Earthrise, by M.C.A. Hogarth

In my quest to support indie sff authors, I discovered M.C.A Hogarth on Amazon and after reading a little about her work, decided to get the first in her “Her Instruments” series, called Earthrise.  Named for the ship that Reese purchased with her share of the family’s compound on Mars, the novel traces the adventures of Reese and her doughty crew as they attempt to save one of a species of long-lived and reclusive humanoids from vengeful and violent slavers.  What starts out as your run-of-the mill maguffin plots turns into quite something else, as Reese’s mental and physical health, combined with the interference of a mysterious benefactor, send the Earthrise off in directions Reese could never have anticipated.

The Earthrise itself is crewed by a feathery and fluffy cast of characters from all over known space, most of whom are genetically created species from when humans first began colonizing worlds other than Earth itself.  Though Reese at times displays discomfort with the overly affectionate ways of felinoid siblings Irine and Sascha, or the mysterious habits of Bryer, the phoenix, she is still loyal to her crew, and they to her.  This is a story of found family and what people will endure for each other.  Reese’s crew also numbers a Gleaseahn, a sort of gryphoid centaur, and a sentient fuzz ball who communicates telepathically–a Fliztbe–whom Reese calls Allacazam.

Earthrise starts out as your typical mcguffin plot, but it’s well-paced with some extra side plots and character development thrown in, making it not only entirely readable, but even bingeable.  Reese’s quest to make it as more than just another homemaker on Mars is compelling, and the tidbits thrown in about the matriarchal societies built through artificial insemination almost demand another series just for themselves.  The timelines are somewhat confusing, though, which distracts from the main conflict that develops after Reese accomplishes the original, seemingly innocuous, mcguffin plot and finds she and her crew are embroiled in something much deeper than a simple rescue mission.

Although there is no open romance in Earthrise, it is signposted as a romance series.  Probably, though the teambuilding story that pulls all the characters in Reese’s crew together is interesting and compelling enough to satisfy a reader for whom romance is not the biggest pull.

The Family Plot, by Cherie Priest

Dahlia Dutton approaches every salvage job like a transplant doctor determined to give sick people a second chance—with reverence for the gifts each decrepit house has to offer, each beautiful piece for which she finds a new home.  Dahlia knows each old house she has to take apart has a soul, a living presence. She just never expected the kind of presence she encounters in the old Withrow property, planted at the foot of the mountains just outside of Chattanooga.

Family secrets are always the worst kind, and on top of dealing with a creepy old house that alternately seems to want to kill her and protect her, Dahlia has to deal with her own family history and try to get as much salvage as she can in three days in order to save the family business from irretrievable debt.  Priest gets the interpersonal and supernatural tensions just right, strewing clues and false trails aplenty to keep the reader in suspense for the whole ride.

The setting is gorgeous and evocative, the premise one that can’t help but appeal to readers in an age of endlessly looping DIY and fixer-upper media.   Priest juxtaposes modern technology and family nostalgia in layer after layer that keeps the reader wondering what is the greater horror—a hundred year old secret or the ones that keep festering right below the surface of this seemingly easy-going family business in the here and now.

Anyone looking for a supernatural thriller should pick up The Family Plot immediately. The old house and family secrets elements are sure to appeal to anyone who loves gothic settings.  Readers who enjoy multiple levels of mystery and suspense will find much to love in this novel.

Fool’s Assassin, by Robin Hobb

Like
turning the page to the next chapter in a book, Fool’s Assassin gives readers the story of the next chapter in the
life of Fitzchivalry Farseer.  Dressed
in his finery and acting the lord of an estate, Fitz—or should we say Holder
Tom Badgerlock—is a fish out of water, practically gasping and flapping his way
through this new novel in Hobb’s Farseer world.  Having come back from the dead he’s finally been allowed to
settle down with his beloved Molly and try to live out his days in peace.  But the world soon catches up with him,
plunging him—and readers—into yet another epic series of intrigue and magic.

Told
primarily from Fitz’s point of view, the novel delves into the history and lore
of the Six Duchies, while the main plot of the novel is character-driven—Fitz
settling into a life, dealing with aging, fulfilling his role as master of the
estate he maintains for his daughter, Nettle, who is serving at court.  Though the novel reprises many of the
characters from Hobb’s previous novels set in this world, new readers won’t be
put off by starting with Fool’s Assassin,
as there is plenty of self-contained story and suspense even for those who
don’t know entire history already.

Hobb’s
choice of first-person narrative was a deft one, as much of the tension in the
novel is created by Fitz’s ability—or lack thereof—to run the estate and manage
his day-to-day relationships, contrasted with the obvious doubts of nearly
everyone around him about his abilities. 
The little things creep in around the edges of the story, giving the
reader clues to what will happen, and it is this juxtaposition between what the
reader can see and what Fitz can’t because he is so overwhelmed by his new life
and duties that creates the dramatic pull of the story.  Reconciliation is a major theme to this
novel, while family is what holds it together.  Hobb has set up great suspense and expectation for the next
installment in this new series.

Anyone
already in love with Hobb’s series from this world have probably already read
this by now, but if they haven’t can count on loving it.  Hobb’s ability to create tension and
great characters is alive and well and will pull in readers of epic
fantasy.  Readers looking for a
novel with teeth that exists within a thriving world will love Hobb’s writing
and world building.

Updraft, by Fran Wilde

Wilde’s debut novel, Updraft,
is a wild ride through a unique and compelling world of sky and wind and
danger.  Kirit Densira is preparing
for her final tests which will determine her path into adulthood, but there are
undercurrents to her life that threaten to push her over the edge and into a
world utterly different than anything she has known growing up.

In
the City, everyone lives on impossibly high towers above even the clouds, and
most people travel by flying from one tower to the other on carefully crafted
wings of silk and bone.  People
obey the laws and keep to their places, because that is what makes the City
strong and keeps people safe.  Updraft, beyond being a twisting
coming-of-age novel about a strong-willed young woman, is a well-crafted
interrogation of concepts of right and wrong, law, authority, and knowledge.  It brings to mind epic fantasy stories
in which evil is abetted by the silence and inaction of the just, while also
evoking the more freeform or complicated fantasy worlds created by writers like
N.K. Jemisin, K.J. Parker, or Ursula K. Le Guin.

Kirit’s
only desire is to be a trader like her mother, and it is regard for her mother
that sets her on her path, leading to laws breaking and worse, until she is
sucked into the very center of secrets she never could have imagined.  It is only through courage and a
willingness to understand the marginalized and powerless that Kirit is able to
help make changes.  Kirit is a
refreshingly unlikable character at times, seeming spoiled and impatient, but
she learns to find both her better self and to see through to the truth of her
world.  Updraft is a triumph not only of world building and storytelling,
but of empathy and family.  Updraft takes the best of heroic stories
like The Lord of the Rings and
tempers their oppressive focus on honor and goodness with a realism and
pragmatism that is at times visceral. 
The reader encounters many characters, but all of them are well-realized
and never feel as though they have been created just to advance the plot.  Everything has weight in this novel,
even the smallest of characters and actions.

Updraft is a fast-paced story that will
appeal to readers of fantasy looking for unique plot and world building.  Though the “deep secrets revealed”
narrative form is recognizable, Wilde’s characterization and relationships are
compelling enough to spark new life into an oft-used form and keep readers
interested from beginning to end.  Updraft is the kind of fantasy novel
that is satisfying as a standalone, but also makes one wish for a sequel to
delve deeper into this fascinating world and history.