The best recent science fiction and fantasy – reviews roundup | Books


Moon Witch, Spider King jacket

Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James (Hamish Hamilton, £20)
The second part of the Dark Star trilogy is the story of the Moon Witch, from her long-ago beginnings as a no-name girl, hated by brothers who blame her for their mother’s death, and made to live in a termite hill. She escapes from them as she later escapes the roles men try to assign her: whore, slave, wife, victim. She names herself Sogolon, discovers a powerful force and inadvertently attracts the attention of Aesi, who is clearly much more than just an adviser to the king. By the time she meets Tracker, the “Red Wolf” of the previous book, and becomes part of the quest to find a mysterious lost boy, she has outlived everyone who ever knew her. If Black Leopard, Red Wolf was an exploration of masculinity, this companion volume examines the more restricted lives of women in the same violent, male-dominated world. Booker winner James’s African-inspired imaginary kingdoms mark the series out from the usual run of epic fantasies, but his uniquely supple, powerful style is even more distinctive.

Braking Day jacket

Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji (Jo Fletcher, £20)
This debut novel is set on a generation starship as the end of its long voyage comes into view. Soon the ship will start to brake, and even if the destination world is not as habitable as hoped, the passengers will be stuck on it. Not all the space-born descendants of the First Crew who initiated the project are happy about the prospect of leaving their home for unknown hardships. Without a ship to command with military discipline, would the elite officer class retain their power? Ravi MacLeod, a trainee engineer, is already divided between loyalty to his working-class criminal family and his ambition to become an officer. When he finds evidence of attempted sabotage, he faces even more difficult choices. But there’s a greater danger outside, lurking in the darkness of space … This richly imagined, intricately plotted adventure is crammed with ideas, and has many surprises in store.

Amongst Our Weapons jacket

Amongst Our Weapons by Ben Aaronovitch (Orion, £18.99)
In the latest Rivers of London book, DC Peter Grant is anticipating becoming the father of twins, as his beloved Beverley turns the back garden into an enormous birthing pool – but meanwhile he must solve a mysterious, possibly magical, murder in the London Silver Vaults. Aaronovitch has no peers when it comes to successfully combining the appeal of a down-to-earth police procedural with all-out fantasy: here are real places, real history and real problems complicated by the existence of magic, ancient spirits, fairies, ghosts and talking foxes, all dwelling alongside ordinary, clueless humans. His plotting is still satisfyingly inventive and the continuing characters maintain their charm in the ninth novel of a series that began in 2011.

Stringers jacket

Stringers by Chris Panatier (Angry Robot £9.99)
Ben has struggled all his life with the puzzle of why his brain is stuffed with details about subjects he’s never studied; chiefly oddities of natural history, with an emphasis on weird insect sex. He’s also haunted by something about a Chime and the Note of Jecca, so when he finds someone online who claims he can explain it all, he agrees to a meeting. Ben’s best (and only) friend Patton insists on going along for protection, and the two of them wind up as prisoners on an alien spaceship. Their abductor, Aptet, is a big fan of Michael Jackson and American reality TV but makes his living trapping and selling “stringers” – rare souls like Ben, born with memories belonging to other lives. A race called the Scythin have been searching for the lost Chime and hope to find its location by dredging Ben’s mind. If they get what they want, the whole galaxy will be destroyed. Delightfully smart, funny, fast-moving entertainment that really did make me laugh out loud.

The Cuckoo Cage jacket

The Cuckoo Cage edited by Ra Page (Comma Press, £12.99)
The notion behind this original anthology is to draw a line from the popular American superhero (who, says the editor, “props up a reactionary, pro-capitalist view of the world”) back to British folk “proto-heroes”, who were the figureheads of popular protest movements to protect pre-industrial, pre-capitalist ways of life. A dozen authors have each created a modern social justice warrior modelled on one from the past (General Ludd, Captain Swing), with an added superpower. Each story is followed by a brief history lesson. The result is a mixed bag. I especially liked Lisa Luxx’s Lexi, “swinging like some shape-shifting Tarzan on the vines of eye-contact”, and Bidisha’s subtle story exploring class loyalty and the trouble with thinking of society as divided into us v them.

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