Danny Tobey’s second novel, The God Game (Gollancz, £16.99), is a fast-paced satirical techno-thriller examining the fault lines of morality within a group of five Texan teenagers. Grieving the death of his mother and negotiating a fraught relationship with his father, 17-year-old Charlie finds himself drawn into a dangerously compelling online game with a controller that calls itself God. Charlie and his nerdish friends become the playthings of an artificial intelligence that sends them out on missions in the real world. Tempting them with cash and other rewards, the AI gradually inveigles the group into committing morally dubious acts, leading to betrayal and even the threat of death. Tobey brilliantly captures the immersive, claustrophobic atmosphere of the malign game and its addictive allure for a collection of flawed and needy characters. Slick, pared-down prose and short chapters propel the reader towards a disturbing climax.

A sequel to the Factory Girl trilogy, Stephen Palmer’s The Conscientious Objector (Infinity Plus, £11.99) is a thought-provoking and thoroughly offbeat alternative history of the first world war. The action takes place on a very different western front, featuring armies supported by legions of clockwork automata and watched over by the enigmatic golden angels of Mons. Among other weird and wonderful elements we find a magical race of Amazon-like women living on a remote European mountaintop, a team of eccentric German scientists using robot eugenics to develop the next super-race of automata, and an alternative Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Stunningly inventive, and striking a delicate balance between outre fantasy and a respectful exploration of its source material, the novel charts the poignant relationship between young lovers thrown together in the thick of an awful war, where loyalties are never clearcut and fates are in doubt until the final pages.

At first sight everything about Kel Kade’s Fate of the Fallen (Tor, £19.99) screams cliche, from the cover illustration to the novel’s premise (the Chosen One must embark upon a quest, battling gods, witches and zombies to save the world from destruction). What lifts it above run-of-the-mill epic fantasy is Kade’s sense of humour and her subversion of these stereotypes, as the book develops into a meandering picaresque through a well-drawn medieval world. Aaslo, a likable and unassuming forester who has always lived in the shadow of his friend, is accompanied by a gallimaufry of magical characters on a quest that seems doomed to failure. The author’s mischievous imagination conjures many delights, including a talking severed head in a burlap bag and Dolt, a winningly wilful horse. Kade springs surprises and unexpected reversals of fortune aplenty, injecting refreshing levity into this dark subgenre.

Gareth Hanrahan’s The Shadow Saint (Orbit, £8.99), the sequel to his well-received debut The Gutter Prayer, is yet another epic fantasy featuring a weapon-wielding warrior, an array of vengeful gods and a cast of disparate characters on a quest. And, like Kade, Hanrahan brings a welcome freshness and vitality to this overworked genre: the novel boasts some beautiful, muscular prose, three-dimensional characters – both heroes and villains – and a thrilling, labyrinthine plot landmined with explosive twists and complications. Following the Crisis, an alchemical armageddon that transformed the city of Guerdon, citizens face the imminent vengeance of the gods. Political activist Eladora Duttin (from the first book) and a cast of new characters face a rumoured super-weapon. The novel follows the city’s competing factions as they search for the weapon, and the complex religious and political machinations culminate in a rousing finale. The Shadow Saint is a standalone, but will be better appreciated if read after the first book in the Black Iron Legacy trilogy.

Following the four novels in the Long War series, AJ Smith embarks on another convincing, minutely detailed fantasy series with the first book in the Form and Void series, The Glass Breaks (Head of Zeus, £8.99). The setting is the kingdom of the Four Claws and the island of Nibonay, where pirates known as the Sea Wolves –who are adept at a form of magic called the wyrd – have ruled for almost 170 years. Now that stranglehold is threatened by antagonists from another dimension. Pitched against the threat are mismatched protagonists Duncan Greenfire, weakling son of a Sea Wolves chieftain, and ebullient sword-wielding warrior Adeline Brand. Their adventures against otherworldly foes make for an absorbing novel that combines convincing action sequences, vivid world-building and fascinating magic. Best described as George RR Martin meets HP Lovecraft, The Glass Breaks is a fine example of British fantasy writing at its most entertaining.

Eric Brown’s Murder Served Cold is published by Severn House.


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