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15 SFFH Books We’re Looking Forward to in January 2024

Written By Maria Haskins

Maria Haskins is a Swedish-Canadian writer and reviewer of speculative fiction. She lives just outside Vancouver with a husband, two children, several birds, a snake, and a very large black dog. Her work has appeared in several publications, and is also available in her short story collections Wolves & Girls (2023), and Six Dreams About the Train (2021).

The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years, by Shubnum Khan

Described as part gothic horror story, part haunting, part love story, and part mystery, this book is set in a ruined old mansion called Akbar Manzil off the coast of South Africa. The estate is being used as a boarding house “for eclectic misfits” but hides dark secrets and tragic mysteries in its eerie and forgotten east wing.  One hundred years ago, a woman died in one of the rooms of the east wing, and in that same room, a djinn has been waiting, watching, and grieving, for a century. When a young woman named Sana enters, she uncovers old secrets that will affect both the living and the dead. Alix E. Harrow calls this a “dark and heady dream of a book” and it sounds very much like my cup of dark and heady tea.

The Best Horror of the Year Volume 15, edited by Ellen Datlow

Featuring chilling, terrifying, and brilliant horror tales by Angela Slatter, Steven Toase, Daniela Tomova, Jeffrey Ford, Tananarive Due, Jordan Shiveley, Gemma Files, Margo Lanagan, and more, you know this reprint anthology will deliver all the shivers and thrills a horror fan might desire. I’ve read some of the stories included in this volume, and can’t wait to catch up on the rest. Datlow’s Best Horror anthologies are always a great read, and also a great way to find stories by both new and established authors.

The Tusks of Extinction, by Ray Nayler

I loved Nayler’s debut novel, The Mountain in the Sea, where he took us deep into the ocean to find a strange, tentacled underwater civilization. His new SF thriller goes somewhere else entirely, taking us into the world of DNA and mind-transfers. The Russians have resurrected the mammoths, but someone must teach the creatures how to live, how to be mammoths, or they are doomed to die out again. To do this, the digitized consciousness of a murdered expert in elephant behavior has been downloaded into the mind of a mammoth matriarch. (Insert google-eyes emoji here.) Can she help the mammoths and hold off the poachers threatening their existence? And what is Moscow’s real reason for bringing back these creatures? I love the “mind in the mammoth” idea and cannot wait to read the book to see how that plays out.

Greyhowler, by Sarah Day

A monster story set in a secondary fantasy world? Yeah, I’m already in. Day’s fantasy / horror novella is set in the world of the Couriers, transient messengers who travel freely in a land ruled by an organization called the Temple. Rhia is one of these Couriers and when she arrives in a village to deliver a message, she finds a community ravaged by a lack of water and haunted by a strange beast. The villagers call the monster greyhowler, but Rhia knows it as the lusus mendace, the predator of lies, a creature created by Temple Priests to hunt those who harbor lies in their hearts.

So Let Them Burn, by Kamilah Cole

To quote Tolkien: “It simply isn’t an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons.” Sure, the old man exaggerated a bit, but still, for me, the presence of dragons is always a plus, and Cole’s debut novel (the first book in her Divine Traitors series) has both dragons and dragon riders. It’s described as a Jamaican-inspired fantasy and it follows Faron Vincent, “a gods-blessed heroine who’s forced to choose between saving her sister or protecting her homeland.” Faron can channel the power of the gods and as a child she used that power to liberate her island from the dragon-riding Langley empire. Five years later, at age seventeen, Faron is a legend looking for a cause when an unexpected turn of events involving a dragon pits her against her own sister.

Voyage of the Damned, by Frances White

“Magical. Gay. Mystery. Cruise.” Those are the enticing keywords for this fantasy tale wrapped inside an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, where the role of Poirot/Miss Marple is taken by Ganymedes Piscero, “class clown, slacker, and all-round disappointment.” The fate of an empire hangs in the balance as the bodies pile up aboard an imperial ship, and as a lover of both fantasy and murder mysteries, my interest is certainly piqued. Also, White’s self-described signum as a writer is “humor and heartbreak” which sounds like an excellent combo for any fantasy-mystery tale.

Grasshands, by Kyle Winkler

A novel of “biblio-horror, body horror, and melancholic friendship”, where librarian Sylvia Hix finds a strange moss smothering the books in her library. Things only get worse, and weirder, when library patrons start eating the moss and losing their minds. Somehow, it’s all connected to a horrific creature from Sylvia’s childhood, and now she must stop this monster from destroying the books and the town’s mind. I am totally into the phrase “biblio-horror” (presumably, in this case, book and library horror), and I’m also intrigued by edible (?), mind-bending moss, and returning childhood monsters.

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    Exordia by Seth Dickinson

    This is one of the books I am most looking forward to reading in 2024, and I know for sure that I’m not the only person on the Psychopomp team (or elsewhere) who is looking forward to it. I mean, a new book by the author of the brilliant Baru Cormorant books and many, many superb short stories? Yes, please. In this science fiction novel from Dickinson, Anna Sinjari, “refugee, survivor of genocide, disaffected office worker,” encounters Ssrin, “a many-headed serpent alien who is on the run from her own past.” The two are inexorably drawn to each other while the fate of the world, even the universe itself, hangs in the balance. Faithful readers of Shimmer Magazine might feel a frisson of recognition, because this novel expands on the world and characters from Dickinson’s short story “Anna Saves Them All.

    Kindling – Stories, by Kathleen Jennings

    Jennings is a magical and multi-award-winning storyteller and illustrator (if you haven’t yet read her scintillating story “The Present Only Toucheth Thee” in Strange Horizons, then you should definitely check it out ASAP.)  In her short story collection, fantasy and folktales mingle: “Small fires start in the hearts of Kathleen Jennings’s characters and irresistibly spread to those around them. Journeys are taken, debts repaid, disguises put on, and lessons offered — although not often learned…” Included are 12 previously published stories, including “Undine Love,” and “The Heart of Owl Abbas.”

    Womb City, by Tlotlo Tsamaase

    The stunning cover for this book, featuring a “mind womb” (designed by artist Colin Verdi and designer Samira Iravani) was one of the reasons this book first caught my eye. (Tsamaase herself has expressed her appreciation for the artwork, calling it “a horror-hued poem”.) Inside that cover you’ll also find a kick-ass opening: “In our city, everyone lives forever. But murder hangs in the air like mist.” So yes, I am all in. Womb City is described as a “genre-bending Africanfuturist horror novel” and “an adrenaline-packed, cyberpunk body-hopping ghost story exploring motherhood, memory, and a woman’s right to her own body.” The book is set in a patriarchal surveillance state where invasive tech is used to monitor thoughts and lives, where babies can be grown in pods, and where a person’s consciousness can be transferred into a new, government-issued body.

    Faebound, by Saara El-Arifi

    This is the first book in a new fantasy trilogy by El-Arifi, and it follows two elven sisters who become imprisoned in the “intoxicating world of the fae, where danger and love lie in wait.” The sisters, the warrior Yeeran and the diviner Lettle, end up exiled from their elven homeland. In the wilderness, they encounter the fae court, a people and a place that have not been seen for a millennium and were thought to have disappeared from the world altogether. According to El-Arifi, the book draws on the Arabian and West African lore from her own heritage, and I am really looking forward to seeing how she twines together that lore with fae and elven fantasy.

    Bruises on a Butterfly, by Chad Lutzke

    Well, score one for the cover artist, Francois Vaillancourt, because the hauntingly beautiful cover art for this book caught my eye and put this book on my radar. The book itself is described as a “dark coming-of-age tale” that follows a young boy who runs away from an abusive home. He makes a new home for himself in the middle of a Michigan cornfield, but things turn dark and dangerous when “a cosmic discovery late one night warps reality into a mutating nightmare.” There’s body horror, tragedy, family trouble, and friendship shenanigans, with one reviewer describing it as “equal parts Stand by Me and X-Files” which sounds like a pretty awesome combo.

    The Book of Denial, by Ricardo Chávez Castañeda (author), Alejandro Magallanes (illustrator), Lawrence Schimel (translator)

    I went looking for this book after seeing it mentioned online, and after reading an excerpt of just a few pages, I cannot wait for the whole thing. The Book of Denial is written by Mexican author Ricardo Chávez Castañeda and is “a horror story and ghost story that is both daringly and beautifully told in word and image… that confronts the history of violence against children, and through its young narrator attempts to find a way out.” It might (somewhat simplistically) be described as a horror-picture book, where the writing is intimately intertwined with striking and profoundly evocative illustrations by Alejandro Magallanes. On every page, story and words blend with typography, art, and photos.

    The House of Last Resort, by Christopher Golden

    I love haunted house stories (who doesn’t?) and I also love stories where naïve outsiders end up in tiny little towns where the picturesque façade hides unspeakable horrors. Golden’s book is set in the beautiful but crumbling and half-empty Italian town of Becchina where abandoned houses are being sold to anyone in the world for a single Euro, as long as the buyer promises to live there for at least five years. Americans Tommy and Kate Puglisi can’t resist that offer, but once they move in, strange things start to happen. There are mysterious noises at night, they find rooms they didn’t know existed, and they learn that gruesome things once took place in the chapel. Even worse, something is stirring in the catacombs beneath the town. (Still, one Euro sounds like a pretty good deal for a house, right?)

    A Quantum Love Story, by Mike Chen

    Time loops and romance seem like a match made in heaven, or, in this case, in a particle accelerator. After her best friend dies, neuroscientist Mariana Pineda is ready to give up everything, even her career, but things don’t quite go the way she has planned. Mariana is on site for her final job at a top-secret particle accelerator when a mysterious man named Carter Cho approaches her. Carter somehow knows much more than he should about Mariana and tells her it’s because they’ve met before. In a flash, Mariana finds herself stuck in a time loop with Carter, reliving the same four days over and over, and with no way out unless they can find it together. Psychopomp writer Meg Elison recently reviewed this book for Scientific American, calling it an emotional novel thatcombines what is best about science fiction, mystery and romance.”