Lord of Snow and Shadows by Sarah Ash

Lord of Snow and ShadowsUrban fantasy is becoming more common, with authors such as Charles de Lint heading the pack. But Sarah Ash has broken away from the custom of setting magic in modern-day settings, instead creating a new world where magic and burgeoning modernism exist side-by-side.

Science and magic collide in Lord of Snow and Shadows.

Gavril Andar’s quiet life as a painter is shattered when he receives news of his father’s death. Lord Volkh hadn’t seen his son in years, but now his bloodline’s inheritance must be passed on, whether Gavril wants it or not. He must become the Drakhaon, a war leader, and avenge his father’s murder.

But mysteries abound when he reaches Azhkendir and assumes leadership. This is a land where restless spirits walk the earth, and treachery waits around every corner. With Volkh’s men divided and betrayal souring any chance of an accord, Gavril must form some unlikely alliances if he’s to survive. Nothing, however, can protect him from the demonic powers coursing through his own blood. The very thing that makes him his father’s true heir may be his ultimate undoing.

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Dead Lines by Greg Bear

Dead LinesGreg Bear doesn’t stick slavishly to one genre.

He has written many different kinds of tales, which also sound different in tone and style. His most recent novel tackles life after death, and what happens when the soul’s natural process of moving on fails to go smoothly. Dead Lines meshes technology with a Sixth Sense spookiness.

Peter Russell’s life is a mess. His porn-film career is over, his marriage has failed, and one of his daughters has been murdered. He fills his time running errands for an eccentric millionaire named Joseph Benoliel.

Peter’s association with this man will change his life in horrifying ways.

Through Benoliel, Peter meets Stanley Weinstein, whose company Trans has created a new type of cell phone technology. Peter agrees to help with marketing, but first he performs one more errand for Benoliel: He’s sent to a famous psychic, to ask if someone can survive without a soul. These two disparate events collide when it becomes eerily apparent that Trans’ phone frequency, previously unknown and unused, may be tapping into the afterlife and attracting souls … and other more sinister things.

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Gardens of the Moon by Stephen Erickson

Gardens of the Moon“Doorstop fantasy” is the affectionate term for a fantasy series made up of thick, weighty books. Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin immediately spring to mind in this category. British author Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, a projected 10-book series, has come to the States with the breakout first novel, Gardens of the Moon.

The Malazan Empire has been slowly but surely expanding as the years pass, but this world-altering sequence of events has awakened cosmic forces beyond imagining. A young girl named Sorry is possessed by the assassin’s god’s avatar; a thief named Crokus bears the coin of Oponn, the twin god of chance; and an elder god with no knowledge of why he’s awake haunts the dreams of the seer Kruppe.

Mortals are always desperate to control their own fates, of course, and none more so than Col. Whiskeyjack. Commander of the last of the Bridgeburners, an elite fighting force, he and his men know that the Empress has targeted them for destruction for the sin of being the last of the “old guard.” But no matter who wants them dead, gods or men, they won’t give up easily. Caught between an empire and the gods, their actions may well determine the course of history for all concerned.

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Exile’s Valor by Mercedes Lackey

Exile's ValorMercedes Lackey recently announced that she’s taking an indefinite hiatus from writing Valdemar novels. Although it’s a sad development, she has given readers one last rousing story about fan favorite Herald Alberich. Exile’s Valor continues the enigmatic armsmaster’s tale.

Queen Selenay still grieves over the death of her father, all the while facing pressure to get married quickly and produce an heir. But the councilors have forgotten that she’s still a young woman who longs for romance and excitement.

When the Prince Karath of the neighboring nation, Rethwellan, arrives in Valdemar, Selenay sees an opportunity to fulfill her dreams.

Meanwhile, Alberich is hot on the trail of what seems to be a simple case of information trade, although he doesn’t know what the information is. The deeper he probes, the more it becomes clear that the queen’s safety could be compromised. And, as hard as Alberich finds it to believe, the prince may be the key to a plot to overthrow Valdemar’s throne.

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Joust by Mercedes Lackey

JoustUp until now, dragon riding has been almost completely left to Anne McCaffrey. But Mercedes Lackey has drawn on her extensive experience with hawks to create a new kind of dragon, and a new kind of rider. Joust, which kicks off a new series, uses Egyptian influences to build a society where the warriors ride dragons to battle.

Tia, a land of armies and royalty, stands on the brink of conquering their neighbors, the Altans. Although both sides fight using the mighty dragons that populate their deserts, Tia has more dragons and better-trained riders. Thus, many Altans find themselves existing as serfs, tied to the land they once owned, and treated worse than slaves.

Vetch is one such serf, beaten and starved by the man who claimed his family’s lands, until the day a Jouster — a dragon rider — claims his service. From that point on, Vetch’s life becomes no less busy, but he’s treated well and even learns to like Ari, the Jouster who saved him. Ari and his dragon Kashet are among the Tians’ most skilled, and Vetch learns much from them.
He intends to put the knowledge to good use: Vetch still harbors dreams of freedom, and when an opportunity arises, he snatches it. There is a small chance, almost an impossible chance, that Vetch could flee Tia on the back of his own dragon.

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Exile’s Honor by Mercedes Lackey

Exile's HonorMercedes Lackey’s Valdemar has a history as varied as the people who live there. Even so, she has held back information, teasing readers with hints of great events and battles in the country’s past. In her newest book, she reveals the story of the Tedrel Wars and tells the tale of Valdemar’s most enigmatic Herald, Weaponsmaster Alberich.

Karsite Sun Lord worship forbids the use of magic, calling such powers demonic. Alberich, a Karsite army captain, finds that he no longer can hide his ability to see into the future. Although his powers save a village from bandit attack, he’s sentenced to death by burning. But he’s saved in turn by his recently-acquired white horse, who turns out to be a Valdemaran Companion named Kantor.

Now Alberich is living with his enemies, owing them his life, cast out by his own people. But to whom does he now owe his loyalty?

Alberich struggles to absorb Herald’s training and Valdemaran language, even as he tries to fit in with people who only see him as the enemy they’ve fought for so long. But soon Valdemar will need him, for Karse has hired an army of deadly mercenaries and is intent on Valdemar’s destruction. Alberich’s skills and knowledge could turn the tide in his adopted country’s favor … but should he betray his homeland?

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The Gates of Sleep by Mercedes Lackey

The Gates of SleepMercedes Lackey recently has moved away from the classic trilogy format and has begun doing stand-alone novels based in a common world. Each story can be taken on its own merit, or read as part of a larger whole. Her loose grouping of books about the Elemental Masters continues this month, with The Gates of Sleep.

Marina Roeswood, born of Earth-gifted parents, has manifested a “water talent” almost from birth; she promises to be a powerful mage when she comes into her full potential. Unfortunately, her young life is cursed by her aunt Arachne at her christening. The curse, abated somewhat by the intervention of another water mage, no longer promises outright destruction. While Marina’s original fate was death before her 18th birthday, the curse now will take an unknown form that won’t kill her.

Distraught, her parents send her away with her godparents, Sebastian and Margherita Tarrant, and their friend, Thomas Buford. By hiding little Marina, they hope to shield her until she turns 18, at which point the curse might rebound upon its caster.

But as the time for this event draws near, tragedy strikes. Marina’s parents die in an accident, and Arachne claims Marina as her ward. Under the guise of teaching her lady-like manners, Arachne keeps Marina close, searching for a way to reactivate the curse before Marina learns her powers’ full extent.

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Take a Thief by Mercedes Lackey

Take a ThiefValdemar is one of the more enduring fantasy worlds still being actively explored by its original author. With this, the 24th novel in the series, Mercedes Lackey continues the trend begun in Brightly Burning, delving into the backgrounds of her most intriguing characters. In Take A Thief, the early life of Skif, the thief turned Herald, takes center stage.

Skif’s beginnings are humble indeed; a drudge in his uncle’s tavern, Skif barely has enough to eat or sufficient clothing. His thieving skills are born from necessity, as he steals food from noble households to augment his meager portions at home. Eventually he falls in with another young thief and, in an Oliver Twist scenario, Skif learns thieving from an older mentor. He is taken under the wing of Bazie, a veteran of the Tedrel Wars, whose missing legs deny him the chance for a normal life.

When tragedy strikes and tears Skif’s world apart, he becomes fueled by vengence. His stealing pays informants and finances his need to kill the one who destroyed all that he loved. But fate takes an odd turn when Skif decides to steal a stray white horse … and finds that he’s the one being stolen away. He’s targeted none other than a Companion, who has come to take him away to become a Herald in Valdemar’s service.

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The Serpent’s Shadow by Mercedes Lackey

The Serpent's ShadowLackey’s The Fire Rose introduced readers to the Elemental Masters, wizards who control the creatures of Fire, Earth, Air and Water. The book is one of Lackey’s best stand-alone tales to date, and takes place in San Francisco just prior to the Great Earthquake.

Now the author has shifted her focus, jumping the Atlantic to England. The Elemental wizards are back in this latest book.

Maya Witherspoon may have inherited her Indian mother’s dark complexion, but she had her British father’s Elemental magic. Her primary passion lies with medicine, however, and she relocates to London and hopes to help the poor. Detected by the city’s Elemental Masters, she finally receives magical lessons from Peter Scott, the local Earth Master.

Maya desperately needs guidance, and with good reason: She has a deadly enemy. Her aunt Shivani, devotee of the Kali, the god of destruction, has followed her from India. Enraged that her niece has “polluted” herself by using Western magic, Shivani plots Maya’s downfall. Little does the priestess know that Maya has protection: seven animals that may be avatars, sent by other Indian gods arrayed against Kali. The stage is set, and a showdown between Eastern and Western magic is inevitable.

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