For nearly two decades, 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.
A Gathering of Shadows, by V.E. Schwab (February 23, Tor Books—Hardcover)
The follow-up to last year’s breakout fantasy A Darker Shade of Magic returns us to a realm of parallel Londons, some more magical than others. With the threat of White London defeated (for now), Red London’s Traveler (the only soul able to cross the barriers between worlds) Kell is attempting to return to his regular life—no easy task when you’re the adopted step-brother of an impetuous prince with a death wish, especially when it’s time for the Element Games, a semi-annual tournament in which the most skilled magicians compete for a shot at glory. As Kell contemplates entering under an assumed identity, thief-turned-world-saving-heroine Delilah Bard sails back into port with the crew of a pirate magician and her own secret plans to make a name for herself in the competition. That is, if whoever appears to be tampering with the matches doesn’t succeed in killing her (and Kell) first.
The Immortals, by Jordanna Max Brodsky (February 16, Orbit—Hardcover)
If the Greek gods are immortal, what are they doing these days, a few millennia since anyone seriously believed in them? In Brodsky’s contemporary debut, they’re hanging out in New York City, where Selene DiSilva (neé Artemis) is a vigilante investigating crimes against women and uncovering a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top of Mount Olympus. The first volume of the Olympus Bound series is a thriller that blends archetypal Greek myths with the modern lore of New York City, as close you’re going to get to finding the seat of the gods in 2016.
Morning Star, by Pierce Brown (February 9, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Brown mixed dystopian tropes and lush SF landscapes in the first two installments of his Mars-based revolutionary thriller trilogy, Red Rising and Golden Son, telling the story of the rise of Darrow, a former slave who has infiltrated the color-coded system of the elites into order to dismantle it. In Morning Star, the time has finally come for Darrow to tear down the world of the aristocratic, despotic Golds from the inside. With propulsive storytelling and flawed, fascinating characters, the series has attracted a fervent fanbase, and it’s not difficult to see why.
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Feb. 2, Baen Books—Hardcover)
Bujold’s Vorkosigan novels have earned more Hugo awards than any other series, so what more reason do we need to be jazzed about another one? How about this: after nearly two decades, she’s finally once again placed the focus squarely on Cordelia, Miles Vorkosigan’s mother, the series’ first protagonist, and a total badass. Recently widowed, Cordelia makes plans to change her life—and one of the key figures in her scheme, Admiral Oliver Jole, has no idea what she has in store for him. Her meddling catches the attention of the emperor, who sends an agent to investigate: Cordelia’s son Miles.
Graveyard, by William C. Dietz (January 26, Ace—Paperback)
Dietz returns to the post-apocalyptic, mutant-infested future Los Angeles introduced in Redzone, decades after a bioterrorist attack mutated huge swaths of humanity; those afflicted must live in Red Zones, separated from the non-mutant population. Detective Cassandra Lee is chasing the Bonebreaker, a serial killer of police—including Cassandra’s father—but the investigation is sidetracked by mutant invasion directed by the Aztec Empire, a group seeking to reclaim ancient territories. Dietz finds new ways to ratchet the tension and pacing ever higher in this mile-a-minute sequel.
Alliance, by S. K. Dunstall (February 23, Roc—Paperback)
This anticipated sequel to Dunstall’s excellent Linesman, set in a universe where ships use “lines” to jump through the void and travel vast distances, provides ample fodder for fans who found the first book inventive and original. Ean—vindicated as the only human who can “hear” beyond the established ten lines—teams up with Captain Selma Kari Wang, whose broken body has been repaired and rebuilt so she can lead a mission captaining a captured alien ship that only Ean can operate. Any sequel has to pull double duty, offering the familiar pleasures of the original while deepening and expanding the universe and its mysteries, and Dunstall pulls it off with aplomb with a dense, exciting new adventure that sees its heroes fighting not only to uncover the motivating secrets of the universe, but to defeat those who might not want those secrets revealed.
Blood In Her Veins, by Faith Hunter (February 2, Roc—Paperback)
Hunter offers up a treat for fans in the form of 17 short stories and two novellas set in her Jane Yellowrock universe. The format offers the chance to play around with the rules and show readers different aspects of the world and characters without committing to a lengthy narrative, and Hunter has assembled a collection of tightly written tales that pack a powerful emotional punch. Yellowrock is one of the most fascinating, well-shaded characters in urban fantasy. Fans need this one in their collection, and it also makes a decent entry point for series newcomers eager to see if it’s going to be their newest obsession (spoiler: it will be).
A Criminal Magic, by Lee Kelly (February 2, Saga Press—Hardcover)
In her second novel, Kelley leaves behind the dystopian future of City of Savages to explore an alternate version of the Roaring ’20s imbued not with the magic of bathtub booze, but…actual magic. As anti-sorcery activists celebrate the passage of magical prohibition, the underworld is teeming with the stuff, from smuggled talismans from overseas to complex spells used to cloak the mob’s misdeeds. Desperate to help her impoverished family, Joan Kendrick, a young sorcerer from small-town Virginia, agrees to work for a dangerous Washing, D.C. crime family, a job that brings her into contact with Alex Danfrey, a rookie federal prohibition agent working undercover. Soon, both begin to question how far they’re willing to go, and who they’re willing to hurt along the way. Gals, gangsters, molls, magicians…sounds like our kind of party.
Midnight Society: The Black Lake, by Drew Edward Johnson (February 2, Dark Horse Books—Paperback)
The first creator-owned project from Dark Horse spins a complex tale that spans generations, beginning with a pair of adventurers who destroy their friendship after their fateful discovery in a mysterious cave far below the surface Earth, then winding forward in time as a secret agent is called on to assist in a rescue operation at Loch Ness in Scotland, where the ripples caused by that earlier discovery come crashing to shore. Complex, dark, and subtle, Johnson’s graphic novel is immersive and exciting, with incredible art and a twisty story that will keep you guessing.
Kingfisher, by Patricia A. McKillip (February 2, Ace—Hardcover)
McKillip’s latest invites us to visit a wonderful new world, similar to our own but magical in the best sense of the word, where Oldmagic is returning to prominence and where magical artifacts make for ideal quests for adventurous knights. When young Oliver, working in the restaurant his sorceress mother owns, discovers he’s the son of one of King Arden’s knights, he sets off for the capital to seek a new life. Along the way, he encounters a truly amazing group of characters and creatures. The real joy here is the humanity McKillip infuses into every aspect of her world. Surprising details, emotionally potent plot twists, and an imagination nigh unparalleled in fantasy make this a uniquely enjoyable book from one of fantasy’s most beloved writers.
Poseidon’s Wake, by Alastair Reynolds (February 2, Ace—Hardcover)
The third book in Reynolds’ Poseidon’s Children trilogy doesn’t disappoint, as a mysterious, two-word message—“Send Ndege,” sent from 70 light years away—spurs Ndege’s daughter Goma on a mission to investigate the source, which may be Ndege’s long-missing mother. As either a continuation of the epic, centuries-spanning story or a standalone sci-fi novel, Poseidon’s Wake works brilliantly, offering a deepening mystery of humanity’s transhuman future and the alien robots we encounter as we explore space. The sheer scale at work in Reynolds’ books in can be intimidating, but his stories remain grounded by relatable emotional bonds explored with the same verve and wonder as the ancient galactic mysteries on offer.
The Lazarus War: Artefact, by Jamie Sawyer (February 23, Orbit—Paperback)
The first book in a new series tells the story of a future humanity locked in a war with an alien race, a conflict primarily carried out by the elite Simulant Operation Programme, highly-trained soldiers who operate avatars that allow them to die and return in new bodies. Captain Conrad Harris, known as “Lazarus” for both the number of times he’s died on suicide missions as well as his enthusiasm for death as an experience, is the ideal choice for a mission to rescue a research team trapped in alien territory—but what he encounters there might be something he can’t come back from—in any sense. Sawyer has created a fantastic new universe that explores not just an alien world, but the true psychological impact of warfare.
This post was published simultaneously on the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog.