The epic fantasy genre gets a double treat this month, starting with A Crown for Cold Silver (Orbit, $26), by Alex Marshall. When an obscure village is massacred under mysterious orders, the legendary Cobalt Zosia, who had conquered the king of the Crimson Empire with her Five Villains decades ago, comes out of hiding to seek revenge. Having tried and failed to establish a fair and egalitarian society when she was ruler, Zosia feels doubly betrayed since she had faked her death in concert with the ruling queen. It soon becomes apparent that there are more players in the game, including the church, a renegade princess and Zosia’s original Five Villains, who had also gone into hiding. Don’t let the run-of-the-mill revenge plot fool you. This lusty debut will have you gasping in one breath and laughing in the next with its cast of multicultural characters, gender-bending soldiers, same-sex coupled kings and warrior women of all ages who throw themselves into the fray. By the latter half of the novel, you realize Marshall is playing a long, glorious game.
Ken Liu, who translated “The Three-Body Problem,” by Cixin Liu , remixes “The Iliad” with Chinese mythology in his expansive The Grace of Kings (Saga, $27.99). The novel, the first in a planned series, opens with the brutal emperor Mapidéré of the Seven Isles of Dara close to death. Some of the gods are angry at the way injustice has permeated the kingdom; others are just bored and want a bit of fun (as gods do). Enter Kuni Garu, a witty player turned bandit who teams up with Mata Zyndu, an exiled noble whose eight-foot height and double-pupil eyes intimidate most men. The two become unlikely allies in their shared desire to wrest the kingdom from Mapidéré’s son, who is being controlled by a corrupt regent. But once they have achieved their goal, the allies find themselves sworn enemies as they each want a different kind of kingdom — but which will win out: brains, brawn or the gods, who have their own agenda? Liu’s deftly created alternative world, thrilling action scenes and evenly paced plot promise a groundbreaking non-Western epic fantasy.
The Affinities (Tor, $25.99), by Robert Charles Wilson, presents a not-so-distant future society where humans try to form communities through self-selected groups known as Affinities. Sorted by sophisticated scientific data, communities are more closely knit than most families, with quickly growing networks that span nations. Young Adam Fisk joins the Tau Affinity and discovers that the benefits of this new tribal identity — loyalty and protection — come with a price. For one thing, there is his real family: Adam finds himself caught between trying to defend his Affinity’s interest and save his sister-in-law and stepbrother from being sacrificed in the crossfire of a rivalry between two tribes. In this thought-provoking novel, Wilson deftly explores the drawbacks of groupthink and social networks that come to replace more inclusive, complex personal relationships. What’s chilling is how close this futuristic plot mirrors our current reality.
Hightower, the author of “Elementari Rising,” reviews science fiction and fantasy every month for The Washington Post.