Another incredible couple of weeks for review copies.
Featuring: Charles L. Adler, Octavia E. Butler, James S.A. Corey, Charlie Fletcher, Christopher Fowler, Sally Green, John Gwynne, Duncan Jepson, K.V. Johansen, David Levithan & Andrea Cremer, Peter Higgins, Alison Littlewood, Adrian McKinty, Gail Z. Martin, Deborah Meyler, Pat Mills & Tony Skinner, D.J. Molles, Claire North, Stephanie Saulter, Jon Sprunk, Martin Windrow
Charles L. Adler, Wizards, Aliens and Starships (Princeton)
From teleportation and space elevators to alien contact and interstellar travel, science fiction and fantasy writers have come up with some brilliant and innovative ideas. Yet how plausible are these ideas – for instance, could Mr. Weasley’s flying car in the Harry Potter books really exist? Which concepts might actually happen, and which ones wouldn't work at all? Wizards, Aliens, and Starships delves into the most extraordinary details in science fiction and fantasy – such as time warps, shape changing, rocket launches, and illumination by floating candle – and shows readers the physics and math behind the phenomena.
With simple mathematical models, and in most cases using no more than high school algebra, Charles Adler ranges across a plethora of remarkable imaginings, from the works of Ursula K. Le Guin to Star Trek and Avatar, to explore what might become reality. Adler explains why fantasy in the Harry Potter and Dresden Files novels cannot adhere strictly to scientific laws, and when magic might make scientific sense in the muggle world. He examines space travel and wonders why it isn’t cheaper and more common today. Adler also discusses exoplanets and how the search for alien life has shifted from radio communications to space-based telescopes. He concludes by investigating the future survival of humanity and other intelligent races. Throughout, he cites an abundance of science fiction and fantasy authors, and includes concise descriptions of stories as well as an appendix on Newton’s laws of motion.
Wizards, Aliens, and Starships will speak to anyone wanting to know about the correct – and incorrect – science of science fiction and fantasy.
I requested this on a whim. Princeton University Press publishes some of the best history, politics and mathematics books, and I’ve been an eager reader of as much of their catalogue as I can manage. I’m a little behind on my reviews, though. This book bridges two of my interests: SFF and science. Naturally, I figured it would be a good fit for CR, and I hope to get to it very soon. I’ve dipped in already, and it’s pretty good.
Octavia E. Butler, Kindred (Headline)
A modern black woman is transported to 19th century Maryland, where she faces the cruel realities of slavery.
On her 26th birthday, Dana and her husband are moving into their apartment when she starts to feel dizzy. She falls to her knees, nauseous. Then the world falls away.
She finds herself at the edge of a green wood by a vast river. A child is screaming. Wading into the water, she pulls him to safety, only to find herself face to face with a very old looking rifle, in the hands of the boy’s father. She’s terrified. The next thing she knows she’s back in her apartment, soaking wet. It’s the most terrifying experience of her life… until it happens again.
The longer Dana spends in 19th century Maryland – a very dangerous place for a black woman – the more aware she is that her life might be over before it’s even begun.
A classic of the genre, by one of the greats. I’ve long wanted to read something by Butler, and with this arrival, I really have no excuse. Sounds really intriguing, too. (Headline have acquired UK rights for a number of Butler’s titles, and I hope to read and review as many as I can.)
James S.A. Corey, Star Wars: Honor Among Thieves (Century)
When the Empire threatens the galaxy’s new hope, will Han, Luke, and Leia become its last chance?
When the mission is to extract a high-level rebel spy from the very heart of the Empire, Leia Organa knows the best man for the job is Han Solo — something the princess and the smuggler can finally agree on. After all, for a guy who broke into an Imperial cell block and helped destroy the Death Star, the assignment sounds simple enough.
But when Han locates the brash rebel agent, Scarlet Hark, she’s determined to stay behind enemy lines. A pirate plans to sell a cache of stolen secrets that the Empire would destroy entire worlds to protect — including the planet where Leia is currently meeting with rebel sympathizers. Scarlet wants to track down the thief and steal the bounty herself, and Han has no choice but to go along if he’s to keep everyone involved from getting themselves killed. From teeming city streets to a lethal jungle to a trap-filled alien temple, Han, Chewbacca, Leia, and their daring new comrade confront one ambush, double cross, and firestorm after another as they try to keep crucial intel out of Imperial hands.
But even with the crack support of Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing squadron, the Alliance heroes may be hopelessly outgunned in their final battle for the highest of stakes: the power to liberate the galaxy from tyranny or ensure the Empire’s reign of darkness forever.
I’ve been struggling with recent Star Wars fiction. After reading a number of their long series (18 books, then two nine-book series), I’m struggling to maintain much enthusiasm. I recently tried the previous novel in this series (Razor’s Edge) and… well, it didn’t click with me at all. Having already read and enjoyed Corey’s Leviathan a couple years back, I’m hoping that this book is better.
Charlie Fletcher, The Oversight (Orbit)
Only five still guard the borders between the worlds.Only five hold back what waits on the other side.
Once the Oversight, the secret society that policed the lines between the mundane and the magic, counted hundreds of brave souls among its members. Now their numbers can be counted on a single hand.
When a vagabond brings a screaming girl to the Oversight's London headquarters, it seems their hopes for a new recruit will be fulfilled - but the girl is a trap.
As the borders between this world and the next begin to break down, murders erupt across the city, the Oversight are torn viciously apart, and their enemies close in for the final blow.
This gothic fantasy from Charlie Fletcher (the Stoneheart trilogy) spins a tale of witch-hunters, supra-naturalists, mirror-walkers and magicians. Meet the Oversight, and remember: when they fall, so do we all.
I know very little about this. Could it be the next Ben Aaronovitch? We shall see. I’m excited to give it a go.
Christopher Fowler, Bryant & May: The Bleeding Heart (Doubleday)
It’s a fresh start for the Met’s oddest investigation team, the Peculiar Crimes Unit.
Their first case involves two teenagers who see a dead man rising from his grave in a London park. And if that’s not alarming enough, one of them is killed in a hit and run accident. Stranger still, in the moments between when he was last seen alive and found dead on the pavement, someone has changed his shirt...
Much to his frustration, Arthur Bryant is not allowed to investigate. Instead, he has been tasked with finding out how someone could have stolen the ravens from the Tower of London. All seven birds have vanished from one of the most secure fortresses in the city. And, as the legend has it, when the ravens leave, the nation falls.
Soon it seems death is all around and Bryant and May must confront a group of latter-day bodysnatchers, explore an eerie funeral parlour and unearth the gruesome legend of Bleeding Heart Yard. More graves are desecrated, further deaths occur, and the symbol of the Bleeding Heart seems to turn up everywhere – it’s even discovered hidden in the PCU’s offices. And when Bryant is blindfolded and taken to the headquarters of a secret society, he realises that this case is more complex than even he had imagined, and that everyone is hiding something. The Grim Reaper walks abroad and seems to be stalking him, playing on his fears of premature burial.
Rich in strange characters and steeped in London’s true history, this is Bryant & May’s most peculiar and disturbing case of all.
This is the eleventh book in Fowler’s Bryant & May series. I have read… none of the others. So I’m not sure how quickly I’ll be able to get around to this. Given that it’s a “new beginning”, though, perhaps this is a good place to jump on board? It does sound good, though, and I know others who have read the author’s work and enjoyed it. We’ll see.
Sally Green, Half Bad (Puffin)
In modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and fifteen-year-old Nathan, who is both. Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his sixteenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch — or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust — not even family, not even the girl he loves?
There’s been a great deal of buzz surrounding this novel. I’m about halfway through it at the moment, and I have… mixed feelings about it. Full review soon.
John Gwynne, Valour (Tor)
War has erupted in the Banished Lands as the race for power intensifies.
Corban flees his homeland searching for peace, but he soon discovers that there is no haven in the west as the agents of Rhin and roaming bands of giants hound his every step.
Veradis leaves the battleground and rushes to his King's side. But he has witnessed both combat and betrayal and his duty weighs heavily upon him.
Maquin seeks only revenge, but pirate slavers and the brutal world of pit-fighting stand in his way.
Nathair becomes embroiled in the wars of the west as Queen Rhin marches against King Owain. The need to find the cauldron of the giants drives him on.
Sides are chosen and oaths will be fulfilled or broken in a land where hell has broken loose.
The sequel to Malice (which I still need to read). I’m falling behind on my Big Book Fantasy reading. I’ve been having a hard time finding one that allows me to just sink in and enjoy the long ride. Maybe this one will be the one to snap me out of the rut? Also, as an aside, how bad-ass is this author photo…?
Peter Higgins, Truth and Fear (Gollancz)
Investigator Lom returns to Mirgorod and finds the city in the throes of a crisis. The war against the Archipelago is not going well. Enemy divisions are massing outside the city, air raids are a daily occurrence and the citizens are being conscripted into the desperate defense of the city.
But Lom has other concerns. The police are after him, the mystery of the otherworldly Pollandore remains and the vast Angel is moving, turning all of nature against the city.
But will the horrors of war overtake all their plans?
I enjoyed the first novel in this series, Wolfhound Century, which I read on a bus ride between New York and Boston. The atmospheric, Russian-flavoured thriller was a nice surprise. I am, therefore, eager to see what Higgins has done with this second novel in the series. [The series is published by Orbit Books in the US.]
Duncan Jepson, Emperors Once More (Quercus)
Hong Kong, August 2017.
On the eve of a crisis summit for world economic leaders, two Chinese Methodist ministers are killed in an apparently motiveless execution in Hong Kong’s financial district. Luck makes Detective Alex Soong one of the first officers at the scene.
Yet Soong begins to suspect his involvement to be more than incidental, and the crime itself more than a senseless assassination: an instinct that is proven correct when Soong is contacted by a mysterious figure, and more massacres follow.
With the eyes of the world’s media fixed on Hong Kong, Soong must race to intercept his tormentor, and thwart a conspiracy born from one of the bloodiest confrontations of China’s past, which now threatens to destroy a fragile world order.
US-China relations. Thriller fiction. Yeah, of course I was going to be interested in this. Hopefully get to this very soon.
K.V. Johansen, The Leopard (Pyr)
In the days of the first kings in the North, there were seven devils…
Ahjvar, the assassin known as the Leopard, wants only to die, to end the curse that binds him to a life of horror. Although he has no reason to trust the goddess Catairanach or her messenger Deyandara, fugitive heir to a murdered tribal queen, desperation leads him to accept her bargain: if he kills the mad prophet known as the Voice of Marakand, Catairanach will free him of his curse. Accompanying him on his mission is the one person he has let close to him in a lifetime of death, a runaway slave named Ghu. Ahj knows Ghu is far from the half-wit others think him, but in Marakand, the great city where the caravan roads of east and west meet, both will need to face the deepest secrets of their souls, if either is to survive the undying enemies who hunt them and find a way through the darkness that damns the Leopard.
To Marakand, too, come a Northron wanderer and her demon verrbjarn lover, carrying the obsidian sword Lakkariss, a weapon forged by the Old Great Gods to bring their justice to the seven devils who escaped the cold hells so long before.
I haven’t read anything by Johansen, yet. A lot of the other reviewers I respect or share taste with like the author’s work a lot. I really should get myself around to reading at least – it’s the first in a duology (as far as I can tell), set in the same world as Johansen’s previous novels. We’ll see. I’m certainly intrigued.
David Levithan & Andrea Cremer, Invisibility (Puffin)
Stephen has been invisible for practically his whole life — because of a curse his grandfather, a powerful cursecaster, bestowed on Stephen’s mother before Stephen was born. So when Elizabeth moves to Stephen’s NYC apartment building from Minnesota, no one is more surprised than he is that she can see him. A budding romance ensues, and when Stephen confides in Elizabeth about his predicament, the two of them decide to dive headfirst into the secret world of cursecasters and spellseekers to figure out a way to break the curse. But things don’t go as planned, especially when Stephen’s grandfather arrives in town, taking his anger out on everyone he sees. In the end, Elizabeth and Stephen must decide how big of a sacrifice they’re willing to make for Stephen to become visible — because the answer could mean the difference between life and death. At least for Elizabeth.
I’ve never read anything by Levithan (nor anything he’s co-written), but I know a lot of people who have enjoyed everything he’s written. When this arrived (along with Half Bad, above), I was pleasantly surprised. Hopefully soon.
Alison Littlewood, The Unquiet House (Jo Fletcher Books)
Mire House is dreary, dark, cold and infested with midges. But when Emma Dean inherits it from a distant relation, she immediately feels a sense of belonging.
It isn’t long before Charlie Mitchell, grandson of the original owner, appears claiming that he wants to seek out his family. But Emma suspects he's more interested in the house than his long-lost relations.
And when she starts seeing ghostly figures, Emma begins to wonder: is Charlie trying to scare her away, or are there darker secrets lurking in the corners of Mire House?
I’m still a relative newbie to horror fiction. You can read an excerpt from The Unquiet House here.
A Catholic cop tracks an IRA master bomber amidst the sectarian violence of the conflict in Northern Ireland
The early 1980s. Belfast. Sean Duffy, a conflicted Catholic cop in the Protestant RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary), is recruited by MI5 to hunt down Dermot McCann, an IRA master bomber who has made a daring escape from the notorious Maze Prison. In the course of his investigations Sean discovers a woman who may hold the key to Dermot’s whereabouts; she herself wants justice for her daughter who died in mysterious circumstances in a pub locked from the inside. Sean knows that if he can crack the “locked room mystery,” the bigger mystery of Dermot’s whereabouts might be revealed to him as a reward. Meanwhile the clock is ticking down to the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton in 1984, where Mrs. Thatcher is due to give a keynote speech…
I haven’t read anything else by McKinty. This is the third book in the series, so I can’t say that I’m expecting to get around to it anytime soon. This is published in the UK by Serpent’s Tail. If anyone in the UK would like to read and review this for CR, please do get in touch.
Gail Z. Martin, Reign of Ash (Orbit)
Blaine McFadden survived six years in the brutal Velant prison colony, exiled for murder. When war devastates his homeland of Donderath, it also destroys the intentional magic on which Donderath and its fellow kingdoms rely. Blaine and a small group of fellow exiles return to a lawless wasteland where unrestrained magic storms appear and disappear unpredictably, and monsters roam the ruins.
Yet rumours persist that the seeds of a new magic rest with a dangerous, ancient ritual and a handful of survivors who have disappeared. McFadden resolves to find these survivors and work the ritual, despite the danger, to restore the magic and end the chaos. He rallies a small and desperate army for a last stand, knowing that if they fail, the civilisation of the Ascendant Kingdoms dies with them.
The sequel to Ice Forged, and the second in Martin’s Ascendant Kingdoms series, I’ve had mixed experiences with Martin’s fiction. She’s a great writer, but sometimes the series and stories haven’t quite clicked for me. I have both of the novels in the series, and I intend to give them a try as soon as I can.
Deborah Meyler, The Bookstore (Bloomsbury)
Impressionable and idealistic, Esme Garland is a young British woman who finds herself studying art history in New York. She loves her apartment and is passionate about the city and her boyfriend; her future couldn’t look brighter. Until she finds out that she’s pregnant.
Esme’s boyfriend, Mitchell van Leuven, is old-money rich, handsome, successful, and irretrievably damaged. When he dumps Esme — just before she tries to tell him about the baby — she resolves to manage alone. She will keep the child and her scholarship, while finding a part-time job to make ends meet. But that is easier said than done, especially on a student visa.
The Owl is a shabby, second-hand bookstore on the Upper West Side, an all-day, all-night haven for a colorful crew of characters: handsome and taciturn guitar player Luke; Chester, who hyperventilates at the mention of Lolita; George, the owner, who lives on protein shakes and idealism; and a motley company of the timeless, the tactless, and the homeless. The Owl becomes a nexus of good in a difficult world for Esme — but will it be enough to sustain her? Even when Mitchell, repentant and charming, comes back on the scene?
A rousing celebration of books, of the shops where they are sold, and of the people who work, read, and live in them, The Bookstore is also a story about emotional discovery, the complex choices we all face, and the accidental inspirations that make a life worth the reading.
I spotted this when I was in Canada over Christmas and New Year. I love fiction set in New York, and it’s no secret I’m interested and passionate about books and publishing. So, this could be pretty fantastic. Expect it to feature again soon.
Pat Mills & Tony Skinner, The Complete Accident Man (Titan)
As sexy as James Bond, as lethal and discrete as an air bubble to the heart, Mike Fallon is a genius at the art of making assassination look like an unfortunate accident.
The Complete Accident Man collects, for the first time ever, four tales of sex, revenge and violence, written by legendary comics author Pat Mills together with Tony Skinner and artwork by an outstanding selection of international stars!
From the writer of legendary titles Charley’s War, Marshal Law, Nemesis the Warlock and many more, with artwork by a murderer’s row of talent, and a cover by the indomitable Howard Chaykin!
Never read any of this series, but this is a rather handy, great-looking hardcover. I’ll be reading this soon, in between novels.
In a steel-and-lead-encased bunker 40 feet below the basement level of his house, Captain Lee Harden of the United States Army waits. On the surface, a plague ravages the planet, infecting over 90% of the populace. The bacterium burrows through the brain, destroying all signs of humanity and leaving behind little more than base, prehistoric instincts. The infected turn into hyper-aggressive predators, with an insatiable desire to kill and feed. Some day soon, Captain Harden will have to open the hatch to his bunker, and step out into this new wasteland, to complete his very simple mission: Subvenire Refectus.
To Rescue and Rebuild.
I’m a sucker for zombie-apocalypse fiction. This series sounds pretty fun. Orbit are releasing the four novels in quick succession.
Claire North, The Fifteen Lives of Harry August (Orbit)
The extraordinary journey of one unforgettable character – a story of friendship and betrayal, loyalty and redemption, love and loneliness and the inevitable march of time
Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.
No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes.
As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. “I nearly missed you, Doctor August,” she says. “I need to send a message.”
This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.
This is actually my next-but-one read, I think. Don’t know much about it, but I’m very much intrigued.
Stephanie Saulter, Binary (Jo Fletcher Books)
When confiscated genestock is stolen out of secure government quarantine, DI Sharon Varsi finds herself on the biggest case of her career... chasing down a clever thief, a mysterious hacker, and the threat of new, black market gemtech.
Zavcka Klist, ruthless industrial enforcer, has reinvented herself. Now the head of Bel’Natur, she wants gem celebrity Aryel Morningstar’s blessing for the company’s revival of infotech – the science that spawned the Syndrome, nearly destroyed mankind, and led to the creation of the gems. With illness in her own family that only a gemtech can cure, Aryel’s in no position to refuse.
As the infotech programme inches towards a breakthrough, Sharon’s investigations lead ever closer to the dark heart of Bel’Natur, the secrets of Aryel Morningstar’s past... and what Zavcka Klist is really after.
I loved Gemsigns – one of my favourite reads of 2013. Naturally, I was very excited when this arrived in the mail. Expect a review very soon.
Also on CR: Excerpt of Gemsigns
Jon Sprunk, Blood and Iron (Pyr)
Set in a richly-imagined world, this action-heavy fantasy epic and series opener is like a sword-and-sorcery Spartacus.
It starts with a shipwreck following a magical storm at sea. Horace, a soldier from the west, had joined the Great Crusade against the heathens of Akeshia after the deaths of his wife and son from plague. When he washes ashore, he finds himself at the mercy of the very people he was sent to kill, who speak a language and have a culture and customs he doesn’t even begin to understand.
Not long after, Horace is pressed into service as a house slave. But this doesn’t last. The Akeshians discover that Horace was a latent sorcerer, and he is catapulted from the chains of a slave to the halls of power in the queen’s court. Together with Jirom, an ex-mercenary and gladiator, and Alyra, a spy in the court, he will seek a path to free himself and the empire’s caste of slaves from a system where every man and woman must pay the price of blood or iron. Before the end, Horace will have paid dearly in both.
Really enjoyed Sprunk’s first two novels in the Shadow series. I have the final book in that trilogy, but it arrived during one of my frequent moves, so it’s in a box somewhere. That’s the only reason I haven’t finished it. He’s a great author, and I’m looking forward to trying this.
Martin Windrow, The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar (Bantam Press)
A moving and informative memoir of life with a much-loved tawny owl.
“Perched on the back of a sunlit chair was something about 9 inches tall and shaped rather like a plump toy penguin with a nose-job. It appeared to be wearing a one-piece knitted jumpsuit of pale grey fluff with brown stitching, complete with an attached balaclava helmet. From the face-hole of the fuzzy balaclava, two big, shiny black eyes gazed up at me trustfully. Kweep, it said quietly. Enchanted, I leant closer. It blinked its furry grey eyelids, then jumped up onto my right shoulder. It felt like a big, warm dandelion head against my cheek, and it smelt like a milky new kitten. Kweep, it repeated, very softly.”
When author Martin Windrow met tawny owlet Mumble, it was love at first sight. Raising her from a fledgling, through adolescence and into her prime years, Windrow recorded every detail of their life together in a south London tower block, and later Sussex. This is the touching, erudite and eccentric story of their 15-year relationship, complete with photographs and illustrations of the beautiful Mumble. Along the way, we are given fascinating insight into the ornithology of owls – from their evolution and biology to their breeding and hunting tactics.
The Owl Who Liked to Sit on Caesar is a witty, quirky and utterly charming account of the companionship between one man and his owl.
This just sounds really endearing and quirky. And I’ve lately been wanting to read some more non-fiction (non-work-related). It’s very high on my priority pile.