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Step Aside, Shadowfax—6 Books Featuring Fantasy Steeds That Aren’t Horses

Sure, horses are majestic and noble beasts, but why limit yourself to four legs and hooves in fantasy when you could be riding anything from gigantic sandworms to man-eating hippos? Here are six titles that feature alternative steeds for riding into battle on, or just riding to work on.

By Yvonne Ye


Place holder  of - 2Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley

The Annurian Empire—the setting for Staveley’s popular series The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne—is back, and it’s disintegrating rapidly. After a disastrous mission gone terribly awry, Gwenna Sharpe must embark on a voyage beyond the edges of any maps in search for the ancient nesting grounds of the giant war hawks—massive, proud birds that can carry an entire Wing of highly skilled soldiers—the empire needs to survive.

Placeholder of  -14American Hippo by Sarah Gailey

 In the early 20th century, the U.S. Congress seriously entertained the proposition of importing hippos into the southern marshlands to be nurtured as an alternative meat source. Sarah Gailey follows that proposition to its logical conclusion: a hair-raising heist on hippo-back. Brutal, brilliant, bold, and brash, American Hippo follows Winslow Houndstooth and his crew of outlaws, con artists, assassins, and their hippo counterparts as they wreak absolute mayhem in the bayous of Louisiana—and take bloody revenge.

Image Placeholder of - 51The Red Threads of Fortune by Neon Yang

After the explosive ending of The Black Tides of Heaven, Sanao Mokoya—ex-prophet, trained Tensor, rebel, and daughter of the supreme Protector—now spends her days hunting sky-obscuring naga: great, lizard-like beasts that soar through the heavens on clawed wings of leather, whose jaws could slice a man in half. When she meets the mysterious yet enchanting Rider, who can take to the skies on the back of a naga, Mokoya must confront conspiracy and betrayal, buried secrets and deadly magic while navigating her own trauma and grief.

Image Place holder  of - 93Star Eater by Kerstin Hall

Come for the incisive deconstruction of power in a bloody sisterhood of matriarchal nuns; stay for the haqules, the giant, swift-footed, fork-tailed feline steeds that the high-ranking members of the sisterhood ride. Elfreda Raughn wants out of the Sisterhood of Aytrium, which offers her great power at a gruesome cost. Sometimes, that means riding giant cats while making one’s dramatic escape. Sometimes, that also means evading giant cats whilst making one’s dramatic escape, but such are the dangers of infiltrating and rebelling against a cannibalistic priestesshood.

Poster Placeholder of - 40The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán

If you’ve ever looked at 14th century Europe and thought to yourself that it would be improved by the addition of dinosaurs, look no further. Mercenary and Dinosaur Lord Karyl Bogomirsky has been betrayed and left for dead, but he won’t let his story end there. Milán crafts a world full of dinosaurs as wildlife, as husbandry, as pets, and of course—as steeds of war.

Dune by Frank Herbert

When the House of Atreides accepts stewardship over the planet of Arrakis, young Paul Atreides is flung into a storm of interstellar intrigue and deadly competition. Arrakis is inhospitable, desolate, and covered primarily in harsh deserts; it is also the only source of melange, a rare and exclusive spice that can both extend life and heighten mental abilities. The catch? The spice is guarded by the giant sandworms of Arrakis, who are made of little more than teeth and territorial instinct. With an upcoming film this fall featuring a powerhouse cast of Oscar Isaac, Timothée Chalamet, and Zendaya, we’re looking forward to at least one scene where a character rides the famed sandworms.

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Are Hippos DRAGONS!?! Sarah Gailey Weighs In!

Place holder  of - 64It’s time…Dragon Week: Tokyo Drift is HERE!!! We’re kicking off our third iteration of a week dedicated to all things dragons with a seemingly simple question: do hippos count as dragons? Sarah Gailey, author of The Echo Wife and American Hippo, is here to give us their answer. Check it out below!


When I received the brief for this piece, I made the same mistake I always do — the mistake of thinking it would be easy. Do Hippos Count as Dragons feels like a very simple yes or no question, and I thought I knew what my answer would be. I thought that this would be easy even though actual taxonomists and evolutionary biologists — people who have real educations in these matters and think about them professionally — have historically struggled with the question of whether a hippo is a pig or a whale. I accepted the assignment to write this piece with the totally unearned confidence of a fiction writer.

But then I realized I don’t think I know what makes a dragon a dragon.

The problem with trying to define dragon is that dragon doesn’t describe a specific thing. There’s no reason to think dragons all have one common ancestor — they seem to evolve naturally across pretty much all human cultures, like how evolution eventually turns everything into a crab — so dragon isn’t a clade and doesn’t really fit into a cladistic classification structure. Taxonomically speaking, I guess dragon would be a class. Dragons definitely nest neatly into the phylum chordata — all dragons have spines, I think that’s pretty clear — but they don’t fit well into any existing class within that phylum. Some – but not all – dragons could classify as mammalian, by virtue of their long hairy beards. Other dragons are clearly reptilian, what with the scales. Sea dragons and river dragons could probably be considered fish, for all that the category ‘fish’ has meaning, which it doesn’t, but that’s beside the point. And then there are dragons that could be considered amphibious, if one grants consideration to dragons who bear strong resemblances to salamanders.

I could continue justifying this but I don’t have to, I get to make the rules here. Okay, so let’s consider dragon a class within the phylum chordata. What defines that class?

Well, that’s a question that is both very tricky and very simple. Are dragons warm-blooded or cold-blooded? Do they breathe air or water? Do they give birth to eggs or to live young? The good news is that there is no reliable or comprehensive data available on any of this. Dragon mythology and folklore is so widespread and diverse that pretty much every available dragon morphology and behavior is on the table. The other good news is that taxonomies are made-up! They are categories into which we sort creatures that we decide are same-y. A big snake with three-clawed feet that shoots fire out of its armpits? Dragon. A scaly horse with dots of curly hair on its back that can walk on water? Dragon! A giant snake with the face of a man who can create night or day by opening or closing his eyes? Great news: that’s a dragon.

My scientific conclusion is that the class dragon is defined largely by vibe. Fortunately, I am currently the boss of dragon science, so — as is often the case with taxonomic science! — I get to use my own totally subjective and arbitrary opinions to determine who gets to be part of the class dragon. Dragons are mysterious yet still connected to the physical realm. They’re powerful but also vulnerable. They’re frightening and dangerous, but still charismatic. It’s hard to know where you stand with a dragon, and they’re highly mutable.

Let’s see if that works. A six-foot-tall featherless biped that lives primarily on land, is incapable of flight, has small mostly-flat teeth and no body armor to speak of, that gives birth to varying quantities of live young? Not terribly frightening or mysterious. So, a human doesn’t feel very dragon.

What about a small aquatic spheroid creature that’s covered in spikes, travels in herds, and eats massive quantities of kelp? Mysterious, yes, but not terribly powerful or charismatic. Plus there’s the whole spine thing. So, great, a sea urchin probably doesn’t count as a dragon. I have tested two species against this method of categorization and I think that is more than enough rigor to say that my method is flawless.

Now let’s try this one: a massive tusked creature that lives in the water but emerges to feed and to commit totally unpredictable acts of terrible violence, that has cute ears and terrifying tusks, that emits something called ‘blood sweat,’ and which has only recently been recognized as an opportunistic (let’s be honest with each other: recreational) carnivore by the greater scientific community?

Hippos are mysterious in their habits, yet are still very clearly grounded to the physical realm. They’re incredibly powerful. They’re frightening and dangerous, but judging by the number of people who circulate videos of Baby Fiona, still charismatic. It’s hard to know where you stand with a hippo until the hippo decides it’s your time to die.

That sure sounds like a dragon to me.

Hugo Award-winning and bestselling author Sarah Gailey is the author of the novels The Echo Wife and Magic for Liars. Their nonfiction has been published by Mashable and The Boston Globe, and they won a Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer. Their fiction credits also include Vice and The Atlantic. Their debut novella, River of Teeth, was a 2018 finalist for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

Order American Hippo Here:

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New Releases: 5/22/18

Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

Image Place holder  of - 56 Moss Jeffries is many things—considerate student, devoted son, loyal friend and affectionate boyfriend, enthusiastic nerd.

But sometimes Moss still wishes he could be someone else—someone without panic attacks, someone whose father was still alive, someone who hadn’t become a rallying point for a community because of one horrible night.

And most of all, he wishes he didn’t feel so stuck.

Becoming Bonnie by Jenni L. Walsh

Poster Placeholder of - 56 The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family’s poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her, and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas’s newest speakeasy, Doc’s. But her life—like her country—is headed for a crash.

Bonnie Parker is about to meet Clyde Barrow.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow

Placeholder of  -89 Jules is a young man barely a century old. He’s lived long enough to see the cure for death and the end of scarcity, to learn ten languages and compose three symphonies…and to realize his boyhood dream of taking up residence in Disney World.

Disney World! The greatest artistic achievement of the long-ago twentieth century. Now in the care of a network of volunteer “ad-hocs” who keep the classic attractions running as they always have, enhanced with only the smallest high-tech touches.

Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow

Place holder  of - 97 Art is an up-and-coming interface designer, working on the management of data flow along the Massachusetts Turnpike. He’s doing the best work of his career and can guarantee that the system will be, without a question, the most counterintuitive, user-hostile piece of software ever pushed forth onto the world.

Why? Because Art is an industrial saboteur. He may live in London and work for an EU telecommunications megacorp, but Art’s real home is the Eastern Standard Tribe.

In the Eye of Heaven by David Keck

Image Placeholder of - 63 Durand is simply a good squire trying to become a good knight in a harsh and unforgiving world.

After fourteen years of grueling training, Durand’s knighthood and inheritance, the lordship of a small village in his father’s duchy, seemed assured. However, Fate saw otherwise. When the long lost son of the knight of that village unexpectedly returns, Durand must forge his own name and fortune.

Makers by Cory Doctorow

Perry and Lester invent things—seashell robots that make toast, Boogie Woogie Elmo dolls that drive cars. They also invent entirely new economic systems, like the “New Work,” a New Deal for the technological era. Barefoot bankers cross the nation, microinvesting in high-tech communal mini-startups like Perry and Lester’s. Together, they transform the country, and Andrea Fleeks, a journo-turned-blogger, is there to document it.

The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross

Welcome to the fractured future, at the dusk of the twenty-first century.

Earth has a population of roughly a billion hominids. For the most part, they are happy with their lot, living in a preserve at the bottom of a gravity well. Those who are unhappy have emigrated, joining one or another of the swarming densethinker clades that fog the inner solar system with a dust of molecular machinery so thick that it obscures the sun.

Seeker by Veronica Rossi

When Daryn claimed she was seeing “visions” during her sophomore year of high school, no one believed the truth. She wasn’t losing her mind, she was gaining the Sight—the ability to see the future. If she just paid attention to the visions, they’d provide her with clues and show her how she could help people. Really help them. Daryn embraced her role as a Seeker. The work she did was important. She saved lives.

Until Sebastian.

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow

Alan is a middle-aged entrepeneur who moves to a bohemian neighborhood of Toronto. Living next door is a young woman who reveals to him that she has wings—which grow back after each attempt to cut them off.

Alan understands. He himself has a secret or two. His father is a mountain, his mother is a washing machine, and among his brothers are sets of Russian nesting dolls.

Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

Hubert Vernon Rudolph Clayton Irving Wilson Alva Anton Jeff Harley Timothy Curtis Cleveland Cecil Ollie Edmund Eli Wiley Marvin Ellis Espinoza—known to his friends as Hubert, Etc—was too old to be at that Communist party.

But after watching the breakdown of modern society, he really has no where left to be—except amongst the dregs of disaffected youth who party all night and heap scorn on the sheep they see on the morning commute. After falling in with Natalie, an ultra-rich heiress trying to escape the clutches of her repressive father, the two decide to give up fully on formal society—and walk away.

NEW FROM TOR.COM

American Hippo by Sarah Gailey

In 2017 Sarah Gailey made her debut with River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow, two action-packed novellas that introduced readers to an alternate America in which hippos rule the colossal swamp that was once the Mississippi River. Now readers have the chance to own both novellas in American Hippo, a single, beautiful volume.

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Himouto! Umaru-chan Vol. 1 Story and art by Sankaku Head

How to Treat Magical Beasts: Mine and Master’s Medical Journal Vol. 1 Story and art by Kajiya

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Vol. 3 Story by Makoto Fukami; Art by Seigo Tokiya

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid: Kanna’s Daily Life Vol. 2 Story by coolkyousinnjya; Art by Mitsuhiro Kimura

Saint Seiya: Saintia Shō Vol. 2 Story and art by Chimaki Kuori

Ultra Kaiju Anthropomorphic Project Vol. 1 Character designs by POP; story and art by Shun Kazakami

Yokai Rental Shop Vol. 3 Story and art by Shin Mashiba

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