Just before he dies, Marjorie Burke’s grandfather leaves her a message: “He’s coming for me. Then he’s coming for you.” In Stephanie Feldman’s “The Angel of Losses” (Ecco, $25.99), Marjorie must unravel this bizarre warning. But she’s also busy trying to complete her PhD research on the Wandering Jew and deal with her sister’s unexpected marriage to an Orthodox Jew who belongs to a mystical sect called the Berukhim Penitents. With the discovery of her grandfather’s notebook — part diary, part story about the White Magician and the Angel of Losses — Marjorie tries to ascertain to whom, exactly, her grandfather was referring in his dying words. Meanwhile, an old man follows her around, offering similar warnings and an amulet of protection. Believing these uncanny clues could add to her research, she embarks on a hunt for three missing notebooks. Myth and reality soon collide when Marjorie’s newborn nephew grows ill, and, surprisingly, she allies herself with her brother-in-law and the White Magician to save the child. This imaginative first novel leads you on a journey of fantastic tales, stormy family ties and a tragic discovery of redemption that will break your heart.
Born with a withered hand and seen as only “half a man,” Prince Yarvi is more than content to let his ambitious family rule the Gettland kingdom in Joe Abercrombie’s “Half a King” (Del Rey, $26). Yet Yarvi’s world is soon turned upside down with the assassination of his brother and father. Sold into slavery and disguising himself as a cook’s son, Yarvi employs all of his training to serve king and gods alike as he struggles to stay alive long enough to avenge the deaths of his father and brother and ensure his mother’s safety. But on the slave ship, he experiences firsthand the more insidious economic dynamics of his own kingdom. There are, of course, traitors and unexpected friends at every turn. Abercrombie cleverly ties these characters’ motives to modern themes. Readers might find themselves thinking as much about Wall Street as about the kingdom of Gettland.
In Max Gladstone’s “Full Fathom Five” (Tor, $25.99), the island of Kavekana contains a pool in the center of the world where made-to-order idols are held in safekeeping for customers. A priest, Kai Pohala, realizes something is terribly wrong when an idol not only wakes up, but screams, “Howl, bound world,” and dies. When Kai’s Order covers up the incident, Kai undertakes a secret mission to find out how the idol became sentient. She soon suspects a larger conspiracy as the deaths mount and some people are entombed in stone. Meanwhile, she encounters Izza, a street kid who is a master storyteller and gang leader. Perhaps Izza’s stories hold the key to understanding the idol’s warning cry and stopping the ever-growing list of disappeared friends, priests and poets. A daring rescue attempt reveals betrayals by gods and humans alike, while separate narratives create a dynamic portrait of Kavekana’s twisted socioeconomic system that turns myth into a moneymaking juggernaut. This is the best kind of urban fantasy, filled with diverse characters and thought-provoking philosophies.
Hightower is the author of “Elementari Rising.”