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Science Fiction for July 2023

by Henry L Lazarus

Science Fiction and Fantasy can be set in very strange worlds created by the most imaginative writers. 

Clay Harmon tells of a country with a polar climate and heavy volcanic activity, leading it’s people to live underground. The magical elements come from binding to elements like iron, and calcium. It’s a deadly process that many don’t survive. A cult captured Jakar as a child, where they forced binding with eight elements, and then a skin bonding to assure obedience to a master. Most of the children didn’t survive.  Jaker was rescued by Magnate Sorrelo Adriann who uses him to keep his city under control. Unfortunately the Flames of Mira (hard from Rebellion Publishing Ltd) by treason as Sorrelo is overthrown, barely escaping the city with the help of Jakar. Only his children, Emil, Sara, and Efadora survive his death at the hands of bandits, and they, with the help of Jakar, soon plot to retake their city. Jakar is caught between the obedience he has no choice to follow. This is a very interesting world, and greed and violence drive these cavern dwellers to horrible acts. I look forward to the next part of the tale, and hope this finds it’s way to some award. 

Julia Vee and  Ken Bebelle start an Urban fantasy in which magic users are descendents of  humans who lived in a dragon realm.Emiko Soong, born without special powers, she thought, was the blade for her Japanese family until she let her sword get out of hand and committed a massacre.  She broke her ancient blade and fled to San Francisco living a quiet life mostly in the Mundane world. Now, because of a promise made to her mother, she has to help a death god recover the Ebony Gate (hard from TOR) which magically blocks the gate to hell. If she can’t she will be frozen into a statue to serve the same purpose. The two clans of San Francisco are under a truce and one of them is responsible for the theft. This is a solid hero’s quest of a tale, far better than the usual Urban Fantasy. I look forward to Emiko’s next adventure. 

Daniel Abraham has a trilogy where all three books take place during the same year , the single year of the rule of Byrn a Sal of the ancient city-state of Kithamar that has hidden magic. Blade of Dream (hard from Orbit) is a love story between Garreth Left, heir to a prominent merchant family, and Elaine Ab-Deniya a Sal, of high ranking nobility. They meet at the equivalent of a rave. Gerald had just been told that he had an arranged marriage with a tribal girl to help save the family fortune. His two friends, now members of the constabulary,  invite him along on a raid. Elaine’s  adventuresome best friend had talked her into attending the rave. They meet when Gerald helps her escape and takes her to his home for a brief tryst. The year they meet numerous times, raising their love into intensity. Gerald leaves his family for her and other reasons,  and the main magical conflict at the center of the series enwraps them into danger. Excellent. 

There is a trope in Sf where a starship settles a colony on a world with magic. C. S. Friedman’s version, written in the nineties, shows a planet centuries after colonization where the coldfire magic rose from the  depths of the Earth to work with human nightmares. Nightborn: Coldfire Rising (hard from DAW) is the tale of a seedship that found the habitable planet after centuries of looking. The colonists, woken from stasis, were not expecting the magical horrors. The tale follows the first two weeks of settlement Colony Commander Leon Case and Chief Medic Lise Perez have to somehow find a way to ;et the colony survive while their technology is slowly failing. I found this, like the original trilogy, disconcerting, but I have trouble with pure horror.  This is still highly recommended, especially for a short tale at the end with Tarrant, s vampire from the original trilogy.  

iiStephen Aryan starts a tale set in the turbulent thirteenth century at the height of Mongol conquest in the Middle East. Kublai Khan has just become Emperor, and his brother, Ariq Böke, is just setting up the civil war that causes a pullback of Mongol forces. The Judas Blossom (paper fromAngry Robot)  follows Hulagu Khan who has his armies raze one Syrian city after another, his son Temujin who had been avoiding the fighting until his father decides he needs backbone. Unfortunately he is one of a very few people in the world who can work magic. There’s also the  Blue Princess Kokochin, a minor wife of Hulagu, who starts learning self defense from a woman associated with a Persian rebel group. Then there’s Kaivon, a former Persian general who saves Hulagu’s life and rises in the Mongol army so he can use his new power to undercut the Mongols.  This is a fascinating look at a forgotten period of history. This book ends as the civil war is just beginning. I’m looking forward to the next volume. 

Fantasy author Jonathon Roth and his family have been  invited by his rich neighbors to a hidden villa deep in the Mexican Jungle for a relaxing Christmas.Jeff Wheeler, or course doesn’t intend to be a travelog, so Jonathon soon realizes that something is wrong and tries to escape through the jungle. There is ancient Mayan magic involved, including a Jaguar Priest shape shifter, and a Doomsday Match (ebook from 47North) between the two families where the losing family is sacrificed to the Mayan gods. This is a taut thriller with light magic. There is a sequel promised. 

Davis Bunn tells of a magical tree that suddenly appears on a  mostly deserted Russian  island near Japan. investigative writer Valentina Garnier is asked by members of the Government to go and investigate The Rowan (hard from Severn House). While she watches, other tourists with her seem to be affected by the tree, which explodes while she watches. People, who were changed, in a good way, start working together, which petrifies the CIA. This tale of a God-like interference in human affairs reaches a point in which missiles are shot at a second manifestation of the tree. There is a second half coming in which our heroes have to survive evil Government and bring their revelation to the world. Fun. 

Sara Hashem tells of a place with five kingdoms established by four gods. Only one, Jasad, retained its magic, and the other kingdoms using treachery destroyed it, and now they kill and person with magic. Sylvia, The Jasad Heir (paper from Orbit) has been hiding as an orphan in a small village, her magic blocked by invisible bracelets, Then Arin, the Nizahl Heir, discovers part of her secret and, instead of having her killed, wants her to be the champion for the Alcalah trial of champions. He hopes her trials will bring out Jasad rebels so he can capture them. Sylvia and Aris find themselves drawn together, of course, but her touch can kill him. This part of the exciting tale ends when her bracelets release her magic, leaving a second half to wait for. I really enjoyed the romantic tale. 

Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon return to Valdemar starting a tale about a Gryphon in Light (hard from DAW) . Kelvren was wounded protecting Valdemar soldiers, and practically used up his magic to save one the soldiers dying from an intestinal stab. The extreme measure used to save his, leaves him  glowing with  magic from his feathers. There is something brewing inthe center of legendary Lake Evendim, and an expedition is needed to investigate, Meanwhile Kelvren needs something to keep him busy while he learns to control the magic burning inside him. This first of three tales puts the expedition together  and has them face some danger getting to the lake. This is a warm fuzzy tale with very likable characters. I’m looking forward to see how they deal with the problem of the lake. . 

Essa Hansen concludes her far, far future tale in which people with god-like powers, modified to break the universe into bubble universes, each with separate physics. Genetically modified Caiden and his family  were sent to die by the Nophek Gloss (paper) creatures, but escaped with a hidden starship powered by the Graven Azura Ghost  (paper). Ten years later he gets involved with the brother and sister rulers of Unity, Unity is not only the largest bubble universe but under the leadership of Abriss is trying to observe the other bubbles and return to a single universe.  Caiden has the potential to become as powerful as the ancient Graven, and he is helped by Abriss’s brother Threi who is trying to prevent the destruction Unity is causing. Unknown to both siblings, Caiden is the spirit of Ethera Grave (paper from Orbit) who is using Unity to create a universe large enough to support her potentially living body. This is a complicated and fascinating universe. It maybe too complicated for some but I enjoyed stretching my mind. 

Anthony Ryan concludes his tale of Alwyn Scribe, a rogue raised as an outlaw who had become chief advisor to Lady Evadine Courlain, the risen martyr.  He was sleeping with her since the two had killed Luminant Durehl VVearist. But as Elaine rises in political importance, her followers become more fanatic. Eventually Alwyn realizes, especially with the horrors her followers are causing, that he must become The Traitor (paper from Orbit) and find a way to stop her. Anthony Ryan slows the tale down a bit to finally explain the magic happening behind the scenes, but there is no ending to the brutal battle scenes. This is a fascinating series.

M. J. Kuhn continues her tale of Ryia Cautella, a thief whose father had given her sensor and kinetic  abilities by drinking the blood of adepts. In Among Thieves (paper) , she and other thieves did the impossible and stole the magical quill that kept adepts under the control of anyone who could buy them. They thought they had destroyed the object, but unfortunately only had a duplicate and one of their group has the original and hopes to activate it. For that he needs a heavily hidden knife. Ryia Cautella and new friends, including a pirate queen,  must get Thick as Thieves (paper from Gallery / Saga Press) to try and stop him before he tries to conquer their world. This is a dirty world and the plot is filled with as much fun melodrama as the first. I really enjoy this series. 

Evridiki “EB” Bardacki, his adopted daughter Trace, and the rest of the small crew of the freighter Evasion took down a slave cartel and are looking to move out of the  solar system of Icem, when a message from a man just murdered tells them of a secret base of the slavers and a possible way of finding it,  Seeking Absolution (ebook from Faolan's Pen Publishing) they decide the risk was worth it and try to find information necessary to finding the base. As usual Glynn Stewart tells an exciting tale in an ongoing series. I enjoy all of his works and this series is fun. 

George R. R. Martin has edited an anthology of tls from one of my favorite series. Wild Cards: Pairing Up (hard from Bantam). In this alternate timeline, the Wild Card virus was dropped in New York shortly after WWII and modified our history with Jokers and superhero Aces. These tales start in 1957 with a telekinetic thief who hooks up with Jack Braun, a super strong actor playing Tarzan and filming in Mexico, where she hopes to steal a lost Mexican treasure. The final tale takes place in 2023 where a man with a psychic wolf  inside him, falls in love with a black girl with wings and together they help stop a man causing riots. I love this series. 

It has been eight years since Mike Carey has had a tale about exorcist Felix Castor in a present where ghosts are quite real. ‎ Subterranean Press has a expensive hardcover novelette about a missing Russian oligarch whose house affects other exorcists with The Ghost in Bone. There are real nasty secrets to uncover, and Felix and friends are in great danger. This was an excellent series and I would really love more. 

Henry Lazarus is a retired Dentist and the author of A Cycle of Gods (Wolfsinger Publications) and Unnaturally Female (Smashwords).Check out his unified field theory at henrylazarus.com/utf.html that suggests fusion generation requires less energy.