With books meant for younger readers, it can be far too easy to tell where a story is going. There are certain tropes that telegraph the ending, like evil being vanquished, the protagonist struggling with a quest and so on. One of the best things about Rebecca Hahn’s A Creature of Moonlight is that the story doesn’t go where you think it might, and yet it still flows naturally.
Mermaid princess Serafina is nervous. Today’s the day she’ll prove herself a true descendant of her famous ancestor Merrow in the royal family’s traditional Dokimí ceremony. She’ll demonstrate her worthiness to rule through “songcasting” a complex musical spell, and the day will end with her formal betrothal to the handsome but rebellious crown prince Mahdi.
Our author can’t seem to make up her mind on a fairly important issue: Is she “Mary Rickert” or just plain “M. Rickert”? Under the abbreviated M., she has published a set of haunting short stories considered to be among the very best of fantasy. With The Memory Garden, her first novel, she makes her bid to enter the literary mainstream, enlarging her name and her imaginative landscape in one grand stroke.
On a cold, sunless planet named Eden, 500 or so descendants of two stranded travelers live beneath light and heat-giving “trees,” converting the slowly decaying knowledge of their own beginnings into a tribal mythology. Among them, John Redlantern chafes at the slavish, innovation-quenching traditions the Family upholds as it huddles in its small valley and refuses to even question what lies beyond the “Snowy Dark” that surrounds it. Soon, John makes a series of decisions that threaten to disrupt the peace—and ignorance—his tribe holds dear.
As a literary thought experiment, Kenneth Calhoun’s Black Moon has an exceedingly elegant trigger for the end of it all. No aliens, mutating viruses or celestial cataclysms are needed. All it takes is the removal of one basic yet profound capacity every single human has: the ability to sleep.
If Lily Potter and Voldemort had a love child, he would be Nathan Byrn. Born out of an illicit love affair between a White Witch and a Black Witch, Nathan is an abomination, a Half Code. His father, Marcus, is the vilest Black Witch in all of Great Britain. His White Witch mother committed suicide in shame.
There’s nothing more peaceful than a 3 A.M. jog on an ocean boardwalk with waves lapping in the distance and no one around—or is there? In Runner, the debut novel in Patrick Lee’s new thriller series, retired special forces op Sam Dryden finds he’s not jogging alone but running for his life, along with a young stranger—an 11-year-old girl who’s fleeing from some smart, devious pursuers . . .
Time-travel and alternate realities have been a rich and unending source for fiction pretty much since the invention of the genre. But an ounce of temporal weirdness brings pounds and pounds of complications, convolutions and headaches along with the overall plot potential. Paradoxes pop up, as do disruptions of any attempt at linear storytelling. The confusion that can result on behalf of the reader—and sometimes even the writer—can capsize even the most promising tale. As a result, it’s rare to see a writer dive headlong into multiple streams of chronological mayhem and emerge with anything coherent, let alone riveting.
If NASA ever launches a manned mission to Mars, space-watchers worldwide will scan the skies anxiously, imagining all the things that could go wrong for travelers more than 30 million miles from home. But no one is likely to imagine it as vividly as Andy Weir has in his debut novel, an interplanetary adventure story about an astronaut facing the ultimate worst-case scenario.
Three time-spanning tales with touches of magic make excellent picks for reading groups this January.