As the cold settles in, and we all seem to have hit a collective pandemic wall, there is no better time to escape into fiction—especially the furthest reaches of science fiction and fantasy. This month’s list brings you a bodyguard who can shed her skin, a revenant children’s author who lives for DRAMA, a torrid affair with a clone, a refugee story tinged with magic, a marriage born of murder, and a short story collection infused with Filipino lore. And as if that wasn’t enough…anyone want to meet Death’s adopted kid?
Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor
(Tor Books, Jan 19)
“She’s the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death. Beware of her. Mind her. Death guards her like one of its own.”
We begin with one January book that I don’t want you to miss! Nnedi Okorafor has given us haunting sci-fi with the Binti trilogy and Lagoon, and wrenching fantasy with Who Fears Death. Now, she brings us Remote Control. Sankofa used to be Fatima, until the day a strange object fell from the sky, took her memory, and changed her. Now she walks through the world, accompanied only by a fox, knowing that Death is with her, that her touch and her gaze can lay waste to life. No matter how long it takes she has to find the artifact that changed her life. No matter how long it takes she has to learn whether there is some meaning to her terrible gift.
The Loosening Skin by Aliya Whiteley
(Titan Books, Feb 2)
The one constant in life is change, right? We grow and mature, start new jobs, hook up, break up, lose loved ones. And sometimes we stop and look back at our past selves and realize that we’re completely different people now. But for Rose Allington, and others like her, the changes come faster than normal. The “moults,” as they’re called, sweep through and leave her with a new skin, a new lover, even a new personality. And it’s not too bad—some would even say it’s beneficial, since she works as a bodyguard to the stars.
The only problem is that there are people out there who love to get hold of old skins, to trade in a black market of other people’s memories. When one of Rose’s former clients, the superstar Max Black, discovers that one of his former skins has been stolen, he knows that is old guard Rose is his best shot at solving the theft—but how can he get her on board when the Rose he knew doesn’t exist anymore?
On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu
(Erewhon, Feb 2)
After years of excellent short fiction, E. Lily Yu has written a debut novel that slips between harsh realism and delicate magic. On Fragile Waves tells the story of Firuzeh and Nour, a sister and brother who leave Afghanistan with their Atay and Abay to find a new life in Australia. The journey is perilous, as they cross an unforgiving continent and a turbulent sea hoping for refuge.
The children’s Atay is a great storyteller, and decides the best way for them to understand what’ happening to them is to tell them stories of the Persian warrior Rustam. Firuzeh picks this idea up and do their best to transform their travels into fairy tales, and the story slides between fantasy and reality as they become refugees in Pakistan, Indonesia, and Australia.
Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell
(Tor Books, Feb 2)
As the Emperor’s least-favorite grandchild, Prince Kiem is used to being unasked-for and unwanted. Understandably, when he’s called before his grandfather, he expects the worst. And he gets the worst: in order to assume control of the Empire’s newest acquisition, he has to travel to a strange planet and marry Count Jainan, a widower still in mourning for a recently-dead prince.
Kiem attempts to make the best of a fraught situation, but when he learns that Jainan believe his late husband’s death was murder, he finds himself pulled into a terrifying investigation. And even more difficult, Kiem soon finds himself falling for his new husband. Can the two men form a strong enough team to take on an empire-wide conspiracy and build a happy marriage?
Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap
(Small Beer Press, Feb 9)
Over thirteen stories Yap dances through sci-fi, horror, fabulism, and urban fantasy, and often Filipino folklore. Her stories focus on girlhood and queerness, and put monsters in conversation with everyday life. “A Cup of Salt Tears” uses fairy tale elements to show us the dangers of making deals with kappas, and “Have You Heard the One About Anamaria Marquez” gives us an updated urban legend. In “Milagroso” she takes us to near-future Manila where a scientific advance in food production may have, somehow, led to a real miracle. A summer camp story takes a cosmic turn in “Hurricane Heels (We Go Down Dancing)” when a goddess enlists five girls in a fight between good and evil. And “How to Swallow the Moon” tells the tale of a binukot—a girl cloistered away from the world in order to make her a more desirable bride—who is far more interested in her best friend and maid Amira. Can the two young women repel the line of male suitors and find a new way to live?
The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
(Tor Books, Feb 16)
It’s bad enough to find out your husband is having an affair. But an affair with a clone of yourself, that you made?
Evelyn Caldwell ought to be out celebrating the awards she’s winning for her cloning technology. She should be basking in the glow of years of hard work. Instead she’s furious and humiliated that her soon-to-be-ex-husband took her tech to make Martine—a quieter, gentler version of her, with whom he is now living.
And just when she thought that was as bad as things could get, she gets a desperate call from Martine herself. It seems Nathan, the ex, is dead. And Martine’s kitchen floor is covered in his blood. And Evelyn is the only one who can help.
The Upstairs House by Julia Fine
(HarperCollins, Feb 23)
Most great haunted house stories, from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House to Jac Jemc’s The Grip of It, involve some level of psychological instability. After all, what can be scarier than the human mind?
Well, The Upstairs House seeks to answer that question with something truly terrifying: the malignant spirit of Goodnight, Moon author Margaret Wise Brown.
Megan Weiler is trying to keep postpartum depression at bay while caring for her newborn (usually alone, as her husband travels for work) and attempts to work on her dissertation (a woefully unfinished thesis about children’s literature). When Margaret Wise Brown suddenly begins appearing upstairs, and worse, drags Megan into her battles with another ghost, the new mother soon realizes that no one else can see her—or at least they won’t admit it. And when Brown makes Megan’s newborn a pawn in her battle with another ghost, Megan realizes she’ll have to find a way to exorcise both of them in order to save her family.