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Long Black Curl

Alex Bledsoe. Tor, $25.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7653-7654-1

Bledsoe’s third tale (after Wisp of a Thing) of the Tufa—Appalachia-dwelling descendants of the Fae, all possessing great musical talent—sees two of their own returning, after a long exile, to fight for leadership of the community. Bo-Kate Wisby feels slighted by the Tufa and wants revenge. She starts by eliminating Rockhouse Hicks, a longtime leader recently fallen on hard times. As the two factions of the Tufa react to this power vacuum, they recall Bo-Kate’s former lover, Jefferson Powell, the only one who understands her weaknesses. Meanwhile, Bo-Kate has recruited a legendary musician, thought dead for decades, to help her achieve her bloody goals. The core concept is solid and fascinating; the execution strikes just the right tone between fantastic and tragic. Bledsoe plays with lyrics and atmosphere, incorporates folklore and superstition to good effect, and even toys with alternate history for further resonance. The slow-building plot works well with the extended cast of characters, but the climax and conclusion feel rushed. Agent: Marlene Stringer, Stringer Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Venusian Gambit

Michael J. Martinez. Skyhorse/Night Shade, $15.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-59780-819-4

Overflowing with complexity and eloquence, the conclusion to Martinez’s Daedalus Trilogy (following The Enceladus Crisis) seamlessly blends popular elements from science fiction and fantasy, producing a work that raises the bar for both. In our high-tech near future, Maj. Gen. Maria Diaz and Lt. Cmdr. Shaila Jain are faced with the fallout from recent events on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. In the alchemistic past of a parallel dimension, Sir Thomas Weatherby and Lady Anne Baker are fighting in slightly steampunkish Napoleonic wars, in which the French have used the Egyptian Book of the Dead to raise zombie troops. Their timelines collide when minions of Althotas, a Martian trapped in a nightmarish prison of nothingness, endeavor to free him. Love and friendships are tested, mysteries and betrayals are unearthed, political games are played among both humans and aliens, an astronaut in a space suit hugs a 19th-century British admiral, and Martinez somehow makes it all work. He skillfully handles the intricacies of characterization and the many moving parts, building to the trilogy’s utterly satisfying and quite epic finale. Agent: Sara Megibow, KT Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Michael G. Coney: SF Gateway Omnibus

Michael G. Coney. Gollancz (Trafalgar Sq., dist.), $29.95 trade paper (500p) ISBN 978-0-575-12932-0

A decade after Coney’s death in 2005, this omnibus collects three of his finest short novels in one edition for a new generation of readers. “Mirror Image,” Coney’s first novel, follows colonists to a hostile planet populated with telepathic shapeshifters. “Charisma” remains Earth-bound to explore two lovers’ adventures traveling between parallel universes. “Brontomek!” borrows threads of both previous novels to weave another tale of starfaring colonization. Coney’s gloomy outlook on unchecked capitalism and the inhumanity of free-market dogma makes for absorbing reading across all three books, as each protagonist inevitably falls prey to internal and external forces of greed and corruption; noir fans will be particularly enamored of the fatalism at play in “Charisma.” Less impressive is the casual sexism that permeates this collection—commonplace when Coney wrote his tales in the 1970s, but distasteful to today’s readers. Still, Coney’s imaginative (but always grounded) characters and deftly constructed plots are sure to enchant those who enjoy a good cautionary tale. Agent: Dorian Literary Agency (U.K.). (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Mother of Eden

Chris Beckett. Broadway, $15 trade paper (480p) ISBN 978-0-8041-3870-3

Beckett’s second Eden Saga SF novel (after Dark Eden) once again fails to stretch beyond the familiar. Several generations after John Redlantern shook up the stunted culture of the planet Eden, humankind’s new home, its residents are split into factions. Starlight, a young woman who lives in a small tribe but dreams big, finds herself part of a political struggle when she falls for Greenstone, the new head of a violent, patriarchal oligarchy. She becomes a pseudoreligious stand-in for Gela, Eden’s first woman. Starlight tries to make life better for women and the serfs, but she predictably pushes too far, leading to tragedy. There are substantial echoes of what has come before, including multiple narrators, linguistic quirks, and garbled accounts of the first book’s events. However, Beckett frustratingly refuses to deviate from real-world historical lines, and the extreme villainy of Greenstone’s rivals (along with the recurring threat of rape against Starlight), significantly detract from a strongly fleshed-out world that’s sadly just too close to ours to stand on its own. Agent: John Jarrold, John Jarrold Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Border

Robert McCammon. Subterranean (subterraneanpress.com), $26.95 (448p) ISBN 978-1-59606-703-5

Genre-busting author McCammon (The River of Souls) pulls out all the stops for this exhilarating alien-invasion epic, which harkens back to his 1987 blockbuster, Swan Song. The spectacular opening introduces an amnesiac teenage boy who abruptly becomes aware of himself in a full-tilt sprint through a post-apocalyptic battlefield, with wounds that should have killed him, and knowledge and abilities he doesn’t understand. Ethan, as he calls himself, is clearly more than he appears—a fact that doesn’t escape the apocalypse’s survivors, expressively depicted in their despair and desperation, with whom he holes up outside Ft. Collins, Colo. Two years prior, alien species nicknamed the Gorgons and the Cyphers brought their own war to Earth’s atmosphere, killing many humans and turning others into mutant cannibals. As revelations about Ethan become increasingly poignant, McCammon expertly turns up the tension, and the group embarks on a riveting journey toward a destination they have little chance of reaching. This story blends the gripping horror and action of McCammon’s earliest novels with the empathy of his more recent work, making it one of his finest. Agent: Cameron McClure, Donald Maass Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Forgotten Suns

Judith Tarr. Book View Cafe (bookviewcafe.com), $19.95 trade paper (439p) ISBN 978-1-61138-477-2

This old-fashioned and slightly overlong crowdfunded space opera takes readers from a mysterious planet of ruins to the edges of the universe. Twelve-year-old Aisha was only trying to help her xenoarchaeologist parents when she blasted open an unexplored chamber amid the eons-old ruins on the remote planet Nevermore. But the explosion released Rama, a man who speaks a language no one has used for millennia, and medical testing insists he’s 6,000 years old. Determined to find his long-vanished people and help them return to Nevermore, Rama sets off with Khalida, a military intelligence veteran ordered back to service against her will—and young Aisha, who stows away on their ship. Tarr (Nine White Horses) tosses a bit of everything into the mix: evil government agencies, powerful psionics, tense diplomacy, ancient mysteries, the multiverse, and an intelligent starship. The story takes a little while to get moving, but once it does, there’s no slowing the momentum of the high-stakes adventure. Space opera fans will enjoy this lively story and its homages to the pulp SF era. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Boy with the Porcelain Blade

Den Patrick. Gollancz (Trafalgar Sq., dist.), $14.95 trade paper (321p) ISBN 978-0-575-13402-7

In this refreshing, rambunctious first half of a fantasy duology, Patrick (Orcs War-Fighting Manual) drops an Errol Flynn–esque character into a story filled with grotesqueries and hidden secrets that ache to be revealed. The Orfani are deformed in strange ways; for example, swashbuckler Lucien di Fontein has gaping holes where his ears should be. Though feared and loathed by many commoners, the Orfani are protected by the king and given preferential treatment, schooling, swordsmanship, and more. As the epic fantasy setting slowly takes on macabre and monstrous aspects, Lucien must survive his yearly swordsmanship tests with his wits, his will, and all his body parts intact. Patrick’s magnetic concoction of horrific, quick-moving fantasy is a winner. Agent: Juliet Mushens, Agency Group (U.K.). (June)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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In the Mouth of the Whale

Paul McCauley. Gollancz (Trafalgar Sq., dist.), $16.95 trade paper (376p) ISBN 978-0-575-10075-6

McCauley demonstrates his talent for complex and imaginative storytelling in this superior space opera set in the 22nd century, the third in his Quiet War series (after 2009’s Gardens of the Sun). One of the main threads concerns an unnamed child growing up in Brazil; she’s an enigmatic figure, a brilliant autodidact with a taste for genetic engineering, who’s being prepared by an unnamed, omniscient tutor for the war that lies ahead of her. A second narrative presents a quest for redemption by Isak Sixsmith, a librarian, whose lapses on a data-restoration assignment cost the lives of some colleagues. The third focuses on Ori, a pilot stationed on the huge space station known as the Whale, whose life changes after she witnesses something unusual. The prose can be dense at times, and the plots demand close reading; McCauley packs in so much information that it’s easy for readers to get confused if their attention strays for even half a page. Agent: Mic Cheetham Literary Agency (U.K.). (June)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Grant of Immunity

Garret Holms. CreateSpace, $15.75 trade paper (430p) ISBN 978-1-503114-78-4

Holms uses his experience as a prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge to make this legal thriller a gripping read. In 1995, Daniel Hart, a successful Los Angeles judge, is still tormented by a trauma 19 years earlier. When Hart was 15, he witnessed the murder of Sarah Collins, stabbed to death at the Lake Hollywood Reservoir by Snake, a sadistic acquaintance of his. Terrified that he would be next, Hart has remained silent about the events of that night and guilty that he didn’t protect Sarah. Meanwhile, LAPD Sgt. Jake Babbage, the erstwhile Snake, hasn’t lost his taste for abusing women. After he targets Sarah’s 21-year-old daughter, Erin, and demands sex from her by threatening to press a DUI charge, Babbage and Hart cross paths again, and the murderer devises a complex scheme to save his own skin and frame the judge. The action builds to a climax that’s a tad melodramatic, but Holms convincingly renders the courtroom scenes and legal strategies on both sides. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Tin Sky

Ben Pastor. Bitter Lemon, $14.95 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-908524-51-5

Set in the spring of 1943, Pastor’s excellent fourth mystery featuring Maj. Martin Bora (after 2014’s Dark Song of Blood) takes the German army counterintelligence officer to Ukraine. In Krasny Yar, a place shunned by the locals, someone has been savagely killing peasants for no apparent reason. Bora has little time to investigate before a higher-profile case claims his attention. Gen. Ghenrikh “Khan” Tibyetsky, a tank corps commander with access to the highest level of Soviet military planning, has offered to defect to the Germans. Khan’s information could be crucial to the battle looming in the Kursk salient. Bora handles Khan’s surrender, but the Gestapo later takes control of the prisoner. When Khan dies in Gestapo custody, an apparent poisoning victim, no one besides Bora, a decent man, seems interested in solving the crime, which may be linked to the murders at Krasny Yar. Pastor effectively melds a well-constructed whodunit with a grim portrayal of the Eastern front. Agent: Meryl Zegarek, Meryl Zegarek PR. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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