Jul 172018
 

Cover of Witchmark by C.L. Polk.Shelf Awareness: Witchmark, C.L. Polk’s debut, introduces a magically infused world reminiscent of early 20th-century England, with gas-lit rooms, cloaks and carriages.

Dr. Miles Singer has created a life for himself mostly devoid of magic. Having fled his powerful family as a young man, he joined the Aeland army, went to war against the Laneeri, and now works in a veterans’ hospital. But in a world where most witches are sent to asylums, supposedly for their own safety, Miles must be careful about how–and where–he uses his magical gifts. When a handsome gentleman brings a poisoned journalist into the hospital for treatment, this careful balancing act becomes increasingly hard to maintain–especially as his feelings for the gentleman evolve. And when his sister, a member of the elite magical class, shows up on his doorstep, he is drawn right back into the world he fled so long ago.

Polk’s worldbuilding is done with finesse; information on the magical systems at play in Aeland are revealed smoothly and as appropriate to the story. But the magic is only the smallest part of what makes Witchmark the impressive novel that it is. The subtle ways Polk builds her characters, reveals the systems under which they live and unwinds a complicated, twisting plot with both personal and political implications are testaments to her skill as a storyteller. She builds toward a satisfying yet unpredictable conclusion, but with just enough wiggle room that these beloved characters may make appearances in future installments–which would be a welcome treat. –Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A debut fantasy novel introduces a gas-lit world where most witches are banished to asylums–unless they are of the wealthy ruling class.

Jul 162018
 

Cover of Temper by Nicky Drayden.Library Journal: Auben Mutze is an intelligent, extroverted youth with a bit of a wild side. This makes him one of the more popular kids at his impoverished high school, even as he knows that he has few chances to escape the world in which he lives. He is a twin, with vices – six, to be exact – branded on his arm. This also marks him as a lesser twin to his brother Kasim, whose quieter nature and single vice brand means he has a shot of escaping to the other side of the wall and a better life. Already at odds with his brother, Auben begins to hear voices that tell him to follow his vices as far as possible. If he can’t ignore the voices, he will be caught in the hands of a demon.

VERDICT: With its South African setting and supernatural action, Drayden’s twisty, fast paced sophomore effort (after The Prey of Gods) keeps readers on the edge of their seats.

Jul 132018
 

Cover of The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel by Mary Robinette Kowal.Booklist: The first half of Kowal’s two-book tale—The Fated Sky will follow—begins in 1952 when a meteorite strikes Earth, causing a global cataclysm.

The eastern coast of the U.S. crumbles, and the rest of the world faces a climate shift. A former WASP pilot and a brilliant mathematician, Elma York works for the International Aerospace Coalition, along with her engineer husband, expediting efforts to colonize other planets. Recognizing that she and her female colleagues are just as qualified as the men, Elma fights for their right to become astronauts. She builds momentum for their cause by hosting a women-only air demonstration, speaking on a Bill Nye–type kids show, and passing tests with ridiculous rules her male counterparts would never be asked to endure.

Although Kowal’s latest is a definite deviation from her popular Glamour Histories series, she once again strikes a fine balance of integrating historical accuracy—including mid-twentieth-century sexism, racism, and technology—with speculative storytelling. Readers will root for Elma as she breaks barriers and calculates lifesaving equations, all while dealing with sometimes-crippling anxiety. Recommend to fans of realistic sf.

Jul 102018
 

Cover of The Great Bastards by Jonathan French.Daily Mail (UK): Saddle up the war boar and set off on a wild, gory thrill-ride that ends in an awesome climax and begs for a sequel.

Jul 092018
 

Cover of The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel by Mary Robinette Kowal.Library Journal: In 1952, Elma York and her husband are celebrating their marriage in the Poconos when a meteor strikes, destroying Washington, DC, and most of the eastern seaboard.

As a mathematician and WASP pilot, Elma knows the need for space exploration, but now that Earth is poised to fall owing to a climate change of apocalyptic proportions, that timetable has been pushed into the fast lane. Elma wants to be one of those to enter space, and when a program invites women to take the same astronaut training as men, she won’t let anything – not family, history, or the attitudes of men regarding the proper place for women – stand in her way.

VERDICT: A fast-forward thrill ride, Hugo Award­winner Kowal’s (“Glamourist Histories”) exciting alternate history, the first in a duology, highlights the space race and the sexism of the time. SF and space history buffs will enjoy this entertaining tale.

Jul 062018
 

Cover of Temper by Nicky Drayden.Booklist: Drayden’s latest is a dark, riveting tale about two brothers at odds that explores what it truly means to possess virtues, what it truly means to possess vices, and what it truly means to be brothers.

Auben Mutze is a twin. His lesser status as the inferior twin is marked by six brands down his arm, and each brand symbolizes a vice he possesses. In contrast, Auben’s twin brother, Kasim, possesses only one vice. The single vice marks Kasim as the supposedly superior twin. The twins’ different stations in life and Auben’s jealousy morph their brotherly relationship into one steeped in rivalry. Their brotherly bond is threatened to the point of breaking when Auben begins to hear dangerous voices that whisper of evil, heinous deeds, encouraging him to walk a dark path. If Auben doesn’t rid himself of the voices, he could completely lose himself to them.

Drayden (The Prey of Gods, 2017) excels at making every twist and turn of the plot meaningful to the story. Moreover, the world-building is deliciously lush and complex; any possible initial confusion becomes part of the thrill of puzzling this world out.

Jul 022018
 

Cover of The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel by Mary Robinette Kowal.Locus: So much about how Kowal structures Elma’s journey works, from her early days as a math whiz and the effect it had on her psyche, through her growth as a competent and confident professional. Equally lovely is the supportive and charming relationship between Nathaniel and Elma. You can’t help but root them both on.

The back third of The Calculating Stars is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying – and nicely sets up The Fated Sky, which is the second half of Elma’s story. Just one month after The Calculating Stars’ release, we’ll finally learn exactly how Elma got herself to Mars.

Jun 272018
 

Cover of Temper by Nicky Drayden.Library Journal: In a richly constructed world that resembles South Africa, everyone is born as a set of twins with seven vices and virtues divided unevenly between them. Those possessing more vices are considered to be the inferior twin, poorer, less respected and successful than their more virtuous sibling. One such twin, Auben Mutze, fights against this destiny—but when a demon possesses him, it may prove he is nothing more than the sum of his vices.

VERDICT: Drayden is an amazing writer and deft plotter. The twists are unexpected and never feel contrived, just as the novel explores real-world issues without sounding preachy.

Jun 262018
 

Cover of Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett.Publishers Weekly: Bennett’s stunning fantasy, the first in a series, is set in Tevanne, a city-state run by four merchant houses, funded by pillaging nearby lands and powered by scrivers who use sigils to make devices that defy reality.

When talented thief Sancia Grado steals a sentient golden key named Clef, she’s pursued by paladin-like police captain Gregor Dandolo, scion of the Dandolo merchant house. Clef and Sancia are both shocked when they find they can communicate telepathically. This and Sancia’s other abilities—linked to a painful scar on her skull—hint at strange, terrible things in her past.

The endlessly inventive Bennett (the Divine Cities trilogy) brings humor and empathy to his portrayal of Sancia, a dark-skinned woman who bears substantial physical and psychological scars from being enslaved and experimented on, and who deeply resents her unwanted talents. Sancia and Clef’s friendship is poignant, and her journey of self-realization serves as a backbone for nearly nonstop, cleverly choreographed action sequences.

This is a crackling, wonderfully weird blend of science fiction, fantasy, heist adventure, and a pointed commentary on what it means to be human in a culture obsessed with technology, money, and power.