For over a decade, Jim Killen has served as the science fiction and fantasy book buyer for Barnes & Noble. Every month on The B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog and Tor.com, Jim shares his curated list of the month’s can’t-miss new SF/F releases.
City of Savages—Lee Kelly (February 3, Saga Press—Hardcover)
The first book from Saga Press, the new speculative fiction imprint from Simon & Schuster, is a post-apocalyptic thriller set in a dystopian New York 20 years after a world-ending conflict. In alternating narratives, sisters Skylar and Phee Milliar tell us of their hardscrabble fight to survive in the hollowed-out shells of once-towering skyscrapers, a Central Park POW camp lorded over by a despot, and cannibal-infested subway tunnels. Excerpts from their mother’s diary reveal how things got to be so bad. Kelly’s debut breaks out of a crowded field by placing its focus on the bond between the two sisters, who fight to maintain their connection in a ever more isolating landscape.
The City Stained Red—Sam Sykes (January 27, Orbit—Paperback)
Sykes’ latest is a follow-up to his gonzo fantasy trilogy Aeon’s Gate, picking up with babyfaced killer Lenk and his band of mercenaries looking to collect on one last bloody job. Unfortunately, they have to travel to the city of Cier’Djaal to do it, and Cier’Djaal is just a few steps away from a headlong plunge into a civil war involving squabbling gods and a demon cult. (Sounds like a pretty calm place. This should go well.) Sykes can always be counted on to deliver balls-to-the-wall grimdark that blows fantasy tropes to smithereens.
A Darker Shade of Magic—V.E. Schwab (February 17, Tor—Hardcover)
In her followup to 2013’s genre-busting supervillain story Vicious, V.E. Schwab creates a tri-layered Neapolitan fantasy world that smooshes three alternate versions of London side-by-side: Red London, where magic’s waters run deep; White London, where there is both power and terrible darkness; and Dull Grey London, where spells lose their luster (guess which one we inhabit). Only unique individuals known as Travelers can pass between the city, but they are a dying breed—probably because someone is trying to kill them all. Kell, the Traveler from Red London, wears a coat with infinite sides which he uses to smuggle magical objects from one London to another, until during one fateful trip, he brings back the wrong thing, setting up a crisis that might wipe London off the map—all of them.
Deadeye: The Mutant Files—William C. Dietz (January 27, Ace Books—Paperback)
From the author of the Legion of the Damned military science fiction series, this book kicks off a new SF police procedural about Cassandra Lee, a fearless, decorated detective on the hunt for a serial cop killer in a post-apocalyptic future in which a bioengineered virus has turned half the world into mutants. When she’s partnered up with a mutant officer to solve a string of kidnappings, it’s the perfect Mississippi Burning setup. If Mississippi was, you know, full of horribly mutated post-humans (I’m assuming it isn’t).
Deadly Spells—Jaye Wells (February 10, Orbit—Paperback)
The third book in the Prospero’s War series finds Kate Prospero and the Magical Enforcement Agency investigating the brutal slaying of the head of a powerful coven of witches and teaming up with the local P.D. to keep organized crime out of Babylon’s magical underworld. The central coneit of the series—that magic operates like a drug, one with serious black market value—is as reliable as ever and Wells’s characters continue to shine, particularly in the interplay between Kate and her ex-boyfriend-turned-magically-adept-mayor John Volos.
The Diabolical Miss Hyde—Viola Carr (February 10, HarperCollins Publishers—Paperback)
This debut electropunk monster mashup gives you exactly what you never knew you wanted: The classic story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with a genderbent twist. Dr. Eliza Jekyll, daughter of the famed mad scientist, is a skilled crime scene investigator in an alternate Victorian London where magic exists, electricity has been discovered, and each new technological marvel threatens to upset the precarious social order. Eliza works to crack a career-making case—putting a stop to a vicious serial killer known as the Chopper—while keeping her own darker nature at bay: Lizzie Hyde, unleashed by her father’s infamous elixir.
Half the World—Joe Abercrombie (February 17, Random House—Hardcover)
The second volume in Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea epic fantasy series shifts the focus to a new protagonist, Thorn, a girl whose only mission in life is to forge herself into a skilled warrior and avenge the murder of her father. When a training accident results in a fellow student’s death, she’s sentenced to be executed, but receives a reprieve from Father Yarvi, scheming minister to Lord Gettland, the boy king from the previous book. Yarvi enlists her in a dangerous mission to travel abroad seeking allies to defend Gettland’s claim to the throne. She owes the minister her life, but does that mean forgoing her quest for vengeance? Though shorter than Abercrombie’s First Law books, the Shattered Sea series is no less complex—or brutal.
Impulse: Lightship Chronicles, Book One—Dave Bara (February 3, DAW—Hardcover)
This space opera from debut author Dave Bara is set in a universe still slowly recovering in the aftermath of a centuries-old galactic war, where planets have become isolated and civilizations are only just starting to reconnect and the only links to the past are a guild of Historians from Earth, who hold the key to ancient, powerful technology. Hotshot young naval officer Peter Cochrane has just received his first plum assignment aboard a lightship when he is transferred to serve aboard the HMS Impulse, under the command of a captain from another culture. Cochrane is tasked with helping to discover why the Impulse was ambushed while investigating the ruins of the once-dominant empire, a mission that quickly goes south when the Impulse is stolen by one of the Historians, leaving the crew stranded aboard a small shuttlecraft. A propulsive blend of military tropes, space combat, and romance, this series-starter will be irresistible to fans of widescreen interstellar epics.
The Thorn of Dentonhill: A Novel of Maradine—Marshall Ryan Maresca (February 3, DAW—Paperback)
Maresca’s light-hearted debut introduces your favorite new fantasy rogue, Veranix Calbert, hapless magic student by day, daring magician vigilante by night (think Spider-Man meets Harry Potter). Under the guise of the Thorn of Dentonhill, Calbert works to disrupt the harmful drug business of crime boss Willem Fenmere, quickly propelling him into the top spot on the list of the underworld’s most wanted…dead. As if that wasn’t enough pressure, he still has to worry about curfews and keeping up his grades (his excuses, while valid, aren’t exactly the kind you can email to your professor at the eleventh hour).
Trigger Warning—Neil Gaiman (February 3, HarperCollins Publishers—Hardcover)
Though he is best known for expansive works like American Gods and Sandman, Gaiman is also a wizard of the short form, spinning tales that slowly unravel the world we know, transforming the mundane into the fantastical. This new collection features previously published work, including stories, poems, and Gaiman’s celebrated script for an episode of Doctor Who. Best of all, there’s a new story set in the world of American Gods, written exclusively for this collection.
The Very Best of Kate Elliott—Kate Elliott (February 10, Tachyon Publishers—Paperback)
Elliott is known for her expansive fantasies, from the seven-book Crown of Stars series to the recently completed Spiritwalker trilogy, but this collection proves she’s equally adept at writing short fiction. Collecting stories set in worlds both familiar (including the settings of the Spiritwalker books and her Jaran quartet) and new, as well as non-fiction essays about writing, it makes an excellent introduction to the work of one of epic fantasy’s most reliably fantastic writers.
Wastelands 2: More Stories of the Apocalypse—edited by John Joseph Adams (February 24, Titan—Paperback)
This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but with a…take your pick. This collection of 30 post-apocalyptic tales, edited by John Joseph Adams, offers enough end times scenarios for as many sleepless nights, with contributions from some of the most exciting writers working in the genre including Paulo Bacigalupi, Lauren Beukes, David Brin, Orson Scott Card, Cory Doctorow, Hugh Howey, and George R.R. Martin.
The Sculptor—Scott McCloud (February 3, First Second—Hardcover)
The first graphic novel from the “Aristotle of comics” is an rumination on the artist’s struggle for immortality, a examination of the superhero mythos, and, above all, a heartbreaking love story that will remind you of the value of every rapidly passing moment of your life. David, once a celebrated sculptor, is a has-been by his mid-20s after being shunned by the art world. A literal deal with death gives him the ability to mold any material with his bare hands, but only 200 days to use it to leave his mark on the world. But then he meets Meg, a messed-up girl would could be his ticket to salvation—if only he has enough time to find it. Its thematic depth and expertly cinematic storytelling have won the book major kudos from no less than Neil Gaiman.
Superman: Earth One, Vol. 3—J. Michael Straczynski, illustrated by Adrian Syaf (February 10, D.C. Comics—Hardcover)
The decidedly super reboot of the Man of Steel’s origin story continues after a two-year wait. Previous volumes have twisted the familiar tale in new and inventive ways, offering heretofore unseen motivations for Clark Kent becoming a reporter, why Krypton was destroyed, and the purpose of the Fortress of Solitude. But after soundly defeating several extraterrestrial threats, book three puts him up against the one foe we know he’ll have trouble facing down: Lex Luthor, who arrives this time with a partner—his devious wife Alexandra Luthor—and the backing of the U.S. military, which wants Superman out of the picture.
This list also appears on The Barnes & Noble Book Blog.