A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain
By Adrianne Harun. Penguin Books, 272 pages, $18
Though it sounds fantastical – straight out of high fantasy – the Highway of Tears is a very real place: an 800-kilometre stretch of road between Prince Rupert and Prince George in B.C., where somewhere between 18 and 43 young women (many of them aboriginal) have disappeared or been murdered. Like the Robert Pickton murders in Port Coquitlam or Vancouver's ever-increasing number of missing women, these cases were often only perfunctorily investigated by the authorities. This lack of interest is at first shared by Leo Kreutzer and his four friends in A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain, which is set in a dying logging town very close to that infamous stretch of asphalt. Said town is already filled with familiar evil: crushing poverty, exploitation and violent drug dealers. However, when a pair of strangers arrive in town and the community begins to grapple more deeply with the disappearances along the highway, the grim realism of this book begins to give way to the magical. As Leo tries to make sense of an increasingly hostile world by writing down stories told to him by a dying uncle, it becomes apparent that Leo and his community may be contending with actual devils. Intertwining with real-world pain and loss, this debut novel gains an extra sense of risk and realism, pitting ordinary, human evil against supernatural wickedness.
The Iron Wolves
By Andy Remic. Angry Robot, 455 pages, $9.99
There's no question that the first book in Andy Remic's new cycle, The Rage of Kings, is familiar, even formulaic in structure, complete with a group of mismatched companions, an epic quest, unfathomable evil and numerous battles. This is a "getting the band back together" tale, with swords rather than guitars: the venerable General Dalgoran comes out of retirement to do battle with a new threat – the evil machinations of the sorceress Orlana the Changer – and decides to assemble the great heroes who fought with him decades before in the glory days of his career. His former companions have become disillusioned, decrepit and depraved, to varying degrees, over the intervening years, allowing the narrative wallow in the darker pools of the "grimdark" and antiheroic. Orlana, in fact, has some work to do to remind the reader that she's the villain, and so her evil becomes positively operative in its grand strokes. The violence (and there is a great deal of it) is described with both precision and joy, making every head-butt and arterial spray artful. If hideous flesh sculptures, gratuitous fight scenes, vivisection and narratives told only in the darkest shades of grey and dripping red sound appealing, you could do much worse for your reading pleasure than The Iron Wolves.
A Darkling Sea
By James L. Cambias. Tor Books, 352 pages, $29.99
The icy planet Ilmatar – the primary setting for James L. Cambias's debut, A Darkling Sea – isn't dissimilar to Antarctica, and human explorers begin to investigate its underwater ecosystems in much the same way: drilling through hundreds of meters of ice to whatever is below. Where human scientists found microbial life in the sub-glacial waters of Antarctic lakes, on fictional Ilmatar, the Terran explorers find a lobster-like intelligent race, the Ilmatarans, who navigate by sonar and are completely unaware that anything exists beyond the ice above them. Human explorers are under strict no-contact rules issued by the Sholen, a multi-limbed, advanced race that have declared themselves the hall monitors of the known universe and are determined to save humanity from making the same mistakes they did in their early space explorations. When one of the explorers – a vaguely Steve Irwin-like character with an adventure show – gets far too close to the Ilmatarans and winds up dissected, the Sholen show up and a three-way conflict begins to boil. With vivid descriptions of aquatic guerrilla warfare, bizarre social and political incompatibilities between species, and realistic portrayals of power structures on an interstellar scale, A Darkling Sea strikes a great balance between Jacques Cousteau and Star Trek.