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How to Find Worldbuilding Inspiration in the Desert

Poster Placeholder of - 56Science fiction and fantasy books take us to all types of different worlds: forests, deserts, even the stars. Michael Johnston, author of Silence of the Soleri, joins us to talk more about the setting of his latest book and his own desert narrative.


By Michael Johnston

Let’s start with a simple proposition. The desert is another world, or maybe it’s as close to another world as we can get without, you know, actually visiting another world. If you’ve spent any time in Joshua Tree National, you know what I’m talking about. The place feels alien. So when I picture a fantasy or a science fiction world, my mind turns to the desert. For me, it’s a place that’s filled up with a sense of wonder. So let’s talk about why I love to read about the desert and why I chose to place my Amber Throne novels (Soleri and Silence of the Soleri) in the desert.

Let’s start with a little history. When we talk about desert civilizations, we’re immediately forced to consider issues of ecology. Just how did that civilization flourish in the desert? For Egypt, the answer was the Nile. Egypt was often called the breadbasket of the ancient world. Imagine that! A civilization in the desert was known as a chief supplier of grain.

It was all due to the annual flooding of the Nile. Everything depended upon the river overflowing its banks each year and enriching the soil for growing. And if the river didn’t flood, there would be trouble. Life in the desert is a high stakes game, and if something goes wrong, disaster is bound to follow. When I decided to write about an empire in the desert, I tried to capture that same sense of urgency. In Soleri, we encounter an empire dependent on a single crop, the amaranth. The plant is sort of like the Nile, it helps fertilize the land and without it there is no way to farm and no way for the empire to eat.

Survival isn’t always easy in the desert, and that’s where my favorite desert novel enters this story. Given its popularity, there probably isn’t an aspect of Dune that hasn’t been discussed, but I still think it’s worth mentioning and I’ll keep this one short. In Dune, I learned about ecology through science fiction. Honestly, after I read it, I started doing a hundred little things to save water. I was probably twelve at the time, and the novel had a huge effect on me. I found myself taking shorter showers, and turning off the faucet as often as was possible. I was struck by the shear focus on conservation in the novel, the way the stillsuit preserved every drop of water in the body, the way the water of the dead was valued.

When we write fantasy and science fiction, I believe we are fashioning metaphors. We are providing ways for readers to digest and understand their own world. For me, Dune showed me what a world without water might look like, and it made me value the water in my own world. It was the first time I really thought about the conservation. Dune trained me to think about how I used natural resources. And when it came time for me to write my own novels decades later, I came back to that same focus. In Soleri, we see what can happen to a world where the balance of resources is out of whack. For me, that’s a desert story.

And that brings me to the last thing I want to talk about: my own desert narrative. I guess it began when I was a kid. Like most people, I probably had my first encounter with the desert in a movie (Tatooine) or maybe it was a book (Arrakis or John Carter’s Mars). As a kid, I had an image of the desert, and it was mostly based fiction. It wasn’t the early 2000’s that I started actually visiting the sand, and I immediately fell in love with it. I bought a house and started living there part-time. What came next was a bit of a surprise. As I would learn, the desert is a really is a hostile place, and for me, it turned out to be particularly unfriendly. The heat and dry air made my eyes and mouth dry. I found I couldn’t read. I needed a humidifier in every room, and I seldom ventured outside in the summer.

During my first year, my health problems multiplied, and it was clear that the desert was behind most of them. I got the feeling that humans (or maybe just this one human, me) weren’t meant to live there. The desert lacks that one thing we need: water. Okay, arguably, we need air more than water and there is air in the desert, but when it’s heated to 125 degrees, it is almost unbreathable. The desert is hostile. The plants are studded in spikes, and the ones that don’t carry barbs are often poisonous. Those rolling sand dunes that I discovered in fiction were a lot less friendly than the ones I met in real life. I left the desert five years later, but I still visit during the cool, damp months. It’s pleasant in December and January. As for my interest in the desert, it’s come full cycle. The desert went from a place I’d only dreamed of to a home I was forced to leave. And now, it has a third location in my consciousness. Having completed the two Amber Throne novels, it’s a location I mostly just visit in my books. It’s safer that way.

Michael Johnston is the author of The Amber Throne saga. The most recent addition, Silence of the Soleri, is on sale now. 

Order Silence of the Soleri here:

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The Sequels We’ve All Been Waiting For….

They’re almost here…the books we’ve all been waiting for. After so many incredible series starters, we’re excited to finally dive into the next books of some of our most popular SFF series. Check out which books are hitting shelves near you in 2021 here.


book-9780765331458Into the Light by David Weber and Chris Kennedy (Out of the Dark series, coming 1/12/21)

The Shongairi conquered Earth. In mere minutes, half the human race died, and our cities lay in shattered ruins. But the Shongairi didn’t expect the survivors’ tenacity. And, crucially, they didn’t know that Earth harbored two species of intelligent, tool-using bipeds. One of them was us. The other, long-lived and lethal, was hiding in the mountains of eastern Europe, the subject of fantasy and legend. When they emerged and made alliance with humankind, the invading aliens didn’t stand a chance.

book-9781250302137Vengewar by Kevin J. Anderson (Wake the Dragon series, coming 1/19/21)

The Three Kingdoms are shattering under pressure from an inexperienced new King who is being led by an ambitious regent to ignore the threat of the Wreths, in favor of a Vengewar with Ishara. His brother and uncle can see only the danger of the Older Race. In Ishara, the queen lies in a coma, while an ambitious priest seizes power. But he has neither the training nor the talent to rule a nation— or even a city. Ishara is in deadly peril, and the Wreths have not even appeared on their continent.

book-9781250165299Dealbreaker by L. X. Beckett (The Bounceback series, coming 1/26/21)

Rubi Whiting has done the impossible. She has proved that humanity deserves a seat at the galactic table. Well, at least a shot at a seat. Having convinced the galactic governing body that mankind deserves a chance at fixing their own problems, Rubi has done her part to launch the planet into a new golden age of scientific discovery and technological revolution. However, there are still those in the galactic community that think that humanity is too poisonous, too greedy, to be allowed in, and they will stop at nothing to sabotage a species determined to pull itself up.

book-9781250215505Engines of Oblivion by Karen Osborne (The Memory War series, coming 2/9/21)

Natalie Chan gained her corporate citizenship, but barely survived the battle for Tribulation. Now corporate has big plans for Natalie. Horrible plans. Locked away in Natalie’s missing memory is salvation for the last of an alien civilization and the humans they tried to exterminate. The corporation wants total control of both—or their deletion.

book-9780765387752Silence of the Soleri by Michael Johnston (The Amber Throne series, coming 2/16/21)

Solus celebrates the Opening of the Mundus, a two-day holiday for the dead, but the city of the Soleri is hardly in need of diversion. A legion of traitors, led by a former captain of the Soleri military, rallies at the capital’s ancient walls. And inside those fortifications, trapped by circumstance, a second army fights for its very existence.

book-9781250186461A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine (Teixcalaan series, coming 3/2/21)

An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options. In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity. Their failure will guarantee millions of deaths in an endless war. Their success might prevent Teixcalaan’s destruction—and allow the empire to continue its rapacious expansion. Or it might create something far stranger . . .

book-97812502226191The Justice in Revenge by Ryan Van Loan (The Fall of the Gods series, coming 7/13/21)

Ryan Van Loan’s The Justice in Revenge, book two of The Fall of the Gods, turns from pirates to politics as Buc learns to navigate society and finds that having power doesn’t mean it’s easy to use it…

Buc and Eld are the first private detectives in the Servenzan Empire. Teenage Buc is a former streetrat, a smartass, sarcastic super-genius. Eld, her patient partner in crime-solving, is a calming influence…who is nonetheless capable of deadly violence. For the right price, these heroes for hire solve mysteries, fight crime, and battle monsters.

book-97812502938242The Exiled Fleet by J. S. Dewes (The Divide Series, coming 8/17/21)

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.

book-97812502093823The Devil You Know by Kit Rocha (Mercenary Librarians series, coming 8/31/21)

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.

book-97812502938244Wanderers of a Mortal Kind by Kel Kade (The Shroud of Prophecy series, coming 11/9/21) 

No more heroes. The wealthy and powerful. The kings and queens. They all abandoned the world to fate when the chosen one died. All except a small group of broken people. Through dogged determination and maybe a bit of stupid bravery, Aaslo and his friends fought on. They continued the fight even when far greater heroes had given up. Now, Aaslo must turn the tides. In a world swifly falling to chaos, Aaslo is determined to win this war…at any cost. He’s made a deal with fickle fae, setting him and his friends on a collosion course with the gods themselves.

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Excerpt: Silence of the Soleri by Michael Johnston

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Place holder  of - 21Silence of the Soleri is the action-packed sequel to the epic fantasy novel Lev Grossman calls “bloody and utterly epic.”

Solus celebrates the Opening of the Mundus, a two-day holiday for the dead, but the city of the Soleri is hardly in need of diversion. A legion of traitors, led by a former captain of the Soleri military, rallies at the capital’s ancient walls. And inside those fortifications, trapped by circumstance, a second army fights for its very existence.

In a world inspired by ancient Egyptian history and King Lear, this follow-up to Michael Johnston’s Soleri, finds Solus besieged from within as well as without and the Hark-Wadi family is stuck at the heart of the conflict.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of Silence of the Soleri, on sale 02/16/2021.


Lifeless Things

They were statues, but the darkness gave them life. The shadows lent movement to their black eyes, and the gloom made their stone lips grimace.

Nollin Odine half expected to feel the warmth of human flesh when he touched one of the charred figures, but the surface was cold and lifeless. Yet there was life within it. A moment ago, he’d heard a voice cry out to him from within the burnt effigy.

It was a statue, yet somehow it was not a statue.

“What are you?” he asked, “and what do you want from me?”

See what has not yet been seen. The words echoed in his thoughts.

A dim light shone from somewhere high above, but it did little to illuminate the chamber. Still, he searched, looking for this thing he had not seen, uncertain of what he might find. When Noll first came upon the hidden palace, he arrived with Sarra Amunet and they discovered the twelve burnt figures. The Soleri were assumed dead. Sarra had thought that was the end of it. Hence, her scribe had uncorked a drink. He produced a cup and offered it to Noll. The wine held poison and he drank it.

Secrets are power.

Sarra Amunet whispered those words as the venom took hold of Noll. He died but he was not dead, and there was something in the chamber, some new mystery that had yet to be unearthed.

He found it in the dust or, rather, he found a place where there was no dust. In fact, there were twelve such places. In the grand solar, he stumbled upon twelve patches of stone where the rock was scorched black and even the dust did not settle. Twelve voids, the shadows of the ones who’d stood against the Soleri. Noll knew what stood before him. These were the creatures who pursued the twelve, the ones who wielded a flame as hot as the sun, or so he guessed. This was all just speculation. He had no way to know the truth. Hence, he turned once more to the statues.

“Who were these creatures and where did they go?”

The mouths of stone did not move, but the words of the twelve echoed in his thoughts.

Return us to Solus.

“Why?”

To witness the end.

THE SHATTERED VISAGE

1

Shot like an arrow, Rennon Hark-Wadi bolted from the darkness. He stumbled out of the Hollows and onto the streets of Solus. The flames were behind him, or so he thought. Ren had expected to see the sun when he left the underground passages of the city, but smoke filled the sky. It was everywhere, in the air and in his nose. The wide boulevards and sprawling plazas of the city were choked with it, and there were men and women charging in every direction. Something was amiss. There was panic in the streets, but Ren had other concerns. They were coming up the stairs at that very moment. “Are we all here?” he called to the others.

There were seven of them. Seven former ransoms of the empire. A few grunted in reply.

Twelve escaped the burnt ruins of the priory, their former home, their prison. Twelve.

Or was it more? He didn’t know. They’d stumbled through fire, met bandits, and soldiers too. I saved more lives than I lost, he thought, if only to reassure himself that he’d done some good—that all of this had in fact been worth it. Ren had gone looking for Tye Sirra, and he’d found her in the flaming ruins of the priory and led her and the others out of the Hollows and into the crowded boulevards of the empire’s capital.

“Ren,” said Tye, interrupting his thoughts as she came running up the stairs. “Give me your hand.”

He offered it, absently. He was still thinking about the priory, and the cell where he’d spent his youth.

“You’re squeezing my bones apart.” Tye shook loose his grip almost as quickly as she’d taken it.

Ren hadn’t noticed what his fingers were doing, but his hand felt empty when she pushed it away. His palm was checkered with soot and grease. Dried blood drew circles around the tips of his fingers. “I hadn’t meant—”

“To mash my fingers?”

“Something like that,” he said, too tired to think of any other reply, too out of breath to even form a sentence. “Seven,” he said. “We’ve got seven—is that the number?”

“How in Mithra’s name should I know?” Tye asked, frank as always. Even in their exhaustion, she hadn’t lost an ounce of her fire. Ren was glad to hear it, happy to have his friend back at his side.

They were the first ones out of the Hollows, but not the last.

Kollen Pisk emerged from the shadows. Like some beast born out of darkness, he staggered toward them, hair singed, skin caked in ash, clothes blackened with soot.

“Where in Horu’s eight hells am I?” Kollen asked. “I thought I’d left the fires.”

“There’s no leaving them,” said Tye, “so just get yourself out of the way.”

Adin Fahran was coming up behind Kollen and he looked to be in worse shape. His hands were burned, the skin black and blistering. He waved them in the air, trying in vain to soothe the hurt.

“C’mon, old friend. We’re almost there,” said Ren, glancing warily at the crowds, the city guard. Are they looking for us? he wondered. Do they even know we’re alive?

Lazlo Dank blundered into Ren and Adin, nearly toppling all three of them. Laz was lost, confused, and out of breath. The boy had no shirt. The flames had taken it from him. They’d stolen his hair as well. He was in shock, lost, too baffled to even speak. He was only a child after all. Laz had not yet reached his tenth year, or maybe even his ninth. Ren held Adin with one arm and Laz with the other. He cupped Tye’s shoulder as Carr Bergen lurched over the threshold. He carried Curst Falkirk, the youngest among them. Only six or seven, Curst had the look of death upon him, but when Carr set him down the young boy ran to Adin. They were both Ferens. Perhaps that was why Curst clung to Adin’s leg, huddling there, immovable, as if he’d holed himself up in some tower and planned on never leaving it.

“Seven,” said Ren. “That’s it. Seven.” They were the last survivors of the Priory of Tolemy.

An arrow whistled through the air and Ren’s attention was drawn once more to the crowds. “There’re soldiers,” said Ren. “We need to move.” There was good reason for them to get out of the soldiers’ path. The ransoms were the property of the empire. Only Ren and Adin were freemen. The rest were tributes. They were the emperor’s possessions and those soldiers might be coming for them. If captured, they would be punished, a foot cut off or maybe even a hand. Either way, they’d end up back in a cell, minus a limb or two.

“Go!” Ren cried, but his call was met only with confusion.

“Which way?” Tye asked.

“Away . . . from the flames,” Ren said, still a little shaken, not yet focused. “Oren said the blaze started in the Antechamber of the Ray, which is at the city’s core.”

“Away from the flames?” Kollen asked. “How”—he waved his hand in a circle—“do we know which way that is?”

“The smoke’s everywhere and the soldiers too,” said Carr, stating the obvious and taking a knock on the head from Kollen for doing it.

Curst remained at Adin’s side, Laz paced, pinching his nose to keep out the smoke. “I want to go home,” he chanted, but Ren didn’t know which home he meant. The priory was destroyed and the boy was a long way from his father’s keep in Rachis.

A man in black leather brushed past Ren.

The soldiers had arrived.

“So much for our escape,” said Kollen. “What now?”

Everyone looked to Ren. He was the one who’d fathered this endeavor. Although he had not claimed leadership, the ransoms looked to him for it. Their eyes begged. They pleaded for answers he didn’t have. He was not their leader, but he had led them. It was too late to shirk that duty. He had assumed some tacit responsibility for the group when he led them out of the priory. It was time to see things to their end and find a way out of this city.

A pair of fighting men bolted past them. Who’s at war? Ren studied the approaching soldiers. Who’s doing the chasing and who is the chased? He pulled Tye close to him, taking her out of one soldier’s path just as he sidestepped another. In the priory, he’d always been the one who protected Tye. He knew her secret. She was a young girl hidden among the priory boys. Protecting her was a hard habit to lose.

“I can take care of myself,” she said, pushing him away and nearly stumbling into another soldier. A fourth man appeared. This one wore pale-red armor and there were others at his side, all of them similarly clad.

“What is this?” asked Tye.

“Armies,” said Kollen. “We need to fly.”

“He’s right,” said Ren, “we should—”

A spear tore through Laz’s chest. The boy hit the cobblestones and his body split open like a crumpled gourd, ribs and viscera tangled about the wooden shaft. At the sight of it, at the sheer terror of what stood before them, Tye screwed her eyes shut. Curst buried his face in Adin’s belly, but Ren did not flinch. This is the price of my indecision.

There were six of them now.

Ren wondered if there would soon be five.

The soldiers had arrived, but this time he got a good look at them. Their armor was boiled and black and each chest piece bore the eld-horn symbol. He saw the burnt skin, the long hair, and grizzled beards.

“You’re Harkan.” Ren nearly choked on the words.

A flood of soldiers surrounded him.

“Harkan,” Ren said it again, louder this time.

“We’re not just Harkan,” said one man. “We’re the god’s damned kingsguard.”

The soldier leapt past Ren, pulled the spear from Laz’s chest, and launched it into the smoke. Laz’s whole body stiffened. Mercifully, those were his last movements.

“What are you doing?” Ren asked, but the soldier was already gone. The men in black were forming lines, lifting shields.

Why is the Harkan kingsguard in Solus? Did my father summon them before his death? That was the most likely answer. They’d come to aid one HarkWadi, but had instead found the other, the son instead of the father. They just didn’t know it yet. The men paid him no notice, but he knew these soldiers. They called themselves the black shields, the king’s chosen men. My men, thought Ren.

“These are Harkan soldiers,” he said, shaking Tye, tugging at Kollen’s sleeve. “They can help us.”

“Then make them,” said Tye, “before they cut us to pieces.”

“Or stomp us to death,” Kollen said as he dashed out of one soldier’s path and nearly ran into another.

Ren reached for the eld horn. Perhaps, if he held it up, the soldiers would recognize it. The horn was a symbol of the king of the Harkans, but he hadn’t carved it into a proper ceremonial blade. It looked like nothing more than a mud-slathered stick. Ren knew as much, so he unsheathed his father’s dagger. Every king wielded the sacred blade, and he wore the silver ring of his father. He hoped the soldiers would take notice, but the smoke made it difficult for Ren to see his own hand, let alone the ring that sat upon it.

“How do I get their attention?” Ren asked, eyes darting from Tye to Carr to Kollen and back.

No one answered, but they did act. Tye shouted in one man’s face. Carr tried it and the soldier jabbed him with an elbow, knocking the boy to his knees. The Harkans were engaged in some sort of retreat.

“In a moment they’ll be gone,” Tye cried, frantic.

“Some of you must know me!” Ren poured the last of his strength into his voice. “Were any of you in the Shambles or on the road to Harwen?” On that same road, Arko, the former king, named Ren the heir of Harkana and gave him the knife. A number of soldiers in the kingsguard saw him do it, so Ren raised the blade a bit higher. “Do any of you know the king’s iron? Do you recognize me?” He said it again, but no one stopped.

“For fuck’s sake, you fools,” cried Kollen, “don’t any of you know your king’s son?” Kollen planted his shoulder squarely in the center of a Harkan soldier’s chest plate. Ren followed suit, throwing himself at one of the men, forcing him to stop. Tye tried it out, but was knocked to the ground. Her head hit the stones, but her eyes were still open, lips curled into a blood-soaked grin.

“I’m the son of Arko,” Ren said.

The soldiers were at last forced to listen to him. The black shields had nothing else to do. Ren and the other ransoms had blocked half the street. In a moment, he guessed the soldiers would either lop off his head or raise him up on their shoulders—either seemed likely.

“Out of our way,” said the man who’d ripped the spear from Laz’s chest. His sword teetered a hair’s width from Ren’s chin.

Perhaps I will lose my head.

But Ren was defiant, he would not budge and neither would Kollen. Tye had gotten to her feet and was bustling about, taking the younger ransoms and making certain they weren’t lost among the soldiers.

“Look at his face,” Kollen shouted. “Some of you must know it!”

“I am the son of Arko,” Ren cried out. “I met him in the Shambles and on the road to Harwen!”

There were more men, swarming all around them and more soldiers in the distance, but none of them recognized him. Honestly, he feared only a handful could see his face. He pushed the sword aside and delved into the crowd, the dagger held high. “Does anyone know this blade? Was anyone there when I met the king?”

A scuffle emerged, one man pushing his way through the others, moving toward Ren at a furious pace. He ripped the dagger from Ren’s grip.

“Where did you get this?” he asked.

“My father, he—”

“He what? He gave you this?” the man asked, but he did not wait for an answer. “Does anyone know this boy?” he shouted in the stentorian tones of a captain. “Has anyone seen him? Were you there with our king?” Clearly the man had heard Ren’s words and was testing them.

There were a few shrugs. More than one man stood on his toes to get a better look at Ren, but there was smoke in the air and the views were all cut through with spearheads and the tips of shields. The men simply could not see him, not enough of him at least. Perhaps, given a moment, one of them might have recognized him, but time was in short supply.

“I know this blade,” said the man who’d taken the dagger from Ren, “but I don’t know you. None of my men know you. I’m Gneuss, the king’s second and the highest-ranking captain in the company. We’re the black shields, and you’re either the heir of Harkana or some damned thief.”

The captain had only one eye. A mound of scar tissue sheathed the other one, and he wore no patch to conceal the injury. Curious, Ren thought. This is a hard man. A bit of iron would not convince him that Ren was heir to the kingdom of Harkana. He opened his mouth to speak, but a pair of arrows fluttered past Gneuss’s helm, truncating their conversation. The captain shouted orders to the men, urging them to march. They formed ranks, but their escape was once more arrested.

“I’m Edric. You all know me.” A young man blocked the way. “I saw that boy in the Shambles. I kneeled to him. Yes, and I was there when the king slipped that dagger in his hand.” Edric was tall and his armor was torn. He was a bit thin for a fighting man, but he still had the look of a Harkan, his skin burnt like leather, teeth ground smooth, eyes glistening.

His words drew others.

“Are you certain?” Gneuss asked, his one eye looking askance. For him, this was all a distraction, a hiccup in his escape plan, or so Ren guessed. He could see the distrust in Gneuss’s eye, hear the irritation in his voice.

Edric took Ren by the chin, turning his head right and left, lifting it. “It’s the same damned boy. Floppy hair and big dumb eyes, built just like the father. He’s the one.”

Gneuss swallowed, clearly disappointed at the man’s conclusion. “Too bad.”

“Why?” Ren asked.

“Look,” said Gneuss.

Soldiers emerged from the smoke, thousands upon thousands of them. Men with tall shields brandished spears of improbable length. On rooftops, archers nocked arrows. Everywhere, men readied themselves for the attack.

Gneuss patted Ren’s shoulder. “See what I mean, son of Arko? You’ve found your men and now you’re going to die with them.”

Copyright © Michael Johnston 2021

Pre-order Silence of the Soleri

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Every Tor Book Coming This Winter

We’re closing in on the end of 2020 (BIG SIGHS OF RELIEF), and with that comes some brand new books to curl up with this season. Check out which ones are hitting shelves near you this winter here:

December 1

Poster Placeholder of - 46Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke

Poison was only the beginning…. The deadly siege of Silasta woke the ancient spirits, and now the city-state must find its place in this new world of magic. But people and politics are always treacherous, and it will take all of Jovan and Kalina’s skills as proofer and spy to save their country when witches and assassins turn their sights to domination. Hollow Empire is Book 2 in The Poison Wars series. Check out City of Lies, on sale now!

January 5

Image Place holder  of - 16Deuces Down by George R. R. Martin

Deuces Down is the next Wild Cards anthology collection about George R. R. Martin’s alternate superhero history. In this revised collection of classic Wild Cards stories, the spotlight is on the most unusual Wild Cards of them all—the Deuces, or people with minor superpowers. But their impact on the world should not be underestimated, as we see how they’ve affected the course of Wild Cards’ alternate history. Check out the remainder of the Wild Cards series, on sale now!

January 12

Placeholder of  -82Into the Light by David Weber and Chris Kennedy

The Shongairi conquered Earth. In mere minutes, half the human race died, and our cities lay in shattered ruins. But the Shongairi didn’t expect the survivors’ tenacity. And, crucially, they didn’t know that Earth harbored two species of intelligent, tool-using bipeds. One of them was us. The other, long-lived and lethal, was hiding in the mountains of eastern Europe, the subject of fantasy and legend. When they emerged and made alliance with humankind, the invading aliens didn’t stand a chance. Check out Book 1 in the Out of the Dark series, Out of the Dark, on sale now!

January 19

Image Placeholder of - 47Vengewar by Kevin J. Anderson

Two continents at war, the Three Kingdoms and Ishara, have been in conflict for a thousand years. But when an outside threat arises—the reawakening of a powerful ancient race that wants to remake the world—the two warring nations must somehow set aside generations of hatred to form an alliance against a far more deadly enemy. Check out Book 1 of the Wake the Dragon series, Spine of the Dragon, on sale now!

Place holder  of - 68The Wood Wife by Terri Windling
Leaving behind her fashionable West Coast life, Maggie Black comes to the Southwestern desert to pursue her passion and he dreams. Her mentor, the acclaimed poet Davis Cooper, has mysteriously died in the canyons east of Tucson, bequeathing her his estate and the mystery of his life–and death. As she reads Cooper’s letters and learns the secrets of his life, Maggie comes face-to-face with the wild, ancient spirits of the desert–and discovers the hidden power at its heart, a power that will take her on a journey like no other.

January 26

Dealbreaker by L. X. Beckett

Rubi Whiting has done the impossible. She has proved that humanity deserves a seat at the galactic table. Well, at least a shot at a seat. Having convinced the galactic governing body that mankind deserves a chance at fixing their own problems, Rubi has done her part to launch the planet into a new golden age of scientific discovery and technological revolution. However, there are still those in the galactic community that think that humanity is too poisonous, too greedy, to be allowed in, and they will stop at nothing to sabotage a species determined to pull itself up. Check out Book 1 of The Bounceback series, Gamechanger, on sale now!

February 2

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

A famously disappointing minor royal and the Emperor’s least favorite grandchild, Prince Kiem is summoned before the Emperor and commanded to renew the empire’s bonds with its newest vassal planet. The prince must marry Count Jainan, the recent widower of another royal prince of the empire. But Jainan suspects his late husband’s death was no accident. And Prince Kiem discovers Jainan is a suspect himself. But broken bonds between the Empire and its vassal planets leaves the entire empire vulnerable, so together they must prove that their union is strong while uncovering a possible conspiracy. Their successful marriage will align conflicting worlds. Their failure will be the end of the empire.

A Summoning of Demons by Cate Glass

Catagna has been shaken to its core. The philosophists insist that a disastrous earthquake has been caused by an ancient monster imprisoned below the earth, who can only be freed with magic. In every street and market, the people of Catagna are railing against magic-users with a greater ferocity than ever before, and magic hunters are everywhere. As Romy and the others attempt to carry out their mission, they find themselves plunged into a mystery of corruption and murder, myth and magic, and a terrifying truth: the philosophists may have been right all along. Check out the first two books of the Chimera series, on sale now!

The Best of R.A. Lafferty by R.A. Lafferty

Acclaimed as one of the most original voices in modern literature, a winner of the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement, Raphael Aloysius Lafferty (1914-2002) was an American original, a teller of acute, indescribably loopy tall tales whose work has been compared to that of Avram Davidson, Flannery O’Connor, Flann O’Brien, and Gene Wolfe. The Best of R. A. Lafferty presents 22 of his best flights of offbeat imagination, ranging from classics like “Nine-Hundred Grandmothers” (basis for the later novel) and “The Primary Education of the Cameroi,” to his Hugo Award-winning “Eurema’s Dam.”

February 9

Engines of Oblivion by Karen Osborne

Natalie Chan gained her corporate citizenship, but barely survived the battle for Tribulation. Now corporate has big plans for Natalie. Horrible plans. Locked away in Natalie’s missing memory is salvation for the last of an alien civilization and the humans they tried to exterminate. The corporation wants total control of both—or their deletion. Check out Book 1 in the Memory of War series, Architects of Memory, on sale now!

February 16

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

Evelyn Caldwell’s husband Nathan has been having an affair — with Evelyn Caldwell. Or, to be exact, with Martine, a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn’s own award-winning research. But that wasn’t even the worst part. When they said all happy families are alike, I don’t think this is what they meant…

Silence of the Soleri by Michael Johnston

Solus celebrates the Opening of the Mundus, a two-day holiday for the dead, but the city of the Soleri is hardly in need of diversion. A legion of traitors, led by a former captain of the Soleri military, rallies at the capital’s ancient walls. And inside those fortifications, trapped by circumstance, a second army fights for its very existence. In a world inspired by ancient Egyptian history and King Lear, this follow-up to Michael Johnston’s Soleri, finds Solus besieged from within as well as without and the Hark-Wadi family is stuck at the heart of the conflict. Check out Book 1 of The Amber Throne series, Soleri, on sale now!

Fairhaven Rising by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

Sixteen years have passed since the mage Beltur helped to found the town of Fairhaven, and Taelya, Beltur’s adopted niece, is now a white mage undercaptain in the Road Guards of Fairhaven. Fairhaven’s success under the Council has become an impediment to the ambition of several rulers, and the mages protecting the town are seen as a threat. Taelya, a young and untried mage, will find herself at the heart of a conspiracy to destroy her home and the people she loves, and she may not be powerful enough to stop it in time. Check out the remainder of the Saga of Recluse series on sale now here!

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