Tad Williams Empire of Grass Is a Melancholy Fantasy Epic

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Detail of Michael Whelan’s cover painting for Empire of Grass

When Tad Williams first announced plans for a new trilogy returning to Osten Ard—the setting of his landmark Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy—after over two decades away, I was nearly euphoric with excitement. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is one of modern fantasy’s finest epics, and its influence has rippled through the genre since its release in the late ’80s—chiefly, legend holds it was what convinced George R.R. Martin to sit down and write A Game of Thrones, thus launching a major resurgence of fantasy in mainstream culture.

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn has maintained a truly impressive legacy, and the release of its sequel trilogy, The Last King of Osten Ard, has given fans and newcomers alike an opportunity to discover (or reacquaint themselves with) the beauty of Williams’ world. The Witchwood Crown, the first volume of The Last King of Osten Ard, was greeted no small amount of excitement by readers. But I admit I also felt some trepidation. How many times—especially in our recent, revival-obsessed pop culture—have fans been burned by creators returning to a beloved setting or series and failing to recapture what made the original so amazing? Williams is a master writer and storyteller, but 25 years is a long time to spend away from the texture, tone, and feel of a beloved series.Needless to say, I shouldn’t have doubted Williams.

The Witchwood Crown was just as sprawling and thematically interesting as its predecessor—not just another adventure in a familiar world, but a new experience enriched by what came before, building upon Williams’ work in a way that elevated the classic trilogy to new heights.

In my review of The Witchwood Crown for Barnes & Noble I said:

Williams’ prose, characterization, and worldbuilding are top-notch, as always… the return to Osten Ard is so seamless, it is difficult to believe that 30 years have passed since the story began. Like Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, The Last King of Osten Ard is shaping up to be an exploration of what happens to people—on a personal, societal, and political level—in the aftermath of war. Williams’ injects [the novel] with the same aged and thoughtful writing that gave the original trilogy its trademark air of melancholy, creating a lovely sense of reverberation for those of us who’ve grown up—and grown old—in this world.

When opening Empire of Grass, I was visited by familiar emotions. The Witchwood Crown was so satisfying. Could Empire of Grass continue to impress, or would it begin to retread familiar ground?

Happily for readers, the result is much the same the second time around: Empire of Grass not only meets expectations, but surpasses them in almost all ways. Few authors manage to write a series with as much depth and relevance as Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn once in a career. Williams is two-thirds of the way through doing it twice. [Editor’s note: Fans of Williams’ Otherland, feel free to pipe up in the comments.]

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn was about the build-up to war, and how that affects people on a personal and societal level. The Last King of Osten Ard is set during the supposedly peaceful years after the war’s end, and via Williams’ trademark ability to weave dozens of themes into a dazzling, multi-layered tapestry, it reveals how a power vacuum and the difficultly of enacting change is anything but sure and safe.

In The Witchwood Crown, we begin to see the unravelling of Simon and Miriamele’s peaceful rule. Though they are benevolent leaders, the lands under their control are not at peace, but chafing at the possibility of greater freedom and independence. Little progress seems to have occurred in the decades since the climax of the original trilogy, and some might wonder at the monarch’s complacency. The Last King of Osten Ard is a portentous title, and Empire of Grass further reveals how Simon and Miriamele’s rule over Osten Ard is perhaps not the start of a new dynasty, but the end of an old story—a transition to a brave new world. Events set up in The Witchwood Crown begin to take more recognizable shape here, and the threat to Osten Ard appears just as dire as it was at the height of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn.

I’ve long associated Williams’ Osten Ard stories with a feeling of melancholy; something about the slow atrophy of the Sithi and the Norns, and humanity’s fight against time, strikes me as profoundly sad. So often, epic fantasy focuses on the press toward something brighter—the resurgence of a golden past, when things were better and technology or magic were in ascendency. Osten Ard is different. Since the arrival of men and their iron weapons, Williams’ world has been in slow decline. It’s impossible to read Empire of Grass and not notice the way Simon and Miriamele’s peace, so hard-won, is giving way to renewed chaos.

Like our willingness to turn a blind eye toward climate change, rumors of Queen Utuk’ku’s return to Osten Ard, and the impending invasion of human lands by her army of Norns, are met with apathy, scorn, and doubt by many who would prefer to turn their energies and attentions to personal conflicts. In that way lies only defeat—not a return to a glorious past, but a continuation of the death and destruction that has plagued the land since the first meeting between the Gardenborn and the iron-bearing humans from the west. Empire of Grass is an examination of colonialism’s long, bloody reach, and of how even the greatest empires eventually eat themselves.

It’s remarkable that Williams can add so much volume to a world already as rich and deeply explored as this one—layers upon layers of worldbuilding enriches the reader experience immeasurably, while also seeding questions about the truth of the previous trilogy’s “happy ending.”

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is in fact often criticized for its ending, which sees Simon take the throne as Miriamele’s wife. For a trilogy with such thematic complexity, the prototypical fairy-tale fade-out seems a little too easy. But by the mid-point of Empire of Grass, Williams has done a wonderful job reexamining Miriamele and Simon’s strengths and weaknesses as monarchs, illustrating the way their inherent goodness both strengthens and weakens the realm. (Even as an older man, Simon’s low-class upbringing has a direct effect on his rule, for good or ill. The novel explores the complex marital challenges the couple faces—from the death of their son and daughter-in-law, to being forced to separate in an effort to save their realm.

Over the course of these new books, my opinion of the previous trilogy’s ending has favorably evolved. It’s clear now that ending was only a pause, concluding one set of challenges for Miriamele and Simon—those most recognizable to trope-y epic fantasy heroes and heroines. Now, they face a new and unprecedented set of challenges. It’s incredibly refreshing to see these characters that we got to know as children grow up into adults with problems ranging from marital boredom to royal responsibility. Williams earns this complexity, capturing the nuance and depth of a long-term marriages.

While characterization and theme have always been my favorite elements of these novels, they are wrapped up in some of the genre’s best worldbuilding, politicking, action, and plotting—qualities on fine display throughout Empire of Grass. Where The Witchwood Crown was a bit of a slow burn, the stakes raise immeasurably in the trilogy’s second volume, with the characters in peril, both personally and at large. The last book ended with its major players blown to separate corners of Osten Ard, pursuing various quests that appear unconnected, but start to tie together in surprising ways throughout Empire of Grass.

The growing threat of the Norns in the north provides a grand, sweeping threat, enough to excite any ardent epic fantasy fan. Meanwhile at the Hayholt, seat of Osten Ard’s monarchy, the king’s trusted advisor hides a murderous secret; Tiamak the scholar delves into troubling rumors about an ancient dark magic; and Miriamele leaves the castle’s safety on a journey south that brings with it many secrets and dark memories. Like his grandfather a lifetime ago, Prince Morgan is lost in the dark Aldheorte forest, cast out by the mysterious Sithi, his companion and trusted friend Eolair captured by bandits.

To use a cliche, this is a book fit to be used as a door stop, but every page is packed with conflict and the deepest lore this side of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. It is, of course, a middle volume, which means it falls prey to a predictable set of criticisms (it doesn’t quite have a beginning or an end, and finishing it will leave you desperate for the concluding volume), but it does not suffer for an exciting, consequential story.

Unlike The Witchwood Crown, what Empire of Grass is not is a suitable starting point for new readers. Its picks up in the immediate aftermath of the previous book, and while Williams’ does a good job of reminding readers of those events—beginning with a long and detailed synopsis of The Witchwood Crown, a trend I would like to see continue in all big, fat fantasy series—it’s all too much . Even if a fresh-eyed reader could keep up with the plot, they’d be missing out on way too much important context.

At this point, Williams’ readers likely know exactly what to expect from Empire of Grass, and the book delivers on all points. It’s a sprawling, melancholic epic exploring themes of post-war colonialism, aging, regret, and responsibility. Continuing the story of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn was no small feat for Williams, but the fact that this new trilogy stands toe-to-toe with the original is remarkable. Empire of Grass is sure to be one of the year’s best books, and additional proof that Tad Williams stands with the best fantasists of his generation.

Empire of Grass is available now.

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This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: A Magical Manhattan Murder Mystery, a Return to Osten Ard, and Mercy’s Promise Kept

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Westside, by W.M. Akers
In an alternate 1920s Manhattan in which a heavily fortified wall running along Broadway divides the island into Eastside, where the normal laws of reality still apply, and Westside, where things have gone down the magical drain, the latter has become a magical wasteland where only the dregs of society—criminals, artists, and drunks—remain. Gilda Carr calls Westide home, and works as a private investigator specializing in bite-sized mysteries like recovering lost gloves. Somehow, though, her latest case pushes her into a gangland war that connects to her own long-missing father and the reason for the Westside’s descent into unreal chaos. As much as she might like to, Carr can’t sidestep the responsibility she suddenly feels to get to the bottom of both mysteries, for her own sake and that of everyone living in the magic-ravaged city. Akers’ hugely enjoyable debut marries inventive alt-history with truly strange magic and a protagonist you won’t soon forget.

The Warship, by Neal Asher
The sequel to The Soldier and the second book in the Rise of Jain series, set within the operatic expanse of Neal Asher’s Polity Universe. Orlandine has been tasked with protecting the Polity from the threat of the ancient technology of a civilization known as the Jain, currently housed in an accretion disc surrounding a dead star, and plans to use a weaponized black hole to destroy it. Her actions are met with suspicion, and the mobilization of fleets of warships by both the artificial intelligences that govern the Polity and a faction of the alien Prador Kingdom. As the black hole does its work, other secrets hidden within the disc begin to be revealed, suggesting that Orlandine;s actions may have been orchestrated by a far deadlier power. Asher writes big, bold space opera in the vein of Iain M. Banks; he’s well-known in his native U.K. and deserves a larger audience this side of the pond.

Storm Cursed, by Patricia Briggs
Patricia Briggs delivers the 11th Mercy Thompson novel with the fierce energy of a promise kept—literally. When we last left her in Silence Fallen, Coyote shapeshifter Mercy pledged that she and her pack would protect the people living in their territory, thinking at the time that doing so would involve hunting the occasional zombie goat or running off some goblins. Instead she finds that her declaration has made her land a Neutral Zone where humans feel safe treating with the fae, leading to more complications than she can handle safely. As the humans and the Gray Lords of the fae jockey for position in the developing conflict, Mercy knows the safe thing to do would be to stay out of it—but she made a promise, and she and her pack are going to keep it.

Exhalation, by Ted Chiang
It’s difficult to undersell Ted Chiang’s standing in the science fiction field; long before his “Story of Your Life” was made into the Academy Award-winning blockbuster Arrival, he was lauded in genre circles for crafting stories an innovative with their science as they are heartfelt in their consideration of human emotion. Only his second collection, following 2002’s Story of Your Life and Others, Exhalation brings together seven previously published stories (several long enough to be classified as novelettes or novellas) and two new ones; each is a finely cut gem. “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” (a Hugo-winner for Best Novelette) is a standout, a complex mix of fantasy and time travel tropes that unfolds with mathematical precision, but the most powerful entry may be the title tale, which turns the fate of a strange race of mechanical beings into a powerful allegory for the crisis of climate change. Truly essential reading.

By Demons Possessed, by P.C. Hodgell
P.C. Hodgell has been writing books in the Kencyrath series for decades, slowly building an expansive imagined universe. In this ninth full-length novel, primary protagonist Jame Knorth approaches a final reckoning with Perimal Darkling, the force that has dogged her kind, the Kencyr, across centuries and vast distances. Just when it appears the Kencyr might be able to finally defeat their old foe, Jame learns of an upheaval within the city of Tai-tastigon, where she was shaped as a leader of her people. Gods and demi-gods, missing souls and disappearing shadows, and “demon-wrought madness”: it’s up to Jame to deal with it all.

Snakeskins, by Tim Major
Seventeen-year-old Caitlin Hext is a Charmer, one with the ability to rejuvenate by producing a clone every seven years. These clones usually soon disintegrate, but following her first “shedding ceremony,” Caitlin finds that hers inexplicably do not, forcing her to question her own identity and her family’s place in the genetic legacy of their kind. Soon, she begins to realize she is but one small piece of an ever-widening government conspiracy that involves all citizens of Britain, regular humans and Charmers alike. It’s an unusual setup for an intricate political thriller that coils in on itself, tightening the tension as it circles toward satisfyingly shocking answers.

Octavia Gone, by Jack McDevitt
The mystery at the center of the reliably entertaining eighth Alex Benedict novel centers around a space station, the Octavia, that disappeared while the scientists aboard it were studying a nearby black hole. An artifact of possibly alien origin might be the key to solving the mystery, if only far-future antiquities dealer Alex Benedict and his uncle Gabe can retrieve it for study. If that isn’t enough, Gabe, recently returned from space and a stint in a time warp, has been declared dead due to timey-wimey shenanigans, and Alex and his pilot Chase Kolpath have already made progress adjusting to life without him. They all soon learn that the question of the Octavia might hinge on a love affair gone bad—or an alien plot. The clues lead them out into space once more, and toward what might be the greatest archaeological discovery of all time.

Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire
Seanan McGuire’s latest and longest work is also her best: a structurally complex, richly written, deeply imagined fantasy about the bonds that can unite two souls even across vast distances. One day, young Roger Middleton is struggling with his math homework when the voice of a girl named Dodger Cheswich pipes up in his head, giving him the answers. Roger and Dodger some discover that though they live on opposite coasts, they can communicate with one another, and develop a strange sort of friendship. What they don’t know is that they’re the end result of an experiment begun in the late 19th century by alchemist Asphodel Baker who dreamed of rewriting reality by embodies the forces of creation into living hosts, a plan she encoded in a series of children’s books. Her creation and eventual murderer, a man named James Reed, took up her work and engineered Roger and Dodger’s births as one half each of the Doctrine of Ethos, the force that holds existence together. As the twins mature, Reed seeks to control them and implement the final stage of Baker’s masterwork, but their connection has made them powerful, and difficult to control. With the rules of the game set, the children must awaken to their shared destiny and shape a reality that will ensure their survival, not to mention the continued existence of the universe.

Million Mile Road Trip, by Rudy Rucker
The legendary weird sci-fi auteur Rudy Rucker returns with his first book in five years, a suitably mind-bending, transreal novel that takes mutates a classic road-trip structure into a wacky sci-fi adventure for the ages. About to graduate high school and facing the drudgery of adult life, Zoe Snapp sets off on a roadtrip with her crush, surfer Villy Antwerpen, in his somewhat trusty ride (nicknamed the purple whale) and along the way inadvertently opens a portal to another dimension, through which aliens promptly arrive. The aliens deliver the duo to a parallel universe where Zoe and Villy discover that sentient flying saucers intend to invade their own in order to absorb humanity’s consciousness, which is their sustenance. It’s up to Zoe, who hasn’t even graduated yet, and Villy (who’s failing math) to venture across a million miles of new dimensions into order to defeat them before it’s too late. Packed with heady math and physics, written in the style of Kerouac, with plot twists aplenty and symbolism right out of Pynchon, it’s a head trip that’s even weirder than it sounds.

Theater of Spies, by S.M. Stirling
The second book in Stirling’s Alternate War series finds scientist Ciara Whelan and Luz O’Malley—a leading agent of President Teddy Roosevelt’s elite spy network Black Chamber—resting after their recent efforts to foil a German terrorist plot. As World War I looms, intelligence comes in about a devastating new weapon the Germans are developing—and the Black Chamber requires they cut their recuperation short to once again serve their country. They go undercover as the world erupts into conflict, heading to Berlin and pursued by a legendary German agent called Imperial Sword, who leads a pack of stormtroopers commanded by Ernst Röhm.

The Gordian Protocol, by David Weber and Jacob Holo
Weber and Holo serve up a time-twisty standalone adventure that crackles with a thriller’s energy. Professor Ben Schröder has suffered a psychotic episode that left him with a whole second set of memories of a world where the Holocaust occurred and nuclear weapons threaten mankind’s survival. He’s learned to compensate for these nightmarish visions until a man named Raibert Kaminski shows up at his door and announces himself a time traveler from an alternate reality. Kaminski drops a bombshell: a chronological disaster is threatening the existence of 15 separate realities and has given rise to a tyrant who uses time travel technology to solidify his power. As Schröder struggles with his sense of reality and sanity, Kaminski hits him with the real body blow: he, Ben Schröder, is the key to it all—and he faces a choice that puts the fate of entire realities in his hands.

A Chain Across the Dawn, by Drew Williams
The second book in Drew Williams’ Universe After space opera series, following 2018’s The Stars Now Unclaimed, delivers another fast-flying, wildly imagined, cheekily humorous adventure. Three years ago, Esa left her ho-hum planet to join the Justified, a group that gathers together children with mystical abilities in the hopes of uniting them against the Pulse, a force with the power to destroy technology across the inhabited galaxy. Esa and her colleague Jane are on the hunt for others of her kind, and on their latest retrieval mission, they learn they aren’t the only ones. Someone—or something—else is seeking these special children for unknown purposes, and it’s up to Esa and Jane (and their new recruit, a young boy named Sho) to find answers before the galaxy loses its one reliable defense against the Pulse.

Empire of Grass, by Tad Williams
The solution to the mystery of the Witchwood Crown continues to elude King Simon and his queen, Miriamele in this second book of Williams’ Last King of Osten Ard series trilogy. As the kingdoms of Osten Ard descend separately into war, division, and strife, the Crown might be the key to it all—if Simon and Miriamele can solve the puzzle. Meanwhile, the Queen of the Norns has made a deal to bring her immortal armies into the mortal lands, the nomads on the grasslands are unifying with cult-like fervor, and everything begins to fall apart in ways large and small as a disparate group of people fighting for their own survival in the chaos come to represent the only hope for the survival of all living things. We’re happy to say once again that thus far, the followup to Williams’ landmark Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy is more than living up to the reputation of its forebear.

Noir Fatale, edited by Larry Correia and Kacey Ezell
As countless stories of space investigators and half-fae detectives have proven, noir tropes fit in unusually well with the general milieu of sci-fi and fantasy. That fact is certainly in evidence in this new anthology edited by Larry Correia and Kacey Ezell, which collects 13 noir-ish SFF from veteran and up-and-coming authors, including Correia himself, Laurell K. Hamilton (writing in her Anita Blake urban fantasy series), David Weber, Sarah A. Hoyt, and more, each of whom puts their own spin on the familiar notion of the femme fatal.

What new sci-fi & fantasy books are on your list this week?

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The New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2019

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

We’re done looking back at the best sci-fi and fantasy, horrorcomics, and manga of 2018. Now we turn our gaze to the year ahead: here are the new sci-fi and fantasy books coming in 2019 that our team of bloggers and reviewers can’t wait to read.

Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir (September 10)
Hello, I am cheating, because I read Tamsyn Muir’s buzzy debut back in September, but I can’t think of another recent (or forthcoming!) book I’d rather experience again for the first time. It’s the story of snarky, smart-mouthed young necromancer Gideon, drafted against her will into a game of galactic intrigue that quickly turns into a meme-filled Agatha Christie murder mystery in a sealed off, decrepit space castle. With skeletons! I loved it so much I blurbed it (“Gonzo fantasy. If Gene Wolfe, Mervyn Peake, and Ray Harryhausen collaborated on a novel on Reddit, the results might be half as mad and a quarter as entertaining as Tamsyn Muir’s necro-maniacal debut.”), and you will too. Love it, I mean. – Joel Cunningham

The Luminous Dead, by Caitlin Starling (April 2)
I’m cheating here too, since I’ve read this one, but you don’t want to miss it: Starling’s tense and exciting debut follows a cave-diver astronaut on an alien who discovers horrors underground. I read it all the way through, barely taking any time to breathe. A must read for thriller fans. – Elsa Sjunneson-Henry

Empress of Forever, by Max Gladstone (June 18)
The Craft Sequence established Max Gladstone as one of the most innovative voices in fantasy. Now he is turning his considerable talents toward a universe-spanning space opera featuring time travel, space empires, and a swashbuckling team of far-future renegades. I have only the faintest idea of what to expect from a book billed as “a feminist Guardians of the Galaxy crossed with Star Wars,” but I know that anything from Gladstone’s word processor will be wildly imaginative, devastatingly smart, and like no space opera I’ve read before. – Kelly Quinn-Chiu

The Hod King, by Josiah Bancroft (January 22)
Erstwhile headmaster Thomas Senlin has been climbing the Tower of Babel, on the hunt for his lost wife Marya, for two books. Inching ever upward through grotesque Ringdoms, he’s amassed a motley and charming supporting cast. So, I can’t wait for The Hod King, which promises to give some of those characters (fearsome Iren, mischievous Voleta, and capable captain Edith) far more of our attention. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll hear from Marya, too. – Nicole Hill

Dark Shores, by Danielle L. Jensen (May 7)
Two continents divided by impassable-but-by-magic seas, a badass pirate princess of color, a monstrous scion of nearly forgotten gods, and a legion commander with a dark past from an Empire set on world domination? Sign me up. I’ve been longing for a sweeping epic that takes me out of the traditional psuedo-European model and into more exotic territory, and Dark Shores looks like it fits the bill, with the added bonus of what I hope will be a critical eye on colonialism and a complex emotional sub-plot to keep me engaged in this global saga. Yes, it’s billed as YA, but it has all the signs of being just as nuanced and adventurous as Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy, which I couldn’t get enough of. – Ardi Alspach

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James (February 5)
I’m so excited about Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf, which has been blurbed as an “African Game of Thrones”: a fantasy national epic more based on African history and folklore. The brutal, bloody politics, roster of disparate characters, and sheer freaking scope of A Brief History of Seven Killings (for which he won the Booker prize) suggests James will crush epic fantasy. – Ceridwen Christensen

Collision: Stories, by J.S. Breukelaar (February 19)
I read Breukelaar’s novel Aletheia earlier this year, and she blew me away with a story that took unexpected turns and seduced me with its vivid prose and flawed, compelling characters. It’s a book I still think about a lot. Since I love short fiction, I really can’t wait to read this collection and see what dark and magical dreams she’ll bring to life there. – Maria Haskins

Empire of Grass, by Tad Williams (May 7)
Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is a classic for a reason. Twenty-five years later, Williams has returned to the land of Osten Ard with The Last King of Osten Ard trilogy, a direct sequel to his famous series, picking up with many of the same characters, themes, and locations fans know and love. The first volume, The Witchwood Crown was a brilliant reintroduction to the series, and Empire of Grass looks to continue Williams’ run as one of our generation’s greatest fantasists. It’s got everything you love—from plucky heroes to mysterious magic, a beautiful world, rich and full of life, but also ancient and barreling toward a new, unforeseeable future. – Adian Moher

The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley (March 19)
I’m an unabashed mark for military science fiction that has an ethical core rather than a Physics degree. Hurley’s work is never less than impressive and this story of soldiers discovering just how they’re being deployed, and the temporal price they’re paying for it, looks fantastic. – Alasdair Stuart

This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (July 16)
I’ll read pretty much anything with the words “time war” in the title, description, or randomly on page 42, but with these two authors involved, it’s doubtless going to be pretty awesome. Especially since it all kicks off with someone finding a letter on a desolate battlefield marked “burn before reading.” Both Gladstone and El-Mohtar have earned more or less my blind allegiance, but honestly, they had me at the title. – Jeff Somers

Ancestral Night, by Elizabeth Bear (March 5)
A return to space opera after a number of years for Bear. An engineer, a pilot, an AI and a booby trapped derelict ship that leads the pair into a chase with interstellar governments, pirates, and oh yes, the black hole at the center of the galaxy. In an era where space opera is big again, I’ll be very glad to hear Bear’s voice resounding once again in one of my favorite subgenres of SFF. – Paul Weimer

Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig (July 2)
I’ve adored Chuck Wendig’s gritty, creepy writing style since his first Miriam Black novel dropped. He’s written about a zillion works since, but I’m dying to get my hands on this post-apocalyptic jewel. Perhaps because this book, teased as Station 11 meets The Stand, gives off literary-level vibes that imply Wendig is really upping his game on this one—without losing his signature penchant for the darker side of the genre. – Emily Wenstrom

Children of Ruin, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (May 14)
I’m being slightly lazy with this pick, in that Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time was my favorite book of 2018. That self-contained book didn’t demand a sequel, which makes it all the more exciting that we’re getting one—though I might be a hair disappointed if it’s not just the further adventures of hyper-evolved spiders. I expect I’ll love it regardless. – Ross Johnson

Permafront, by Alastair Reynolds (March 19)
Alastair Reynolds is one of my favorite authors, and this novella sounds poised to deliver on a great premise —what if you could travel back in time and make a slight adjustment that meant humanity avoided global catastrophe, but would leave all of recorded history intact? A no-brainer, huh? What could possibly go wrong? – Tim O’Brien

Stormsong, by C.L. Polk (February 11)
Witchmark was one of the best books I read in 2018—a beautiful, romantic, and immersive story and a breath of fresh air in a year that was pretty freaking awful. I nearly cried with joy when I heard there was going to be a sequel; I need to know what happens to everyone. Stormsong will focus on Miles’ sister, Grace, who must deal with the horrible consequences on what they put in motion in Witchmark. Storms threaten to tear their city apart and the book will probably tear my heart apart. I have a few months to get mentally ready and it still probably won’t be enough. I can not wait. – Meghan Ball

Thorn of Emberlain, by Scott Lynch (???)
Just because it doesn’t have a release date, or might not be technically finished, doesn’t mean I can’t anticipate it. It’s been almost six years since The Republic of Thieves was released, and I’m raring to get back to the world of Gentlemen Bastards—a place where the mages are ruthless, the humans are devious, and even priests and children swear like sailors. While Scott Lynch takes his time with books, his “when it’s done” approach never fails to deliver, and I’m looking forward to seeing him follow on from the devastating conclusion of book three. – Sam Reader

What’s your most-anticipated SFF book of 2019?

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