Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of April



Best of the monthApril was especially rich in speculative fiction, and I had to expand from the usual ten titles to a happy dozen in order to fit in all the books I believed readers would want to snatch up and gobble down. From children who return from other worlds to aliens who continue to threaten Earth, and from an unfinished but intriguing story by a young J.R.R. Tolkien to the brutalities committed in a haunted women's prison, there is a multitude of intriguing tales to read in April.

Below is a sampling of the best of the month list. The full list can be found here and includes new books from Richard Kadrey, R.A. Salvatore, Joe Abercrombie, Camille Griep, and more.

 

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Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire - The premise is simple: What if children did really go to places like Neverland or Wonderland, and when they came back to their "normal" lives, all they wanted to do was return to those other worlds? Luckily Eleanor West—herself a returnee—has created a boarding school that caters to those who have returned. When teenage Nancy arrives after years spent in the Halls of the Dead, she finds out the truth that change everything. McGuire's bracing and brave voice carries the reader along through a type of Hogwarts for the magically discarded, and the only disappointment here is that this novella makes you turn the last page far too soon. (See our interview between Richard Kadrey and Seanan McGuire.)
 

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Fellside by M. R. Carey - I admit, it took me a while to get into this novel, but I had faith that Carey—the author of the breathtaking The Girl with All the Gifts—would deliver a story that would wow me. And he did. In most ghost stories it's the ghosts who are the ones to fear, but when Jess Moulson is incarcerated in a women's prison for murdering a child, she quickly learns that the other prisoners are the scariest thing on the moors, not the voice that only she hears. In the last quarter of the book, Carey unravels the story in an explosive finish as shocking as it is satisfying.
 

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Flamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima - Four young adults with far too much responsibility on their shoulders form the backbone of Chima's new fantasy novel set in the Shattered Realms. One is a healer seeking revenge for his father's murder. Another has a mark on the nape of her neck that no one understands but makes her the victim of a nationwide hunt. A third is a spy whose heart and loyalties are always questionable. And the fourth is a mage who works at the whim of a mage-hating king. The first in a series, Flamecaster is fast-paced while nuanced in its politics. A romantic relationship in the story moves a bit too quickly given how invested I got in the characters, but I'm already looking forward to the next book.
 

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Chains of Command by Marko Kloos - The fourth in Kloos' military SF Frontlines series, Chains of Command still has a lot of thrust in its engine as alien fighter Andrew Grayson is again pulled into deadly combat, but this time he's up against his own species. While the alien Lanky forces regroup on Mars for another attack on Earth, Kloos keeps the tension high as Grayson has to figure out where a missing starship went. But Kloos' characters drive the action and keep the heart engaged, making him among the best military SF writers today.
 

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The Story of Kullervo by J.R.R. Tolkien and edited by Verlyn Flieger - Those expecting a never-before-seen Tolkien epic will be disappointed with this slim volume centered on a short story Tolkien started when he was in his twenties and never completed. However, what I found fascinating about The Story of Kullervo was the insight it gave into the growth of a writer whose later works became the cornerstone of fantasy fiction. Most writers go through a phase where they try out new styles or copy others, and this is Tolkien's—dare I say—fan fiction moment in which he retells a Finnish myth and gives it his own spin. A clear stepping-stone to later Tolkien tales, The Story of Kullervo is also the story of an author stretching his wings in the years before he learned to soar.
 

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