Tor.com content by

Martin Cahill

Arkady Martine Examines the Costs of Empire in A Desolation Called Peace

In Arkady Martine’s Hugo Award-winning debut novel, A Memory Called Empire, ambassador Mahit Dzmare investigated the mystery of her missing predecessor, becoming embroiled in several national conflicts within the Teixcalaan empire.

As the sequel A Desolation Called Peace begins, Mahit doesn’t know if she’s made the right choices…

[Spoilers follow for A Memory Called Empire]

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Heroics and Heart in We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen

In San Delgado, the public eye has focused on two super-powered individuals, each making a name for themselves with feats of daring-dos and don’ts. The Mind Robber, infamous for his ability to erase memories, has been on a spree of bank robberies. Throwing Star, with her super speed, strength, infrared vision, and durability, has been on his trail.

But out of the spotlight, Mind Robber and Throwing Star are both amnesiacs who woke up one day two years ago with powers and no idea of who they are. Jamie Sorenson is only robbing banks so he can take his cat, Normal, and find an island to get away to for good. Zoe Wong is hunting him in between day drinking and fast-food delivery, her sense of purpose and self-worth eroding day by day. When these two powered people run across each other in a help group for people with memory and cognitive issues, Mike Chen’s excellent third novel, We Could Be Heroes, really kicks into gear.

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Necromancy, Revenge, and a Little Bit of Love in The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry by C. M. Waggoner

Dellaria Wells has a problem. Well, a few problems. Okay, a lot of problems. Living in the bad end of Leiscourt, she’s a down on her luck fire witch with little schooling under her belt, and a lot of money problems. When she catches wind that one of the noble houses is looking for witches to protect a young lady before her marriage, Delly is all in. Unfortunately, that’s when the real problems start. A simple protection mission soon evolves into an adventure with necromancy, murder, revenge, becoming involved in and then dismantling the local drug trade, a little bit of love, a whole lot of swearing, and an undead mouse named Buttons.

It was a joy to return to the world of C. M. Waggoner, whose first novel Unnatural Magic, I absolutely loved. And though we’ve left behind the characters of the first novel for the most part, there are some delicious details here and there for astute readers. Where Waggoner’s first novel was a little more standard in terms of epic trappings (mythical beings, a robust magic system and those within it, imperial and royal characters), The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry is very much concerned with those who live in the shadow of the powerful.

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High Stakes and Tough Choices in Siege of Rage and Ruin by Django Wexler

In the final installment of the Wells of Sorcery series, author Django Wexler has brought both of his characters together for a climactic story of injustice, oppression, power, and leadership.

From page one of Siege of Rage and Ruin, Wexler sets us up for an explosive reunion as sisters Isoka and Tori, separated by miles of ocean for two books, but united in blood and righteousness, must reckon with each other and figure out a way forward before Naga takes them and everything they love to the grave.

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Surviving a Hell of a Year With Hades

Hades was going to be a beloved game no matter when it was released. The game has rich, complex, and deep characters with a charming, queer hero at the center of the story, where building relationships with those around him is just as important as knowing what weapons to use. There is gorgeous artwork and voicework of gods, monsters, and men, quenching those thirsty legions of the internet and pulling players deeper into the story, and lore that encourages replay again and again, revealing more as you make your way up through the layers of Hell. All of this and more would make Hades a fan-favorite, and already, it sits with the top games I’ve ever played.

But the more I think about it, the more I’ve realized: Hades has become such a wild success because in so many ways, it has functioned as a template about not just how to survive 2020, but how to thrive in what many would consider a truly hellish year.

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Art and Automata in Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

All Jebi wants to do is keep their head down and paint. That’s it. But navigating under the oppressive thumb of the Razanei who occupied the country of Hwaguk when they were a child, who took their sister’s wife from her in the ensuing war, who make it nearly impossible for a native Hwagukan to make a living… it takes a toll on a person. Even after buying a Razanei name to try to get a better job, Jebi is running out of options. Life doesn’t get any easier when they’re blackmailed into working for the Ministry of Armor, Razanei’s research division for the military. See, they need artists to create new automata, those faceless forces of policing set up wherever the Razanei conquer. And their latest project is so dangerous that Jebi realizes they’ll have to step up or let their country burn.

Phoenix Extravagant, the latest novel from the visionary Yoon Ha Lee, is a standalone novel with worlds of detail, depth, and heart, as one non-binary artist must do their best to use the skills they have to save what they can.

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To Create Is To Live Forever: Jo Walton’s Or What You Will

Sylvia is a writer nearing the end of her life. Widowed with two daughters whom she loves but is distant with, with over thirty novels written to her name, and with one last book in her, she is making peace with her death, the end of it all. Only there’s someone in her life who won’t let her go; a character in her mind, who has been in nearly every story she’s written, a nameless man who has been with her almost every step of the way. And if she dies without putting him in a book for real, then he will die along with her, trapped in her skull. Thus begins Jo Walton’s Or What You Will, a book about books, about art, about writing and creation, and how in the act of creating, we work towards immortality.

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Of Makers, Magic, and Monsters: Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

Last we left the crew of Foundryside, in the titular first book of Robert Jackson Bennett’s Founders Trilogy, they had just succeeded in pulling off the impossible, saving Tevanne from a brutal plot of attempted godhood, even as they lost a friend along the way. Now, three years later, their own scriving house exists as an open source for any scriver who would seek to grow, learn, and compete in the marketplace against the looming Merchant Houses, provided they leave anything new they make with the crew at Foundryside to disperse to others.

But as scriv-sighted Sancia, brilliant engineer Berenice, irascible but talented leader Orso, and the powerhouse Gregor, still struggling with memory and violence, find their feet under them for the first time since book one, the mysterious Valeria reaches out once more: her Maker, the hierophant Crasedes Magnus, long thought dead, is close to convincing reality he is alive once more. And he seeks to do more than come back to life: he has plans for all of humanity, and it starts in Tevanne, just shy of Shorefall, the holiday of true night everlasting.

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Memory and Humanity in The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

If you were to try and name a master of modern short fiction in science fiction and fantasy, Ken Liu would have to be among those contending for the title. Winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards, in addition to a plethora of translation work of Chinese science fiction and fantasy, a previous short fiction collection, as well as multiple novels and other work across different media, Liu is prolific writer, and an insightful and incisive one.

Having already published The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, Liu is back with The Hidden Girl and Other Stories, a short fiction collection featuring a never before seen novelette, an excerpt from his next novel The Veiled Throne, as well as a whole host of recent stories. And while The Paper Menagerie focused more on family, history, love, and the fantastical, The Hidden Girl is more laser-focused on issues of science fiction—the future, climate change, artificial intelligence, and more.

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A Debut With Music and Heart: Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez

A man in a distant world races through his entire life, falling in love with a woman he only sees for one night every fifteen years. A captain of a clunker starship travels back and forth through time and space for a contract, so desperate to carve out her own future, she ends up leaving her past behind her. A brilliant engineer is caught between being in love and building a home for the human race, and regrets her decision for her entire life. A young boy appears suddenly from the sky, crashing to a strange planet from out of nowhere; he cannot speak, but expresses himself through music, his story found in the bittersweet song of a flute. While these threads all seem to tell a different story, trust me, they don’t. Debut novelist Simon Jimenez takes each of them, and weaves them together to build The Vanished Birds, an intricate, affecting, haunting, and beautiful science fiction story that spans time, space, and lives.

Reader, I cried.

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Sisters Against the World: City of Stone and Silence by Django Wexler

When we last left Isoka, aboard the mysterious ghost-ship Soliton, she had managed to rally the denizens of the ship to her side, gain a better understanding of her second Well of magic, (Eddica the Well of Spirits), and managed to keep the majority of people safe from the threat of the Vile Rot. Now, Soliton sails onward, to colder climes, with no one knowing where they’re headed. Isoka, called the Deepwalker and now defacto leader for her exploits in Ship of Smoke and Steel, works with her girlfriend Meroe (a royal mage-born exile with the ability to heal), and the rest of the crew to prepare for the worst. But no one is prepared to land on a tropical island in the middle of nowhere, filled with strange beasts, the undead, and a warlord intent on consuming Isoka and all she can do.

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Worth Fighting For: The Killing Light by Myke Cole

Winter comes, and three communities come together to make an army of the people, as Heloise, the Queen of Crows, the Armored Saint, seeks change everything about the world she lives in. Tragedy after tragedy, bittersweet victory after tremendous loss, she finally finds herself at the head of a group of people all seeking to put an end to the death grip the tyrannical Order holds on the world. Part foreign army seeking to put down aggressors, part traveling community seeking peace, and part citizens sick of falling prey to the terror and oppression of those in power, each in their own way look to Heloise to lead them. Some see her as a holy figure, a Palantine, a saint sent by the Emperor to guide them. Others see a revolutionary who stood up for them, so that they may stand for her. And others still a weak, scared young woman in a war machine, barely holding it together. As the Sacred Throne trilogy ends, Heloise will find out exactly who she is, and what it is she is meant to do. If she can survive what the world throws at her.

In this final volume of his epic fantasy trilogy, Cole brings us a story that simultaneously celebrates the elements of grimdark fiction that were a staple of fantasy in the early 2000s, while also working to interrogate them rigorously.

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Trolls and Troubles: Unnatural Magic by C. M. Waggoner

Onna Gebowa is a talented mage in her small town of Coldridge-on-Sea, and has spent her life preparing to go to the Weltsir University, to study magic and become a great magician. Tsira is a reig, a troll of her clan (with some human lineage) born to leadership, power, and guidance for the day she inherits her mother’s clan. But not everything goes according to plan. Onna finds herself spurned from the University, and Tsira finds herself on her own, each of them seeking their own way forward, a way to become who they’re meant to be, while navigating a world desperate to make them who they think they should be. But when Onna finds apprenticeship in the most unusual of places, and Tsira befriends and nurses a wounded soldier back to health, each of them suddenly finds a new path forward, as well as a new threat to combat. Someone in their world is murdering trolls. With blood on the wind, Onna and Tsira each must do their part to find the murderer, ultimately together, and each work to keep their newly forged lives and friends safe from harm.

In brief, Unnatural Magic, a debut from author C. M. Waggoner, is utterly delightful.

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Taking the Chosen Path: Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade

A chosen one sets off on the road, accompanied by a stalwart companion or two, destined to combat a great darkness or evil, due by prophecy or folly to rise again. We know that story. What we don’t know is what happens when that chosen one is slaughtered on his first night out, his companions splintered, his fate taken from him before he can even take a step toward fulfilling it. As Fate of the Fallen opens, we see the charismatic, strong-willed, tempered Matthias fall to a monster on the road. The mage who was to guide him realizes how futile it is to even attempt to fulfill the prophecy now; with the death of Matthias, it seems the fate of the world is fated to fall.

The only one who says no, who refuses this inevitability, is Matthias’s lifelong friend and now, reluctant hero, Aaslo. Taking up the mantle of his friend, Aaslo is determined to spread the word of the fall of the Lightbane, and to do his best to step into his friend’s role, or failing that, at least warn the world of the war against darkness to come. With that Kel Kade’s Fate of the Fallen takes off, wandering and meandering through a world on the brink of war, though what final shape it will take, no one seems to quite know.

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Myths & More: The Mythic Dream, edited by Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien

They started with fairy tales. Then, they moved into the worlds of machines and magic. And now, after their first two anthologies won Shirley Jackson Awards, they venture further, into the world of myth. For their newest anthology, The Mythic Dream, recent Hugo winners Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien revisit myths of our past and explore how they can teach us about our present and future. With an incredible line-up of authors, Wolfe and Parisien have crafted another gorgeous anthology, full of stories that speak to the heart of why these tales have persisted for centuries, why they resonate with people of all times, and what they still have to teach us.

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