s quarry. But Gerald, who’s been medically mind-altered with “Neuro-Cellular Behavioral Modification,” is a new man. No longer the killer he was, he now devotes his time to altruistically helping Stormland’s suffering people. Threads involving “experiencers” who install mind-control implants to drive their doomed victims for their own heinous entertainment and a pharmaceutical executive who finds redemption from his destructive greed propel the intricate, action-filled plot as Webb comes to find meaning in his life. Howling super-hurricanes, grisly torture scenes, and the horrors of scientific experimentation on human brains make for harrowing reading. This is a sober warning about the seductive dangers of power. Agent: Jennifer Goloboy, Donald Maass Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
The Betrayals

Bridget Collins. Morrow, $27.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-283812-4

Collins (The Binding) delivers a vague, disappointing historical fantasy about an elite academy in the mountains of an unnamed European nation. The all-boys academy of Montverre teaches the grand jeu, the country’s national game, a complex mix of music, math, philosophy, and art that remains hazily defined throughout the novel. Thirty-two-year-old Léo Martin is a Montverre alum who returns to the academy to teach after his political career ends in disgrace when he criticizes the Party for their totalitarian views. Upon his return, Léo learns that the prestigious position of Magister Ludi is held by a woman, Claire Dryden, much to the chagrin of the other Magisters. Claire neither likes nor trusts Léo, believing him to be a government spy—but Léo feels an unnerving connection to Claire, as though they’ve met before. As the academy’s yearly Midsummer Game draws near, the long-standing lies Léo and Claire have both built their lives around unravel and their intertwined backstories come to light, sparking a slow-burning romance. The atmospheric descriptions and a few unexpected twists do little to offset the murky worldbuilding and slow-moving plot. This is an easy one to skip. Agent: Eleanor Jackson, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary. (May.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
The Dispatcher: Murder by Other Means

John Scalzi. Subterranean, $40 (192p) ISBN 978-1-64524-017-4

With the quirky sequel to The Dispatcher, Scalzi plays with the question of what a future in which murder has become outdated might look like. Because of an unexplained glitch, people who die of natural causes stay dead, but those who are murdered almost always reappear naked and unharmed in their homes. Dispatchers do much of their work at hospitals, killing patients who are about to die so that they have the chance to come back—but for those tempted by large offers of cash, there are less ethical opportunities for dispatchers as well. Dispatcher Tony Valdez, for example, helps a businessman instantly travel from Chicago to China by shooting him in the head. But when Tony’s caught in the midst of a bungled bank robbery soon afterward, followed by a series of odd suicides in his vicinity, both he and his contact at the Chicago PD, Nona Langdon, race to figure out what’s going on. Valdez’s voice is distinct, and Scalzi’s decision to blithely ignore the mechanics of his bizarre premise keeps the story simple, encouraging the reader to enjoy the ride without thinking too hard. This is a fun romp, but not one with staying power. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Scorpion

Christian Cantrell. Random House, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-1-984801-97-5

This stunning near-future thriller from Cantrell (Equinox) takes some truly breathtaking turns. CIA data analyst Quinn Mitchell is sent in pursuit of the Elite Assassin, an apparently unpredictable and unstoppable killer. Readers, meanwhile, are introduced to the inscrutable murderer Ranveer, whose killings efficiently carry out someone else’s master plan. Quinn’s clever investigation, using neatly extrapolated high-tech gadgets, is fascinating in itself, and, as the CIA receives missives from the future through the time-bending Epoch Index, Quinn’s search collides with some darkly fascinating thought experiments. Among them: would a person be justified in killing a nine-month-old baby if told he would grow up to be a terrorist? Quinn is not the only one to grapple with such issues; so must her colleague, quantum physicist Henrietta Yi, whose parents died in a terrorist attack, but who is increasingly worried about how her bosses could use the Epoch Index to create an authoritarian future. Cantrell’s drolly caustic prose encourages readers to care about the characters, even as the many surprises make it dangerous to get close to any one of them. The result is as entertaining as it is intellectually and ethically challenging. Agent: Joe Veltre, the Gersh Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
The Silences of Ararat

L. Timmel Duchamp. Aqueduct, $12 trade paper (118p) ISBN 978-1-61976-208-4

Aqueduct Press’s 79th installment to its Conversation Piece series, which aims to facilitate conversations at the intersection of speculative fiction and feminism , does so with limited success. Duchamp (Chercher la Femme) takes the premise of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale as a jumping-off point, as, in the modern kingdom of Ararat, the tyrannical King Leo accuses his pregnant wife of adultery. Queen Hermione, a living idol to her people, is thrown into prison, where she apparently dies in chains. But the narrator, Paulina, a Court widow, spirits her away and nurses her back to health. Hermione takes on a new life as seamstress Penelope Ithaca and enters into an affair with Paulina, who has sworn revenge on Leo. The premise is strong, but Duchamp doesn’t go far enough in updating the story for the modern era. She gestures at political commentary—King Leo is described as “an anti-science white supremacist”—but doesn’t fully develop either characters or theme. The prose, meanwhile, has a folkloric quality that tells instead of showing, which makes the action of the story feel oddly distant. Those who appreciate modern feminist retellings of classic literature will be hooked by the concept but long for a more robust execution. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Eye of the Sh*t Storm

Jackson Ford. Orbit, $16.99 trade paper (480p) ISBN 978-0-316-70277-5

Ford’s third Frost Files entry is hindered by its simplistic plot and underdeveloped secondary characters. Psychokinetic Teagan Frost has abandoned her dreams of becoming a chef to work as a government operative in a Los Angeles still recovering from the massive earthquake that occurred in Random Sh*t Flying Through the Air. After a run-in with a drug-dealing biker gang, Teagan and her team stumble upon Leo Nguyen, a powerful young boy with the ability to command electricity. Teagan wants to protect this child from her own government program, but her partners, Africa and Annie Cruz, feel otherwise. As Teagan and Leo are pursued by both Teagan’s team and a gifted menace known as the Zigzag Man, Ford works in many opportunities for Teagan to employ her telekinesis in altercations that often feel contrived. Despite frequent action scenes, there is relatively little tension as Teagan and Leo march through a broken L.A. Series fans will be pleased to see Jackson’s edgy and irreverent tone intact, but the predictable plot disappoints. Agent: Ed Wilson, Johnson & Alcock (U.K.). (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Bacchanal

Veronica Henry. 47North, $24.95 (392p) ISBN 978-1-5420-2781-6

Henry’s eerie debut unveils the haunting world behind the scenes of a 1930s carnival. The traveling G.B. Bacchanal Carnival is more than the typical mix of lion tamers and contortionists. This one-of-a-kind operation boasts an interracial cast of tricksters, entertainers, and oddities—and plucky young Black woman Eliza Meeks is determined to join them. Though initially turned away, she’s accepted into the carnival after using her gift for communicating with animals to save an alligator wrestler from becoming gator food during a performance. Now she hopes to use her newfound financial freedom and the mobility of the carnival to search for her missing sister, Twiggy. She leverages her knowledge of the American South to become the person to set the carnival’s course and steer it onto her sister’s trail. But as Eliza learns to love the eccentric group of misfits that are her coworkers, she also learns dark secrets about the carnival, her own abilities, and the history of “her people.” Henry skillfully layers historical realism with fantastic elements to explore the way times of desperation test the ethics of oppressed communities. The rushed ending will disappoint some readers, but the journey there is well wrought. Henry is a writer to watch. Agent: Mary C. Moore, Kimberley Cameron & Assoc. (May)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
In Darkness, Shadows Breathe

Catherine Cavendish. Flame Tree, $24.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-78758-553-9

Cavendish (The Malan Witch) breathes new life into familiar horror tropes in this spine-tingling tale of past and present colliding. Carol is admitted to the Royal and Waverley hospital with acute appendicitis. While there, she has disturbing visions of an otherworldly presence and learns that the hospital is on the site of a former asylum. She starts to fall in and out of her present time, possessed by the spirit of a 19th-century asylum patient, Lydia Warren Carmody, and pulled by her into the past. Meanwhile, Nessa, an older cancer patient, finds herself inextricably linked to both Carol and Lydia after she reads a poem that Lydia wrote. With characteristic verve, Cavendish explores the connection between the three women, offering few moments of reprieve as the suspense builds and time threatens to collapse in on itself. The story of female resilience at the heart of this well-constructed gothic tale is sure to please fans of women-driven horror.(Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Blue Hell

Greg F. Gifune and Sandy DeLuca. JournalStone, $15.95 trade paper (126p) ISBN 978-1-950305-67-4

Horror writers Gifune (Midnight Solitaire) and DeLuca (Lupo Mannaro) join forces in this strange, visceral novel. Joseph Stringer wakes up in the hospital with no memory of his past. He’s homeless, but finds refuge with an organization that promises relief for the destitute. Single mother Carla crashes her car after spotting something odd on the side of highway. After her recovery, she heads to a halfway house to rebuild her life, but finds horrors awaiting her. And Marco, a recently laid-off shoe salesman, agrees to an afternoon of day drinking with an acquaintance, the enigmatic Billy. It’s in this final encounter that the nebulous suspense built with the other two story lines comes to a head, as Billy reveals secrets about Marco, Carla, and Joseph—and how the three are connected. Gifune and DeLuca’s prose is taut and terrifying, perfectly blending gore and psychological horror, though for much of the novel they raise more questions than they answer. The result is a dark, challenging tale that will be best suited for seasoned horror readers. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Fugitive Telemetry

Martha Wells. Tor.com, $19.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-250-76537-6

Hugo and Nebula Award–winner Wells brings her solitude-craving, media-loving killer robot protagonist another step closer to independence in the entertaining sixth entry in the Murderbot Diaries series (after Network Effect). A dead body found in Preservation Station mall propels Murderbot, a SecUnit, into a new contract as a consultant in the murder investigation. Murderbot hopes to gain the refugee status that would enable it to stay in the Preservation Alliance, but it’s an uphill battle as rogue SecUnits are feared as unhinged killers—an unfounded fear in this case, as Murderbot wants nothing more than to catch up on its favorite soap opera in peace. Vexed by the illogical humans it’s forced to work with, Murderbot patiently explains its way through the clues it uncovers, and Senior Officer Indah can’t help being impressed with Murderbot’s investigative skills and surprisingly compassionate regard for life. Murderbot’s wry observations of human behavior are as humorous as ever and the mystery is thoroughly satisfying. This is another winning series installment. Agent: Jennifer Jackson, Donald Maass Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
X
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
X
X
Email Address

Password

Log In Lost Password

Parts of this site are only available to paying PW subscribers. Subscribers: to set up your digital access click here.

To subscribe, click here.

PW “All Access” site license members have access to PW’s subscriber-only website content. Simply close and relaunch your preferred browser to log-in. To find out more about PW’s site license subscription options please email: pw@pubservice.com.

If you have questions or need assistance setting up your account please email pw@pubservice.com or call 1-800-278-2991 (U.S.) or 1-818-487-2069 (all other countries), Monday-Friday between 5am and 5pm Pacific time for assistance.

Not Registered? Click here.