Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke
Release Date: Early Dec
Sam Hawke‘s debut fantasy novel City of Lies was one of my favourite books of 2018. First person fantasy is already pretty common, but a book with two alternating first person narrators? That seemed to me to be a recipe for confusion. It was most vehemently not the case however and the poison-master siblings Kalina and Jovan were two distinct voices in my head. And that’s before we get to a story riddled with conspiracy, intrigue and war. This book picks up the characters two years after City of Lies, when a period of apparent peace has people feeling safe. This isn’t so, and the death of a former adversary alerts Jovan that there may be someone stalking the Chancellor he is sworn to protect. Meanwhile Kalina must deal with dignitaries visiting Silasta for a great carnival, aware that the one Jovan seeks may be among them. This is clever, intense, and very character driven fantasy that gives the reader two flawed and damaged protagonists who nevertheless push their way through problems and a difficult world. Anxiety and physical disability are treated as aspects of people rather than defining traits and there is a tremendous resonance with Kalina and Jovan as a result. Those disillusioned with endless hetero-normative fantasy settings will be pleased to know there’s some very comfortable bi and gender-queer representation. There are few sequels I have been looking forward to as much as this one, and while I understand that Sam has eschewed the trilogy trend for a two-book series, I definitely want more fantasy from her, wherever she chooses to set it.

The Ten Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn by Tyler Whitesides
Release Date: Late Dec
I’ve got a soft spot for rogues, always have. Something about the irreverent unwilling hero appeals to me. As a result, and like lots of people, I’m desperately waiting for the next Scott LynchLocke Lamora book. The reason I’m mentioning this here is because The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn hits a very similar sweet spot while still being very much its own thing. Ardor Benn is a crook of the scam, slight of hand and trickery variety. He’s very good at it too, which is why he’s been approached by an unusual employer to pull off the biggest heist of his career (and possibly as a side effect save the world). In addition to the crew of various specialists he’ll have to hire, Ardor is assisted by his long time partner in crime Raekor. Raekor provides the magical support by creating ‘Grit’, which happens to be careful mixtures of various types of dragon dung which is ignited to cause magical effects. It’s a book with a lot of good ideas and some very cool characters. The twist is that this book is two years old. So why have I featured it? Well, this month it’s coming out with a cover revamp along with the second and third books in the series. To be honest, I’m not sure what happens in the second and third book, but if Ardor Benn is involved it’ll be dangerous, rattle the windows of the powerful and be very dodgy. Something (or three somethings) for fans of scoundrel-heroes.

Burning God by R F Kuang
Release Date: Early Dec
This the stunning conclusion to the Poppy War trilogy, a grimdark series set in a fantasy analogue of early 20th century China, complete with opium wars, regional war and ruthless western colonialists. While this is a fantasy series, with magic and the supernatural, it mirrors actual history, with the presence of magic and the gods changing the flavour but not the unfolding of events. That made for an unusual approach to this book for me. To a degree, if you know a bit about Chinese history of the period you know where this book has to go, but you have to follow Runin anyway. And that’s been true for the other books as well. Obviously, since this is the final book you have to have read the first two but that’s absolutely worth doing. For those that have, you’re in for a rollercoaster with this one. Betrayed by those she trusted soon after winning victory for them Runin seeks solace in her childhood home in the south. The Dragon Republic and the Colonising Hesperians have the advantage in soldiers and technology, but Runin sees that the real power in Nikan lies in it’s people and the magic of their gods. But shamanism is a dangerous path and the gods are capricious and destructive, something Runin knows only too well. For years she has struggled with The Phoenix, using its power to her own ends while resisting it’s endless urges to burn and burn till all is ash. If she encourages others onto this path will it save the land Nikan or destroy it? A powerful conclusion to a stunning grimdark series.

Storm the Earth by Rebecca Kim Wells
Release Date: Early Dec
Rebecca Kim Wells’ first book, Shatter the Sky was a wonderful YA fantasy adventure romance between two young women. Kaia, who for her latent magic was kidnapped by the Aurati who sought to force her to use her gift in the service of the Emperor, and Maren, who knew the only way to rescue her beloved was to steal a dragon and the only way to do that was join the Emperors dragon riders. She succeeded, but as we discover at the beginning of this sequel, things have not gone back to the way they were before. They have both been changed by their experiences, friends they made are still in danger, and the dragons are still enslaved. Maren only wanted to go back to the way things were, but Kaia is like a stranger. With rebellion brewing and word of her, the ‘rebel dragon mistress’ spreading, she’ll have to face danger again, because the only way back to the life she had is to go forward. Great fun LGBT representation YA fantasy. Dragons, magic, Evil Emperors, lost royal heirs, dragons, true love, finding the courage within and dragons. Awesome.

Hag: Forgotten Folktales Retold by Daisy Johnson
Release Date: Early Dec
It’s unlikely to be news to anyone that I’m mad for folklore, whether it’s old classics or modern re-imaginings, so I have to be honest and say that this one went on the order list as soon as I saw the title. Looking a bit deeper only confirmed the decision. In here, some of the most exciting women in  speculative fiction from Britain and Ireland take classic tales and drag them into the 21st century. Pixies look for modern targets, strange children follow people home and sisters compete for the love of the same woman. There is, admittedly quite a lot of this sort of thing around at the moment and I guess it can seem like it’s a bandwagon everyone is jumping on. But each time it’s different and I wonder if this isn’t all part of a process of turning the old stories that were used to make sense of the fears of the world into new ones that talk about, and maybe help to exorcise the anxieties of now. Of course it could also just be because it’s fun being a bit creeped out and that’s a good enough reason. Also, if you’re unfamiliar with the old tales it’s worth mentioning that you should always pay close attention to any hag who presents herself. Ignore her advice at your peril.

The Sensation by Amanda Bridgeman
Release Date: Early Dec
This is the second in WA author Amanda Bridgeman‘s science fiction crime series, which newsletter readers will recognise as the one we also did a launch for at the beginning of the month.   Since we also launched the first book, The Subjugate back in 2018, we were very happy to be involved. It picks up a few months after the first book, with Detective Salvi Brentt recovered from her physical injuries, but struggling to convince the San Francisco PD that she’s ready to go back to work. That stops being an issue in the face of a spate of seemingly random violent crimes that seem to have a connection to black market tech, designer drugs and the party spaces of the wealthy. To get to the bottom of it, Salvi will go undercover in the dark underbelly of the decadent rich where the search for new thrills and experiences can turn suddenly deadly. This is a worthy sequel to The Subjugate, and while you can read it on its own, there’s a lot of very cool subtext and themes that Subjugate readers will get, particularly by comparing the use of neural technology in the two books. It’s good mix of science fiction and police procedural and I’d recommend it to SF and crime fans who are looking for something a bit different to what they normally read.

The Neil Gaiman Reader by Neil Gaiman
Release Date: Late Dec
There was a lot of buzz about this one when it was announced. Not because it was new, this is a mixed collection from previous works, but because Gaiman‘s fans are always up for a fancy new edition. If you haven’t read any of his work, this is also a great introduction, drawing as is does from his large selection of short fiction and non-fiction as well as excerpts from some of his most popular novels; Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods, Anansi Boys and The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Released in the UK in October, this has been one of the victims of pandemic delays but we are hoping to get ours by the end of December. Whether you’re already a fan or have just discovered Neil due to streaming American Gods or Good Omens and want to learn more, this very nice looking hardcover is a great way to add too (or start) a collection.

Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick by David Wong
Release Date: Early Dec
This returns to the world of David Wong’s 2015 book Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits to give the superhero genre another frank and unflattering examination. Zoey Ashe, is a recent-ish recruit to The Men in Fancy Suits, fast talkers who use their skills in persuasion to de-escalate situations with superhero/villains. Or she was. Now she’s in charge of the most decadent city in the world, chock full of opportunistic criminals and politicians and dodgy super types of every flavour. It’s an almost impossible job, made infinitely harder when a zombie turns up and accuses Zoe of having murdered him. Then someone offers a massive reward for proof of Zoe’s guilt and she’ll have to examine every part of what she and the Suits have been doing and exactly how legal any of it is. Part mystery, part adventure and part parody, this is a funny and clever take on a world with superheroes and the folks who have to live there.

Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan
Release Date: Early Dec
We first had this collection of short stories last year in hardcover, but since we’re getting the paperback this month, I think it’s worth revisiting. Here you’ll find short stories that start as moments from ordinary life and then lead the reader down a dark and disturbing narrative path. Here Kirsty’s stories focus primarily on women’s fears and anxieties, and her feminist approach has been compared to the work of Angela Carter. They vary from the ordinary, like parents who can seem to connect with their somewhat unusual children, to the bizarre with a woman in a remote and isolated house who can only get a reprieve from the resident ghost by hiding at the bottom of a pool. If you’re a fan of creepy, clever and subversive short fiction then this is for you.