If you’re sick of zombies, you’ll still like The Boy on the Bridge (Orbit) by best-selling author and comic book writer M.R. Carey. In this novel, a group of scientists and military personnel set out to research a possible cure for the zombie plague. No one is to be trusted, and the alliances are as tenuous as the society the group has left behind. The relationships, especially between the secretly pregnant Samrina Khan and Stephen Greaves, who is autistic, are strongly rendered but never veer into the melodramatic. Hurt and affection are strongly felt even as characters hold emotion at bay — fitting, because what good are grand shows of grief when the whole world is falling apart? Carey does an excellent job of giving a narrow look at how the plague affects individuals, as well as the political ramifications for a new society. The book is quiet until it isn’t, and the climax is appropriately simmering. Those who have read “The Girl With All the Gifts” or seen the film version will find some fun gems in this companion novel, but the book stands ably on its own.
In Flame in the Mist (Putnam) Renée Ahdieh weaves Japanese and Korean narratives into a fun feudal samurai drama. The story follows Mariko, an inquisitive and intelligent woman, resentful of the place society has prescribed her because of her gender. She is on her way to be married to the emperor’s second son, but an assassination attempt leaves her the lone survivor of her caravan. Mariko decides to pose as a boy to infiltrate the Robin Hood-esque clan she thinks is responsible. She must work her way to the upper ranks of the clan to find its weakness, all the while avoiding capture by her brother and resisting her undeniable attraction to the mysterious and dishonorable Okami. “Flame in the Mist” is an action-packed and well-paced young adult novel, though it grapples with adult themes of isolation and the corruptive influence of power any reader will recognize. Though its central romance is a bit too much of a bodice-ripper the strength of this tale lies in its formidable heroine, Mariko.
Tremontaine (Saga) is fantasy only in that it’s set in a made-up city, one full of brigands, politicians and partying nobles. The real magic is how well six authors can spin together a narrative. The book is a prequel of sorts to Ellen Kushner’s “Swordspoint” series, but stands perfectly well alone. Kushner, as well as five other authors such as Malinda Lo and Alaya Dawn Johnson, have written a sprawling narrative following four main characters, the likes of whom are often not seen in contemporary fantasy. Micah is a young math savant whose research chips away at an enormous truth that threatens to upend the economics of society. She’s accompanied by Rafe, a young scholar and 17th-century hipster of sorts who chafes at societal conventions, scientific or otherwise, and Ixkaab, a young woman and spy seeking to redeem past mistakes. The story is a joy, and literally swashbuckling. Overseeing all the machinations is the Duchess Tremontaine, a villain so laughably scheming that you can’t help but root for her.
Everdeen Mason reviews science fiction and fantasy every month for The Washington Post.