The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The best science fiction and fantasy to read this fall

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In “Vengeful” (Tor), V.E. Schwab is at the top of her game, with twisty action, oddball family pairings and unexpected antiheroes you can’t help but root for. The book resumes where Schwab’s 2013 novel “Vicious” left off: Eli and Victor seek revenge on each other after an experiment to induce supernatural abilities goes awry, resulting in Victor’s imprisonment and Eli’s descent into darkness. Their final battle left Eli imprisoned, and Victor is resurrected. But Victor begins to experience some deadly side effects; seeking a cure, he spends five years with his makeshift family. Eli ends up in a Hannibal Lecter/Clarice-type situation, helping a detective hunt down ExtraOrdinaries like himself. There’s also a new character named Marcella who is hellbent on getting revenge on the mafioso husband who betrayed her. As engaging as these story lines are, as they unfold they sometimes feel a bit inevitable and oddly hollow.

The Spaceship Next Door

In “The Spaceship Next Door”(John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books), Gene Doucette uses a mashup of science fiction and horror tropes to explore what happens in a small town after a seemingly cataclysmic event. Three years before the book opens, a spaceship landed in the town of Sorrow Falls. The United States fell into chaos, with suicide rates up and proclamations of doom — but then nothing happened. When the ship does start to give off some alarming signals, government analyst Edgar Somerville goes undercover as a reporter to explore. His investigation is a dud until he teams up with Annie Collins, a wise-beyond-her-years teenager who is more involved with the mysterious spaceship than it seems. The book is a slow burn that builds to a somewhat goofy ending. Still, it’s a fun and heartwarming send-up of classic science fiction.

Phoenix Unbound

All of the promise of Grace Draven’s fantasy, “Phoenix Unbound” (Ace), is wrapped up in its premise. The story is set in a typical old-time fantasy milieu, where an evil empire requires each village to sacrifice a woman who is burned on a pyre in the Rite of Spring every year. Gilene makes herself a martyr: She has control of fire, and allows herself to be raped and burned once a year to protect her village. One year, however, the prime gladiator and slave Azarian sees through her plan and blackmails her to help him escape and reclaim his rightful place as head of his clan. There is a lot to be explored with the idea of ritual sacrifice of young women for the pleasure of the masses. But instead Draven plunges headlong into your typical romantic fantasy, with a compelling enemy-to-lover arc. This is comforting escapism at its best.

Everdeen Mason reviews science fiction and fantasy every month for The Washington Post.

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