7 Impossible Fantasy Cities Worth the Visit

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

The Ingenious cover by John Coulthart

Modern cities are vast, wondrous, awe-inspiring things. The soaring heights, the play of light over the buildings, the constant energy in the streets—and each with its own unique ambience. But isn’t all good: cities contain secrets, and pain, and hidden pockets of rot and disrepair—whether through abandonment or willful neglect by the powerful, there are places that carry a much darker energy than the bright lights and bustling streets would have you think.

This dichotomy is what makes a city such a wonderful fantasy setting: introduce speculative elements to my mixture described above, and suddenly you can birth an impossible city, rife with shifting architecture, secret passages, and strange surprises. Here are seven of our favorite impossible cities in fantasy books—wonderful to visit, probably too strange to live in.

Athanor (The Ingenious, by Darius Hinks)
Floating outside of time and space and only coming to rest once a year for the annual Conjunction—during which it adds new districts to itself—Athanor is a massive living city controlled by a secretive group of alchemists known as the Curious Men. While the danger of the place is immediately obvious within two chapters of Darius Hinks’ new novel—its lower levels are ruled by a twisted gang of mutants, the cops know how to hide a body way too well (and also all wear cultist uniforms), and one of the Curious Men has been straight-up murdering people with a skin-shroud so he can take control of and literally bend reality. At the same time, the place feels vibrant and alive in a way few fictional metropolises do, literally pulsing and teeming with life as it travels through and around spacetime. Its constantly changing nature gives it the sense of a wild, beautiful, protean place, its danger as seductive as it is horrifying.

New Crobuzon (Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville)
Built in the ribs of an ancient, madness-inducing eldritch abomination and home to several gods, impossible monsters, and just all-around upsetting people, New Crobuzon is another city both terrifying and, at the same time, weirdly compelling. Miéville’s gods and monsters lend the city an epic air, a feeling that anything that can possibly happen does, and a great many impossible things too (but that’s what happens when you’re home to a trans-dimensional spider-god that crawls across the web of reality, cutting threads and making changes will-nilly). Even the most horrific of horrors are kind of morbidly compelling at a remove—wouldn’t you like to see the gigantic robot god that uses a corpse to talk to humans? To book a lunch meeting with the Ambassador of Hell? New Crobuzon is a terrifying place for those living in it, of course, given that the government is a fascist nightmare and the citizens are at the mercy of numerous, sometimes dream-consuming monsters. Visit its twisting streets, sure. But book your return ticket in advance, just in case.

The City (Doña Quixote and Other Citizens, by Leena Krohn)
Krohn’s unusual prose slowly builds a city out of encounters between Doña Quixote and the various other residents, and in her weird interactions with the city’s various locales, like the strange tower in the middle of the park and a carnival house of mirrors that reveal odd secrets about those who look into them. It’s one of the most livable cities on this list, given that it’s basically a magical-realist version of Krohn’s own Helsinki—with the addition of Doña Quixote, who seems to change the landscape and even the nature of the people she encounters. While a little disorienting, the city and its strange citizens aren’t actively hostile, and Dona Quixote seems like a pretty good person to know, even if the tenor of her interactions with others tend to vary wildly. On top of which, the glass sculptures scattered everywhere must make for some gorgeous evening ambiance.

Ambergris (City of Saints and Madmen, by Jeff VanderMeer)
Not many cities can claim their own freshwater giant squid. It’s pretty much just Ambergris and Lake George, if we’re being honest. But while that alone would put it ahead of the pack, Ambergris also has numerous living saints, artists, cafes, religions, and bookstores (the most prominent being the Borges Bookstore, named for one of Ambergris’ major inspirations). But while there’s a weird dreamlike atmosphere and wonderful aesthetic to Ambergris, there’s also something supremely off about the place, whether it’s the riotous festivals that cause fatalities, the extra-dimensional refugee in the city sanitarium who claims he wrote the entire city, the invasions by the indigenous fungus-people the metropolis displaced, or the ongoing uprising against foreign occupation—an incident that features one of the more cheerful mass poisonings in literary history. These contradictions are part and parcel to enjoying Ambergris, a city weird and wonderful in equal measure—even if its more horrifying elements would be best experienced on the page.

Dayzone/Nocturna/Dusk (A Man of Shadows, by Jeff Noon)
The first novel featuring perpetually out-of-his-depth private investigator Nyquist, A Man of Shadows’ gigantic city is actually three cities layered on top of each other, each neighborhood experiencing a different hour of the day: the bright Dayzone, perpetually lit by artificial bulbs representing sunlight; the moody darkness of Nocturna; and the eerie Lynchian Dusk, wrapped in perpetual fog and filled with abandoned art-deco theaters and oddly empty streets. But, lest this be thought of as simply an aesthetic, the city isn’t just lit for different hours of the day but actually seems to be comprised of them, requiring special medication and constant watch-resetting to traverse, as it’s common to experience time-slippage. Despite this, the city(ies) seems like a friendly enough place if you can adjust, though watch out for falling lightbulbs.

The Tower of Babel (Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft)
While not the weirdest place on this list, the Tower (which feels more like its own world, with its various and diverse “ringdoms,” ecosystems, and bodies of water) is still definitely up there. A clockwork sphinx watches over the various demesnes, and the place has a decidedly wild aesthetic, reminiscent of all the best weird weird fiction yet still entirely its own thing. Through the eyes of flustered everyman Thomas Senlin, the tower seems even more bizarre, its byzantine culture often hindering him as much as it helps him ascend further up the tower in search of his missing wife. Bancroft adds a nice juxtaposition to Senlin’s tour in the form of the cheerfully unhelpful Everyman’s Guide to the Tower of Babel, a travel book that’s advice stands in stark contrast to the horrors and wonders of the impossibly high metropolis.

Eth (Viscera, by Gabriel Squailia)
Eth is built on the organs of dead gods. I feel like I should get that out of the way ahead of time. It’s home to a death cult that gets high off of gigantic poisonous bugs and is building an army of flesh-golems out of guts, and was once known for being stunningly progressive—before the riots and constant revolutions meant everyone competent ruler was strung up by their entrails so the revolutionaries could briefly put a dog on the throne… before getting overthrown themselves. That this only scratches the surface of the metric ton of violent weirdness that happens in Eth says something about the city, whose numerous weird happenings are outlined in Squailia’s twisted and highly enjoyable novel of identity, revenge, and wholesale evisceration. Viscera‘s setting never distracts from the complicated, messy, and very human heart underneath all those entrails.

What impossible city would you most like to explore?

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Science Fiction & Fantasy’s Love Affair with Towers, Explored

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Cover detail of The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien

To the untrained eye, science fiction and fantasy might look like very different genres, but once you apply Clarke’s law about sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic, it becomes obvious how much DNA they share (there was a time, certainly, when both genres were simply lumped together under the heading “fantastic fiction). With the release of Josiah Bancroft’s The Hod King, we’re reminded of one particular trope that pops up frequently in both science fiction and fantasy: the tower.

From J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, to Stephen King’s Dark Tower, to Tolkien’s two, the genres certainly offer their fair share of sky-scraping edifices (we’ve even put together a list of our favorites), but they hardly serve as a monolithic piece of imagery—in fact, the tower so rich a symbol that one can stand for any number of things in a narrative. Let’s explore, shall we?

Power

As in real life, in which, until the modern age at least, towers were typically built in part to demonstrate one had the capability and resources to, build a towers(a feat beyond the means of all but kings and emperors), and in part because towers are strategically useful. Offering a wide view of the terrain while protecting its occupants from ground-level interference, there’s a reason towers often get used in SFF novels to symbolize power—why Tolkien seeded so damn many of them across Middle-earth, and why so many of them sprouted cities around their bases like mushrooms around a tree trunk. Minas Morgul, once Minas Ithil, is a potent symbol of the collapse of Gondor and Númenórean power: a tower that has fallen into enemy hands and become corrupted. They aren’t always all gloom and doom: the shining Ivory Tower, the seat of power in the Fantasia of Michael Ende’s The Neverending Storyseems as lovely as the ageless childlike empress who resides within.

Towers are so common as symbols of dominance and control you find them in all kinds of sci-fi and fantasy stories—think of the Imperial Palace-cum-Jedi Temple in Star Wars, or the monumental mile-high Citadel of the Half-Life video game series.

It’s not always military power on display, of course—sometimes it’s economic, political, or corporate power. Consider the Ministry of Truth from 1984; while the book is less science-fictional and more a political fable, the Ministry is described as a huge tower, a visual representation of the way it crushes freedom and spirits of the citizens it overlooks. One reason people keep building towers is the simple fact that they are incredibly expensive, which is why everyone from Tony Stark to Eldon Tyrell builds them as monuments to their own wealth and status. The Tyrell Corporation headquarters in Blade Runner dwarfs even the immense skyscrapers of the futuristic cityscape that surrounds it, offering an inarguable visually representation of the power differential between Tyrell and, well, every single other creature or corporation on Earth.

All of the above of course makes the, er, phallic aspects of tower construction impossible to ignore, leading us to…

Metaphor

Sometimes a tower is not a tower, or not just a tower. Like Bancroft’s Tower of Babel, sometimes a tower is a universe unto itself, and represents all sorts of things. The ur-example of this appears in King’s Dark Tower series, in which the titular tower encompasses more or less the entire multiverse, or at the very least serves as the binding structure of the universe—it’s certainly not just a building designed to impose power or control territory. Similarly, Bancroft’s tower, while an actual structure, is really a whole city, or perhaps a world, with every level (known as “ringdoms”) representing something different (acclaimed author Ted Chiang has a different take on the Biblical edifice in his eerie short story “Tower of Babylon,” in which the tower represents both man’s endless striving for godhood, and something far stranger). And just as Thomas Senlin finds himself inexorably drawn into the mysteries of the Tower of Babel, so too do visitors have a hard time leaving the Tower of Ghenjei in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, a windowless, doorless building that is almost impossible to leave once entered; the structure is a sort of inscrutable doorway that leads to either the revelation of secrets or to wishes fulfilled, but always, of course, at a price. Impossible structures conceal impossible things.

Interestingly, sometimes towers are used to represent evil or unnaturalness, as if they are tumors of evil bubbling in reality—Barad-dûr in The Lord of the Rings would qualify on this count: it is less the spot where Sauron lowers his, er, non-existent lids than a manifestation of his dark power. Interestingly, Ridjeck Thome, the base of operations for Lord Foul in Stephen R. Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, mainly exists underground, but two soaring towers rise above it; a visitor’s typical reaction to Foul’s Creche is a feeling of repugnance at the perfection of it, a perfection somehow unnatural and disturbing.

Another metaphorical tower drives much of the mystery of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation: a group of scientists enter the mysterious, biologically twisted wonderland of Area X, and journey to the Tower at its center—which is not the lighthouse that juts into the sky, but a hole in the ground ringed by a not-quite-infinite staircase, its walls lined with a glowing, quasi-sentient script. Your guess is as good as ours, though that one is, per the author, definitely not a penis.

Subversion

Writers are fully aware when a trope crosses over into the cliché, and that leads to interesting subversions. With so many towers extant across history, fairy tales, and SFF fiction, it’s little wonder we can point to examples of thoughtful subversions of the trope. These range from the humorous—like the tower at Bugarup University in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld universe, which is just thirty feet tall at the bottom, but half a mile tall at the top, because magic—to the curious, like Dono Vorrutyer’s towers of madness from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, built after the architect went terminally insane, and later turned into a tourist attraction.

A favorite Tower of Subversion can be found in Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Cycle, in which the ominous castle and four soaring towers on Sorcerer’s Isle serve solely to discourage visitors. Sinister and intimidating, with arcs of energy flashing in the windows and between the towers, it sure looks like the sort of place where people get accidentally turned into jelly by incredible magic powers—but it’s just for show. Is this the ultimate meta-reference to the ubiquity of towers in sci-fi and fantasy?  Sometimes a tower is, after all, just a tower.

What SFF towers stand out in your mind?

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Books Within Books: In Halting Praise of Ancillary Texts in Fantasy, by Josiah Bancroft

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Author photo by Kim Bricker.

One of our favorite new fantasy series of 2018 (and many years before that, to be honest), is Josiah Bancroft’s The Books of Babel, a deeply original adventure-cum-exploration of the titular fictional edifice. And one of the defining features of the series shows up on the first page of Senlin Ascends, before the story proper even begins: an epigraph drawn from the fictional Everyman’s Guide to the Tower of Babel. Throughout the three books of the series to date, Bancroft has used epigraphs pulled from a raft of nonexistent books to enrich the world he’s building—to grand, often humorous effect.

To celebrate the release of The Hod King, he joins us today to talk about the merits of epigraphs—why he loves them, and why it is ok if you don’t.

Do you ever skim the elven hymns? Do your eyes cross when your encounter italicized druidic diary entries that seem to exist only to stall the pace of an otherwise rollicking fantasy adventure? If so, you’re not alone! The truth is, writers know that, on average, readers want the cheesy pizza pie of plot and dialogue, not the dry crust of textual marginalia. Prophetic poems, scribal ephemera, and epigraphic adages all invite readers to scowl, skip ahead, or close the book. We know.

Then why do so many fantasy authors do it?

Partly, I think it’s because the siren song of ancillary texts is too strong for most fantasy writers to resist. Yes, yes, we get that you don’t really want to read a stanza of dwarven free verse or plod through a rogue’s internal monologue communicated via footnote. We just can’t help ourselves! We love the sprawling worlds inside our heads so much that we decide to include the sort of minutia that very few people enjoy. And even so, we indulge in fantastical glossaries, demonic brochures, and wizardly theses, all in the pursuit of originality and verisimilitude. I’m quite sure it is only a matter of time until a fantasy author adapts a gym membership contract to their speculative universe.

Of course, there’s a little more to this creative quirk than a lack of self-control. Writers are by nature (and sometimes profession) steeped in many forms of the written word, much of which resides outside the speculative genre. My own creative history includes comic books, poetry, experimental prose, classic adventure novels, the modernist literary canon, antiquity, cult films, absurdist texts, and popsicle-stick puns. We are products of our influences, and so it is natural that we writers conceive of our imaginary worlds through the same lens that we understand and experience reality. We build the new with olden stone!

And, all facetiousness aside, most writers have reasons for penning these inconvenient, unlikable, and tangential texts. They might not be universally compelling reasons, but we don’t set out to torment our readers with doggerel and asides. But sometimes, inspiration arrives in unlikely forms.

Originally, Senlin Ascends was meant to be a collection of prose poems and lyrical fragments fashioned in the vein of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. The fragments would explore the Tower of Babel of another universe from the perspective of a travel guide writer. The book was going to be experimental, brief, and undoubtedly dreadful. It didn’t take me long to recognize two essential truths. One: I am not Calvino. Two: What I really wanted to write was an adventure novel, and that would require pesky things like characters, plot, and a coherent world.

But I still liked the idea of writing a fantastical guidebook. And I thought it could be useful narratively, acting as a lens into the world of the Tower. I imagined a multiple-volume guide book called The Everyman’s Guide to the Tower of Babel, which was a sort of homage to Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Rather than wedging large chunks from the guide into the narrative, I landed on the idea of including short epigraphs at the start of each chapter. And thus, the epigraphs were born. Quickly, I realized the potential of the idea, and expanded the sources of the epigraphs to include instructive manuals, diaries, newspapers, letters, and poems, all authored in the world of the Tower. This imaginary collection of sources would ultimately give the series its name— the Books of Babel.

I knew early on that I didn’t want the epigraphs to be ornamental or tonal. I wanted them to do some real narrative work; I wanted them to be entertaining and worth reading. The epigraphs are written in a variety of styles and voices to suit their subject and genre, but they all share a few things in common. They either reflect upon the revelations of the last chapter, or they set the scene for the next. They often provide context to the history, institutions, and citizenry of the Tower. Whatever the purpose of the epigraph, the message is usually indirect, metaphorical, or ironic.

In fact, one of the defining qualities of the epigraphs is that they often supply bad information, or well-meaning but lethal advice. Sometimes the epigraphs represent a repulsive philosophy, or they make a fallacious argument that sounds good on the surface, but upon reflection is actually banal or dangerous. The epigraphs (and the books they represent) have to be read critically to be of any use.

The importance of critical reflection is, to my mind, one of the central themes of the series. Thomas Senlin—the “hero” of the story—falls victim to his inability to read both texts and people successfully. He is duped by guides, charmed by charlatans, and undermined by venerable institutions again and again. Gradually, he learns to distrust appearance and his first impressions, to examine his impulses, to interrogate his biases and assumptions. The infuriating truth he eventually discovers is that good advice and valuable insight sometimes comes from flawed and unlikely sources. And conversely, sometimes good books give poor counsel. It’s not enough just to read with incredulity or faith. We must be rigorous in our analysis.

But this makes the epigraphs sound more serious than they generally are. Many of them are silly or obviously foolish. In the second book, Arm of the Sphinx, several of the epigraphs come from a work called The Unlikable Alphabet, which is an Edward Gorey-styled moral and manners guide for children. In The Hod King, some of my favorite epigraphs come from a source entitled, 101 Reasons to Attend My Party. I didn’t want the epigraphs to feel instructive or, god help me, significant.

A few readers have asked if the epigraphs represent finished works. The answer is quite definitely, No. While I have composed far more than I’ve used, I have not written a travel guide to the Tower. At least, not yet. But even in their incomplete state, these imaginary books have served as invaluable aids in building the world of the Tower. So far, I’ve resisted the urge to plunge down the rabbit hole of completism. If I ever do, I’m quite sure I’ll never escape.

But as enamored as I am with my epigraphs, they are by no means required reading to enjoy the story. I’ve heard from some readers that they skip epigraphs as a matter of course, finding them either tedious or disruptive. And who am I to judge? As a young reader, I skimmed most descriptive and expository paragraphs, preferring to glean the story from the dialogue. Admittedly, the habit worked well enough for the Hardy Boys’ The Secret of the Island Treasure but less well for Treasure Island.

The Hod King is available now, but you’ll want to start reading The Books of Babel with Senlin Ascends.

Author photo by Kim Bricker.

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This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Djinn Cities, Towering Mysteries, and Miriam Black’s Last Ride

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The Kingdom of Copper, by S.A. Chakraborty
Con artist Nahri accidentally summoned the djinn Dara in 18th century Cairo in The City of Brass and found herself whisked off to the royal court of Daevabad, where she had to use every bit of her wits and her magical abilities just to survive. As the sequel begins, Prince Ali has been banished and is fleeing assassins, even as Daevabad recovers from a devastating battle. Nahri now knows more about her origins—and her power—but that doesn’t mean she’s out of danger, even if she did just marry the heir to the throne. Trapped in a luxurious prison, the king uses her family as leverage to ensure her compliance, and Nahri must once again navigate the complex alliances, grudges, and familial connections of the magical city in order to protect those she loves. Chakraborty’s debut was one of our best-loved books of 2016, and the sequel proves worth the wait.

A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery, by Curtis Craddock
This is the second volume in Curtis Craddock’s swashbuckling Risen Kingdoms series, which draws from the tropes of gaslamp and steampunk fantasy, classic adventure and mystery novels, and the real history of late 17th century France and Spain to tell an altogether different kind of princess story. After having discovered her latent magical talents and used them to help stop a war in An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors, heroine Isabelle des Zephyrs is no longer sidelines at the royal court—until she is accused of violating a peace treaty she helped bring about. Now little better off than a commoner, she and her faithful soldier Jean-Claude stumble upon yet another conspiracy, this one involving a serial killer known as the Harvest King—who may have a connection to a palace coup that could bring about the end of the empire.

The Gutter Prayer, by Gareth Hanrahan 
Hanrahan’s epic fantasy debut centers on the city of Guerdon, to where refugees flee from an epic ongoing war between insane gods and the sorcerers who once served them. This is where Carillon Thay, desperate thief and recent member of the Thieves’ Brotherhood, finds herself, alongside her friends Rat and Spar. Thay is dealing with the aftermath of a heist gone wrong, and must contend with Ravellers, the  shape-shifting servants of the ancient Black Iron Gods which haven’t been seen in decades. As an apocalypse approaches Guerdon, the last place of safety in this violent world, these three thieves can only count on themselves—but it seems their fates may be strangely intertwined with the warring guilds and other powers that be in the city, and the network of ancient tunnels deep below its streets. Hanrahan brings his city to life in lyrical prose, even as the plot leaps from action sequence to breathless chase and back again.

The Smoke, by Simon Ings 
Much of Ings’ latest novel is told in the second person, but don’t let that distract you; the author is known for crafting challenging narratives, but he always has his reasons, and the end result is a book of alternate history unlike any you’ve ever encountered. The point of diversion with our own timeline is the discovery of the biophotonic ray in the 20th century—a discovery that divides the human race into three distinct sub-species, and makes all manner of medical miracles commonplace. Protagonist Stuart returns to Yorkshire, where they’re making parts for a spaceship headed for Jupiter, after his breakup with Fel, daughter of the leader of the Bund, the group responsible for many of said medical breakthroughs. But Stuart can’t seem to stay away from Fel, or from London—now known as the Smoke, and in turmoil due to the increasingly fractured nature of humanity. Without explaining too much: this might be the year’s weirdest science fiction book, and it’s only January.

The Hod King, by Josiah Bancroft
The third book in Bancroft’s deeply compelling Books of Babel quartet more than delivers on the building promise of the first two. The Sphinx, having discovered the location of Senlin’s missing wife Marya, worries over a brewing revolution, and sends her new servant Senlin to the Ringdom of Pelphia to investigate. In Pelphia, Senlin is, per usual, caught up in local intrigue: specifically, the brutal, bloody arena where the enslaved hods fight as gladiators to amuse the crowds. Meanwhile, Voleta and Iren take on false identities in an attempt to get close to Marya, who has married Duke Wilhelm Horace Pell and become a celebrity isolated by fame. Edith, now captain of the Sphinx’s flagship, investigates happenings along the hod’s Black Trail, which stretches the height of the entire Tower, and hears whisperings of a figure known as the Hod King, whose identity drives this volume to its cliffhanger conclusion—as does the question of whether Senlin can stay focused on his mission, or if he’ll risk disobeying the Sphinx in order to finally reunite with Marya. Bancroft once again perfectly pairs beautiful prose with lively characters and an exploration of an utterly original fictional edifice. A classic in the making, it will set your expectations high for the concluding volume, expected to arrive in 2020.

Vultures, by Chuck Wendig
Wendig’s sixth and final book in the Miriam Black series sees the foul-mouthed deathseer’s world in flux.  The Trespasser is back, and now has the ability to possess the living as well as the dead. Miriam’s own capability to see the demise of everyone she touches—a power that she regards as a curse—is shifting as well, which gives her hope she might be able to save her already doomed unborn child. Her baby is fated to die, but they don’t call Miriam the Fatebreaker for nothing. On the trail of a serial killer, Miriam sees a pattern emerging than spans all the strange events of her brutal life, and as she faces off against the Trespasser one final time, knowing only one of them will survive, she can only hope to find the meaning of it all, before it’s too late.

Tor.com Publishing Editorial Spotlight #1: A Selection of Novellas (The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang; Run Time, by S.B. Divya; Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, by Kai Ahsante Wilson; Killing Gravity, by Corey J. White; The Murders of Molly Southbourne, by Tade Thompson), edited by Carl Engle-Laird
Everyone can name their favorite authors, but how many of you have a favorite editor? Though editors are far more visible in SFF than in many genres, they are still more often than not operating anonymously, behind the scenes. Tor.com Publishing is doing its part to make these essential figures in publishing—those responsible for acquiring and shaping manuscripts that will one day become (hopefully) brilliant books—a bit more visible, while also highlighting the skill of their authors. This is the first in a series of ebook bundles the publisher has assembled, each focused on the output of one of their editorial team. First up is Carl Engle-Laird, who has selected five wide-ranging works he’s edited—two of which earned Hugo or Nebula award nominations.

What new SFF are you picking up this week?

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In The Hod King, a Revolution Brews Within the Tower of Babel

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Imagine, for a moment, a world in which ancient universities are closed and remade as Colosseums. Halls of learning are transformed into quarters for fighting slaves.

Consider a world in which lords and ladies cosplay as prison inmates for want of something—anything—better to do.

Finally, if you can, picture a world with a population full of people seeking pleasure wherever they can find it, their hedonism inadvertently and absent-mindedly fulfilling a roles in a greater, more terrible plan.

This and more you’ll find in The Hod King, the third entry in Josiah Bancroft’s Books of Babel series, which takes us further into the mysterious Tower of Babel at its center. (Some spoilers for earlier volumes follow.)

The best fantasy novels mirror our own reality. They play out our anxieties on a mythical, mystical, or otherwise fantastical plane. Bancroft’s series has accomplished that from page one of Senlin Ascends, when when erstwhile headmaster Thomas Senlin set out on a search for his wife, gone missing on their honeymoon, through the Tower’s various Ringdoms (themselves fully conceived worlds characterized by the author’s greatest fears).

Those anxieties have never been on fuller display than they are in The Hod King, the longest and most focused of Senlin’s adventures to date. By all accounts, this third book should feel claustrophobic and incomplete: in both Senlin Ascends and Arm of the Sphinx, we traversed up and down the Tower, discovering new Ringdoms and new secrets at a quickening pace. The Hod King largely stays put, settling the action taking within the opulent and bloated confines of the Ringdom known as Pelphia.

The gang’s all here, and briefly together, dispatched by the enigmatic Sphinx (the Tower’s clockwork master behind the curtain) on a mission to explore a “blind spot” in Pelphia, but soon enough, the crew of the Stone Cloud is split up.

Tom, who has accumulated aliases and enemies as if it is a contest, is destined to infiltrate the Ringdom undercover, posing as a dullard tourist (not unlike the one we met in the opening pages of the first book). Edith, captains the Sphinx’s flagship, the State of the Art, with Iren, Voleta, Byron, and the newly revived (and possibly rehabilitated) Red Hand in tow; they are to be the Sphinx’s envoys to Pelphia and beyond.

But let us not forget the reason this ragtag band has come together: Tom’s search for his wife Marya, misplaced two books ago at the foot of the Tower. Pelphia may be a strategic concern for the Sphinx, but for Tom, it’s the end of a quest. Marya lives in Pelphia, the new wife of a powerful duke and the object of fascination to the local gossip mongers.

Tom is under strict instructions to lie low: to cause no scenes, to avoid run-ins with his wife and her high-powered circle, to bide his time, and to wait for the right moment. So, of course, he does the opposite of all of that. As do Edith and the rest.

The resulting calamities do much to reveal not only the dirty little secrets of Pelphia, but greater conspiracies lurking within the Tower. A revolutionary phrase, “Come the Hod King,” reverberates throughout the Ringdoms and along the dreaded Black Trail, where they enslaved hods march unseen. Whispers of war reverberate, though no one is sure with whom war will be waged, and why. The Sphinx warns of an impending catastrophe for the Tower’s delicate ecosystem.

There are the rulers, a resistance, and a greater power behind the proverbial throne, and the only ones who see the whole picture are Tom and his friends. Accordingly, we follow the action from each of their perspectives in turn. In Arm of the Sphinx, Tom’s ensemble cast stretched their legs as the story shifted from his emotional journey to the group’s collective internal and external struggles. Here, that transition continues, with a story told in alternating chunks from the perspectives of Tom, Edith, and the dynamic duo of Iren and Voleta.

The narration zigzags through time, bringing us forward and backward, and allowing each of the main characters space to reveal their innermost selves—their shifting hopes and fears—and to find different pieces of the same puzzle. The result is a taut, tense, and suspenseful continuation of the story, a somehow still impossibly charming penultimate installment that marches toward a climax with increasing intensity, as if the narrative is trying to solve a Rubik’s cube against an egg timer.

The Hod King devotes as much space to propelling the plot toward the as-yet-untitled concluding volume (due out in 2020) as it does addressing the lingering questions the Tower invites. Sure, the mysteries abound: the Sphinx, the identity of the titular Hod King, the lingering influence of the Tower’s builder, the true nature and purpose of its various Ringdoms. But the questions of chief concern center stage are more personal. Tom is plagued by matters of identity; he is a master of disguise who has done things his textbooks never described. Edith is a fierce captain, but worries about her reliance on and melding with the mechanical arm crafted for her by the Sphinx, who obligates certain things in return. Voleta, the willful acrobat, chafes at being forced to don the ill-fitting gowns of a high-society debutante. Meanwhile, through a new friendship, Iren confronts the missed opportunities and self-denial that marked her pre-Senlin life.

The Tower has changed each of those people, as it changes all those who enter it. Warped personalities abound in Pelphia, and clash when it comes to addressing the bigger questions: how radical must a revolution be? Who is more wretched: those trapped in slavery or those kept complacent in their gilded cages? Who gets to define the greater good? How do you attack the source of rot without bringing the whole house down?

There are no easy answers, a reality the Books of Babel have thus far done a fine job illustrating. The Hod King is another smart and dizzying medley of storytelling and worldbuilding, building momentum for an explosive (perhaps literally) finale.

The Hod King is available January 22.

The post In The Hod King, a Revolution Brews Within the Tower of Babel appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

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The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of January 2019

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

For two decades, Jim Killen has served as the science fiction and fantasy book buyer for Barnes & Noble. Every month on Tor.com and the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Jim shares his curated list of the month’s best science fiction & fantasy books.

Outside the Gates, by Molly Gloss (January 1, Saga Press—Paperback)
Originally published in 1986, Molly Gloss’ slender first novel tells the tale of Vren, a boy who is exiled from his home because of his ability to communicate with animals. Vren has been told that beyond the safety of the walls are monsters, and standing at the gates where so many others have died when forced out of their home, Vren is certain his fate is just as grim. Then he meets Rusche, a weather-worker gifted with his own powers, and he’s adopted by a family of wolves. For a while, Vren is happy and content—but a rouge spellbinder who uses those with psychic abilities for his own evil ends kidnaps Rusche, and it’s up to Vren and his wold family to save him before it’s too late. At the time of publication, Ursula K. Le Guin—who later became a close friend of the author—called it one of the best first novels she’d seen in years. This reissue is long overdue—and it’s just the first of four of Gloss’ works Saga Press is reissuing this year with new covers by Jeffrey Alan Love.

Mathematicians in Love, by Rudy Rucker (January 2, Night Shade Books—Paperback)
This whimsical novel by cult favorite Rudy Rucker was originally published by Tor in 2006, and is getting a new lease on life via Night Shade Books. Rucker spins a story of an alternate Berkeley, California where Ph.D. candidates Paula and Bela study under the mad genius Roland Haut, inventing a paracomputer called the Gobubble that allows them to predict future events. As Bela and Paul compete for the affections of Bela’s girlfriend, Alma Ziff, the mathematicians engage in increasingly delirious stunts to catch her eye. This is a universe ruled by a jellyfish-cum-god, and a group of characters whose casual conversation is peppered with Rucker’s delightful made-up math-speak. It’s one of the most unique and surprisingly entertaining weird SF novels ever penned.

The Fall of Io, by Wesley Chu (January 8, Angry Robot—Paperback)
Chu’s long-awaited sequel to The Rise of Io returns to the story of über-competent Ella and Io, the utterly incompetent alien intelligence that has taken up residence inside of her head. They’ve recently been expelled from the scheme by the alien sect Prophus to train Ella as an agent in their efforts to raise humanity to a technological level that will be useful to their war effort against the Genjix—the Prophus’ ruthless alien siblings who are willing to destroy humanity in pursuit of their goal of returning to their own home world. Ella is happily back to a life of short cons and petty heists, with Io unhappily along for the ride—but it turns out Io has information the Genjix need to further their own ends, and Ella and Io find themselves on the run, hunted by immaterial beings who have been guiding human history and development for centuries. This is the series that made Chu’s name in sci-fi (and helped win him a Cambell Award). We’re happy to return to it.

In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire (January 8, Tor Books—Hardcover)
McGuire’s fourth Wayward Children novella is a prequel, telling the story of Katherine Lundy, the erstwhile group therapy leader at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children (“erstwhile” in that she was killed off midway through the first book, Every Heart a Doorway). As a child, Katherine is absorbed in her studies and wants nothing to do with the responsibilities—or suffocation—of being a housewife, though that’s what everyone seems to assume she will do when she grows up. When Katherine discovers a portal that leads her to the Goblin Market, a place ruled by logic and reason expressed in riddles and falsehoods, she thinks she has finally found her place in the world. In the Goblin Market you can make any bargain you like—but there is always a cost. When Katherine realizes her time at the Market is drawing to a close she’s desperate enough to make such a bargain—with unexpected and heartbreaking results. In a series built from the bones of childhood, this installment may be the most painfully true yet.

Through Fiery Trials, by David Weber (January 8, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Weber’s 10th Safehold novel begins with peace. After so much time avoiding technology in order to ensure the survival of humanity, the war between technology-endorsing Charis and the luddite-like Church of God’s Awaiting is finally over. The Charis’ desire to see humanity move forward through science and technology—inspired long ago by Merlin, an artificial being hosting the intelligence of a former naval officer and obeying ancient orders to free mankind from the yoke of the megalomaniacal Archangels—have won the day. But Safehold is now a broken world as a result, and Charis’ victory has shifted the balance of power and the nature of alliances in ways not immediately apparent. Rebellions arise in the war’s wake, and the Charisian cabal worries the Archangels may be returning sooner rather than later, driving them to push a radical agenda of industrialization that further destabilizes the unstable.

The Lost Puzzler, by Eyal Kless (January 8, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
The debut novel of internationally acclaimed classical violinist Eyal Kless proves him skilled at more than one form of artistic expression. This complex science fantasy takes place in a deeply-imagined, puzzle-laden post-apocalyptic world 100 years after a disaster known as the Catastrophe. Humanity has slowly recovered along different lines—the Wildeners have reverted to primitive beliefs, while others work to restore the old technological glory. In the center of the fallen Tarkanian empire, the City of Towers hosts the Guild of Historians. Salvationists seek out the lost Tarkanioan technology, each search party led by a Puzzler skilled in opening the digital locks protecting forgotten treasures. Rafik, a skilled Puzzler who has been marked as cursed, goes missing while leading a dangerous expedition in a booby-trapped city. A decade later, a lowly scribe for the Guild is tasked with searching for him. It seems Rafik is the key to a revived Tarakan Empire and the future of humanity—but a host of monsters, traps, and puzzles stand in the way.

Alliance Rising, by C.J. Cherryh and Jane S. Fancher (January 8, DAW—Hardcover)
The latest entry in the sprawling, complex, and Hugo-winning Company Wars series begins with a mysterious, unidentified ship on its way to Alpha station. Like the other stations of the Hinder Stars near Sol, Alpha Station has fallen far behind newer megastations like Pell and Cyteen. Rumors fly about the ship’s purpose and origin, with much of the suspicion centering on another ship docked at Alpha, the mysterious The Rights of Man, commanded by the Earth Company. The true purpose of The Rights of Man is unknown, and many believe the mystery ship was sent by Pell to investigate it. James Robert Neihart, Captain of the Pell ship Finity’s End, also intends to find out, suspecting that there’s more going on with the ship—and with Alpha Station—than meets the eye.

The Winter of the Witch, by Katherine Arden (January 8, Del Rey—Hardcover)
The concluding volume of Arden’s acclaimed Winternight trilogy picks up right where The Girl in the Tower left off, with Moscow in ashes from Vasya’s inexpert use of a Firebird. Russia and the people Vasya love are still in danger, however, as Arden continues her secret history of a nation’s turmoils in parallel with the story of Vasya’s becoming. She stumbles forward in her troubled relationship with the winter-king Morozko, while the Grand Prince Dmitrii makes decisions leading them all inevitably towards a battle that could unite Russia—though the chaos demon Medved would prefer events unfold otherwise. Vasya is no longer the frightened girl of the earlier books, but neither has she perfected her abilities. Even still, she must embark on several dangerous magical quests in order to protect the people and the land she loves. Along the way, she meets new and fascinating chyerti, and all the threads of the two previous books weave together in an epic, truly satisfying ending.

The Outlaw and the Upstart King, by Rod Duncan (January 8, Angry Robot—Paperback)
The sequel to the Philip K. Dick Award-nominated Queen of All Crows is set on the Island of the Free, a version of Newfoundland where violent clans rule, laws and oaths are dictated by tattoos inked on the skin, and the only thing the squabbling factions agree on is that no king will ever rule them. Elias No-Thumbs returns to his homeland, smuggling something that could upset the balance of power in the name of the revenge he seeks. His plan pivots on the assistance of a mysterious woman and her friends who have crash-landed on the Island of the Free and desperately wish to leave—but the only ways ion or off the island are controlled by warlords known as Patron Protectors. Faithful Duncan fans will recognize the mystery woman as Elizabeth Barnabus, protagonist of the Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire trilogy, but readers both old and new will enjoy seeing her save herself and help Elias get his revenge on the people who took his wealth (and his thumbs).

The Heirs of Babylon, by Glen Cook (January 15, Night Shade Books—Paperback)
Cook’s second novel, originally published in 1972 and long out of print, gets a loving reissue from Night Shade Books. It’s set in 2139, by which point mankind has almost been decimated by continuous nuclear and chemical warfare. Humanity survives in isolated islands of civilization, with order maintained by the brutal Political Office that dictates how everyone should think and act—and which calls the Gathering, when the able-bodied must come together to fight a mysterious enemy. When the Gathering is called, Kurt Ranke must abandon his pregnant wife and board the ancient, decrepit destroyer Jäger, a once-mighty warship that has suffered two centuries of decay. Along with other reluctant warriors, Kurt must face the Final Meeting, a legendary battle from which no one has ever returned. This isn’t quite the Glen Cook of the Black Company novels, but this early work is much more than a mere curiosity.

Shadow Captain, by Alastair Reynolds (January 15, Orbit—Paperback)
Reynolds’ Revenger—aka Treasure Island in space!was hailed as his most accessible novel ever: a rollicking tale of pirate adventure set in a universe where humanity rose to dominate the stars—and then declined. The sequel finds sisters Adrana and Fura, former adventure-seeking stowaways on a salvage ship, much changed. After signing on to Captain Rackamore’s crew as they sought out the ancient caches of technology left behind by long-dead civilizations, Adrana was scarred by her enslavement by pirate Bosa Sennen, and Fura became obsessed with the hidden treasure Sennen is rumored to have amassed. Now, Sennen can’t tell them where it is, because she’s dead— but the sister have her ship. Unfortunately, that also means they’ve been marked for death by the forces that still crave revenge on the bloodthirsty pirate.

The Iron Codex, by David Mack (January 15, Tor Books—Paperback)
In Midnight Front, Cade Martin was a World War II hero mastering sorcery in the allied struggle against fascism. Years later, he is worrying his MI6 handlers, his frequent unexplained absences sending up red flags. Meanwhile, Anja Kernova hunts escaped Nazis in South America using the Iron Codex, a magical book of immense power. Other forces want the power that the Codex represents, however, and Anja soon finds herself on the run, even as a secretive cabal schemes to transform the USA into a fascist state using magical forces. Everyone’s path begins to converge on Bikini Atoll, where the Castle Bravo nuclear tests are scheduled to begin. If you like your history twisted up with fantastic magical invention, this is the series for you.

Marked, by S. Andrew Swann (January 15, DAW—Paperback)
Detective Dana Rohan is a cop with a near-perfect arrest rate—and a secret. She doesn’t remember how she got the elaborate mark on her back during her traumatic childhood, but it allows her to travel through time and alternative dimensions, giving her the ability to see the crimes she’s investigating as they are being committed. Power like that rarely comes without a cost, and one night Dana is approached by a homeless man who warns her that the Shadows are coming—and is then violently murdered by an armored monster. Dana plunges into a bizarre adventure across strange alternate worlds, pursued by the shambling, zombie-like Shadows and beset upon by violent relatives she’s never heard of before. If she can just stay alive, she might have a chance to finally understand her strange abilities—and figure out why everyone wants to kill her.

The Kingdom of Copper, by S.A. Chakraborty (January 22, Harper Voyager—Hardcover)
Con artist Nahri accidentally summoned the djinn Dara in 18th century Cairo in The City of Brass and found herself whisked off to the royal court of Daevabad, where she had to use every bit of her wits and her magical abilities just to survive. As the sequel begins, Prince Ali has been banished and is fleeing assassins, even as Daevabad recovers from a devastating battle. Nahri now knows more about her origins—and her power—but that doesn’t mean she’s out of danger, even if she did just marry the heir to the throne. Trapped in a luxurious prison, the king uses her family as leverage to ensure her compliance, and Nahri must once again navigate the complex alliances, grudges, and familial connections of the magical city in order to protect those she loves. Chakraborty’s debut was one of our best-loved books of 2016, and the sequel proves worth the wait.

The Gutter Prayer, by Gareth Hanrahan (January 22, Orbit—Paperback)
Hanrahan’s epic fantasy debut centers on the city of Guerdon, to where refugees flee from an epic ongoing war between insane gods and the sorcerers who once served them. This is where Carillon Thay, desperate thief and recent member of the Thieves’ Brotherhood, finds herself, alongside her friends Rat and Spar. Thay is dealing with the aftermath of a heist gone wrong, and must contend with Ravellers,the  shape-shifting servants of the ancient Black Iron Gods which haven’t been seen in decades. As an apocalypse approaches Guerdon, the last place of safety in this violent world, these three thieves can only count on themselves—but it seems their fates may be strangely intertwined with the warring guilds and other powers that be in the city, and the network of ancient tunnels deep below its streets. Hanrahan brings his city to life in lyrical prose, even as the plot leaps from action sequence to breathless chase and back again.

The Smoke, by Simon Ings (January 22, Titan Books—Paperback)
Much of Ings’ latest novel is told in the second person, but don’t let that distract you; the author is known for crafting challenging narratives, but he always has his reasons, and the end result is a book of alternate history unlike any you’ve ever encountered. The point of diversion with our own timeline is the discovery of the biophotonic ray in the 20th century—a discovery that divides the human race into three distinct sub-species, and makes all manner of medical miracles commonplace. Protagonist Stuart returns to Yorkshire, where they’re making parts for a spaceship headed for Jupiter, after his breakup with Fel, daughter of the leader of the Bund, the group responsible for many of said medical breakthroughs. But Stuart can’t seem to stay away from Fel, or from London—now known as the Smoke, and in turmoil due to the increasingly fractured nature of humanity. Without explaining too much: this might be the year’s weirdest science fiction book, and it’s only January.

The Hod King, by Josiah Bancroft (January 22, Orbit—Paperback)
The third book in Bancroft’s deeply compelling Books of Babel quartet more than delivers on the building promise of the first two. The Sphinx, having discovered the location of Senlin’s missing wife Marya, worries over a brewing revolution, and sends her new servant Senlin to the Ringdom of Pelphia to investigate. In Pelphia, Senlin is, per usual, caught up in local intrigue: specifically, the brutal, bloody arena where the enslaved hods fight as gladiators to amuse the crowds. Meanwhile, Voleta and Iren take on false identities in an attempt to get close to Marya, who has married Duke Wilhelm Horace Pell and become a celebrity isolated by fame. Edith, now captain of the Sphinx’s flagship, investigates happenings along the hod’s Black Trail, which stretches the height of the entire Tower, and hears whisperings of a figure known as the Hod King, whose identity drives this volume to its cliffhanger conclusion—as does the question of whether Senlin can stay focused on his mission, or if he’ll risk disobeying the Sphinx in order to finally reunite with Marya. Bancroft once again perfectly pairs beautiful prose with lively characters and an exploration of an utterly original fictional edifice. A classic in the making, it will set your expectations high for the concluding volume, expected to arrive in 2020.

Vultures, by Chuck Wendig (January 22, Saga Press—Paperback)
Wendig’s sixth and final book in the Miriam Black series sees the foul-mouthed deathseer’s world in flux.  The Trespasser is back, and now has the ability to possess the living as well as the dead. Miriam’s own capability to see the demise of everyone she touches—a power that she regards as a curse—is shifting as well, which gives her hope she might be able to save her already doomed unborn child. Her baby is fated to die, but they don’t call Miriam the Fatebreaker for nothing. On the trail of a serial killer, Miriam sees a pattern emerging than spans all the strange events of her brutal life, and as she faces off against the Trespasser one final time, knowing only one of them will survive, she can only hope to find the meaning of it all, before it’s too late.

Reckoning of Fallen Gods, by R.A. Salvatore (January 29, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Salvatore continues to plumb new depths of the world of Corona, surprising even his oldest and most dedicated fans. The direct sequel to Child of a Mad God (and the 13th story set in the fictional universe) picks up where the first left off: Aoleyn, an Usgar girl who had come to reject her tribe’s brutality and misogyny, has saved the trader Talmadge and killed a god in the process, coming into her incredible power at a tremendous cost. Talmadge can’t seem to forget the fierce girl who saved his life, but neither have much time to ponder their existence: in the distant west, an empire that once dominated the world is waking up again, inspired by a total eclipse that is hearalded as a sign of their rebirth. The tides of history are turning, and Talmadge and Aoleyn seem destined to be swept up in them no matter what they do.

The Wolf in the Whale, by Jordanna Max Brodsky (January 29, Orbit—Paperback)
Omat is an Inuit, a powerful angakkuq, or shaman, who can speak with animals, and even take on their form. Omat is also a uiluaqtaq, one who identifies as neither a man or a woman. Their family is on the verge of extinction, however, after a disaster left the tribe without hunters, and after years without new children to replenish the population. Even Omat’s power cannot sustain them for long. So when another tribe comes across their isolated village, it is cause for celebration—but the new tribe will not accept Omat as they are and insist she live as a woman, causing conflict that erodes the tribe’s chances even further—just as Norsemen arrive, bringing a whole new level of threat. The author of the Olympus Bound trilogy starts anew with a propulsive, deeply researched glimpse into a time and place that will be familiar to few, and which proves to be as fascinating as any fictional universe.

Vigilance, by Robert Jackson Bennett (January 29, Tor Books—Paperback)
Robert Jackson Bennett pauses between installments of the Founders trilogy with a darkly satirical novella that pulls back from the gritty fantasy settings of his longer works for a story set in the near-future—2030, to be exact. In a time when military conflicts have become more and more like video games, with soldiers huddled around screens mashing buttons instead of pulling triggers, John McDean is a the hard-driving executive producer and mastermind behind Vigilance, a reality-TV game show in which active shooters are dropped into the midst of civilians, and anyone who manages to survive the ensuing chaos gets a rich payout. Although the show is highly popular, McDean struggles to find fresh ways of terrifying his audience—simple mall massacres are no longer drawing eyeballs—much to the disgust of bartender Delyna, who might be the only person not glued to the television when the show is on. It’s a fact that comes in handy when McDean discovers the truth about his own show—and finds himself on the wrong side of the camera for once. This pitch-black satire of our modern-day gun culture is almost too painfully true to be funny.

Doctor Who Meets Scratchman, by Tom Baker (February 12, Penguin—Paperback)
Fans of Doctor Who know Tom Baker best as the iconic Fourth Doctor, lover of Jelly Babies and very cool winter scarves. But did they know he also imagined himself an author of the Doctor’s exploits? In the 1970s, Baker and Ian Marter, who played Harry Sullivan, worked up a treatment for a Doctor Who feature film—and at one point, it seemed like it might actually be made, with Vincent Price attached to star. But the script was lost in the shuffle, Baker regenerated into Peter Davison, and decades passed. Now, Baker has dusted off the idea and regenerated it into a novel, which sees The Doctor (along with Harry and Sarah Jane Smith) arriving at a remote Scottish island for a bit of a rest. Instead, they find the isolated village under attack by hideous scarecrows. The Doctor takes on the challenge of protecting the innocent, but it’s all an elaborate trap set by an otherworldly force known as the Scratchman—who might be the devil himself. For Who-vians, this is a glimpse into an alternate timeline where the Doctor became the next film franchise—or just another delightful Fourth Doctor romp.

What new sci-fi and fantasy books will help you kick off 2019?

The post The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of January 2019 appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

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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?

The post The New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2019 appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

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Revealing Never Die, an Epic Fantasy of Death Gods and Resurrected Heroes

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Some of the most striking science fiction and fantasy novels of the past decade—we’re thinking of books like Andy Weir’s The Martian, Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations series, and 2018 standout debut Senlin Ascends, by Josiah Bancroft—began life as self-published works, garnering praise from readers and eventually attracting the attention of major publishers.

And since 2015, a few of those self-publishing Cinderella stories—Josiah Bancroft’s among them—have come out of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, an annual contest organized by bestselling fantasy author Mark Lawrence. Books vying for the top prize are sent to prominent fantasy bloggers for review, and the winner is the book with the highest average review score.

Senlin Ascends, the first of the Books of Babel, wasn’t an SFBO finalist in 2016, but all the attention (as well as the book’s excellence and originality) nevertheless garnered Bancroft a publishing deal for his entire series with Orbit. That year’s winning book, Jonathan French’s The Gray Bastards, was picked up by Crown Publishing, and likewise rereleased earlier this year, to no shortage of acclaim.

Rob J. Hayes won the 2017 SFBO for his book Where Loyalties Lie, a grimdark pirate fantasy that earned the second-highest composite review score in the contest’s history, which encompasses more than 1,000 books. Lawrence has called him “one of self-publishing’s rising stars,” and we wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes the next SFBO author to sign with a major publisher.

That’s all to explain why today, we’re pleased to debut the cover of Hayes’ next book, the standalone epic fantasy Never Die, set in a world of vengeful gods and resurrected heroes.

Featuring art by video game artist Felix Ortiz and design by Shawn T. King (who has previously worked with authors like Bradley P. Beaulieu and Michael Fletcher), the cover was created with the idea that the once-again self-published work would stand proudly beside titles from major publishers. We tend to think it will. How about you?

Check out the cover below the summary. Never Die releases in January 2019.

Ein is on a mission from God. A God of Death.

Time is up for the Emperor of Ten Kings and it falls to a murdered eight year old boy to render the judgement of a God. Ein knows he can’t do it alone, but the empire is rife with heroes. The only problem; in order to serve, they must first die.

Ein has four legendary heroes in mind, names from story books read to him by his father. Now he must find them and kill them, so he can bring them back to fight the Reaper’s war.


Preorder Never Die, available January 29, 2019.

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