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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Faren Miller reviews Erika Johansen

Though the galley of Erika Johansen’s debut The Queen of the Tearling arrived with promotional material that trumpets its sale to a major film company, sets the action firmly three centuries in the future, and reduces the plot to a few familiar tropes (‘‘A Young Woman, A Kingdom, An Evil Enemy, a Birthright Foretold…’’), Johansen won me over with something [Sheila] Finch [in Myths, Metaphors, and Science Fiction: Antique Roots

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Faren Miller reviews Lauren Owen

Early in Lauren Owen’s first novel The Quick, library scenes help establish the narrative tone. Evidently splendid tomes, ‘‘delicious-smelling volumes,’’ line the shelves of Owen’s library, but by the last years of the 19th century it stands largely forgotten in a decaying Yorkshire estate with neglected grounds and ‘‘owls in the nursery,’’ until a pair of curious children – James and Charlotte – make the place their dusty treasure

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Faren Miller reviews Robin Riopelle

Deadroads, first novel by Canadian illustrator Robin Riopelle, moves deftly between the flashbacks of three children growing up in southern swampland (here Bayou Country in the 1990s) and contemporary scenes of the hunt for an uncanny serial killer, as a long-dispersed family reacts to the father’s death.

Louisiana Cajuns cling to folkways that go back to medieval France. As children on the Bayou, the Sarrazin kids couldn’t help but

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Faren Miller reviews Catherynne M. Valente

Catherynne M. Valente’s new collection The Bread We Eat in Dreams proved challenging to review. Though the contents range from offbeat poetry to an award-winning novella, in a multitude of styles and voices, this isn’t just a random gathering of her shorter stuff. The more I read, the more these pieces seemed to resonate both intellectually and emotionally – like the interplay of themes and movements in a symphony –

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Faren Miller reviews Jeanette Winterson

Tropes like royal pomp, treason, and fear of magic all came to fantasy from human history, and writers can still make good use of dusty annals. Jeanette Winterson’s short novel The Daylight Gate (published in the UK last year) tackles the jittery years of Protestantism’s first hold in England, where mobs could view both witches and Catholics with the deep suspicion we now reserve for Arab terrorists. Guy Fawke’s scheme

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Faren Miller reviews Samantha Shannon

Similar elements get updated in the troubled future England of The Bone Season, first in a proposed septology (already optioned for filming) by a new author who’s barely into her twenties, yet unafraid to embark on an ambi­tious saga combining SF, fantasy, and horror, adventure and romance, in approximately equal measure. Readers may be wary of the latest object of media frenzy targeting young consumers, but even in a

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Faren Miller reviews J.M. Sidorova

The Age of Ice is the first novel of J.M. Sidorova, a Russian-born woman who moved to the States in 1990 and now works as a research professor of aging and carcinogenesis at a university in Seattle WA. This might sound like a good background for science fiction, but the protagonist of Age owes his vastly extended life (which began in 1740 and shows no signs of stopping) to a

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Faren Miller reviews Sally Gardner

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner is the offbeat tale of a boy living under a dictatorship that could be a very alternate take on mid-’50s England. The most unusual thing about Standish Treadwell isn’t his mismatched blue and brown eyes (as shown on the cover), but the dyslexia he shares with the author – a strong advocate for people with this disability. Before he gets booted out of school, the

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Faren Miller reviews Tim Pratt

In Tim Pratt’s short fiction, setting doesn’t keep to its place as background but finds ways to come alive. In Antiquities and Tangibles and Other Stories, his third collection (a miscellany from the past five years that includes a poem and three original works), you’ll see it magicked into a human form, open to other dimensions, haunted by insanity, close enough to endless that no scientific theory could explain

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Faren Miller reviews Kit Reed

Two new collections, both by women who have been producing noteworthy novels and short fiction for many decades, show just how much can be achieved by a strong imagination that refuses to recognize the artificial boundaries of subject, tone, or genre. Kit Reed’s The Story Until Now, aptly subtitled ‘‘A Great Big Book of Stories’’, takes its 35 works from a long career that shows no sign of stopping

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Faren Miller reviews Mary Robinette Kowal

The first four books this month are fantasies set in some kind of alternate England: Regency era for Kowal’s Without a Summer (third in a series); steampunk Victorian for James P. Blaylock’s The Aylesford Skull (a new clash between Professor Langdon St. Ives and evil mage Dr. Ignacio Narbondo); late Victorian for Thomas Brennan’s debut novel Doktor Glass; and modern for London Falling by Paul Cornell. Despite great differences

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Faren Miller reviews James Van Pelt

How could the multiple subjects, settings and genres in James Van Pelt’s fourth collection, Flying in the Heart of the Lafayette Escadrille, be anything more than a mixed bag? A suburban dad whose son dreams of dragons, a 30-something virgin in an oddly haunted house, a moon dweller overseeing ‘‘full reality skin shell rentals’’ for tourists curious about old Earth, a questing knight, a sophisticated E.T. whose academic curiosity

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Faren Miller reviews Rudy Rucker

Turing and Burroughs, Rudy Rucker’s ‘‘Beatnik SF Novel,’’ deftly combines historic characters and wild flights of imagination, in a spin-off of our world’s history, 1954-55. Though I hadn’t quite reached grade school back then, I recognize (and dig!) its portrayal of mid-century America as a far from monolithic nation that extends beyond the suburbs where Boomers grew, to the hipster realm of Beats and the avant-garde, to the avid

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Faren Miller reviews Richard E. Gropp

Richard E. Gropp won the Del Rey Suvudu Writing Contest with first novel, Bad Glass, which explores a strangely plagued Spokane WA (in a time not too far from the present) through the first-person viewpoint and some of the work of lead character Dean Walker, who sneaks into a mostly evacuated city under military guard and lockdown, in hope of making his name as a photojournalist.

He begins with

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Faren Miller reviews Lois McMaster Bujold

Miles Vorkosigan, the offbeat young hero whose passage into adulthood took place over a number of adventures, is no longer central in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, but the title character turns out to be his cousin, Ivan Xav: a member of the Barrayaran ruling class, which strongly resembles 19th-century Britain’s aristocratic warriors and public servants, in an Empire expanded to interplanetary scale, facing enemies with their own place in the

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Faren Miller reviews Gwenda Bond

Early American history (or is it legend?), alchemy, and a long-standing family curse reach a crisis point around a pair of modern teens in Blackwood, the excellent debut of Locus contributing editor Gwenda Bond. Though the publisher is British, Bond is thoroughly American; as the bio notes, she lives in a century-old house in Lexington KY, with her husband (author Christopher Rowe) and several pets. She’s well-equipped to speculate

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Faren Miller reviews Eowyn Ivey

Eowyn Ivey’s debut The Snow Child combines a plot inspired by a fairy tale with the format of a novel that’s almost mainstream. It’s set in Alaska back in the 1920s, the ‘‘homestead era’’ when people came to rugged country from out of state, lured by the promise of cheap, abundant farmland.

The daughter of two poets, raised in Alaska and still living there, Ivey vividly invokes life on the

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Faren Miller reviews Melanie Rawn

In Touchstone, Melanie Rawn chronicles the formation and wayward path to success of the title group of players, whose form of theater could only exist in a world where the creatures of our fairytale and fantasy have survived to become part of human life and culture in a land that resembles an 18th-century England – from a very alternate world history where humans aren’t the only sentients, religions took

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Faren Miller reviews John Shirley

With a title taken from a Bob Dylan song and epigraphs from The Bhagavad Gita, John Shirley’s Everything Is Broken might seem like a natural for his own stomping ground, the San Francisco Bay Area. One young character, who spent the last two years ‘‘vaguely majoring in English’’ back in Akron OH while living with his mom, could have been drawn toward Berkeley. But Russ accepts an invitation from his

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Faren Miller reviews Lev A.C. Rosen

All Men of Genius makes no attempt to hide its main sources of inspiration: an odd couple of famous comedies, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Rosen’s twins of two sexes, a female character’s masquerade as a young man, several cases of infatuation spurred on by interfering tricksters, plus the names of many people and places, all derive from Shakespeare – with the Bard’s

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Faren Miller reviews Tim Pratt

Briarpatch by Tim Pratt (a Locus senior editor) takes place in a modern Bay Area that’s weirdly porous: riddled by hidden passages into the many – infinite? – worlds collectively known as the Briarpatch. An epigraph from ‘‘Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby’’ (traditional) uses that word for somewhere Br’er says he really doesn’t want to go, deeming it worse than several gruesome forms of personal torture. That sense of

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Faren Miller reviews Daryl Gregory

With three outstanding novels and plenty of stories on his résumé, Daryl Gregory has found ways to explore the human mind and spirit – for good, bad, or any of the strange places between such absolutes – that seem very much his own in his first collection, Unpossible and Other Stories. What’s he doing? If you’re new to his work, a quick but comprehensive survey of Unpossible should catch

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Faren Miller reviews Terry Pratchett

Over the course of Terry Pratchett’s long career in humorous fantasy, the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork has gone through its own changes, rarely as slapstick as the titles of books like Thud! and now the equally-monosyllabic Snuff might suggest. The traditional hatreds between dwarves and trolls, werewolves and vampires, etc., don’t immediately die down when they come together in the supposed melting-pot of urban life, any more than English and

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Faren Miller reviews Mark Charan Newton

Mark Charan Newton’s Nights of Villjamur seems to have slipped under my radar last year, but this excellent novel finally reached me in advance of sequel City of Ruin, which I plan to review next month. This time, I’ll join the enthusiastic chorus for a work that deserves all the favorable notice it can get. It may not be a first novel as the promos say (that was The

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Faren Miller reviews Daryl Gregory

Raising Stony Mayhall should add to Daryl Gregory’s reputation as a dazzling innovator, despite being set in an alternate history whose starting point comes from the realm of pulpish horror: the zombie invasion in Night of the Living Dead, taken as literal truth in an alternate history that begins in the ’60s. Announcing the book’s combination of tribute and response to the genre, a contemporary prologue invokes the spirit

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