Laura Hubbard

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In the alternate modern-day U.K. setting of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, a recent civil war among witches and warlocks has left their community in shambles. The titular congregation of witches has protected and supported the monarchy through wartime and peace alike, but their coven is now a mere shadow of its former glory. Many of its members were killed in the violence of the internecine war, while others have left in favor of either practicing in solitude or forming more inclusive covens than the stodgy and traditional HMRC.

Niamh, Helena, Leonie and Elle were bound by their girlhood oath to the HMRC and their friendships with one another. But those friendships, like the HMRC itself, are showing wear. While Helena, the new high priestess of the HMRC, has stayed within its stifling halls, the others have moved on. Niamh, still reeling from the death of her fiancé and the betrayal of her twin sister in the war, has retreated into her veterinary practice. Elle, who hails from an ancient line of powerful witches, has elected to live as a mundane housewife, while Leonie has risen as the queen of a new coven that welcomes witches from marginalized backgrounds into its ranks. Their bonds are further tested when a powerful young warlock threatens to destroy the HMRC for good.

British author Juno Dawson’s adult fiction debut is a femme-forward story of power, morality and fate that is not shy about its politics. While the political arguments in Her Majesty’s Royal Coven are couched in magical terms, they closely align with issues in our own world. Dawson explores the complexities of modern feminism with particular poignancy: The HMRC is stuck in its ways and takes a rigid view of womanhood and witchcraft, holding up a mirror to the failures of modern feminism. Despite its stated good intentions, the coven often discounts or even demonizes both trans witches and the traditional practices of non-white witches.

Beyond its politics, what especially makes Her Majesty’s Royal Coven shine is its impeccable voice. Dawson’s conversational, matter-of-fact tone calls to mind writers like Neil Gaiman and Diana Wynne Jones; it’s at times funny, at others heartbreaking, but always perfectly calibrated. Dawson makes you feel like she has laid all her cards on the table, but every so often she manages to pull a hidden ace from her sleeve that shocks you.

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is a thoughtful entry into the witch canon that intrigues and challenges as much as it delights.

Her Majesty's Royal Coven uses the setting of an alternate Britain where witchcraft is real to mount a delightful and thoughtful exploration of modern feminism.
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Some horror novels grab you by the throat and pull you through them, rubbing your face in the uncomfortable, terrifying things that lurk in the dark. Other horror novels can feel more sinister, slowly creeping up on you out of the banality of everyday evil. Two new novels explore these facets of fear to great effect, creating worlds that are both fantastical and terribly real. 

Black Tide

Set along Oregon’s foggy coast, Black Tide by KC Jones is the story of two strangers who are thrust together when the world comes to an end. Beth might be a disaster (even her mother says so), but her latest gig housesitting for wealthy vacationers at least keeps her from living in her car. The night before everything changes, she meets Mike, a film producer with no new projects in sight. In the early morning hours after their champagne-soaked one-night stand, they realize that something is terribly wrong. The power is out, cell phone service is down and the beach is littered with bowling ball-size meteorites that smell as if they have been pulled from a landfill in hell. Soon the unlikely pair learn a horrifying truth: Far from being an isolated incident, the meteor shower was the harbinger of an apocalyptic encounter with creatures from another world. Stranded together on an Oregonian beach, Beth and Mike must rely on each other if they are to have any chance of survival. 

Jones’ debut novel reads like a summer blockbuster stuffed with adrenaline-pumping action scenes and moments of heart-stopping suspense. Jones deftly punctuates long, tense scenes of Mike and Beth trying to avoid notice by the alien creatures with short, intense bursts of them fighting for their lives. Moments of relative calm allow for character exploration, bringing readers into Mike’s and Beth’s minds as they work through their feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Jones lets both characters take turns as first-person narrators, demonstrating the difference in how they see themselves (flawed to the point of worthlessness) and how the other person sees them (flawed but essentially good).

For readers used to tome-size horror novels, the length of Black Tide may be surprising. It’s just over 250 pages, but anything longer would have detracted from the frenetic pacing and torn attention away from Jones’ perfectly simple, extremely frightening premise: two people trapped at the end of the world, desperate to not be eaten by monsters. 

The Fervor

Alma Katsu’s The Fervor casts a wide net. It starts in 1944 during the waning days of World War II. Meiko Briggs is a Japanese immigrant and wife of a white American man. Even though her husband is serving in the U.S. Air Force, she’s still torn from her new home by the American government and forced to live in an internment camp in the remote reaches of Idaho with her daughter, Aiko. When a mysterious illness starts to move through the camp, rage and distrust rise, threatening the fragile corner of relative normalcy Meiko has tried to create for her daughter. 

Meanwhile, mysterious balloons have begun to appear and then explode across the West, leaving a similar illness in their wake. One of these bombs turns a preacher in Bly, Oregon, into a widower, driving him into the arms of hate movements cropping up across the country. A close encounter with another bomb leads a newspaper reporter to crisscross the region looking for answers, but she finds only closed doors and deep distrust. As the illness intensifies in both the camps and the surrounding towns, the sins of the past collide with the present to create an inescapable web of hatred, fear and desperation.

In light of the rash of anti-Asian violence of the 2020s, Katsu’s historical parable about the horrors—and the virulence—of racism and xenophobia feels particularly pressing. The Fervor gives readers a glimpse into one of the darkest moments of American history, and then gives the already-terrifying ethos of that time a new and frightening shape: As the disease spreads from person to person, it is often accompanied by mysterious, possibly supernatural spiders. The image of near-invisible spiders crawling from one person to another, over eyelids, mouths and bodies, is an indelibly creepy illustration of just how pervasive mistrust and prejudice are. 

The terror only grows from there. From visitations from a ghostly woman in a red kimono to midnight car chases through the prairie, The Fervor delivers a punch that’s equal parts psychological horror and jump scare. It will make you want to read into the wee hours of the morning, even though you may question that decision when the shadows start to move.

KC Jones’ apocalyptic debut and Alma Katsu’s latest eerie novel have one thing in common: They will absolutely terrify you.
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Far from being simple tales of birthrights and inheritances restored, these books delve into heady questions about power, privilege and the consequences of political intrigue. And while each does this in a different way, they do have one thing in common: They open with a death.

The Amber Crown

Jacey Bedford’s The Amber Crown begins with the death of King Konstantyn of Zavonia, poisoned by an unknown assassin. His personal guards are immediately blamed for the death and executed by the new king. Valdas Zalecki, head of the king’s guard, was out of the palace on the night of the murder, and it is up to him to find out who killed his beloved king—and to find Queen Kristina, who’s gone missing. Mirza, a witch and healer with the power to speak with the dead, promises Konstantyn that she will avenge his death. And the last piece of The Amber Crown’s puzzle is Lind, the assassin who killed Konstantyn. Haunted by the specter of his abusive childhood, Lind finds that the murder of a king is not an easy thing to live with. As their stories collide, these three outsiders must work together to prevent Zavonia from falling further into chaos.

Despite its conventional premise, The Amber Crown still represents a divergence from traditional high fantasy. The world building echoes Eastern Europe, with Zavonia serving as a fictionalized version of Poland. This allows Bedford to pull from supernatural practices of that region of the world, such as blood rituals and dream walking. And Bedford’s focus on marginalized and supposedly “unimportant” characters, rather than knights and princes, forces readers to reckon with the consequences of political upheaval outside of a royal court.

★ The Bone Orchard

Sara A. Mueller’s debut novel also begins with the death of a monarch, this time an emperor. In The Bone Orchard, Charm is a prisoner but a well-kept one. Taken from her home when her kingdom of Inshil was conquered and colonized by the Boren Empire, the necromantic witch has been confined to Orchard House for decades. Charm is surrounded by her children, of a kind: boneghosts who are grown (and often regrown) from the fruit of the bone-producing orchard. Charm and her boneghosts—Justice, Pain, Pride, Shame and Desire—serve the powerful men of the capital city of Borenguard as entertainers, masseuses and sex workers. Charm is mistress to the emperor himself, bound by a neural implant that keeps her magic in check and keeps her loyal to him. But when Charm is called to the emperor’s deathbed, she’s given a chance at freedom. If she finds the person who killed him, she will be free of the magic that keeps her bound to the crown. 

While the mechanics of Charm’s bone orchard and the empathic power that some citizens of Borenguard wield are certainly magical, other aspects of The Bone Orchard evoke classic sci-fi tropes. Charm’s boneghosts harken all the way back to Frankenstein, and the oppressive, fascist Boren Empire is straight out of Fahrenheit 451. But despite these nods to foundational works, The Bone Orchard still feels fresh and ambitious. Charm enjoys access to power while still being marginalized herself, a contradictory position that Mueller analyzes to endlessly fascinating effect. It may be an otherworldly, genre-bending fantasy, but The Bone Orchard is still intensely human at its heart. 

In a Garden Burning Gold

In a Garden Burning Gold’s opening death is not so much a murder as it is a sacrifice. Young adult author Rory Power’s first novel for adults centers on twins Rhea and Lexos, siblings gifted with immense power and responsibility. Rhea is the Thyspira, tasked with taking—and then sacrificing—a new consort each season to keep the world lush and the provinces that owe fealty to their father, Vasilis, in line. Lexos is their father’s second, trained from near birth to assist Vasilis in his political machinations and keep stability in the land. When Rhea’s latest suitor-cum-sacrifice is revealed to be embroiled in an independence movement that threatens the stability of the family’s demesne, the twins must scramble to maintain control and protect all they hold dear. 

Set in a world patterned after ancient Greek city states, In a Garden Burning Gold dives deep into family love, political intrigue and filial duty. It’s rare to find a main character whose powers engender so much ambivalence as Rhea’s abilities do for her. She offers little in return to the families and communities from whom she has stolen a life, other than the continuance of the status quo. Power makes Rhea a compelling and often likable character, while never losing sight of the fact that, in the end, she always lives and her consort always dies. That imbalance compels readers to ask whether the sacrifice is really worth it, and whether that sort of power should sit in any one person’s—or family’s—hands. A grown-up version of Encanto mixed with a political thriller, all set against a dazzling Mediterranean backdrop, In a Garden Burning Gold is a strikingly original and thoughtful fantasy. 

Readers who are eager for feats of magic and daring adventures but don’t want to retread the same old stories from decades past will be enthralled by these three novels, each of which strays outside of the traditional high fantasy playbook to great effect.
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A River Enchanted, Rebecca Ross’ adult fiction debut, is an elegant fantasy novel of homecoming and mystery. With its lyrical prose and tight world building, this story is both modern and timeless, drawing from the traditions of genre greats like Steven Lawhead and marrying them to the sensibilities of modern works like Genevieve Gornichec’s The Witch’s Heart and Tana French’s In the Woods.

The novel opens with the prodigal Jack Tamerlaine’s return to Cadence, the isle of his youth, a land where magic and spirits run free and gossip is carried on the wind as easily as smoke. He soon learns that young girls are going missing on Cadence, seemingly plucked from the air by a formless spirit, leaving no trace of them behind. Adaira, heiress to the laird and Jack’s childhood nemesis, has summoned Jack back to the island to help her find out exactly what has happened to the girls—and to get them back before it’s too late. She wants him to sing down the spirits as her mother once did so that Adaira can ask them what matter of mischief is afoot. But as Jack and Adaira delve deeper into the mystery, the spirits begin to suggest that a far darker secret lies behind the loss of the girls.

Already known for her young adult fantasy novels, Ross has created a world both rich and wonderful in Cadence. The island is full of so much magic, so many feuds and stories—enough that capturing them all in one novel, even a nearly 500-page one, seems a difficult task. But somehow Ross succeeds, guiding readers through the intricate warp and weft of the island and its traditions and creating a brilliant tapestry full of mystery and wonder. And while Ross does revel in world building, she doesn’t tell her story at a remove. The four characters that the book centers on—Jack, Adaira, guardsman Torin and healer Sidra—are vibrant and fully realized, keeping the myth-making quality of the book at bay and instead grounding the story in these characters’ heartaches and fears, their desires and attractions. A sublime mix of romance, intrigue and myth, A River Enchanted is a stunning addition to the canon of Celtic-inspired fantasy.

A sublime mix of romance, intrigue and myth, A River Enchanted is a stunning addition to the canon of Celtic-inspired fantasy.
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Xingyin has never met her father, a mortal archer who saved the human world from destruction. She is also the daughter of Chang’e, the infamous moon goddess who became immortal after drinking a potion that was given to her husband in recognition of his heroic deeds. Xingyin has lived a lonely life, hidden away in her mother’s sky-bound prison. That changes when she accidentally accesses her own magical powers and is forced to flee to avoid detection by the Celestial Emperor and his court. While on the run, Xingyin is thrust into the uncomfortable role of learning companion to the Celestial Prince, the son of the very man who imprisoned her mother. As she trains and learns alongside the prince, Xingyin is torn between loyalty to her new friend and the desperate desire to free her mother from her eternal prison.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess, Sue Lynn Tan’s debut novel, is filled with intricate world building, heartbreaking romance and mind-bending intrigue. Tan’s story is mythic in its scope yet personal in its execution. At times, she steps into a writing cadence reminiscent of a storyteller recalling a well-trod tale, as when Xingyin describes her childhood in her mother’s otherworldly prison or when she faces down monsters as First Archer of the Celestial Army. At other times, Tan’s prose is close and personal, pulling readers deep into Xingyin’s fears, drives and desires. The result is an all-consuming work of literary fantasy that is breathtaking both for its beauty and its suspense.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess starts out slowly. Indeed, the first quarter of the narrative seems to exist in an entirely different time zone than the rest of the novel, which careens from one adventure to another as Xingyin fights for her mother’s freedom. However, don’t let the languid pacing of the early scenes of Xingyin’s life with her mother fool you into thinking that this is a book where nothing happens. On the contrary, so much happens in this first installment of the Celestial Kingdom duology that it’s hard to imagine where Tan’s imagination might take Xingyin and her friends next. Wherever that road leads, however, it is sure to be one of boundless invention. 

Sue Lynn Tan’s debut novel is an all-consuming fantasy that is breathtaking both for its beauty and its suspense.
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In the thrilling second installment of Chloe Neill’s fantasy spin on the Napoleonic Wars, Captain Kit Brightling, a magically gifted naval officer in direct service to Queen Charlotte of the Isles, has been plagued by dreams. Dreams of rising water and nearing danger, yes, but also dreams of the charming and maddening viscount of Queenscliffe, Colonel Rian Grant. But questions of romance must wait as Kit is asked to find whatever information she can about the machinations of Gerard Rousseau, the exiled former emperor of Gallia.

However, Kit’s quest leads instead to the war criminal La Boucher in a small town on the coast of Gallia. The magic La Boucher wields in Rousseau’s name is deadly and immense, capable of costing hundreds their lives. There is no stopping the oncoming war, but stopping La Boucher can help Kit put the Isles on the right side of it. And to do that, she’ll need all the magic she can muster—as well as the help of a certain handsome nobleman. 

If the first book in Neill’s Captain Kit Brightling series was a slowly rising tide, A Swift and Savage Tide is the flood. Gone is the fragile peace between the Isles and Gallia, replaced by a sense of inevitable conflict and kinetic explosions of all-out war on the high seas. Gone too is the slow-burn romance of the first book, abandoned in favor of an open acknowledgement of mutual desire between Kit and Grant. What remains, however, are the elements that have made the Kit Brightling series a success so far: a wicked sense of humor and the ability to turn tropes on their sides. In addition, Neill’s already-impeccable grasp of pacing has, if possible, improved. Like the waters upon which her captain sails, Neill’s prose ebbs and flows, pulling readers into the bone-crushing anxiety of a reconnaissance mission or a tender moment with Kit’s caring (if mildly insubordinate) crew before thrusting them headfirst into the throes of battle or the rising heat of Kit’s evolving relationship with Grant. A Swift and Savage Tide teases both mystery and adventure for the two in the road that lies ahead.

A Swift and Savage Tide is perhaps even better than A Bright and Breaking Sea, but it cannot be fully enjoyed without having read that first book in the series. New readers should be informed, therefore, that the two books are best enjoyed when read back to back, all while drinking a cup of heavily sugared tea alongside a pile of Kit’s favorite pistachio nougats. The lack of sleep (and cavities) are well worth the effort for such engrossing reads. 

Chloe Neill’s second Captain Kit Brightling adventure improves upon the already stellar first book in the series.
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One day soon, we may develop technology that integrates with biological systems, that becomes so much a part of you that it isn’t clear where you end and the science begins. This potential paradigm shift lies near the center of two new science fiction thrillers. Both books start with integrated tech as a given, pulling readers through adventures as existentially stressful as they are fascinating.

In Emma Newman’s Before Mars, a standalone novel set in her Planetfall universe, geologist and artist Anna Kubrick finds a disturbing note in her room when she arrives at a Martian base. The note is in her handwriting, and warns her not to trust the base’s psychologist. More anomalies become apparent as she examines the world around her: she is missing canvases and sketchbooks, her messages home to her family aren’t answered in a way that makes sense and the base’s doctor feels too familiar to be a man she has just met. At risk of developing psychosis from prolonged exposure to immersive memory technology, and probably suffering from postpartum depression following the birth of her daughter, Anna struggles to settle in. Are her suspicions about the psychologist, the base’s AI and the motives of the corporation that sent her to Mars justified, or are they just an outgrowth of her own supposed paranoia?

Newman gives us a look at the near future that is both grim and thoughtful. AI implants within characters’ minds blur the line between what is real and what is imagined, to the point that entire psychoses are associated with not being able to tell brain-generated holograms from reality. Corporations have taken control of not just world governments, but entire planets. But even with all these changes, people, at their core, don’t change. They still suffer from depression and have bad relationships. They are paranoid and jealous. This contrast—the fantastical artificial intelligence and brain-bending technology against the mundane flaws of humanity—is what makes Before Mars brilliant. Newman’s latest novel is well worth the read for anyone who loves a twisty thriller, or who is interested in how our future as a species could unfold.

While Newman’s novel is a psychological playground of paranoia and suspicion, Emily Devenport’s Medusa Uploaded, the first in her Medusa Cycle, is half revenge thriller, half spy novel. Oichi Angelis is a servant—called a worm—on a generation ship hurtling through space. Shortly before her parents die in the destruction of their ship, they give her an implant ostensibly meant to give her access to the great music of human history. But as Oichi learns shortly before their deaths, the implant is more than it seems. It gives her not just access to music, but also to the ship’s communications systems and to a Medusa unit, a biotech fusion suit with its own AI, that can be only be paired people who have the implant. When the ship’s Executives suspect Oichi of being an insurgent, she fakes her death and joins her Medusa in a quest for revenge and the truth about what happened to her parents’ ship.

Medusa Uploaded is pure adrenaline, hurtling from intrigue to murder to impersonation. All the while, it challenges readers to think not just about the place of technology alongside—and even within—the human race, but also about what that means for human evolution. And despite its deliciously dark undertones (the first chapter, for example, asks readers to consider what sort of killer our main character is—serial? Mass murderer?), it is a book that is unshakably hopeful, for all its mayhem and scheming. Oichi and Medusa's partnership has the potential to fix the injustices of their world, which makes them a team worth rooting for. Albeit one with a very high body count.

One day soon, we may develop technology that integrates with biological systems, that becomes so much a part of you that it isn’t clear where you end and the science begins. This potential paradigm shift lies near the center of two new science fiction thrillers. Both books start with integrated tech as a given, pulling readers through adventures as existentially stressful as they are fascinating.

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There are plenty of science fiction books that tell stories of people voyaging to a new beginning, filled with intrigue, dystopias and subjugation. Relic and Record of a Spaceborn Few don’t tell those stories. Perfect for fans of both science and literary fiction, both books deal with what comes after humans have found their place in the stars.

Alan Dean Foster’s Relic tells a thoughtful story of survival. Once a midlevel administrator on the planet of Sebaroth, Ruslan is now the last of his kind. Homo sapiens—a species that had once settled countless worlds—has been destroyed by a disease of its own making, the Aura Malignance. Alone and miraculously disease-free, Ruslan has been given a new home by the Myssari, tripedal aliens whose enthusiasm for “human studies” is only outweighed by their politeness. When Myssari scientists decide they wish to clone Ruslan to reestablish his species, Ruslan is given a choice. While the aliens will not stop the cloning program out of deference for Ruslan’s feelings, they do want his willing cooperation. In exchange for the willing donation of his genetic material, the Myssari agree to look for humans’ ancient home world, a place called Earth.

Foster’s book reads like a slow, methodical mystery, building to something that isn’t quite clear until the last pages. While the discussions of Ruslan’s continued existence and the intricacies of his relationships with the blunt, three-gendered Myssari could have been tedious, Relic is anything but. It is nuanced, with a surprise lurking behind every shadow, making it impossible to put down. Foster’s story also strikingly echoes our own world, where we fight tooth and nail to avoid losing species, even if it means those species live out the rest of their days in dreary captivity. Ruslan’s experience asks, if it were us, would we want the same? Relic will not just keep you entertained. It will keep you thinking.

Becky Chambers’ Record of a Spaceborn Few, the third installment in her Wayfarers universe, tells the story of an entire fleet, as opposed to Relic’s solitary survivor. Hundreds of years after humans left Earth to find a better home, the Exodus Fleet has settled in a new solar system, locked into orbit around a new star and been accepted into the greater galactic community. Most Exodans have left the Fleet, determined to make their homes planetside. Record of a Spaceborn Few tells the stories of a few people who chose to stay in the Fleet, torn between integrating into greater galactic life and preserving the only way of life they have ever known. When an accident destroys one of the Fleet’s homesteader ships, its remaining residents are forced to struggle with what it means to still be an Exodan now that the Exodus is over.

Chambers’ characters are beautifully drawn, and they seem like they could be people next door as much as they could be people from a galaxy away. Her writing allows the reader to inhabit those nuacned characters with feeling, but without maudlin sentimentality or forced emotion. The result is an experience that will leave lovers of both science and literary fiction wishing they had just one more chapter to go back to.

There are plenty of science fiction books that tell stories of people voyaging to a new beginning, filled with intrigue, dystopias and subjugation. Relic and Record of a Spaceborn Few don’t tell those stories. Perfect for fans of both science and literary fiction, both books deal with what comes after humans have found their place in the stars.

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Mysteries (especially ones with a supernatural element) are to fall what light romances are to summer: the perfect accompaniment to the season. Trial by Treason and Dig Your Grave are ideally paired with a blanket, cooling weather and the smell of falling leaves in the air.

Steven Cooper’s Dig Your Grave, the second in the series, opens as Phoenix has been struck with a grisly murder—a body left in a cemetery with a gruesome note that warns of more to come. As detective Alex Mills and his crew begin to investigate, it soon becomes clear that there are no leads, no clues as to who committed the murder or why. When a second body appears with no leads in sight, Mills turns to his friend, local psychic Gus Parker, for a hand. But Gus’ visions are vague, and as the investigation begins to narrow it becomes less clear whether his intuitions are about the case or about a series of cryptic threats directed at Gus himself.

Dig Your Grave occupies an unlikely space somewhere between a story about balancing life as a middle-aged man and a hardboiled detective novel. It takes some of the tropes of the second genre—the clinical investigation, the careful police work, and the interdepartmental struggles—and presents them unapologetically. This is the reality of solving a murder, these details tell the reader, and they ground us, guiding us through the macabre mystery. But surrounding that plot is also a story about the struggle with the banalities of middle age and everyday life. Mills wrestles with what it means to be a good father and husband but still give his all to his job. Parker worries about his relationship with his rock star lover. Neither issue overshadows the main mystery. Instead, both give it context, reminding us that there is something darker on the other side of normal life.

Dave Duncan’s Trial by Treason takes readers out of the modern era and into 12th century England, where King Henry has received a letter from one of his allies warning him of a plot against the throne at Lincoln Castle. Although the letter is unbelievable, the king sends two of his familiares, the young knight Sir Neil d’Airelle and the newly minted enchanter Durwin of Helmdon, whose education he has financed for two years. When Durwin and his compatriots arrive in Lincoln, they soon discover that, far from an idle threat, the Lincoln Castle conspiracy may threaten the life of the king himself.

Duncan’s Trial by Treason, the second installment in his Enchanter General series, is simultaneously straightforward and thoughtful. Its narrator, Durwin, is matter of fact in his recounting—so matter of fact that some of the more surprising plot points can just seem like mere matters of course. However, while the book’s conspiracy is straightforward, the book itself is by no means simple. Duncan refrains from talking about his characters as merely English or French. They are Saxon, Norman or remnants of the old Danelaw. And while those details may seem initially insignificant to a modern reader, they are representative of the kind of care that Duncan has put into the construction of Trial by Treason. And that care and attention to detail are exactly what makes the book so hard to put down.

Mysteries (especially ones with a supernatural element) are to fall what light romances are to summer: the perfect accompaniment to the season. Trial by Treason and Dig Your Grave are ideally paired with a blanket, cooling weather and the smell of falling leaves in the air.

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Science fiction and fantasy novels are filled with roguish misfits, from heroic starship captains who just can’t stay on the good side of the law to ghoulish assassins who dispense justice from the shadows. Because this trope is so popular, authors sometimes lack the ability to surprise and delight readers with new twists on this old tune, and it takes a clever mind to turn it into something exciting, but both Suzanne Palmer’s Finder and Sam Sykes’ Seven Blades in Black do just that.

Finder is the kind of science fiction you’d get if “Firefly” and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising had a baby—an adrenaline-packed, heist-filled ride with a heavy side of political intrigue. Set against the backdrop of deep space colony Cernee, Palmer’s debut novel follows repo man Fergus Ferguson as he attempts to complete a seemingly straightforward mission: find (and reclaim) the stolen spaceship Venetia’s Sword from one Arum Gilger, local trade boss. When the colony is suddenly pulled into a civil war, Fergus must balance his job against protecting the lives of the locals who he has—unfortunately—begun to care about.

Palmer spins a story that pays homage to the rogue archetype so common to space operas without feeling like a stale copycat. As Fergus Ferguson careens from one end of Cernee to another, we are treated to not just frenetic fight scenes, daring escapes and tense intrigues, but also to the crushing uncertainty of what it would feel like to live in a human colony at the edge of the alien unknown. This contrast enhances an already complex (and not always predictable) plot that captures readers and drags them through to the book’s unlikely and unsettling end.

Like Finder, Sykes’ first entry into the Grave of Empires trilogy is, at first blush, a simple story. Sal the Cacophony is slated for execution but refuses to go until someone hears her final words—even if that means roping an officer of the Revolution into listening to her and being late to her own death by firing squad. Part Gunslinger and part Kill Bill, Seven Blades in Black is a revenge story both classic and wholly original. Sykes brilliantly weaves a tale of adventure, loss and revenge that is set against the backdrop of a countryside torn from decades of magical warfare between the magic-wielding Imperium and the Revolution, which is led by their former slaves.

What stands out most about Seven Blades in Black isn’t the characters, although Sal and her companions are beautifully crafted and far more nuanced than first meets the eye. It also isn’t the magic system, which is both complex and thoughtful in its execution. It isn’t even the breath-stealing plot, which makes the novel’s roughly 700 pages fly by. Instead, what makes Seven Blades in Black so compelling is the depth of the world Sykes has constructed. Sykes isn’t afraid to ask more questions about his world than he answers, leaving readers knowing that there’s more adventure around the corner. That ability to immerse readers in a new world without over-explaining things is difficult in the first book in any series, but Sykes deftly rises to the occasion.

Although radically different in setting and tone, both Finder and Seven Blades in Black offer fantastic, fantastical stories that are sure to delight. Either would be a great pick for anyone who loves rascals, rogues and high-octane adventure.

It takes a clever mind to take our expectations as readers of what the rogue character should be and to turn it into something new and exciting. Both Suzanne Palmer’s Finder and Sam Sykes’ Seven Blades in Black do just that.

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Some people love to celebrate the lazy days of summer with relaxing books set on the misty moors of Scotland or far-off beaches in the South Pacific. But for those of us who would prefer a jolt of adrenaline, The Girl in Red and Salvation Day offer enough frantic sci-fi adventure to chase the summer blues away.

Christina Henry is well known for her often dark and always enthralling takes on classic fairy tales. Her latest endeavor, The Girl in Red, follows in this tradition. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where a dangerous plague has driven survivors to quarantine camps and lawlessness, Henry’s new novel is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood—if Red were a biracial 20-something with a prosthetic foot, anxiety issues and the woodsman’s axe. Refusing to go to a quarantine camp, Red is instead determined to hike the hundreds of miles to the safety of her grandmother’s home. But with the world gone mad, there are darker things lurking in the woods than mere wolves.

The Girl in Red is equal parts psychological horror and post-apocalyptic survivor story, and it manages to harness the best qualities of both. Remarkably slow-paced for such a stressful novel, Henry’s story allows us to see and feel what Red sees and feels, nothing more. The narrowness in scope feels like having blinders on, forcing us to question whether the bumps in the night that terrify Red are monsters or misunderstandings. That same narrowness also grounds the story. By focusing on the pain—both physical and mental—that comes from Red’s long journey, Henry avoids making her remarkable characters feel small and unimportant in the face of the end of the world.

While The Girl in Red is singularly focused on the struggles of one woman, Kali Wallace’s Salvation Day is far grander in scope. The plot centers on what should have been a flawless heist. Zahra and the members of her “family” knew every inch of the plan to commandeer the House of Wisdom, a research vessel abandoned a decade earlier after a deadly plague swept through its hulls. What they could not plan for was what they learned once they got on board—that the virus that wiped out House of Wisdom was far worse and far different from what the government reported. And that they may have woken it up.

Salvation Day isn’t terrifying because of its premise—plenty of virus and zombie films should be scary and are instead just laughable or sad. It is terrifying instead because of Wallace’s sense of timing. She builds the story of the theft of the ship more like a story about war: long periods of tension punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Zahra and her compatriots spend a lot of their time on the ship exploring and learning about its fate rather than dealing with the still-present biological threat. Those lulls of relative calm make the action more intense and startling when it does occur, forcing readers to wonder with bated breath just what lurks beyond that next corner.

While different in scale, The Girl in Red and Salvation Day are similar in one very important way: Once you pick them up, it’s unlikely that you’ll put them down any time soon.

Some people love to celebrate the lazy days of summer with relaxing books set on the misty moors of Scotland or far-off beaches in the South Pacific. But for those of us who would prefer a jolt of adrenaline, The Girl in Red and Salvation Day offer enough frantic sci-fi adventure to chase the summer blues away.

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From orcs to elves to dragons, non-human beings in fantasy books often fall into two camps. Some are presented as basically human, if often exoticized. The rest are generally presented as bestial: They may or may not be able to speak, but at their core they’re not too different from beasts of burden. Regardless of the archetype, their thoughts, feelings and cultures (when they have any at all) are described in relation to a human or human-like surrogate. Both Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner and The Deep by Rivers Solomon (with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes) buck this tradition, creating non-human characters that are defined not by their relationship to humans but in the context of their own societies.

In her debut novel Unnatural Magic, C.M. Waggoner spins a coming-of-age tale of love, friendship and murder that is both universal and completely new. Unnatural Magic’s first strand of story is that of Tsira, a half-troll whose heritage has made it difficult to fit in among her home clan. When confronted with first a half-dead solider and then with an attempt on her own life, Tsira is forced from her solitary existence. The book’s second strand is that of Onna, a girl with a prodigious gift for magic and the guts to blaze her own academic path when she’s denied a higher magical education due to her sex. But as she embarks on her new scholarly adventure, Onna quickly becomes pulled into a hunt for a troll murderer—and unknowingly sets out on a crash course towards Tsira. Equal parts romance, bildungsroman and murder mystery, Unnatural Magic can’t decide on a genre archetype, and that’s a good thing. The resulting amalgamation is delightfully unpredictable.

Rivers Solomon’s The Deep, in contrast, is a story of pain and new beginnings. Holding the collective memories of an entire race of people isn’t easy. It is even less easy if your underwater-dwelling people are descended from the children of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by their captors and left to drown. Yetu’s duty is to remember the pain of her ancestors so that the rest of her people can live in the moment, free from the trauma of the past. She is freed from the memories only during an annual ceremony in which Yetu shares the history with her people. Overwhelmed at the prospect of taking back the memories of her ancestors, Yetu flees to the surface in the middle of one of these Tellings. On the surface, she will learn not just of the world her people left behind, but also of her people’s future. Philosophical and atmospheric, The Deep is not just a story of trauma. It is a story that looks carefully at the individual’s place in society and explores what it means to collectively heal and to move forward by accepting, but not forgetting, the past.

Unnatural Magic and The Deep are as different in tone, writing style and subject matter as two fantasy books can be. But what the two share is a deep sense of empathy. As readers, we are not meant to identify with either Yetu or Tsira as though they were human. Instead, both Solomon and Waggoner ask us to imagine beings different from ourselves and then to meet them without trying to force them into human-shaped boxes in our minds. The results are as challenging as they are enjoyable, and any reader willing to try something different will be rewarded handsomely for the effort.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Go Behind the Book with C.M. Waggoner.

Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner and The Deep by Rivers Solomon create non-human characters that are defined not by their relationship to humans but in the context of their own societies.

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This spring, YA superstars Sarah J. Maas and Veronica Roth make their adult debuts.

Veronica Roth is best known for her intense, mega-bestselling Divergent trilogy, and Sarah J. Maas’ sweeping Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses series have garnered her a massive following. With their new novels, the two YA authors fully cross over for the first time into fiction for adults. Both books sit squarely within the realm of science fiction and fantasy, but each represents a very different approach to the genre.

Maas’ House of Earth and Blood, the first book in her new Crescent City series, introduces half-Fae party girl Bryce Quinlan. After Bryce comes home to find her closest friends literally ripped limb-from-limb by a demon, she is left alone and devastated, her only solace that the perpetrator is behind bars. But two years later, a string of similar murders begins, and Bryce realizes that her friends’ killer was never caught. With the help of Hunt Athalar, a fallen angel and assassin enslaved to the city’s governor, Bryce must navigate the darker side of Crescent City to try to bring the killer to justice. 

Maas’ world is rich and sensuous, a dark urban fantasy with mythic overtones. Perfect for readers looking for both dramatic and romantic tension, it will make you hold your breath and leave your heart pounding.

Where House of Earth and Blood straddles the line between romance and mystery, Roth’s fantasy novel Chosen Ones takes a more traditional approach to the genre. The novel opens 10 years after the defeat of the Dark One, a mysterious and magical entity responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. The Chosen—the five teens responsible for the Dark One’s downfall—have grown up and moved on, creating lives that are as close to normal as they can get. 

But not everyone can move on. Sloane is plagued by PTSD and the feeling that she’ll never be anything more than one of the Chosen. But then the death of one of the Chosen forces the remaining four to reckon with a new terror: the idea that the Dark One might not be as vanquished as they once thought. 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: See what Veronica Roth has been reading.

Chosen Ones gives us a glimpse into a world after the heroes have won, and the result is stunning. Simultaneously heart-wrenching and heart-pounding, Roth’s latest will leave you gutted and wishing for just 10 more pages.

For readers who already love Roth or Maas, Chosen Ones and House of Earth and Blood will be automatic additions to their collections. For adult readers who have been hesitant to delve into the world of YA, both books serve as perfect introductions to their authors’ work. Take your chance now, and pick either (or both) as your next thrilling ride.

This spring, YA superstars Sarah J. Maas and Veronica Roth make their adult debuts.

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