2018 has been a good year for the offbeat in speculative fiction. In fact, one of my top books of the year was released as a mainstream literary novel, even though the speculative element is central and necessary: Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation has to contain imaginary pharmacology in order for the protagonist to black out for the lengths of time she considers desirable, without having real-life ...Read MoreRead more
City of Broken Magic, Mirah Bolender (Tor 978-1-250-16927-3, $15.99, 400 pp, tp.) November 2018. Cover by Tony Mauro.
Mirah Bolender’s debut is an enjoyable, anime-influenced romp, with a surprising amount of attention paid to the details of the worldbuilding, and more three-dimensional characters than the Stuff Blows Up genre usually receives.
In this case, the Stuff that Blows Up is magical: specifically, the people of this alternate-universe Japan use amulets ...Read MoreRead more
In the Night Wood, Dale Bailey (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 978-1-328-49443-6, $23, 224pp, hc) October 2018. Cover by Andrew Davidson.
Charles and Erin Hayden move to England following the accidental death of their young daughter Lissa. Erin is descended from Caedmon Hollow, the author of In the Night Wood, a children’s book from the Victorian era. As the last survivor of the family, she gets the Hollow estate: a lot of ...Read MoreRead more
Time’s Convert, Deborah Harkness (Viking 978-0-399-56451-2, $29.00, 409pp, hc) September 2018.
Time’s Convert is the fourth of Deborah Harkness’s All Souls series, and is the beginning of a new trilogy. It’s a cross between a supernatural romance, a domestic slice-of-life-with-magic, and an historical picaresque: a long, roomy, eclectic novel set on being almost all things to almost all readers. The world of the series contains four separate species of human-appearing ...Read MoreRead more
Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennett. (Crown 978-1-5247-6036-6, $27.00, 512pp, hc) August 2018.
Foundryside is the beginning of a new fantasy series, and is Robert Jackson Bennett’s first novel following the extremely well-received Divine Cities trilogy. It mostly lives up to expectations, managing to combine a large-scale story with an interesting world, relatable characters, and a complicated magic system; it also demonstrates, as the Divine Cities trilogy did, that Bennett’s interests lie ...Read MoreRead more
The Oddling Prince, Nancy Springer (Tachyon 978-1-61696-289-0, $15.95, 288pp, tp) May 2018.
Nancy Springer’s long career has produced the Tiptree-winning Larque on the Wing, as well as long-running mystery and YA series and multiple Arthurian novels. The Oddling Prince is not quite an Arthurian novel, existing in a peculiar liminal space in which many traits of the Arthurian legends are present (such as a prophesied once and future king), even ...Read MoreRead more
The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager 978-0-06-266256-9, $26.99, 544 pp, hc.) May 2018.
Rebecca Kuang’s first novel is the start of an epic fantasy trilogy set in an alternate-universe China, the Nikara Empire, in which human beings access the magical powers of the gods by taking psychedelic drugs – which, in practice, means that it’s about people fighting wars while high. These shamanic practices are something of an open ...Read MoreRead more
Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik. (Del Rey, 978-0-399-18098-9, $28.00, 434 pp, hc.) July 2018.
Naomi Novik follows Uprooted with a brilliant retelling of Rumpelstiltskin set in a medieval pseudo-Russia. Instead of a miller’s daughter, the protagonist, Miryem, is a moneylender’s daughter. Instead of spinning straw into gold, she can spin silver coins into gold, if she has time to take them through the marketplace, first. The King of the Staryk, the ...Read MoreRead more
The Book of Hidden Things, Francesco Dimitri. (Titan Books 978-1-785-65707-8, $14.95, 400pp, pb) July 2018.
Francesco Dimitri is a well-regarded fantasy author in Italian. He’s published several novels and graphic novels, and his work has been adapted for film (La ragazza dei miei sogni/The girl of my dreams, 2017). The Book of Hidden Things is his first novel written in English, and it is ambitious in several directions. It’s set ...Read MoreRead more
Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance, Ruth Emmie Lang (St. Martin’s Press, 978-1-250-11204-0, $26.99, 346 pp, hc) November 2017.
Weylyn Grey is a magical enigma. He can, apparently, control the weather, speak with animals, accelerate plant growth, and do other supernatural things on occasion, but he’s also a perennial outsider, walking in and out of other people’s lives only to leave them touched with enchantment and confusion.
Ruth Emmie Lang’s debut is ...Read MoreRead more