Gerry Paige Smith

Two new adaptations of King Lear and Macbeth revisit the Bard’s vision of power and its corruptibility, drawing deeply from the well of his obsession with greed and ambition.

Tessa Gratton’s The Queens of Innis Lear mines a magical landscape tortured by madness, while Macbeth by Jo Nesbø casts its namesake character in a 1970s Scottish noir.

The Queens of Innis Lear turns Shakespeare’s tragedy into a sweeping fantasy that pulls back the curtain on a family soaked in bloody conflict. When the king of Innis Lear turns away from the island’s traditional earth magic and forces his kingdom to rely on star prophecy, the splintering of his family begins. But it is the king’s descent into dementia that creates a climate ripe for betrayal and sows the seeds of discord between his three daughters.

Elia, the youngest and most devoted daughter, is shunned and exiled by her father when she refuses to proclaim her love for him. When Lear’s warrior daughter Gaela joins forces with her cunning sister Regan to claim the throne, the stage is set for war. Moving among them is Elia’s childhood friend, the scorned bastard Ban, whose loyalty shifts between the players with deadly precision.

Gratton’s literary landscape is lush and full of unique magical elements. The trees, winds and waters of Innis Lear whisper to the inhabitants of the island, especially those who refuse to respect the prophecies of the stars. This beautiful retelling of King Lear probes the nature of madness and power within a stunning new fantasy world.

Set in the gritty industrial wasteland of the Scottish coast, Nesbø’s Macbeth turns “the Scottish play”—Shakespeare’s definitive exposition on the thirst for power—into a violent police procedural. Duncan is a visionary chief of police poised to bring down both a notorious biker gang and the mysterious drug lord Hecate. Aided by SWAT team leader Macbeth and Narcotic Unit leader Duff, Duncan plans to eradicate the drug trade. But Macbeth falls under the spell of his paramour, Lady, as she whispers of his potential for advancement. Lady’s stratagems play into Hecate’s plans to gain a puppet within law enforcement. As Macbeth’s star ascends through murder and mayhem, he descends further into madness.

The latest in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, in which acclaimed authors put their own spin on Shakespeare’s works, Macbeth perfectly pairs a modern master of crime fiction with Shakespeare’s bloody tragedy. While retaining most of the original character names from Macbeth, Nesbø masterfully crafts fully fleshed players from each original role to present a visceral, contemporary exploration of ambition and corruption.

From the mists of a mystical isle to the grime of a decaying city, Gratton and Nesbø retell two of the Bard’s best-known plays with refreshing vision and respect for the original tales. The Queens of Innis Lear and Macbeth are wonderful returns to the works of Shakespeare.

 

This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Two new adaptations of King Lear and Macbeth revisit the Bard’s vision of power and its corruptibility, drawing deeply from the well of his obsession with greed and ambition.

Raised on a resource-starved and dangerous world, Gyre’s survival is a testament to both her durability and her motivation to do everything it takes to escape her home. With the planet’s only wealth locked in minerals below the surface, going underground as a caver comes with extreme risks, but it’s one of the only ways to make enough money to live—or to leave. With only a mysterious note in her wake, Gyre’s mother fled from her husband and child to seek a better life off-planet. Poverty and abandonment have propelled Gyre to risk everything for enough money to seek out her mother, to perhaps understand why she left. Gyre doesn’t have an issue with the surgical modification needed to suit up for extended subsurface exploration, nor regrets over the lies she tells to get hired, get paid and get off-planet.

Assuming she has a whole surface team to monitor and support her first exploration, Gyre trusts her suit’s technology and her own skills to ensure she completes her mission. But as her descent underground reveals missing supplies and altered routes, Gyre discovers that her surface support consists of only one handler, one voice in her helmet named Em. Communicating through the suit, Gyre finds her mounting concerns about the mission are met with misdirection and half-truths. Their terse exchanges begin to launch red flags that Em’s plan for the descent may by very different from the job Gyre signed on for.

The gulf between Gyre and Em seems as vast as the distance from the cave depths to the surface. As their combative communications evolve, they discover some fragile common ground. Each may hold the only key to answers for the other. But with lies and secrets damning both Gyre and Em, the only way for the two explorers to move forward is to keep going down. As Gyre navigates around the corpses of earlier cavers, deadly testimony to the harsh journey, each subtly whispers the dangers of putting faith in the voice they also trusted to guide them back. Gyre’s battle to survive may depend on which voices she trusts; the ones in her head, or the one on her headset.

While the story’s premise has the potential to be a bit claustrophobic, the literary landscape is surprisingly vast. Below ground the narrow passages open into great rooms, waterfalls plunge over subterranean cliffs and rivers run through tunnels left by the passage of enormous hidden creatures. Luminescent flora and fauna add haunting illumination that punctuates the descent, revealing hints of both horror and profound beauty. And the mental and emotional territory explored within the suit, between Em and Gyre, is enormous as well. With twists, turns, rock falls and drop-offs, the dangerous navigation of the cave mirrors the challenges they confront as their connection to each other evolves.

Boldly building a psychological sci-fi thriller with a cast of two, Caitlin Starling’s debut novel explores the horrors hidden within profound physical and psychological stress. As they navigate unknown territory, both caver and handler risk being trapped by emotional obstacles that could bury them both. Testing the limits of endurance and trust, The Luminous Dead sheds a revealing light on the extraordinary dark depths that the human mind and body will plumb in search of answers and illumination.

Raised on a resource-starved and dangerous world, Gyre’s survival is a testament to both her durability and her motivation to do everything it takes to escape her home. With the planet’s only wealth locked in minerals below the surface, going underground as a caver comes with extreme risks, but it’s one of the only ways to make enough money to live—or to leave.

After being violently apprehended by mercenaries, Ada von Hasenberg’s mind is already sorting through her options for escape as she’s dragged along spaceship corridors toward an uncertain end. As the fifth daughter of one of the vast Consortium’s most powerful Houses, she’s managed to survive for two years on the run from her fate as a political pawn destined for a strategic marriage. But even with the skills and resources she’s acquired as a fugitive among the stars, her father’s enormous bounty for her capture has finally brought Ada to heel.

In the dark confines of her captors’ brig, Ada finds her last chance to escape may be hanging in chains on the opposite wall. Notorious across the systems as the Devil of Fornax Zero, her cellmate Marcus Loch represents both certain danger and potential salvation. United by the knowledge that they each face a different kind of doom, they combine talents in a dangerous bid for freedom. Despite an instant physical attraction between them, Ada fears she’s hitching her getaway hopes on a killer, and Loch knows his escape might be complicated by the company of this tempting fugitive scion.

Sprinting from planet to planet on stolen transports as they scrabble for resources and allies, Ada and Loch accidentally discover technology that rival Houses would kill to possess. The pair’s path to freedom evolves as they struggle to unravel the tech’s mysteries before the Consortium erupts into war. In their quest for answers, the revelation of a shared enemy in their pursuer binds Ada and Loch closer. But the vast difference between their individual motives may send their smoldering romance up in flames.

An independent woman with powerful self-knowledge, Ada’s story is free of “rescued princess” tropes that can diminish a space opera. In a refreshing turn, Mihalik doesn’t compromise the action with a constant sexual undercurrent, but rather allows Ada and Loch to revel together in singular moments that perfectly punctuate the novel’s high energy pacing. The erotic elements are written with an economy that lets sex be sex, without an excess of emotional angst or contrived foreplay. The romance is raw, spare and more powerful for it.

Along with her remarkable world building, Mihalik introduces rich supporting characters that are deftly drawn into both the running battles as well as the layered political intrigue. With Ada and Loch’s future unclear and the fate of worlds hanging in the balance, Polaris Rising sets a magnificent stage for Mihalik’s next installment in the Consortium Rebellion trilogy.

After being violently apprehended by mercenaries, Ada von Hasenberg’s mind is already sorting through her options for escape as she’s dragged along spaceship corridors toward an uncertain end. As the fifth daughter of one of the vast Consortium’s most powerful Houses, she’s managed to survive for two years on the run from her fate as a political pawn destined for a strategic marriage. But even with the skills and resources she’s acquired as a fugitive among the stars, her father’s enormous bounty for her capture has finally brought Ada to heel.

Disillusioned by their service to the Crown in a brutal war marked by siege, starvation and unimaginable violence, a rootless assemblage of former soldiers elect to follow their battlefield priest and confessor, Tomas Piety, home from the killing fields. But Piety’s return to Ellinburg won’t offer a hero’s welcome. As the city’s former crime boss, his businesses and underworld networks have been usurped and claimed by outsiders in his absence. His homecoming, with dangerous associates at his back, sets the scene for a entirely new and equally deadly conflict.

As he crafts plans to seize back control of his criminal enterprises, Tomas must also assemble his former brothers-in-arms into a new kind of fighting force, transforming soldiers into Pious Men who will help him reclaim his illicit rule of Ellinburg. And while the soldiers bid goodbye and good riddance to the machinations of the Crown when they left the battlefield, the Crown isn’t finished with Tomas and his men. Between pitched battles in the streets and bloody raids to reclaim Pious Men territory, the Crown inserts its own deadly agent to complicate Tomas’ political maneuvers from the shadows.

Trust among his battle-shocked crew of veterans runs thin and Tomas balances on a knife’s edge as he tests their loyalties and his authority is threatened by a rivalry between his explosively violent brother and Tomas’ equally deadly second, Sergeant Bloody Anne. Like a weapon that could turn in his hand, the Pious men are all killers, one of them with emerging magical powers that are dangerous to friend and foe alike. Violent and visceral, the expletive-laden action weaves through bawdy houses, back rooms and bars as the stakes and the body counts escalate. Peter McLean’s rendering of battle fatigue as well as the traumas of physical and emotional abuse fosters an emotional investment for readers that elevates this title above other “run and gun” adventures.

Set in a Tudor-esque alternate world, Priest of Bones paints its literary landscape in broad, masculine strokes. But as the real power players emerge, McLean’s female characters conquer the foreground as Tomas’ strongest assets—and his deadliest counterparts. With its charismatic merging of backstreet magic, gangland conflict and political power struggles in a city teetering on the edge of destruction, Priest of Bones launches a breathtaking opening salvo as in the War for the Rose Throne series.

Disillusioned by their service to the Crown in a brutal war marked by siege, starvation and unimaginable violence, a rootless assemblage of former soldiers elect to follow their battlefield priest and confessor, Tomas Piety, home from the killing fields. But Piety’s return to Ellinburg won’t offer a hero’s welcome. As the city’s former crime boss, his businesses and underworld networks have been usurped and claimed by outsiders in his absence. His homecoming, with dangerous associates at his back, sets the scene for a entirely new and equally deadly conflict.

Special Agent Shannon Moss is assigned by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to help solve the brutal murder of a Navy SEAL’s family—but that’s not her only mission regarding the crime. Embedded in the NCIS, Moss is also part of a black ops program that travels to deep space and potential future timelines. The prime suspect in the family’s ritualistic slaying (and the potential kidnapper of a child missing from the murder scene) has been presumed dead for years, his ship destroyed during an early intergalactic mission. Essentially, Agent Moss is searching for a man who shouldn’t exist.

Armed with Navy technology that can propel agents into possible futures, Moss ventures forward in time, searching for clues to solve the 1997 murders. Looming over both her investigation and the time travel program is the revelation that an apocalyptic event designated Terminus is moving closer in history, approaching the present. Agent Moss’ excursions into potential timelines reveal grim domestic terror events evolving from the original murder, as well as an unexplained acceleration of the Terminus cataclysm.

Tom Sweterlitsch has crafted a powerful and compelling protagonist in Shannon Moss, a female amputee navigating the military and law enforcement structure of the 1990s. Her stamina and versatility in the face of shifting possibilities and loyalties stem from a life spent overcoming the odds. She battles mounting physical and emotional scars beneath an unflinching facade as allies evolve into enemies, victims become suspects, and the future threatens everything that came before it.

Built on the solid foundation of a mystery novel, The Gone World displays the mesmerizing power of rich speculative fiction, which drives the investigation forward (and backward) in time. Transporting readers to increasingly hostile timelines, Sweterlitsch delivers visceral and unflinching action in this dynamic merger of murder mystery and futuristic vision.

Built on the solid foundation of a mystery novel, The Gone World displays the mesmerizing power of rich speculative fiction, which drive the investigation forward (and backward) in time. Transporting readers to increasingly hostile timelines, Sweterlitsch delivers visceral and unflinching action in this dynamic merger of murder mystery and futuristic vision.

The Black Death has draped a cloak of contagion across the landscape of southwest England in 1382. Traveling toward Exeter, where he carves the stone of the cathedral, John and his brother, William, navigate the growing horror of a plague that can touch any person, high or low. Surrounded by the grim proof of mortality, their conversation turns to the merit of good deeds versus faith alone as surety for life everlasting. But when the mounting corpses become too much to bear, John’s desperate attempt to save one life changes the fates of both brothers.

As they begin to suffer symptoms of plague, a disembodied voice offers John and William a choice: The brothers can travel home and chance delivering death to their family, or they can live six more days, awakening each morning in their beloved community, 99 years after each previous day. Choosing to spare their loved ones from the risk of plague, the brothers begin their journey forward through six centuries.

With each morning’s awakening, the community’s profound political and physical changes inspire both a sense of marvel and a growing dismay. In each new century, as the brothers’ home recedes further into the past, evidence of their existence becomes harder to find. Even John’s stone carvings erode and crumble, his physical mark on the world diminishing as time passes. The strides forward in time become a living tour of what follows after we are gone, the future that our present lives may—or may not—touch.

Combining his credentials as a bestselling historian with an intimate knowledge of Exeter and the surrounding landscape, author Ian Mortimer plumbs a dynamic sliver of the world through evolving cultural epochs. Casting a line into a historical moment defined by death, Mortimer reels in a narrative of persistence and hope. Addressing universal questions about our personal impact on the world to come, The Outcasts of Time is an erudite and thoughtful exploration of death that brings history to life.

The Black Death has draped a cloak of contagion across the landscape of southwest England in 1382. Traveling toward Exeter, where he carves the stone of the cathedral, John and his brother, William, navigate the growing horror of a plague that can touch any person, high or low. Surrounded by the grim proof of mortality, their conversation turns to the merit of good deeds versus faith alone as surety for life everlasting. But when the mounting corpses become too much to bear, John’s desperate attempt to save one life changes the fates of both brothers.

After years of steering the crew of the attack ship Rocinante through the heart of conflicts and intrigues that affected humanity on a galactic scale, Captain James Holden is ready to retire. Pulling in his wake an unconventional crew that includes a dangerously volatile mechanic, a physically deteriorating former foe, former Martian military officers and a Belter with reasons to hate them all, Holden’s team has nonetheless evolved over decades into a close shipboard family, albeit a dysfunctional one.

Holden’s sudden plan to exit leaves the crew members with little time to adapt to a changed hierarchy and someone new in the captain’s chair. Before moving on to the next stage of their lives, Holden and his partner Naomi, the Rocinante’s engineer and Executive Officer, arrange to say their goodbyes to their crew family at Medina station, the central point of transit and departure through the vast ring of gates to new planets and solar systems. But before the Roci crew can fully part ways, unfinished business from a decades-old conflict boils through the Laconian gate.

Armed with new ships and troops fanatically loyal to a protomolecule-enhanced leader, the long-absent Laconian navy returns to occupy Medina Station and seize access to the gateways that are humanity’s only access to the broader galaxy. Equipped with frightening protomolecule technology and scavenged alien resources, the invading force acts with dangerous unpredictability in their quest to control the vital trade and travel nexus. Their complete domination of the station and ring emboldens the returned renegade navy to subdue the perceived core of humanity’s governance, the Sol system.

Stranded on Medina and threatened by an increasingly brutal occupying force, the Rocinante crew joins old adversaries from Mars, Earth and the Belt in uneasy alliances. With limited resources, they assemble a fractious underground resistance as they race to salvage any capability of fighting back. Unmoored from their ship, unbound by governance and uncertain about their leadership, the Rocinante crewmates are thrust into changing roles that reveal difficult truths about them. Even Holden, whose retirement hasn’t even begun, recognizes that when disaster strikes, he doesn’t know how not to be in the middle of it.

Following the crew as they’re divided and forced into close quarters guerilla action, Persepolis Rising offers some of the most intimate exploration of the series’ beloved characters to date. While Holden has a part to play, this book allows more room for the perspectives of other crew favorites, giving their distinctive and entertaining dialogues room to really breathe. James S. A. Corey’s talent for painting the crew’s intimate stories against the vast landscape of space is on full and fantastic display here.

This explosive opening salvo for the third trilogy in the Expanse series promises shocking change as longstanding powers are swept from the field and new players emerge from the violence. The protomolecule horror that ignited the pace of this series in Corey’s first book is back with provocative and terrifying potential. With whole systems disarmed and fighters in flight, Persepolis Rising prepares humanity for its greatest test of resilience—and resistance.

This explosive opening salvo for the third trilogy in the Expanse series promises shocking change as older longstanding powers are swept from the field and new players emerge from the violence. The protomolecule horror that ignited the pace of this series in Corey’s first book is back with provocative and terrifying potential. With whole systems disarmed and fighters in flight, Persepolis Rising prepares humanity for its greatest test of resilience—and resistance.

While filming a mockumentary about purported mermaids in the Mariana trench, the Atargatis is overwhelmed by deadly creatures swarming up from the deep. Climbing over the deck rails, revealing mouths filled with sharp teeth, the humanoid aquatics tear the passengers apart, all while the cameras roll. The gruesome footage later recovered from the abandoned vessel is largely discounted as a hoax, but remains a driver of debate about the existence of mermaids.

For Tory Stewart, the loss of her sister aboard that doomed ship leads her to devote her life to marine studies in order to learn more about her sister's death. Seven years after the tragedy, Tory gets her chance when the network mounts a return expedition to the trench to search for the truth of what happened to the Atargatis. Tory joins a diverse team of scientists ready to plumb the depths for answers. But as hunters, media personalities and corporate players are added to the team, the real motives of the expedition become blurred. And when the sea bares its teeth, Tory and the crew are thrown into a frantically shifting mission. While everything else is coming apart, greed, revenge and grief coalesce to spark a violent descent into madness that will unnerve and enthrall even seasoned horror fans.

Author of the popular Newsflesh series, Mira Grant masterfully ratchets the tension up and down, holding readers firmly in her grip as the mysterious and the monstrous collide. Stirring up a chilling, claustrophobic undercurrent in the dark world of unexplored deeps, Grant keeps a firm grip on the wheel as the story turns its bow into rougher water. Outside the norm for this genre, fully developed and diverse female characters are at the fore of this title and anchor the odyssey as ideal adversaries of the threat below the surface. Fleshing out her near-future feast with fascinating marine science and modern cryptozoology, Grant's Into the Drowning Deep is a delicious dive for readers with an appetite for original oceanic horror.

Fleshing out a near-future feast with fascinating marine science and modern cryptozoology, Mira Grant's Into the Drowning Deep is a delicious dive for readers with an appetite for original oceanic horror.

In the midst of giving birth to her first baby, a London woman experiences a submergence of two kinds: the complete sensory inundation that follows childbirth, and the catastrophic flood of water that begins to drown her city and nation. She, her newborn and her husband join an exodus of humanity leaving the “Gulp zone” to seek higher ground and safer places. But the illusion of security and safety begins to crumble at each stop along their refugee journey. Family members disappear, allegiances with strangers form and dissolve, government fails, and the waters continue to rise.

With the sparest of prose, debut author Megan Hunter creates a riveting story told by a mother navigating a monumental catastrophe with the most fragile of life carried at her breast. The narrator’s scope of perception is honed to a narrow, singular focus on her child. From the smell of the baby’s ear to his latch on her breast, every aspect is defined with clarity. Her awareness expands to encompass allies, but lightly. The rest of the fumbling, drowning world encroaches only on the filmy edges of her sphere.

Building on our natural fear of the unknown, Hunter leaves unspoken much of what’s truly haunting in the tale—but the rising horrors of civilization’s breakdown are perceived nonetheless. Looting, murder, robbery and abandonment flow just beneath the surface of this spare volume. The observations that remain are beautiful, visceral and fluid. Amniotic waters, flooded streets, breast milk, tears, drool and oceans all flow in and out of the liquid prose within.

In the wake of recent weather crises and flooding around the globe, Hunter’s writing on the human impact of climate change charges this slim poetic work of fiction with powerful dystopian weight. From refuge to redemption, from retreat to recovery, The End We Start From is an exquisite paean to how we come back from the times that challenge us all.

From refuge to redemption, from retreat to recovery, The End We Start From is an exquisite paean to how we come back from the times that challenge us all.

A scion of a political dynasty, Ingray will do anything to gain her mother’s favor, best her unscrupulous brother and secure the inheritance that only of them can receive. In a desperate move, she invests everything she has in a shady plan to secure and revive a convict from stasis, in the hope that they have access to venerated cultural documents called vestiges. If successful, her discovery could take down her family’s greatest rival. But the moment her prisoner awakens, they claim a different identity. Left with no clear allies, depleted resources and saddled with crippling self-doubt, Ingray’s bold strategy to become her mother’s heir unravels as her actions inadvertently pluck apart the threads barely binding a fragile peace between civilizations.

Returning to the universe of her bestselling Imperial Radch trilogy, Ann Leckie shifts her storytelling vista from a galactic scale to an individual’s journey to find their place on the grand stage. Leckie’s use of alternative pronouns for gender (“e”, in addition to “he” and “she”) creates an honest space for characters to reveal who they are, unburdened by preconceptions of identity. Leckie’s rendering of Ingray is especially compelling—riddled with misjudgments and tearful vulnerability, she nevertheless embarks on criminal actions, sparking an planetary crisis in the process.

Provenance is defined as “the history of the ownership of an object, especially when documented or authenticated.” From Ingray’s mission to prove herself worthy of the family birthright, to the questionable documents and vestiges that her entire culture is built upon, the search for individual authenticity and societal validation is at the heart of this novel. In this gripping new tale from the Imperial Radch worlds, Leckie’s Provenance perfectly combines the mercurial foundations of planetary politics with the personal journey of a woman navigating familial conflict as she creates a distinct provenance that gives her sole ownership of her path forward.

Returning to the universe of her bestselling Imperial Radch trilogy, Ann Leckie shifts her storytelling vista from a galactic scale to an individual's journey to find their place on the grand stage.

Crippled while working as an opium smuggler for his own government, Merrick Tremayne’s infirmity has become his excuse to retreat from life and retire to his crumbling home in Victorian-era Cornwall. Disabled and destitute, Merrick is perplexed when his former employers approach him with a mission to locate the source of another drug: a malarial cure found in the bark of Peruvian trees. Although previous expeditions failed to return, Merrick has nothing left to lose and so accepts the job.

Under the guise of botanist explorers, Merrick and his partner embark on a dangerous mission to locate the hidden trees and steal cuttings for the crown. They are assigned a local guide, Raphael, but as they climb into the Peruvian highlands, Raphael begins to reveal his own deeper connections to their destination.

Raphael leads them to the remote mountain enclave of Bedlam, where luminous pollen powers clockwork lamps, rare woods have explosive potential, and a salt line is literally the border between life and death. Adding to the exotic mysteries of Bedlam are lifelike statues posted along the forest boundary. These ancient figures move in eerie response to villagers who regard them with religious reverence. Navigating not only his own physical limitations but also Raphael’s mysterious connection to the statues, Merrick races to reconcile the mystical aspects of his quest before he reaches the point of no return.

Natasha Pulley’s captivating landscape unfolds slowly, her exquisitely crafted prose illuminating magical elements moving just at the edge of perception. The pace allows readers to probe Bedlam’s secrets and carefully pierce the boundaries between safety and savagery. Loosely connected to the world of her bestselling The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, The Bedlam Stacks is a lyrical paean to the power of transformation, faith and friendship.

 

This article was originally published in the August 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Loosely connected to the world of her bestselling The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, The Bedlam Stacks is a lyrical paean to the power of transformation, faith and friendship.

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