Faren Miller reviews The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

The Last Magician, Lisa Maxwell (Simon Pulse 978-1-4814-3207-8, $18.99, 500pp, hc) July 2017. Cover by Craig Howell & Cliff Nielsen.

The Last Magician is billed as YA and its chief protagonist is a girl in her late teens, but Lisa Maxwell doesn’t write down or pull many punches. Only after reviewing Belcher did I notice how the dialog sidesteps around Anne Bonny’s favorite word, while allowing an occasional “shit.” Although ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisen

The Stone Sky, N.K. Jemisen (Orbit 978-0-316-22924-1, $16.99, 420pp, tp) August 2017.

N.K. Jemisin ups the ante even more in The Stone Sky, finishing The Broken Earth trilogy with the fate of the planet in just a few hands and time run­ning out. Here millennia of history and lore stand behind gritty dramas of the moment – though perspective shifts feel even more jarring when all foreground action occurs in ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Black Mad Wheel by Josh Malerman

Black Mad Wheel, Josh Malerman (HarperCol­lins Ecco 978-0-06-225968-4, $26.99, 292pp, hc) May 2017.

The alternating plotlines of Josh Malerman’s Black Mad Wheel both use the present tense and focus on a man named Philip Tonka. We first see him as a badly injured, yet not completely amnesiac patient in a midwestern hos­pital, someone who still “remembers every detail of the desert” where he was nearly pulverized, yet can’t explain what ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

The Bedlam Stacks, Natasha Pulley (Blooms­bury 978-1-6240-967-1, $26.00, 332pp, hc) July 2017.

In The Bedlam Stacks, Natasha Pulley’s uncon­ventional imagination finds a new voice. Merrick Tremayne spent the 1850s working for Britain’s notorious East India Company as a kind of agent/enforcer/drug smuggler in China. This left him washed up at age 30, back at the crumbling family home in Cornwall with little hope of full recovery from a bad leg ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller Reviews The Waking Land by Callie Bates

The Waking Land, Callie Bates (Del Rey 978-0-425-28402-5, $27.00, 392pp, hc) July 2017. Cover by Ben Perini.

The Waking Land is a fast-paced, mostly present-tense account that expertly immerses us in the early trauma, active mind, and mixed emotions (passion initially suppressed) of Elanna Valtai during the last year of her teens. She was forced from her parents’ side as a five-year-old, when a newly crowned king held a gun ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Brian Staveley

Skullsworn, Brian Staveley (Tor 978-0-7653-8987-9, $27.99, 318pp, hc) April 2017. Cover by Richard Anderson.

Brian Staveley’s Unhewn Throne trilogy followed separate plotlines for three royal siblings in tomes as massive as classic epic fantasy, yet with a very different tone, spiced with X-rated language and bad attitude. Though Skullsworn is just as brash, and takes place in the same world – where long-lived, almost godlike beings ruled ancient empires ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews S. Jae-Jones

Wintersong, S. Jae-Jones (St. Martin’s Griffin/Dunne 978-1-250-07921-3, $18.99, 438pp, hc) February 2017.

Back in December, I took an advance look at Thoraiya Dyer’s first novel Crossroads of Canopy. It turns out to be just part of a remarkable display of new talent in early 2017. Wintersong and The Bear and the Nightingale take inspiration from folktales, while Time’s Oldest Daughter reworks Miltonic myth, but they all explore the ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Laura Eve

The Graces, Laure Eve (Abrams Amulet 978-1-4197-21236, $18.95, 342pp, hc) September 2016. Cover by Spencer Charles.

What is myth for the new millennium? In The Graces, Laure Eve confronts what’s left of the old with something that might take its place (no galactic empires required). The teenage narrator is new to school in a small town far enough from England’s great cities to have woodlands and wild seas ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Erika Johansen

The Fate of the Tearling, Erika Johansen (Harper 978-0-06-229042-7, $25.99, 480pp, hc) November 2016.

When Erika Johansen began a trilogy with debut novel The Queen of the Tearling, I saw elements of science fiction in a work that more strongly invokes epic fantasy (and is touted as such in the blurbs). Set in a world linked somehow to Earth’s dysto­pian future, all three books interweave plots and genres ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Keith Donohue

The Motion of Puppets, Keith Donohue (Picador 978-1-250-05718-1, $26.00, 332pp, hc) October 2016.

Keith Donahue’s The Motion of Puppets opens with a bold statement from the heroine’s perspective: ‘‘She fell in love with a puppet.’’ Kay Harper loves the ancient thing – body ‘‘hewn from a single piece of poplar,’’ simple limbs designed for lost connections, ‘‘pierced at the hands and feet’’ – not just for its beauty and ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller Reviews Beth Cato

Breath of Earth, Beth Cato (Harper Voyager 978-0-06-242206-4, $14.99, 300pp, tp) August 2016.

Breath of Earth by Beth Cato evokes the spirit of a time and place – San Francisco, at the dawn of the 20th century – in a world where magical beings and forces are an accepted part of human history, culture and daily life. When ‘‘the wealthy of Nob Hill journeyed to Sunday picnics in wagons ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Jennifer Mason-Black

Devil and the Bluebird, Jennifer Mason-Black (Amulet 978-1-4197-2000-0, $17.95. 330pp, hc) Cover by Monica Ramos. May 2016.

A powerful debut novel, Jennifer Mason-Black’s Devil and the Bluebird begins with a teenager’s memories of what had been her mother’s guitar, as she stands at a dirt crossroad on a chilly, moonless night with the instrument strapped to her back, hoping to make a deal with something like a devil. When ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Mary Robinette Kowal

Ghost Talkers, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor 978-0-7653-7825-5, $24.99, 300pp, hc) August 2016. Cover by Chris McGrath.

Mary Robinette Kowal had her own ways of find­ing gritty truths in the course of her five ‘‘Glam­ourist Histories’’, where the forces of history, and the waywardness of life (and character) shatter the gloss that can make standard Regency Romantic Fantasy seem bland. When she turns to a mixture of spycraft and spiritualism ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews The Big Book of Science Fiction

The Big Book of Science Fiction, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Vintage 978-1-101-91009-2, $25.00, 1,176pp, tp) July 2016.

In their Introduction to The Big Book of Science Fiction, editors Ann & Jeff VanderMeer note that they’re dealing with 20th-century fiction that ‘‘depicts the future, whether in a stylized or realistic manner’’ – emphasis theirs – and the breadth of the definition proves to be crucial. They link SF ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Andrea Hairston

Will Do Magic For Small Change, Andrea Hairston (Aqueduct 978-1-61976-101-8, $21.00, 472pp, tp) June 2016. Cover by Nic Ularu. [Order from Aqueduct Press, PO Box 95787, Seattle WA 98145-2787; www.aqueductpress.com.]

The glossary at the back of Andrea Hairston’s Will Do Magic For Small Change includes words and phrases from African and Native American tribes, plus a smattering of European (mostly German). Hairston deftly weaves all this and more into ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Lian Hearn

Emperor of the Eight Islands, Lian Hearn (Hachette Australia 978-0733635137, A$29.99, 448pp, tp) March 2016. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 978-0-374-53631-2, $15.99, 252pp, tp) May 2016.

Emperor of the Eight Islands, first of four volumes in Lian Hearn’s ‘‘The Tale of Shika­noko’’ (all scheduled for this year), is a fantasy set in medieval Japan and inspired by some of its ‘‘warrior tales.’’ It draws on the pseudonymous author’s fascination ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Betsy James

Roadsouls, Betsy James (Aqueduct 978-1-61976-091-2, $20.00, 394pp, tp) March 2016. Cover by Betsy James. [Order from Aqueduct Press, PO Box 95787, Seattle WA 98145-2787]

Roadsouls, written and illustrated by Betsy James, starts with a prelude simply called ‘‘Two Stories’’, showing the main characters at key moments some years before they go on the road. Raím is ‘‘nothing but eyes and fire and bullshit, that boy – that man, ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews R.S. Belcher

The Brotherhood of the Wheel, R.S. Belcher (Tor 978-0-7653-8028-5, $26.99, 384pp, hc) March 2016.

Though Tor calls R.S. Belcher’s The Brotherhood of the Wheel an ‘‘urban fantasy,’’ it also describes the novel as set on ‘‘the haunted byways and truck stops of the US Interstate Highway System.’’ Roads – both real and metaphorical – are crucial to this dark fantasy, focusing and expanding the power of magics that range ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews John Wray

The Lost Time Accidents, John Wray (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 978-0-374-28113-7, $27.00, 496pp, hc) February 2016.

It’s probably not coincidence (or synchronicity) that John Wray’s substantial, genre-busting novel The Lost Time Accidents shares a notion with Marcel Proust’s even more massive Remembrance of Things Past, whose French title Á La Recherche Du Temps Perdu could also be rendered into English as ‘‘In Search of Lost Time’’.

Amid the ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Ian Tregillis

The Rising, Ian Tregillis (Orbit 978-0-316-24801-3, $16.99, 534pp, tp) December 2015.

Like The Mechanical, first of Ian Tregillis’s Alchemy Wars trilogy, The Rising deftly inter­weaves three viewpoints and plotlines, but this sequel raises the stakes in its fantastical North America devoid of Brits and rife with industrial magics. The strained detente between colonies of French Catholics and Dutch Protestants reaches a crisis point when an act of sabotage ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Will Elliott

The Pilo Traveling Show, Will Elliott (Resurrection/Underland 978-1-63023-008-1, $16, 232pp, trade paperback) September 2015

Like most Americans, I came late to The Pilo Family Circus (reviewed in issue #576), since Will Elliott’s unnerving deep-black comedy, a first novel, appeared in Australia in 2006, won an award, and received two more English-language editions in the following years, but didn’t find a US publisher till Underland released it in 2009. By ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear

An Apprentice to Elves, Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear (Tor 978-0-7653-2471-9, $26.99, 336pp, hc) October 2015.

All three books of the Iskryne trilogy by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear can make the reader feel the mixed emotions (frustration, challenge, exhaustion, delight) of a foster child being tu­tored in strange crafts a long way from home: someone like Alfgyfa, whose story dominates final volume An Apprentice to Elves. The ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Nancy Jane Moore

The Weave, Nancy Jane Moore (Aqueduct Press 978-1-61976-077-6, $19.00, 356pp, tp) July 2015. [Order from Aqueduct Press, P.O. Box 95787, Seattle WA 98145-2787].

The Weave, a first novel by Nancy Jane Moore, is science fiction that thoroughly deserves its ad­vance praise by Vonda N. McIntyre and Michael Bishop. Rather than simply chronicle the first hu­man expedition to a solar system beyond our own, First Contact with sentient aliens, ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Ken Scholes

Blue Yonders, Grateful Pies and Other Fanciful Feasts, Ken Scholes (Fairwood Press 978-1-933846-51-4, $17.99, 272pp, tp) August 2015. [Order from Fairwood Press]

While the titles in Ken Scholes’s Psalms of Isaak sequence for Tor seem as monumental as Bach oratorios (Lamentation, Canticle, Antiphon, Requiem and the forthcoming Hymn), his col­lections have longer, more offbeat yet deliberately chosen names. In November 2008 (issue #574) I ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit 978-0-316-22929-6, 468pp, $15.99, tp) August 2015.

N. K. Jemisin’s new novel The Fifth Season starts the Broken Earth, a series ‘‘set in a world where apocalypse is routine.’’ We see its devas­tating impact on a large continent known as The Stillness, an ironic name for land this volatile, periodically beset by Fifth Seasons where great faultlines crack, spawning volcanoes whose smoke can hide ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Natasha Pulley

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, Natasha Pulley (Bloomsbury 978-1-62040-833-9, $26.00, 322pp, hc) July 2015.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a remarkably assured first novel that makes the most of Natasha Pulley’s varied influences, from studies in English lit. and creative writing to her current life in Tokyo. Though there’s plenty of dust in her Victorian London by the end of Chapter Three, it’s debris from bombs detonated by ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Brenda Cooper

Edge of Dark, Brenda Cooper (Pyr 978-1-63388-050-4, $18.00, 408pp, tp) March 2015. Cover by Stephan Martiniere.

Brenda Cooper established the far-future background for Edge of Dark, Book One of duology The Glittering Edge, some years ago in The Creative Fire (2012) and The Diamond Deep (2013), but newcomers won’t have much difficulty getting their bearings as she moves forward a generation and introduces three new viewpoint characters to ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Sam Sykes

I’m late to the table with Sam Sykes, having missed his trilogy Aeon’s Gate. Previous reviewers have admired his prose and characters far more than his plotting, in early volumes of what amounts to an ongoing series that builds a vivid world, assembles a band of five ‘‘adventurers’’ to travel it, and sets them loose to wander. New sequence Bring Down Heaven begins with The City Stained Red (with sequel ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Brian Staveley

Brian Staveley acknowledges genre tradition, yet still finds ways to undermine it. The Providence of Fire starts with a flashback connected to the title, showing royal siblings Adare, Kaden, and Valyn as children whom their father has commanded to witness an Imperial Deed from the top of a very high tower. Their empress mother Sioan frets that, when ‘‘a normal ascent might span two days, with breaks along the way ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Alaya Dawn Johnson

We first see Emily Bird, teenage heroine and viewpoint character of Love Is the Drug, waking up in a Washington DC hospital. She turns out to be fortunate in many ways, beginning with her heritage and station as the child of privileged black scientists, both deeply involved in work for the government, she is close to graduating from an elite prep school with honors sure to appeal to all ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Beth Cato

The magic that saves lives in The Clockwork Dagger, a memorable debut by Beth Cato, cen­ters around the myth of another mortal woman who lost loved ones to illness and became a lady goddess. That myth, and its healing Tree, arose somewhere near the dawn of culture in Caskentia – a realm where ‘‘clockwork’’ and other weird sciences now prevail, creating something like a fantastical/steampunk Oz not meant for ...Read More

Read more

Faren Miller reviews Gregory Maguire’s Egg & Spoon

A couple of months ago, discussing The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman, I noted how it reconfigures tropes from fairy tales and children’s/YA fantasy for older readers. Gregory Maguire did something like that to Baum’s Oz books and the movie they inspired, begin­ning with Wicked (which spawned its own hit Broadway musical) and continuing in three more volumes, collectively called The Wicked Years. Maguire clearly likes dealing with witches, and ...Read More

Read more