World Fantasy Awards
Jade City
Book Jacket   Fonda Lee
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Two clans fueled by the magical power of jade battle for control of an analog of mid-20th-century Hong Kong.Clan soldiers have a specific genetic affinity for jade not shared by most outsiders, which grants them strength and shielding, among other magical powers. Kaul Sen, the former Pillar (head) of the No Peak clan, has retired, and the new Pillar, Kaul Lan, doesn't quite inspire the fear and loyalty garnered by his legendary grandfather or his late war hero father. His younger brother, Kaul Hilo, is an effective Horn (chief enforcer), but he's also rash and impulsive. Sensing weakness in her rival, Ayt Madashi, the ruthless Pillar of the Mountain clan, begins a campaign to destroy No Peak and take total control of the island nation of Kekon. The setting suggests that this crime-thriller/fantasy might find inspiration in history and fiction about the triads, and perhaps it does, but it also clearly leans heavily on elements drawn from The Godfather. Some examples (beyond the general plot of crime families battling for supremacy): an adoptive member of the Kaul family is kidnapped by the Mountain to serve as intermediary; the Mountain wants to sell drugs and initially seeks No Peak's help with the business; the character of Hilo bears some similarity to Sonny Corleone, while the third Kaul grandchild, Shae, traces part of the path of Michael Corleone (she's spent years outside the clan pursuing her own interests but her loyalties drag her back when tragedy strikes). Despite those beats, Lee's (Exo, 2017, etc.) novel has its own story to tell; an intriguing confluence of history, culture, and biology shapes both the characters and their fates.The open-ended nature of the ending suggests that the clan war is not yet over; it'll be interesting to see what course Lee charts next. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
The Sudden Appearance of Hope
Book Jacket   Claire North
The Chimes
 Anna Smaill
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. A melodic, immersive dystopian tale set in a London where writing is lost and song has replaced story. It's some time after the cataclysmic Allbreaking, and the powerful Order has set all to rights. Every evening now, their bells peal out a soothing chorus of harmony that overwhelms body and mind. Living in an eternal present, residents of Britain rely on the rituals of "bodymemory" and their private hoards of "objectmemories"a muddy raincoat, a shard of platein order to cling to the slippery knowledge of who they are. In inventive language that perfectly captures the disrupted nature of this world, debut novelist Smaill introduces us to Simon, through whom we experience this richly realized future. Simon runs with a "pact" of fellow teens in the "under"the dark tunnels and tracks leftover from when Britain had electricity. Guided by the pact leader, Lucien, whose musical gifts more than make up for his blindness, they scavenge in "thamesmuck" for nuggets of precious pale "mettle" to sell on the black market. Simon has settled into this life despite the unusual clarity with which he can visualize his past, which once included a family. But to Simon's great disturbance, Lucien starts asking him to share these stories of his past, in violation of all social codes. When Simon does begin to piece his memories together with Lucien's, they discover the horror of how this world of seeming harmony came to be. After the deft and engaging worldbuilding of the first half, the second half of the novel slips into a swift and simple quest narrative, but it's one plaited with an unexpected story of first love. As the novel reaches its crescendo, the poignancy of memory, with all its attendant pain and loss, faces down the dangers of a perfection built on ignorant bliss. Entrancingly poetic and engagingly plotted, this is a story that brims with heart and soul. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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The Bone Clocks
 David Mitchell
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Mitchells latest could have been called The Rime of the Ancient Marinusthe youthful ancient Marinus, that is. Another exacting, challenging and deeply rewarding novel from logophile and time-travel master Mitchell (Cloud Atlas, 2004, etc.).As this long (but not too long) tale opens, were in the familiar territory of Mitchells Black Swan Green (2006)Thatchers England, that is. A few dozen pages in, and Mitchell has subverted all that. At first its 1984, and Holly Sykes, a 15-year-old suburban runaway, is just beginning to suss out that its a scary, weird place, if with no shortage of goodwilled protectors. She wants nothing but to get away: The Thames is riffled and muddy blue today, and I walk and walk and walk away from Gravesend towards the Kent marshes and before I know it, its 11:30 and the towns a little model of itself, a long way behind me. Farther down the road, Holly has her first inkling of a strange world in which Horologists bound up with one Yu Leon Marinus and, well, sort-of-neo-Cathars are having it out, invited into Hollys reality thanks to a tear in her psychic fabric. Are they real? As one strange inhabitant of a daymare asks, But why would two dying, fleeing incorporeals blunder their way to you, Holly Sykes? Why indeed? The next 600 pages explain why in a course that moves back and forth among places (Iceland, Switzerland, Iraq, New York), times and states of reality: Holly finds modest success in midlife even as we bone clocks tick our way down to a society of her old age that will remind readers of the world of Slooshas Crossin from Cloud Atlas: The oil supply has dried up, the poles are melting, gangs roam the land, and the old days are a long way behind us. We live on, says an ever unreliable narrator by way of resigned closing, as long as there are people to live on in.If Thatchers 1984 is bleak, then get a load of what awaits us in 2030. Speculative, lyrical and unrelentingly darktrademark Mitchell, in other words. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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A Stranger in Olondria
Book Jacket   Sofia Samatar
Alif the Unseen
Book Jacket   G. Willow Wilson
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Modern hacker culture and ancient Muslim mysticism collide in the debut work of fiction from Wilson, better known as a graphic novelist. Alif, the pseudonym of the Arab-Indian hero of this novel, is a young hacker living in an unnamed city in the Persian Gulf, providing support to various groups who want to avoid government censors. Heartbroken when he discovers his love has been betrothed to another man, Alif writes a program that can help him secretly detect her online activity, but the program catches the attention of the government, setting in motion a convoluted series of adventures involving an ancient Arabian Nights-esque tome called the Alf Yeom, religious leaders, otherworldly creatures and, quite literally, the girl next door. The most engaging members of this menagerie arrive early, including Vikram the Vampire, an imposing guide to the world of the jinn, and a female American Muslim-convert who sheds light on the mysterious text. Both give Wilson an opportunity to explore the more mystical elements of the Koran in particular and Islam in general, and she also clears plenty of room to discuss repressive regimes and East-West understandings. The novel is timely, especially as it surges toward an Arab Spring-themed conclusion. But though Wilson, a Muslim convert (documented in her 2010 memoir, The Butterfly Mosque), displays a savvy knowledge of Muslim arcana, the story is overstuffed with left turns and a host of characters and bogs down in jargon about hacker tools and techniques. Given relatively short shrift are samples from the Alf Yeom itself, which, when they do appear, offer some wry fables that are engaging in their simplicity. Larger doses of those stories' pithiness and charm would give this thriller more spirit. Wilson displays an admirable Neil Gaiman-esque ambition that isn't quite matched by this oft-plodding tale.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
 Lavie Tidhar
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Who Fears Death
 Nnedi Okorafor
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The City and The City
Book Jacket   China Mieville
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. Fantasy veteran Miville (Iron Council, 2004, etc.) adds a murder mystery to the mix in his tale of two fiercely independent East European cities coexisting in the same physical location, the denizens of one willfully imperceptible to the other. The idea's not newJack Vance sketched something similar 60 years agobut Miville stretches it until it twangs. Citizens of Beszel are trained from birth to ignore, or "unsee," the city and inhabitants of Ul Qoma (and vice versa), even when trains from both cities run along the same set of tracks, and houses of different cities stand alongside one another. To step from one city to the other, or even to attempt to perceive the counterpart city, is a criminal act that immediately invokes Breach, the terrifying, implacable, ever-watching forces that patrol the shadowy borders. Summoned to a patch of waste ground where a murdered female has been dumped from a van, Beszel's Detective Inspector Tyador Borl learns the victim was a resident of Ul Qoma. Clearly, the Oversight Committee must invoke Breach, thus relieving Borl of all further responsibility. Except that a videotape shows the van arriving legally in Beszel from Ul Qoma via the official border crossing point. Therefore, no breach, so Borl must venture personally into Ul Qoma to pursue an investigation that grows steadily more difficult and alarming. Grimy, gritty reality occasionally spills over into unintelligible hypercomplexity, but this spectacularly, intricately paranoid yarn is worth the effort. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
The Shadow Year
Book Jacket   Jeffrey Ford
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. From Edgar-winner Ford (for The Girl in the Glass, 2005), a tale about three kids, a small town and the banality of evil. The narrator is a sixth grader who has an older brother and a younger sister. They have an absentee father who works three jobs and an alcoholic mother. Were it not for the fact that they love each other—though none of them ever speak the word—it would be a family hell-bent on dysfunction. Still, for the most part, they've been able to consider themselves ordinary, until the night of the scream, the "shrill scream of a woman, so loud it tore the night open wide." And so begins the Shadow Year, a year dark with every possibility of violence and loss. Enter the prowler, a tall, thin man with expressionless, skeletal features, white hair, dressed, at every sighting, in a long white coat. People vanish. Shy, awkward little Charlie Edison is the first, and other disappearances follow. There are harrowing confrontations, brushes with death, a brief alliance with a ghostly presence. In their basement the children have constructed a clay and cardboard replica of their local community, its neighborhoods and citizenry, complete with a representation of their elusive nemesis. It's a town in flux, changing inexplicably and mysteriously. The conviction grows among them that by studying their model, they might be able to chart the terrifying progress of the prowler as he goes about the business of selecting targets. And then one day there's every reason to believe it's their own house he's scoping. Properly creepy, but from time to time deliciously funny and heart-breakingly poignant, too. For those of you—and you know who you are—who think the indispensable element for good genre fiction is good writing, this is not to be missed. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
 Guy Gavriel Kay
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Soldier of Sidon
 Gene Wolfe
Kirkus Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission. After more than 15 years, Wolfe (The Wizard, 2004, etc.) returns to his historical-fantasy series (Soldier in the Mist, 1986, etc.). Around 500 b.c., narrator Latro, a Roman mercenary, suffered a head wound and now can't remember anything when he awakes each day, so he meticulously records his experiences in a scroll and must re-read it every morning. However, he is able to see and converse with ghosts and gods. Now, Latro sails with his friend, sea-captain Muslak, to Egypt—or so the scroll informs him—where Egypt's Persian satrap has commissioned Muslak to explore the largely mysterious upper reaches of the Nile. Both Latro and Muslak hire temple prostitutes to become their "river wives" for the duration of the journey. In addition, Latro commands a squad of soldiers. Also aboard are Thotmaktef the scribe, Qanju the official and Sahuset the magician. Occasionally appearing—to Latro, at any rate—are a talking baboon and a huge black cat. In a coffin Sahuset keeps Sabra, a wax statue shaped as a woman, and when Latro draws near, the statue comes to life and demands blood. Later, Latro acquires from the shade of a former pharaoh, Sesostris, a slave, Uraeus, who's also a cobra. A merchant, Charthi, asks Latro to make inquiries after his son, Kames, missing after traveling to the south in search of gold. The longer the journey grows, the more peculiar it becomes. More teasing than demanding—the text abounds with sly references to Latro's previous adventures; Latro, of course, doesn't remember them and, likely, neither will his readers. Well worth investigating, but not especially purposeful or compelling. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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