There’s no better way to beat this brutal heat than to retreat to the nearest air-conditioned spot, be it your home or public transportation, with one of this month’s many up-and-coming science fiction and fantasy reads. It seems as if almost every publisher has something to offer this month: the magic of consuming stories and bending words to translate, or the magic of blood that leaves the deepest wounds; fake fortune tellers and real witches; wistful fantasy romance and incisive dark academia that exposes the evil in our own world.
The book eaters by Sunyi Dean
(Tor Books, Aug 2)
Books about the magic of reading are simply the best, and it’s a delight to see writers find new and inventive ways to make metaphors out of our love of the written page. Think of Jasper Fforde’s series about characters who literally fall into a good book, but Sunyi Dean’s debut fantasy has a darker edge. In his world, beings like The Family literally consume books, each with a unique flavor (spy capers are snacks, romances are decadent desserts). But not all book eaters are the same; Girls and boys are allowed different book diets designed to keep them stuck in old gender roles. But when Devon learns that his son doesn’t need words, but real thoughts, to survive, he must decide what primal darkness she is willing to harness to protect his son from his family.
the insomniac by Victor Manibo
(Erewhon Books, August 2)
It’s fair to say that the last five years have made many of us insomniacs, so a story from the near future about our world being upended by an insomnia pandemic sounds very real. But Victor Manibo’s opinion stands apart from other cautionary tales by arguing that insomnia might actually be… good? Citizens who evolve from circadian rhythms can optimize their time (for more money, naturally) and establish themselves as inspiring and fearsome among their puny peers who need to waste eight hours of rest. But of course, the restless hustle and bustle can’t last forever, and when journalist Jamie Vega is implicated in the death of her boss, she must come clean about the unethical way she achieved insomnia…and potentially face a future in he who owes once again closes his eyes.
women could fly by Megan Giddings
(Friendship, August 9)
After delving into the horrors of medical experimentation on black bodies in his debut Lakewood, Megan Giddings evokes the traumatic history of witchcraft in the dystopian near future of her second novel. Nearing 30, Jo must get married, but she is ambivalent about her boyfriend and in love with her best friend Angie, or she must report to the State registry to be monitored for possible signs of being a witch. Instead, a new opportunity arises: visiting an island that could provide a clue to the disappearance of her mother Tiana from her 14 years ago. But is being accused of witchcraft an even worse fate than a life of control?
Qilwa’s concussion by Naseem Jamnia
(Tachyon, August 9)
I find narratives about magic especially compelling when that power is drawn from the body, like Naseem Jamnia’s debut fantasy that focuses on blood magic. But like the unpredictability of our own blood, Firuz-e Jafari finds that his magic is difficult to control and carries with it several social taboos. First, he exiles them from their homeland of Dilmun in the face of a devastating plague; then, as a refugee in the free and democratic city of Qilwa State, the discovery of more decomposing bodies makes them a scapegoat again.
glacier edge by R. A. Salvatore
(Harper Voyager, August 9)
For over thirty years, RA Salvatore has been writing the adventures of Drizzt Do’Urden, a dark elf from the Forgotten Realms setting of Dungeons & Dragons. While Drizzt is a well-known character in the fantasy genre, some of his books have contributed to racist stereotypes about dark-skinned elves. Last year saw the start of a new trilogy, The Way of the Drow, intended to offset those representations more carefully expanding the identity of the drow; this is the second installment after starlight enclaveand a good place to start for new readers.
the sword of oleander by Tasha Suri
(Orbit Books, August 16)
After laying all the foundations of political intrigue for the kingdom of Parijatdvipa in the past year the jasmine throne, Tasha Suri acts on the promise of the series called The Burning Kingdom. Malini and Priya, a newly crowned empress and a recovered priestess, have their respective plans to burn it all down; but they also burn for each other, especially as their loyalties and destinies may continue to bring them into conflict.
Terraform: View/Worlds/Recordedited by Brian Merchant and Claire L. Evans
(MCD x FSG Originals, August 16)
This anthology compiles 52 sci-fi stories from VICE’s Terraform vertical, broken down into equally crucial thirds. “Watch” is all about watching, with stories by Laurie Penny, Rose Eveleth, and Omar El Akkad, among many others, hosted by Cory Doctorow. “Worlds” explores artificial intelligence through Sarah Gailey, Jess Zimmerman, Meg Elison and Lincoln Michel. And climate change is the name of the game in “Burn,” with E. Lily Yu, Tochi Onyebuchi, Jeff VanderMeer and more, heralding a potential future through speculative and incisive short fiction.
Babel or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators Revolution by RF Kuang
(Harper Voyager, August 23)
i’ve been excited about Babel ever since RF Kuang (The Poppy War trilogy) first poked fun at this magical dark academic story on Twitter. Set at Oxford University in an 1828 version where magic is woven into the academy, the allure of this esteemed institution is, however, as compelling as our own: Canton-born orphan Robin Swift is enrolled in the Royal Institute of Translation, where he works on his native Chinese, as well as ancient Greek and Latin, using enchanted silver bars to retrieve meanings lost in translation. But despite his own allure on the island world of Babel (as the institute is nicknamed) and the friendships forged there, Robin cannot forget that he is helping Britain colonize and transform other countries. And when it is China that is being threatened for its silver and opium, he has to choose between the land that made him and the land that shaped him.
Kalyna the Fortune Teller by Elijah Kinch Spector
(Erewhon Books, August 30)
In a genre full of fortune tellers and seers, we love to see a con artist. The daughter and granddaughter of nomadic fortune-tellers, Kalyna Aljosanovna didn’t inherit the Family Gift from her…but that hasn’t stopped her from playing the patrons to predict her future. But that deception of hers leads to the neighbor Rotfelsen’s spymaster kidnapping her, trying to stay afloat during political intrigue as she grapples with a vision of the end of the world. Elijah Kinch Spector’s debut brings the geopolitical intrigue of The treacherous baru cormorant with a more optimistic (albeit still ruthless) protagonist.
Taste of gold and iron by Alexandra Rowland
(Editorial Tordotcom, August 30)
Rounding out the month is a tender fantasy romance set in an Ottoman Empire-style matriarchal kingdom. But the protagonist is the shy Prince Kadou, whose debilitating anxiety inadvertently triggers a tragic misunderstanding that drives him away from his sister, the Sultan, and burdens him with cold new bodyguard Evemer. Or is it Evemer who is stuck with Kadou? It certainly seems that way, but Kadou’s insistence on investigating a crime within his guilds to set things right sparks a slow romance between the two men, in a yearning tale of what members of different social classes owe each other. .
Natalie Zutter is a Brooklyn-based playwright and pop culture critic whose work has appeared on Tor.com, NPR Books, den of geeks, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @nataliezutter.