We have arrived at the time of great heat—that cursed month when my sworn enemy, The Sun, redoubles its efforts to turn me into a cinder—and thus I retreat into the most air-conditioned place I can find to read as many books as I can stuff into my eyeballs (although, to be fair, that’s also how I spend every other month, but there is something about reading in defiance of The Sun that feels extra satisfying).
This month I have chosen a haunting fairy tale from Mexico, a sequel to a stellar fantasy debut, a magical comic duo, a dark and fractured space opera, and a gripping story of military science fiction!
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
(Del Rey, July 23)
I couldn’t resist one July book! Here in the blistering heat of August, I wanted to give you all one beautifully wrought fairy tale. Silvio Moreno-Garcia’s novel takes us to glamorous 1920 Mexico, where a poor serving girl and a lonely prince might just find love—but that’s where the Cinderella comparisons end. Because Moreno-Garcia isn’t just giving us another Perrault retread, he’s telling an original story that draws on Mayan religion and Mexican folklore.
Casiopea Tun is working as a servant in her wealthy grandfather’s estate, dreaming of living any other life. When she finds an odd wooden box, she can’t help but open it, thus freeing the Mayan God of Death. He makes her a deal: if she helps him take his throne back from his scheming brother, he’ll give her the new life she craves. If she doesn’t? Well, she’ll die. And she’ll also die if her plot fails. To be honest, this book had me at the introduction of its tough, intelligent heroine, but it kept me with the promise of a journey to the Mayan Underworld.
The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang
(Harper Voyager, August 6)
R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War was one of the strongest debuts of 2018. Now she and her heroine, Rin, return to try to pick up the pieces after The Poppy War’s finale.
Rin made a terrible sacrifice to try to save her people from invasion. Her guilt has driven her to the edge of madness, as she tries to blot out her past in opium while grappling with the god Phoenix, who has granted her a terrible power in exchange for her obedience. As much as she wishes to die, she has to live long enough to avenge her homeland, Nikan, and topple the Empress who betrayed her people. If she works with the Dragon Warlord she might find a way to unseat the Empress, but any bargain might mean unleashing her full power again. Can Rin save Nikan without destroying it? Can Rin claim vengeance without crushing her people?
Cry Pilot by Joel Dane
(Ace, August 6)
Joel Dane makes his Military Science Fiction debut with the tense and thrilling Cry Pilot. Maseo Kaytu is a man of many secrets—and he needs to keep them if he’s going to start his new life. He convinces the military to accept him by volunteering for a mission that most view as suicide, but over the course of basic training he’s shocked to realize that his squad has become more like a family than a means to an end. Holding himself apart from them is going to be harder than he thought.
But the true test comes after training, when he makes a discovery that dwarfs all of his previous concerns. The mission that everyone called suicide? Kaytu and his squad aren’t going up against human adversaries. They’ll be fighting bio-weapons—machine hybrids gone rogue, who attack with no warning and will show no mercy, no reason, no strategy. And, as Kaytu soon learns, this mission has been attempted before—and no one has ever prevailed.
The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain
(Tor, August 13)
A novella set in the world of Hossain’s Djinn City, The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday picks up in a near-ish future, in a city where climate change has, well, wrought a lot of change. The great djinn Melek Amar—or, excuse me, “Melek Ahmar, the Lord of Mars, the Red King, the Lord of Tuesday, Most August Rajah of Djinn”—wakes up after a thousand-odd-years-long nap in the upper reaches of the Himalayas, annoyed and very, very hungry. When he makes it down the mountain he finds the titular Ghurka, who explains that society is now run by an A.I. called Karma, which distributes “points” to people for good works, seemingly as a corrective to just how out of whack humanity allowed the world to get while Melek Amar was asleep. People can communicate mind-to-mind, they can count on nanotech to keep them clean and healthy, and anything remotely resembling fun is simply a no go. The two team up and set off on a series of increasingly absurd adventures in the hope of having a good time and evading Karma…but Karma is a bitch, and has sent agents out to put an end to their picaresque. This story is fun and comic, and somehow both a perfect antidote to the heat, as well as a reminder of our current climatological havoc.
Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh
(Gallery/Saga Press, August 13)
One hundred years ago, scientists theorized that there was an Earth-like world just beyond our own solar system. Now, with Earth itself falling into ruin, a small team decides to make the journey and try to found a utopia—an escape hatch for the Earthlings they’re leaving behind. The journey will take 23 years. Ten astronauts are chosen for the mission, six of them teenagers, graduates of prestigious Dalton Academy, who will still be young and fit enough to begin colonization when they make it to their new home.
If they make it.
Debut author Temi Oh has a background in neuroscience, and she gives us a taut, visceral story of survival in space, and all the fissures that open up in a person’s psyche the further they get from home.