Tor.com content by

Martin Cahill

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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The Adventure Zone Creators Travis McElroy, Clint McElroy, and Carey Pietsch on the Leap from Podcast to Graphic Novel

This time last year, an extraordinary alchemy occurred: Through meticulous plotting, a lot of enthusiasm, intense collaboration, and gorgeous artwork, The Adventure Zone DnD podcast became a graphic novel. Itself a spin-off of the McElroy brothers’ podcast My Brother, My Brother, and Me, The Adventure Zone has taken on a life of its own; their first campaign spans 69 episodes, the first 6 of which were adapted into their very first graphic novel last summer, The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins.

After garnering huge acclaim (and hitting the NYT Bestseller’s List), it was only a matter of time before a second graphic novel would arrive. The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited! publishes July 16th, returning to the world of Magnus, Taako, and Merle—this time they’re seeking a Grand Relic hidden somewhere on the eponymous locomotive, where it seems foul play is at hand…

I had the chance to sit down with Clint McElroy (Merle Highchurch, Dwarven Cleric), Travis McElroy (Magnus Burnsides, Human Fighter), and Carey Pietsch (Human Illustrator), to talk about the success of the first graphic novel, how their collaboration translates the podcast to the page, and what they loved most about Murder on the Rockport Limited.

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Family, Food, and Futures in The Sol Majestic by Ferret Steinmetz

Kenna is starving.

He has been for a while now. And if his parents cared for anything as much as they care for their Inevitable Philosophies, the highly specific and highly amorphous guiding lights they’ve dedicated their lives to, maybe he wouldn’t be so hungry. But traveling the stars in cramped transport units, unable to fend off bullies who steal his highly-processed nutrition crackers, Kenna arrives at Savor Station so hungry, he’s almost willing to steal to live. And then he stumbles upon the line for The Sol Majestic. A restaurant so renowned, so grand, it holds reservations years in advance, its mysterious owner Paulius hosts a contest every night: one table, free of charge, for anyone who can answer a riddle. When Kenna stumbles upon the right answer, his life is forever changed—the doors to The Sol Majestic are opened to him, an entry to a world he never thought he’d ever see.

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A Rollicking Tale of Revenge: Sam Sykes’ Seven Blades in Black

Over the course of his first six books, Sam Sykes has worked very hard to illustrate his vision of what fantasy fiction can be, focusing not just on epic battles between magic users, but also on the price they pay, and what the horrors they see can do to their heart, mind, and soul. He shows us not just the heroes of an age working together to vanquish a great evil, but also the horrendous friction that can result from a half-dozen very different people working together, and the sense that maybe that there’s more to the story behind that great evil than one might suspect. And there’s not just the sweat and steam of flirting between protagonists on display, but also the agonizing heart-pain of loving someone who you fear you’ll never understand, and who is just as scared that you’ll leave them before they have a chance to open up.

For Sam Sykes, fantasy is much more than what we’ve come to expect; it has to have some nuance, some damn heart, while also presenting the reader with massive, magical battles that are so intense that they make you feel as if you’re about to fly out of your seat.

If you agree with that thesis statement, then Seven Blades in Black, Sykes’s newest novel in his Grave of Empires series, is categorically for you.

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A Stunning Debut: Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire

In this stunning debut, Mahit Dzmare is the latest in a long line of free peoples who have had to live under the influence of the one of the largest imperial powers in the known galaxy: the Teixcalaanli Empire. The vast Empire is a source of culture, poetry, fashion, literature, oration, ethics, and more, whose influences spread across their many systems and beyond, like arrows of sunlight streaking into the dark of space. And while very few are able to stand up to and apart from the Empire, Mahit’s people on Lsel Station remain independent, though they exist next to and within the grasp of the Empire, aided by an ambassador on the surface of the Teixcalaanli capital—a planet simply called “The City,” heart and jewel of the Empire.

When a sudden call for a new ambassador comes to Lsel Station, Mahit is chosen and hurriedly given her imago, the tiny piece of technology that gives her access to an old memory-self of Yskander, the former ambassador. The imago integrates Yskander into her neurology, so that he’ll always be in her mind in order to help and advise her. The only problem: the imago hasn’t been updated in years, and both Mahit and Yskander are in the dark as to the current situation within the City, and what happened to current-day Yskander. Only upon landing does Mahit learn what’s happened: Yskander is dead…and with that revelation, her imago goes silent.

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Instruments of Our Own Destruction: Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett

Vigilance, a new novella by Robert Jackson Bennett, is a love story between America and its guns—and as with all toxic relationships, someone’s going to get hurt.

In a near-future America undergoing a fast, steep decline—a nation where the young have left for safer and brighter ports, while an older generation hangs on by its fingernails to the old vision of what America could be—a right-wing news organization has found the exact thing to prey on their fear. This America, much like our own, is both fascinated by and numb to the horrors of mass shootings: people are still willing to watch the coverage, and not yet sick of it enough to turn away from the brutality. So John McDean, one of the lead marketers for Our Nation’s Truth television network, has turned shootings into a reality TV show: Vigilance.

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Hidden Depths and Dangerous Waters: Ship of Smoke and Steel by Django Wexler

Django Wexler is an accomplished fantasy writer, as evidenced by his epic fantasy series The Shadow Campaigns, as well as his middle grade series, The Forbidden Library. Between those two series, he’s shown that he can write complex, complicated characters of all ages while also tackling larger issues woven around weighty themes such as war, family, love, and more. With his newest novel, Ship of Smoke and Steel, Wexler flexes those powerful muscles once more, and ventures forth into the realm of Young Adult fantasy with a world that’s built around brutal magic, flexible morality, complicated feelings, and the difficulties of growing up when all you’ve ever been is a weapon.

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Community, Revolution, and Power: How Long ‘til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin

What started out as the topic of an essay written back in 2013 has now become the rallying cry behind multiple award-winning writer N. K. Jemisin’s first short story collection, How Long ’til Black Future Month? Following on the heels of her third Hugo win in three years for The Broken Earth trilogy, Jemisin’s new collection is an encapsulation of her artistic vision, from the start of her career to where she is today.

How Long ’til Black Future Month? illustrates time and again that Jemisin’s skill isn’t limited to novels, nor is it limited to worlds of epic fantasy; her short fiction shows that Jemisin just has talent, and it shines no matter the world.

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Over the Garden Wall is A Sweet, Strange Journey into The Unknown

If you’ve ever seen Over the Garden Wall, chances are you’ve seen it more than once—it’s a show that rewards repeat viewings. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a bit hard to explain—it’s an Emmy award-winning animated miniseries that first aired on the Cartoon Network in November, 2014. It’s weird, and beautiful, and not like anything else you’ve ever seen, and features the voice talents of Elijah Wood and Christopher Lloyd, along with John Cleese, Tim Curry, singer Chris Isaak, and opera singer Samuel Ramey, among others. I recently rewatched it, as I tend to do every November. Here’s why.

Everyone in my family dies in November.

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Old Enemies, Renewed: Barren by Peter V. Brett

The story of the Warded Man may be over, but there is still more narrative to be mined from the world of Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle series. His latest novella, Barren, finds everyone adjusting in the wake of the Warded Man’s deliverance of the ancient combat wards. Nowhere is that struggle seen more clearly than in Tibbet’s Brook, once home to Arlen Bales, the Warded Man, whose members have since begun to adjust to being able to fight back against the demons that appear at their doors every night.

Set during the final act of the last book of the Demon Cycle, The Core, Barren finds the demon princes organizing for one last push against humanity. With their new line of queens about to hatch and start looking for food, the Brook will be tested like they never have before. Leading us through that test is Selia, often called “Barren,” an elderly matriarch of the Brook who has recently rediscovered love, lust, and youth thanks to the infusion of magic she earns each night through fighting the demons. But with the reemergence of such vitality comes danger, as old enemies gain the same benefits and, seeing an opportunity, work to take Selia’s position as leader—and potentially take her life.

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Likes and Dislikes in a Spoiler Review for Brandon Sanderson’s Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds

Stephen Leeds is a man of many personalities. Or it may be more accurate to say persons. See, his mind has a certain ability, borne of mental illness, though not one anyone can quite put their finger on: in order to help him learn, cope with the world, or deal with new an unexpected events, Stephen can create new people in his brain, which he dubs aspects. These aspects help Stephen learn and store new information, but more than that, they’re created to help him get through the world. There’s his psychiatrist, his security expert, his historian and guide, and so many more, designed for different jobs: his survivalist, his photography expert, his forensic analyst, and more.

In Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds there was a lot to enjoy, and there were some things that let me down. Let’s discuss.

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Trauma and Triumph: Myke Cole’s The Queen of Crows

Myke Cole surprised readers last year when the author of primarily military fantasy fiction told the grim but complex story of a young woman named Heloise, living in a world where wizardry would summon devils into the world, and only the tyrannical Order could keep the people of the world safe.

In The Armored Saint, Heloise lives in Lutet with her mother and father, and does her best to obey them, help the town where she can, and spend time with her friend Basina, for whom she harbors a love beyond friendship. But throughout the book, we see time and again the brutality of this world: how the Order cuts down any who oppose them, no matter how small the infraction, and how they force other civilians to aid them in “the knitting,” a fancy name for utter destruction of a town and its citizens who they fear have been touched by wizardry.

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