For two decades, Jim Killen has served as the science fiction and fantasy book buyer for Barnes & Noble. Every month on Tor.com and the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Jim shares his curated list of the month’s best science fiction & fantasy books.
The War Within, by Stephen R. Donaldson (April 2, Berkley—Hardcover)
The much longer sequel to The Seventh Decimate greatly expands this new series from the author of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. It picks up the story of former enemy nations Amike and Belleger two decades after the events of the first book, which ended with the revelation that a terrible doom was on the way, and only through unity could either nation survive. Prince Bifalt dutifully married Princess Estie of Amika, but the peace—and their marriage—has been rocky. For one thing, it remains unconsummated, as Bifalt’s conception of duty leaves no room for affection. For another, the Last Repository, the archive of lost magical knowledge that Bifalt discovered 20 years before, has been found by a terrifying enemy. With the prince isolated and indecisive, Estie has acted as the glue holding two old enemies together—but with a crisis upon them, only a true union can offer survival.
Finder, by Suzanne Palmer (April 2, DAW—Hardcover)
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.
The Luminous Dead, by Caitlin Starling (April 2, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
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.
Edges, by Linda Nagata (April 2, Mythic Island Press—Paperback)
Nebula-winner Linda Nagata returns to the universe of the Nanotech Succession (The Bohr Maker, Vast) after 20 years with Edges, the first volume in a new, standalone trilogy. The humans living in the Deception Well system believe they are the last of their species, as humanity has been all but wiped out by the robotic warships of the Chenzeme and the settled systems nearer to Earth have all seem to have been destroyed. Then a man named Urban reappears, centuries after he first left the system, now in command of a captured Chenzeme warship called Dragon. He’s seeking recruits for a dangerous mission to Earth with the intent of discovering what really happened. Reversing and retracing humanity’s path to the stars will be dangerous enough, but when Dragon is invaded by an unknown force, and the humans must fight for control of the ship if they’re going to survive long enough to plumb the mystery of humanity’s downfall. Nagata is immensely skilled at crafting smartly constructed, extremely plausible far-future worlds and technology, and it’s a treat to see her exploring the frontiers of hard SF once again.
Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell, by Nathan Ballingrud (April 9, Saga Press—Paperback)
Nathan Ballingrud has made a name for himself as a writer of disturbing short fiction, and his second collection proves that reputation is well deserved. Six stories—including the brand new novella The Butcher’s Table and the story The Visible Filth, which has already been adapted into the forthcoming film Wounds, explore different ideas of what it means to be a monster across varied settings and time periods. A 19th-century ship carries a crew to the borders of hell, where a terrible sacrifice is planned; in a modern-day bar in New Orleans, a lost cell phone us a portal to horrors beyond imagining. In hauntingly beautiful language, these are modern horror stories explore the darkness that is always around us, whether we’re brave enough to face it or not.
Holy Sister, by Mark Lawrence (April 9, Ace—Hardcover)
The final book in Lawrence’s acclaimed Book of the Ancestor trilogy concludes the science fantasy story of Nona Grey, apprentice to a holy order of assassin nuns on the frozen planet of Albeth, where the ice is advancing and the empire is under siege. The emperor’s sister Sherzal knows Nona’s friend Zole holds the legendary shipheart—believed to be a core of one of the vessels that originally brought humanity to Albeth—and she’s determined to reclaim it. Traveling to the Convent of Sweet Mercy to complete her training, Nona is on the verge of taking the nun’s habit in her deadly order, provided an all-out war doesn’t disrupt her plans. But even fully-trained, and with the devious power of a shipheart at hand, Nona isn’t certain she’ll be able save her friends, or even herself, and turn the tide of a disastrous conflict. Struggling against the demons that seek to control her from within, Nona prepares for a final battle that will determine not just her own fate, but the fate of a world. Loaded with wild worldbuilding and dangerous women, this trilogy-ender is a satisfying treat for dark fantasy readers.
We Are Mayhem: A Black Star Renegades Novel, by Michael Moreci (April 9, St. Martin’s Press—Hardcover)
The second book in Moreci’s Black Star Renegades series doesn’t give its heroes much time to bask in the victories that ended the first book. In the style of The Empire Strikes Back, destroying the Praxis ship the War Hammer, commanded by the ruthless Ga Halle, hasn’t done much to make the galaxy safer for Han Solo-esque rogue Cade Sura. He’s still in possession of the fearsome Rokura, the deadliest weapon ever designed… but he has no idea how to use it. As Kira Sen leads a small but determined rebel group into a Praxis city, hoping to strike a blow for freedom, Cade is brought by his former mentor Percival to a mythical world in a search of dangerous knowledge that could prove to be his undoing. Moreci’s second unashamed ode to his love for George Lucas’s galaxy far, far away is even more fun than the first.
Seven Blades in Black, by Sam Sykes (April 9, Orbit—Paperback)
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 Fantasy.
Upon a Burning Throne, by Ashok K. Banker (April 16, John Joseph Adams Books—Hardcover)
Ashok Banker is a huge bestseller in his native India, and is making his U.S. debut with this ambitious epic fantasy inspired by the Mahabharata itself. The Burnt Empire exists in a world where demigods and demons walk the earth alongside humans. After the emperor dies, the empire is thrown into chaos, as two heirs each seek to prove their worthiness by sitting on the Burning Throne, whose deep magic destroys the unworthy. Both princes—Adri and Shvate—pass the test, but yet more chaos is unleashed when a third claimant appears: the daughter of the demonlord Jarsun. When his offspring is denied her chance to prove her worthiness as well, Jarsun declares war, vowing to destroy the Burnt Empire in revenge. Adri and Shvate find themselves co-rulers of an empire roiled by sedition and stressed by invasion in this sprawling tale of conspiracies, battles, and demonic magic.
Fire Season, by Stephen Blackmoore (April 16, DAW—Paperback)
Your friendly neighborhood necromancer Eric Carter returns in fine, dark form in the fourth installment of Blackmoore’s smart urban fantasy series. As the novel opens, Los Angeles is literally burning with impossible fires. During one of the hottest summers on record, someone is killing off mages with fires that never go out (and shouldn’t be able to burn in the first place. Carter is being framed for the serial killings, and he thinks he knows who’s behind it—not everyone has a vengeful Aztec god in his rear-view mirror, after all. But some parts of his theory don’t quite add up, giving Carter the sinking feeling there’s more going on than he suspects. Which is always a dangerous thing when your day-to-day dealings include magic, the undead, and angry gods.
Winds of Marque: Blackwood & Virtue, by Bennett R. Coles (April 16, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
Coles launches a new series with a story of swashbuckling officers in His Imperial Majesty’s navy chasing down a nest of pirates—in space. The Big Ship Energy is real: these deep space vessels are propelled by solar sails. Second in command Liam Blackwood is still smarting from being passed over for promotion when the HMSS Daring gets a new captain, Lady Sophia Riverton, and new orders to infiltrate and destroy the pirates threatening the empire’s supply lines, even as it gears up for war with an inhuman enemy. Assisted by his petty officer and possible love interest Amelia Virtue, Blackwood is forced to act when his new his captain begins making questionable decisions and laying the grounds for a mutiny. It should go without saying that fans of Aubrey Martin and Temeraire will enjoy sailing acros the stars with the crew of the Daring.
Amnesty, by Laura Elena Donnelly (April 16, Tor Books—Paperback)
In the wake of a successful revolution, the once-glittering city of Amberlough struggles to rebuild itself in the final volume of Lara Elena Donnelly’s Nebula Award-nominated decopunk trilogy. Now that the oppressive Ospies have been removed from power, the regime that replaced them is seeking retribution from all who may have betrayed the city. This includes Cyril DePaul, who self-interestedly worked both sides of the conflict in an effort to save his own skin. His only remaining allies are a bitter ex-lover and his distant sister—and even in the wake of drastic change, Amberlough remains a dangerous, decadent place, awash in crime, deception, and—hopefully—a chance at redemption.
No Country for Old Gnomes, by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne (April 16, Del Rey—Hardcover)
If the second book in Dawson and Hearne’s gleefully parodic Tales of Pell series is not the surprise that Kill the Farm Boy was, it is every bit as delightful. As the tidy, cheerful gnomes prepare for war against the well-armed, voracious Halflings, one gnome finds his life upended by a Halfling bomb. Offi Numminen stands apart from others of his kind, incrementally less cheerful, and favoring cardigans with a distinctly goth appeal, but he goes from outcast to last hope when he finds himself the leader of a band of misfits headed off on a journey to the Toot Towers to set the world right again. The quest won’t be easy, but it certainly won’t be harder than pulling his band of malcontents together and making them work as a team. Once again, Dawson and Hearne balance their whimsical, affectionate ribbing of fantasy conventions with a deep love for the genre and the tropes they’re subverting.
Perihelion Summer, by Greg Egan (April 16, Tor.com Publishing—Paperback)
When twin black holes enter our solar system and knock Earth’s orbit out of whack, Matt Fleming reacts by creating the Mandjet, a floating, self-sustaining environment designed to withstand the climatic disaster that ensues. Struggling against government incompetence and his own family’s reluctance to admit what’s happening even as the summers turn brutally hot and crops fail worldwide, Fleming and the others on the Mandjet chronicle the collapse of civilization and the new reality of a world where all of the rules of nature and survival have been rewritten. With the scientific rigor that is Egan’s forte, this chilling what-if scenario serves as both a thrilling apocalyptic tale and a dire warning about the costs of inaction in the face of looming catastrophe.
Master & Apprentice (Barnes & Noble Exclusive Edition), by Claudia Gray (April 16, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Claudia Gray returns to the Star Wars galaxy with a real treat for fans who might feel forgotten in the era of Rey, Kylo Ren, and Finn: an all-new adventure featuring Obi Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn. The story opens with the pair at a crossroads: Qui-Gon struggles with worry that he has failed his Padawan, as Obi-Wan frets at Qui-Gon’s consideration of an invitation to join the Jedi Council—thus ending their partnership. In the midst of this doubled-edged doubt, the Jedi are called to a distant planet to assist with a political dispute that quickly spirals into danger. As Qui-Gon experiences visions of disaster, Obi-Wan’s begins to suspect he can no longer trust his Master. The Barnes and Noble Exclusive edition includes a double-sided pull-out poster.
Atlas Alone, by Emma Newman (April 16, Ace—Paperback)
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.
The Master of Dreams, by Mike Resnick (April 16, DAW—Hardcover)
Genre veteran Mike Resnick delivers the first book in a new trilogy that doubles as a romp through all your favorite stories. A man named Eddie Raven and his girlfriend Lisa wander into a fortune-teller’s shop in New York, and into a violent shooting that leaves Lisa injured. Eddie hears a mysterious voice that orders him to run. He does, and soon finds himself the owner of an all-too-familiar bar in Casablanca—except this one is populated not by Nazis and ne’er do wells, but by monsters. Sooner than he can figure out what’s going on, he’s following a yellow brick road and helping a young Kansan girl find a wizard; then he’s in Camelot with someone named Arthur. As Eddie reels and struggles to adapt to his shifting reality, he must figure out why the Master of Dreams is chasing him through twisted versions of famous stories, and find Lisa before it’s too late.
All My Colors, by David Quantick (April 16, Titan Books—Paperback)
This twisting puzzle of a book stars Todd Milstead, a failed writer who could be generously described as a jerk. Todd’s got a great party trick, though; an eidetic memory that allows him to quote chapter and verse from texts he read decades earlier. The ability leads to a mysterious discovery when, at a dinner party, he recites extensive quotes from a bestselling book only he seems to remember—as far as everyone else (from his wife to his local bookseller), the titular All My Colors. was never published. With his marriage and finances in turmoil, desperate Todd hatches a plan, retypes the the novel from memory, and sees it become a massive hit. Even after all his success, though, Todd is still the same man. He’s obsessed with his now ex-wife, and hires a private investigator stalk her and her new boyfriend—a guy who oddly doesn’t seem to appear in photographs. Things only get stranger from there, as Todd discovers there are consequences to his act of “victimless” forgery.
The Unicorn Anthology, edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman (April 19, Tachyon—Paperback)
Who better to edit an anthology of unicorn-themed stories and poems than SFF Grandmaster Peter S. Beagle, whose novel The Last Unicorn may be the definitive unicorn story? Following up their World Fantasy Award-winning collection The New Voices of Fantasy, Beagle and co-editor Jacob Weisman bring together 15 tales offering unique and unexpected twists on the unicorn myth. The contributors include heavy-hitters in the world of SFF fiction: Caitlin R. Kiernan, Jane Yolen, Garth Nix, Carrier Vaughn, and Beagle himself, just to name a few. Their stories run the gamut from the gentle, to the horrific, to the surprisingly gritty and realistic.
A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World, by C. A. Fletcher (April 23, Orbit—Hardcover)
After the Gelding, an event that rendered most of Earth’s population sterile, society has crumbled. On an island off the coast of Scotland, a boy named Griz lives with his family and his dogs Jess and Jip, and rarely sees any signs of other humans. When a stranger with long red hair arrives one day offering trade, the family is uneasy, but allows him ashore—but the interloper rewards their kindness by drugging them, stealing all of their supplies, and dognapping Jess. With no law or government left to appeal to, Griz doesn’t hesitate to act, grabbing Jip and setting off in pursuit of his beloved dog. His journey takes him on a nightmarish tour of a world that has been hollowed out and is falling apart—and which also isn’t quite as empty as Griz imagined. This is post-apocalyptic sci-fi with heart, and a few very good doggos.
Ragged Alice, by Gareth L. Powell (April 23, Tor.com Publishing—Paperback)
Detective Chief Inspector Holly Craig grew up in the small Welsh town of Pontyrhudd haunted by her mother’s murder and memories of a terrifying creature she called Ragged Alice. As soon as she could, Holly left that place, hoping to harness her ability to literally see evil in people by becoming a police officer. When her latest case goes terribly sideways, she asks for a transfer back to her home town, where she works a simple case of hit and run that quickly spirals into something much more terrible: the main suspect turns up dead, mutilated in exactly the same way as Holly’s mother, three decades before. As she delves into the dark threads running through the town, Holly must face her worst fears and the secrets of her peculiar talents. Powell has wowed readers with his science fiction; with this paranormal procedural, he proves himself just as adept at creeping them out.
Ravnica: War of the Spark, by Greg Weisman (April 23, Del Rey—Hardcover)
The first novel set in the Magic: The Gathering universe to be released in years tells the story of Teyo Verada, a young man training as a shieldmage to protect his world from devastating diamondstorms. When the first real test of his abilities goes horribly awry, he’d buried alive. The incident should’ve killed him; instead, he finds himself transported to Ravnica, a city that spans an entire world. It seems Verada is a planeswalker, and has been called to the city by the Elder Dragon, Nicol Bolas. Bolas seeks godhood by taking Ravnica, and his power and army is opposed only by the planeswalkers who have gathered together to defend the city, recruiting mages like Verada from around the multiverse. Fans of the vast universe of the collectible card game will find much to love in the lore and adventure of this canonical tie-in novel.
Emily Eternal, by M. G. Wheaton (April 23, Grand Central Publishing—Hardcover)
As the sun shows signs of turning into a red giant and destroying the world about five billion years sooner than scientists predicted, humanity seems doomed. But Emily, an artificial intelligence programmed for morality and social interaction, thinks it has a way for us to endure, after a fashion: by downloading every humans’ memories into its own databanks and launching itself into space. After Emily’s servers are destroyed by a mysterious group opposed to this form of digital salvation, it survives by downloading itself onto a chip implanted in the head of a Ph.D. student named Jason Hatta. Pursued by enemies hellbent on eliminating Emily, including a rival AI called Emily-2, Jason and his AI passenger soon learn what it means to be human—and more than human—as they race to evade capture and put Emily’s plan into action after all.
Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler (April 30, Grand Central Publishing—Paperback)
This gorgeous reissue of Octavia Butler’s prescient near-future novel includes an incisive foreword by N.K. Jemisin. It’s more relevant today than when it was first published. Climate change is often framed not only in environmental terms, but economic ones: many foresee a world in which the rich, always getting richer, are the only ones able to afford the scarce resources that will be left after nature turns fully against humanity. Butler’s novel starts there, with the last elite remnants of the human race living in walled communities that protect them from the aggressive hordes of homeless, jobless, and nearly hopeless people suffering from the effects of ecological collapse. When her home in one of these fortresslike neighborhoods is attacked and looted, a young girl named Lauren flees, seeking safety and plagued by a mysterious ailment that forces her to feel others’ pain as if it were her own. Ultimately, this is a tale of hope—and considering how much less speculative this classic seems every day, a little extra hope might just be what you need to help you fall asleep tonight.
The Unbound Empire, by Melissa Caruso (April 30, Orbit—Paperback)
The third and final book in Caruso’s engaging Sword and Fire trilogy finds the deep snows of winter slowing the Witch-Lord Ruven’s advance on the city of Raverra, where Lady Amalia Cornaro and the fire warlock Zaira—whose magic is tethered to Amalia—are working desperately to free mages who can help them defeat Ruven. Their first goal is opposed by the Raverran Empire’s ruling class, who want to maintain their control over all magic; the second is threatened by Ruven latest devastating attack. Desperate, Amalia trades secrets and makes alliances to gather information that will aide both her causes. It’s all leading toward a final confrontation that might require Zaira to use her own magical abilities in ways she’s never before imagined.
Waste Tide, by Chen Qiufan (April 30, Tor Books—Hardcover)
“Translated by Ken Liu” is a servicable marketing slogan this days; certainly the phrase adorns the covers of some of the best Chinese science fiction arriving in America in recent years. Quifan’s story follows a woman named Mimi, and inhabitant of Silicon Isle, where the world’s toxic electronic trash is piling up. She’s one of thousands of poor migrant workers who came to the Isle looking for good wages in exchange for hard work, only to find themselves in an economic trap; Silicon Isle is ruled by three rich clans who regard Mimi and her fellow workers as subhuman. Mimi’s rough circumstances grow worse when she’s blamed for the illness of a powerful clan leader’s son. It’s a final straw that, rather than breaking Mimi, propels her to the forefront of a growing workers’ rebellion—even as greater forces seek to make her kind unnecessary altogether by automating the recycling processes. Smart, relevant,and propulsive: this is what sci-fi was made for.