Malarkoi by Alex Pheby (Galley Beggar, £17.99)
Mordew, the first book in the trilogy, has received huge praise, and this sequel is highly anticipated. It’s certainly as unusual and ambitious an epic fantasy as its predecessor, but the narrative is broken into multiple storylines from multiple viewpoints, and none (apart from the talking dog) is as engaging or compelling than the original protagonist. It can be difficult to keep track of all the characters, their alliances, enemies, and progress (a common problem with long fantasy series); and despite leavenings of black humor, the situations are grotesque and relentlessly dark, creating the feeling of being trapped in a nightmare. It’s a world where magic works because it’s fueled by sacrifice, so demigods and magicians maintain their power with the occasional mass slaughter. Pheby is an unmistakable original, turning the standard tropes of modern fantasy into something far more bizarre and disturbing, but it’s not a book fans would want to live in.
Beyond the burn line by Paul McAuley (Gollancz, £22)
In the distant future, hundreds of thousands of years after the self-immolation of human civilization, convergent evolution has given rise to a new intelligent species, with a culture that allows most of them to live. in low-tech but comfortable harmony with their world. The first section of the novel is more like a Le Guinian fantasy as it focuses on Pilgrim Saltmire, a young researcher who studies what are known as visitor sightings. The mysterious visitors are depicted as tall, thin, white-clad figures, and their visits are heralded by bright lights in the sky. Pilgrim has various adventures before meeting Foeless Landwalker, a vociferous preacher who claims to be in regular communication with visitors. At this point, the narrative takes a bold and jaw-dropping leap into full-fledged science fiction. The second section, which takes place a few decades after the first contact between the natives and the visitors, tells the story from the point of view of one of the visitors. The book is an absolute delight: evocatively written, surprising and thought-provoking entertainment.
coral bones by EJ Swift (Untold Stories, £9.99)
Coral reefs are dying and marine biologist Hana Ishikawa fears it’s too late to stop this ecological disaster. Its story, set in the present, is one of three emotionally gripping narrative threads depicting the connections between humans and the living seas off the Australian coast. In 1839, 17-year-old Judith Holliman knows her destiny is to be sent back to make a good marriage in England, but she first persuades her father, a ship’s captain, to take her on a voyage of exploration to reef islands. In the 22nd century, mass extinctions and climate change forced governments to place strict limits on human habitation, in an attempt to allow natural rewilding. Telma Velasco is sent by the Restoration Committee to investigate a reported sighting of a leafy sea dragon in a secluded bay where corals may be growing again. These three lives and times are woven together to create a thoughtful, immersive, and very human story that speaks to current fears and hopes for our world.
wait for me tomorrow by Christopher Priest (Gollancz, £22)
The true story of ‘John Smith’, a con man who preyed on vulnerable women in Victorian England, forms the first chapter of this unusual and compelling science fiction novel, though its significance to past and future tales that make up the book becomes clear towards the end. One of the two main protagonists is Adler Beck, a 19th century Norwegian glaciologist, sometimes unnerved by hearing a strange voice in his head, who has gathered evidence that convinces him that the world is on the brink of drastic climate change. The other is Chad Ramsey, living on the heat-stricken and ruined southeast coast of England in 2050. He has never heard of Beck or his theories, and has no idea that he is related to the long-dead scientist. After losing his job in the police, Chad finds himself with an experimental chip in his brain and a DNA viewer that could be useful for the family history research his brother urged him to undertake. It’s climate fiction with a twist; it features the brilliant concepts and literary sleight of hand we’ve come to expect from the author of The Prestige, but there’s also a warmth and emotional urgency that makes it one of his best in quite some time.
The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle (Gollancz, £25)
First published in 1968, when fairy tales for adults were rare, this beloved classic, which has been out of print for decades, has not lost its charm. It’s poetic, funny, magical, heartbreaking and the best unicorn novel ever written. This beautiful new hardcover edition is brought to you by Patrick Rothfuss.