The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of 2019… So Far

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

image montage featuring vertical slivers of book covers showing a warrior, a future soldier, a dragon, a wolf, and other fantasy imageryIt seems like we were just here, telling you about the best science fiction and fantasy books of 2018… but no, another six months have indeed passed, and all we have to show for it is a towering stack of fantastic, fantastical new reads.

It has been argued that we’re in the middle of a new Golden Age of SFF, and this publishing year has done nothing to convince us otherwise—assembling this list of the best science fiction and fantasy books of 2019 so far was difficult, not because we were stretching to fill it out, but because there are too many great books to fit in (which is why we’ve cheated and added another ten “bonus” books at the end—and even still, sacrifices were made).

TL,DR: This year has already delivered us enough boundary pushing, trope-exploding, mind-altering, purely entertaining books to keep you buried in quality for a long time—and we’ve still got six months to go (we have no idea how we’re going to narrow down our overall best of the year list to a reasonable size, but that’s a problem for the future…)

The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders 
Charlie Jane Anders’ followup to the Nebula Award-winning All the Birds in the Sky seems, at first glance, a complete departure from that fitfully whimsical, apocalyptic bildungsroman, but both novels share a powerful emotional through line, examining the inner lives and grand destinies of outsiders in societies in which they are never sure they truly belong. It leaves Earth behind entirely, delivering us to the hostile planet January, a tidally locked world split between the frozen wastes on its dark side and the searing eternal day of its light side. In the small sliver between these two extremes, the city of Xiosphant barely supports a dwindling human population. Sophie, who comes from an unremarkable family, willingly takes the blame for a petty crime committed by her fellow student, best friend, shining star Bianca, and is condemned to death via exile into the frigid darkness as an example of the cost of even a small act of rebellion. Sophie is saved by one of the strange animal life forms native to the planet, and discovers that the so-called “crocodiles” are no simple beasts, but an advanced race of telepaths whose existence is threatened by the corrosive presence of human settlers in their midst. Sophie’s ultimate fate parallels not just that of Bianca and her fellow citizens of Xiosphant, but all life on January, and the very future of humanity. It’s a richly compassionate, thoughtful work, packing powerful messages of anti-violence, political theory, and environmentalism alongside a story of growing up and growing into yourself that never strikes a false note. Read our review.

The Winter of the Witch, by Katherine Arden 
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. Read our review.

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. Read our review.

Ancestral Night, by Elizabeth Bear
After a decade spent exploring worlds of fantasy and steampunk, Elizabeth Bear launches a new series with a seriously epic space opera flavor. Halmey Dz is an engineer on a slightly sketchy salvage ship, part of a crew that stays just clear of the law in their quest to eke out a living. While exploring a derelict ship, Halmey is infected by something alien, and finds she has a whole new lever of perception that grants her understanding of the fundamental structure of the universe—which makes her an incredibly valuable prize for those with the will to exploit her abilities. Halmey is pursued by the government and a group of ruthless pirates, all of whom want to control her and her new power. She and her crewmates make a run for it—but the pursuit leads them into an even bigger mystery involving an alien ship trapped in a black hole at the center of the galaxy. And that’s just the beginning. The first book in the White Space saga may be Bear’s best science fiction novel yet, and that’s certainly saying something. Read our review.

Recursion, by Blake Crouch
At the start of Blake Crouch’s latest mind-bending high-concept sci-fi thriller, New York City detective Barry Sutton begins to encounter people suffering from False Memory Syndrome—a condition where they “remember” lives they never lived, and suffer emotionally due to tragedies they never actually experienced. A year earlier, a brilliant neuroscientist named Helena Smith accepts funding from a mega-wealthy sponsor in order to create a device that can preserve memories to be re-experienced whenever desired—but it also allows people to literally enter those memories, changing everything. As the disorder spreads throughout the city, reality itself is threatened; who can say what is real when you can’t trust your own memories? As Harry connects with Helena and they realize her research is destabilizing the world, the two join forces to find a way to save the human race from this threat from within. Read our review.

Magic for Liars, by Sarah Gailey 
Ivy and Tabitha are sisters, estranged for years by the bitter divide between Tabitha’s magical abilities and Ivy’s complete lack of same. Tabitha went on to teach at the prestigious Osthorne Academy for Young Mages, while Ivy ekes out a living working as a private investigator. When a murder is committed at the Academy, Ivy’s desperate financial situation drives her to take the case despite her animosity toward her sister—and mages in general. At Osthorne, Ivy finds out that even magical academies have Mean Girls, Queen Bees, and popular kids—that is to say, no shortage of murder suspects. As she pretends to have magical powers in order to gain the trust and cooperation of the students and faculty, Ivy finds that to crack the case she’s going to have to face her own fears, her history with her sister, and pull off the most difficult trick of them all: forgiving herself. Regular B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog contributor Sarah Gailey delivers a gripping debut novel, equal parts hardboiled magical noir and gripping psychological drama. Read our review.

Empress of Forever, by Max Gladstone
The Hugo-nominated author of the Craft Sequence fantasy series makes a stunning shift to sci-fi with this splashy, wildly imaginative, utterly strange, and truly intergalactic standalone novel, the anti-hero’s journey of Vivian Lao, a brilliant, morally conflicted young tech billionaire on the verge of world domination—or total destruction at the hands of her many enemies. When she fakes her death and flees to a server farm at the center of the worldwide digital cloud, intending to hack in and make her checkmate move, she unwittingly trips an alarm, endangers a dear friend, and encounters a powerful glowing figure who transports her into an unknown realm that might be a distant galaxy, the far future of her own, or something else entirely. Viv finds herself in a time and place she doesn’t recognized, a universe ruled by the terrifying, emerald-skinned Empress, whose access to a far more advanced Cloud allows her monitor everything, and destroy any civilization that advances to a point that might attract the attention of the Bleed, a truly alien entity that devours reality itself. Viv wasn’t built for terror and passivity, though, and quickly assembles a rag-tag group of heretics, criminals, ex-warlords, and nanobot outcasts, and dedicates herself to breaking the Empress’ hold on the universe. Like Guardians of the Galaxy on mescaline, it’s space opera like you’ve never imagined it. Read our review.

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. Read our review.

The Outside, by Ada Hoffmann 
In a universe where incredibly advanced AI are worshiped as gods and cyborg angels serve as their avatars, humanity’s last hope to break free lies with the space station The Pride of Jai, built entirely without gods’ help and powered by brilliant scientist Yasira Shien’s innovative reactor design. But when the reactor is powered up, disaster strikes—a singularity destroys the station and kills almost everyone on board. Yasira is brought before the gods and told that the disaster is part of a plot to warp reality itself, allowing for an invasion of terrifying monsters from outside our reality. The all-powerful AI believe the plot was engineered by Yasira’s own long-missing mentor Evianna Talirr, but as Yasira is transported to the edge of the galaxy to confront her former teacher, she finds herself questioning the divinity of the gods and the ruthless angels she has always obeyed without question. Hoffman’s debut is starkly original, and tinged with hints of horror fantasy—truly operatic stuff—but it truly impresses in its compassionate treatment of its neuro-atypical characters, hero and villain alike. Read our review.

The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley
The latest novel from Hugo-winner Kameron Hurley is both her most trope-y and traditional, and as fiery and in-your-face as her incendiary last, The Stars Are Legion, which was itself a brutal reimagining of ideas of an all-female society and the worldship into a barely controlled attack on the systems that have exploited women’s bodies and identities for thousands of years. Her targets this time are corporations, unbridled capitalism, and the military industrial complex that supports them, and her tools are the stuff of classic SF adventures: time travel, advanced weaponry, and battle-hardened boots-on-the-ground grunts. Young recruit Dietz was born a non-citizen, forced to grow up without access to not just the wonders of a future world, but without access to the essentials: enough food, adequate medical care, a sense of security. Her only chance to beat the system is to sign up to fight for the corporate cause—a battle against Mars in which soldiers are transformed into light waves and zapped across space and directly into the line of fire. But no sooner than she has completed training, Dietz’s missions begin to go sideways, as her trips with the so-called Light Brigade seem to be sending her pinging back and forth on the timeline of a war that seems to promise humanity’s end. This is military science fiction, Kameron Hurley style—a story about the life of an infantry grunt and the corporate future of warfare, with shades of Robert Heinlein and Joe Haldeman, and a touch of the bizarre that could only come from the author of God’s WarRead our review.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James 
The first book in an epic fantasy trilogy from Booker Prize-winner Marlon James is as impressive as the author’s pedigree would suggest. The Dark Star trilogy has been likened to an “African Game of Thrones,” and the comparison is both apt and overly simplistic—James is doing far more than gluing familiar tropes onto African folklore. This is a deeply literary work, bordering at times on the poetic in its imagery, but it is also enormously fun, with imaginative worldbuilding and a plot that is both measured and propulsive. The Black Leopard is a mercenary able to shape-shift into a jungle cat, and the Red Wolf, also called Tracker, is a hunter of lost folk, with an incredible sense of smell that enables him to hone in on his quarry from vast distances. Sometimes with Leopard and sometimes alone, Tracker works his way across Africa in search of a kidnapped boy, moving through a beautiful, densely detailed world of violence, storytelling, dark magic, giants, and inhuman entities. Tracker’s mission is complicated by the complex and ever-shifting politics of the many tribes he encounters, and furthered along by a growing entourage of followers and allies, from a giant, to a sword-wielding academic, to  a buffalo that understands (and sometimes obeys) human speech. It already feels like a classic, and it will be interesting to see how the fantasy connects with James’s literary audience, and vice versa. Read our review.

The Grand Dark, by Richard Kadrey 
Richard Kadrey takes a detour from his bestselling Sandman Slim series for a dark, gritty novel with shades of dystopian sci-fi and bizarre fantasy. In the aftermath of the Great War, Lower Proszawa is a city finally free to sink into endless hedonism and decadence. Largo Moorden has already been swallowed by the city—an addict, he works for a shadowy crime lord, navigating a world covered in mysterious “city dust,” inhabited by genetically engineered monsters, plagued by a ruthless disease known as The Drops, and crawling with artificially intelligent automata that are relentlessly replacing humans. Largo has a plan to get out of the slums and rub shoulders with the elites, but his ambitions run him smack into those of other forces, which share a much darker collective vision for the future of Lower Proszawa—and the world beyond. Even readers who might miss the more overt gallows humor of Kadrey’s other work will goggle at the scope of the imaginative worldbuilding on display here. Read our review.

A Brightness Long Ago, by Guy Gavriel Kay
Fantasy master Guy Gavriel Kay returns to the fictional setting of the Sarantine Mosiac, drawn from the history of Renaissance Italy, as an elderly man named Danio tells his life story, one curiously stocked with royalty and high adventure, considering his low birth. Danio starts off his career as an assistant to a court official, and is in a position to take notice of a young woman brought in as a concubine for the city’s despotic ruler. He correctly deduces she’s an assassin in disguise, and he chooses not to expose her; she is Adria, the daughter of a duke who has chosen to serve her mercenary uncle Folco. Danio’s decision to let the assassination occur sets in motion forces that will propel him and Adria in unexpected directions and lead to world-changing events, with low-born Danio, unpredictably, ever at their center. Kay applies his skill at painting sweeping historical tapestries to the story of the lives of the sort normally lost to the ages, yet whose choices may nevertheless shape the destiny of nations. Read our review.

The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie
Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice is one of the most daring, most-awarded science fiction novels ever written. Now, she throws herself into the fantasy side of the genre fray with equal ambition. Her first epic fantasy delivers the same experimentation with form and her sharp ideas that made her a space opera game-changer. The story is told in varying first- and second-person by a god called the Strength and Patience of the Hill, who is speaking to Eolo, a transgender warrior in service to a prince named Mawat, recently cheated out of his throne. The Strength and the Hill mingles its own complex, ancient history with the account of Eolo’s attempts to defend and protect the prince, and reveals the waning power of Eolo and Mawat’s patron god, the Raven, and the rising incursions of foreign gods who seek to take advantage of that weakness. This is dense, challenging, affecting fantasy storytelling at its finest. Read our review.

Unraveling, by Karen Lord 
Award-winner Karen Lord’s new standalone fantasy (her first novel in four years) opens with forensic therapist Dr. Miranda Ecouvo triumphant; a killer responsible for seven murders is behind bars thanks to her work. But a harrowing near-death experience soon thrusts her into a whole other reality, where she meets the near-immortal Chance and Trickster, brothers who reveal the difficult truth—the entity truly responsible for the murders is seeking immortality, and it’s not done killing. The brothers guide her through the labyrinths of this hidden world, assuring her the killer can still be stopped, and it’s up to her to do it. As reality, memory, and dreams converge, Miranda and the brothers fight to bring true justice to two worlds. Read our review.

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

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. Read our review.

Atlas Alone, by Emma Newman 
Emma Newman’s fourth book set in the Planetfall universe is another inventive and emotionally wrenching affair. As a passenger onboard the spacefaring vessel Atlas 2, Dee was one of the few who witnessed the nuclear strike that killed millions on Earth. Angry and deeply traumatized, Dee seeks both to uncover who was responsible and to escape her suffering within an immersive game that applies real world physicality to a virtual setting. Invited to test a new build of the game by a mysterious guide, Dee enters a play session unlike any she’s ever experienced. When she kills another player in-game and a man winds up dead in real life—a man with possible ties to the nuclear launch, no less—Dee becomes a suspect. As she doubles down on her investigation, she makes a chilling discovery that changes everything she thought she knew about her life—and the colony planet she’s headed toward. Made up of standalone novels that share a setting and a commitment to delving into their characters’ psyches, the Planetfall series stands with the best science fiction of the last decade. Read our review.

Finder, by Suzanne Palmer 
Suzanne Palmer’s zippy space caper stars Fergus Ferguson, a sort of spacefaring repo man with a reputation for chasing down even the most dangerous cargo anywhere in space. His latest target is a heavily armed warship called Venetia’s Sword, currently in the possession of a vicious gangster named Gilger. Fergus isn’t intimidated, even if Gilger is on the brink of war with a dangerous arms dealer. Fergus traces Gilger’s ship to a small colony planet, where he promptly finds himself caught in the middle of a violent civil war. Forced to ally with the enemies of his enemy, Fergus struggles to negotiate a peace, keep tabs on his quarry—and figure out why supposedly legendary aliens—who have turned out to be disturbingly real—are following him around. This debut is a fun, fast-moving jaunt into the zippier, zanier side of space opera. Read our review.

The Priory of the Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon 
The Bone Season author Samantha Shannon’s latest eschews the series format, packing an entire trilogy’s worth of story into a standalone epic following three remarkable women whose fate is bound to the survival of an entire world. Sabran IX is Queen of Inys, last of an ancient magical bloodline whose very existence binds the Nameless One, a terrible dragon that could end the world, at the bottom of the ocean. Ead Duryan is one of Sabran’s ladies-in-waiting—but she is actually a secret agent, serving a hidden cabal of mages protecting the queen with magic. And across the ocean, Tané is a dragonrider about to break a societal taboo, with unforeseen consequences that will reverberate all the back to Inys. As Sabran discovers she isn’t who she thinks she is, she must reckon with the fact that her family’s bloodline may not be what’s keeping the Nameless One slumbering after all. Read our review.

The Luminous Dead, by Caitlin Starling 
Gyre Price is desperate. Abandoned and alone on a poverty-stricken mining planet, she wants nothing more than to learn of her mother’s fate. Seeking a big paycheck that will allow her to do just that, she fakes her credentials as a caver, assuming that the work, while dangerous, will be organized and supported by the usual safety measures. Her handler on the expedition, Em, turns out to be unpredictable, cruel, and filled with her own secrets—and Em knows that Gyre lied to get the job, and isn’t afraid to use that knowledge to force her into a dangerous, terrifying journey into the darkness. Underground, Gyre must face not only her own inner demons, but plenty of Em’s as well. By the time she begins to understand that the danger may not all be on the inside, however, it may already be too late. This is nail-biting, cinematic sci-fi survival horror. Read our review.

Seven Blades in Black, by Sam Sykes 
Sykes new Grave of Empires trilogy is built around Sal the Cacophony, a former mage and gunslinger hellbent on revenge against the 33 mages who tore her magic out of her. Arrested and waiting for execution for her crimes, Sal is given a chance to save herself with a confession, but the story she tells is more than just a list of crimes: she served in the Scar, a blasted wasteland caught between two vast empires, but now exists only to locate and kill the mages who betrayed and brutalized her. Sal will cross any line to complete her quest, and Sykes seems to have a similar regard for the rules of epic fantasy in this go-for-broke blend of Kill Bill and Final FantasyRead our review.

The Lesson, by Cadwell Turnbull 
Five years ago, an alien spaceship appeared over the Virgin Islands, and the Ynaa arrived, claiming to be conducting a peaceful—but highly secret—research mission. The Ynaa offer benefits to their human hosts/hostages like incredible healing powers, but punish any form of aggression toward them with brutal violence. As a result, the relationship between the species is fraught, meaning Ynaa ambassador Mera and her human assistant Derrick have they work cut out for them: as the anniversary of the death of a child killed by the Ynaa comes around, tensions threaten to boil over into open conflict as a cycle of violent retribution is set in motion. Mera and Derrick are forced to choose sides in a war that has been five years in the making. Turnbull’s debut—which the publisher bills as one of the first speculative novels set in the Virgin Islands—explores themes of colonialism and prejudice with literary style, pairing nicely with similarly themed (and much praised) works like Tade Thompson’s Rosewater and Nnedi Okorafor’s LagoonRead our review.

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. Read our review.

The Bird King, by G. Willow Wilson 
This literary fantasy from comics writer and novelist G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel, Alif the Unseen) is a fast-paced adventure set in Granad, the last emirate of Muslim Spain. Fatima is the sultan’s favorite concubine, but her only true friend is Hassan, the royal mapmaker, who possesses the ability to open portals to other rooms, and even other worlds, at will. When Fatima accidentally reveals Hassan’s power to Luz, a lay sister working for the Inquisition, they flee, accompanied by a rogue’s gallery of companions and allies, including a vampire-jinn in the form of a dog and his sister, who takes the form of a cat. Inspired by a bit of verse they’ve known since childhood, Fatima and Hassan seek the island of Qaf, where the legendary Bird King resides, and where they believe they might be safe from the intolerant Inquisition. Wilson’s imagination overflows from each page as she crafts a fantasy quite unlike any other you’ll encounter this year. Read our review.

10 More Books We Loved

Because 2019 really has been that good a year for new science fiction and fantasy, we’re extending the list with ten more books that can’t be missed. (Straight talk: It’s here we stashed many of our favorite sequels of the year—many of them written by authors you might recognize from our Best SFF of 2018 list.)

Tiamat’s Wrath, by James S.A. Corey
Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck—the brains behind the James S.A. Corey pseudonym—have a lot going on, not the least of which is serving as producers of the fantastic streaming series based on their space opera/political soap opera saga The Expanse (of which Tiamat’s Wrath is a part), so you’d be forgiven for thinking they might have let something slip with the penultimate volume of their nine-book magnum opus. But no: It might be the best one yet. Read our review.

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World, by C.A. Fletcher
The title kind of says it all, doesn’t it? We live in anxious times, and apocalyptic visions are a dime a dozen. C.A. Fletcher’s stands apart for its singular focus on the title characters: a young boy journeying a blasted landscape with his canine friend, in desperate pursuit of the man who stole away with his other pup. You just don’t separate a boy from his dog, apocalypse be damned. Read our review.

The Record Keeper, by Agnes Gomillion
The worldbuilding in this apocalyptic afrofuturist debut is fascinating and stark: In a ruined future America, the dark-skinned Kongoese are kept in servitude to the ruling white class, forced to take a pill that causes them to forget their own pasts. Arika is a Kongoese Record Keeper, living more comfortably but trained to pen false histories to replace those erased ones—which is some kind of metaphor for America’s long (and ongoing) struggles with racism, injustice, and inequality.

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, by Alexis Hall
When an an idea doesn’t know when to stop, you call it putting a hat on a hat. Alexis Hall’s bonkers debut—a Sherlock Holmes pastiche that is also a queer romance set in a wild, war-torn multiverse teeming with magic, monsters, mind-eating gods, and a pissed-off shark—is a hat on top of a hat, but the hats are worn by a many-tentacled Lovecraftian monster sipping a mug of tea. It is, as the kids say, extra—in the very best way. Read our review.

The Ruin of Kings, by Jenn Lyons
Jenn Lyons debut entered 2019 as one of the year’s buzziest books, and it mostly lived up to the hype—a fantasy bildungsroman telling of the strange trip that brought a very particular prisoner to his cell, and of the jailer listening to the story play out, it has worldbuilding to spare (a good thing, considering the first of four planned sequels arrives before the end of the year). Plus, there are footnotesRead our review.

Fleet of Knives, by Gareth L. Powell
The sequel to Gareth L. Powell’s British Science Fiction Award-winning Embers of War does everything right, crafting an adventure for its crew of ragtag, haunted heroes that is bigger and more mysterious than that which came before. But most of all, it gives us more of the sentient ships at the center of the story, including the Trouble Dog, an ex-warship with something to atone for. Read our review.

Waste Tide, by Chen Quifan, translated by Ken Liu
In telling the story of a young woman eking out a meager living—and then leading a rebellion—on an island choked with toxic electronic trash, the latest work of Chinese science fiction to come to America by virtue of the work of translator Ken Liu delivers on a premise with an immediacy that makes it a difficult read—or would, if it weren’t so darkly compelling.

Storm of Locusts, by Rebecca Roanhorse
Trail of Lightning, the first Hugo- and Nebula-nominated book in the Sixth World series, shocked urban fantasy back to life with a story set in a post-apocalyptic America consumed by rising waters and haunted by the monsters of Indigenous American legend, with a fiery, flawed, deeply angry, and totally badass protagonist at its center. The sequel proves Maggie Hoskie’s first adventure was no fluke, and solidifies Roanhorse’s status as the next genre superstar. Read our review.

Today I Am Carey, by Martin L. Shoemaker
Martin L. Shoemaker’s debut novel expands on an award-winning short story that revisits familiar tropes of an artificial mind’s awakening to the world and gives them an entirely fresh, emotional, and utterly human dimension. This is science fiction at its most achingly sad and genuinely heartfelt. Read our review.

Titanshade, by Dan Stout
This fantasy twist on Chinatown subs in for Los Angeles’s waning water stores the similarly in-short-supply essence of an imprisoned god, and the Chinese-American tensions with a brewing unrest between humans and a race of aliens. A noir pastiche this pastiche-y has no right to work so well, or be so godsdamned entertaining. Read our review.

What’s the best new science fiction or fantasy book you’ve read in 2019?

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7 Darkly Funny Fantasy Novels

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

If you’ve yet to meet Sal the Cacophony, you’re in for a treat. The anti-hero star of Seven Blades in Black, the doorstopping start to Sam Sykes’s The Grave of Empires series, is a foul-mouthed, foul-tempered, good-hearted riot.

Sal is an outlaw magician. The Cacophony is the magic gun with a fiery temper she carries from town to town on her quest for vengeance against band of powerful mages who wronged her. Sal roams across the Scar—her wasteland realm of a home—racking up a body count and enlisting several (semi-)willing allies in a story that alternates between cracking jokes and unpacking a helluva lot of emotional trauma.

The vibe is bleak and boffo, fueled by flawless gallows humor and an immense amount of gore. And it made us want more. So we thought of some other dark, funny fantasy favorites to keep us occupied until Sal the Cacophony rides again.

Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames
What do you get when you take the concept of aging, semi-retired rock bands and swap it out for aging, semi-retired bands of mercenaries? Eames’s glorious series-starting debut. Clay Cooper and his band Saga used to be feared and famous far and wide. Now, Saga’s members are old, mostly drunk, and doughy around the middle. But when one of their own comes knocking on Clay’s door with a cry for help, well, it’s time to get the band back together. A perfect read for fans of both humor and metal.

The Ruin of Kings, by Jenn Lyons
The first book in the A Chorus of Dragons series begins as a prison-cell conversation. It’s a dire situation from the start: imprisoned thief Khirin’s luck (what little he had of it) seems to have run out and he’s about to be put to death. But Lyon’s debut is also filled with gallows humor at its finest. Through alternating chapters, Khirin and Talon, his not-quite-human jailer, retell Khirin’s life story, mulling over the events that led him into a cell. What makes it so darkly funny? Talon knows so much about Khirin because she absorbs memories of those she knows intimately—including those she’s eaten. (Well, it’s amusing in context, anyway.)

A Crown for Cold Silver, by Alex Marshall
The first line of this opening novel in the Crimson Empire series explains it all: “It was all going so nicely, right up until the massacre.” So much of what gives this epic saga its bloody, cheeky appeal is its central protagonist, a middle-aged, bisexual retired rebel general and one-time queen named Cobalt Zosia. Years after she laid down her weapons, disillusioned and longing for peace, Zosia is drawn back into the fray by the slaughter of her entire village—her thirst for vengeance means she and her gang of ne’er-do-wells, the Five Villains, must ride again.

The Prey of Gods, by Nicky Drayden
Drayden’s gonzo debut has a foot in the worlds of both science fiction and fantasy, but with a first chapter that features hallucinatory crab-on-dolphin sex, it can’t very well be excluded from this list. This mile-a-minute head trip into a near-future South Africa is disorienting and stuffed to the gills with wild plot devices (sentient AI, aggrieved demigods, mass murder, a fearsome plague of dik-diks, and so on). It forecasts a dark future and deals with troubling issues of the present, with a bonkers, go-for-broke sensibility throughout that makes it a novel like no other.

Master Assassins, by Robert V.S. Redick
The title of this book is accurate, yes, and also deeply ironic. Kandri and Mektu Hinjuman are brothers, rivals, and soldiers in the service of a religious zealot, the Prophet. Assassins, however, they are not. Until someone the Prophet loves winds up inadvertently dead by Kandri’s hand. Mistaken for purposeful killers, the Brothers Hinjuman go on the run through a beautifully named desert—The Land That Eats Men—as accidental pawns in a grander scheme for control of the continent. The brothers’ relationship is complex and richly developed, and the hi-jinx they get into along the way are as memorable as they are amusing.

Food of the Gods, by Cassandra Khaw
Khaw knows how to pack a disturbing five-course meal into a book that reads like a tasty appetizer; for evidence, look to her Lovecraftian Persons Non Grata novellas. Here, though, with poor, unfortunate Rupert Wong, she finds the space to go big, bold, bloody, and absolutely bananas with a real feast of an absurdist dark fantasy. You could call Rupert Wong a career man; he has two. By day, he’s a cannibal chef for powerful ghouls. By night, he’s a bureaucrat in Diyu, the hell of Chinese mythology. His efforts to please an ever-growing cadre of gods and ghouls are gruesome and grin-inducing.

What’s your favorite not-too-serious fantasy novel?

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Revealing The Name of All Things, the Next Verse of Jenn Lyons’ A Chorus of Dragons

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Last month saw the release of The Ruin of Kings, the debut novel from Jenn Lyons, and the first volume of an ambitious five-book fantasy series known as A Chorus of Dragons. With an inventive narrative structure and ample use of footnotes, it more than satisfied our expectations, built sky high by advance buzz that likened it to A Song of Ice and Fire and The Kingkiller Chronicle.

While Lynons’ series promises to be as epic as either of those lauded sagas, she is definitely doing her own thing—and the books differ in another way as well: Tor is committed to cranking then out on an accelerated schedule, one every nine months or so. Which means that volume two, The Name of All Things, lands before the end of the year—and today, were giving you your first taste of the sequel, via a cover reveal and excerpt.

Find both below the official summary. The Name of All Things arrives October 29.

You can have everything you want if you sacrifice everything you believe. 

Kihrin D’Mon is a wanted man.

Since he destroyed the Stone of Shackles and set demons free across Quur, he has been on the run from the wrath of an entire empire. His attempt to escape brings him into the path of Janel Theranon, a mysterious Joratese woman who claims to know Kihrin. 

Janel’s plea for help pits Kihrin against all manner of dangers: a secret rebellion, a dragon capable of destroying an entire city, and Kihrin’s old enemy, the wizard Relos Var.

Janel believes that Relos Var possesses one of the most powerful artifacts in the world—the Cornerstone called the Name of All Things. And if Janel is right, then there may be nothing in the world that can stop Relos Var from getting what he wants. 

And what he wants is Kihrin D’Mon.

Art by Lars Grant-West

An excerpt from The Name of All Things follows…

“Fine. You’ve gone through a lot of effort to find me.” He looked Janel in the eyes. “Why?”

She answered, “We need your help to slay a dragon.”

Kihrin blinked at her.

“A dragon? A dragon?

Janel blushed. “Please lower your voice.”

“A dragon,” Kihrin repeated a third time. “Do you have any clue—? No, wait. Look, I applaud your ambition or greed or whatever reason you have for thinking this is a good idea. Let me assure you—this is a terrible idea.”

“It matters not if it is or it isn’t—”

“No. I’m sorry. ‘Let’s go kill a dragon’ ranks among the worst of ideas. It’s right above invading the Manol in summer and right below freeing Vol Karoth ‘just for a little while.’ Do you know why parents don’t warn their children not to attack dragons? Because no parent wants to think their kids are that stupid. A dragon would annihilate me before I got close enough to hurt its feelings, let alone do any real damage to it.”

Janel raised an eyebrow at Kihrin. “Are you quite finished?”

“No,” Kihrin said. “I want to know who told you to enlist me into this ludicrous scheme, so I can find that person and shove my—”

“A quarter million people are currently in Atrine,” Janel interrupted. “And they have no idea they’re about to be attacked by the largest dragon ever known.”

That stopped him cold. He ignored the bartender—doing double duty as waitstaff—as she shoved another mug of cider onto the table. She followed that with a bowl of rice and vegetables covered in a thick paste. Without asking if anyone needed anything else, she retreated to the bar.

Kihrin pushed aside the food. “What?”

Musicians and storytellers in the Capital loved to talk about Atrine. What wasn’t to love? Atrine was a literally magical city, crafted of poetry and marble, built by Emperor Atrin Kandor in a single day. Ironically, Kihrin had never met anyone who’d actually been there; it was everyone’s favorite city from a distance.

“You heard me quite well,” Janel said, no longer smiling. “Now, as decided to recruit you for this plan, just what, pray tell, are you planning to shove, and where? Would you care to elaborate?”

Kihrin turned red. He exhaled and turned to the priest. “How are you involved in this?”

“Oh, I’m uh . . .” Qown floundered. “I used to be . . . that is to say . . .” He scowled, flustered. “It’s complicated,” he finished.

“As Qown mentioned earlier, he’s a votary of the Vishai Mysteries,” Janel said. “He’s also a qualified physicker and my best friend.”

Qown looked uncomfortable. Kihrin wondered what part of Janel’s description had upset the priest—his religion or his status as a Royal House licensed healer. Being called dearest friend hadn’t bothered him earlier.

“And you’re fine with this ‘Let’s go kill a dragon’ plan? Because you don’t strike me as the type to throw away your life.”

“With all respect,” Qown replied, “my approval or disapproval is irrelevant. Once Morios surfaces from underneath Lake Jorat, he’ll attack Atrine. Thousands will die. Normally, the Emperor would handle the problem, or the Eight Immortals themselves, but Emperor Sandus is dead, and the gods . . .” He held out his hands.

“The gods are busy battling demons,” Janel finished.

Preorder The Name of All Things, available October 29, 2019.

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5 Fascinating Uses of Footnotes in Fantasy

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

The first befootnoted page of The Ruin of Kings, by Jenn Lyons

Footnotes in fiction are a tricky business. Handled poorly, they can be the bane of a reader’s existence (1). But in the right hands and the right circumstances, footnotes open up entirely new narrative possibilities (2).

Footnotes can add context, build lore and history, introduce new characters, misdirect where desired, or even just make you snort out loud (3). Authors can wield them like scalpels or flaunt them like magic tricks.

There’s no shortage of clever ways to use them, essentially—as proven by the five books and series below (4).

The Ruin of Kings, by Jenn Lyons
Lyons’ buzzy debut plays with all manner of form, telling its story, primarily, in retrospect, with events of the narrative revealed primarily in a conversation between a thief, Kihrin, and his jailer, Talon. Both tell the story of Kihrin’s life (5) in alternating chapters. Framing this conversation are footnotes from a third source, whose attachment to the story becomes clearer toward the end of the novel. It’s through these outside footnotes that we learn the most about the history, the magic, and the world that have come to bear on poor, battered Kihrin.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
The grand dame of footnotes in modern fantasy (6), Clarke’s shelf-bending standalone serves up a number of pages that are as much or more footnotes and supplementary text as actual narrative. The result is a work altogether complete: a comprehensive alternate history of English magic, the Napoleonic Wars, and the titular Daedalus-and-Icarus pair at the center of both. It’s the closest novel to a magical textbook as you’re going to get outside of Brakebills.

House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
While notable for its intriguing use of footnotes, House of Leaves uses far more than just those bottom-of-the-page musings to subvert the typical fiction-reading experience. To call it experimental is an understatement (7). At its core is a story about a house that’s disturbingly larger on the inside than on the outside. But in unraveling that mystery, the reader is challenged to rethink the bare concept of the novel as a form. Everything is up for grabs: typography, page layout, and, of course, footnotes that cite sources. While technically more horror than fantasy, it’s a gobsmacking feat that can’t be ignored.

The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud
This series-starter is about a boy magician named Nathaniel and a djinni named Bartemeaus, whom Nathaniel summons (8) in an attempt to make a name for himself in the highly structured class society of a highly magical alternate mid-20th century England. The novel switches between their dual POVs to unwind its story of magical mischief and political skullduggery. Even though Bartimaeus is a first person narrator, he also gets to shine in frequent footnotes that expand upon his personality in ways no typical narrative tool would allow. He riffs on just about everything—the people he meets, the stupid things they want—and offers insights into the unsavory position of his kind. Without them, it would be a very different book.

Lost in a Good Book, by Jasper Fforde
Only the Thursday Next series would be so daring as to introduce the “footnoterphone.” In this second book of the series, Thursday Next, world-renowned literary detective, receives her first call via the device. You, the reader, get to watch the ensuing conversation happen between the page text and footnotes, which is probably as disorienting for Thursday as it is for you (9). Please be advised, however, if making a call: it’s best to know the title and page number at which your party can be reached.

1. I have to jog all the way down to the bottom of the page to read several sentences that don’t relate directly to the sentences I have just read, which I now must read again because I’ve forgotten what they said?

2. Like watching an argument between two characters who may never have met but have a lot to say to each other nonetheless.

3. Insert here basically anything written by Terry Pratchett ().

4. Yes, we know we’ve left out many, many, many other fantasy books that use footnotes well. Don’t yell at us—just share your favorites in the comments!

5. You see,Talon is a shapeshifter and has absorbed some of Kihrin’s memories—and the memories of those around him, because she ate them ().

6. Though David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is arguably fantastical enough to fit on this list, it isn’t usually classified as fantasy. Dude sure loved his footnotes, though.

7. To call it a “mindf***” is not (♦).

8. Bartemeaus would prefer to say “enslaves against his will.”

9. Kind of like reading this blog post, probably.

 

† Or Terry Pratchett with Neil Gaiman.

Ate the people, we mean. Not the memories. You know how shapeshifting demons are.

♦ You know what the stars stand for. This is a family website.

What’s your favorite use of footnotes in a fantasy novel?

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This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Epic Beginnings, Stranger Secrets, and America’s Alternate Futures

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers, edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams
Twenty-five stories examining America’s many possible futures, written by some of the best and brightest in sci-fi and fantasy? Sign us up. Overseen by award-winning author Victor LaValle (The Ballad of Black Tom) and editor John Joseph Adams, and featuring contributions from N.K. Jemisin, Justina Ireland, A. Merc Rustad, Omar El Akkad, Charlie Jane Anders, Charles Yu, Lesley Nneka Arimah, and 18 others, this collection is packed with stories that extrapolate the realities our fraught present into fascinating, often dark visions of the future. From Americas where contraception is illegal, to ones in which the non-conforming are forcibly transformed to fit a biased “norm,” to more fantastical visions in which women learn to ride dragons. In one timely entry, a wall on the Mexican-American border results in a slew of unintentional consequences to Mexico’s benefit. These are tales that illustrate the power of speculative fiction—to combine imagination, storytelling, and social commentary in ways that tell us as much about where we’re going as where we are right now.

Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds (Barnes & Noble Exclusive Edition), by Gwenda Bond
Netflix’s Stranger Things is a bona fide pop culture phenomenon, and YA regular Gwenda Bond earned the enviable task of bringing the ever-growing, ever-darker universe of the TV series to print. This prequel delves into the mysterious history of the woman who gave birth to waffle-loving telekinetic tween Eleven. The story travels back to 1969, when Terry Ives is a quiet college student who signs up for a government program code-named MKULTRA. As her involvement with this sinister experiment at the Hawking National Laboratory grows ever stranger, Terry begins investigating what’s really going on, recruiting her fellow test subjects for assistance—including a mysterious young girl with even more mysterious powers. A girl who doesn’t have a name, just a number: 008. This is a must for die-hard fans eager to explore all the secrets that won’t be revealed onscreen. The exclusive Barnes & Noble edition includes a two-sided poster featuring original artwork.

House of Assassins, by Larry Correia
The second entry in Correia’s Saga of the Forgotten Warrior series returns to the story of Ashok Vadal, a former soldier in a fiercely secular, fiercely divided magical world. In a society stratified into castes, the lowest of the low are the casteless—the untouchables. After infiltrating a rebel group that sought to free the casteless—a mission that led him to the prophet Thera Vane—former Protector Ashok Vadal now wields his magical blade Angruvadal and leads the Sons of the Black Sword on a mission to free Thera from the wizard Sikasso. All the while, he is hunted by the vengeful Lord Protector Devedas. As Ashok deals with the revelation that he is casteless himself—and apparently a pawn in a game he doesn’t yet fully grasp—he finds himself forced to fight without Angruvadal for the first time, and questioning whether his fate really has fallen to the gods. With this series, Correia brings all of the grit and narrative propulsion of his popular Monster Hunter urban fantasy series into the realm of the epic.

Wild Life, by Molly Gloss
Saga Press continues its campaign to bring Molly Gloss back into prominence with the SFF crowd, reissuing her fourth novel, the winner of the James Tiptree Jr. Award (presented to a work that explores or expands notions of gender). It is presented as the unedited journal of Charlotte Bridger Drummond, a woman living in Washington State in the early 20th century, doing her best to get by with her five children after her husband abandoned her. Drummond supports herself by writing novels about fierce and attractive girls who go on adventures. When her housekeeper Melba’s daughter goes missing in the wilds, Charlotte decides to follow her characters’ lead and heads out to find her. Soon lost herself, Charlotte uses her journal to keep a record of her increasingly strange journey into an American wilderness far odder than she ever dreamed. In a metafictional touch, this narrative is interspersed with snippets of her fiction and her musings on the constrictions her gender places upon her. Because this is ostensibly a fantasy novel, we should also note that Charlotte’s journal purports that she survived her ordeal in part by joining up with a group of giants living in the mountains. Though the fantastical elements are presented with a shade of ambiguity, Charlotte inarguably proves herself more than able to fill a role that in 1905 (and, perhaps, 2019) would normally fall to a strapping male protagonist.

Snow White Learns Witchcraft, by Theodora Goss
A collection of short fiction and poetry from the World Fantasy Award-winning, Nebula Award-nominated author of The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Show White Learns Witchcraft is one to savor. As the name suggests, it collects fairy tale inspired works from across the dreadth of Goss’s career, among them “Red as Blood and White as Bone,” in which a poor serving girl decides to test the theory that all beggar women who come calling are secretly princess in disguise, seeking noble hearts, but learns that truth is more complicated than stories. “The Gold Spinner” reimagines Rumpelstiltskin as a desperate girl lying to save her own life, and “Conversations with the Sea Witch” revisits the now-human Little Mermaid in her old age. Revisionist fairy tales are as common as apples, but by virtue of their clever twisting of legends and their artful prose, Goss’s additions to the bushel are revealed as bright and glistening as rubies.

The Ingenious, by Darius Hinks
The city of Athanor was set adrift long ago by alchemists called the Curious Men, moving through space and time and taking with it bits and pieces of every place it passes through along the way. Isten and her followers were one of among those bits and pieces, pulled into Athanor unwittingly. They are now stranded in the incredibly varied but dismally impoverished magical city. Isten’s people believe she is prophesied to set their homeland free, but Isten has succumbed to a terrible addiction, and she and her followers barely survive in the mean alleys of Athanor—until Isten meets Alzen, a member of the Elect. Alzen dreams of becoming the Ingenious, a master magic-user, and Alzen and Isten forge an unusual alliance, each determined to help the other fulfill their disparate disparate dreams in this impossible city. Darius Hinks is an award-winning writer of novels set in the Warhammer universe; The Ingenious is his first wholly original work, in every sense.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James
The first book in an epic fantasy trilogy from Booker Prize-winner Marlon James is as impressive as the author’s pedigree would suggest. The Dark Star trilogy has been likened to an “African Game of Thrones,” and the comparison is both apt and overly simplistic—James is doing far more than gluing familiar tropes onto African folklore. This is a deeply literary work, bordering at times on the poetic in its imagery, but it is also enormously fun, with imaginative worldbuilding and a plot that is both measured and propulsive. The Black Leopard is a mercenary able to shape-shift into a jungle cat, and the Red Wolf, also called Tracker, is a hunter of lost folk, with an incredible sense of smell that enables him to hone in on his quarry from vast distances. Sometimes with Leopard and sometimes alone, Tracker works his way across Africa in search of a kidnapped boy, moving through a beautiful, densely detailed world of violence, storytelling, dark magic, giants, and inhuman entities. Tracker’s mission is complicated by the complex and ever-shifting politics of the many tribes he encounters, and furthered along by a growing entourage of followers and allies, from a giant, to a sword-wielding academic, to  a buffalo that understands (and sometimes obeys) human speech. It already feels like a classic, and it will be interesting to see how the fantasy connects with James’s literary audience, and vice versa.

The Ruin of Kings, by Jenn Lyons
Jenn Lyons opens her planned five-book series with novel that defies traditional narrative structure. It begins as a conversation between the imprisoned Kihrin, awaiting what will certainly be a sentence of death, and his jailor Talon, a beautiful, demonic, shape-shifting assassin. As Kihrin tells a sad tale of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and earning the enmity of a cabal of sorcerers (raising more than a few questions about his real identity, and the true nature of a consequential necklace he claims was given to him by his mother)—Talon shares her own side of the story. The twin narratives slowly curl around each other (enriched by asides and often cheeky footnotes), illuminating different aspects of a world populated by incredible magic and a whole host of fantastic monsters and all manner of gods, demons, and men, all seemingly arrayed against Kihrin’s twisting journey to claim his legacy. The buzz for this series-starter has been building for months, and while the comparisons to Patrick Rothfuss and George R.R. Martin are apt, Jenn Lyons has also proven to have her own fascinating perspective on epic fantasy. A must-read.

Polaris Rising, by Jessie Mihalik
Jessie Mihalik’s first novel is a space opera with a healthy helping of sex and romance, telling the story of Ada von Hasenberg, fifth daughter of the influential House von Hasenberg. Two years ago, Ada fled an arranged marriage to Richard Rockhurst and has been racing to stay one step ahead of her father’s minions ever since. Luckily, she’s been the beneficiary of the standard von Hasenberg education, which ran the gamut from computer hacking to social engineering. When Ada is captured by bounty hunters, she makes an alliance with another prisoner, the notorious criminal and murderer Marcus Loch, possibly the most dangerous man in the universe. Together, the pair must break free from their captors and launch a desperate campaign to earn their freedom once and for all. Along the way, they’ll also need to learn to trust each other, and resist the undeniable attraction that has arisen between them. Fast, fun, and sexy, this debut offers a delightful escape into adventure.

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You, by Scotto Moore
Scotto Moore—the mind behind the darkly, strangely hilarious Lovecraftian Things That Cannot Save You Tumblr and the music blog Much Preferred Customers—writes a short, sharp debut novella that brings together both of his obsessions. It’s the story of a blogger who stumbles across most beautiful music he’s ever heard in his life—a song that mesmerizes him for hours, as if possessed of an arcane power. The band responsible, Beautiful Remorse, plans to release a new track every day for 10 days, and every subsequent tune proves to effect listeners and the world in increasingly powerful and devastating ways. As the blogger joins the band on tour and meets mysterious lead singer Airee Macpherson, he discovers the secret purpose behind the music. This quirky horror story is just as fun as the premise suggests.

Binti: The Complete Trilogy, by Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor’s Hugo- and Nebula-winning trilogy is collected in one volume alongside a brand-new short story. Though originally published as three separate works, Binti’s story gains new resonance when read as a whole: it’s a moving coming-of-age tale, following a young girl’s journey from a rigid home life, out into the black of space and back. The lush worldbuilding takes us from Binti’s origins with the Namibian Himba tribe, to the intergalactic Oomza University, and on an interstellar journey during which she meets and forms a most unusual bond with the truly alien Medusae. Over the course of these stories, Binti grows and changes, taking on the burden of her people’s legacy and, perhaps, the fate of the whole universe. Filled with unusual technology, breathless adventure, and unexpected twists and turns, Okorafor’s latest works of adult science fiction (she is also the author of the YA novels Akata Witch and Akata Warrior, as well as the World Fantasy Award-winner Who Fears Death) is a true delight.

10,000 Bones, by Joe Ollinger
This debut novel is build upon a harrowing premise that lends grim context to the title: life is brutal on the planet known as Brink, where calcium is in such short supply that is has become the local currency. As the government struggles to import enough of the mineral to keep the people alive (and are given no help by other colony worlds that wish to use Brink’s desperate need for it as leverage in trade agreements). a black market has arisen to deal in the stuff—and keep it out of general circulation, where it is desperately needed. Taryn Dare is a collections agent aiming to put a stop to the illegal calcium trade (and hopefully earn enough to make her way off-planet), but she soon uncovers a dark conspiracy that leads her to believe that things on Brink are more broken than she ever imagined. An unusual world well-explored, a compellingly flawed protagonist, and one breathless action sequence after another mark Ollinger’s first novel as a winner, no bones about it.

Fog Season, by Patrice Sarath
The sequel to The Sisters Mederos returns to the city of Port Saint Frey, where once wealthy siblings Tesara and Yvienne Mederos saw their family trimmed from the upper crust of society and were forced to determine the reasons why through schemes and cunning. With those intrigues out of the way, the sisters Mederos hope to settle back into their lives, but their successful efforts to deflect an investigation into the events of the first book become more difficult when a corpse shows up in the most expected place, and pulls them back into a fog of conspiracy. The Victorian trappings and feisty protagonists—Tesara’s sharp mind, and hidden magic, Yvinne’s sharper tongue—propel this mystery story merrily, murderously along.

Sisters of the Fire, by Kim Wilkins
The sequel to Daughters of the Storm continues the story of five sisters who set off to find a magical cure for their comatose father. the king. Five years later, Bluebell, the warrior among them, remains at home, the new heir to the throne. Ivy rules a prosperous port in a lonely marriage she’s taking terrible steps to end prematurely, Ash studies magic in the far-away wastelands; Rose lives in misery with her aunt, separated from her husband and child; and Willow hides a terrible secret that could destroy everything she and her sisters fought for—she holds the enchanted sword Grithbani, forged to kill her, and she is eager to use it. Bluebell is set upon by enemies both within and outside of her future kingdom even as her sisters pursue their individual and often tragic destinies.

What are you reading this week?

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The Ruin of Kings Is a Fantasy Debut for the Ages

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Buzz has been building for months behind Jenn Lyons’ debut The Ruin of Kings, and along the way, the epic fantasy series-starter has drawn comparisons to just about every one of your favorite authors.

Yes, you will find here the complex political machinations of George R.R. Martin, as well as the staggering scope of one of Brandon Sanderson’s works. Yes, the novel follows the sort of compellingly flawed characters V.E. Schwab is so good at making us fall for, and its unique mode of storytelling will delight fans of Patrick Rothfuss. Maybe you’re looking for a readalike for Brent Weeks or Peter V. Brett? This is the book for you, too.

Yet while all of the comparisons are well-earned, it’s unfair to reduce The Ruin of Kings to a litany of “a la” descriptors. This complicated, bombs-away doorstopper—and the enormous world it introduces—more than deserves lauding on its own unique merits.

Truly, fantasy faithful, it will knock your socks off.

For starters, let’s talk form and format: largely, Lyons tells her story in retrospect, via a conversation between a thief, Kihrin, and his not-altogether-human jailer, Talon. We’re given little opportunity to orient ourselves at first, as in alternating chapters, Kihrin and Talon unfold the story of a life as glimpsed from different points in time.

Framing their respective retellings are correspondences and footnotes from a third source, one whose involvement in these events only becomes clear toward the end of the novel. The footnotes in particular serve as an invaluable element of the worldbuilding, expanding our understanding of the setting well beyond the concerns of the primary plot and revealing intricate facets of multilayered world rich in dragons and demons, gods and great destinies.

Crucially, Kihrin remains the star of this show. A burglary job turns his world upside down after he witnesses a gruesome, otherworldly murder. After fleeing the powerful sorcerers and the demon they unleashed, he learns he may be a long-lost princeling of a powerful (and shadowy) noble house. You’d think such news might herald a new, more fortunate future. Instead, Kihrin’s situation starts a steep decline, as he is buffeted on all sides by mysteries of the past and the competing occult plots of the present. At the heart of all these troubles is a necklace Kihrin has worn since birth—or at least that’s what the various sorcerers, dragons, devil, and deities he encounters seem to believe.

There is a considerable amount of plot to keep track of in this book, the first of a planned quintet, but the detail only serves to make the world, and the characters that people it, feel real. Seemingly every bit player is working from their own aims and twisted backstories, and the action zigzags from this plane to the next. Coupled with the unique story structure, the effect can be dizzying—but a frenetic vibe suits a story in which the protagonist’s troubles snowball with such rapid velocity.

The energy with which Lyons infuses the novel feels both tightly controlled and in danger of sending it careening toward the edge of a cliff. In less sure hands, and with weaker characters to guide the way, the resulting story might be a confusing morass. Instead, it’s exhilarating: a mile-a-minute charge toward a satisfying conclusion that leaves the door open to yet more exploration of a wide, wild, and fascinating world.

There’s no telling where future installments in the series—A Chorus of Dragons—will go. There is certainly no shortage of paths for the narrative to wander (or gallop) down. That should be endlessly exciting for fantasy fans in search of their next favorite saga—and terrifying for the likes of Kihrin.

The Ruin of Kings is available now.

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