The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Release Date: Mid Feb
This is a book that’s taken a long and winding road to the store. It was first released in 2014 and was subsequently a finalist of the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. At the time it was only available from a US supplier, so copies were expensive and as a result I couldn’t really carry the quantities I’d have liked. This month the re-issue is due, and while it’s still a US publisher, they now have a local contact so it’s reasonable priced and I can get lots. It’s the story of Maia, who is the fourth son of the Elven king. He is the result of a late political marriage to a Goblin princess and he is mostly disdained by the Elven court for his half-breed status. Raised in exile far from the Court, he never expected to be a person of power or influence. Yet, when his father and three brothers are all killed in an accident he finds himself catapulted to the throne. Surrounded by courtiers who hate him and have a lifetimes practice at intrigue, Maia will have to be careful who and what he trusts. This is a book that blends fantasy and steampunk with politics, espionage and hint of romance. It’s also that rarest of fantasy beasts, a stand-alone novel, and I’m very pleased to finally be able to put a big stack of them on my shelves.
The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan
Release Date: Late Jan
There’s been a lot of noise made about this new addition to the grimdark fantasy subgenre and I’m inclined to agree with it. It features an interesting mix of technology and magic and is set in a world where there are many gods in constant war with each other and all are using humans as pawns. The city of Guerdon is an exception however, the local gods having been bested and subdued. Instead, the city and all of its technology is run by alchemy and the alchemists themselves, capricious and ruthless as any god, are the true rulers of the city. Three thieves – an orphan, a ghoul (yep, that kind) and a man who is slowly turning to stone, are accused of a crime they didn’t commit and find themselves caught up in a conflict of cataclysmic proportions. Using fantasy and horror elements and with confronting and conflicted characters, this is exactly the kind of book people mean when they say grimdark. Don’t look for heroes and redemption here, because what you’re getting are morally ambiguous characters from a city that feels like the nightmares of a madman, with a front row seat to the end of the world.
Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen by Douglas Adams
Release Date: Mid Feb
The late great Douglas Adams was famous for his somewhat idiosyncratic writing method. Primarily it involved a lot of baths, but he also kept snippets that hadn’t worked for one project and would later re-purpose them for another. Fans of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxyseries will no doubt remember the deadly and relentlessly warlike Krikkit robots from Life, the Universe and Everything. What you might not know is that they started out as antagonists for an episode of Doctor Who. Pre Hitch-Hikersuccess, Adams was working for the BBC and wrote some Who episodes that were never filmed. Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen is a novelisation of what would have been that story arc. It’s set at the time the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) was travelling with Romana and has been restored and adapted by James Goss. It’s probably not what Adams would have done to be honest and Goss doesn’t have the same flair. Also, while there is humour in Doctor Whoit’s not really the same tone either because there are always dark moments in a Who story too. Nevertheless this is an interesting adventure in what could have been and will not doubt be fun for old school Whovians.
Vox by Christina Dalcher
Release Date: Mid Feb
There’s quite a lot of social / political dystopian fiction around at the moment but this one is unusual in that it’s also about communication. In a world where women have not only had their civil rights removed, but are limited by law to speaking only one hundred words a day how do you organise change? And they have a lot they want to change since this book is set in a world of which is pretty much a worst-case scenario for just about every social and cultural axis. As a result the setting is very dark and there a multiple scenes that could upset sensitive readers. Perhaps because she’s pushing extremes, the characters are a bit larger than life as well and are more a foil for the narrative than drivers of it. All in all this book more of a thought experiment on just how many repressive ideas you can fit together in one place than a character driven story, but I still think that’s an interesting thing to do and definitely worth a read.
Broken Stars by Ken Liu
Release Date: Late Feb
In the aftermath of the success of the Three Bodytrilogy by Cixin Liu, there was talk of a short story collection featuring other Chinese science fiction writers. The book was called Invisible Planetsand Ken Liu was slated as the translator. It was a very good collection and quite popular. So popular in fact that Ken has done another one. This collection of fourteen stories and three essays features all of the contributors from Invisible Planets as well as new authors. The stories feature such ideas as a man confronted by future versions of himself trying to avert the destruction of their respective worlds to the mystery of a train that vanishes into space with all 1500 passengers as well as the title story, Broken Stars which offers a new twist on the stars being able to foretell the future. The essays discuss the history of Chinese science fiction as well as the recent attention and the effect that has had on writers and audiences both inside China and the rest of the world. This is not only a great science fiction read, but also a fascinating insight into what it means to different people.
Hangman by Jack Heath
Release Date: Early Jan
This is one for those who like their protagonists morally ambiguous. Timothy Blake is a bad man. He’s also a genius at solving impossible crimes, using methods that no law enforcement agency would dare to. Nevertheless, when truly desperate, the FBI call on him for help. His codename: Hangman. The current case is a kidnapping, perhaps his most difficult yet. This time the person he’s hunting is just as clever and ruthless as he is. He’s also been assigned a partner, a woman connected to a past he’s trying to forget. There are things about him that his handlers don’t know. Things that Blake would do anything to keep hidden. They think he’s a monster who hunts and kills for them, and he is. What they don’t know is that he also hunts and kills for himself and that the job they think he’s doing is different from the one he thinks he’s doing. Blake saves lives for reasons of his own. And they’re the reasons of a monster.
Bye Bye Baby by Fiona McIntosh
Release Date: Early Jan
This is technically more of a reprint than a new title, but since it’s an old favourite of mine I’m very glad to have them again. Back in the early 2000’s Fiona McIntosh released a trio of very good fantasy series that were quite popular with me and my customers. At some point I learned that she’d written a couple of crime novels under the name Lauren Crow. I liked them too and also made a point of sharing them with my customers. Fiona later moved in a nation spanning historical fiction direction and her crime and fantasy got less and less attention. This month the first of the crime novels is back in a trade paperback format. Bye Bye Baby is one for fans of police procedurals, especially if you’re sick of irrational and inept police. Fiona‘s characters are smart, don’t make stupid mistakes and actually listento one another. You also never have to shout at the book because some detective chose to confront a baddie all alone in the middle of nowhere, which is refreshing. This book is about a taskforce charged with making sense of a series of murders whose victims seem unrelated except for the fact that they are all exactly the same age. It could be a career making or breaking case for DCI Jack Hawsworth, but the deeper he gets into the case the more he realises that he could be risking much more than just his career.
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
Release Date: Early Feb
This is a new stand-alone science fiction offering from IO9 founder and nerd icon Charlie Jane Anders. As with her other book this one in chock full of ideas, perhaps too many, but that’s for the readers to decide. It’s set on a distant alien planet where the descendants of the human colonists have all but forgotten the ship that brought them. The tidally locked planet has only a narrow habitable band between the regions of endless freezing night and scorching day. In this band are two very different cities. One rigid and controlled, one fluid and chaotic. When an exile from one of the cities is forced out into the frozen darkness she is expected to die, but instead forms a bond with an intelligent indigenous life-form. The humans had dismissed this possibility since arrival, but now the consequences of their presence are forcing the natives to action. This is a book that in intent resembles some of the works of Ursula Le Guin, in that it seeks to explore the impact of social structures on people and places. While humanity may one day make it to the stars, it’s worth remembering that if we take ideas like colonialism and disregard for the environment with us, what we’ll end up with is not a new home but the old one somewhere else. A thoughtful book and one it’s safe to say I’m eyeing off for a future book club.
How to Fracture a Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen
Release Date: Late Feb
If you’ve been on the mailing list for a while, then you’re probably already aware of how much I love a good pastiche or rework of a folk or fairy tale. One of the best at this sort of thing is Jane Yolen. Her new short story collection was supposed to be released in March, but it’s hit the shelves early so we’ve already got copies. It’s a collection in the classic fairy tale style of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and the like in that the stories are quite short and there are lots of them (28 to be precise). In here you will encounter a fat Cinderella and an ugly Sleeping Beauty, who subvert some old ideas and an Appalachian girl who must come to grips with the idea that her mother is a vampire. A modern day Jewish artist experiences the Holocaust through her art and somewhere there is a bridge that misses its trolls. It’s not just the familiar fairy tales that are featured either, as there are some Greek, Japanese, Chinese and Native American stories that have also been adapted and re-imagined. While most of the inspirations of these stories tend to be on the darker and sadder side, this collection offers some happy or upbeat endings too. It’s a fun and clever book, and for anyone who likes their folk-lore a bit strange.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Release Date: Early Feb
It’s not often that you see a Booker Prize winner turn their hand to epic fantasy, but that’s just what Jamaican author Marlon James has done, in his own words ‘an African Game of Thrones’. It’s a great tag-line but having looked at excerpts, that’s true only in terms of scale and ambition. It has its own unique feel and mythos and much more in response to Game of Thrones than in imitation of it. It’s set in a rough analogy of 15th century West Africa and begins with Tracker, a hunter famed for his skills. He’s been engaged to find a lost child, but as part of the job he also has to work with a team of diversely skilled mercenaries. He’s a loner by nature, but as their search continues each of their special talents will come in handy. Their journey takes them through ancient cities and across wastelands, encountering witches, shape-changing leopards, hyaena-men and various other nasties plucked from African folk-lore. And it’s not just the monsters, the structure of the book has a folk-tale feel to it as well, rather than the traditional linear fantasy epic. This will require readers to adjust their expectations a bit, because this is a very different sort of fantasy. It’s part one of a proposed trilogy and comes in at over 700 pages so it’s definitely an epic, but at least the first book is somewhat episodic so you get some resolution as well as the hooks into book two. This is for anyone who has been enjoying the recent wave of African fiction or anyone who wants an unusual and interesting new fantasy.
The Subjugate by Amanda Bridgeman
Release Date: Jan
This is a new science fiction / crime novel by a Western Australian author, and if you received previous newsletters then you’ll know we did a local launch event with Amanda a few weeks ago. As I said, The Subjugate is a SF/crime novel, which makes it perfect for the store. In a near future an experimental treatment for serious violent criminals is being pioneered by the Solme Complex, who use a mix of conditioning, brain surgery and drugs to turn dangerous offenders into calm, passive and servile people that the Solme Complex refers to as Serenes. A nearby town is the testing ground for the Serenes, as small supervised numbers of them perform menial tasks for the community. The community itself is tightly knit, devoutly religious and somewhat anti-technology. When a young girl is brutally murdered, it falls to two city detectives to find the killer. The obvious answer is one of the Serenes despite the Solme Complex assurances about their safeguards, but as the detectives investigate further they discover that the idyllic community has many secrets. Some of which might be reason enough to kill. The Subjugate is an interesting mix of cyberpunk and crime which will appeal to fans of either genre. The near-future setting, technology and characters are all relatable without feeling derivative, and the crime plot works right up to the final confrontation and beyond. This one ticks all the right boxes.
Dragon Heart by Peter Higgins
Release Date: Late Jan
This is the new fantasy novel from the author of the Wolfhound Centuryseries. Like his first series it straddles a few genres and mixes some things you don’t normally see together. It’s set in the aftermath of a great battle between dragons and wizards that has caused a creeping blight on the land. A man, a woman and their child travel across the dying land in search of a safe place. At first their thoughts are only for survival, but when the child begins to show the first signs of a strange magic within her, her parents fear that they may lose her no matter what they do. And yet, so poor in hope, they struggle forward. Basically this is a post-apocalyptic fantasy, which is not unprecedented (Jack Vance‘s Dying Earth springs to mind) but fairly unusual. The mix of styles makes for an interesting read, with the parents, Shay and Cass being the primary viewpoints. There is a lot of day-to-day survival stuff which is a big part of apocalyptic fiction, but feels a little dry in fantasy. It’s also paced slower, but with a big investment in world building that I think justifies that. I want to avoid spoilers, so I won’t say much about the magic but that it starts off small and grows as the book progresses and that the pace of the book increases as things become more intense. I think this would be interesting for apocalypse and fantasy fans, and while Higginsstyle is a bit unusual and the setting is not what you’d expect from standard fantasy I think this is one folks will enjoy.