Find vividly drawn characters and worlds to get lost in with this trio of science fiction and fantasy reads.
★ Repo Virtual
Corey J. White’s fast-paced caper Repo Virtual had me hooked from the first page. Julius Dax, a part-time gamer and more-than-part-time thief, is hired by a messianic CEO to steal back a prize from a rival company. When JD and his friends find out what the company has stolen, they’re left with a choice: return a sentient artificial intelligence program to scheming corporate hands or find a way to save it. White creates a rich, grimy and charming cyberpunk world, and the action is snappy and never superfluous. The AI program has a real voice in the story, and that voice evolves as it learns what it means to be a person. Repo Virtual sets itself apart with its gleeful heart and underdog charm.
The Girl and the Stars
Summer might be on our doorstep, but Mark Lawrence lets the ice back in with his wondrous and chilling The Girl and the Stars, the first in his new Book of the Ice series. In a cold, dark world, children deemed too weak to survive are thrown into a deep, mysterious pit, never to be seen again. When Yaz sees her brother thrown into the pit, she goes in after him and discovers an entire world below the ice, along with answers to questions about herself she never knew to ask. Yaz is a worthy and tenacious heroine, wrestling constantly with her self-identity. Readers looking for an utterly fresh fantasy world would do well to give this one a try.
In the desert city of Bikampur, not everything is as it seems, and Razia, the stylish and capable protagonist of Alina Boyden’s Stealing Thunder, has secrets of her own. A dancer by day and a thief by night, Razia is living a contented new life after running from her past and transitioning from male to female. When she meets Arjun, the prince of Bikampur, at a lavish party, she finds herself on a collision course with the past she’s been trying to outrun for so long. Razia’s layers of complexity and Boyden’s ability to deliver a sharp internal narrative bring gravity to each scene. There’s very little backstory or detail that isn’t necessary to the action, which makes everything feel trim and neat throughout. The Mughal India-inspired Bikampur is full of thrilling fantasy creations, such as the dangerous zahhaks (think of a dragon, but with various magical flavors). Come for the vivid world, stay for the intrigue, the dialogue and the top-notch character design.
Chris Pickens is a Nashville-based fantasy and sci-fi superfan who loves channeling his enthusiasm into reviews of the best new books the genre has to offer.