Nothing is better than curling up during the holidays with a good book, and December brings a lot of terrific options. Dark urban fantasy dominates, with The Engine's Child and Knights of the Cornerstone, but there's also some good space opera from Mike Resnick and Karen Miller - and a whole lot of apocalypse with a new Wild Cards novel and Scott Sigler's latest "virus ate the world" book. Check out what's coming to your local bookstore in the next few weeks, below.
Knights of the Cornerstone, by James P. Blaylock (Ace Books)
A classic work of urban fantasy about what happens when a writer goes to visit his family in California and discovers that a modern-day branch of the Knights Templar has set up shop in their town. He quickly becomes embroiled in a plot to protect the "Veil of Veronica," a holy relic that the "Knights of the Cornerstone" (AKA Templar dudes) want to keep out of the hands of the bad guys. Blaylock is an inventive writer who often blurs history into the present, and he'll certainly do justice to a tale of the mysterious Knights Templar. It makes perfect whimsical sense that after hundreds of years of hiding out they would come to sunny California to work their magic.
The Vorkosigan Companion, by Lillian S. Carl (Baen Books)
For anyone who loves Lois McMaster Bujold's space opera Vorkosigan Saga, this collection promises:
A goldmine of information, background details, and little-known facts about the Vorkosigan saga. Included are an all-new interview with Bujold as well as essays by her on crafting the Vorkosigan universe, articles on the biology, technology and sociology of the planet Barrayar, appreciations of the individual novels by experts, maps, a complete timeline of the series, and more.
Bujold is working on a new Vorkosigan novel, too, so you'll want to read this to get ready.
Wild Cards: Busted Flush, edited by George R. R. Martin (Tor Books)
This is book 19 set in the postapocalyptic shared universe of Wild Cards, where most of humanity has been wiped out by an alien virus - and the rest of the population has morphed into crazed zombies and a few superheroes. Busted Flush is a follow-on to series reboot book Inside Straight, which io9 pal Austin Grossman hailed as a work of "unsentimental realism." Expect more twisty plots and bad craziness in this novel, including zombie attacks in Florida and shenanigans among superheroes at the U.N.
The Engine's Child, by Holly Phillips (Del Rey)
A work of dark political fantasy, The Engine's Child is definitely a standout this month, especially if you like challenging, broody tales of urban life like China Mieville's Perdido Street Station. Set on a water world, it's the tale of a woman struggling to escape a past of poverty (both literal and cultural), and how she becomes embroiled in several subversive plots in her city. Writing in Library Journal, Meredith Schwartz says:
This richly complex tale from the author of The Burning Girl deftly encapsulates an entire culture's frictions and fractures in the loyalties of one young woman. Moth seeks to climb out of the Tidal slums where she'd been abandoned without betraying her Tidal friends, her secret mother, her lover, or her bond with the invisible powers of her world. Beneath the surface of a seemingly stable, if compressed, island civilization, connections and tensions link the Society of Doors, an outlaw organization looking to return to the heaven of the past; Lady Vashmarna's scientific idealists seeking to expand limited resources; a ruler clinging to the failing status quo, and the Tidal have-nots coping with an explosive brew of fear, faith, and rumor. Sharp-edged personalities and complicated personal relationship among the characters prevent Phillips's tale from degenerating into allegory.
We'll have a full review of this book for you on io9 later this month.
Fathom, by Cherie Priest (Tor Books)
A fantasy tale set over the course of the twentieth century, Fathom is the story of a young woman who witnesses a terrible murder - and then is sucked into a strange war between various old gods. Surreal, packed with pirates and harbingers of the apocalypse, this is a dark swashbuckler for fans of witchcraft in old cities.
Kilimanjaro: A Fable of Utopia, by Mike Resnick (Subterranean Press)
Resnick, Hugo-winning author of The Other Teddy Roosevelts, is back with another weird allegory. From the publisher:
The Kikuyu tribe of East Africa attempted to create a Utopia on the terraformed planetoid Kirinyaga, which was named for the mountain where their god lives. Things went wrong. Now, a century later, the Maasai tribe has studied Kirinyaga's history, has analyzed their
mistakes, and is ready to create a Maasai Utopia on the planetoid Kilimanjaro, named for the mountain where their god lives. This is the story of that experiment.
No word on an exact release date, though the publisher promises it will be this month.
Tales of Beedle the Bard, by JK Rowling (Childrens High Level Group Charity)
A collection of five fairy tales from the author of the Harry Potter juggernaut, this book was originally released as a limited-edition collectors item last year. This year it comes out in a format that most people can afford, with additional "commentary" on the stories from the scholar Dumbledore himself. Sales of the book benefit the Childrens High Level Group charity, which will be a delight to Harry Potter fans who are fiending for an escape from the Mundane world.
Clone Wars: Wild Space, by Karen Miller (Del Rey)
The second Clone Wars novel, sequel to Karen Traviss' Clone Wars.
Muse of Fire, by Dan Simmons (Subterranean Press)
In the far future, Earth has become a mausoleum. A small band of remaining humans travels across the galaxy, performing Shakespeare plays for audiences of aliens. Gradually it comes to seem as if their performances may be the one thing that will tempt these powerful aliens into saving humanity from its inevitable extinction. This is the book version of Simmons' previously-published novella.
Contagious, by Scott Sigler (Crown)
A possibly-intelligent supervirus is making its deadly way across America, turning the infected into homicidal crazies. In a race against time to stop it are a half-mad football player who can somehow sense when the disease has infected people, along with a CIA agent and epidemiologist who must face weirder and weirder enemies as they watch their country falling into total insanity.