Book World: Best science fiction and fantasy books to read in February

Kameron Hurley has done it: She’s written a true space opera with no men in it. The world she’s created in “The Stars Are Legion”(Saga) is starkly female. The ships are reminiscent of wombs, and women become pregnant not only with babies but with the things their ships need. The novel opens with Zan, a warrior who wakes up without her memories. Ship-worlds – many of them dying – are hovering in space. The people who say they are Zan’s sisters and country(wo)men insist that she is the only one who can keep their ship alive, but Zan has a growing sense that she’s been manipulated. Meanwhile, one of her alleged sisters allies herself with an enemy who is rumored to have the ability to birth ships. Zan’s journey takes her from the stars to the very underbelly of her world, where she meets a cast of strange and sometimes grotesque people. Zan learns not only who she is but how to trust again. In a genre filled with generic portrayals of space, Hurley’s take is one-of-a-kind: equal parts love story and revenge tale, mixed with adventure science fiction and body horror.

Vic James’ dystopian novel “Gilded Cage” (Del Rey) follows a family as it enters what is known as slavedays, a mandated service of 10 years to Britain’s ruling class, who have magical powers. Abi, the family’s resourceful and responsible eldest daughter, manages to win a coveted slavedays placement for her family as servants for an aristocratic family. But despite her careful planning, the family is separated and Abi’s younger brother, Luke, is sent to a brutal slavetown to do hard labor. The plot follows the fates of Luke and Abi, but more intriguing is the politicking between the aristocrats as they duel for power using causes such as abolitionism; the historical parallels are too delicious to ignore. The characters who stand out most are the dark and powerful young Silyen, and the politically savvy Bouda. Their stories flesh out the world around them, and as their goals start to conflict with one another, one can’t help but anticipate the next novel in the series.

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“Idle Ingredients”(Tor), the latest installment in Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour series, follows the employees of a catering company that work events for the denizens of Hell. They work to cater a variety of political rallies because it’s election season in Hell (not at all to be confused with the real world). Sin du Jour comes under new management after a violent Christmas party involving Santa Claus, and immediately, all the men become incapacitated by a mysterious force. It’s up to Sin du Jour’s tough and wisecracking women to snap them out of it. Wallace often falls into some eye-roll worthy tropes – all hot powerful women apparently wear stilettos from one of three brands. But, the book is hilarious, raucous – and leaves you literally hungry.

Mason reviews science fiction and fantasy every month for The Washington Post. You can see all the books she’s reading on Goodreads.