This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: The Expanse Expands, an Intergalactic Empire Falters, and a Killer Stalks a Fantasy City

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Tiamat’s Wrath, by James S.A. Corey
The eighth book in The Expanse book arrives just as excitement over the continuing television adaptation of the series reaches a fever pitch. As this penultimate entry opens, human space is controlled by the Laconian empire and Winston Duarte, who seeks to make evolution happen on his timeline using the same alien technology that operates in the ring gates humans use to travel between thousands of livable worlds. The survivors of the gunship Rocinante work with the growing rebellion to throw off Duarte’s control. Their best hope might just be Duarte’s own daughter, who doesn’t relish the idea of being part of her father’s ultimate science experiments. Fast-paced, smartly plotted, and nuanced—this is one of the best SF series of the decade.

Miranda in Milan, by Katharine Duckett 
Reinterpreting the Bard through a queer prism, Katharine Duckett’s rich debut novella provides a more complete journey for Miranda from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Arriving in a Milan falling under the control of her father, Miranda is more or less imprisoned in his castle. The servants hate her, and when she is allowed outside—accompanied always by her Agata—she is veiled. A miserable life is lightened when she meets Dorothea, a maid of the castle, who shows Miranda a series of secret tunnels—and much more. The two forge close relationship as Miranda discovers the existence of magic both occult and physical.

Black City Dragon, by Richard A Knaak
Knaak is a frequent author of tie-in novels, contributing books to massive shared worlds like Pathfinder and Warcraft, but his latest is an original—and the third book in a series following Nick Medea, a denizen of 1920s Chicago who has devoted his life to guarding the gate that offers passage between the human and faerie realms. Despite his recent victories, however, more and more malevolent fey are slipping into the Windy City, which has kept Nick and his shapeshifting faerie partner Fetch scrambling. As the duo continues to encounter evidence that suggests Nick’s ancient enemy, a dangerous dragon, has returned, his lover Claryce is dodging attempts on her life… or her most recent one, anyway—she’s the latest incarnation of an immortal, and her past lives may hold the secrets to Nick’s latest troubles.

A Parliament of Bodies, by Marshall Ryan Maresca
For the past four years, Marshall Ryan Maresca has been toiling away at an impressive feat for storytelling and worldbuilding, exploring, in four interlocking series, every facet of a fictional city through the strata of the people who inhabit it: criminals, peacekeepers, political power players, and hapless heroes alike. In A Parliament of Bodies—the third volume in the Maradaine Constabulary sub-series, following police Inspectors Satrine Rainey and Minox Welling as they attempt to foils the foul schemes of the criminals and killers who would despoil the grand city they serve—Maradaine is plagued by a string of bloody crimes dubbed the Gearbox Murders. A fiend with a penchant for feindish invention is trapping his victims in cruel machines of death, and the poor unfortunate souls so tortured seem to have been chosen at random. With few clues to go one, Rainey and Welling can only wait for the next corpse to appear—but the killings are growing more elaborate, and after a dozen mangled bodies appear on the floor of parliament, the case may be taken out of their hands altogether.

A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine 
Martine’s ornate debut space opera constructs a fully realized world. The new ambassador from a small mining Station, Mahit Dzmare, arrives at the court of the ever-expanding Teixcalaanli Empire to find that the previous ambassador is dead. Very likely, she was murdered—though no one will admit that, or the fact that Dzmare is the next most likely victim. Aided by her expertise in the Teixcalaani language and an outdated—and possibly untrustworthy—memory implant from the prior ambassador, Dzmare must negotiate both her own survival and that of the Station in the face of an implacable empire. Meanwhile, the aging emperor seeks to become immortal by any means science can grant him, even as his army plots a coup. In the tradition of Ann Leckie and Iain M. Banks, this is bold, complex space opera with a political bent.

What new SFF is on your radar this week?

The post This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: The Expanse Expands, an Intergalactic Empire Falters, and a Killer Stalks a Fantasy City appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

A Memory Called Empire Is a Compelling Political Whodunnit Wrapped in Intriguing Sci-Fi Worldbuilding

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

An aspect of history that often goes unconsidered is the fact that the “barbarian cultures” conquered by the Roman Empire—and, later, the Byzantine Empire—certainly wouldn’t have described themselves as such—labels of barbarism, like history, being writ by the conquerers. As a historian of the Byzantines, Dr. AnnaLinden Weller—who writes science fiction under the pseudonym Arkady Martine—certainly knows this better than most, and her understanding lends depth and breadth to the compelling political mystery that drives her excellent debut novel A Memory Called Empire.

The story centers on Mahit Dzmare, a young diplomat of Lsel Station, an independent, planet-less civilization thriving on the edges of the massive, dominant, ever-expanding Teixcalaanli Empire. When a Teixcalaanli warship arrives at the station demanding a new ambassador be sent to the empire’s capital planet, Mahit is selected and somewhat hastily outfitted with an imago machine containing the stored memories and personality of her ambassadorial predecessor, Yskandr Aghavn.

The imago is an implanted device that merges the recorded personality and memories of its former host with those of its new one; the effect, in text at least, is not wholly unlike having someone in your head to converse with, and decades of experiences not your own to draw from. Imagos are the system Lsel has developed to conserve the essential knowledge and experience of its ancestors and keep their civilization alive in the hostile environment of space. Understandably, they are something of a state secret. It takes many months for a host to fully bond with a new imago, but unfortunately, the rushed demands of the Teixcalaanli don’t allow Mahit that luxury. Worse, Yskander hadn’t been back to Lsel Station in 15 years, so the imago Mahit is given is woefully out of date.

These competing factors mean that the young ambassador would be ill-prepared to face the political pressure cooker of the capital city even if she didn’t arrive there to discover that Yskander—the one that exists outside of her head—has been murdered, and a crisis of imperial succession is underway. The shock of learning of “his” death sends the Yaskander imago into malfunction, leaving Mahit yet more woefully unprepared to serve as the last line of diplomatic defense against Lsel’s forced annexation. To safeguard her people, Mahit must solve a dual mystery: who killed Yskander, and what was he doing on Teixcalaan that made him the target of a political assassination? All she has on her side is her quick mind, her expertise in Teixcalaanli culture, and the aide of a diplomatic liaison named Three Seagrass (Teixcalaanli naming conventions, which combine lucky numbers with evocative, symbolically significant nouns, are one of the novel’s many delights).

Mahit is faced with many immediate challenges that don’t sound quite like the stuff of space opera—a stack of unanswered mail being a chief example—but Arkady achieves the feat of making quiet conversations of procedure with palace officials as tense and thrilling as an action sequence. Mahit’s inquiries put her at the mercy of powerful, competing factions in the Imperial court, and she must be diligent if she wishes to avoid Yskander’s fate as she probes possible acts of sedition and betrayal that hold immense implications for both Lsel and the empire itself.

Intriguing mystery aside, the novel truly impresses in its worldbuilding, and most especially in the way Martine studies the interplay between Teixcalaanli and Lsel culture, the colonizer and the prospective colonized. Mahit, who grew up steeped in Teixcalaanli poetry and romantic epics, is proud to be a citizen of Lsel Station, but she’s also a huge Teixcalaanli fangirl. It’s easy to imagine a Bulgarian emissary traveling to Constantinople in the 11th century with a similar attitude—a combination of resentment, pride, and awe. Mahit’s love of Teixcalaanli culture is one reason she’s so good at an incredibly difficult job. But the spoils of empire also come with costs, and the novel also considers how Teixcalaanli culture consumes and subsumes, how it views all that is not of itself as barbaric. Other civilizations are so influenced by the ubiquity of anything Teixcalaanli they take on the ways of Teixcalaan long before they’re absorbed by it. Mahit’s love for her potential conquerers is a powerful illustration of the insidious  weight of empire, making domination by the Teixcalaanli seem not only inevitable—but perhaps welcomed. It’s brilliant worldbuilding.

As a stranger in a strange land, Mahit provides a compelling view of the colonizing culture. She’s painfully conscious of her youth and inexperience, but also fiercely intelligent and determined. She’s no fool, and knows the cost of misplaced trust. She’s also brave; she represents a tiny station that every Teixcalaanli assumes will be subsumed into the empire eventually, yet she never gives an inch. The other characters are just as well drawn. Mahit’s liaison Three Seagrass is an educated patrician who glides effortlessly through the politics and social orders of the empire with humor and warmth—you understand how these two become instant, if tentative, friends. As Mahit discovers that the aged, heirless emperor Six Direction has appointed no fewer than three co-emperors to succeed him, the other members of the high court come into equally clear focus, as the author’s  historical expertise pays off; she captures the mixture of awe and savagery inherent in powerful imperial systems. (The Teixcalaanli Empire is a place where poetry ciphers hide encoded messages and poisonous flowers are delicate tools of symbolic assassination.)

From Dune to Red Rising, science fiction loves to look to real history as a template for invented futures. In A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine climbs inside of history to bring it to animate, immediate life. Amid a wave of resurgent space operas, it stands apart, as pointed and dangerous as the spokes jutting from the sun-spear throne of the Teixcalaanli emperor.

A Memory Called Empire is available March 26.

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Say Hello to 25 Science Fiction & Fantasy Debuts That Will Transform Your 2019

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

A book that will beloved by you hasn’t been born. Yet. You may not have learned your favorite author’s name. Yet.

A new year means a whole new slate of books from your favorite writers, and long-awaited next installments in favorite series. But some of the books we’re most looking forward to over the next 12 months are from new voices, or from established ones who are nevertheless debuting their first novels after winning acclaim for their shorter work. There’s nothing more exciting than finding the next writer who speaks to us. Here are 25 science fiction and fantasy debuts coming this year that can’t wait to read.

Here and Now and Then, by Mike Chen (January 29)
Kin Stewart is just a normal guy with a wife and daughter working IT in the bay. Sort of. Before he got stranded in our time 18 years ago, he was a time-traveling secret agent from the future. Now his rescue team is here, ready to return him to the life and family he left behind. What a great, genre-bending premise—hardly a surprise from Chen, a mainstay in the SFF community and a contributor to sites like The Mary Sue and

We Cast a Shadow: A Novel, by Maurice Carlos Ruffin (January 29)
In a southern American city of the near future, ghettos and police violence are rampant. But people of color have a way out: Dr. Nzinga offers a complete “demelanization,” providing skin-deep whiteness to clients with the means to pay for it. It’s a semi-satirical premise, and promises the kind of cutting commentary that can make for a great novel.

The Ruin of Kings, by Jenn Lyons (February 5)
This is the beginning of a new epic fantasy series, and we’re excited to get in on the first floor. Which, in this case, is a dungeon holding Kihrin, a slumdog thief who is recognized as a missing prince—which does not improve his life in the way you might think. The buzz for this one has been building for months—advance copies were a hot item at last summer’s San Diego Comic-Con—and everything we’ve heard indicates the hype is totally warranted.

Infinite Detail, by Tim Maughan (March 5)
Tim Maughan imagines the unthinkable: a techno-apocalypse in the form of end of the internet, triggered after an act of cyberterrorism shuts everything down. Lost, unplugged souls make their way to the Croft, an area of Bristol that had already cut itself off. There, a young woman claims that she has found other ways of connecting with others. It sounds like we’re in for a story offering a unique take on all that we sacrifice for digital convenience.

Famous Men Who Never Lived, by K. Chess (March 5)
Hel is a refugee in New York, but he didn’t cross into America over international borders, but from an alternate timeline facing with nuclear annihilation. She struggles to preserve what’s left of her culture in a world that’s increasingly hostile. Should be a timely science-fictional meditation on cultural displacement.

Today I Am Carey, by Martin L. Shoemaker (March 5)
A robot caregiver to a woman with Alzheimer’s must make its way in the world through the progression of her illness and beyond. Shoemaker’s short work is acclaimed—indeed, this novel began as the short story “Today I Am Paul,” published in Clarkesworld—and we’re looking forward to a very human book (even though it’s about a robot).

The Women’s War, by Jenna Glass (March 5)
We’re going to have to clear our calendars come March, if only to make way for what’s been billed as a fantasy epic for the #MeToo era. Women are nothing more than bargaining chips in the book’s world, until a spell gives them control over their own fertility. The result is a feminist epic fantasy, offering strong characters and inventive worldbuilding to match the provocative premise.

The Near Witch, by V.E. Schwab (March 12)
Perhaps it is cheating to tout a book by a beloved (and bestselling) talent like V.E. Schwab on a list of debuts. But when she published The Near Witch in 2011, the world wasn’t ready for her, and the book slipped quietly out of print. Now, we’re reading for it to come roaring back. It’s the story of a town plagued by missing children and haunted by a witch straight out of a bedtime story, and the woman who must divine the truth of the legend to set things right.

Titanshade, by Dan Stout (March 12)
Rumors of the death of urban fantasy have been greatly exaggerated—there’s still a lot of life (and a ton of fun) in the genre. This fantasy noir is set in Titanshade, an oil boomtown going bust in a world where magic is real and humans live alongside creatures who are decidedly not. The town’s only hope is the investment of from the amphibian Squibs—until one of them is murdered. Carter is the cop pressured to make an arrest, but there’s no doubt that’ll be entertainingly tough to do.

The Perfect Assassin: Book One in the Chronicles of Ghadid, by K. A. Doore (March 19)
Amastan is a troubled novice assassin in a powerful family, but the time for questioning his vocation comes to an end when some of the best in the business start showing up dead. It’s assassin versus assassin, as Amastan does what he can to stop the murders and protect the reputation of his family.

A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine (March 29)
Nothing beats a grand new space opera, and no less than Ann Leckie has assured us we’re gonna love this one. An ambassador to the Teixcalaanli Empire has to navigate an increasingly unstable political situation that threatens her home. And figure out who murdered her predecessor. Complex politics, sweeping universe-building, and lofty, controlled prose are the hallmarks of this series-starter.

The Luminous Dead, by Caitlin Starling (April 2)
Gyre Price, from a poor mining world, lies her way into a solo caving expedition on an alien planet, but finds herself in a battle of wills with her handler, Em. Oh, and they’re not alone deep underground. We’re suckers for this kind of creepy, claustrophobic, sci-fi-meets-horror thriller.

Descendant of the Crane, by Joan He (April 2)
Princess Hesina of Yan isn’t interested in her responsibilities at court—until her father is murdered and she suddenly finds herself made queen of an unstable realm. The lush, Chinese-inspired fantasy world sounds fabulous.

Finder, by Suzanne Palmer (April 2)
Palmer’s short work has already earned her a Hugo Award, so her debut novel comes pre-recommended. It’s a fun space opera concept: the story of Fergus Ferguson, an interstellar repo man–rogue, thief, and con artist who gets a little too invested in the lives of those he encounters on his latest job.

We Hunt the Flame, by Hafsah Faizal (May 14)
Inspired by ancient Arabian history and legend, this is another fantasy world that we can’t wait to dive into. It’s where we’ll experience the story of Zafira, who disguises herself as a man to help feed her people, and Nasir, the conflicted son of an autocratic ruler. Each seeks an ancient magic for very different ends.

An Illusion of Thieves, by Cate Glass (May 21)
In a land where the practice of sorcery comes with a death sentence, the courtesan to a revolutionary noble falls from favor and is forced to use her secret magic to stop a civil war. Via an elaborate heist. Nothing about that doesn’t sound amazing.

The Lesson, by Cadwell Turnbull (June 18)
The alien occupiers of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands are generally benevolent, but meet any dissension with violent wrath. Three families wind up in a horrific cycle of violence in a book about family in turbulent times in a debut that has been spoken of in the same breath as last year’s standout Rosewater.

Across the Void, by S.K. Vaughan (July 2)
Commander May Knox wakes up from a medically induced coma with no memory of why she’s onboard a ship that’s falling apart. They’re calling this one a Gravity-esque thriller from a unnamed movie director working under the “S.K. Vaughan” pseudonym, so mysteries abound.

David Mogo, Godhunter, by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (July 9)
Orisha (Yoruba spirits) are rampant in Lagos, and pursued by the titular David Mogo, a freelance Godhunter. When one of his prizes is put to work by a wizard looking to seize control of the city, David knows he has to fix his mistake. Nigeria has been the setting for some of the best and most original SFF novels of the last few years, and this one sounds like it’ll keep up the trend.

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, by H. G. Parry (July 23)
It’s got a great title, for one thing, but the premise is even better: it follows two brothers, one with the uncontrollable power to call characters from books into the real world; one who’d love to lead a normal life, but has to guard the world from his brother’s abilities. The balance is upset when they learn that someone else has similar powers. An adventure for book lovers.

Do You Dream of Terra-Two?, by Temi Oh (August 13)
There’s another world out there: an earth-like world to which we might escape, and build a utopia. After a century of dreaming, 10 astronauts set out to find it, and see what living their dream is really like. Getting there will only take 23 years trapped in the confines of a tiny spaceship, during which plenty can go wrong. And does. Intense—and Temi Oh’s background in neuroscience promises it will unfold with horrifying plausibility.

Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsym Muir (September 10)
Tamsyn Muir has a plethora of awards for her short work, which alone would make her debut novel appealing. But it also promises “swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers” in a story about an swordswoman with magic that can bring bones to life who is called to fight for a powerful family seeking galactic power. Sounds great. [Editor’s note: I’ve read this one, and it really, really is. Skeletons!]

The Resurrectionist of Caligo, by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga (September 10)
Who among us hasn’t dreamed of a lucrative career in Victorian-era bodysnatching? Risky, but it pays well. In the case of Roger Weathersby, living the dream goes wrong in a very unexpected way after he’s framed for the murder of one of his cadavers. Luckily, a little blood magic and a rebellious princess might help him find the real killer. (You had us at “blood magic.”)

The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow (September 10)
Some of the very best stories (ever) begin with a magical portal to another world. That’s enough to get us interested, but there’s a lot more on offer in this buzzy debut. January Scaller finds such a portal in 1901, before forgetting all about it. Years later, a book stained with magic leads her back to that childhood discovery, but mysteries abound—and they’re not all nice. We’re expecting a literary fantasy full of secrets and shattering revelations.

Chilling Effect: A Novel, by Valerie Valdes (September 17)
The mercenary space captain of the La Sirena Negra battles to save her sister from a secret galactic organization. We’re hearing that this one is way fun, which is understandable since one of the plot descriptors included the phrase “space cats.” SPACE CATS.

What SFF debut are you most looking forward to reading in 2019?

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