The This by Adam Roberts (Gollancz, £16.99)
Imagine a social media app implanted in the roof of the mouth for more immersive connectivity. This one small step turns out to be a giant leap in human evolution, a sort of telepathy that brings everyone together as parts of one vast, gestalt consciousness. But is that really such a great idea? Roberts takes a classic trope of speculative fiction, combines it with current preoccupations and views the whole in the context of religious belief and Hegelian philosophy. The result is dazzlingly inventive, exciting, funny and addictively readable.
All the White Spaces by ally wilkes (Titan, £8.99)
This impressive debut is a vivid, immersive tale about a fictional British expedition to the Antarctic in 1919-20 – classic territory, but with a transgender perspective. The narrator is a teenage stowaway aiming to leave life as a girl behind, and begin again as Jonathan Morgan. This point of view effectively defamiliarises the standard narrative, as well as adding a layer of suspense, making for a gripping read. On top of that (although it comes halfway through the book) is the element of supernatural horror. Here, too, the author excels, creating a new sort of ghost story in the empty, icy wastes.
The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield (Harper Voyager, £14.99)
In 18th-century Europe, two little girls discover a hidden spellbook. By the time they are sent away to take up their roles as wives to foreign princes, the sisters are determined to become magisters, and use their secret powers for the good of their people. One, the new queen of Naples, achieves acceptance as the first female member of the local secret order, which jealously guards this hidden knowledge. The other, now known as Marie Antoinette, casts her lot with the people, and the rogue magisters. Heartfield has clearly done her research on her; the many historical figures who make up the cast of characters are depicted in convincing detail. The age of reason was also an age of secret societies, alchemists and self-styled magicians. In this absorbing novel, magic is a field of study like chemistry, but to do it takes considerable sacrifices, both physical and emotional. Focusing on two of the most famous and highly placed women in the late 18th century, Heartfield sustains a fine balance between history and fantasy.
The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews (Raven, £14.99)
There are so many literary historical novels that cross the border into supernatural fantasy that they are almost a genre in themselves: this haunting debut is a fine example. The plot is as surprising and sinuously twisting as the legendary sea monster of its title. In addition to the biblical references to this mysterious, powerful beast, Hobbes’s Leviathan points to a political subtext. Thomas Treadwell, an unwilling soldier in the English civil war, finds more trouble waiting for him at home, his father felled by a stroke and his sister de el accusing their servant of witchcraft. He considers himself a rational man, but reason alone can’t deal with a mounting death toll, and he’s forced to go for help to a distant kinsman, the poet John Milton, who eventually reveals the terrible choice he must make. More than just an entertaining fantasy, the novel offers a lesson about the importance of accepting responsibility.
echo by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99)
The long-awaited new novel from the Dutch author of Hex is an ambitious, capable work referencing books by Shirley Jackson, Clive Barker, HP Lovecraft and other gothic classics. The story, which circles around the mystery of a climbing accident in the Swiss Alps, is related through a variety of manuscripts, reports, notes and recordings, most narrated by the American Sam Avery and his Dutch husband, Nick Grevers, who claims amnesia about the disappearance of his climbing partner and the accident that sheared off half of his own face. It’s a long, rambling tale, containing everything from psychological suspense to cosmic horror. With moments of wonder as well as terror, it looks likely to be one of the highlights of this year’s horror scene.
They by Kay Dick (Faber, £8.99)
“They” are those who distrust imagination and individuality, think books and art should be destroyed, approve of television and social housing… This “lost masterpiece” was originally published in 1977. Although there is a cool, sinister edge to the stories, they don’t add up to much; the persecuted artists are a bit too self-righteous (and privileged), and the book shows its age. Ray Bradbury’s still-relevant Fahrenheit 451 is a much more consistent treatment of the theme.