Malarkoi by Alex Pheby (Galley Beggar, £17.99)
Mordew, the first volume of the trilogy, was critically acclaimed and this sequel is eagerly awaited. It’s certainly as unusual and ambitious an epic fantasy as its predecessor, but the narrative is fragmented into multiple stories from multiple perspectives, and none (except the talking dog) are as engaging or compelling as the original protagonist. It can be a struggle to keep up with all the characters, alliances, enemies, and their progression (a common issue with long fantasy series); and despite the ferment of dark humor, the situations are grotesque and relentlessly bleak, creating the feeling of being trapped in a nightmare. This is a world where magic works because it is fueled by sacrifice, so demigods and wizards maintain their power with random mass slaughter. Pheby is an undoubted original, twisting standard modern fantasy tropes into something much weirder and more disturbing, but this is not a book fans of the book would want to live through.
Beyond the burn line by Paul McAuley (Gollancz, £22)
In the distant future, millions upon thousands of years after the self-immolation of human civilization, convergent evolution has created a new intelligent species, with a culture that allows most of them to live in low-tech but comfortable harmony with the world. The first section of the novel feels more like a Le Guinian fantasy as it focuses on Pilgrim Saltmire, a young researcher researching what are known as visitor sightings. The mysterious visitors are described as tall, thin figures dressed in white, and their visits are heralded by bright lights in the sky. The Pilgrim has various adventures before meeting the Foeless Landwalker, an abusive preacher who claims to be in regular communication with visitors. At this point, the narrative takes a bold, breathtaking leap into full-blooded science fiction. The second section, set decades after First Contact between natives and visitors, tells the story from the perspective of one of the visitors. The book is an absolute delight: evocatively written, surprising, thought-provoking entertainment.
Coral Bones by EJ Swift (Uncomfortable Stories, £9.99)
Coral reefs are dying, and marine biologist Hana Ishikawa fears it is too late to stop this ecological catastrophe. Her story, set in the present, is one of three emotionally compelling narrative threads depicting the connections between people and the living seas off Australia’s coast. In 1839, 17-year-old Judith Holliman knows her destiny is to be sent to make a good marriage in England, but first she convinces her ship captain father to take her on a voyage of exploration to the islands of the rocks. In the 22nd century, mass extinctions and climate change have forced governments to place strict limits on human settlement in order to allow natural regeneration to occur. Telma Velasco is sent by the Restoration Committee to investigate the reported sighting of a leafy sea dragon in a remote bay where coral can grow back. These three lives and times are woven together to create a thoughtful, immersive, 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 swindler who preyed on vulnerable women in Victorian England, forms the opening chapter of this unusual and compelling science fiction novel, though its significance to both the past and future narratives that make up the book becomes just clearly near the end. One of the two main protagonists is Adler Beck, a 19th-century Norwegian glaciologist, occasionally troubled by a strange voice in his head, who has gathered evidence that convinces him that the world is on the verge of drastic climate change. The other is Chad Ramsey, living on the heat-struck southeast coast of England in the year 2050. He’s never heard of Beck or his theories, and has no idea he’s related to the long-dead scientist. After losing his police job, Chad is left with an experimental chip in his brain and a DNA visualizer that could be useful for the family history research his brother has asked him to undertake. This is climate fiction with a twist; it contains the brilliant concepts and literary chops we’ve come to expect from the Prestige author, but it also has an emotional warmth and urgency that makes it one of his best in some time.
The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle (Gollancz, £25)
First published in 1968, when fairy tales aimed at adults were rare, this beloved classic, 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 presented by Patrick Rothfuss.