For nearly 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 can’t-miss new SF/F releases.
A Night Without Stars, by Peter F. Hamilton (September 27, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Hamilton’s latest Commonwealth novel, a direct sequel to 2014’s The Abyss Beyond Dreams, returns to the planet Bienvenido, separated by hundreds of millions of light years from the Commonwealth—and bombarded by “Faller” eggs, which absorb people and turn out perfect copies intent on committing genocide against all humans on the planet. Hamilton’s immense, complex universe is surprisingly easy to engage with—despite their intimidating length, and even if you’ve never read a Commonwealth story before, you can dive right in. With Dickensian plot twists, expansive casts, gripping action, and universe-building second-to-note, the Commonwealth series is a must for any serious space opera fan.
Cloudbound, by Fran Wilde (September 27, Tor Books—Hardcover)
The sequel to Wilde’s fantastic, Andre Norton Award-winning Updraft flies just as effortlessly as the original. In the sky-reaching city of living bone, chaos reigns; the Spire at city center is dying, and the Tower communities are churning with doubt and indecision. Nat, a young Tower councilor trying to navigate the chaos, uncovers a conspiracy that makes him doubt everything he thought he knew about his world. Action in the skies remains fun, fast, and exactingly rendered, and the ongoing mystery drives a fast and furious plot. Wilde confirms her status as one of the best new writers in SFF with a sequel that delivers on the promise of the original, and then some.
Death’s End, by Cixin Liu (September 20, Tor Books—Hardcover)
The highly-anticipated conclusion to the Three-Body trilogy is finally here, offering a slightly more accessible story after the (wonderful) convolutions of the first two volumes. Humanity struggles to survive first contact with the TriSolarans, and Liu deftly places immense and often apocalyptic events into a context readers can understand, with a strong assist from a cast of well-drawn, believable characters. The end result is a story that is simultaneously epic and intimate, universe-altering and deeply affecting on a personal level. This is some of the best SFF being written today, and it belongs at the top of every reader’s list.
Forsaken Skies, by D. Nolan Clark (September 6, Orbit—Paperback)
Clark kicks off a trilogy set in a universe in which Earth rules the space lanes, commanding the only navy in existence—but the space lanes are riven by endless conflicts between the huge corporations that dominate society. A backwater world with nothing of value is attacked by a fleet of vicious machines, and dispatches a ship to the nearest space station to plead for help. Finding hostility and manipulation, the crew happens to encounter Aleister Lanoe, a centuries-old former navy pilot who arrived on the station pursuing a murderer. Lanoe agrees to help, and recruits a “Magnificent Seven”-style group of rag-tag mercenaries, desperadoes, and broken heroes to defend the planet against an implacable invader.
Jerusalem, by Alan Moore (September 13, Liveright—Hardcover)
Destined to be one of the longest—and most challenging—genre novels in decades, Moore’s Jerusalem is that rare long-delayed magnum opus that lives up to the hype. It’s no accident that the author explicitly invokes James Joyce (an entire chapter is written in a language invented by Joyce’s daughter Lucia), as this epic is Joycean in its ambition and scale. Set predominantly in Moore’s native Northampton, and roaming an entire universe of ideas and all planes of existence, the plot is impossible to summarize, but the key take-away is that the creator of Watchmen and V for Vendetta has written a book that is bursting with ideas, from a man whose existence is one endless experience of déjà vu, to a woman whose grief leads her to become a deathmonger, overseeing the local funerals and births. No small commitment to read, but well-worth your time—and destined to be the book we’ll be discussing for years to come.
Magic Binds, by Ilona Andrews (September 20, Ace—Hardcover)
Kate Daniels is back in the series’ brisk and inventive ninth installment—and as usual, her life is anything but simple. She’s finally ready to marry Beast Lord Curran Lennart—except a prophecy tells her that if she marries her true love, post-Shift Atlanta will burn. Not to mention the fact that her father has kidnapped a demigod in his never-ending quest for power. While Kate’s talent and smarts are, as always, formidable, Andrews does an excellent job of putting her in real peril, crafting a surprising story that will please long-time fans and newcomers seeking a kick-butt heroine occupying an urban fantasy universe filled with danger and surprises.
Ninth City Burning, by J. Patrick Black (September 6, Ace—Hardcover)
Black’s debut is an intricate universe shaped into book form. In a world devastated by an other-dimensional invasion, Ninth City is one of the last enclaves of civilization, bristling with defenses that combine technology and magic, augmented by the powerful human fontani. Black’s world-building is extraordinary—he pulls characters from every strata of society, from advanced urban citizens, to the frontier outposts that supply them, to the unincorporated living outside the city’s protection. Each offers up unique insights into a post-apocalyptic sci-fantasy wasteland, rent asunder and consumed by a war with what the author has likened to “an invasion by a militant Narnia.” Sold.
Once Broken Faith, by Seanan McGuire (September 6, DAW—Paperback)
October “Toby” Daye rides again in McGuire’s tenth entry in her popular urban fantasy series, offering yet more masterful world-build amid high-stakes dark fae capering. Changeling Toby finds herself caught up in a mystery (surprise, surprise) when a cure for Elf-Shot, the poison that puts its victims to sleep for 100 years, is discovered. At the conclave ordered by the fae high king, however, a powerful ruler is but the first to fall victim to Elf-Shot. Toby must discover who would want to disrupt the proceedings, and to what end. McGuire has maintained a firm hand on the tiller throughout this series, and each entry has proven to be better than the last—a considerable feat when operating at such a high level in the first place.
Prince of Outcasts, by S.M. Stirling (September 6, Roc—Hardcover)
Sixteen novels in, and Stirling’s Emberverse continues to fascinate, by now not as much a post-apocalyptic story as an established alt-Earth fantasy universe. John Arminger Mackenzie, son of the High King, is a reluctant royal, uncertain of his role in the family. When his ship is storm-blown across the Pacific, he not encounters a wholly new area of the world to explore—including new adversaries, monsters, and allies—and finds within himself the true power of his birthright. Stirling still has surprises to reveal about this incredible world, and fans will come away hoping for more, as always.
The Ferryman Institute, by Colin Gigl (September 27, Gallery Books—Paperback)
This thoughtful fantasy centers on Charlie Dawson, a man who opted to join the Ferryman Institute when he died, assisting souls making their way to the afterlife. Two centuries later, he’s weary of his commitment—until he receives a mysterious letter that reads “be a ferryman or save the girl. your choice,” just as he arrives on the scene of the intended suicide of Alice Spiegel. Startled back from the precipice by Charlie’s appearance, Alice is convinced to help Charlie investigate the source and meaning of the letter. The two narrate, allowing each character to flourish and deepen as the story unfolds. This is a standout debut in a year filled with them.
The Last Days of Jack Sparks, by Jason Arnopp (September 13, Orbit—Hardcover)
Arnopp has crafted a brilliantly meta story about a jaded, gonzo journalist Jack Sparks, famous for his all-in journalistic style; he prides literally experiences the things he’s writing about. Unstable after the events of his last bestseller, Jack Sparks on Drugs, he seeks to debunk the occult for the final book on his contract—but when a mysterious video posts to his YouTube channel, it leads him down a rabbit hole of investigation that undermines his sanity, and the reader’s certainty about what’s real and what’s not in his first-person account. While the climax might seem inevitable given the title, Arnopp keeps the real mysteries spinning until the very end, aided by the book’s unusual structure—the rough draft of Jack’s manuscript, complete with notes from his editor, agent, and brother. Jack Sparks is wickedly fun.
The Tengu’s Game of Go, by Lian Hearn (September 27, Farrar, Straus and Giroux—Paperback)
Hearn’s epic of an alt-fantasy Japan hits its dramatic, satisfying conclusion in the fourth volume, featuring equal parts redemption and revenge. The child Emperor Yoshi is no longer a child, and the realm of the Eight Isles has endured a inarguable signs that the usurper currently occupying his throne must go, but Yoshi doesn’t want to rule. Shika, a legendary half-man, half-beast lurking in the Darkwood, is shown mercy through the power of love. And Lord Aritomo’s plots—and his life—head towards their final twists. Anyone who’s been reading this series as they’ve come out, back-to-back-to-back, is anticipating this climax; for everyone else, this is a reminder to start reading this delightful, unique, and, now, complete fantasy saga.
Unraveled, by Jennifer Estep (August 30, Pocket Books—Paperback)
The fifteenth Elemental Assassin book, and the series shows no signs of losing steam. Everyone’s favorite elemental assassin, Gin Blanco, finds that ruling Ashland’s underworld isn’t as easy as it looks. Despite her fearsome reputation and deadly skills, she’s no closer to the truth about the secret society known as the Circle. When her foster brother Finnegan Lane inherits an Old West theme park, they decamp there for a break—but their vacation quickly turns deadly, as Gin discovers more about her mother even as Circle assassins close in, making the staged shootouts very real—and very dangerous.
The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena/Stories and Songs, by Ursula K. LeGuin (September 6, Library of America—Hardcover)
Ursula K. Leguin long ago ascended to a place of literary existence few authors can even dream of, much less in their lifetimes. Her inaugural Library of America volume, a thoughtful collection of her Orsinia works, marks one of the rare occasions such an honor has been granted to a living author. Departing from LeGuin’s legendary science fiction and fantasy worlds, these historical tales are set in 19th century Europe, yet display all of the author’s well-proven talent for world-building and her sharp eye for detail, making them the sort of non-SFF that exercises readers’ genre-toned muscle groups. Best of all, the volume is complete, including later Orsinia writings as well as poetry composed to accompany the series, making it a must-buy for LeGuin fans—or fans of great writing in general.
Warp, by Lev Grossman (September 20, St. Martin’s Press—Hardcover)
Anyone obsessed with Grossman’s The Magicians series (read: most everyone, right?) will appreciate this fascinating dive into the literary origins of that amazing trilogy. Grossman’s debut, originally published in 1997, is a sort of proto-Magicians, displaying many of the same qualities (aimless 20-something Hollis struggles to make his real life as meaningful and interesting as his interior fantasies), and offering us a glimpse into the evolution of Grossman’s worldview. Like Grossman’s breakout series, Warp will resonate with anyone who finds themselves pausing often to wish fervently that magic was real.
The Queen of Blood, by Sarah Beth Durst (September 20, Harper Voyager—Hardcover)
The adult debut of celebrated YA author Durst will delight fans of intricate, character-driven fantasy in the Anne Bishop mold. It is the start of an epic of political intrigue and magic in a world in which the violent spirits of nature can only be tamed by one woman, without whom all of civilization will fall. Born during the reign of a bloodthirsty queen, Daleina is determined to become queen and right the wrongs in her land. Disgraced champion Ven, who holds a vendetta against the cruel monarch, chooses the unassuming girl to take the throne. Together, they fight to save their kingdom, against all odds, and against fearsome foes and faithful friends alike.
The Masked City, by Genevieve Cogman (September 6, Ace—Paperback)
The delightful fantasy series we called “the most pure fun [we’ve] had reading a novel in a long time” continues. The Library is an organization that traverses space and time to collect unique books from alternate realities and catalog them for posterity. Irene is a spy for the Library tasked with flitting into alternate realities in order to acquire invaluable books for the collection. When her apprentice, Kai, is kidnapped by the fae Irene must venture into an alternate version of Venice filled with dark magic, before his disappearance triggers a devastating war between the fae and Kai’s family—who happen to be a brood of royal dragons. Yikes. We’ll say it again: this series is a booklover’s dream.
Necrotech, by K.C. Alexander (September 6, Angry Robot—Paperback)
We’ve been itching to read this one ever since we showed off the cover. The “debut” novel from by K.C. Alexander, who previously published award-winning steampunk under the name Karina Cooper, it’s a hardcore post-cyberpunk thriller about a tech-plagued future dystopia, in which lawless and flesh-meets-machine enhancements are a way of life. Our anti-hero, memory-wiped street tough Riko, is definitely in a bad place—her rep is toast and her girlfriend is a tech-addicted zombie. She’d seek help from her mercenary pals, but they think she’s a traitor. What’s a girl to do but fight her way out?
This post was published simultaneously on the B&N Sci-fi and Fantasy Blog.