Nine-year-old Jess Hall was watching though a crack in the wall when the members of his mother’s church, the River Road Church of Christ, attempted to heal Jess’s mute older brother, nicknamed Stump. The church members, accustomed to snake-handling and speaking in tongues under the guidance of their horribly scarred pastor Carson Chambliss, used a laying-on-of-hands that half-crushed the boy until Jess called out his mother’s name in fear. So when his mother takes Stump back to the church for a special evening service and Stump winds up dead, Jess knows how it happened, and knows who he blames—himself. When he cried out, everyone thought it was Stump, proof the healing was working. If he’d told the truth, would his brother be dead? But Jess is the only one blaming himself; Sheriff Barefield, who investigates the crime, and elderly midwife and healer Adelaide Lyle, who watches the church’s children on Sundays to keep them away from the snakes, both blame Carson Chambliss, a preacher as evil and manipulative as they come. So does Jess’s father, who has turned to drink in his grief. When shocking revelations about Carson Chambliss come to the fore, the situation becomes explosive.
Narrated in turns by Jess, Barefield, and Adelaide, this darkly Southern gothic tale of religious frenzy, small-town life, and the power of belief is evocative and compelling.
The small kingdom of Aydori is at war, under threat from outside by the sprawling Kresentian empire. Within the cities near the border, life as usual continues on in the face of battle, with parties and operas and young women trying to catch the eyes—or noses—of the unmarried nobles—who are all either werewolves (known as the Pack) or mages. One such young woman is the, by her own admission, eminently sensible Mirian Maylin. Mirian has recently been sent home by the university because her magecraft was deemed to be too scattered and low-level to ever be useful. But any thoughts of marriage or society are derailed when the battle at the border begins to go against the Aydori and the city empties. However, the mad Kresentian Emperor has sent a small force into Aydori under cover of battle to capture the mages foreseen by prophecy to be instrumental in either the rise or the fall of his empire. All five of the captured mages are women, all are pregnant, and all are married to the Pack’s leaders. By chance, Mirian finds herself, along with young werewolf Tomas Hagen—youngest brother of the Pack Leader—the only hope the captured mages have of rescue. But she herself is the sixth mage foretold, and as the two young heroes race deep into enemy territory, facing danger at every step, Mirian’s supposedly weak mage-craft begins acting strangely…
Steampunk-of-manners meets high fantasy meets werewolf saga in Huff’s fascinating newest title. The Silvered is seamlessly constructed and fascinatingly original, and sequels are to be hoped for!
In 1925, unappreciated museum employee Irene Blum heads to Cambodia to make a name for herself. Passed over for the promotion to Brooke Museum curator Irene believes she more than deserves, Irene is motivated partly by a sense of revenge against the museum’s trustees and partly by her deep life-long passion for the culture and history of the vanished Khmer Empire. She has discovered, in the effects of her recently deceased father, a missionary’s journal from the 1800s which gives tantalizing clues about the location of an undiscovered temple in which rest copper scrolls containing the lost history of the Khmer. If Irene can find the scrolls and bring them back to America, her career will be made, her fame assured. On the advice of her mentor, Irene enlists the aid of the beautiful, intelligent, and mercurial Simone Merlin, a Cambodian scholar in her own right but also a drug addict and the wife of an abusive Communist-supporter. Joined by others as her quest proceeds, Irene must make her way through the shadowy Shanghai underground and into the politically fraught jungles of Cambodia itself, pursued at every turn and hampered by secrets that begin rising to the fore.
A literary take on a sort of female Indiana Jones, The Map of Lost Memoriesis an exhilarating page-turner with fully-formed characters, well-described settings, and beautiful writing. Recommended.
As the half-sister, aunt, and great grand-aunt respectively of the last three Japanese Emperors, the princess Harueme has lived a very long, very privileged life. Now elderly and dying, she is preparing to leave the court for a convent. This necessitates the packing up or destroying of her lifetime of belongings. In this process, she comes upon a stack of empty notebooks and feels compelled to fill them. Harueme’s story begins as a monogatari tale, or traditional Japanese epic, about a young female cat whose entire feline family is killed, sending her on a long, mythic journey across Japan. In the course of this journey, a kami, or spirit, changes the cat into a girl. But as Harueme writes her story, a story about a life so very different from her own sheltered and carefully pruned existence, she begins interspersing reflections and memories of her own long life and the many ways her life has both fulfilled and disappointed her. The two stories weave together to create a vivid, gloriously textured view of both Japanese traditional folklore and 12th century Japanese culture.
Gorgeously written, with two compelling main characters in the tamed princess Harueme and the untamable cat-girl, Fudoki is luminous and absorbing. Highly recommended.
Archaeologist Ruth Galloway lives in a small cottage on the edge of the great Saltmarsh in England’s remote Norfolk region. Her quiet life is disrupted when Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson asks Ruth to help identify remains discovered in the Saltmarsh. Harry Nelson hopes that they are the remains of a young girl who went missing a decade previously; he is disappointed and relieved when they turn out to date to the Iron Age. But Ruth quickly becomes invested in the case, assisting Harry by giving her professional opinion of a series of letters sent, presumably by the killer, which make frequent reference to the Iron and Bronze Age artifacts found on the Saltmarsh, including a submerged causeway and a wooden henge. When another young girl goes missing, everyone fears the two cases are connected and Harry and Ruth must decipher the culprit’s strange clues before more children fall victim.
Interesting characters, a stunning backdrop in the Saltmarsh, and the unusual archaeological angle make this a mystery sure to appeal to readers looking for something a little less violent and more character-driven. This is the first in a series featuring Ruth Galloway.
Clay Jannon, an out of work web/graphic designer, ends up taking a job as the night clerk at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a used bookstore tucked away on a San Francisco street. He soon discovers that this store is unique. In addition to the shelves of relatively normal stock up front, there are huge towering shelves full of strange, seemingly encrypted books in the back. There is a small contingent of peculiar people—customers? Members of some odd book club?—who come in at all hours of the day and night requesting specific books from those odd shelves. In his spare time, Clay begins to build a 3D computer-generated model of the store and begins to find strange patterns in the borrowing habits of these odd customers and their odd books. Soon, he finds himself caught up in a mystery dating back to the earliest days of printing, a vast hidden code that has yet to be decrypted. Those trying believe it may hold the key to eternal life itself. But Clay would just settle for a good job with good friends and a pretty girlfriend.
Aptly mingling the latest and greatest of modern technology—Clay’s girlfriend is a Google employee and all-around tech wiz, Clay’s best friend owns a 3D modeling company specializing in accurate depictions of human anatomy in animation—with the oldest and most enduring technology—books themselves—this book will appeal to a wide audience. Fans of The Night Circus will find some of that book’s unique whimsy on display here as well.
Siegel’s striking graphic novel tells the story of Captain Twain (no relation to the famous Mark), a steamboat captain and frustrated writer who discovers a wounded mermaid clinging to his ship. He brings her aboard, hiding her in his cabin and nursing her back to health—and becoming dangerously attached to her in the process. As he learns more about the mermaid’s story he becomes convinced that she is somehow related to the disappearance of his ship’s former owner and the strange correspondence being carried out between current owner Lafayette (the former owner’s younger, wilder brother) and the mysterious author of folklore studies, C.G. Beaverton.
A dramatic, though quiet, story is well-matched to atmospheric pencil and charcoal artwork. Fantastic and gripping.
Lixia is one of eight human anthropologists sent down to the surface of an alien planet. There, she encounters the native intelligent species, who are very like humanity in some ways but utterly alien in others. As Lixia travels the planet with Nia, an outcast woman from the Iron People tribal group, she experiences several discrete cultures whose main similarities seem rooted in the species’ biological expressions of gender and the mating impulse. But even this seems to be not so monolithic as it originally appears; Nia is outcast precisely because she defied her culture’s conventions and fell in love with a man. The pair encounter others who defy this standard, including a man who has rejected the warlike isolation of the other males for a life of spiritual fervor and contemplation.
A quiet, masterful book in the grand anthropological tradition of Ursula LeGuin, A Woman of the Iron People won the Mythopoeic Award—normally granted to works of fantasy, not science fiction. But such is the mythic power of the stories recounted by Nia and the other aliens that this book transcends simple genre definitions, becoming a quietly moving meditation on the nature of humanity and the self.
It is 1912 and Sebastian Becker, former Pinkerton detective, is now an investigator for the Lord Chancellor’s Masters of Lunacy. His job is to investigate those “men of property” suspected of insanity in order to determine whether or not they are, in fact, mad and therefore incapable of continuing to manage their own affairs and money. He is sent to Arnmouth, a small town home to the estate of Sir Owain Lancaster, a former master of industry suspected of having gone insane after a disastrous excursion to the Amazon which claimed the lives of his wife and son. Becker arrives only to become immediately caught up in the hunt for two missing children—who turn up murdered on Sir Owain’s lands. The parallels between this case and another many years earlier in which the girls survived their ordeal are obvious, and Becker begins to investigate, attempting to locate those earlier victims—one of whom is uncommunicative and unfriendly, the other of whom has repressed all memory of the events in question. Meanwhile, Sir Owain claims that the monsters which attacked his party in the Amazon have followed him home and it is these beasts who are to blame for the girls’ attacks. Becker must unravel the truth before more victims fall prey to the monster—or the man.
Well-plotted, with an interesting lead and a fascinating set-up, The Bedlam Detective is sure to appeal to fans of intelligent historical mystery.
Johnson’s first collection of short fiction is by turns whimsical, dark, luminous, and deeply affecting. A few of the stories, like Johnson’s two novels (The Fox Woman and Fudoki) take place in a sort of mythic version of Japan. Many others are notable for their contemporary, recognizable settings—settings whose very reality makes the inevitable turn toward the strange, the mythic, or the outright magical more compelling and powerful. Stand-outs in the collection include the excellent title story; the novella-length The Man Who Bridged the Mist; and the delightfully weird 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss. Those familiar with Johnson’s longer works will find the germs of those two novels here also, in the short stories Fox Magic and The Cat who Walked a Thousand Miles. Though the collection has its weaker stories, overall, this is one of the strongest collections of contemporary magical realist fiction I have encountered in some time. Recommended for fans of the short fiction of Aimee Bender, Kelly Link, Elizabeth Hand, and Lauren Groff.