Category Archives: SFFH Novels to Check Out

Spectral Cafe — More Books I Have Read!

Post-apocalyptic fantasy novels! They are endlessly varied for such a single-mindedly destructive idea.

 

RADIANT by Karina Sumner-Smith:

Radiant is the first book in Canadian author Sumner-Smith’s Towers trilogy, and the world is an imaginative one. Set in either a far future Earth or another world entirely, the civilization of her novel survived the long-ago mysterious apocalypse as two communities. In this world, the currency is light energy magically generated by people themselves. Those with lots of magical light live in towers floating above in the air called the City, powered by their inhabitants’ energy, rising and sinking in orbit or joining together depending on their success, with lots of resources and machines. Those without a lot of light energy and wealth, or who choose to hide from the City, live on the ground below the City in the ruins of skyscrapers and buildings past called the Lower City, scrapping out a living with little ability to grow crops in the blighted soil. At night, the inhabitants of the Lower City hide in buildings from roaming zombie-like attackers who come out after dark.

Xhea is an unallied orphan in the Lower City with no light magic at all, only a strange dark energy inside her that causes her to see in black and white. That darkness lets Xhea go down into the ruined subway tunnels and underground places that those with light magic cannot stand to enter, and retrieve old world artifacts to sell for food. It also allows her to see ghosts — the core remnants of dead people that sometimes haunt their loved ones, attached by a tether to their victims, which Xhea can help detach in return for temporary bits of light magic. A rich man from the City above comes down and pays Xhea to take on the tether of the ghost of a young woman. But the ghost, Shea, is a Radiant — a person who generates huge amounts of light energy, and her home Tower desperately wants her ghost back to put into a body. Trying to help Shea and keep herself alive causes Xhea to start learning some new things about her own form of magic and truths about the society that is in a state of flux.

If that sounds complicated, Sumner-Smith actually lays it out very clearly and with lots of high action sequences and good description. She mixes mystery, science fiction elements, horror, politics and action fantasy together into a nice blend. Xhea is an appealing heroine, traumatized but stubborn, and Shea is definitely an interesting twist on the concept of the princess fallen from the high tower. Some of the other characters are maybe a little bit under-cooked, but there’s clearly set-up for lots of exploration in the next two books, and the society itself is really fascinating. So I’m definitely going to read through this trilogy.

 

THE WARDED MAN by Peter Brett (Originally THE PAINTED MAN in the UK):

This is the first book in British author Peter Brett’s bestselling Demon Cycle series that started in 2008. Some folks see him as part of the grimdark lit movement while others don’t. Having read the first book, I’d say that he isn’t quite in grimdark territory and is closer to something like Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series. The world of the Demon Cycle is pretty grim, however. It’s been through the apocalypse, twice, in history and now human beings struggle to survive and hold on to what civilizations they’ve got because the apocalypse occurs every night when the sun sets. At that point, strange monsters with magical powers emerge from the ground/core of the planet (and another dimension,) and attack any living creature they can get ahold of, especially humans, until disappearing in the morning.

The monsters, called demons or corelings and deemed by many to be sent as punishment on humans, are intelligent, but they can be shielded from by means of wards, signs etched into stone or metal or drawn or burned into wood that create a magical barrier. The wards were designed long ago and passed down, but over time, the demons have been winning the war and no one has figured out how to more effectively stop them. The bulk of the remaining human population lives in cities with big warded walls and guard forces. Others live in villages that often get wiped out, vulnerable and largely cut off from one another, but critical for producing food supplies. Small caravans and messengers travel dangerously between them, using portable wards. This lets Brett put a neat twist on a sort of zombie apocalypse landscape, except his demons are much faster, more varied and really quite scary (some of them fly.)

The novel focuses on three main characters — Arlen, a driven young man who trains as a messenger and seeks to find the long lost combat wards that will allow humans to better fight the corelings rather than just defend against them; Leesha, a young woman who flees scandal and an abusive family by becoming a healer and learns that herbs have more uses than she thought; and Rojer, an orphan who is adopted by a bard-like entertainer and takes up that trade, and learns that his fiddling might have an unexpected effect on the corelings. Arlen is the protagonist and a fairly strong character who travels the most, exposing us to different communities. The novel might have been a little stronger if it had just been about him. Rojer is a wonderful character, though, and Leesha has a number of interesting aspects. However, she is the weakest of the three because Brett has some material that is just not really believable for female readers, in my opinion. His women characters overall tend to be a bit one-dimensional in a society very oppressive to women — because they need them to produce a lot of new babies — and Leesha’s village folk aren’t maybe as fascinating for me as Brett would like to make them.

But the writing overall is good and the world and its demons is fairly interesting, with some very emotional scenes. Further books in the series seem to branch out into that world, so I may be reading more in the series. I’m curious to see what else they learn about fighting the corelings and why and how they exist.

 

 

THE FIFTH SEASON by N.K. Jemisin: 

This is the first book in American author Jemisin’s new trilogy series, the Broken Earth, and it’s garnered the most attention of her career so far. The Fifth Season just won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, is nominated for the World Fantasy Award and was nominated for the Nebula Award. (In fact, it’s been running neck and neck with Naomi Novak’s Uprooted, which won the Nebula but lost the Hugo, through most of the major SFF awards.)

Do I consider that justified? Oh yes. It’s a lush, brutal, psychological adventure of a novel that uses different timelines that follow different types of stories, all connected. The world in it consists of one known massive continent that stretches from pole to pole. The land mass is full of volcanic and seismic activity that regularly causes natural disasters — boiling lava, tsunamis, etc. — that kill people off or wipe out settlements, so apocalypse is pretty much on-going. However, every few hundred years or so, a really big eruption/quake disaster happens, with ash fall blocking the sunlight and other deadly destruction that can last for years or even a decade, which they call a Fifth Season. So the human communities are sort of feudal with moderately rigid caste systems, but highly independent and ruthless, storing food and water for when a Season comes to their region, according to the stonelore — ancient texts on survival from past civilizations. Above them also float large magical metal obelisks, mysterious artifacts of long ago that sometimes move around.

The continent is mainly ruled by an Empire that solidified its hold over other nations during the various past fifth seasons and benefits from more stable areas near the equator, allowing it to have tarred highways and electricity. Part of the empire’s strength lies in its slaves, the orogenes, who magically have the ability to control, disperse and shape seismic forces by drawing from the heat in air, water, under the earth and all living things and sending it into the earth to do their bidding. Orogenes are blamed by the populace for the seismic instability of the world and are usually highly dangerous without training, so when one shows up in the gene pool outside of the capital, villages often kill the person in fear. Otherwise, young orogenes are taken to or bred in the capital city and then sent out on missions to keep things more stable or advance the empire. They are controlled from an early age by the Guardians, those who have the ability to still the powers of the orogenes.

A powerful cast of characters starts peeling back the facets and secrets of this world, which include the stone-eaters, a dangerous non-human species that are made of and travel through solid rock, and seem to have particular interest in the orogenes. All events lead towards a massive rent in the earth that may cause a Fifth Season that is going to be beyond anyone’s ability to survive.

Further along in her career, Jemisin’s writing is even more assured and sneaky. The world she paints is tragic and has obvious connections to our own (she got a lot of the disaster material directly from NASA.) But the story doesn’t wallow and is about the decision points where humans choose who they are going to be in extreme circumstances and what connections between them they are going to allow. It tackles themes of interest to Jemisin — the nature of identity, the dynamics of oppression, the connection of humans with their habitat, and notions of family and how they change. Plus people who can make or stop earthquakes and eruptions, etc. It’s a rich stew and I really enjoyed this one, though it may not be for you if dealing with serious trauma with superpowers is not your cup of tea. I will be getting to the next work, The Obelisk Gate, fairly soon, I think.

 

 

 

All three of the books above do sound pretty desolate with their apocalyptic wastelands at various stages, but they all also offer a lot of beauty in weird inventions and landscapes, complicated cultures, puzzling secrets to investigate and elements of genuine warmth and human resiliency. They are good representatives of what apocalyptic novels can explore and quite different from each other. (That being said, maybe don’t read them straight in a row.)

 

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Nebula Awards Announcements

The Nebula Awards, including the Ray Bradbury Award for Dramatic Presentation and the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult SFF, announced their short list nominees today:

Best Novel (Long Form): 

Raising Caine, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu (Saga)
Uprooted, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, Lawrence M. Schoen (Tor)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)

Best Novella:

Wings of Sorrow and Bone, Beth Cato (Harper Voyager Impulse)
“The Bone Swans of Amandale,” C.S.E. Cooney (Bone Swans)
“The New Mother,” Eugene Fischer (Asimov’s 4-5/15)
“The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn,” Usman T. Malik (Tor.com 4/22/15)
Binti, Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
“Waters of Versailles,” Kelly Robson (Tor.com 6/10/15)

Best Novelette:

“Rattlesnakes and Men,” Michael Bishop (Asimov’s 2/15)
“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead,” Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed 2/15)
“Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds,” Rose Lemberg (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 6/11/15)
“The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society,” Henry Lien (Asimov’s 6/15)
“The Deepwater Bride,” Tamsyn Muir (F&SF 7-8/15)
“Our Lady of the Open Road,” Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s 6/15)

Best Short Story:

“Madeleine,” Amal El-Mohtar (Lightspeed 6/15)
“Cat Pictures Please,” Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld 1/15)
“Damage,” David D. Levine (Tor.com 1/21/15)
“When Your Child Strays From God,” Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld 7/15)
“Today I Am Paul,” Martin L. Shoemaker (Clarkesworld 8/15)
“Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers,” Alyssa Wong (Nightmare 10/15)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation:

Ex Machina, Written by Alex Garland
Inside Out, Screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley; Original Story by Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
Jessica Jones: AKA Smile, Teleplay by Scott Reynolds & Melissa Rosenberg; Story by Jamie King & Scott Reynolds
Mad Max: Fury Road, Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
The Martian, Screenplay by Drew Goddard
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Written by Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy:

Seriously Wicked, Tina Connolly (Tor Teen)
Court of Fives, Kate Elliott (Little, Brown)
Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan UK 5/14; Amulet)
Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace (Big Mouth House)
Zeroboxer, Fonda Lee (Flux)
Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older (Levine)
Bone Gap, Laura Ruby (Balzer + Bray)
Nimona, Noelle Stevenson (HarperTeen)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)

And the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award is being given this year to C.J. Cherryh, which is highly pleasing and well deserved.

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Daniel José Older — Bone Street Rumba series and Shadowshaper

Daniel José Older debuted earlier this year with the first full-out novel in his contemporary fantasy Bone Street Rumba series, Half-Resurrection Blues. (Although he’s been of course editing and publishing short fiction, including some novellas set in the universe of Bone Street Rumba.)

Half-Resurrection Blues is about Carlos Delacruz, an in-betweener — a man who has died and been partially resurrected — who can’t remember his past identity, and who has found himself working for the NYC Council of the Dead as an investigator and hunter of ghosts and supernatural beings who are causing trouble between the realms of the living and the dead. (Think kind of Men in Black with ghosts instead of aliens.)

The complication is when the Council mysteriously sends him after a sorcerer trying to open the portal to the deadlands, and that man turns out to be another in-betweener, who may hold a link to Delacruz’s living past. The ripples from that encounter lead to an invasion of supernatural creatures who threaten Delacruz’s friends and to rip the veil between realms. And while he’s dealing with that, Delacruz has got to figure out the puzzle of his violent first death.

Older has a grand time setting up an interesting, cross-cultural supernatural system in the rapidly changing neighborhood of Brooklyn. His characters are sharp and fun, his dialogue really good and he does action scenes well. A lot of urban fantasy series fall back on the snarky. But while there’s a strong thread of humor running through the novel, like a strain of sugar in something tart, Half-Resurrection Blues is more meditative and bluesy, with tragic notes and elements that are horrific even when they are a bit funny. (Carlos also gets beaten up a lot, leaving him less time for zingers.) Carlos is truly a lost soul who has been treading water since his half-resurrection, and his discovery that he’s not the only in-betweener around wakes him up and makes him start figuring out who he wants to be in the half-life he’s caught in. Plus, he has to save the world and as many as he can, of course.

The main quibble I have is a common one for first novels in mystery thriller fantasy series like this. Namely, that the book has to focus on Carlos dealing with personal stuff in the main crisis and building his team of helpers for future stories. That means a bit less time than I would like on the details of the ghost aspects/system and the Council, and on the Brooklyn neighborhoods. Older does spend some time on the latter, but I used to live in that area, long before its many changes today, so that was a factor I enjoyed.

But I suspect that this is a series that is going to do well as people discover it. Older also launched a separate YA novel this year, called Shadowshaper:

That looks really interesting too. I’m very behind on reading YA titles, but I may check it out. Older is beloved by the cover gods, as you can also see by the cover of the second novel in the Bone Street Rumba series, coming out in January, Midnight Taxi Tango:

That’s a book that’s going to feature young Kia, who is basically going to be one of the favorite characters in the series of everybody, so I’m probably going to be checking that one out too.

You can check out Older’s website here. He’s also the co-editor, with Rose Fox, of the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, which has been getting a lot of raves and features yet another wonderful cover:

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SFF Books I Have Been Reading

I read the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s The Truth in his Discworld series. This was just before he left us, which makes it a bit bittersweet. Discworld is one of the most amazing series out there, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s in the top twenty sellers in the world. It’s a satiric alternate world fantasy series of linked novels that spins satire both precise and broad, and always on point. The Truth manages to be relevant to the time and tech of when it was written, of the past back when Pratchett started as a journalist, and deeply relevant now, tackling the psychological concept of newspapers and the power of news. Pratchett makes good use of old characters and the new ones in the story are delightful. Pratchett’s writing is so amazingly constructed. It’s like an onion, it has layers. This is probably one of my favorites now of the vast series for its balance of slapstick humor with razor social commentary.

I read Ben Aaronovitch’s Moon Over Soho, the second book in his contemporary fantasy series set in the U.K. about magician apprentice/police detective Peter Grant, which is getting more and more attention and has been optioned for British television. This one dealt with a magical crime crisis in the Soho area of London, natch, and involved jazz musicians, which brought Peter dealing more with his dad, a minorly known jazz musician. The book wasn’t quite as well crafted as the first one maybe, but it was a solid follow-up that expanded the magical world of the story in interesting ways. It was nice to get a better sense of Peter’s multiracial family and background, and the posse of jazz player aides he picked up were a lot of fun. The key with these types of series is the protagonist voice, and Peter is a good one for me — his relationships with the other characters are well done, as is most of the dialogue. I’ve generally been recommending this series to folks looking for a contemporary fantasy one. Aaronovitch is also well known as a former writer for Doctor Who and British television. The first book in the series is called The Rivers of London, (re-titled Midnight Riot in the U.S. because American publishers are sometimes stupid.)

I read Laura Resnick’s latest in her popular Esther Diamond series, Abracadaver. The series is broadly farcical contemporary fantasy about a working actress who helps out a kindly 350-year-old mage fight evil mysteries in NYC. Again, protagonist voice is the thing, especially for the humorous series, and I find Esther’s pragmatic do-gooder a lot of fun in Resnick’s experienced hands. Like Pratchett and Aaronovitch with his dialogue, the book has a few layers working that you can dig into or ignore, as you prefer. This one, unlike others in the series, takes up right after the somewhat cliffhanger ending of the last one, The Misfortune Cookie, and involves Esther’s gang of allies dealing with whether her sometime boyfriend, organized crime task force police detective Lopez, has a new partner who is not what he seems and may have something to do with reanimated corpses and demons. I liked this one having some nice digs at cop shows, with Esther back to work as an actress on one. It’s interesting that Esther is seeing the real costs to being part of a second world, balancing with the ordinary one, and Resnick has the ensemble of regulars down pat with the dialogue at this point. (The first book in the series is Disappearing Nightly.)

And along the same lines, I read the fourth book in Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie contemporary fantasy series, How the White Trash Zombie Got Her Groove Back. While the series is kind of satiric at points, it’s not a straight out satire series. This book I enjoyed for the character development of the protagonist, morgue worker and recovering addict Angel, who happens to be a zombie in Louisiana. A lot of new developments and discoveries came up about the zombieism of the series, which twists between SF and fantasy in its existence. This one was also fairly action packed, as it was a rescue mission when several members of the organized zombies in her area are snatched, traitors are suspected, and Angel and several of her comrades have to travel to NYC. This opened up Angel’s world and strengths further, but contemporary fantasy suspense, like regular suspense, is very much about sense of place, which meant losing that aspect — ruralish Louisiana and the morgue environment — in this series entry. So not my favorite of the series, but interesting, and again, a lot of good action with all the paramilitary/spy characters of the “Zombie Mafia” and there’s lots of disturbing set-up for the next one. (Rowland is a former cop, morgue attendant and CSI forensics investigator, so all her procedural stuff is spot-on. The first book in the series is called My Life as a White Trash Zombie. She also has a demon summoner cop contemporary fantasy series, the Kara Gillian series. I haven’t tried that one yet, but I would like to see Karen Gillan play Kara Gillian in a t.v. version. It would be better than her last t.v. series.)

I also read Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead, the first in his Craft Sequence series that got so much buzz. And it was deserved buzz, for me. It’s a secondary world fantasy with many different elements and cultural bits packed into the text (and a very subtle strain of dark satire as well.) In Gladstone’s mix of modern and archaic world-building, gods exist and power cities, magicians have abandoned the gods for a different type of magic that involves the legal courts, and everything is for hire, including vampire ship captains and necromancy. This book centers on Tara, a scrappy junior associate necromancer brought in to help resurrect into a new form a dead fire god, and Abelard, a junior priest of the fire god, who becomes Tara’s detecting partner when they discover the god has been murdered and a bigger conspiracy seems to be unfolding. One part legal thriller, one part action spy mission, and one part wondrous fantasy, it’s a nice launch. Gladstone’s subsequent books in the series reuse some characters but follow different wizards in different parts of his very complex world.

 

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Oracle by Susan Boulton

My pal Sue is having her first novel debut this year from British publisher Tickety Boo Press and it’s a pip. Oracle is a secondary world gaslight fantasy, chock full with train crashes, riots, politics and magic both poignant and malicious. It’s a world undergoing radical social change as it becomes industrialized, a world in which wandering mad prophets are made with magic out of those who have died. I interviewed Sue about her new work and her future plans for SFFWorld.com. You can check out the link here below, and the book is available as an e-book internationally, and a print book in British bookstores, Amazon U.K. and from Tickety Boo directly, including international shipping.

http://www.sffworld.com/2015/04/susan-boulton-interview/

Sue has been publishing short fiction and has had a devout quiet cult following for some time. I’m delighted her work is now being made available to a larger audience, and in such a fun and imaginative novel as Oracle.

 

 

 

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Unreality Junction: Books Ahoy!

Some novels to explore:

 

A Darkling Sea by James Cambias – SF: Humans encounter their first alien species underwater underneath miles of ice. Immortal Muse by Stephen Leigh – Historical Fantasy: An immortal muse survives on the creativity of the artists she inspires but must contend with another immortal who feeds off human pain in a story that ranges from the 1300’s to present day New York. Spider Wars: The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher — SF: A grand epic in the far future in which a disconsolate spaceman believes he hears space transmissions from the rumored lost Soviet cosmonauts of the past, indicating a danger of an alien nature.

Prospero’s War: Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells — Urban Fantasy: First in a new series in an alternate Earth where magic comes in the form of alchemy and drugs, and a female cop must help a federal task force with a case with connections to her troubled past.

Ancillary Justice  by Ann Leckie – SF: A female soldier who was once a massive starship linked to corpse solidiers via A.I. seeks vengeance on those who destroyed her.

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Unreality Junction: Goodies for the Holidays!

I’m still dealing with the fallout of this last part of the year, but here are the book goodies I got (not that I necessarily need an excuse to get them, but you know, it looks better when you have a handy gift giving seasonal cover.)

1. White Trash Zombie Apocalypse by Diana Rowland

The third novel in Rowland’s contemporary fantasy series about Louisiana morgue attendant and zombie Angel. I read the first one of this series, My Life as a White Trash Zombie, and liked it, though I thought the ending seemed a little rushed and overly heightened. But then I got the second book, Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues, where Angel starts to find out a lot of info about being a zombie and the ending of the first novel made more sense from that. This third installment ups the action even more than the first two as Angel has to deal with a zombie film shoot, mysterious deaths, the local zombie syndicate, the return of various antagonists, rain and flood, taking the GED, etc. Rowland is great at combining her small town frame with Angel getting her life together, with essentially a spy thriller. This novel has a bit less humor than the first two, but also an increasingly confident Angel. My only complaint is that the heavier spy thriller aspects meant less cop and morgue time this go round. Rowland is a former cop and morgue worker, so she does that stuff very well, as well as a really interesting take on zombism and the strange mix of pathos and advantage therein.

2. Codex Born by Jim C. Hines

Moving on to the new titles I haven’t read yet, is the second novel in Hines’ new contemporary fantasy Magic Ex Libris series about a libromancer, Isaac, who can pull things from books and helps guard the world from magical threats. The second book focuses more on Lena, the dryad dragged from the pages of an old pulp fantasy novel, who is Isaac’s bodyguard and sometime lover. New enemies are after Lena’s powers, and that can mean some very bad things for everyone. The first novel, Libromancer, made quite a big splash, has a lot of humor and interesting stuff, and also let Hines bring in his fire spider from his Jig the Goblin novels, so I’m looking forward to this one.

3. Nysta: Duel at Grimwood Creek by Lucas Thorn

Continuing with the sequels is book two of Australian author Lucas Thorn’s Nysta series, a secondary world western, D&D epic, satirical dark fantasy revenge quest mash-up of awesome cussing proportions. I featured the cover art for the first volume, Nysta: Revenge of the Elf, on my blog, by artist Amir Zand, then got the first book and featured the next two covers. The Nysta books read exactly like westerns, except they are about elves, wizards, gods and magical forces in really interesting landscapes. The first book was violent, rough, slyly funny and quite moving all at the same time. Nysta, the central character, is an elven destroyer out to get the gang of elves who killed her husband. In the second book, she is closing in on the Bloody Nine but dealing with strong magical forces and monsters in the Deadlands. (I’m hoping that Thorn and Zand can get some sort of comic book spin-off going on this world sometime — great fun.)

4. Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Not a sequel, but a continuing world novel, and a western to boot, in this novel Abercrombie expands his First Law world by traveling to a new frontier land in which presumed dead Northern barbarian king, the legendary Logan Ninefingers, has been hiding out on a farm under the name Lamb. The central character is Shy, his stepdaughter, who sets off after her kidnapped brother and sister with Lamb/Logan in tow. Other characters from Abercrombie’s previous novels make appearances and probably there are clues to the mysterious past of wizard battles that seems to subtly affect everything in Abercrombie’s secondary world. You probably don’t have to read the First Law trilogy and standalones Best Served Cold and The Heroes first, but it would help to get the full effect. Abercrombie’s mix of brutal war, black humor, and fascinating mythology is a hoot but it’s his characters who sing — each has a distinct voice that lets him try out one type of story after another. Interesting to see what he will do with the western one.

5. The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

Lynch broke on the scene with the first book in this series, The Lies of Locke Lamora, to much acclaim. The satirical dark crime thriller fantasy about con artists in a remarkable city had a few minor plot issues for me, but the writing was lovely with its dual chronologies and the scenery sublime. The sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies, had some plot issues too, but expanded the world of the story in interesting ways, plus pirates! Lynch ran into some personal issues that delayed this third book in the series, and it may be the last, but I think it may also be the most interesting. A poisoned Locke has to become a pawn in a battle of mages that pits him against the long gone con-woman he loves — Sabetha, whom we finally get to see. So fun and I had to get.

6. Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

Wendig’s first book in this Miriam Black series, Blackbirds, was another book whose cover art first drew my attention to it. It’s a contemporary fantasy series about a sarcastic and desperate young woman who, when she touches someone, knows when and how they will die. In this sequel, Miriam is trying to do the settling down thing with her truck driver boyfriend and has achieved more control over her powers, but then she sees a death that may change everything. Wendig has a deft hand, a sensibility with looney and weird characters, and a central character with a great voice. It also has some genuine mystery to the suspense and interesting supernatural elements.

7. Feed by Mira Grant

I read Grant’s contemporary fantasy novel, Rosemary and Rue, written under her main name Seanan McGuire, and liked the writing (she’s a Campbell award winner,) but wasn’t quite as blown away by the world and focus of that story. So I decided to try her horror science fiction with this first book in her Newsflesh trilogy. Feed got a ton of attention and a Hugo nomination. It’s a near future zombie thriller that takes the mutated virus approach to zombies, with a dark satire of political campaigns and conspiracies, news media and blogging, horror films, medical research, etc. Grant has a very sharp eye, so I suspect I will like it.

8. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I am a huge Atkinson fan. She has occasionally dipped into fantasy, magic realism style, and her standalone bestselling novel Life After Life is a full out fantasy novel that has been nominated for the Orange Prize and probably will pick up quite a few of the major nominations for the year. The novel is about Ursula, who continually dies but in alternate overlapping universes lives as the world marches towards World War II and a fate that Ursula’s unique repeating life may affect. That’s going to be rich toffee, the way Atkinson writes, so I shall probably save it for a bit later when chaos declines a little, but I am looking forward to it, even though WWII is not my favorite era.

9. Shadow’s Sun by Jon Sprunk 

Technically this wasn’t a new goodie for the holidays, but it was a book temporarily misplaced in our move last year, so now I’ve got it recovered finally and can tackle it. It’s Sprunk’s debut secondary world fantasy novel, with divine cover art, about an assassin named Caim, who finds himself, as assassins frequently do, a pawn in a complicated and high stakes plot. But this particular assassin has some unusual aspects to his life — ever since he was a child damaged by tragedy, Caim can call shadows to cloak him, a magic that haunts him and he distrusts, and he has been visited by a ghostly, mercurial and mysterious spirit named Kit who sometimes helps him out. The writing style has a traditional, grand feel to it, but with bickering, a combination I think I’m going to like. It reminds me a bit of some of Glen Cook. Sprunk has started a new series, The Book of the Black Earth, which sounds interesting, so I will have to catch up over time. But I think I will enjoy Caim’s tale first.

My mother was astonished that my husband and daughter were watching the end of How to Train Your Dragon, a favorite animated film of ours. I was astonished that she hadn’t seen the movie, as it’s tailor-made to be the sort of movie my mom would like. So we sat down and watched the film and she did indeed love it. There is also a cartoon spin off; if you’ve got young kids you might as well try it out. And the sequel film, How to Train Your Dragon 2, comes out next year; we’re looking forward to it. Here’s the trailer:

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