Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Publishers Weekly genre review round-up AND
Best Books of the Year! (November 5th issue)

First, let's start with the best genre titles of the year, culled from PW's fiction, SF/F, romance and YA lists. Congratulations to all the authors on this list! (If you'd like to see all the Best Books of the Year, click here.)
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (Morrow): "A particularly merciless ghost goes on the rampage in this debut supernatural thriller from the son of Stephen King."

Inferno, edited by Ellen Datlow (Tor): "Datlow offers a state-of-the-art anthology of 20 new stories by some of horror fiction's best and brightest."

Acacia by David Anthony Durham (Doubleday): "In this vividly imagined fantasy, a historical novelist chronicles the downfall and reinvention of an empire built on conquest, slaving and drug trade."

Ilario: The Lion's Eye by Mary Gentle (Eos): "Set in an alternative medieval world in which Carthage has survived to become a mighty power, this impressive first in a new fantasy series introduces an unusual protagonist, a hermaphrodite."

In War Times by Kathleen Ann Goonan (Tor): "This engaging alternate-universe yarn charts the career of an amateur saxophonist and soldier during WWII while raising the question: can technology be prevented from doing as much evil as good?"

Bright of the Sky: Book One of Entire and the Rose by Kay Kenyon (Pyr): "Deft prose, high-stakes suspense and skilled, thorough world building lift this first in a new far-future SF series involving a mishap in interstellar space that sends a family into a parallel universe."

The Name of the Wind: Book One by Patrick Rothfuss (DAW): "Set in an unnamed imaginary world, this outstanding debut fantasy chronicles the formative years of an orphan boy who starts his career as an actor in a traveling troupe of magicians, jugglers and jesters."

The Winds of Marble Arch by Connie Willis (Subterranean): "Willis makes brilliant short fiction look easy in this collection of 23 novellas and short stories, which display a powerful range of sensibility, from poignant tenderness and heartbreak to close-to-the-bone satire and blackest savagery."

Wired by Liz Maverick (Dorchester/Shomi): "Told by a sassy female computer programmer pursued by two strange men with the power to alter reality, this suprising mashup of romance and cyberpunk may be the blueprint for romance's next generation."

One with the Shadows by Susan Squires (St. Martin's): "With a mischievous leading lady and a mannered but offbeat vampire mythos, this 1820s paranormal is so solid and subtle, it may convert devotees of traditional historicals."

The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio by Lloyd Alexander (Holt): "This posthumously published fantasy/adventure telescopes the themes of Alexander's landmark Prydain Chronicles into a single potent volume."

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray (Delacorte): "Bray critiques Victorian society in this far-ranging gothic fantasy, a triumphant conclusion of the trilogy begun in A Great and Terrible Beauty."

Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan (Knopf): "Rarely do YA readers find such uniformly strong short fiction as in Lanagan's dark and provocative fantasy collection of 10 stories, striking for their beautiful, quirky language and deep psychological insight."

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic/Levine): "Anticipated ever since Harry Potter first appeared back in 1997, this massive conclusion to the singular series resolves once and for all the fates of its addictively entertaining cast."
Now, onto the reviews. (And La Gringa is a-squeal with delight to discover a new James Morrow and a new Patricia Briggs!)
Troy: Fall of Kings by David Gemmell and Stella Gemmell (Ballantine / Del Rey): * web exclusive review * "In this last installment of David Gemmell’s Trojan trilogy (following Troy: Shield of Thunder), Helen is a plain, mousy woman whose beauty is entirely of the inner sort, and Hektor is a cuckold left raising another man’s son. Agamemnon is depicted as a rapacious predator seeking the riches of Troy to support the armies he needs to hold the territories he has conquered, and Priam a shadow of his former glory, brought low by an Alzheimer’s-like disease. Strong characterizations and sturdy plotting evoke the horror of the conflict, and the story’s mythic power. David Gemmell left the novel uncompleted upon his untimely death in 2006, but his wife, Stella, who did most of his research, has brought the books to a satisfactory conclusion." (Dec. 26)

The Philosopher's Apprentice by James Morrow (Morrow): "With a talking iguana, a tree with a heart and an army of clones created from aborted fetuses, Morrow's latest is a treat for readers willing to take an imaginative leap. Philosophy ABD (all but dissertation) Mason Ambrose takes a job tutoring 17-year-old Londa Sabacthani after withdrawing his Ph.D. candidacy during a heated dissertation defense. Londa lost her moral center after a head injury, according to her mother, Edwina, a molecular geneticist with a reputation for being as “smart as God,” and it's Mason's highly compensated duty to help Londa regain her conscience. Soon after arriving on Edwina's remote Florida Keys island home, Mason discovers a separate estate where five-year-old Donya lives with two tutors hired after she lost her “rectitude” in a bicycle accident. Donya claims Edwina as her mother and, like Londa, believes she is an only child. The three tutors, sensing something grossly amiss, begin snooping and uncover a fertility scheme akin to a Dr. Frankenstein experiment. Meanwhile, Londa ventures out into the world and seeks to apply her newfound morality to American capitalism through whatever means necessary. Morrow guides readers through preposterous plot points without sacrificing plausibility. Strong characters, shots of humor and an unpredictable narrative make this a winner." (Mar.)

After the War: Two Tales of Noreela by Tim Lebbon (Subterranean): "Noreela, the postapocalyptic world that serves as the setting for Lebbon's fantasy-horror hybrids Dusk and Dawn, is the backdrop for the two loosely plotted novellas that make up this collection. In “Vale of Blood Roses,” a former soldier finds himself haunted by the crimes of his past when survivors track him down and threaten his family with a gruesome form of death-in-life if he won't help them find their way home. “The Bajuman” blends high fantasy with hard-boiled detection in its account of a bounty hunter who partners with a warrior mercenary to rescue a kidnapped “fodder,” or member of a race traditionally bred for food. Whereas the first of these tales is indisputably fantastic in terms of its imagery and set pieces, the second reads like a straight crime caper set in an exotic land. In each, Lebbon vividly describes the landscape and local color. Readers who have enjoyed other books in the Noreela series will find these tales a tide-me-over until the next full-length novel." (Feb.)

Hunter's Run by George R.R. Martin, Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham (Eos): * Starred Review * "Martin (Song of Ice and Fire series), Dozois (Strange Days) and Abraham (A Shadow in Summer) revisit classic themes of exploration, exploitation and what it means to be human in this gritty SF adventure. Humanity has finally reached the stars, only to find that all the best spots have been claimed by other races—the Silver Enye, Turu, Cian and others. Human colonists serve as world-building crash-test dummies, dropped onto empty planets deemed too dangerous or inconvenient for other races, “to pave over whatever marvels and threats evolution had put there.” On the misbegotten colony planet of São Paulo, ore prospector Ramon Espejo has no illusions, especially about how the Enye view humanity. Then Ramon murders the wrong man in a drunken fight and takes off into the wastelands to avoid the Enye authorities. Once in the outback, he discovers he's not the only one trying to hide from the Enye—and that the deadly cat-lizards called chupacabras are far from the worst dangers on São Paulo. This tightly written novel, with its memorable protagonist and intriguing extrapolation, delivers on all levels." (Jan.)

Queen of Dragons by Shana Abé (Bantam): "At the start of Abé's inventive third novel (after 2006's The Dream Thief) to feature the drákon (creatures who appear to be extraordinarily beautiful humans but can turn into smoke or dragons at will), the English drákon, who believe they are the last of their kind, are delighted to learn of another drákon tribe in the Carpathian mountains, ruled by alpha princess Maricara of the Zaharen through her nonalpha brother. The English drákon, led by their alpha lord, Kimber Langford, earl of Chasen, send emissaries from their stronghold of Darkfrith in York to Transylvania, but the emissaries are murdered en route by a secret organization dedicated to the annihilation of the drákon. Maricara journeys alone to England to warn the English drákon of the danger. Romantic fantasy fans are sure to look forward to further installments in this winning series set in the late 18th century." (Dec.)

A Dark Sacrifice: Book Two of the Rune of Unmaking by Madeleine Howard (Eos): "In Howard's gripping second volume in her Rune of Unmaking high fantasy series (after The Hidden Stars), Ouriána, the queen of Phaôrax, seeks an heir. Since Ouriána has lost one son and does not trust a second, she sends her high wizard north in search of her niece, a princess who's living as a healer under the name Winloki. Some of the northerners have other plans for Winloki, particularly the wizard Sindérian and her father, Faolein (in the form of an owl). Sindérian and Faolein arrive too late to forestall the high wizard, but set off after him and Winloki on a long and breathless chase by land and by sea. On the way, daughter and father encounter caverns of the dead, kingdoms of dwarves and vicious manticores. Swift pacing, well-crafted characters and vivid battle scenes lift this well above the average Tolkien-inspired fantasy." (Dec.)

Kill Whitey by Brian Keene (Cemetery Dance): "Stoker-winner Keene (Ghoul) delivers a lot of gore but little else that's memorable in this horror novel set in central Pennsylvania. Larry Gibson, a package-loader for Globe Package System, becomes fascinated with Sondra Belov, a dancer at the Odessa, a strip joint owned by Zakhar Putin, a mysterious Russian known as “Whitey.” After one visit to the club, Gibson is surprised to find Sondra hiding under his car. When he helps her escape from Whitey, he discovers he's made an enemy of an apparent immortal, who bounces back after being shot, eviscerated and otherwise mortally injured. Sandra explains that Whitey, a descendant of Rasputin, has inherited remarkable regenerative powers. Readers may find Gibson's transformation from an average guy to a master fighter who can hold his own against the monstrous Whitey less than convincing." (Dec.)

Nightshadows by William F. Nolan (Darkwood): "Veteran Nolan (Dark Universe) shows the versatility that earned him a 2005 Living Legend Award from the International Horror Guild in this collection of 23 previously uncollected stories. Most are short, sharp horror shockers that end with an O. Henry–type twist, though several range freely into fantasy and science fiction. Among the best are tales with a crime angle. In “Listening to Billy,” a man finds his frustration with his deteriorating marriage stoked to murderous violence by a fellow bar patron who proves to be something weirdly more than he appears. In “Silk and Fire,” a James M. Cain homage, a private detective finds himself unwittingly played by a double-crossing client. “Ripper!”—an effective exercise in supernatural noir—imagines the horror that might happen were the spirit of Jack the Ripper to accompany London Bridge on its transfer from England to Arizona. Whether writing from the perspective of a love-struck werewolf or a serial killer desperately trying to suppress his violent urges, Nolan shows a command of the short story form that's a tribute to his 50 years of perfecting his craft." (Dec.)

Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs (Ace): "Shape-shifter Mercy Thompson has a complex life, juggling two werewolf lovers and a job working for a fae mechanic; things get even more hectic when her boss and mentor is arrested for killing a citizen of the fae reservation. As the fae seem content to let him rot, Thompson takes it on herself to clear her friend's name, beginning a lone-wolf investigation that may cost her life. Briggs's third novel featuring Thompson (after Blood Bound) is another top-notch paranormal mystery; her well-balanced contemporary world, where humans live uneasily among werewolves and fae, is still a believably lived-in world; the ever-present threat of government legislation against nonhumans (though familiar to X-Men fans) adds weight to her paranormal elements, and thoughtfully researched mythology adds rich detail. Thompson is a sharp, strong heroine and her lycanthropic love triangle is honest and steamy. Briggs never shies from difficult material, and she moves effortlessly from werewolf pack psychology to human legal proceedings, making this a tense, nimble, crowd-pleasing page-turner." (Jan.)

The Cat: Or, How I Lost Eternity by Jutta Richter, illus. by Rotraut Susanne Berner, trans. by Anna Brailovsky (Milkweed): "Richter’s (The Summer of the Pike) novella starts like a tender fantasy in which an animal offers comfort and companionship to a lonely child, but it takes a darker and more sober turn. Christine seeks out the old white cat when her teacher calls her willful and her parents scold her for laziness. “Every animal is free and strong at the beginning,” the cat tells her, “and the world is always a wonder.” When the principal punishes her with two hundred lines to write—“There are no talking cats and in the future I will come to class on time”—she feels sure “that something—a secret. a spell—would come to an end. I would lose eternity if I wrote those words.” Eventually she realizes she can omit the word “no,” and, in fact, no one notices. Gradually, though, Christine sees that the cat’s freedom amounts to an absence of pity (“It’s his own fault,” it sneers about a neighbor’s lonely dog. “He licks the hand that beats him instead of biting it”); its corrosive scorn runs contrary to Christine’s compassion. (“You must protect him,” Christine finds herself feeling about the class pariah. “He’s all alone.”) Richter has an uncanny gift for illuminating the weight of small actions; it’s not too much to read the book as an allegory of good and evil in the postmodern world. Berner’s two-color drawings, the slender trim size and the eye-catching printer-board covers confer, appropriately, a smart downtown look. Ages 8-up." (Oct.)

What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire (Candlewick): "More ambitious than many of Maguire’s (Leaping Beauty; Wicked) previous works, this novel combines the author’s taste for the fairytale backstory with explorations of the values of storytelling. A contemporary narrative frame opens the book with a setting inspired by Hurricane Katrina: after a terrible storm brutalizes the region, the parents in a strict fundamentalist family have wagered outside, leaving their three children with rapidly diminishing supplies in the care of their 21-year-old English-teacher cousin, Gage. To divert them from their hunger and their anxiety, Gage spends an entire night telling them about a “skibberee” (tooth fairy) who grows up on its own and only by chance discovers that the presence of other skibbereen. Dense with allusion, metaphor and pun, Maguire’s prose shines, compensating literary-minded readers for the slow start of the skibberee story. By the time the urgency of the skibberee story matches that of the framing tale, however, Maguire’s agenda emerges in its complexity. Each of the characters takes a different approach to Gage’s story: Dinah, the 10-year-old, needs the magic that Gage’s tale delivers; her older brother claims to need to eschew its fancy, in favor of his parents’ teachings about faith and reason; Gage needs story to exist; and the youngest, who celebrates her second birthday, needs the wish the story promises. Comic scenes, elaborate tableaux and suspenseful sequences will entertain readers who prefer more straightforward fiction, but those readers may be frustrated by the unresolved ending. Ages 10-13." (Oct.)

Starcross: A Stirring Adventure of Spies, Time Travel and Curious Hats by Philip Reeve, illus. by David Wyatt (Bloomsbury): * Starred Review * "In this dashing and outrageous sequel to Larklight, plucky Art Mumby, his annoying and lovelorn sister Myrtle and their highly competent mother (who is simultaneously a traditional Victorian gentlewoman and a “four-and-a-half-thousand-million-year-old entity from another star”) travel through space to Starcross, “the Asteroid Belt’s Premier Resort Hotel.” They have been promised a relaxing respite from ongoing repairs to their orbital home—the resort purports to offer “the most tactful auto-servants... healthful air & the best opportunities for sea bathing in the Solar System.” Instead, however, they encounter murderous Punch and Judy shows, giant carnivorous sand crabs, time-traveling pieces of the planet Mars, and a nefarious plot by alien top hats to wrest control of space from the British Empire. (“Britons never, never, never shall be slaves, or the victims of man-eating hats,” Art tells himself when he is attacked in his hotel room.) While hilariously spoofing 19th-century imperial and colonial attitudes, various excesses of Victorian propriety, and such literary forms as the spy thriller and the space opera, this rambunctious, fast-moving tale also manages to provide plenty of thrills and excitement. This installment should easily win new readers for Reeve. Ages 10-up." (Nov.)

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