Keeping up with all the amazing science fiction and fantasy books this month may actually be a full-time job. Alastair Reynolds, Patricia McKillip, Yann Martel, Iain Pears, Lois McMaster Bujold and a ton of your other favorite authors have new books. Here are the books you absolutely must not miss in February!
As usual, there aren’t a lot of sequels or series books in here, because otherwise the list would be all sequels. But some did sneak in...
Here’s the conclusion of Reynolds’ future-set Poseidon’s Children trilogy, dealing with the Akinya family exploring the rest of the solar system, and beyond. This time around, a journey to the distant star Gliese 163 leads to the discovery of godlike beings called Watchkeepers. SciFiNow calls it “the most thorough, immersive and extensive science fiction novel we’ve read in years.”
At long last, Bujold returns to Cordelia, the hero of her early Barrayar novels, and tells the story of Cordelia’s relationship with Admiral Oliver Jole, who was the lover of Cordelia’s husband Aral Vorkosigan. This book is a staff pick at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore, which praises it as a “charming Austenesque tale.”
Here’s one of two new books this month that attempt to grapple with H.P. Lovecraft’s legacy of racism. In Ruff’s novel, it’s the 1950s, and a black man traveling across America must face a barrage of harrassment, police abuse of power, and discrimination—and then he begins to suspect there’s something more... eldrich that has it in for him as well. I’ve heard great things about this book so far, and Kirkus says that reinventing Lovecraft’s mythos “seems to have aroused in [Ruff] a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.
It’s the Life of Pi guy! And now he’s dabbling in magical realism. A man who has been walking backwards ever since his family died stumbles on an artifact that could change the whole history of the world. Or at least, of Christianity. Then 30 years later, an autopsy reveals a woman, an ape and a bear cub sewn inside the body of a dead man. Then there’s a third section, which Ursula K. Le Guin says is the good part. She found the whole thing slow going, but wound up feeling like the book had “a quality of haunting tenderness.” Someone’s already written a pretty hilarious satire of this one.
It’s the concluding volume of Brown’s Red Rising trilogy! This time around, Darrow has managed to infiltrate the ruling Gold caste, until he gets caught and imprisoned. Soon enough, he’s scheming to escape and gain his revenge. Not to mention, fighting to overthrow the oppressive regime. Kirkus says,”This last volume is incomprehensible without reference to the first two,” but also calls this “an ambitious and satisfying conclusion to a monumental saga.”
This YA debut is getting a ton of praise for its challenging structure, in which a series of “puzzlelike” novellas interconnect—one of them takes place in the near future, while the final one takes place 100 years from now. School Library Journal gives it a starred review and praises its literary allusions and exploration of technology, the environment, time and relationships, adding: “This thoughtful, idea-driven read will be appreciated by those who like their dystopian fiction to be a bit more literary.”
The author of I Am Not a Serial Killer and Partials is back, with a story about virtual reality gone wrong. In 2050, everybody has a device implanted in their brains called a djinni—so you can access email, online content and other stuff by blinking. A young hacker named Mari teams up with a drug dealer to get a drug called Bluescreen off the streets after it causes their friend to have a nasty crash, but then they stumble on a bigger conspiracy. SLJ gave it a starred review and said, “Readers won’t be able to put this sci-fi thriller down.”
Solara is broke, and her knuckle tattoos disclose her criminal past to anyone who look at her, so she’s forced to indenture herself to the rich jock who tormented her in high school for a space voyage. But after the rich jock is framed for conspiracy, he’s forced to rely on Solara’s help to survive. Booklist called it “a lively tale of romance, space pirates, conspiracy, and made (as opposed to genetic) families.”
The author of The Dream of Perpetual Motion is back with what Kirkus calls “a Mobius strip of a novel in which time is more a loop than a path and various possibilities seem to exist simultaneously.” Kirkus gives this book a starred review, and praises its near-future storyline in which a woman named Rebecca works for an online dating service while her physicist husband works on a device that could be a time machine. After their son is caught in a self-driving-car crash, we keep revisiting this incident over and over, and it’s different every time.
At long last, there’s a new book in Duane’s awesome Young Wizards book series. Kit and Nita have been studying to become witches for so long, but it’s still a shock when they’re asked to teach instead. They’re assigned to mentor some young witches who are going to compete in the Invitational. Nita struggles with her powers and just what it means that she and Kit are dating. Kirkus says, “Duane neatly manages to pull together and tie off plot threads that have been dangling since the earliest volumes”—but this book is not for those who haven’t read the whole series.
Speaking of new takes on Lovecraft and race... A Shirley Jackson Award-winning author reworks Lovecraft’s famous story, “The Horror at Red Hook,” only this time the protagonist is Charles Thomas Tester, an African American con artist who gets invited to play music at a fancy party. Publishers Weekly praises how much this new novella has to say about present-day issues, and says it still works even if you haven’t read the Lovecraft version.
We loved Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, so the sequel is major cause for celebration. This time around, the magical land of Red London is hosting the Element Games, in which magicians compete for prizes—and Lila, the pirate and pickpocket from the un-magical Grey London, is determined to attend. Unfortunately, the people in White London, another reality where they struggle to control magic, are still determined to make trouble. Publishers Weekly gives this a starred review and says, “This is how fantasy should be done.”
Karl discovers a time-traveling wormhole in his bedroom closet—so of course, he sets up a business that allows people to go back in time and visit great rock concerts from the past, for a fee. You too can see Jimi Hendrix live in concert! But then Karl’s friend Wayne decides to go back to 1980 and save John Lennon’s life—except that he screws up and gets stranded in 980 instead. So Karl has to enlist the aid of Lena, a physics student, to help save his friend, who keeps texting him from the middle ages. Kirkus calls it “A dark and funny love story that, like its main characters, is much sweeter than it appears on the surface.” And read an interview with the author!
McIntosh is one of our favorite mind-bending authors, and we loved this new YA novel in which mysterious spheres appear all over the world, and if you touch two of a kind together, you can gain new powers. Until two kids find a rare gold sphere, on which the fate of the world depends. Read our review here, and read an excerpt from the book here.
The Greek gods are still around, but they are much reduced in power—Artemis now calls herself Selene, and she’s a vigilante who investigates crimes against women. She gets drawn into the ritual murder of a Columbia professor, and then it turns out someone is trying to bring back the Eleusinian Mysteries cult from ancient Greece. Publishers Weekly’s starred review says, “This intelligent, provocative fantasy breathes exciting new life into old, familiar tales.”
This book has such a cool premise—it’s 1926 and instead of Prohibition being targeted against alcohol, it’s aimed at banning magic. Joan runs away from home and goes to work for a gangster who wants to create the greatest magical party the world has ever seen. But meanwhile, a federal agent accepts a commission to infiltrate the gang and take them down. Kirkus says “this book kept me entranced from start to finish.”
Here’s a reinvention of the “Aladdin’s Lamp” story, from the point of view of the jinni, named Zahra. Aladdin and Zahra team up to get revenge for Aladdin’s slain parents, and freedom for Zahra. Publishers Weekly praises the playful chemistry between the two leads, and says “Khoury’s assured storytelling should make it easy for readers to lose themselves in this rich and complex story of allegiances and betrayal.”
The author of An Instance of the Fingerpost is trying his hand at science fiction, and it’s been out in the UK for a while. There’s a weird utopia called Anterworld that is ruled by storytellers, and meanwhile in a near future dystopia, scientists have discovered a machine that they think can access parallel universes—until a woman proves that it’s actually a time machine instead. And then there’s a third world, plus an app that goes with it. The Guardian calls this a “fantasy extravaganza,” but also says all the different ideas don’t seem to have much weight to them.
It’s been far too long since the last McKillip book, so this is a major cause for celebration. A boy working at a crab restaurant decides to run away and finds out that his father and brother are still alive. King Arden reveals to his illegitimate son that his mother is still alive. Then Arden assembles his knights to search for a lost artifact of incredible power. Kirkus says, “Fantasy lovers looking for a lighter touch amid all those vampires, zombies, werewolves, and industrial-strength malefactors will find this a refreshing change of pace.”
For years, the Tolliver family has tried to discover the secrets of time. Now Waldy Tolliver has gotten himself trapped in a room where time has no meaning, and he writes down the history of his family as well as the story of his relationship with the mysterious Mrs. Haven. And then Waldy meets his long lost ancestor, Waldemar, who apparently became lost in time long ago. Publishers Weekly praises the book’s ambition but says it becomes a bit exhausting—and yet, “readers looking for a fully realized blend of science and history will find a deep world to dive into.”