I read a lot of books in familiar series this year, and only a few really stood out. Ilona Andrews’s Sapphire Flames is a fun start to a new trilogy in the Hidden Legacy series of urban fantasy romances, focusing on Catalina, the second daughter in the heavily armed Baylor family, taking over as Head of the family’s House with her rare but powerful talent as a Siren – and some interference from a handsome playboy with an interesting power of his own. Juliet Marillier introduces the Warrior Bards series in The Harp of Kings, a next-generation sequel to her popular Blackthorn & Grim series that finds two sibling bards, in training to become warriors, on a mission to recover a magic harp in a very entertaining, if not terribly innovative, adventure infused with Celtic fantasy and fairy tale. Vivian Shaw wrapped up her Greta Helsing series with a bang in Grave Importance, which brings many of the series’ characters together in an epic battle between Heaven and Hell that veers madly between serious chills, humor, and a few heartwarming developments. I looked at Andrew Caldecott’s Rotherweird series for the first time, and found it merrily weird fun in a Gormenghast-ish sort of way, only with more of an actual plot; Rotherweird (out in 2017 in the UK, 2019 in the US) introduces the strange town of the title, a place where history is deliberately kept at bay, but dire plots dating back to Elizabethan times (and even earlier) keep cropping up, as do mysteriously long-lived beings, strange beasts, a portal, odd inventions and their even odder creators, and a crew of ordinary (if eccentric) folks trying to hold on to their pleasantly odd way of life. It all wraps up rather nicely, with some mythic touches, in Lost Acre, the third book out 2019 in the UK.
In other fantasy, Sherlock Holmes went weird in a big way in The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall, in which the Sherlock character is the easily bored and very dangerous sorceress Shaharazad Haas, in a world of shifting realities, cosmic horror, and Victorian niceties; the mystery serves mostly as an excuse to visit weird worlds and meet quirky characters, but it’s a fun and fascinating visit.
Garth Nix’s YA novel Angel Mage takes The Three Musketeers as its inspiration and gives it a grand, gender-swapping, magic-infused makeover. It’s a fun adventure with a seriously creepy antagonist: a young girl madly in love, who has so much power that she could destroy the world in her efforts to be with the angel she loves.
In first novels, Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth introduces a dark empire of necromancers and the dead in this gleefully intense novel about the foul-mouthed swordswoman Gideon, forced to serve as cavalier to a hated necromancer in an incomprehensible contest in a decaying, mazelike complex. Dan Stout’s Titanshade is a quirky noir cop mystery set in an off-kilter version of the 1970s, with multiple humanoid races in a city in a frozen wasteland, struggling with a magical energy crisis.
Among collections, two tickled my fancy: Seanan McGuire’s Laughter at the Academy presents 22 non-series stories, most a little off-beat and frequently dark and funny, of mad science, plague, death, and more. John Scalzi’s A Very Scalzi Christmas is a fun mix of holiday items, most originally published on his blog. Humor dominates, with just a couple of truly touching items, and while a real love of the holidays underlies the jokes, they have a sharp wit and attitude that makes them stand out – especially for genre fans, I suspect.
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 and more like it in the February 2020 issue of Locus.
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