Naomi Novik’s Uprooted (Del Rey, $25) is an enchanting twist on a tale from Polish folklore: A century-old wizard called the Dragon comes to a village to choose a young woman who will stay with him for a decade before being set free. In exchange, the dragon will protect the village and surrounding valley from the living Wood, a forest that’s come to life and can imprison anyone. Surprisingly, the dragon picks 17-year-old Agnieszka, who is not known for either beauty or social graces. It turns out she is also a powerful witch. When the Wood becomes aggressive and steals Agnieszka’s best friend, Agnieszka sets off a chain of events that stirs old wars and brings in wizards and long-lost queens. In time, she discovers the terrible crime that corrupted the Wood, and she must find a way to purify it. Also the author of the best-selling Temeraire series, Novik here delivers a tale that is funny and fast-paced, laced with hair-raising battle scenes and conspiracies; it also touches on deeper ecological concerns we grapple with today.
“The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.” Thus begins Neal Stephenson’s fascinating new apocalyptic novel, Seveneves (Morrow, $35), about the Earth’s destruction and eventual repopulation. Written in a wry, erudite voice, the novel explores the reaction to the news that in two years, moon fragments will pulverize the Earth and destroy all life. Scientists and engineers develop the Cloud Ark, a space station to be filled with scientists, engineers and a chosen few civilians who will keep the human race procreating. However, radiation poisoning and deadly skirmishes between factions on the ark leave the world’s fate in the hands of seven women. Without any men or access to stored sperm, they become humanity’s “Eves,” reconstructing various races from their genes. Five-thousand years later, we see how these choices play out as the seven “people” groups created by the women try to resettle on Earth. “Seveneves” will please fans of hard science fiction, but this witty, epic tale is also sure to win over readers new to Stephenson’s work.
The Gracekeepers (Crown, $25), by Kirsty Logan, is a lyrical debut novel that explores how our truest family is often one of our choosing rather than the one we’re born into. Living in a futuristic world covered mostly by ocean, Callanish is a self-exiled “gracekeeper,” responsible for the water burial of “damplings” (people who live on boats as opposed to the wealthier “landlockers,” who control what is left of the islands). North is the “bear girl” of a floating circus, newly pregnant by a mysterious lover, and the intended betrothed to the ringmaster’s son. A violent storm momentarily helps these two women discover they have a mystical, terrifying secret in common. Told from multiple viewpoints, the novel centers on the politics of the circus as much as it does on the larger caste system of this new world. Fans of S.M. Wheeler’s “Sea Change” and Emmi Itäranta’s “Memory of Water” will appreciate this latest genre-bending work.
Nancy Hightower, the author of “Elementari Rising,” reviews science fiction and fantasy for The Washington Post every month.
On May 26 at 7 p.m., Neal Stephenson will be at Sidwell Friends Meeting House. For tickets, contact Politics and Prose Bookstore at 202-364-1919.