Prolific bestseller Orson Scott Card returns this month with The Crystal City, the sixth in his Alvin Maker series of alternate historical fantasies. Card's fans have been waiting a long time for this: Seventh Son, the first book in the series, was published in 1987 and the most recent, Heartfire, five years ago. Card set himself a huge task early in the series when his eponymous hero had a vision of a crystal city where all peoples lived together in peace. It sounded wonderful, but how could a crystal city be built in mid-19th century America? The process begins with Alvin's powers as a maker he can literally reshape physical objects from huge rocks down to the twisted muscles in a man's club foot. Before finding a location for the city, Alvin leads 5,000 people mostly slaves and indigents out of New Orleans. Then he must find a way to get them to free states in the North. Alvin also has to deal with his younger brother, Calvin, who is almost as talented as his sibling but doesn't have the patience to help others. Card ties it all together with a quick trip to Mexico for Calvin, Jim Bowie (he of the knife), and Alvin's adopted half-brother, Arthur Stuart. Despite the many threads he must weave together, Card creates a solid episode in what is perhaps his most interesting ongoing series.

Stephen King recently awarded the Distinguished Contributions to American Letters Medal by the National Book Foundation has always been regarded as a distinguished writer by fans of speculative fiction. Now he's back with The Wolves of Calla (Scribner, $35, 736 pages, ISBN 1880418568), the fifth of seven projected entries in his Dark Tower series. Ably illustrating the reasons for his immense popularity, King not only tells a great story, he gives his characters wonderful stories to tell, too.

In this episode, Roland the gunslinger and his followers are asked to pause in their quest to find the Dark Tower and help a village in need. In Calla Bryn Sturgis, which seems to have echoes of a village in our world, most of the children are born as twins. However, every generation or so, "wolves" attack and steal away one child of each set of twins. King exudes such craft, control and playfulness with pop culture (including his previous non-Dark Tower books) that even readers new to the series will be easily drawn into the tale.

Like Card and King, writer Nalo Hopkinson faces high expectations for her new novel, The Salt Roads (Warner, $22.95, 304 pages, ISBN 0446533025). Hopkinson's first novel, Brown Girl in the Ring, won the Warner Aspect First Novel Award and since then she's never looked back. In The Salt Roads, she pursues three energetic story strands. Mer is a slave on an 18th century Haitian plantation, Meritet is a fourth century prostitute, and Jeanne Duval is an 18th century Parisian dancer. The three women are linked by a spirit born when Mer and two other women bury the body of a stillborn child in the river. The spirit moves freely between the three women, offering insight into the difficulties and joys in each of their lives. The Salt Roads successfully sets its own standards for style, voice and structure. Hopkinson has written a striking novel that will be enjoyed as much by fans of historical fiction as fantastic fiction.

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