Tor.com content by

Paul Weimer

Humanizing a Magnificent Bastard: Nick Martell’s The Two Faced Queen

In Kingdom of Liars, we were introduced to Michael Kingsman, he and his family fallen far from power and favor, and the story of a family, a person, on the outs of power and society whilst being an integral fixture in the power structures. Kingdom of Liars told a relatively self contained mobius strip of a story that explained how Michael became accused and marked as the killer of a King.

Following up on such a bottled narrative is difficult even if there are plenty of questions left—what now, with the King dead, both nobles of the family out for his blood, and the revelations of his own life lifted and laid bare? What can Michael do, having been shoved into the position that he has been by the end of Kingdom of Liars? Nick Martell’s The Two-Faced Queen ponders these questions, and continues to explore the story of Michael Kingsman.

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Priestess of a Lesser Goddess: H.M. Long’s Hall of Smoke

The basic four archetypes for a D&D-like party are the Fighter, the Rogue, the Wizard and the Cleric. In secondary world fantasy novels, the first three are very well represented, to the point of many variations and subclasses and versions of same. But the Cleric is far rarer. It’s not that there are none, mind you, but they are far, far less common as protagonists. Why is that? That is perhaps beyond the scope of this piece, but I think I know why

Evil priests of dread Gods as antagonists and cannon fodder to kill? That’s common. But a pious holy woman dedicated to her Goddess as a protagonist? Much fewer in number, especially when you are looking at female protagonists. And that is why H.M. Long’s Hall of Smoke is welcome, as we get front and center Hessa, a priestess of a Goddess of War.

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Crossing Castes: Juliette Wade’s Transgressions of Power

In Juliette Wade’s Mazes of Power we were introduced to the Varin, an alternate world of humans on a planet whose surface is less than pleasant to be on for long periods of time, so high society, a decaying civilization, exists in underground cities. In Transgressions of Power, Wade continues the story of a society struggling with conflict and the potential to change.

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A Battle Beyond the Stars: Stina Leicht’s Persephone Station

In a real way, the western and science fiction are made for each other, and have been for decades. Long before things like Firefly or Outland or Star Wars, the very term “Space Opera” is a derivation from the term for romances of the Wild West, “Horse Opera”. The DNA of westerns is in many SF stories where there are frontiers, conflicts between “civilized” and “rough” areas, the psychology and anthropology of communities very much on their own for good and for ill against the wilderness.

In this day and age though, we can work this connection further. The position of women in westerns, and frankly, a lot of space opera, is not so great. Where are the stories of women doing things on the frontier, riding the star winds, trying to do what’s right? Where are the Wild West Heroines, or even grizzled veterans just trying to make a living and get caught into a greater cause, despite themselves?

And so we come to Stina Leicht’s Persephone Station.

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Bending the Arc of History: Erin K. Wagner’s An Unnatural Life

How do we ensure that the rights of all beings are respected and they are given justice and a fair hearing under the law? Who will stand up when a majority treats someone as a thing, rather than a person? Who can stand against the tyranny of a settlement, a society, a species?

These are the questions at the heart of Erin K. Wagner’s novella, An Unnatural Life.

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Who watches the King? Nick Martell’s The Kingdom of Liars

No system of government or society exists without some checks on power. Even the most autocratic autarchy has some checks and influencers on authority, even if informal ones, because the person at the top cannot personally do every single small act of governance. Such checks on power and supports of power can take many forms, including the personal. The relationships between ruler and ruled can get especially interesting when that relationship is frayed and discredited, forcing a society already under tension further into stress. To say nothing of what that relationship does to the actual individuals themselves. 

So it is in Nick Martell’s debut novel, The Kingdom of Liars.

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Fantastic North American Geographies: Emily B Martin’s Sunshield

In discussing Emily B Martin’s Sunshield, I think the best way for me to draw you into what the book is and what is doing is not to discuss the plot or characters, but instead to talk about worldbuilding in the novel, and the worldbuilding of a lot of fantasy worlds in general.

I’ve written about secondary world fantasy that is beyond the “Great Wall of Europe” before, specifically about “Silk Road Fantasy”, mainly focused on Africa and Asia. Instead of being just places for “The Other”, on the margins of a Europhilic fantasy, we’re getting more novels and stories where African and Asian cultures, peoples, and geographies are front and center.

[Sunshield takes us instead to a fantasy version of North America]

Very Alien Human Societies: Juliette Wade’s Mazes of Power

Juliette Wade’s Mazes of Power is a thought provoking and immersive work of sociological science fiction in the footsteps of genre luminaries like Ursula K. Le Guin, Doris Lessig, Jack Vance, and Eleanor Arnason that has coincidental relevance in our world with the news surrounding the Coronavirus outbreak.

The story of  centers on an alternate human world with no connection to our own. It is a world of faded glory, descending from its high peak—similar in spirit to the world of Charlie Jane Anders’ The City In the Middle of the Night. Humans now live almost entirely underground and the surface world is regarded with dread and fear in an almost Asimovian Caves of Steel sort of mode. Society is stratified, split by class and social status. Conflicts that may be present in our own world are reflected here in a much more violent manner, especially when it comes to politics. The Varin, the high caste of this world, are on a precipice of power, and it is the actions of one of their families and its scions that will decide the fate of an entire city and world.

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Invitation to a Heist: Genevieve Cogman’s The Secret Chapter

When you have a fantasy series built around a multiverse of dragons, fae, and interdimensional Librarians who acquire books and texts to stabilize worlds, you can play in a lot of subgenres. From political intrigue to interdimensional rescue to murder mystery, the possibilities are diverse, also given the varieties of worlds and settings. So a straight up heist story is, in the end, delightfully and axiomatically inevitable as one of the forms a writer with such a canvas might want to try out. So it is with the latest Genevieve Cogman’s novel, The Secret Chapter, sixth in the Invisible Library series.

Briefly, the series centers around Irene Winters, an up-and-coming Librarian and her apprentice Kai, who just so happens to be a dragon. Their time- and world-hopping adventures see them face off against traitorous Librarians, duplicitous fae, overbearing and very dangerous dragons—and more—with Cogman dialing up the fun, wordplay, and humor. They tend toward similar basic structures that work—a first chapter where Irene gets herself caught into an adventure going wrong, extracts herself from it, and then moves on to the real story. It works for James Bond movies, it works for Genevieve Cogman.

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An Expanding, Entertaining Fantasy: Howard Andrew Jones’ Upon the Flight of the Queen

Earlier this year, Howard Andrew Jones started a new fantasy series with For the Killing of Kings, with characters, setting and especially tone reminiscent of the heroic fantasy of writers like Dumas, Lamb and  Zelazny. Telling the story of Elenai and Rylin, up and coming squires in the kingdom of Darnassus, I found this to be a fresh fantasy in my review.  My major complaint was that For the Killing of Kings was clearly the first of a trilogy, leaving many elements of the story hanging: a fleeing Queen, a broken siege, and the enemy Naor on the march, seemingly unstoppable. Even with the return of assumed-dead N’Lahr, greatest general this side of Prince Benedict of Amber, things look bleak for the Altenerai corps and the Five Realms they are sworn to protect.

Upon the Flight of the Queen, the second book in the series, finally continues that story.

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Portals and Expansive Future Technology in Salvation Lost by Peter F. Hamilton

Peter F. Hamilton’s Salvation, first in the sequence, created a new universe that resembles his Commonwealth universe; in both, Gate technology proves to be the method of interstellar transport. In many ways, though, the Salvation universe takes the idea and extends it into other facets of life, using gates in a way more reminiscent of Dan Simmons’ Hyperion verse or Larry Niven’s teleportation booths. Salvation’s narrative takes place in two times: in the 23rd century, first contact with the Olyix is not seen immediately as a threat, except by a paranoid few; but in the far future, the danger is all too clear, and the descendants of humanity ruthlessly train themselves and their society to combat the alien threat.

Salvation Lost continues both of those stories in parallel. We know the 23rd century Olyix are going to devestate to humanity—but just how will that play out? And how will the far future conflict resolve?
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