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Hope Wins: On Writing in Dark Times

Dance with the DevilEven in the darkest of times, hope wins.

This is the position of Bree Bridges, half of writing duo Kit Rocha (of Deal with the Devil fame!). We’re all familiar with just how dreadful the world can be, but although Kit Rocha’s Mercenary Librarians series doesn’t go easy on the future, it shows that even the world post-apocalypse is larger than the devastation that begets it. And, with Dance with the Devil, the third and concluding Mercenary Librarians volume releasing soon, now is the perfect time to get caught up with Kit and dive into this incredible series!

By Bree Bridges (Kit Rocha)

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These two tweets from a more innocent time, sent in a moment of pure joy, marked a huge milestone in my life. In November of 2016, after years of hard work, my co-writer and I had just written the final hopeful happily ever after on the ninth book in our post-apocalyptic dystopian romance series.

Nine books. Almost one million words. We’d taken our futuristic world from the darkest depths of 

an authoritarian theocracy to the giddy triumph of successful rebellion–a rebellion built on hope, compassion, loyalty and love.

We were flying high when Donna closed our word document and left to cast her vote in the 2016 election. (I’d already cast mine several weeks ago by absentee ballot.) We’d accomplished something massive, unspooling a rebellion plot arc and a slow dismantling of the patriarchy around and through nine separate romance arcs, bringing it all together in a culminating moment that might as well have been our manifesto:

Hope wins.

We woke up the next morning facing down a Trump presidency, and the prospect of trying to go out and sell our one million words of dystopian fiction to an audience reeling in the face of what, to many of them, felt like an increasingly dystopian future. 

For the last four years, I’ve heard one thing over and over again: this must be such a great time to market your books! They’re so relevant!

Yes, I suppose books about resisting in the face of escalating bigotry and increasingly eroding social norms might seem relevant to the time in which we find ourselves. But I don’t want them to be. I don’t want to trade on the very real fear and harm being done to the most vulnerable among us. I don’t want to use a moment of cultural pain as a marketing hook.

I want to be the hope my books represent, not the opportunistic greed they fight. 

And yet, here I am. Again.

My upcoming book is awkwardly relevant.

Deal With the Devil is about a trio of women with genetically enhanced abilities who use their unique skill set to collect and distribute media and other resources in a post-apocalyptic Atlanta. They’re the ones who find you the lost manual on how to repair that buggy air-conditioner, or get you a source for seeds you can grow on your porch. They get you movies to entertain your children and books to heal your soul. They organize potlucks and freeze-drying parties, let you rent out tools to fix your house and lend you books that teach you about home repair.

They’re the heart of their community. They are hope. And they’re what I see right now every day when I log into twitter. 

When I see scientists offering to Skype children who are stuck at home.

When I see musicians livestreaming free concerts. 

When I see librarians scrambling to expand their digital libraries so people stuck at home can still borrow books.

When I see young adult authors offering to talk to kids who want to be writers.

When I see people offering to send groceries. Supplies. Money.

When I see livestream knitting tutorials, and cooking lessons, and book club, and hair-cutting advice, and everything, everything, everything we could possibly want to learn or do or experience.

They’re what I see in us, the best of us, reaching out in the darkest moment of a generation, every offer screaming, you will not have to do this alone.

I see greatness in the book community, in all of our communities, and that is why I refuse to feel awkward this time. Because I didn’t plan to write a book that is relevant to this staggering moment in history, but I did.

It’s not relevant because it’s dystopian. Or because it’s about the end of the world.

It’s relevant because it’s a radical manifesto on how good we can be in a crisis, and every time I open social media, I see the proof of how right we were scrolling past me in real time. For every asshole who hordes hand sanitizer, a hundred of you are out there making a list of your vulnerable neighbors and arranging check-ins to make sure your community has what it needs.

You make the hope in my books relevant.

The day after the election in 2016, I drew in a shaky breath that I never quite let out. The accomplishment of finishing a million word series was inexorably tangled with the hopeless pain of the following months, of editing through a fog and releasing a book into a world that made our bright optimism feel reckless. 

Today, I’m letting that breath out. I don’t know what will happen over the next few weeks as we rally our resources to face down this pandemic, but I know that my faith has been renewed.

Hope wins. 

We’ll make it win. Together.


Bree Bridges is half of Dance with the Devil writing duo Kit Rocha. Dance with the Devil is on sale from Tor Books 07/28/2020. 

Pre-order Dance with the Devil now

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Excerpt: Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

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Place holder  of - 37“Juju assassins, alternate history, a gritty New York crime story…in a word: awesome.” —N.K. Jemisin, New York Times bestselling author of The Fifth Season

The dangerous magic of The Night Circus meets the powerful historical exploration of The Underground Railroad in Alaya Dawn Johnson’s timely and unsettling novel, set against the darkly glamorous backdrop of New York City, where an assassin falls in love and tries to change her fate at the dawn of World War II.

Amid the whir of city life, a young woman from Harlem is drawn into the glittering underworld of Manhattan, where she’s hired to use her knives to strike fear among its most dangerous denizens.

Ten years later, Phyllis LeBlanc has given up everything—not just her own past, and Dev, the man she loved, but even her own dreams.

Still, the ghosts from her past are always by her side—and history has appeared on her doorstep to threaten the people she keeps in her heart. And so Phyllis will have to make a harrowing choice, before it’s too late—is there ever enough blood in the world to wash clean generations of injustice?

Trouble the Saints is a dazzling, daring novel—a magical love story, a compelling exposure of racial fault lines—and an altogether brilliant and deeply American saga.

Please enjoy this excerpt of Trouble the Saints, available in paperback 8/10/2021.


After two more cigarettes and some burnt coffee from the percolator that an old lover had left behind and I always meant to replace, I called Gloria.

“I thought I could take Sonny and Ida to the park for a few hours. Give you a break. Is Tom around?” Tom didn’t like me, though he tolerated me for Gloria’s sake.

“There’s a new ship down at the yards so I’ve hardly seen him for the last week. You all right, honey?”

“Oh, I’m fine. Cut. I just haven’t seen my favorite niece and nephew in ages.”

“And your favorite sister?”

I smiled and unspooled the phone cord from my fingers. “You betcha.”

“Well, if you got nothing better to do, you know those kids would love to see you.”

So I put on my yellow day-dress, the one that looked all right but wouldn’t give my old neighbors cause to think I’d got uppity from my years downtown, and headed out.

Outside, I checked for Red Man, but I didn’t see him. My apartment building was in the middle of East 63rd Street—not an office block—and this late in the morning I could see everyone on the sidewalk and the street easy and clear. Not yet, I thought, relieved, and headed to Lexington. I sat down at the counter of my local milk bar to eat four thick slices of challah still warm from the ovens in back, soft with butter. Late nights, they kept the borscht on the stove and I liked to eat it, thick and beet-red, with a heel of stale challah in those still hours before sunrise, when my hands smelled like French-milled soap and hard water; like lavender and someone else’s blood.

There were a few soldier boys on the A train, already in uniform, duffels on the seats and bodies in energetic motion, pacing the car and swinging from straps when the wheels struck up sparks against blind curves. They were black, young and handsome. Called up, I guessed, in Roosevelt’s peacetime draft, though they didn’t seem unhappy about the prospect of killing themselves on the other side of the world. One of them smiled shyly at me just before the City College station and asked if I’d like to get a drink with him and his friends before they got their deployment orders.

“We’re only here for a week, ma’am,” he said. “My friends and I are up for a swell time.”

He had fine, even teeth with a little gap between the front two that reminded me of my brother Roger, dead almost fifteen years.

I wondered how I looked to him, reading alone on that car, that he would invite me to share one of his last nights before heading to war.

“Where you gonna go?” I asked, wishing for a useless moment that I were young enough to have a good time with them, because then I’d be young enough to have never met Victor.

“Minton’s,” he said, quick. “And there’s this place my buddy Jerry knows, some mobbed-up joint, with a bird name, down in the Village . . . Jerry, what’s that club called, the one with the snake dance?”

“Pelican,” his buddy said, swinging over to me on the straps, all ease and good looks and unconsidered strength. “Ain’t segregated, and they got the best bebop in the city after Minton’s according to my uncle Joe, who plays tenor sax at the Savoy, so he oughta know. But this here cat, you know, he hears ‘snake dance,’ and all he can see is titties—uh, sorry.”

“Jesus, Jerry,” my admirer muttered, and elbowed his friend hard in the ribs.

The third recruit poked his head between the two of them and smiled. “Hello, miss,” he said. “What these two fools trying to say is, we’d be real happy to see you at the Pelican if you’d like to find us there.”

“What’d you sweet boys want with an old lady like me?” I said.

“Old lady!” Jerry crowed, and the peacemaker kissed my hand while my first admirer just shook his head and said, “I wouldn’t mind you for my old lady.” It was silly, and I was a fool to get my head turned by half of what they said, but I wasn’t on this train with a knife in my bag because I was wise, or good, or did what was best for me. So I told those fellas I might just see them at the Pelican that night and waved goodbye when they got off.

I was still smiling when I got to Gloria’s, and she froze with her hand on the knob. The fissures radiating from her downturned mouth traced a map that I remembered from our mother’s face, and probably for the same reasons. Gloria, the golden eldest, had never given our mother the grief that poor Roger and I had. I wondered if Gloria even recognized the ghost that stared back from her mirror, late nights.

“Phyllis,” she said, with heavy meaning.

“I can’t be happy?”

She rubbed her neck. “Depends on what you’re happy about.”

“Nothing bad, Glory. For heaven’s sake. You gonna let me in or should I go back home?”

To Gloria—and Dev—my seven months would be a drop of virtue in an ocean of sin, but I’d already started to feel the quiver of something different, something old but newly growing. I felt it in my hands when I held my knives, those old hurting things, which gave one kind of power and stole another away. I waited for the day the two of them would see the change in me too, but in their eyes I was still the same old girl, Victor’s aging knife.

“Come in, baby,” Gloria said, and embraced me. We couldn’t save Roger, but Gloria had saved me a dozen times over. Not enough for her peace of mind, I knew that, but enough for me to feel the debt, which was love, for the rest of my life.

Sonny and Ida were in the kitchen, Sonny running scales on his clarinet and Ida practicing a dance I was afraid might be a jitterbug. She stopped as soon as she saw me and ran straight into my open arms.

“Aunt Pea!” she said, “Mommy told us you’d take us to see the bear!”

“Bear?” I said to Gloria, over Ida’s shoulder.

Gloria shrugged. “The Central Park Zoo. I told them you might not have the time—”

“Definitely the bear,” I said, and put Ida down. “And the merrygo-round and ice cream, too.”

This roused Sonny from his meditation of escalating flats and we all headed down the stairs and onto the street, which shimmered with the sticky heat of late July. Mrs. Montgomery was sitting on the stoop, playing gin with her sister, Miss Reynolds—who always insisted on being called “Miss” no matter how many gray hairs she pushed under that church hat on Sundays, because she never married, and she wasn’t ever gonna be anyone’s missus. They tutted when they saw me and carried on for a while about how long it had been since I’d shown my face around these parts.

“But you’re looking good, child,” pronounced Mrs. Montgomery, after I had duly begged their pardon for forgetting to visit. “That downtown life still treating you all right?”

I fiddled with the hem of my skirt. I knew what they were asking. Ida kept quiet around her elders—Gloria wouldn’t have anyone calling her children ill-mannered—but she was squeezing my hand to say that she wanted to go already and didn’t care about what these aunties were going on about. Sonny, though, Sonny’s chin twitched and he held the rest of him very still.

“Oh, it’s all right, Mrs. Montgomery. Enough to live on,” I said, as though she’d just been asking about money.

“Well, at least you come back sometimes. I remember when you were just a girl, collecting all the numbers for the building—when I hit that time I remember you came running to tell me before anyone else had seen the mutuels! That boy we have now, he’s little Ronnie’s kid, Ronnie from Holiness—”

At this, Miss Reynolds interjected in a sotto voce that the whole block could hear, “He’s become Mohammedan now, Lord knows what we’re coming to—”

Mrs. Montgomery, who had lived with her sister all their lives, just kept going: “The kid’s all right, but he isn’t as fast as you were, Phyllis. Takes his good time at Walker’s bar before he bothers to come around here for the payouts.”

“You ran numbers, Aunt Pea?” Sonny said, suddenly.

The sisters stopped talking, and glanced up at the building.

Gloria Green Perkins, dedicated missionary at Abyssinian Baptist, didn’t approve of playing policy any more than she approved of the rest of her younger sister’s extralegal exploits.

“Not really, Sonny,” I said, “I just collected for the building.”

“Well,” said Miss Reynolds, after a silence that bagged like the waistline of an old dress, “the rents up here are higher than ever and the jobs scarcer than hen’s teeth. I can’t blame you for getting out, since you can. But at least you haven’t forgotten us, Phyllis.”

I blew out a laugh. “It’s never a good idea to forget where you came from, and I never could besides.”

I said my goodbyes and headed out before the sisters could incriminate me with any more reminiscences. I’d done more than collect numbers back then, and they both knew it. Back when she ruled Sugar Hill, Stephanie St. Clair, Madame Queen of Policy, had offered a lot of opportunities to a young Harlem girl willing to bend the law and pin it with a knife.

Ronnie’s boy ran past us as we waited at the bus stop; he was just a few years older than Sonny, but he’d found himself a suit for that skinny frame and a good wool cap so he looked more than halfgrown, sharp pleats and padded shoulders around a tender middle. He was flushed and grinning, and I figured that someone on his rounds had hit and he was putting in extra for his ten percent. I remembered days like that: even when the hit was for five dollars, it felt good to think you’d had your part in their bit of luck. And your own. The ones like the Reynolds sisters, who knew I had the hands and believed in them besides, always wanted me to touch their slips before I passed them to the bank.

While we waited I pulled the lighter from my pocket and did a few of the tricks that Ida loved: whipping it through my fingers, tossing it in the air, and balancing its thin edge on the bony ridge in the back of my neck. Ida clapped.

“I wish you could teach me how to do that, Aunt Pea,” she said.

Sonny, twelve to Ida’s ten and older than the world, put his hands in his pockets. “Daddy says you shouldn’t.”

“And why shouldn’t she?”

He puckered his lips at his sister and said, hesitating on the first syllable, “’Cause it’s unnatural and devil’s work.”

Ida stamped her foot. “Sonny! Thomas Perkins, take that back!”

My hand froze with the lighter between my pinky and middle finger, precariously balanced, and without the slightest chance of falling. I contemplated Sonny, still a head shorter than me but with a look in his eyes like his father’s. Would the day come when Sonny treated me with as much formal wariness as Tom Perkins? I forced my fingers to move again, slid the lighter smoothly down the back of my hand, and let it drop into my bag.

“I’d think it’s a slow day if the devil has time to bother with my little tricks,” I said. “Ain’t you ever seen a juggler before, Sonny?”

Sonny shook his head slowly; the solemn, considerate boy I’d always known, now torn between his father and his aunt. But I wasn’t stupid. I knew who would win that battle, and who should. So I would steal the time I had, dance with his childhood affection with all the skill in my uncanny hands, until age and time and disillusion took him from me.

The bus came, and I handed the nickels to Sonny and Ida so they could drop them in the box themselves. We sat on the bench in back, where we had the better view of the city as we lumbered down Amsterdam Avenue.

Ida wouldn’t leave well enough alone. “Is it unnatural that you’re good at the clarinet, Sonny, huh, now is it? Is it unnatural what Art Tatum does on the piano?” I loved her for defending me, but I wished she would stop.

“Daddy says it’s different. Aunt Phyllis has something extra. Some juju. ”

“You sound like a fool, Sonny,” Ida said.

“You’re the fool! Daddy says it’s dangerous to have that juju, ’cause other folks want it and they’ll kill for it. They’ll take her hands. I bet that’s what happened to Uncle Roger.”

I was so surprised that I could only stare. Ida started to cry.

“Is someone gonna take your hands, Aunt Pea?”

I pulled her onto my lap. “No, honey, no. Sonny’s just wrong, that’s all.”

Sonny sulked and stared out the window. I’d had no idea he knew the first thing about Roger, though I should have guessed. Family secrets have a way of getting out. And stealing hands—rumors like that had circulated my whole life, but mostly nothing came of it. There weren’t a lot of us and most didn’t broadcast what we were. Even if it was possible to steal our power by taking our hands, it wasn’t easy.

But a decade ago a man named Trent Sullivan had tried, and bringing him to justice had nearly destroyed me.

Tom Senior and Sonny were right about one thing: it was no blessing when the hands paid their visit. My father had long gone by the time my dream came down; Mommy had to deal with me and Roger on her own. Dad had the wandering itch, as Mommy liked to say, and unlike her, he was light enough to pass when the urge struck him. It struck him one too many times, until she divorced him and told his disapproving Sugar Hill family she wouldn’t wait around for him, or anyone, anymore. How they smacked their lips when our dreams came down! They spread it up and down that our saints’ hands were Mommy’s punishment for getting above her station.

When Sonny turned ten, Gloria started sleeping badly, waiting for him to wake up with a dream for the numbers, an ache in his hands and an overnight talent for something that before had been merely ordinary. After his twelfth birthday she’d started to relax. But now she had Ida to watch, and wonder, and protect, if it came to that, from Tom Senior’s attempts to pray the devil out of her.

I kept Sonny and Ida close to me at the park. Gloria was just a shade too dark to come here without the police following close behind and making nasty comments. Sonny and Ida were dark enough, but they were children, and I had a better chance of getting them in and out before they realized why their mother never came to the park with them. Though Sonny probably did already. He was too smart to enjoy the ignorance of childhood, which I grieved while I loved him for it. I dreaded the day he would see me for what I was.

We walked slowly through the bird pavilion and then the bear den. I’d thought we might enjoy ourselves, that Sonny would forget that sticky issue of my talent and Ida would gawk at the sea lions and the grizzly bears, but maybe there was never any chance.

A pair of white boys, no older than sixteen, watched us from beside the bear den. They clearly thought a lot of themselves in their high-waisted oxford pants and low-slung bowler hats. The sandy blond one even kept his hand near a bulge in his left pocket, his fingers twitching like a nervous dog on a leash. Sonny noticed them, but when he looked at me with worry creasing the skin between his brows, I smiled faintly and shook my head. He relaxed—I could still give him that. Ida noted none of this exchange. The grizzlies squatting in existential boredom by their cerulean concrete lake had captured all of her wide-eyed attention. I looked back at the white boys, whose twin gazes still followed us like blue jays through exhaust. The sandy-haired one flexed his hand. His companion spat, generously.

“What’s the world coming to,” Blondie said, in a voice that had broken last week and still bled from the wound, “when we can get a family of black devils strolling Central Park just like they was decent?”

Ida’s shoulders stiffened. Sonny’s hands clenched. “Stay with your sister,” I told him.

Blondie and his brother here probably imagined themselves big hustlers. I doubted they’d have even made soldiers for Dutch Schultz, let alone Russian Vic. That had to be a BB gun in his pocket. Still, almost anything could kill, so long as you aimed it right. I loosened the two-inch knife strapped to my left wrist, let it peek out below the cuff of my summer blazer. Then, before any fuzz could see and ask questions—as bad for my people as dime-store gangsters, New York’s whitest—I bent down, picked up a likely rock, and threw it at the bulge in his pocket. A pop like a firecracker went off against his hip—a BB gun, lucky for him, but at that distance would still hurt
like the devil. The dark-haired one stared at me, slack-jawed, while the other cursed and hopped on one leg. I wondered, with a vague sort of pricking in my fingertips, if using my hands to hurt was much better, morally speaking, than using them to kill. Should we have just walked away?

“Ida, Sonny,” I said loudly, “let’s get ice cream. I don’t see nothing much of interest around here.”

They didn’t object. The grizzlies had lost their fascination.

“You’re the best, Aunt Pea,” Ida said, smiling again over a pistachio ice cream as green as summer grass. “You sure showed those boys. I wish I could bring you to school with me just once.”

Sonny looked at her sharply. “God didn’t create us to raise one above the other with unnatural gifts.”

Sonny’s voice, his father’s words. If I’d wanted to argue with Tom Senior, I’d have gone to Gloria’s for dinner. I sighed and took Ida’s hand.

“Don’t pick fights, Sonny, for your sister’s sake if not for mine.”

We were silent on the bus ride back uptown. Plenty of time for me to think about what Sonny had said. I remembered old Widow Baker on the second floor, who had a knack though she didn’t have the hands: she’d died last year at the age of ninety-three after hitting the numbers an astonishing seventeen times—though she always played for pennies, so the payout was never much. Once, while I waited for her to finish reading the cards and fill out her last slip, she said something to me that never left: Your hands are like the numbers, aren’t they, Miss Green? A little luck the Lord gives us to let us get on top, just for a bit, even though they got all the power.

Now I considered the kind of creature I had made of myself with the Lord’s luck, in the service of what I’d always considered to be the greater good. An angel, they called me. Some kind of holy beast.

Copyright © 2020 by Alaya Dawn Johnson

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Ready to Go on a Grand Adventure in Space…?

Ready to Go on a Grand Adventure in Space…?

Love is love, even (and especially) in space. We’re bringing back our ‘Gays in Space’ list, updated with some new SFF titles that feature LGBTQ+ characters on intergalactic adventures. Check it out here!

Image Place holder  of - 7You 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. On sale 09/07/2021!

Placeholder of  -59Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in Ryka Aoki’s Light From Uncommon Stars, a defiantly joyful adventure set in California’s San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts. On sale 09/28/2021!

Image Placeholder of - 9Even Greater Mistakes by Charlie Jane Anderson

The woman who can see all possible futures is dating the man who can see the one and only foreordained future. A wildly popular slapstick filmmaker is drawn, against his better judgment, into working with a fascist militia, against a background of social collapse. Two friends must embark on an Epic Quest To Capture The Weapon That Threatens The Galaxy, or else they’ll never achieve their dream of opening a restaurant. The stories in this collection, by their very outrageousness, achieve a heightened realism unlike any other. On sale 11/16/2021!

Place holder  of - 97A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Check out the sequel, A Desolation Called Peace, on sale now!

Poster Placeholder of - 18Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service….

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath—but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her. Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers and hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?

Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott

Princess Sun has finally come of age. Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared. But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead.

Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone

A wildly successful innovator, Vivian Liao is prone to radical thinking, quick decision-making, and reckless action. On the eve of her greatest achievement, she tries to outrun people who are trying to steal her success. In the chilly darkness of a Boston server farm, Viv sets her ultimate plan into motion. A terrifying instant later, Vivian Liao is catapulted through space and time to a far future where she confronts a destiny stranger and more deadly than she could ever imagine.

Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather

Years ago, Old Earth sent forth sisters and brothers into the vast dark of the prodigal colonies armed only with crucifixes and iron faith. Now, the sisters of the Order of Saint Rita are on an interstellar mission of mercy aboard Our Lady of Impossible Constellations, a living, breathing ship which seems determined to develop a will of its own. When the order receives a distress call from a newly-formed colony, the sisters discover that the bodies and souls in their care—and that of the galactic diaspora—are in danger. And not from the void beyond, but from the nascent Central Governance and the Church itself.

Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne

Terminally ill salvage pilot Ash Jackson lost everything in the war with the alien Vai, but she’ll be damned if she loses her future. Her plan: to buy, beg, or lie her way out of corporate indenture and find a cure. When her crew salvages a genocidal weapon from a ravaged starship above a dead colony, Ash uncovers a conspiracy of corporate intrigue and betrayal that threatens to turn her into a living weapon.

The Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz

Kenna, an aspirational teen guru, wanders destitute across the stars as he tries to achieve his parents’ ambition to advise the celestial elite. Everything changes when Kenna wins a free dinner at The Sol Majestic, the galaxy’s most renowned restaurant, giving him access to the cosmos’s one-percent. His dream is jeopardized, however, when he learns his highly-publicized “free meal” risks putting The Sol Majestic into financial ruin. Kenna and a motley gang of newfound friends—including a teleporting celebrity chef, a trust-fund adrenaline junkie, an inept apprentice, and a brilliant mistress of disguise—must concoct an extravagant scheme to save everything they cherish.

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Summoned before the Emperor, Prince Kiem—the Emperor’s least favorite grandchild—is 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 murder.


The Best Dragons in Human Skin: A List by Jenn Lyons, author of The Ruin of Kings

Poster Placeholder of - 1We’re so excited to revisit one of our favorite guest posts from author Jenn Lyons, published during Dragon Week 2020. Check out Jenn as she rounds up the best Dragons in human skin—do you agree with her choices? Let us know in the comments!

The Best Dragons in Human Skins

By Jenn Lyons

I’ve always loved dragons. This isn’t a secret (nor the first time I’ve gone on about it).

Dragons are awesome.

But I can distinctly remember the first time I discovered something even better than dragons: wizards who could change INTO dragons. That has everything. Powerful do-not-mess-with-me magic? Check. Being able to fly while still fitting through the door of one’s favorite restaurants? Check. The potential for some idiot to pick a fight with you only to discover, oh no, DRAGON?


As little girl power fantasies went, this was heady stuff.

For me, that realization came in the form of Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. It’s kind of amazing how much of a formative effect that movie had on me, and not perhaps in the way Disney had imagined or intended. While I suppose most kids could be assumed to be rooting for the ‘heroes,’ here I was howling with frustration because, seriously, Maleficent, how did you manage to lose to that guy? And who carries an asbestos shield, anyway?

But even though Maleficent disappointed me, my love of a good shape changing dragon has endured. So if I may, I’d like to talk about a few of my favorites. (Warning, sometimes the big reveal that a person can shape change into a dragon or just flat-out is a dragon is a major plot point of these stories, so the rest of this is filled with spoilers.)

Tween me thought the Dragonlance series was the best thing ever, and no small part of that was the inclusion of my favorite five-headed dragon queen, Tiamat, Takhisis. As the goddess of evil, Takhisis normally went around as a beautiful woman, but made no real secret of the fact that underneath all of that, she was the mother of dragons. The fact that she was unrepentantly evil didn’t change the fact that she was also completely cool.

Dragons have an interesting relationship with mankind in the Earthsea books. They are seen as mysterious and powerful, most refusing to have anything to do with humanity with the exception of the rare few dragonlords. It’s only in the last two book of the Earthsea series that it becomes clear that, at least in a few cases, the embryonic form of dragons may not be an egg, but a human.

  •   Red Dorakeen and Leila, from Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny

Another book where dragons start out looking human is Roadmarks, where dragons are also responsible for creating a highway system that moves through all the alternate realities spun off throughout history (trust, it makes sense in the book). In a Merlin-like manner, these proto-dragons age backward, starting out old and decrepit and increasingly growing younger and more self-destructive (arson is a favorite) as they approach the time of their ‘hatching.’

In Seraphina, humans and dragons exist uneasily together, and the titular character, half-dragon, half-human, isn’t supposed to even exist, because dragon/human hybrids are believed to be impossible. Still, there’s a whole lot of dragons running around looking human and it’s widely accepted that one is far more likely to run into a dragon dressed up for a soiree than sitting on a pile of gold.

  •   Borch Three Jackdaws, from The Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski

While dragons are a known menace hunted down by mankind in the Witcher books, gold dragons, who can shape change into humans, are widely considered a myth. Which is probably exactly how Borch Three Jackdaws, or Villentretenmerth to his draconic friends, likes it. He spends most of his time running around in human form, but when it really matters, isn’t at all reluctant to get his dragon on.

And…as a treat:

Yikes, like Anamander Rake (or even worse, his brother Silchas) needed be able to shape change into dragons. And yet, there they are. Both are Soletaken Eleint, meaning, yes, you guessed it, being able to shape change into a dragon because they’ve tasted the blood of the mother of dragons, T’iam. (Nice to see I’m not the only author out there with a Tiamat fixation.)

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I don’t expect this particular trope to go out of style anytime soon. So the next time you’re tempted to bully some old man at the check out line, just remember they might turn out to be Bahamut (looking at you, Fizban.)

Order Your Copy of The Discord of Gods:

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The Walter Whites of Fantasy

Some fantasy protagonists aren’t in the hero business, they’re in the EMPIRE business.

AMC’s Breaking Bad set the gold standard for protagonist turned antagonist with Walter White, the dopey science teacher turned criminal mastermind slash violent drug lord (which I’m pretty sure is what his business card said, or would say, if criminal masterminds slash violent drug lords had business cards).

But the fantasy genre has plenty of Walter Whites as well. Though they may not run a meth lab out of the back of an RV, they’ve betrayed just as many of their closest friends, and caused just as many explosions. Here’s a run-down of some of our favorites, who either turned from good/neutral to evil throughout a book series, or villains who were revealed to have gone through such a transformation before the main story started (Walter Whites of their own narratives).

As you can imagine, this post will have some mild spoilers, but we’ve done our best to keep them as light as possible. Unlike these characters’ misdeeds.

By Julia Bergen

Poster Placeholder of - 26Baru Cormorant, from The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

Baru starts out even more innocent than Walter White did, and though the series isn’t finished yet, she’s well on her way to becoming even more brutal. The series begins with Baru as a happy child who has faced little adversity, living in a picturesque sea-side village with her mother and two fathers. When an empire shows up, kills one of her fathers, and starts a harsh rule that outlaws the most important parts of Bau’s life, she vows to rise up within the empire’s ranks and bring them down from within. What sets Baru apart from most fantasy characters with this same goal is that she is forced to do some truly awful things and changes as a person because of them. By the time this series is over, it seems likely she will have no problem busting out the ricin poison.

Placeholder of  -94Daenerys Targaryen, from A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin

To be fair, I’m basing this from the TV series since the book series hasn’t finished Daenery’s story, but even in the books you can start to see Martin setting Daenerys up to go full Walter White. Getting what you want by fire and blood doesn’t generally end in a tea party. Daenerys starts out as a teenage girl living in exile, married off for political reasons, who just wants to live a safe, happy life. Throughout the events of the books, we see her come into her own power, first becoming the leader of a Dothraki army, then queen of the city of Meereen. Along the way she executes many, often using her dragons, and though her victims generally deserve it, it’s easy to see how burning people alive when necessary could get out of hand fast. If Daenerys thought letting someone choke on their own vomit would be for the greater good, she would totally do it.

Place holder  of - 85Holland Vosijk, from the Shades of Magic series by V. E. Schwab

Oh, Holland. He’s had such a hard life. He starts out as the main antagonist of A Darker Shade of Magic, but throughout the trilogy we learn so much more about his backstory, and how his actions were not always within his control. As the series goes on, details of Holland’s life before his ill-fated meeting with the Dane siblings reveal that he used to be optimistic and kind-hearted, even on the cruel streets of White London. He does get something of a redemption, but that just makes him even more like Walter White (if you accept that the last few episodes weren’t a dream). Still, he does a lot of genuinely evil things, and happily lets other people die if it means getting what he wants.

Image Place holder  of - 56The Lord Ruler, from the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

When we meet The Lord Ruler he’s in his final Walter White mega-evil phase. He’s a brutal king, using harsh punishments to prop up the noble houses and keep everyone else destitute. However, throughout the series it turns out that some of the things The Lord Ruler had done had actually been part of a much larger conflict between forces older than history. And he hadn’t always been a vicious dictator. At the beginning, he had wanted to save the world, but that came at a price he couldn’t imagine. The Lord Ruler may have actually been more vicious than Walter White, though part of that was supernatural forces upping his evil quotient.

Image Placeholder of - 65The King in Red, from The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone

The King in Red definitely paints a more evil image than Walter White – it’s hard to imagine something more menacing than a skeleton in a red cloak, especially one with the ability to create a dragon fueled by the souls of his debtors, even if Bryan Cranston did master the evil glare. The King in Red wasn’t always a heartless overlord, though. The books heavily imply that once he was just a powerful craftsman in loving relationship. It wasn’t until the gods killed his boyfriend that he became obsessed with destroying them, and then once that was basically fully accomplished, ruling in their place. The King in Red would definitely agree that he’s in the empire business.


Chaos and Cosmos: Bookish Horoscopes!

We’ve been giving our Chaos and Cosmos authors a run for their money with all these delightfully chaotic questions, but today we’ve given them their most daunting task yet…WRITING HOROSCOPES! From meeting handsome strangers to fleeing vengeful pigs, check out what our authors predicted here.

Write a horoscope based on your book

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Kate Elliott, author of Unconquerable Sun

Today you will face an obstacle and an opening. Keep your temper in check. Charge right in.

May Robinette Kowal, author of The Relentless Moon

Today watch out for accidents. You will find yourself in close quarters, far from loved ones. Trust your friends to be there for you.

Ryan Van Loan, author of The Sin in the Steel

Remember that harissa-rubbed pork shoulder you enjoyed? Today, the porcine will have their revenge.

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Alaya Dawn Johnson, author of Trouble the Saints

Someone has committed a great wrong against you and your people. It’s your choice: fight alone, or fight together. The truth, and the power, is in your hands.

Jenn Lyons, author of The Memory of Souls

Change is in the air, and you know what they say: adapt or die! It’s a tough world out there, and it’s not always easy to see the dragons in your path until they fly right into you. With Kimeron in retrograde, be careful of family gatherings, as it’s going to be especially easy to say the wrong thing to a loved one. You may find such reunions to be a little disagreeable, even cut-throat. Remember not to take what people say at face value — everyone had their own motives.

Most of all, be prepared to make sacrifices to get what you want.

Kit Rocha, author of Deal with the Devil

Today, a tall, handsome stranger will ask you to team up. You can’t trust him. Do it anyway.

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Andrea Hairston, author of Master of Poisons

Today everything will be upside down and inside out, unpredictable, dangerous. If you work together with folks you love and folks you can’t stand, you might make it to tomorrow.

Christopher Paolini, author of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

Today you will encounter adventure, tentacles, and cosmic wonder. Today dreams and nightmares will find unity.

S. A. Hunt, author of I Come With Knives

Don’t feed the wildlife today. Embrace your nature and let your impulsive side take over for a little while. Don’t attend any dinner parties your neighbors might be throwing. A new challenge will present itself in the form of a Mesopotamian death-goddess.

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S. L. Huang, author of Burning Roses

You’re going to have to decide whether you can kill your friend’s son today. Also, it turns out gods and monsters exist, and you might be the monster.

Stay tuned for even more Chaos and Cosmos!

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Every Tor Essential in 2020

We at Tor Books believe the true ‘golden age’ of science fiction and fantasy is now, but we have a lot of love for the SFF published in the past few decades. And thus, our Tor Essentials line was born, reintroducing readers to some of our favorite classics. Need to catch up? Check out this list below for a roundup of every Tor Essentials book that came out in 2020!

Poster Placeholder of - 42China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh, introduction by Jo Walton

After the Second Great Depression and the American Liberation War, the US has been left as a satellite state of China. In this somewhat but not entirely regimented world, young New York construction engineer Zhang Zhongshan must find his way in a society that disapproves both of his cultural heritage and his sexual identity. Because not everyone can change the world—sometimes, the ultimate challenge is to find a way to live in it. China Mountain Zhang presents a macroscopic world of microscopic intensity, one of the most brilliant visions in modern science fiction.

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Place holder  of - 25Three Californias by Kim Stanley Robinson

Before Kim Stanley Robinson terraformed Mars, he wrote three science fiction novels set in Orange County, California, where he grew up. These alternate futures—one a post-apocalypse, one an if-this-goes-on future reminiscent of Philip K. Dick, and one an ecological utopia—form a whole that illuminates, enchants, and inspires–collected here as Three Californias.

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Placeholder of  -1Among Others by Jo Walton

Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins, but her mind found freedom in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. When her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled—and her twin sister dead.

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Image Place holder  of - 45Blindsight by Peter Watts

Two months since the stars fell. Two months of silence, while a world held its breath. Now some half-derelict space probe, sparking fitfully past Neptune’s orbit, hears a whisper from the edge of the solar system: a faint signal sweeping the cosmos like a lighthouse beam. Whatever’s out there isn’t talking to us. It’s talking to some distant star, perhaps. Or perhaps to something closer, something en route.

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Image Placeholder of - 2A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

Thousands of years in the future, humanity is no longer alone in a universe where a mind’s potential is determined by its location in space, from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures, and technology, can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these “regions of thought,” but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.

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The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe

A young man in his teens is transported from our world to a magical realm consisting of seven levels of reality. Transformed by magic into a grown man of heroic proportions, he takes the name Sir Able of the High Heart and sets out on a quest to find the sword that has been promised to him, the blade that will help him fulfill his ambition to become a true hero—a true knight.

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The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford

In a snowbound inn high in the Alps, four people meet who will alter fate. A noble Byzantine mercenary, a female Florentine physician, an ageless Welsh wizard and Sforza, the uncanny duke. Together they will wage an intrigue-filled campaign against the might of Byzantium to secure the English throne for Richard, Duke of Gloucester—and make him Richard III.

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The Necessary Beggar by Susan Palwick

Lemabantunk, the Glorious City, is a place of peace and plenty, bejeweled streets and glittering waterfalls. It is also a place of severe justice. Darroti, a young merchant, has been accused of the brutal murder of a highborn woman. Now, in keeping with his world’s customs, his entire family must share in his punishment: exile to the unknown world that lies beyond a mysterious gate.

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Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

One night in October when he was ten years old, Tyler Dupree stood in his backyard and watched the stars go out. They all flared into brilliance at once, then disappeared, replaced by a flat, empty black barrier. He and his best friends, Jason and Diane Lawton, had seen what became known as the Big Blackout. It would shape their lives.

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Meet Our Books Cosmos: Air Signs

Ready to meet more of the shining stars of our Chaos and Cosmos campaign?! We’re swooning over our incredible Air signs today: Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow, Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson, and I Come With Knives by S. A. Hunt.

Why are they Air signs? We have no idea, ask publicity team members and astrology wizards Laura Eztkorn, Giselle Gonzalez, and Anna Merz.


“Gemini are adaptable, impulsive, and outgoing, but also nosey and sometimes unreliable.

Sounds like Masha Maximow. Except maybe the outgoing part…”

Image Placeholder of - 75Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow

Most days, Masha Maximow was sure she’d chosen the winning side. In her day job as a counterterrorism wizard for a transnational cybersecurity firm, she made the hacks that allowed repressive regimes to spy on dissidents, and manipulate their every move. Masha sometimes used her mad skills to help those same troublemakers evade detection, if their cause was just. But when it hits close to home, and the hacks and exploits she’s devised are directed at her friends and family, Masha realizes she has to choose.

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“Libras are always on a quest for knowledge, but can be unreliable, cold, and tactless. They’re always chasing after adventures and are vastly independent!…Sounds like our favorite assassin from Trouble the Saints!”

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Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The dangerous magic of The Night Circus meets the powerful historical exploration of The Underground Railroad in Alaya Dawn Johnson’s timely and unsettling novel, set against the darkly glamorous backdrop of New York City, where an assassin falls in love and tries to change her fate at the dawn of World War II.

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“Aquarius signs tend to hold onto grudges (useful in a witchhunter!) and are often intelligent and unpredictable (also a useful trait in a witchhunter!)”

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I Come With Knives by S. A. Hunt

Robin plots to confront the Lazenbury coven and destroy them once and for all. Meanwhile, a dangerous serial killer only known as The Serpent is abducting and killing Blackfield residents. An elusive order of magicians known as the Dogs of Odysseus also show up with Robin in their sights. Robin must handle these new threats on top of the menace from the Lazenbury coven, but a secret about Robin’s past may throw all of her plans into jeopardy.

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Are You Chaotic Enough to Survive in SPACE?! Take Our Quiz and Find Out!

Have you ever wondered if you’d survive an epic space adventure? Well, now you can find out! Take our epic #ChaosandCosmos inspired quiz to find out if you have enough chaos in your heart to survive in space…or if you’d be lost in the void.


5 SciFi Novels That Reimagine the Past

Alternate histories occupy a murky space in science fiction, as they can easily lean more speculative than scientific. Sci-fi loves to ask its audience plenty of “what ifs?”, but we’ve gathered a list of novels that focus on asking how those same scenarios might have played out further back in the timeline. Check it out here!

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The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal (Lady Astronauts #3)

The Relentless Moon, the third installment in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Hugo and Nebula award-winning Lady Astronauts series, takes us to the stars. Earth is quickly becoming inhabitable after a disaster-inducing meteor strikes 1950’s America. The only viable solution is to fast-track a spaceflight exodus. Despite impending doom, there are still many threats of sabotage against the space program as humankind’s first Moon colony struggles to find its footing.

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Place holder  of - 5Everfair by Nisi Shawl

From noted short story writer Nisi Shawl, Everfair is a brilliant alternate-history novel set in the Belgian Congo. What if the African natives developed steam power ahead of their colonial oppressors? What might have become of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier? Shawl manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history.

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Image Place holder  of - 74The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz

From Annalee Newitz, founding editor of io9, comes a story of time travel, murder, and the lengths we’ll go to protect the ones we love. The Future of Another Timeline weaves together the lives of one punk 90’s teen and a woman intent on fighting back against a small elite group with the power to change the past, present, and future. As war breaks out across the timeline, is it possible for one person’s actions to make a difference? Available in paperback on 10/06!

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Image Placeholder of - 58A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel (A History of What Comes Next #1)

Showing that truth is stranger than fiction, Sylvain Neuvel weaves a sc-fi thriller reminiscent of Blake Crouch and Andy Weir, blending a fast moving, darkly satirical look at 1940’s rocketry with an exploration of the amorality of progress and the nature of violence in A History of What Comes Next. It’s a darkly satirical first contact thriller, as seen through the eyes of the women who make progress possible and the men who are determined to stop them.

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Poster Placeholder of - 61Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis (Noumena #1)

From our friends over at St. Martin’s Press, Axiom’s End is Hugo finalist and video essayist Lindsay Ellis’s debut novel. Set a little over a decade ago in 2007, a U.S. government leak unveils that first contact has already happened. Cora Sabino is intent on becomes the first human interpreter for the alien population.

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