On the Smugglers’ Radar: June 2021
“On The Smugglers’ Radar” is a feature for books that have caught our eye: books we have heard of via other readers, directly from publishers, and/or from our regular incursions from various corners of the interwebs. Because we want far more books than we can possibly buy or review (what else is new?), we are revamping the Smugglers’ Radar into a monthly (mostly) SFF-focused feature – so YOU can tell us which books you have on your radar as well!
As of last month, all of our monthly picks can be found on Bookshop!
First on our radar today, a locked room (ok, locked spaceship) mystery with two boys and what promises to be an excellent romance:
The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer
Katherine Tegen Books | June 1, 2021
Two boys, alone in space.
After the first settler on Titan trips her distress signal, neither remaining country on Earth can afford to scramble a rescue of its own, and so two sworn enemies are installed in the same spaceship.
Ambrose wakes up on the Coordinated Endeavor, with no memory of a launch. There’s more that doesn’t add up: Evidence indicates strangers have been on board, the ship’s operating system is voiced by his mother, and his handsome, brooding shipmate has barricaded himself away. But nothing will stop Ambrose from making his mission succeed—not when he’s rescuing his own sister.
In order to survive the ship’s secrets, Ambrose and Kodiak will need to work together and learn to trust one another… especially once they discover what they are truly up against. Love might be the only way to survive.
Next up, a teen witch given the task of sacrificing her first love in order to save her family’s magic. I’m listening…
Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury
Margaret K. McElderry | June 15, 2021
A rich, dark urban fantasy debut following a teen witch who is given a horrifying task: sacrificing her first love to save her family’s magic. The problem is, she’s never been in love–she’ll have to find the perfect guy before she can kill him.
After years of waiting for her Calling–a trial every witch must pass in order to come into their powers–the one thing Voya Thomas didn’t expect was to fail. When Voya’s ancestor gives her an unprecedented second chance to complete her Calling, she agrees–and then is horrified when her task is to kill her first love. And this time, failure means every Thomas witch will be stripped of their magic.
Voya is determined to save her family’s magic no matter the cost. The problem is, Voya has never been in love, so for her to succeed, she’ll first have to find the perfect guy–and fast. Fortunately, a genetic matchmaking program has just hit the market. Her plan is to join the program, fall in love, and complete her task before the deadline. What she doesn’t count on is being paired with the infuriating Luc–how can she fall in love with a guy who seemingly wants nothing to do with her?
With mounting pressure from her family, Voya is caught between her morality and her duty to her bloodline. If she wants to save their heritage and Luc, she’ll have to find something her ancestor wants more than blood. And in witchcraft, blood is everything.
This next book combines Greek mythology with a feminist twist, and apparently an enemies to loves to enemies storyline? I’m intrigued.
Daughter of Sparta by Claire M. Andrews
Jimmy Patterson | June 8, 2021
Sparta forged her into a deadly weapon. Now the Gods need her to save the world!
Seventeen-year-old Daphne has spent her entire life honing her body and mind into that of a warrior, hoping to be accepted by the unyielding people of ancient Sparta. But an unexpected encounter with the goddess Artemis—who holds Daphne’s brother’s fate in her hands—upends the life she’s worked so hard to build. Nine mysterious items have been stolen from Mount Olympus and if Daphne cannot find them, the gods’ waning powers will fade away, the mortal world will descend into chaos, and her brother’s life will be forfeit.
Guided by Artemis’s twin-the handsome and entirely-too-self-assured god Apollo-Daphne’s journey will take her from the labyrinth of the Minotaur to the riddle-spinning Sphinx of Thebes, team her up with mythological legends such as Theseus and Hippolyta of the Amazons, and pit her against the gods themselves.
A reinterpretation of the classic Greek myth of Daphne and Apollo, Daughter of Sparta by debut author Claire Andrews turns the traditionally male-dominated mythology we know into a heart-pounding and empowering female-led adventure.
Another book on the hereditary power theme, this debut SFF sounds pretty badass.
Star Eater by Kerstin Hall
Tordotcom | June 22, 2021
From Nommo Award finalist Kerstin Hall comes “a layered and incisive examination of power.”—Rory Power, New York Times bestselling author of Wilder Girls
All martyrdoms are difficult.
Elfreda Raughn will avoid pregnancy if it kills her, and one way or another, it will kill her. Though she’s able to stomach her gruesome day-to-day duties, the reality of preserving the Sisterhood of Aytrium’s magical bloodline horrifies her. She wants out, whatever the cost.
So when a shadowy faction approaches Elfreda with an offer of escape, she leaps at the opportunity. As their spy, she gains access to the highest reaches of the Sisterhood, and enters a glittering world of opulent parties, subtle deceptions, and unexpected bloodshed.
A phantasmagorical indictment of hereditary power, Star Eater takes readers deep into a perilous and uncanny world where even the most powerful women are forced to choose what sacrifices they will make, so that they might have any choice at all.
We have been fans of Carrie Vaughn’s since her urban fantasy/paranormal days (Kitty Norville, anyone?!)–so when I saw that she was writing an RPG/DnD style novel I immediately preordered. Because. It. Looks. Awesome.
Questland by Carrie Vaughn
John Joseph Adams Book Paper | June 22, 2021
“Questland is a thrill ride…Richly imagined, action-packed, maximum fun.”
—Charles Yu, New York Times bestselling author of Interior Chinatown
YOU FIND YOURSELF IN A MAZE FULL OF TWISTY PASSAGES…
Literature professor Dr. Addie Cox is living a happy, if sheltered, life in her ivory tower when Harris Lang, the famously eccentric billionaire tech genius, offers her an unusual job. He wants her to guide a mercenary strike team sent to infiltrate his island retreat off the northwest coast of the United States. Addie is puzzled by her role on the mission until she understands what Lang has built: Insula Mirabilis, an isolated resort where tourists will one day pay big bucks for a convincing, high-tech-powered fantasy-world experience, complete with dragons, unicorns, and, yes, magic.
Unfortunately, one of the island’s employees has gone rogue and activated an invisible force shield that has cut off all outside communication. A Coast Guard cutter attempting to pass through the shield has been destroyed. Suspicion rests on Dominic Brand, the project’s head designer— and Addie Cox’s ex-boyfriend. Lang has tasked Addie and the mercenary team with taking back control of the island at any cost.
But Addie is wrestling demons of her own—and not the fantastical kind. Now, she must navigate the deadly traps of Insula Mirabilis as well as her own past trauma. And no d20, however lucky, can help Addie make this saving throw.
“Gamers rejoice! Carrie Vaughn has conjured up a fun and fast-paced story filled with elves, d20s, and Monty Python riffs.”
—Monte Cook, ENnie Award-winning creator of the Numenera roleplaying game
This next book is a reimagining of The Great Gatsby–but from the perspective of a queer, adopted, Vietnamese-American female lead. And magic.
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
Tordotcom | June 1, 2021
“Gatsby the way it should have been written?dark, dazzling, fantastical.” ?R. F. Kuang
“A vibrant and queer reinvention of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s jazz age classic. . . . I was captivated from the first sentence.”?NPR
“Vo has crafted a retelling that, in many ways, surpasses the original.”?Kirkus Reviews (STARRED REVIEW)
Immigrant. Socialite. Magician.
Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society?she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer and Asian, a Vietnamese adoptee treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.
But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.
Nghi Vo’s debut novel The Chosen and the Beautiful reinvents this classic of the American canon as a coming-of-age story full of magic, mystery, and glittering excess, and introduces a major new literary voice.
The third and final book of Megan O’Keefe’s phenomenal The Protectorate science fiction series is out this month and we are here for it:
Catalyst Gate by Megan E. O’Keefe
Orbit | June 22, 2021
In the final book of this explosive Philip K. Dick Award-nominated space opera, the universe is under threat and an ancient alien intelligence threatens to bring humanity down – unless Major Sanda Greeve and her crew can stop it…
The code has been cracked. The secrets of the Casimir gates have been revealed. But humanity still isn’t safe. The alien intelligence known as Rainier and her clones are still out there, hell-bent on its destruction. And only Sanda can stop them.
With the universe’s most powerful ship under her command and some of the most skilled hackers, fighters and spies on her team, it will still take everything she has to find the key to taking down an immortal enemy with seemingly limitless bodies, resources and power.
I was instantly drawn into this next book by its beautiful cover illustration–and then I started reading and it is wonderfully magical.
This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron
Bloomsbury YA | June 29, 2021
Darkness blooms in bestselling author Kalynn Bayron’s new contemporary fantasy about a girl with a unique and deadly power.
Briseis has a gift: she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms with a single touch.
When Briseis’s aunt dies and wills her a dilapidated estate in rural New York, Bri and her parents decide to leave Brooklyn behind for the summer. Hopefully there, surrounded by plants and flowers, Bri will finally learn to control her gift. But their new home is sinister in ways they could never have imagined–it comes with a specific set of instructions, an old-school apothecary, and a walled garden filled with the deadliest botanicals in the world that can only be entered by those who share Bri’s unique family lineage.
When strangers begin to arrive on their doorstep, asking for tinctures and elixirs, Bri learns she has a surprising talent for creating them. One of the visitors is Marie, a mysterious young woman who Bri befriends, only to find that Marie is keeping dark secrets about the history of the estate and its surrounding community. There is more to Bri’s sudden inheritance than she could have imagined, and she is determined to uncover it . . . until a nefarious group comes after her in search of a rare and dangerous immortality elixir. Up against a centuries-old curse and the deadliest plant on earth, Bri must harness her gift to protect herself and her family.
From the bestselling author of Cinderella Is Dead comes another inspiring and deeply compelling story about a young woman with the power to conquer the dark forces descending around her.
This next book is written by twin sisters, which seems incredibly fitting.
Sisters of the Snake by Sarena & Sasha Nanua
Harper Teen | June 15, 2021
A lost princess. A dark puppet master. And a race against time—before all is lost.
Princess Rani longs for a chance to escape her gilded cage and prove herself. Ria is a street urchin, stealing just to keep herself alive.
When these two lives collide, everything turns on its head: because Ria and Rani, orphan and royal, are unmistakably identical.
A deal is struck to switch places—but danger lurks in both worlds, and to save their home, thief and princess must work together. Or watch it all fall into ruin.
Deadly magic, hidden temples, and dark prophecies: Sisters of the Snake is an action-packed, immersive fantasy that will thrill fans of The Crown’s Game and The Tiger at Midnight.
And last but certainly not least, Tasha Suri’s new book and first in a new fantasy series–I CANNOT WAIT TO TALK TO EVERYONE ABOUT THIS BOOK.
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
Tor Books | May 25, 2021
Author of Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne, beginning a new trilogy set in a world inspired by the history and epics of India, in which a captive princess and a maidservant in possession of forbidden magic become unlikely allies on a dark journey to save their empire from the princess’s traitor brother.
Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of the powerful, magical deathless waters — but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
Priya is a maidservant, one among several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, so long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides.
But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne. The other is a priestess seeking to find her family. Together, they will change the fate of an empire.
And that’s it from us! What books do you have on your radar?