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New and Noteworthy

Once again we dive into the mix of books arriving at our office to pick out the week's most noteworthy titles, and take a look at notable SF and Fantasy books still in print that you may have missed in On The Shelves.

New Releases

There's been a buzz around A Dry Spell (Delacorte Press, September 3, 387 pages, $23.95) by Susie Maloney for the past several months, as Delacorte ramps up a $350,000 marketing campaign for this second novel from the Manitoba author. Paid an estimated half a million dollars for the unfinished manuscript -- which was subsequently snapped up for roughly the same amount by Tom Cruise's production company -- Maloney's opus is being compared in whispers to the work of a young Stephen King.

A Dry Spell is set in Goodlands, North Dakota, a seemingly perfect town... until a four year drought nearly destroys it. Tom Keatley is a rainmaker, a man who has performed miracles for other arid towns, and his arrival brings some hope to the parched community. But Tom finds very different forces at work in Goodlands, a town in the grip of something far beyond weather. Darkness has descended here and is gathering strength, and it is not willing to surrender its prize so easily. A fast-moving novel of dark secrets and abrupt horrors.

Sean Russell is another Canadian author who's gathered considerable notice. His first four fantasy novels -- including The Initiate Brother and World Without End -- revealed an original plotter with a talent for finely drawn action scenes. His latest novel, Beneath the Vaulted Hills, (DAW, July 97, 451 pages, $24.95) promises to enhance his growing reputation. Set in an earlier age in the same world as World Without End and Sea Without a Shore, it tells the tale of a culture where science and magic have clashed, and several factions struggle to master the secrets of both. Lord Eldrich, last of the great Mages, has dedicated the last years of his very long life to destroying all record of magic. Opposed to him are the Tellerites, fanatical devotees of a long-dead sorcerer, who seek to preserve the great secrets, in particular the key to immortality. A clash is inevitable, and the young Erasmus Flattery, once an apprentice to Eldrich, finds himself summoned once again -- this time to lead an expedition deep into the vaults of the earth, to find a dark secret hidden since the dawn of the first Mages.

The British writer J. V. Jones had tremendous success with her first fantasy trilogy, which began with The Baker's Boy and continued in A Man Betrayed and Master and Fool. Now comes her hardcover debut, a novel set outside the world of her first trilogy: The Barbed Coil (Warner Aspect, September 8, 612 pages, $22). In his early review, Wayne MacLaurin noted that it was "a novel of complex characters and a multi-layered plot... even the minor characters are rich with depth. The tale comes alive as Jones paints a compelling tale of a young woman drawn into a world where paintings and patterns hold great power. The Barbed Coil will be a welcome encore for fans of Jones's earlier work and, for those readers like me, it's a wonderful introduction to an engaging story-teller."

John Bellairs' Johnny Dixon mysteries are modern classics of Young Adult fiction. Beginning with The Curse of the Blue Figurine, Bellairs introduced us to the resourceful Johnny and his ingenious neighbor Professor Childermass, who together encountered Mummies, Sorcerers, Killer Robots and a host of other world-threatening dangers. Now Puffin is re-releasing the early Johnny Dixon books in attractive new editions with cover art by Paul O. Zelinsky, including The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost (Puffin Books, September 1, 147 pages, $3.99), to coincide with the paperback arrival of the ninth book in the series, The Drum, the Doll, and the Zombie (Puffin Books, September 1, 153 pages, $3.99).

Zombie is the first of the posthumous Bellairs' novels completed by Brad Strickland. Strickland completed several of Bellairs' novels after the latter's death, carrying on in the creepy tradition of the master. In The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost Johnny collapses into a weird trance and it's up to Childermass and Johnny's friend Fergie to discover the reason; in The Drum, the Doll, and the Zombie it's Fergie who starts a new round of trouble by banging a sinister drum and summoning an evil voodoo priestess. If you haven't tried Bellairs before, these books are a perfect starting point. Even the moody frontispieces by Edward Gorey have been faithfully reprinted.

On the Shelves

Here we point out those books still in print which we've recently discovered or which we've just had recommended to us. As always, if you have your own suggestions be sure to let us know.

Molly Gloss is a rising literary star whose last mainstream novel, The Jump-Off Creek, was a runner-up in the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Awards. Her first novel was an atmospheric fantasy piece titled Outside the Gates. Gloss seems an altogether unlikely candidate to produce a hard SF novel which Ursula K. Le Guin calls "a vast, bleak, beautiful vision of the human future -- a triumph of the imagination." But produce it she has, in The Dazzle of Day (Tor, June, 255 pages, $21.95).

The generation ship Dusty Miller is about to arrive, at long last, at a new world. The planet turns out to be less than ideal, however, and the ship's inhabitants are faced with the tough decision of accepting this inhospitable land or setting sail on the solar winds once more. When one of their shuttles crashes on the new world, their choice becomes even more difficult. A novel that pays as much attention to culture and human passion as it does science, The Dazzle of Day offers much to the discerning reader.

Patricia Anthony won the Locus Award for her first novel Cold Allies, a highly original novel of future war and alien visitation. Since then she's been a writer to watch, with such work as Brother Termite and Cradle of Splendor, and her latest novel promises to introduce her to a whole new audience.

God's Fires (Ace, June 1, 371 pages, $22.95) is set in the small Portuguese village of Quintas during the time of the Inquisition. Father Manuel Pessoa, a man who fears the excesses of the Inquisition as much as he fears the evil it seeks to root out, begins to hear unusual confessions from the villagers. Tales of glowing lights in the sky, angels who lie with women, and a virgin birth. Has a strange craft really crashed from the heavens, or is the devil at work in Quintas? Manuel is determined to learn the truth -- and behind him steps the inquisitor-general, whose tread is far heavier. An original and promising premise from one of SF's brightest new voices.

Megan Lindholm has written some fine genre fiction over the years, in particular urban fantasy, including the minor classic Wizard of the Pigeons, and the prehistoric fantasy The Reindeer People. For her first big epic fantasy trilogy, however, she took on the name Robin Hobb, producing Assassin's Apprentice (1995) and Royal Assassin (1996).

The gamble certainly seems to have paid off: the Farseer trilogy has become one of the most well received breakout trilogies of the last few years, gathering Lindholm a whole new audience. In March of this year Bantam released the final volume, Assassin's Quest (Bantam Spectra, March 3, 1997, $22.95, 704 pages) in hardcover, breaking away from the trade paperback format of the first two volumes -- a prestigious and attention-getting move, which nonetheless confounded collectors who were expecting three volumes which sat nicely together on the shelf. Well, if you've been waiting for Bantam to release a trade edition, you should be aware that Bantam has announced plans to go directly to a mass market paperback in the Spring. If you're looking for a sturdy permanent edition of this fine novel, there's still time to track down the hardcover, still in print and available at most bookstores.

Children of Amarid (Tor, May 97, 383 pages, $25.95) has many of the hallmarks of a standard Tor fantasy: powerful magic, innocent youth, an original twist, and the Drums of Doom pumpin' out a jazzy beat in the background. Still, when a first novel makes it into hardcover in a market as crowded as this, it deserves a closer look. Subtitled Book I of the Lon Tobyn Chronicle, it tells the tale of an order of Hawk-Mages and Owl-Masters, gifted magicians known as the Children of Amarid and their avian familiars, who for a thousand years have faithfully upheld the sacred trust of the magic-endowed land of Tobyn-Ser. But when reports come of mages with wild, foreign powers committing foul acts, the people of Tobyn-Ser soon turn away from them altogether. With the reports spreading and the Order collapsing in disarray, it falls to a young and inexperienced mage of unusual power to root out the truth on a dangerous journey across the land. An unusually intricate plot supported by detailed characterizations, Children of Amarid is the work of a writer to watch.

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