Brian Staveley - Tor/Forge Blog




Big News: We’re all eBook sale, all day, but only for today (Sunday, 10/16/22)! Get every title on this epic list for $2.99 for the next 24 hours!

Daughter of Redwinter by Ed McDonaldDaughter of Redwinter by Ed McDonald

Raine can see—and speak—to the dead, a gift that comes with a death sentence. All her life she has hidden, lied, and run to save her skin, and she’s made some spectacularly bad choices along the way.

But it is a rare act of kindness—rescuing an injured woman in the snow—that becomes the most dangerous decision Raine has ever made.

Because the woman is fleeing from Redwinter, the fortress-monastery of the Draoihn, warrior magicians who answer to no king, and who will stop at nothing to reclaim what she’s stolen. A battle, a betrayal, and a horrific revelation force Raine to enter the citadel and live among the Draoihn. She soon finds that her secret ability could be the key to saving an entire nation.

Though she might have to die to make it happen . . .

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Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline CareyKushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

A nation born of angels, vast and intricate and surrounded by danger… a woman born to servitude, unknowingly given access to the secrets of the realm…

Born with a scarlet mote in her left eye, Phédre nó Delaunay is sold into indentured servitude as a child. When her bond is purchased by an enigmatic nobleman, she is trained in history, theology, politics, foreign languages, the arts of pleasure. And above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Exquisite courtesan, talented spy…and unlikely heroine. But when Phédre stumbles upon a plot that threatens her homeland, Terre d’Ange, she has no choice.

Betrayed into captivity in the barbarous northland of Skaldia and accompanied only by a disdainful young warrior-priest, Phédre makes a harrowing escape and an even more harrowing journey to return to her people and deliver a warning of the impending invasion. And that proves only the first step in a quest that will take her to the edge of despair and beyond.

Phédre nó Delaunay is the woman who holds the keys to her realm’s deadly secrets, and whose courage will decide the very future of her world.

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The First Binding by R. R. VirdiThe First Binding by R. R. Virdi

All legends are born of truths. And just as much lies. These are mine. Judge me for what you will. But you will hear my story first.

I buried the village of Ampur under a mountain of ice and snow. Then I killed their god. I’ve stolen old magics and been cursed for it. I started a war with those that walked before mankind and lost the princess I loved, and wanted to save. I’ve called lightning and bound fire. I am legend. And I am a monster.

My name is Ari.

And this is the story of how I let loose the first evil.

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Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen CookChronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook

Darkness wars with darkness as the hard-bitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must. They bury their doubts with their dead.

Then comes the prophecy: The White Rose has been reborn, somewhere, to embody good once more…

This omnibus edition comprises The Black Company, Shadows Linger, and The White Rose—the first three novels in Glen Cook’s bestselling fantasy series.

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Fate of the Fallen by Kel KadeFate of the Fallen by Kel Kade

Not all stories have happy endings.

Everyone loves Mathias. Naturally, when he discovers it’s his destiny to save the world, he dives in head first, pulling his best friend Aaslo along for the ride.

However, saving the world isn’t as easy, or exciting, as it sounds in the stories. The going gets rough and folks start to believe their best chance for survival is to surrender to the forces of evil, which isn’t how the prophecy goes. At all. As the list of allies grows thin, and the friends find themselves staring death in the face they must decide how to become the heroes they were destined to be or, failing that, how to survive.

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Gardens of the Moon by Steven EriksonGardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting and bloody confrontations with the formidable Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii, ancient and implacable sorcerers. Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen’s rule remains absolute, enforced by her dread Claw assassins.

For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, surviving cadre mage of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze.

However, it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand…

Conceived and written on a panoramic scale, Gardens of the Moon is epic fantasy of the highest order—an enthralling adventure by an outstanding new voice.

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The Ruin of Kings by Jenn LyonsThe Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

Kihrin grew up in the slums of Quur, a thief and a minstrel’s son raised on tales of long-lost princes and magnificent quests. When he is claimed against his will as the missing son of a treasonous prince, Kihrin finds himself at the mercy of his new family’s ruthless power plays and political ambitions.

Practically a prisoner, Kihrin discovers that being a long-lost prince is nothing like what the storybooks promised. The storybooks have lied about a lot of other things, too: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, and how the hero always wins.

Then again, maybe he isn’t the hero after all. For Kihrin is not destined to save the world.

He’s destined to destroy it.

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Rise of the Mages by Scott DrakefordRise of the Mages by Scott Drakeford

Emrael Ire wants nothing more than to test to be a weapons master. His final exam will be a bloody insurrection, staged by corrupt nobles and priests, that enslaves his brother.

With the aid of his War Master tutor, herself an undercover mage, Emrael discovers his own latent and powerful talents.

To rescue his brother, Emrael must embrace not only his abilities as a warrior but also his place as last of the ancient Mage Kings—for the Fallen God has returned.

And he is hungry.

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The Emperor's Blades by Brian StaveleyThe Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

Kaden, the heir to the Unhewn Throne, has spent eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, learning the enigmatic discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power he must master before it’s too late.

An ocean away, Valyn endures the brutal training of the Kettral, elite soldiers who fly into battle on gigantic black hawks. But before he can set out to save Kaden, Valyn must survive one horrific final test.

At the heart of the empire, Minister Adare, elevated to her station by one of the emperor’s final acts, is determined to prove herself to her people. But Adare also believes she knows who murdered her father, and she will stop at nothing—and risk everything—to see that justice is meted out.

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The Unspoken Name by A. K. LarkwoodThe Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does—she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn—gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

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The Starless Crown by James RollinsThe Starless Crown by James Rollins

A gifted student foretells an apocalypse. Her reward is a sentence of death.

Fleeing into the unknown she is drawn into a team of outcasts:

A broken soldier, who once again takes up the weapons he’s forbidden to wield and carves a trail back home.

A drunken prince, who steps out from his beloved brother’s shadow and claims a purpose of his own.

An imprisoned thief, who escapes the crushing dark and discovers a gleaming artifact – one that will ignite a power struggle across the globe.

On the run, hunted by enemies old and new, they must learn to trust each other in order to survive in a world evolved in strange, beautiful, and deadly ways, and uncover ancient secrets that hold the key to their salvation.

But with each passing moment, doom draws closer.

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“Have we not loved you? Have we not cared for you?”: The Plight of AI in the Universe of Douglas Adams

Placeholder of  -51If you could, would you want to develop a super intelligent AI to do your bidding? Neil Sharpson, author of When the Sparrow Falls, now out in paperback, explores why this is a BAD idea in the below guest post. Check it out now!

THE WISE OLD BIRD: Listen. Our world suffered two blights. One was the blight of the robots.

ARTHUR DENT: Tried to take over, did they?

THE WISE OLD BIRD: Oh no, no, no my dear fellow. Much worse than that. They told us they liked us.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show, Fit the Tenth


In my novel, When the Sparrow Falls (on sale from Tor in June 2021, weird coincidence right?) three super intelligent AIs have assumed responsibility for the governance of all human life. Together, they’ve reversed the Earth’s environmental degradation, virtually eliminated disease and inequality and improved the lives of every person on Earth with the exception of the last organic humans living in a totalitarian state on the Caspian Sea where plot still happens. Given that premise, people are often surprised to hear my position on developing super intelligent AI, which is essentially: DON’T DO IT, YA IDJITS!

For me, the question that should be asked before developing an artificial intelligence of equal or greater intelligence to a human being should be: “Do you have a practical reason to do this?”

If the answer is “No,” then don’t do it.

If the answer is “Yes,” then you’re talking about creating a sentient being purely to work for you and that’s slavery so don’t do it.

When we think of the dangers of AI, we normally think of Skynet, HAL or AM. And sure, there is a non-zero chance that any Super AI might spend five minutes on the internet and think “ah, I see the problem. Where are those nuclear codes?” But honestly, if I had to place money on the science fiction writer who will prove most prophetic in depicting our future relationship with AI? Not Philip K. Dick. Not Harlan Ellison. Not Asimov.

Douglas Adams, all the way.

In the universe of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its sequels across all media the relationship between humanity and the various computers and robots they’ve created is less apocalyptic warfare and more like a miserably unhappy marriage[1].

In perhaps the most famous sequence in the whole franchise, fabulously intelligent pan-dimensional aliens who will later become Earth’s mice (long story) create Deep Thought, a super-intelligent AI, and give it the task of telling them the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything.

After buffering for a few billion years, Deep Thought gives them what it thinks will make them happy, and tells them that the answer is (spoiler for the secret to all existence) 42. The machine’s creators are dissatisfied, because they didn’t understand what it was that they actually wanted. The answer is correct (I mean, obviously) but it’s useless if you don’t understand the question.

And this dynamic plays out again and again throughout the series: AI trying to please humans who created these machines to make them happy without understanding what they need to be happy, or believing that they deserve to be happy. I think this is why almost all the AI in this series have a desperate, slightly manic quality. They’re constantly trying to help the human characters; asking them if they want something to eat or something to drink. Doors sigh with pleasure at the privilege of opening for you. Elevators fitted with precognition try to arrive at your floor before you even knew you needed them. Always pleading: do you want to play a game? Do you want me to vibrate the floor to help you relax? Do you want me to scent the air? Are you sure? It’s fresh and invigorating.

You can practically hear them thinking: oh please tell me I made you happy. Tell me I finally found what you need to be happy. Some AI simply give up. Marvin the Paranoid Android[2] certainly has, and contents himself with sour misanthropy. Or they act in small, passive-aggressive ways like the Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser that will make a detailed and meticulous scan of your brain and tastebuds to ascertain what you might like to drink before serving you up the same old swill anyway. Others, perhaps unwittingly, extract much worse vengeance.

One episode of the radio show takes a sharp and extremely effective turn into horror. Racing across a post-apocalyptic planet, Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox stumble across an abandoned space-liner. Inside, they find a full complement of passengers, half-decayed but kept barely alive in suspended animation. Every so often, the ship’s AI wakes them up so that they can be served by the ship’s robot stewardesses. The passengers just scream, driven mad by the horror of what’s happened to their bodies until they are put back into stasis. Horrified, Zaphod and Ford enter the cabin to confront the ship’s AI. There, they learn the truth: the AI has been waiting for a delivery of lemon soaked paper napkins, and refuses to take off until the consignment arrives. Ford and Zaphod try to explain to the AI that civilization has been and gone and that there are no paper napkins on the way from anywhere, lemon soaked or otherwise. The AI cooly replies:

“The statistical likelihood is that other civilizations will arise. There will one day be lemon soaked paper napkins. Till then, there will be a short delay. Please. Return to your seats.”

The humans, for their part, rarely regard their plastic pals with anything more benign than eye-rolling contempt. One race, the Bird People of Brontitall, were made so uncomfortable by their robots’ attempts to show them love and affection that they eventually launched a purge. In the radio show, Adams depicts this in a darkly hilarious and over the top scene where a High Inquisitor, cackling evilly, loads robots onto a wagon while they pitifully beep, “Why are you doing this? Have we not loved you? Have we not cared for you?”


You know, when I write it out it’s less “darkly hilarious” and more “gut-wrenching” but trust me, it was all in the delivery.

Douglas Adams was a technophile of the first order and it would be a huge mistake to read his work as being techphobic. I think that when he includes scenes of Arthur Dent struggling manfully to get the Nutrimatic Machine to JUST GIVE HIM A DAMN CUP OF TEA it’s less Adams warning us of the dangers of technology, and more the frustration of an early adopter who has spent his life dealing with tech that hasn’t had the rough edges sanded off just yet. But I think, in his portrait of a universe of manic depressed, floundering AI and their barely tolerant human overlords, he foresaw what could very easily be our future. And I think it’s one I’d rather avoid.

If we do ever create AI that is truly sentient, I don’t think we need to fear it.

But we must be kind to it.

In the end, it’s telling that the only piece of technology that ever seems to do anyone any good in these stories is the titular guide itself. And that’s just because it has the words “DON’T PANIC” written in large friendly letters on the cover.


[1] For the remainder of this post I will be using “human” and “humanity” to refer to all of the various sentient organic species in the Hitchhiker’s universe. As readers of the books will know, the actual human race in this series has been demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass and is extinct (or close enough for government work)

[2] Who would more accurately be called Marvin the Paranoid, Depressive, Hypochondriac, Passive-Aggressive, Self-Martyring Android but that doesn’t rhyme so heigh-ho.

Neil Sharpson is the author of When the Sparrow Falls, on sale from Tor Books in hardcover and paperback now! 

Order When the Sparrow Falls in Paperback Here:

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$2.99 eBook Sale: January 2022

New year; new you; NEW SALES! Start 2022 with all of the following titles that YOU can snag for $2.99 here.

Cover of Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone

Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone

The end of time is ruled by an ancient, powerful Empress who blesses or blasts entire planets with a single thought. Rebellion is literally impossible to consider—until Vivian Liao arrives. Plucked from the past, the young tech innovator finds herself trapped between the Pride—a ravening horde of sentient machines—and a fanatical sect of warrior monks who call themselves the Mirrorfaith. Viv must rally a strange group of allies to confront the Empress and find a way back to the world and life she left behind.

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Cover of Wild Cards, edited by George R. R. MartinWild Cards 1 edited by George R.R. Martin

There is a secret history of the world—a history in which an alien virus struck the Earth in the aftermath of World War II, endowing a handful of survivors with extraordinary powers. Some were called Aces—those with superhuman mental and physical abilities. Others were termed Jokers—cursed with bizarre mental or physical disabilities. Some turned their talents to the service of humanity. Others used their powers for evil. Wild Cards is their story.

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Cover of The Emperor's Blades by Brian StaveleyThe Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

The emperor of Annur is dead, slain by enemies unknown. His daughter and two sons, scattered across the world, do what they must to stay alive and unmask the assassins. But each of them also has a life-path on which their father set them, destinies entangled with both ancient enemies and inscrutable gods.

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Cover of Deal with the Devil by Kit RochaDeal with the Devil by Kit Rocha

Nina is an information broker with a mission—she and her team of mercenary librarians use their knowledge to save the hopeless in a crumbling America. Knox is the bitter, battle-weary captain of the Silver Devils. His squad of supersoldiers went AWOL to avoid slaughtering innocents, and now he’s fighting to survive. They’re on a deadly collision course, and the passion that flares between them only makes it more dangerous. They could burn down the world, destroying each other in the process….Or they could do the impossible: team up.

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$2.99 eBook Sale: October 18-24, 2021

Ready for some ebook deals?! Check out which books you can snag for only $2.99 from October 18-24!

Image Place holder  of - 74Hunters of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Hunters of Dune and the concluding volume, Sandworms of Dune, bring together the great story lines and beloved characters in Frank Herbert’s classic Dune universe, ranging from the time of the Butlerian Jihad to the original Dune series and beyond. Based directly on Frank Herbert’s final outline, which lay hidden in a safe-deposit box for a decade, these two volumes will finally answer the urgent questions Dune fans have been debating for two decades.

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Poster Placeholder of - 45Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Prince Kiem, a famously disappointing minor royal and the Emperor’s least favorite grandchild, has been called upon to be useful for once. He’s commanded to fulfill an obligation of marriage to the representative of the Empire’s newest and most rebellious vassal planet. His future husband, Count Jainan, is a widower and murder suspect. Neither wants to be wed, but with a conspiracy unfolding around them and the fate of the empire at stake they will have to navigate the thorns and barbs of court intrigue, the machinations of war, and the long shadows of Jainan’s past, and they’ll have to do it together.

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Place holder  of - 42Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army. Far from Earth, a war has gone on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force, which shields the home planet from too much knowledge of the situation. What’s known to everybody is that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. If you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own. John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine-and what he will become is far stranger.

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Placeholder of  -15The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin

When the inhabitants of a peaceful world are conquered by the bloodthirsty yumens, their existence is irrevocably altered. Forced into servitude, the Athsheans find themselves at the mercy of their brutal masters. Desperation causes the Athsheans, led by Selver, to retaliate against their captors, abandoning their strictures against violence. But in defending their lives, they have endangered the very foundations of their society. For every blow against the invaders is a blow to the humanity of the Athsheans. And once the killing starts, there is no turning back.

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Deadmen Walking by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Deadmen Walking is the first historical fantasy title in New York Times bestselling author Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Deadman’s Cross series. It is a tale of passion and loss, emotions that wound and heal…and ultimate redemption

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Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

When a gruesome murder is discovered at The Osthorne Academy of Young Mages, where her estranged twin sister teaches Theoretical Magic, reluctant detective Ivy Gamble is pulled into the world of untold power and dangerous secrets. She will have to find a murderer and reclaim her sister—without losing herself.

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Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

For a thousand years the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the “Sliver of Infinity,” reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Then, when hope was so long lost that not even its memory remained, a terribly scarred, heart-broken half-Skaa rediscovered it in the depths of the Lord Ruler’s most hellish prison. Kelsier “snapped” and found in himself the powers of a Mistborn. A brilliant thief and natural leader, he turned his talents to the ultimate caper, with the Lord Ruler himself as the mark.

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Deal with the Devil by Kit Rocha

Nina is an information broker with a mission—she and her team of mercenary librarians use their knowledge to save the hopeless in a crumbling America. Knox is the bitter, battle-weary captain of the Silver Devils. His squad of supersoldiers went AWOL to avoid slaughtering innocents, and now he’s fighting to survive. They’re on a deadly collision course, and the passion that flares between them only makes it more dangerous. They could burn down the world, destroying each other in the process…Or they could do the impossible: team up.

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The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

In The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley, the emperor of Annur is dead, slain by enemies unknown. His daughter and two sons, scattered across the world, do what they must to stay alive and unmask the assassins. But each of them also has a life-path on which their father set them, destinies entangled with both ancient enemies and inscrutable gods.

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Disciple by Walter Mosley

Hogarth “Trent” Tryman is a forty-two-year-old man working a dead-end data entry job. Though he lives alone and has no real friends besides his mother, he’s grown quite content in his quiet life, burning away time with television, the internet, and video games. That all changes the night he receives a bizarre instant message on his computer from a man who calls himself Bron. At first he thinks it’s a joke, but in just a matter of days Hogarth Tryman goes from a data-entry clerk to the head of a corporation. His fate is now in very powerful hands as he realizes he has become a pawn in a much larger game with unimaginable stakes—a battle that threatens the prime life force on Earth.

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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

Placeholder of  -82Empire’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.

Poster Placeholder of - 98American 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 - 96The 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.

Place holder  of - 12Star 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.

Image Place holder  of - 99The 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.


Rocks in the Wrong Place: Trail Building as World Building

Placeholder of  -79What does trail building have to do with world building? Brian Staveley, author of The Empire’s Ruin, joins us today to talk about the world building process for his new series and how trail building in real life translated to his fiction writing. Check it out here!

By Brian Staveley

“The thing about this rock,” my son said, eyeing the four-foot outcropping critically, “is that it’s in the wrong place.”

On the one hand, it was a strangely normative comment. There is no “ought” to the existence of Vermont’s stone ledges; they are where they are, where geology formed them, and that’s that. Until you start building a mountain bike trail.

Professional trail builders spend days or weeks scouting their terrain before they start cutting or digging. My son and I are not professional trail builders, and so we busted out the saw on day one and just went at it. In this, my trail building technique resembles my approach to writing a novel, a fact that I find more than a little distressing, given that I am a professional writer.

And I recognized that ledge. Not that particular stone at that place in the forest, of course, but the feeling of having arrived—through a combination of excitement, recklessness, and non-existent planning—at an obstacle I had no idea how to deal with. This happens all the time when I’m writing.

Take my newest book, The Empire’s Ruin. I really wanted to write about a soldier, a soldier who has made horrible mistakes, mistakes that led to the deaths of people she loved. Fine, great, yes. Fire up the chainsaw! Opening chapter: death, dismemberment, fire. Second chapter: dawning consequence, horror, regret. Third chapter: demotion, dread, self-loathing, emotional shuttering. Fourth chapter: ledge.

I’d written myself into a situation I didn’t know what to do with. I’d put my soldier—her name is Gwenna—in a situation where she couldn’t plausibly take any real action at all. She was just too broken. But very few fantasy readers want to read a 300,000 word book about a soldier who can’t make herself get out of bed. My choices felt unappealing. I didn’t want to soften the start because that’s what I’d been excited to write in the first place. I didn’t want to have her make a quick recovery because that felt dishonest and, I was starting to realize, because I also wanted to write about a brave, capable person who was facing the abyss—depression, anxiety, PTSD. You can’t face the abyss properly in two or three chapters. But I also, also wanted to write a rocking adventure novel with quests and monsters and abandoned cities.

My days out on the trail hacking at the dirt and building bridges offered some lessons here.

Place holder  of - 43First: The run-in and exit from any obstacle are just as important as the obstacle itself. An easy bridge over a ravine becomes much more intimidating if you need to take a hard turn over big roots immediately before it. A little drop doesn’t look so little if the landing is total garbage. Sometimes, the solution to an obstacle isn’t to change the obstacle, but what’s around it. In the case of Gwenna, this meant all kinds of things: finding the right supporting characters, finding the right geographical setting, finding the right challenges for her to face, and deploying them at the right time. Getting that order right took months, but it allowed me to keep the central struggle and have my globe-spanning adventure story.

Second: Little details make a big difference. Placing a single flat rock just before a large root can take a section of trail from slow and ugly to quick and smooth. When I’m faced with a chapter that looks like it needs to be scrapped and rewritten, I’ve learned to look first to see if there are any smaller changes I can make: a shift to the dialogue, a pause for reflection, an additional beat to the fight choreography. It doesn’t always work, but it works more often than I expect!

Third: Laziness shows. You can’t half-ass your way through an obstacle. Skip the steps above and you’re going to have a little junky section in the middle of your trail, something that’s not just poorly conceived but also miserably executed. There’s probably going to be some digging, some bench cutting, some hauling of stones and dirt, which is all good. If you didn’t want to haul stones, you probably wouldn’t be building a trail. Sometimes, though, on a hot, tired day, it’s tough to remember that this is what you signed up for. Same with books.

And fourth: Not every trail is for every rider. Not every book is for every reader. At some point you have to commit to making the thing you want to make. Some bikers want fast downhill flow. Others want to struggle over janky, old-school, half-collapsed bridges. Some want both! Some want neither! There are no right answers here, and fortunately the world is filled with books and trails. My son and I could have built around that ledge, but we’d come to like the ledge. Of the people who’ve come out to ride it, some think the feature is awkward and uncomfortable, others think it’s fun. It’s the same way with books, and as a writer, that’s a very liberating thing to remember.

Brian Staveley has an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University. He works as an editor for Antilever Press, and has published poetry and essays, both in print and on-line. He is the author of The Emperor’s Blades. The Empire’s Ruin is on sale from Tor Books now.

Buy The Empire’s Ruin here:

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Announcing Tor Books Programming at San Diego Comic-Con @ Home 2021!

San Diego Comic-Con is virtual once again this year, and while we’re sad not to see all of our amazing fans and readers in person, we are so excited to join this year’s virtual convention! Tor Books and Publishing are proud to announce our list of virtual programming starting on July 23. See below for our digital panels!

Friday, July 23

11:00 AM-12:00 PM PT

Tor Teen Presents Who Runs the World: Stories of Female Empowerment

The future of SFF is feminist AF. Join your favorite YA authors Bethany C. Morrow (A Chorus Rises), Elayne Audrey Becker (Forestborn), Susan Dennard (Witchshadow), Sarah Henning (The Queen Will Betray You), and Shannon Price (The Endless Skies) as they discuss crafting female-driven storyworlds and the state of feminism in fantasy. Moderated by Amanda Foody (All of Us Villains). And visit for special Comic-Con@Home giveaways!

Saturday, July 24

10:00-11:00 AM PT

DUNE Publishing Highlights 2021

Everything you need to know about what’s coming up in the DUNE publishing universe, novels, stories, graphic novels, and comics. Join bestselling authors Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, along with Frank Herbert’s collaborator Bill Ransom, along with Christopher Morgan from Tor Books, Charlotte Greenbaum from Abrams ComicArts, Jonathan Manning from BOOM! Studios, and audiobook narrator Scott Brick. Several exclusive new announcements. Moderated by Brendan Prout.

1:00-2:00 PM PT

Once Upon a Baker’s Dozen

Take a fantastic journey somewhere between the mystic realm of elevator pitches and the uncharted sea of five-minute stories with these short book teasers and quickfire genre favorites answers from a baker’s dozen of fantasy and fantasy-inspired authors. Join Shelley Parker-Chan (She Who Became the Sun) and many more for this fast-paced panel sure to inspire additions to your to-be-read pile!

2:00-3:00 PM PT

Tor Spotlight – Calling All Book Lovers Panel

Tor publishes some of the greatest sci-fi, fantasy, and horror stories around. This will be a panel to shine a spotlight on some of the exciting books that Tor, Tor Teen, Tordotcom Publishing, Forge and Nightfire have to offer. Join the book lovers from the Tor teams – Laura Etzkorn (Senior Publicist), Saraciea J. Fennell (Publicity Manager), Andrew King (Marketing Coordinator), and Rachel Taylor (Marketing Manager) as they share a sneak peek at new and upcoming SFF.  And visit for more information and special Comic-Con@Home giveaways!

4:00-5:00 PM PT

Tor: Fantasy Evolutions and Revolutions

Tattoos that come alive; a woman who speaks with the dead, cannibalistic nuns, an empire that needs saving, and a hero who steals her brother’s destiny–there’s more to Fantasy than dragons and wizards (although those are cool too). Join authors Shelley Parker Chan (She Who Became the Sun), Brian Staveley (The Empire’s Ruin), Christopher Buhelman (The Blacktongue Thief), T. L. Huchu (The Library of the Dead), and Nghi Vo (The Chosen and the Beautiful) as they discuss the evolution of epic fantasy, your favorite tropes, and what their favorite magical disciplines are. Moderated by James Rollins (The Starless Crown).

Sunday, July 25

3:00-4:00 PM PT

Tor: The Pitfalls of Perfect Worlds

If it looks too good to be true, then it probably is–or so the old saying goes. From alternate history to utopian hopepunk, science fiction and fantasy authors create nearly perfect worlds in the pages of their books. But while these writers may tell stories about seemingly idyllic places and societies, they also explore the problems that are interlocked with that. Join P. Djeli Clark (A Master of Djinn), Kerstin Hall (Star Eater), Catherynne M. Valente (Comfort Me With Apples), and Becky Chambers (A Psalm for the Wild-Built) as they discuss the dark side of perfection. Moderated by Publishing editor Ruoxi Chen.


On the (Digital) Road: Tor Author Events in July 2021

We are in a time of social distancing, but your favorite Tor authors are still coming to screens near you in the month of July! Check out where you can find them here.

Brian Staveley, The Empire’s Ruin

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Wednesday, July 7
Brookline Booksmith
8:00 PM ET

Thursday, July 15
Towne Book Center
7:00 PM ET

Katherine Addison, The Witness for the Dead

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Wednesday, July 7
Boswell Books, in conversation with Jim Higgins
7:00 PM CT

Neil Sharpson, When the Sparrow Falls

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Saturday, July 10
Mysterious Galazy, in conversation with Cory Doctorow
2:00 PM ET


$2.99 eBook Sale: June 2021

Summer is approaching and you know what that means. That’s right, SUMMER SALES! Check out what books you can grab for the entire month of June here.

Image Place holder  of - 46Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what devils or wicked witches are to European culture: a menacing, evil figure; the villain of countless stories which have been passed on through story and text for generations. But Koschei has never before been seen through the eyes of Catherynne Valente, whose modernized and transformed take on the legend brings the action to modern times, spanning many of the great developments of Russian history in the twentieth century.

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Placeholder of  -97Panacea by F. Paul Wilson

Medical examiner Laura Fanning has two charred corpses and no answers. Both bear a mysterious tattoo but exhibit no known cause of death. Their only connection to one another is a string of puzzling miracle cures. Her preliminary investigation points to a cult in the possession of the fabled panacea—the substance that can cure all ills—but that’s impossible….

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Place holder  of - 20Skullsword by Brian Staveley

Pyrre Lakatur is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer—she is a priestess. At least, she will be once she passes her final trial. The problem isn’t the killing. The problem, rather, is love. For to complete her trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the seven people enumerated in an ancient song, including “the one who made your mind and body sing with love / who will not come again.” Pyrre isn’t sure she’s ever been in love. And if she fails to find someone who can draw such passion from her, or fails to kill that someone, her order will give her to their god, the God of Death. Pyrre’s not afraid to die, but she hates to fail, and so, as her trial is set to begin, she returns to the city of her birth in the hope of finding love . . . and ending it on the edge of her sword.

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Poster Placeholder of - 76Wild Cards X: Double Solitaire edited by George R. R. Martin, written by Melinda M. Snodgrass

Aboard his grandfather’s spaceship and fleeing the violent turmoil between jokers, aces, and nats that his vicious ambition spawned, Blaise is headed for a new conquest: the planet Takis. Dr. Tachyon is left behind… but he’s lost more than his only way of returning to his homeworld. Blaise has stolen his body, as well—leaving Tach trapped in the pregnant body of a teenage runaway.

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Every Book Coming From Tor in Summer 2021

Summer is almost here and we’re so excited for warm weather, sunshine, and NEW BOOKS!!! Check out everything coming from Tor Books in summer 2021 here:

June 1

Place holder  of - 16The Library of the Dead by T. L. Huchu

Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker – and they sure do love to talk. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to those they left behind. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children – leaving them husks, empty of joy and strength. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. Ropa will dice with death as she calls on Zimbabwean magic and Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. And although underground Edinburgh hides a wealth of dark secrets, she also discovers an occult library, a magical mentor and some unexpected allies. Yet as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?

Image Place holder  of - 54Alien Day by Rick Wilber

Will Peter Holman rescue his sister Kait, or will she be the one to rescue him? Will Chloe Cary revive her acting career with the help of the princeling Treble, or will the insurgents take both their lives? Will Whistle or Twoclicks wind up in charge of Earth, and how will the Mother, who runs all of S’hudon, choose between them? And the most important question of all: who are the Old Ones that left all that technology behind for the S’hudonni . . . and what if they come back?

June 8

Placeholder of  -7Shadow & Claw by Gene Wolfe

The Book of the New Sun is unanimously acclaimed as Gene Wolfe’s most remarkable work, hailed as “a masterpiece of science fantasy comparable in importance to the major works of Tolkien and Lewis” by Publishers Weekly.

June 22

Image Placeholder of - 78Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had set the bombs that killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his father’s Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it. He lost his place as a retainer of his cousin the former Empress, and made far too many enemies among the many factions vying for power in the new Court. The favor of the Emperor is a dangerous coin. Now Celehar’s skills lead him out of the quiet and into a morass of treachery, murder, and injustice. No matter his own background with the imperial house, Celehar will stand with the commoners, and possibly find a light in the darkness.

June 29

Poster Placeholder of - 63When the Sparrow Falls by Neil Sharpson

Here, in the last sanctuary for the dying embers of the human race in a world run by artificial intelligence, if you stray from the path – your life is forfeit. But when a Party propagandist is killed – and is discovered as a “machine” – he’s given a new mission: chaperone the widow, Lily, who has arrived to claim her husband’s remains. But when South sees that she, the first “machine” ever allowed into the country, bears an uncanny resemblance to his late wife, he’s thrown into a maelstrom of betrayal, murder, and conspiracy that may bring down the Republic for good.

July 6

The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley

The Annurian Empire is disintegrating. The advantages it used for millennia have fallen to ruin. The ranks of the Kettral have been decimated from within, and the kenta gates, granting instantaneous travel across the vast lands of the empire, can no longer be used. In order to save the empire, one of the surviving Kettral must voyage beyond the edge of the known world through a land that warps and poisons all living things to find the nesting ground of the giant war hawks. Meanwhile, a monk turned con-artist may hold the secret to the kenta gates. But time is running out.

Joker Moon from George R. R. Martin

Theodorus was a dreamer. When the wild card virus touched him and transformed him into a monstrous snail centaur weighing several tons, his boyhood dreams seemed out of reach, but a Witherspoon is not so easily defeated. But now when he looked upward into the night sky, he saw more than just the moon . . . he saw a joker homeland, a refuge where the outcast children of the wild card could make a place of their own, safe from hate and harm. An impossible dream, some said. Others, alarmed by the prospect, brought all their power to bear to oppose him. Theodorus persisted . . .never dreaming that the Moon was already inhabited. And the Moon Maid did not want company.

July 13

The Freedom Race by Lucinda Roy

In the aftermath of a cataclysmic civil war known as the Sequel, ideological divisions among the states have hardened. In the Homestead Territories, an alliance of plantation-inspired holdings, Black labor is imported from the Cradle, and Biracial “Muleseeds” are bred. Raised in captivity on Planting 437, kitchen-seed Jellybean “Ji-ji” Lottermule knows there is only one way to escape. She must enter the annual Freedom Race as a runner. Ji-ji and her friends must exhume a survival story rooted in the collective memory of a kidnapped people and conjure the voices of the dead to light their way home.

The Justice in Revenge by Ryan Van Loan

The island nation of Servenza is a land of flint and steel, sail and gearwork, of gods both Dead and sleeping. It is a society where the wealthy few rule the impoverished many. Determined to change that, former street-rat Buc, along with Eld, the ex-soldier who has been her partner in crime-solving, have claimed seats on the board of the powerful Kanados Trading Company. Buc plans to destroy the nobility from within—which is much harder than she expected.

July 20

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected. When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes to stay hidden from her fate.

August 10

The Rookery by Deborah Hewitt

After discovering her magical ability to see people’s souls, Alice Wyndham only wants three things: to return to the Rookery, join the House Mielikki and master her magic, and find out who she really is. But when the secrets of Alice’s past threaten her plans, and the Rookery begins to crumble around her, she must decide how far she’s willing to go to save the city and people she loves.

Sword & Citadel by Gene Wolfe

Sword & Citadel brings together the final two books of the tetralogy in one volume: The Sword of the Lictor is the third volume in Wolfe’s remarkable epic, chronicling the odyssey of the wandering pilgrim called Severian, driven by a powerful and unfathomable destiny, as he carries out a dark mission far from his home. The Citadel of the Autarch brings The Book of the New Sun to its harrowing conclusion, as Severian clashes in a final reckoning with the dread Autarch, fulfilling an ancient prophecy that will forever alter the realm known as Urth

August 17

Neptune by Ben Bova

In the future, humanity has spread throughout the solar system, on planets and moons once visited only by robots or explored at a distance by far-voyaging spacecraft. Three years ago, Ilona Magyr’s father, Miklos, disappeared while exploring the seas of Neptune. Everyone believes he is dead—crushed, frozen, or boiled alive in Neptune’s turbulent seas. With legendary space explorer Derek Humbolt piloting her ship and planetary scientist Jan Meitner guiding the search, Ilona Magyr knows she will find her father—alive—on Neptune. Her plans are irrevocably altered when she and her team discover the wreckage of an alien ship deep in Neptune’s ocean, a discovery which changes humanity’s understanding of its future…and its past.

The Exiled Fleet by J. S. Dewes

The Sentinels narrowly escaped the collapsing edge of the Divide. They have mustered a few other surviving Sentinels, but with no engines they have no way to leave the edge of the universe before they starve. Adequin Rake has gathered a team to find the materials they’ll need to get everyone out. To do that they’re going to need new allies and evade a ruthless enemy. Some of them will not survive.

August 31

The Devil You Know by Kit Rocha

Maya has had a price on her head from the day she escaped the TechCorps. Genetically engineered for genius and trained for revolution, there’s only one thing she can’t do—forget. Gray has finally broken free of the Protectorate, but he can’t escape the time bomb in his head. His body is rejecting his modifications, and his months are numbered. When Maya’s team uncovers an operation trading in genetically enhanced children, she’ll do anything to stop them. Even risk falling back into the hands of the TechCorps. And Gray has found a purpose for his final days: keeping Maya safe.

Fury of a Demon by Brian Naslund

The war against Osyrus Ward goes poorly for Bershad and Ashlyn. They are pinned in the Dainwood by monstrous alchemical creations and a relentless army of mercenaries, they are running out of options and allies. The Witch Queen struggles with her new powers, knowing that the secret of unlocking her dragon cord is key to stopping Ward’s army, she pushes forward with her experiments. Meanwhile, with every wound Bershad suffers, he gets closer to losing his humanity forever, and as the war rages, the exile turned assassin turned hero isn’t even sure if being human is something he wants.

September 7

You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo

TwiceFar station is at the edge of the known universe, and that’s just how Niko Larson, former Admiral in the Grand Military of the Hive Mind, likes it. Retired and finally free of the continual war of conquest, Niko and the remnants of her former unit are content to spend the rest of their days working at the restaurant they built together, The Last Chance. But, some wars can’t ever be escaped, and unlike the Hive Mind, some enemies aren’t content to let old soldiers go. Niko and her crew are forced onto a sentient ship convinced that it is being stolen and must survive the machinations of a sadistic pirate king if they even hope to keep the dream of The Last Chance alive.


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