W. Michael Gear, Outpost (DAW 978-0-7564-1337-8, $26.00, 422pp, hc) February 2018. Cover by Steve Stone.
A deadly planet with a struggling corporate colony provides plenty of action in this first book in the Donovan trilogy. Much in the mode of Harry Harrison’s Deathworld, Donovan isn’t a safe place for humans, full of deadly plants and animals, and if they don’t kill you, the heavy metals will. The Corporation has had a colony there for 30 years, mining valuable gems and minerals but barely surviving. After an unexpected six years without contact with Earth, the corporate government has collapsed, as has much of the equipment. But a supply ship finally arrives – and the colonists and the ambitious new Corporation Supervisor have some unpleasant surprises for each other. Many colonists have enjoyed their taste of freedom, and don’t want to go back to The Corporation’s heavily regulated ways, while new arrivals complain the jobs they were promised no longer exist – though one, a psychopath with plans, is happy with the unsettled situation. Then, just to complicate things, a ghost ship appears – and people start to wonder if any of them will ever see Earth again. Talina Perez, the long-time head of security, does her best to keep the peace with her own distinctive (and deadly) style, but she butts heads with the surprisingly competent new Corporate Marine Captain Max Taggart. Battles range from boardroom wrangling to wilderness survival, which is where the story gets most distinctive, with some very interesting wildlife, most notably the top predator called a quetzal, a fast, deadly, and surprisingly intelligent creature.
Gear tosses in some intriguing technical variations (three-strand DNA) on basic biology, but there’s clearly much more to explore. The plot is all over the place, but the action and character interaction keep things interesting as just enough gets resolved to satisfy for now.
Seanan McGuire, Tricks for Free (DAW 978-0-7564-1040-7, $7.99, 354pp, pb) March 2018. Cover by Lee Moyer.
The seventh novel in the InCryptid urban fantasy series picks up again with Antimony Price, the youngest of the Price siblings, currently on the run from both her family and the Covenant. She needs crowds around her to keep the Covenant from using magic to track her down, so she looks for work at a Florida theme park, Lowryland, second only to the rival Disney park. Antimony lucks out, in that an old friend from high school (where Antimony was cheerleader “Melody West”) is in the human resources department, and another old friend (from the roller derby) is playing a princess. The work only seems soul killing, but then “Melody” gets an offer of special training, and makes some dangerous discoveries. The snarky yet loving insider view of theme parks makes great backdrop for an entertaining adventure, while an ominous twist makes for a pleasantly bittersweet conclusion.
Tamora Pierce, Tempests and Slaughter (Random House 978-0-375-84711-0, $18.99, 461pp, hc) February 2018.
Pierce backtracks a bit in her YA fantasy Tortall series to tell the history of one of its most fascinating characters, the mage Numair Salmalin. This first volume in the Numair Chronicles goes back to his early days as Arram Draper, the youngest student at the School for Mages at the Imperial University of Carthak. There he becomes friends with fellow students Varice and Ozorne, a nephew of the emperor called the “leftover prince.” Numair’s great power and drive to learn get him into trouble more often than not, even bringing him to the attention of the gods, and making him some serious enemies. Over the years, as he learns more about the world about him, he starts to question some of the crueler aspects of the empire. It’s basically a mage-school story, with some wondrous moments, but shot through with darker threads that start to dominate towards the end. The plot feels rather episodic, and lacks the sort of eye-opening revelations I was hoping for, but there’s more to come, and the mostly new cast of characters and setting make this a good place for new readers to jump in.
Ryk E. Spoor, Princess Holy Aura (Baen 978-1-4814-8282-0, $16.00, 452pp, tp) December 2017. Cover by Morinekozion.
A gamer geek – a male gamer in his 30s – gets picked to be the magical girl Princess Holy Aura in this amusing fantasy adventure novel, which knowingly mixes Lovecraftian foes with tropes out of anime/manga such as Sailor Moon. Stephen Russ barely gets by, working in a bagel shop but living for his game nights. Then he stops one evening to help a child threatened by monsters in an alley, and meets a magical talking rat who offers him a chance to save the world. Steve eventually agrees, even though it means giving up his life and becoming a teenage schoolgirl so he can find the companions who will join him as the five Apocalypse Maidens. Though the scenario is definitely humorous, and Steve has some things to learn about being a girl, the story mostly plays out as a straightforward adventure of the type, with the difference that some of the characters are acutely aware of the tropes they’re dealing with. The result is a fun, multi-layered adventure with some truly spectacular fight scenes.
Carolyn F. Cushman, Senior Editor, has worked for Locus since 1985, the longest of any of the current staff, and handles our in-house books database, writes our New and Notable section, and does the monthly Books Received column. She is a graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in English. She published a fantasy novel, Witch and Wombat, in 1994.
This review and more like it in the February 2018 issue of Locus.