Tor.com content by

Vanessa Armstrong

Stories Within Stories: Exploring The Lives of Saints by Leigh Bardugo

Sometimes there are books within books. I don’t mean this in a metaphorical sense—the worldbuilding in some novels includes the creation of a physical tome that plays a part in the overall story. This Russian doll of the publishing world usually remains only on the page of the original book. Sometimes, however, the book within a book gets its own real-life publication.

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Superheroes and Spreadsheets in Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

Pop culture and superheroes go hand-in-hand. There’s the Marvel Cinematic Universe, of course, and so many reboots and reincarnations of Batman over the years that I’m daunted by the task of counting them all. Hench’s main character, Anna, however, would likely know the number–she’s a spreadsheet aficionado who lives in a world much like ours except that superheroes and supervillains are real, an almost mundane addition to everyday life.

Superheroes and supervillains, however, aren’t all they’re cracked up to be in Anna’s world. And in this vein, Natalie Zina Walschots’ Hench is similar to the comic book series and recent television adaptation of The Boys, where a corporate conglomeration uses superpowered people as (among other things) a product to sell to the masses.

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Five SFF Books With Dogs (and Dog-Adjacent Beings) as Key Characters

People love pups, so it’s not surprising when humankind’s best friend shows up in the stories we write, even if those stories take place in some fantastical realm or on an alien planet thousands of years in the future.

Oftentimes these dogs (or wolves, or other dog-adjacent species) play the sidekick or the supportive friend to a human character, such as the direwolves in The Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. Other times, however, a canine character can be the antagonist of the story, such as in Stephen King’s Cujo. And still other times, most often in middle grade books but not always, there’s a dog who speaks like a human and has adventures of their own.

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A Post-Apocalyptic Story With Thrills of All Kinds: Kit Rocha’s Deal With the Devil

Like some hot n’ sexy times thrown into your fast-paced sci-fi dystopian thriller? If so, Deal With the Devil was made just for you. The book—the first in a series by Kit Rocha, the pseudonym for the New York Times best-selling erotic romance writing duo Donna Herren and Bree Bridges—not only paints a dark, corporate-controlled future, but also gives you hot, smoking characters that you come to care about.

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Hugo Spotlight: The Brutal Beauty of Seanan McGuire’s In an Absent Dream

In the lead-up to the 2020 Hugo Awards, we’re taking time to appreciate this year’s best novella Finalists, and what makes each of them great.

Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series is no stranger to the Hugos—the first three novellas have all been finalists in previous years, with the first book, Every Heart a Doorway, winning the 2017 Hugo Award for Best Novella.

The books are Hugo finalists for a simple reason—they’re very, very good. And the fourth installment, In an Absent Dream, is no exception. The series, which focuses on kids who have found magical doors to their perfect, fantastical worlds but then find themselves thrust back into our mundane reality, has rightfully captured the hearts of many an SFF reader.

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History and Magic Combine in A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry

H.G. Parry’s A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is an epic historical fantasy, a magic-imbued retelling of the political and social turmoil that took place in late 18th-century Europe as well as the French colony Saint Domingue (currently the sovereign state of Haiti). Those who know their history will recognize that this is the time of the French Revolution (AKA the Reign of Terror) as well as the Haitian Revolution, a slave uprising that created an independent Haiti, a state free of slavery and led by the land’s former captives.

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What Kind of Knights Radiant Would You Be? A Guide to Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere

In times such as these, it can be helpful to look forward to things, such as the November release of Rhythm of War, the fourth book in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series. November is still many months away, however, and many of us need a distraction NOW.

But just because we can’t read Rhythm of War yet, that doesn’t mean we can’t revisit the world of Roshar in other ways. For starters, you can reread the previous books. That’s probably the best thing to do, if I’m being honest. But if you’re looking for something a bit shorter and sillier to do, read on to figure out what Order of Knights Radiant you’d be if you found yourself making a spren friend on Roshar.

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The End of Everything Brings New Beginnings in John Scalzi’s The Last Emperox

Things are stressful right now! Very uncertain and stressful! One thing that’s neither uncertain nor stressful, however, (or at least not in a bad way) is John Scalzi’s Interdependency series. The first two books—The Collapsing Empire and The Consuming Fire—have been out for awhile, and one thing to look forward to during this global pandemic is the release of the third and final book of the series, The Last Emperox.

Before we get into the review of The Last Emperox, however, let’s have a quick refresher on where we left things in The Consuming Fire (you can also read a more detailed, spoiler-full review of that book here).

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Getting Ready for John Scalzi’s The Last Emperox: A Refresher on the Mercantile Houses of the Interdependency

With The Last Emperox arriving next week, it’s time to jump back into the universe of the Interdependency. John Scalzi’s space opera is a series where an ancient, little-understood space-time highway called the Flow has begun to deteriorate, leaving the different settlements of the Interdependency cut off from one another and, for the most part, unable to survive on their own.

Scalzi has created a rich cast of characters for us to follow during this tumultuous time. Most of them are part of the 1%—rich and powerful members of the mercantile families who oversee all trade and commerce in the system. As we gear up for The Last Emerpox release, let’s revisit those Houses and the characters who are members of them.

[Warning! Spoilers galore for the series so far.]

Stage Magic and Shapeshifting in the Gilded Age: The Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer

Muggle magic is a big part of my life—my husband is a professional magician, after all. So whenever I see a book out there that has a character skilled in sleight-of-hand, my eyebrows perk up. And when I come across a book that combines the wonders of prestidigitation with historical fantasy, my eyebrows just about fly off my face. Caroline Stevermer’s The Glass Magician is just such a book; in it, we follow Thalia Cutler, a stage magician (based on the real-life stage performer Dell O’Dell) who performs across the United States during the turn of the 19th century.

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Five SFF Books With Dogs (and Dog-Adjacent Individuals) as Key Characters

People love pups, so it’s not surprising when humankind’s best friend shows up in the stories we write, even if those stories take place in some fantastical realm or on an alien planet thousands of years in the future.

Oftentimes these dogs (or wolves, or other dog-adjacent species) play the sidekick or the supportive friend to a human character, such as the direwolves in The Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. Other times, however, a canine character can be the antagonist of the story, such as in Stephen King’s Cujo. And still other times, most often in middle grade books but not always, there’s a dog who speaks like a human and has adventures of their own.

[Read more]

Series: Five Books About…

Three Questions About the State of the Cognitive Realm Leading Up to the Release of Stormlight Archive’s Rhythm of War

In Oathbringer—the third book in Brandon Sanderson’s epic Stormlight Archive series—some of our favorite characters spend a couple hundred pages traveling through Shadesmar (AKA the Cognitive Realm), an alternate plane of existence that’s the inverse of the Physical Realm where humans reside.

One could argue that Shallan, Kaladin, Adolin, and Azure’s journey through Shadesmar was a detour from the meat of the Oathbringer story. Those familiar with Sanderson’s work, however, know that their experience in the Cognitive Realm will likely have repercussions not only in the fourth book, but also in future Stormlight Archive novels and the larger Cosmere universe.

[So let’s talk about Shadesmar.]

Five Nautical SFF Books to Read When You’re Far From Shore

My husband is a professional magician. To answer your first question: No, I don’t know how he does his tricks—it’s more fun for me if I don’t know, though as a big fan of fantasy I suppose I’m more inclined to want to believe in the magical than others. To answer your second question: he makes money a lot of different ways—private events, corporate events, consulting for theme parks and, last but not least, performing on cruise ships.

Sometimes I get to go with him on cruise ships for free, which is a lovely perk. The downside is I can’t do much work on my own, as cruise WiFi is often spotty and almost always very expensive. The upside of the downside, however, is that I have hours upon hours of free time to read, especially if we’re on a cruise that’s taking a two-week-long journey from one side of an ocean to the other.

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Series: Five Books About…

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