12 great SFF books to read if you love Dungeons & Dragons

After 15 glorious years exploring the 12th-century Indian Ocean with her tightknit crew—acquiring precious jewels and artifacts, prevailing in all manner of violent encounters and reveling in the wildness of life on the sea—pirate captain Amina al-Sirafi grounded herself. Why, after all her legendary adventures, would she leave behind her beloved Marawati and abandon the great wide ocean? Because she gave birth to her daughter, Marjana, whom she wants to protect from the sorts of people she used to live among—the sort of person she used to be herself. 

But as Shannon Chakraborty’s historical fantasy The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi begins, the past calls to Amina in the form of an irresistible job offer from the wealthy and imperious mother of Amina’s former crewmate Asif. Asif’s daughter has been kidnapped, and if Amina can rescue the girl, she will receive a million dinars, a life-changing sum that could buy the security and privacy she craves. “It was tempting,” Amina thinks. “It was tantalizing. It was me. For I have always had a gambler’s soul . . .” 

Shannon Chakraborty sets sail for a new horizon.

Desire and ambition prevail over misgivings, and Amina returns to the sea after 10 years in hiding, convincing her former crew to join her once again. They encounter people, creatures and secrets that inspire fascination right along with terror and doubt. After all, everyone is older, wiser and burdened by regrets about roads (well, sea routes) not taken. But they’re also thrilled to be together again, and Chakraborty creates a rousing and inspiring portrait of the beautiful alchemy that results when a group of people fit perfectly together, challenging and supporting one another in invaluable and often hilarious ways.

As in Chakraborty’s internationally bestselling Daevabad trilogy, magic and dark forces and bizarre beings pop up in the pages of The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi, the first volume in a new trilogy. Impressively researched history underpins it all, offering fascinating context and realism that elevate this swashbuckling, adventurous tale of a fantastical heist as it explores parenthood, faith, ambition, friendship and the enduring allure of forging a legacy.

Shannon Chakraborty’s follow-up to her bestselling Daevabad trilogy is a swashbuckling high seas quest that’s rousing, profound and irresistible.
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After a lifetime as an archetypal fantasy hero—embarking on quests, slaying monsters, collecting loot, etc.—Viv the orc is ready to settle down. Inspired by a revolutionary gnome creation called coffee, all she wants is to open a cafe in the bustling city of Thune. Starting a brand-new business, however, is a lot harder than it looks, even for someone in possession of a legendary artifact and a sack full of silver. A mafia-esque group is looking for a “monthly involuntary donation” from every business on the block, figures from Viv’s past life as a warrior keep popping up and, worst of all, students are taking up the seating without even buying a cup of coffee. Ugh. Thankfully, Viv has buddies Cal, Tandri and Thimble to help her on her most arduous journey yet.

This cozy slice-of-life adventure (which was originally self-published and quickly went viral on BookTok) is Stardew Valley meets Dungeons & Dragons; it’s perfect for fantasy fans who don’t always want their stories grimdark and bloody. Legends & Lattes keeps a sedate pace as it follows the rise of Viv’s cafe, letting the reader spend quality time in its endearing world while Viv tries out various strategies to introduce a populace to a drink they’ve never heard of and get them to come back for more. In the process, Baldree casts a light on the lesser-seen elements of a fantasy world: its everyday citizens and more commonplace happenings that deserve attention just as much as high-born heroes and epic quests.

Some readers may find Viv’s adventures a little too low stakes and the plot predictable, but that’s part of Legends & Lattes’ atmospheric allure. It feels like a book to read by the fireplace (especially if that fireplace happens to be at an inn where heroes rest on their way toward the next stage of a quest). Those looking for a more peaceful story set in a world reminiscent of the fantasy landscapes they love will adore Legends & Lattes—and keep an eye out for Baldree’s next charming tale.

Legends & Lattes, Travis Baldree’s cozy slice-of-life adventure, is Stardew Valley meets Dungeons & Dragons.
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With dashes of inspiration from One Thousand and One Nights, Chelsea Abdullah’s debut fantasy kicks off in a world of sand and magic. The Stardust Thief follows Loulie al-Nazari, aka the Night Merchant, a trader of illegal magic who is ordered by the sultan to find a powerful relic—a lamp that will heal the land but destroy all jinn in the process. With the help of her jinn bodyguard, Qadir; the sultan’s son, Prince Mazen; and Aisha bint Louas, a relentless jinn hunter, Loulie must cross through treacherous territory and endure brutal trials to recover the lamp.

Rather than overwhelming the reader with multiple plotlines and a sprawling cast of characters, The Stardust Thief focuses on its central trio and the locales they visit. The various settings never feel empty or underpainted, especially in the sections told from Prince Mazen’s perspective: Forced to live cooped up in the palace for most of his life, his eager delight at finally experiencing the broader world is infectious. As the party draws closer to the lamp, Abdullah slowly unveils new truths about this world, resulting in a narrative that grows richer as it intensifies in pace. With each revelation, from the nature of relics to the existence of ifrit (hyperpowerful jinn), Abdullah propels the reader forward, heightening anticipation for what the next few pages will bring.

Loulie, Aisha and Mazen are drawn in exacting detail, with all their strengths, faults and feelings on full display, and The Stardust Thief is full of captivating intrapersonal conflict. Abdullah does a fine job creating realistic protagonists with clear differences and opposing philosophies: Loulie despises the task she has been given, Aisha despises the work Loulie does and Mazen just wants everyone to stop fighting.

Abdullah has put together a strong start to a series, setting up characters readers can root for even when those characters are opposed to one another, building a world that promises new twists every few pages, and crafting an ending that clearly leads into the next two books in the series. With its healthy balance of intrigue, character growth and action, The Stardust Thief is an enjoyable read that slowly enchants its readers.

Inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, The Stardust Thief will enchant fantasy readers with its captivating balance of intrigue, action and character growth.
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A motley crew, their skilled leader and a living ship walk into a bar—and the bar explodes.

You Sexy Thing kicks off with a literal bang (and ends with one), but the rest of the story is dialogue and flashback-driven as Cat Rambo shifts perspectives and timelines to color in their cast of characters. Captain Niko Larson, her first mate, Dabry, and a handful of their fellow soldiers escaped their former Hive Mind overlords by declaring that their true calling lay in the culinary arts, not warfare. But when the space station that their restaurant is located on is attacked, they end up seeking refuge on the titular sentient bioship. Shenanigans including space pirates and galactic politics ensue.

Set in a far-flung future teeming with diverse alien life, Rambo’s novel incorporates both magic and science in neat harmony. All denizens of this universe understand that magic and science both exist, and accept both in equal measure. You Sexy Thing’s setting is rife with intrigue, but was clearly designed to accommodate character and plot, rather than the other way around. Which isn’t to say that Rambo’s world building is flimsy or thin, rather that their focus is firmly on their characters and the relationships between them.

With this commitment to character development above all else, You Sexy Thing’s characters need to be engaging, and Rambo absolutely nails it. Captain Niko and Dabry are standouts, solid compatriots who are earnestly seeking both master chefdom and continued freedom from the Hive Mind. One of the greatest characters is the ship itself: You Sexy Thing is a living spacecraft that learns and adapts to its crew, and (not surprisingly) becomes a member of the crew itself.

Rambo does an impressive job of thrusting the reader into the middle of relationships with rich history. The dialogue always feels natural and avoids forced or excessive exposition. Instead, a new crewmate is introduced just after the first act, and her experience learning about the crew and their relationships serves to fill in the gaps for readers. Rambo describes and demonstrates all the unspoken communication between the crew, engendering a wholesome atmosphere suffused with the feeling of warm, deep trust among the closest of friends. There is very little conflict between the crew members and what conflict does spring up is resolved quickly.

You Sexy Thing is a fun start to a hopefully long-running series about the lives of a close-knit fellowship of soliders-turned-chefs-turned-adventurers. Readers will be immediately sucked into Rambo’s light-hearted, camaraderie-filled space adventure and fall in love with their earnest characters.

Cat Rambo’s warmhearted space adventure is light on plot but overflowing with earnest and engaging characters.
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M.J. Kuhn’s fantasy heist caper Among Thieves introduces readers to the world of Thamorr. Its five kingdoms have lived in harmony for years, all thanks to the subjugation of Adepts, magic users forced to live in slavery due to their superhuman abilities.

Kuhn efficiently introduces several memorable and distinct characters: Ryia, a deadly mercenary known as the Butcher of Carrowwick; Nash, a smuggler for the notorious crime boss Callum Clem; Tristan, a swindler paying off his never-ending debt; Ivan, a master of disguise; and Evelyn, the disgraced former captain of the king’s guard. Through various circumstances, secrets and plots, they’re thrown together in order to steal a mystical artifact from the most powerful man in Thamorr. The heist that ensues veers quickly off course, but the makeshift crew is determined to see it through to the end, each for varying reasons.

Though Kuhn employs a large cast, she effortlessly maintains each character’s clear-cut perspective and continues to balance their motivations and backstories with grace. Ryia in particular is a thunderbolt of a protagonist, brimming with intrigue as flashes of her cruel upbringing come to light.

Kuhn builds out her world with a deft hand, never falling into info-dump territory but remaining detailed enough that Thamorr feels tangible and lived-in. Among Thieves’ central heist mechanism is energizing, too, and rarely lets the novel’s stakes fall even an inch. Kuhn’s writing shows immense promise, often offering gems such as, “If Callum Clem was a change in key, the Butcher of Carrowwick was a dissonant chord” and, “He read like an old poem; everything could be expected to have three meanings or none at all.” The novel’s ending ties up plotlines while hinting at the possibility for more stories in the same universe, which plenty of readers will be clamoring for after finishing this fabulous debut.

A makeshift crew is thrown together to steal a mystical artifact in M.J. Kuhn's fantasy heist caper.
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Twenty-five years ago, in the land of Vos, a group of mighty warriors fought and defeated a great evil. Celebrated and rewarded for their bravery, the group became legends in their own lifetimes and retired in a time of newfound peace. In Sarah Beth Durst’s The Bone Maker, it’s the demons we battle after triumphing over our greatest hardships that are the most challenging to defeat. How much pain and how many sacrifices does it cost to win? And could you summon that courage again, if you were called upon?

Kreya of Vos lost her husband, Jentt, when he sacrificed himself to save the world from the renegade bone maker Elkor. But Kreya is a bone maker too, able to use animal bones to animate inanimate objects with sentience and locomotion. Consumed by grief and hidden away deep in the forest with Jentt’s corpse, she pores over forbidden rituals that temporarily bring Jentt back to life. When she risks everything to harvest the bones of soldiers defeated at the final battle with Elkor, she discovers that the world may not be safe after allthe ancient evil Kreya and Jentt thought they defeated 25 years ago may have returned.

Readers will be hooked by an early scene that depicts one of Jentt’s many returns from death. Kreya awakens him, but she knows her spell is only strong enough to keep him alive for a day. It’s incredibly sad and instantly relatable. Regret is a significant theme for all of the book’s characters, and Kreya’s longing is a pitch-perfect way to introduce it. Other characters have regrets as well, but a wife who wants her husband back hits especially hard. Durst displays a mastery of emotional resonance throughout the book, bringing each character’s scars to the surface even in moments of levity. You never really forget the toll the past has taken on each person.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Sarah Beth Durst on her love of backstories, the importance of humor and the inspiration for bone magic.

The Bone Maker follows story beats common to many fantasy novels. The second act has a certain “getting the gang back together” spirit to it, returning a group of semibroken people to one another’s company. Two things keep the story feeling fresh while Durst sets her chess pieces upon the board. The first is dialogue; The Bone Maker features lovely banter between people who know each other well, and they alternate insults, jokes and witty comebacks with raw conversations about pain and regret. Some of the best moments involve characters simply talking to one another and reflecting on feelings they have held inside.

The second element that sets The Bone Maker apart is its magic system. Each kind of bone magic is distinct, simple to understand and integral to the story. Durst constantly reveals new and creative ways to use the slightly creepy shamanistic act of carving symbols in bones in order to solve problemsto read the future, for example, or to endow someone with superhuman strength. While some of the central rules are set up early and repeated, the reader always feels that a new way to use magic is right around the corner.

When I read Durst’s Race the Sands last year, I loved the way she zeroed in on her characters as they searched for ways to reconcile with pain and loss. That same empathy is present in The Bone Maker, refracted across a new group of fantastic characters. There’s power in these bones.

Twenty-five years ago, in the land of Vos, a group of mighty warriors fought and defeated a great evil. But their quest isn't over.

C.M. Waggoner’s second novel (following her outstanding 2019 debut, Unnatural Magic) is a dazzling, romantic fantasy quest that requires all of the cogs in readers’ brains to turn at once. Beyond her exceedingly clever, tongue-in-cheek chapter titles that harken back to classic adventure tales and her pointed observations of human—and other creatures’—true nature, Waggoner gifts readers with the delinquent, sailor-mouthed, headstrong, queer protagonist that they never knew they always needed, not to mention a riveting plot that continuously satisfies.

The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry follows several extraordinary female characters. Protagonist Dellaria “Delly” Wells is a streetwise fire witch—supposedly one of the best in the city Leiscourt—with whom readers will experience an immediate sense of camaraderie. Waggoner’s solidly built world of Daesland contains many class divides due to socioeconomic and magickal reasons, and Delly finds herself navigating them all with difficulty, being a citizen of the lower classes. She practices the snubbed arts of “gutterwitchery,” having dropped out of the local university to use her magic on the streets, despite possessing the skills and knowledge to excel in an academic setting. Delly has grown accustomed to her townie life, in which she takes care of her addiction-riddled Mam, spends her free time in the pub, owes various people money and often gallivants around town with a one-night stand or various friends with benefits.

When Delly jumps at an unexpected opportunity to join a noblewoman’s entourage as a bodyguard, she encounters a ragtag team of high-class lady sorcerers, necromancers and fighters, including an intriguing part-troll and an elderly “body scientist” (tsk, upper-class ladies don’t say necromancy) and even a shape-shifter. This raunchy, bawdy magic-school dropout attempts to fit in and protect Miss Wexin on her way to her marriage, all while finding her own romantic prospect in aforementioned part-troll. Murderous attempts by disturbing creatures on Miss Wexin’s life rock the group’s dynamics and make trusting others difficult. But these strange and dangerous encounters are only the first half or so of this breakneck-paced plot. Not only is Miss Wexin’s life in danger, there is also the larger societal problem of drip, an addictive drug with deadly side effects that is affecting the poorer classes. This league of ruthless women must pool together their skills for the greater good, and it may be up to Delly to crack the case due to her once-ridiculed background.

As characters begin what is quite possibly the strangest bonding experience of their entire lives, Waggoner gives each a distinct voice and personality—readers will develop more than a few memorable favorites. Waggoner excels at detailed world building, from the opulent nobles’ homes and foods to the sensory feel of both the gutterlife and manors, to the stench of the local pub and even the squeak of a mattress during Delly’s cavorting with assorted fellows. But its playful title does not do such a marvelous book, or its themes, justice. Delly’s world is a land where householded (adopted) children, questionably reanimated animals, neglectful mothers, drug addiction, mysterious potions and queer romances are quite the norm. This is a book of unlikely friendships and morbid humor that is unafraid to explore relevant and oft-avoided topics.

C.M. Waggoner’s second novel is a dazzling, romantic fantasy quest that requires all of the cogs in readers’ brains to turn at once.

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As a child, when I played with my friends, we acted out heroic victories and rampaged through our enemies with peerless joy. In the minds of my friends and I, we were all equally amazing, invincible heroes. No villain could match us; we were the good guys! How could we lose? The glee of a jaunt through an imaginary world thrilled my 12-year-old self like nothing else could. In Sword of Fire, Katharine Kerr recreates the feeling of that rose-tinted romp, full of triumph and camaraderie.

Sword of Fire centers around a sociopolitical struggle against the unjust courts of the Kingdom of Deverry. While that certainly could be a backdrop for a bleak, dark struggle, Kerr’s novel is instead a lovely quest with an ever-optimistic, wholeheartedly enthusiastic crew of brilliant women and chivalrous men. Alyssa, our primary heroine, embarks on a trip to recover a book that can help usurp the old traditions of the courts with even older, supposedly more fair traditions. Kerr spends just enough time describing the world to let the reader know the important points. First, Deverry is a blend of medieval Norman, Celtic and Anglo-Saxon mythology and history. Second, there’s enough anachronistic attachment to writing, laws and education to make the plot an intriguing mix of political protest, violence and legal procedure. And finally, the world is much bigger than any of the main characters realize, and they are all perfectly happy to be proven wrong.

With a lightly magical, extremely familiar setting and lovable cast of characters, Kerr sets out to take the reader through the Kingdom of Deverry’s evolution to a (hopefully) more just world. She doles out plot points via chatty gossip between noble families and secret messages sent by way of servants. At no point, however, does Sword of Fire contain any real tension. Kerr tells a delightful, relentlessly joyful story; all anxiety is resolved within six pages of its introduction.

Alyssa is bold and well-spoken, robustly constructed as an independent, self-driven character with her own agendas and plans. Each character in Sword of Fire similarly serves as a gentle rebuke to genre tropes, crafted by Kerr as hilarious rebellions against those classic, somewhat simplistic themes of chivalry, damsels and maniacal villains. Rather than rolling plot pressure up to a grand battle of epic proportions, Alyssa and company instead try to establish a legal precedent in a court of law and hope to avoid war entirely. At each point where Kerr could fall into a trope, she subverts expectations.

Meandering through the pages of Kerr’s Sword of Fire was escapism of the finest quality. For readers looking for a dark drama of epic proportions, these 380 pages will hold nothing for you. Here, you will only find charming banter, happy endings and optimism in prose form.

Sword of Fire is centered around a socio-political struggle against the unjust courts of the Kingdom of Deverry. While that certainly could be a backdrop for a bleak, dark struggle, Kerr’s novel is instead a lovely quest with an ever-optimistic, wholeheartedly enthusiastic crew of brilliant women and chivalrous men.

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As a preteen, I wanted to love movies like Pirates of the Caribbean. I loved tall tales of swashbuckling pirates and daring adventures on the high seas, but the movies didn’t live up to what I thought a sea adventure should or could be. Maybe it was the language, or maybe it was how painfully un-magical the movies were. Whatever the case, they just never clicked. But The Bone Ships, the first book in R.J. Barker’s Tide Child trilogy, is everything I wished those movies of the sea had been and much, much more. Simultaneously gritty and full of a sense of wonder, The Bone Ships is the perfect adventure for anyone who’s ever had dreams of the sea—or of dragons.

The endless war between the Hundred Isles and the Gaunt Islands was built on the bones of dragons. When those dragons disappeared, the island nations recycled what they could, each generation using the scavenged parts of the dragon-bone ships of the warriors who came before. The war went on, each generation’s ships smaller than the last. As their ships weakened and rotted, the war diminished to raids meant to steal ships and children. But the uneasy equilibrium will soon end: The first dragon in hundreds of years has been sighted. Lucky Meas and her ragtag crew of the condemned are determined to find it first and change the course of the war, but they aren’t the only ones desperate to find and claim the creature as their own.

One of the most interesting things about The Bone Ships is our perspective into its world. Joron Twiner, our point of view character, is no hero. He is cowardly and prideful. He’s incompetent and haunted by his past. It is clear even from the very first pages of The Bone Ships that if we are to have a traditional hero, it will be the woman who has taken Joron’s ship, Gilbryn “Lucky” Meas. Meas’ knack for driving her crew to success against all odds might feel cheap if she were our window into this world, as her ability to lead others is almost otherworldly. But because we see Meas through Joron’s eyes, we are only seeing Meas as her crew sees her: a great captain who causes remarkable changes in others, including Joron himself.

The world we see through Joron’s eyes is alien, from the little details (ships are referred to as “he” rather than “she”) to the big ones (normalized infant blood sacrifice). But as strange as these details sometimes are, there’s something about Barker’s style that makes them seem utterly natural. In many ways The Bone Ships reads not as a fantasy, but almost like a recent historical fiction, lending it an air of verisimilitude that many fantasy books lack. The narrator assumes that readers know the Hundred Isles as well as its characters do. That assumption can sometimes be confusing—the traditions, superstitions and even the language of the denizens of the Tide Child are as numerous as they are complicated—but this approach is also necessary. While a Tolkienesque explanation of the history of everything might have simplified the book, it would have been for the worse rather than for the better.

Appealing to the adventurer in all of us, The Bone Ships is an excellent book for any reader in search of a fantastical journey.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with R.J. Barker about The Bone Ships.

Simultaneously gritty and full of a sense of wonder, The Bone Ships is the perfect adventure for anyone who’s ever had dreams of the sea—or of dragons.

What Captain Eva Inocente lacks in restraint, trepidation and doubt, she certainly makes up for in determination and heart—not literally, as the (space) sailor-mouthed, confident explorer sports a mechanical heart implant, a constant reminder of missions gone horribly awry. The protagonist of Chilling Effect, Valerie Valdes’ new space opera, is as resourceful as she is impulsive, and her loyalty knows no bounds once it sets anchor. Eva is comprised of many vivid layers, as colorful as her abounding cache of Spanish curses. And the vulnerable and emotional facets of her person prove that a futuristic mechanical heart does not prohibit one from developing or expressing strong emotions.

The settings of Chilling Effect are vast and change often, and the cast of characters is constantly expanding, from our many introductions to various alien life forms to fluctuations in Eva’s crew, including her incessantly shifting lists of friends and foes. But Eva soon learns that sometimes your chosen family is worth just as many—or more—sacrifices as your biological one. Eva’s fiery spark of devotion and spirit will keep readers captivated until the very last page of this winding, backtracking and space-jumping ride. Her unmitigated connection to her Cuban roots also remains a steadfast joy, from both her many untranslated Spanish lines to her undying love for guava, arroz con mango and piña coladas.

Eva has some proverbial skeletons in her closet (or corpses in cryogenic tanks, whichever you prefer) but she tries to focus on moving forward and surviving. The disastrous missions in her past? She’s now the reliable captain of La Sirena Negra, guiding her motley but lovable crew through the galaxy. Eva’s clean now, and has given up the blackmailing, pirating and plotting of her dark past. Family problems? All good on that front. By living her life on the space frontier, she’s fled her manipulative father, planet-bound mother and beloved but very different sister, Mari. Love? She’s living the single life, content for now, but she just can’t quite put her finger on a puzzle piece missing from her life.

Her newfound stability is turned on its head when a slew of unfortunate events occur all at once, shattering the peace she and her crew have established. A drunken rejection at a bar results in the bloodthirsty revenge of a fishy alien emperor whose name roughly translates to the Glorious Apotheosis, whose goal is to imprison Eva in his harem, even if he has to travel to the ends of the galaxy to find her. This sets into motion a string of incidents that are all too overwhelming and complicated for anyone but Eva to handle: the kidnapping of her beloved Mari; unwelcome interference from her estranged father, Pete; unveiled plans of the nefarious organization, The Fridge, which wants her hide if it can’t have her soul; and a host of dangerous and difficult missions she’s been blackmailed into to try and recover her loved ones. Add to this blend some endearing but convoluted feelings for her subordinate engineer, Vakar, an alien who exudes emotions through smell, and some equally complicated feelings for where her loyalties lie, and Eva has really found herself in quite the espectáculo de mierda.

Eva’s magnificently diverse crew comes along for the ride, including the alluring Vakar; Rebecca Jones aka Pink (a reference to her impressive dreadlocks, which complement her equally impressive cybernetic eye), a talented and wise-beyond-her-years, no-nonsense medic; Min, the sensitive pilot whose very mind is connected to the ship’s core; Leroy, a red-headed conglomeration of parts and holographic tattoos who is the strongest in body but dearly misses his moms; and a batch of psychic kittens who mostly serve as background props and humorous relief, but who nonetheless have a role to play in Eva’s chosen family.

Chilling Effect is a wild, rocky ride that reminds readers that all creatures, Earth-bound, planet-bound or not, crave the same essentials—connection, success and safety. Eva meets dinosaur-like todyks who fight over affairs and lost love, but also has to deal with her scummy ex-partner in love and crime. What she does know is that she is not the captain of her ship and the master of her fate, but she is now responsible for the lives of her families, both given and found.

Captain Eva Inocente is the reliable captain of La Sirena Negra, guiding her motley but lovable crew through the galaxy.
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Soulkeeper by David Dalglish is a nearly perfect representation of a game of Dungeons & Dragons come to life. A fighter, wizard, cleric and a rogue encounter dragons, magic and much more within the pages of Dalglish’s delightful romp. Tension and action set in right from the beginning of Devin the Soulkeeper’s journey, and the overall sense of unease permeates the book throughout.

Soulkeepers are a group of extremely cool coroner/pastors responsible for the literal ascension of souls into heaven. Oh—they also burn the bodies on a pyre when the process is complete, if they were not cool enough already. Every classic fantasy trope can be found in Soulkeeper’s world, called the Cradle, each with its own twist. Faeries are wrought from stone, clerics wear porcelain doll masks and members of the religious order are called Keepers. A new, dangerous wrinkle is added when ancient forces and dangerous magic begins to awaken, placing the entire world in danger and forcing Devin to add “monster slayer” to his list of duties.

Soulkeeper is an excellent companion to rainy March days, despite the fact that Dalglish does not shy away from vividly described gore and violence. In the span of twenty pages, Dalglish allows his characters to enjoy days of uninterrupted, wholesome fun and incredible bouts of depression and anxiety. One might think that such quick swings would cause emotional whiplash, but Dalglish handles the pacing well, creating genuine characters with realistic emotional depth. Each protagonist is goodhearted and caring in a way that is increasingly rare in the era of “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead,” and I often found myself chuckling or snickering at Dalglish’s lowbrow humor.

Dalglish wears his influences on his sleeve throughout the story, pulling from Lord of the Rings and R.A. Salvatore to craft a complex, highly developed systems that serve as the backbone of his world. As a veteran player of tabletop role-playing games, I can easily imagine that Dalglish either built a system of rules that his world runs on or that he took inspiration from rule intensive games like Magic: The Gathering or Pathfinder. Either way, the result is that the magic of Soulkeeper is grounded and consistent.

I found myself chewing through the story, eager to see the next turn in each subplot. I often wish I could forget all my memories of playing Dungeons & Dragons, just so I could experience the first time playing again. Soulkeeper brought me back to the nostalgia I had during that first game of Dungeons & Dragons: a sense of wonder, exploration and camaraderie difficult to find anywhere else.

Soulkeeper by David Dalglish is a delightful romp, a nearly perfect representation of a game of Dungeons & Dragons come to life.

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The act of combining man and machine into something more has fascinated science-fiction authors for decades. There’s something mysterious and wonderful about the similarities between firing neurons and humming microprocessors. But what if the union of organic and inorganic matter manifested in the form of an entire space ship? What if the Millennium Falcon could speak? If Gareth L. Powell’s ripping space opera is any guide, it would be one heck of a ride.

In Powell’s future, military spacecraft are sentient, capable of communicating and choosing their course without input from a human. The Trouble Dog, one such ship in the Conglomeration fleet, seeks penance from the destruction she wrought during wartime by joining the House of Reclamation, a search-and-rescue company. When an unknown ship shoots down a large space liner carrying a thousand tourists in a disputed system, the Trouble Dog and her scrappy crew rush to the rescue. What they discover, however, could start an all-out war.

Like the ship herself, Embers of War practically zooms across space, pulling the reader along with it. This is an excellently paced adventure that swells with energy and force, upping the stakes at every turn of the page. It also manages to consider some heady and relevant questions as it jumps in and out of hyperspace. A longing for redemption is laced through the story, adding welcome emotional momentum to each new challenge. This also makes the concept of ships as sentient beings all the more intriguing; like any human, Trouble Dog struggles to articulate feelings of remorse, self-loathing and doubt.

Having such a fun ensemble cast also keeps the narrative upbeat. The calm and confident warship, the dropout punk captain, the intelligence agent in an exoskeleton—all are sharply defined and full of life. Short, varied third-person chapters buzz from one perspective to another, almost like cuts in a film. The reader always feels close to the main story, never needing to pause for breath between one important passage and the next.

Readers will no doubt notice a number of sci-fi influences here. Heinlein and Clark, along with a healthy dose of Joss Whedon’s “Firefly,” might have stoked the engines for Trouble Dog’s journey. Though no stranger to space opera thanks to 2011’s The Recollection, Powell’s deft hand at action scenes and his confidence with high concepts like sentient spacecraft should make any reader looking for a new voice in the genre very pleased indeed.

What if the Millennium Falcon could speak? If Gareth L. Powell’s ripping space opera is any guide, it would be one heck of a ride.

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