Ordinary Monsters by JM Miro (Bloomsbury, £17.99)
A Mississippi boy whose wounds miraculously heal after each beating; a girl in Tokyo who entertains her sister by summoning dust clouds and making them dance; a baby in England who shines with a mysterious blue light: these are among the orphans whose talents have designated them to be “collected” by the doctor who runs a mysterious institution on the edge of a Scottish loch. What purpose? This, and the origins of the terrifying characters who attempt to destroy the “Talents”, are questions gradually resolved in this ambitious dark fantasy, the first of a projected series. A complex, often gruesome tale told through multiple viewpoints and in different settings between 1874 and 1882, it’s an enthralling read.
In the heart of hidden things by Kit Whitfield (Jo Fletcher, £20)
Whitfield’s 2006 debut, Bareback, was an original version of werewolves; In Great Waters, an alternate history of Europe, featured seafarers. More than a decade later, his third novel draws on traditional folk tales to examine the strained relationship between humans and beings. delicate and dangerous sometimes called fairies. It’s set in the imaginary village of Gyrford, where generations of blacksmiths have served as farriers, which in this case doesn’t just mean shoeing horses, but making iron charms to protect themselves and advise on the best ways to deal with “good neighbours”. Gruff Jedediah Smith, his powerful and sensitive son Matthew, Matthew’s beloved wife, Janet, and their boy, John – who worries them all with his unorthodox behavior – are endearing and believable characters who pull us into a world of wandering, ghostly bramble bushes, fire-breathing dogs. So many fantasies are about isolated individuals who leave their homes to seek their destiny; this one stands out for its portrayal of a family deeply connected to a community, helping those most in need, no matter the danger to themselves.
The Sanctuary by Andrew Hunter Murray (Hutchinson, £14.99)
Ben’s fiancée, Cara, has been away for six months working for a wealthy philanthropist on her private island, and writes that she has decided not to return: “This is the most important place in the world. ” Unable to reach her by telephone – “Pemberley Island was almost completely cut off from the world” – he embarks on an arduous journey that nearly kills him. Eventually, he is offered the chance to join the enthusiastic inhabitants of Sanctuary Rock, who have made it an apparent paradise; not just a self-sufficient refuge for the few, it promises scientific advances that could prevent global destruction. But Ben senses a terrible secret lurks beneath the romance and sneaks around looking for clues. The novel is set in a decaying world beset by floods and mass extinctions, where the wealthy live in protected villages designed by Pemberley, the man who now claims to have a plan to save the world. Ben acts like a jerk and the plot relies on a certain amount of contrived suspense, but it’s a well-written, thought-provoking tale about aging societies and wealth inequality, with an effective ending.
The Splendid City by Karen Heuler (Angry Robot, £9.99)
Texas seceded from the United States and named itself Liberty, governed by a president who gives the people what they want: daily parades, free nougat and lots of surprises. Even being approached by a big talking cat named Stan doesn’t seem too surprising to most citizens; maybe he really is a man with a strange skin disease? Eleanor, a young witch from the East, knows more about Stan’s background than she cares to admit. She was banished to Liberty and forced to share a home with this annoying creature as penance for abusing a magic spell. She aspires to be good witch. Maybe if she can prove her worth by helping the local clan find a missing member, she’ll be allowed to return home – with or without Stan. Sharp, lively and funny contemporary fantasy with the feel of an updated, more grown-up version of L Frank Baum’s Oz books.
Scattered all over the earth by Yoko Tawadatranslated by Margaret Mitsutani (Granta, £12.99)
While studying abroad, Hiruko suddenly discovers that she can no longer return home, as Japan has disappeared, presumably under rising seas – although no one seems quite sure. Unable to extend her visa, she becomes a refugee, moving from one country to another. Seeing her on television, Danish linguistics student Knut is charmed by the pan-Scandinavian dialect invented by Hiruko, Panska, and, because he is so drawn to her, and in the hope of learning more about her ability to communicate across borders, he offers to help her find other surviving native speakers of Japanese. They fly to Trieste where an umami festival is to be held: but even the sushi chefs who look like anime heroes are not necessarily Japanese. Tawada writes lightheartedly on serious subjects in this memorable and magical tale.