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The Best Thriller & Fantasy Novels We Read in 2019

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Blood Echo by Christopher Rice is a riveting mashup of thriller, sci-fi, and horror in the second installment of the Burning Girl series. Again we follow Charlotte Rowe, a woman abducted in childhood by serial killers who tasked her with disposing of their victims’ bodies in an incinerator, earning her the nickname of “Burning Girl” in the press after her rescue. Now, after better learning to control her superhuman abilities that work against evildoers, Charlotte is on the trail of another serial killer in the Pacific Northwest with a penchant for keeping leather souvenirs made from their victims. Though she possesses more power and resources than ever before, including the alliance of a powerful corporation, a dark conspiracy brewing in her hometown threatens all she holds dear. Will her new army of allies help her overcome these evil foes — or will added complications doom them to failure? (Thomas & Mercer) — Desiree Guerrero  

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James is the spectacular first novel in the Dark Star trilogy where myth, fantasy, and history merge to follow the story of Tracker, a skilled mercenary hired to find a missing child who disappeared three years earlier. Breaking his own rule of always working alone, Tracker bands together with a small group of misfits also searching for the boy and who harbor powerful secrets of their own — including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard. As Tracker and the others follow the boy’s trail from one ancient city to the next, they encounter dark creatures that seek to destroy them and stop their mission. Jamaican-American James adds a fresh voice to the fantasy genre in a book that Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times called, “Gripping, action-packed.... The literary equivalent of a Marvel Comics universe.” (Riverhead Books) — DG 

Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan is the much-awaited sequel to the ten-week New York Times bestseller Girls of Paper and Fire. Lei is the naïve country girl who rose to become a royal courtesan. She is known as the Moonchosen, the commoner who slew the cruel Demon King. Now Lei and her warrior lover Wren travel the kingdom to drum up support for distant rebels in their fight. The journey is treacherous because not everyone supports her cause. A bounty is placed on her head, and her own internal doubts could spell defeat for both her quest to overthrow the monarchy as well as her love for Wren. Ngan describes herself as “part young-adult author, part yoga-teacher, part habitual nap-taker.” Her roots in Malaysia and the UK with a Chinese mother have imbued her works with an air of mystery and intrigue. Girls of Storm and Shadow maintains this air of mysticism in a richly embroidered world that is filled with heart-pounding action and unsuspected twists and turns. (Jimmy Patterson) — Donald Padgett 

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Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey is the writer’s debut novel and it follows Ivy Gamble, a disagreeable private investigator who lives alone in an empty apartment and drinks a little too much. As she investigates a murder at a school where her estranged sister teaches we learn it’s a school of magic, and Ivy is as devoid of the gifts as her sister is talented. What follows is an outside-the-box whodunnit where the characters are perfectly imperfect. Some do the right thing. Others do the wrong thing with catastrophic results. No-nonsense Ivy’s investigation uncovers dark and fantastic secrets that shed light not just on the case at hand, but also her own family history. As the story unfolds, we are challenged to determine who is lying and who is not, and what the consequences will be for their dishonesty. (Tor Books) — DP 

Murmur by Will Eaves is based on the experiences of Alan Turing, the brilliant man who helped break the Nazi enigma code and saved untold lives. Known as the father of artificial intelligence, Turing later took his own life after being exposed as gay and forced to undergo chemical castration and psychotherapy in an effort to “cure” him. In Murmur, the drugs not only emasculate his body but alter Alec Pryor’s mind as well. In hallucinatory dreams, he relives the mistakes and the pain of his past, from personal relationships gone wrong to humiliations suffered. People, events, places, and time itself weave in and out, are blended together and then drift apart, inside a brilliant mind that’s been beaten down by inferior ones. Murmur is the story of how even brilliant heroes can be destroyed by the hatred, fear, and misunderstanding of others. (Bellevue Literary Press) — DP 

In Like This Afternoon Forever by Jaime Manrique, two seminary students fall in love against the backdrop of the brutality of the “false positives” murders of a drug cartel in Colombia. Lucas is the son of farmers and Ignacio is a descendent of the Bari indigenous people. Seeking to help their fellow men and women suffering the injustices of society, they both enter the seminary. Raging outside is a horrific and brutal war between units of the military and their paramilitary compatriots against the murderous drug cartels. In order to inflate their successes, the military turned to luring civilians to the area where they would be murdered and claimed as enemy combatant kills. An estimated 10,000 civilians were killed this way. In this bloody conflict, Lucas and Ignacio find their relationship moving from passion to rage and finally an ultimate commitment to each other and their country. (Kaylie Jones Books) — DP 

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A Song for a New Day is the debut novel of Nebula winner Sarah Pinsker Berkley (for her collection Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea). Set in a completely plausible future when terrorist attacks and deadly epidemics have sent Americans retreating to the safety of their homes, everyone interacts online and live events are illegal. New Day follows queer singer/songwriter Luce Cannon, adrift without her musical outlets, as she collides into the world of the much younger Rosemary Laws, a digital native who creates virtual concerts. When the loose cannon breaks the law by performing live it reverberates far beyond the San Francisco venue. (Berkley) — Jacob Anderson-Minshall 

Lava Falls is the latest work by the prolific, award-winning lesbian author, Lucy Jane Bledsoe. In this collection of short stories and one novella, the characters are as untamed at heart as the wildernesses they explore and survive. Bledsoe has traveled widely — including to Antarctica three times — and her love of and familiarity with wild environments exude through these stories even as they delve into the ancient past or post-apocalyptic future. Dealing with loss, her characters shoulder on, driven in part by love, but also, curiosity. “I do want to see the swell of the land leading up to the continental divide… and maybe one day, what it’s like on the other side,” the narrator of the final story says, before sharing that she might have a child, and concluding, “I can’t wait to see what that’s like.” I imagine Bledsoe is equally driven by curiosity and adventure and her writing has the ability to take us along for the (wild) ride. (University of Wisconsin Press) — JAM    

Bottle Grove: A Novel by Daniel Handler is yet another adult novel from the author of the wildly successful Lemony Snicket’s children’s books. This is the story of two marriages, or so it would seem. It opens in Bottle Grove, a small San Francisco forest, that is visited by all manner of citizenry from the city. Set against the backdrop of the exploding tech boom and the economic disparity it brings, this is a dark comedy that revolves around two marriages. One is forged of love while the other is born of greed. Everyone has a secret, and the forces that drove these couples together can just as quickly tear them apart. Bottle Grove is a story of how dependence can become sinister, of scheming and desire, and the price some are willing to pay in the search for love. Handler has filled his novel with ritzy elite, lustful teenagers, drug addicts, and creatures of the forest awaiting the release that comes with the night. His wit is dry and offbeat adding realism to the story and showing the breadth of his unique abilities. (Bloomsbury Publishing) — DP 

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Clear My Name by Paula Daly is the sixth novel from this up and coming author. Carrie is imprisoned for the brutal murder of her husband’s lover despite her protestations of innocence. The evidence was overwhelming and she is three years into her fifteen-year sentence. Separated from her pregnant daughter and slowly losing hope when she meets Tess, the sole employee of a charity that seeks to clear the wrongfully convicted. She agrees to accept Carrie’s case, but there is mistrust on both sides. Can Tess believe Carrie? And can Tess trust herself to face her own lies all while managing the naïve junior investigator as she digs into the convicted woman’s past. Daly excels at putting ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, and then exploring how their psyches drive their reactions. The consequences of deception play out on a grand scale as she takes her talent for domestic and psychological observation and applies it to the criminal justice system. Clear My Name is filled with enough wicked twists and turns to keep the reader involved from the first page to last. (Grove Atlantic) — DP 

The Warrior Moon by K. Arsenault Rivera is the epic finale to the lush historical fantasy world introduced in The Tiger’s Daughter and The Phoenix Empress. The loyal and powerful warrior duo of the Divine Empress Shizuka and her infamous consort Barsalai Shefali continue their battle against the dark invading forces bent on destruction and subjugation. Where they were once young and courageous, Shizuka and Shefali are not weary and worried sovereigns. In their wake of their war to save their peoples from the evil Traitor King and his army of demons, pair have left a wake of sorry and slain companions. And yet, their destiny awaits them in a final battle to defeat the evil infestation of demon to save the world. The Warrior Moon is a fitting finale to Rivera’s sweeping and lyrical trilogy. She has expertly woven a story of love and sacrifice into a visually rich and subtly revealed world. Her avid participation in the RPG community has clearly impacted her storytelling for the benefit of the reader. (Tor Books) — DP 

Quantum: A Captain Chase Novel by Patricia Cornwell is the long-awaited new novel from the author of the award-winning Scarpetta book series. Cornwell helped usher in the renaissance of forensic science genre with her groundbreaking first novel Postmortem that introduced the fictional chief medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta, a modern-day Sherlock Holmes who uses science to solve crimes. Her latest novel follows astronaut, NASA test pilot, and quantum physicist Captain Calli Chase, who also happens to be a cybercrime investigator. She and her twin sister have long dreamed of soaring into space. Then on the eve of a top-secret flight into space, Chase discovers a crime that not only threatens the secret mission, but also implicates her missing-in-action sister. She uses her talents of observation and vast cybersecurity knowledge to halt this countdown to disaster, but must also search through a painful past to find the reasons for her sister’s erratic behavior. Cornwell’s renowned immersive research is on full display down to the last vivid and authentic detail. (Thomas & Mercer) — DP 

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Black Diamond Fall by Joseph Olshan is a mystery novel from the author of Cloudland and Clara’s Heart. Inspired by the vandalism of the Robert Frost Homestead and the actual disappearance of a Middlebury College student, Black Diamond Fall tells the story of Luc Flanders, who has gone missing after a game of pond hockey. Many people just suspect he wanted to get off the grid and away from his small Vermont town. Others, like detectives Nick Jenkins and Helen Kennedy, are thinking something more sinister happened to Flanders. The authorities and some townspeople are shocked to learn the young college student had become sexually involved with Sam Solomon, a much older man who ominously has no alibi for the date and time in question. Just as mysterious is the vandalism of the nearby Robert Frost Homestead on the same evening, the detectives begin to think there is a link between the two events. Black Diamond Fall is both a page-turning mystery and also an intimate portrait of love between a younger and older man. (Polis Books) — DP 

The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz is the second novel from the science journalist and founding editor of io9. In 1992, teenaged Beth finds herself helping to hide the murdered body of her friend’s abusive boyfriend, an act that sets her on a path of violent vengeance protecting other women in need. Thirty years later, Tess has dedicated her life to using time travel to revisit historic moments and fight for real change. She encounters a group of travelers who seek to stop her at all costs. War breaks out across the timeline, threatening to leave only a small group of elites with the power to control the present and shape the future by changing the past for the worse. Can Tess and Beth stop them?  Newitz, of Gizmodo fame, is a queer journalist, editor, and author and she's tread sci-fi territory before (she won a Lambda Literary Award in 2017 for her novel, Autonomous) but this is by far her most engrossing novel. (Tor Books) — DP 

A Knife in the Fog by Bradley Harper is a historical fiction novel featuring Victorian-era authors Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Margaret Harkness. In September 1888, 29-year-old Doyle writes at night and practices medicine as his day job. He’s more than a bit disgruntled that his debut Sherlock Holmes novel Study in Scarlet has only gained him 25 pounds despite gaining critical and popular success. He vows to never write another crime novel until he receives a cryptic summons to London from former Prime Minister William Gladstone. Once there he is offered a month’s employment to aid the Metropolitan Police in their search for the serial killer Jack the Ripper. He accepts but only on the condition they also hire Professor Joseph Bell – the real-life inspiration for Holmes. The pair are soon joined by Harkness, who had just published two novels under the pen name John Law. The trio follows the trail through the dark alleys, courtyard, and filth of Whitechapel, and learn that their prowess and tenacity have turned them from hunters into prey. A Knife in the Fog delivers suspense, action, and historical and forensic detail, the latter gleaned from the author’s career as a pathologist. (Seventh Street Books) — DP  

 

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