The Actual Star by Monica Byrne (Voyager, £20)
In her second novel, Byrne braids together three storylines, each set a thousand years apart. The final days of 1012 are depicted through the experiences of three royal siblings in the early post-classical Mayan era; in December 2012, Leah, a 19-year-old mixed race American, makes the journey of a lifetime to Belize; and in 3012, as the last of the icecaps disappear, the end of the diluvian age is celebrated all over the world. The entire population has been reduced to around 8 million, most of whom are always on the move and own no more than they can carry. A way of life forced on climate refugees has become the guiding philosophy of near-universal religion LaViaja, credited to Saint Leah, believed to have been the first person to reach Xibalba, the mystical world beyond this one. This is an incredibly ambitious and thought-provoking work.
Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson (Borough, £20)
Stephenson opens about 10 years in the future, on a day when the air in Houston is too hot to support planes. This means the private jet flown by the queen of the Netherlands must be diverted, causing some unexpectedly helpful additions to her entourage on the way to a meeting with a Texas billionaire who has a radical plan to cool the planet. How it could work, how it does work, why not everyone is pleased by this privately financed feat of geoengineering and how they might foil it comprises the plot. As usual, Stephenson writes at length and in detail about everyone and everything. At its best, his style creates an immersive depth, but sometimes it goes too far; as his Dutch queen would agree, when she has tidal surges “explained to her at a level of detail that would have rendered most royals catatonic”. But such moments are the exception in an absorbing speculative fiction about our climate crisis.
The Book of Sand by Theo Clare (Century, £12.99)
A small group of people find themselves in a dangerous desert world, where they are told that their only hope of survival is to treat each other as family. They are tasked with searching through a string of deserted cities for “the Sarkpont” that will allow them to escape. Failure means a terrible death inflicted by terrifying creatures they call the Djinn. Their story alternates with that of 17-year-old McKenzie, an American high school student obsessed by weather patterns and deserts, who begins to question everything she thought she knew. The two strands eventually come together in a way that is both shocking and satisfying. Theo Clare is a pseudonym for the thriller author Mo Hayder: she completed the first two novels in a planned series before her death last July from motor neurone disease. Hayder’s books were memorably disturbing studies of violence, but here she offers something more positive. Yes, there is constant danger, and the characters have to fight to survive, but the joys to be found in friendship and the power of mutual support are themes running through this compelling, absorbingly different quest fantasy.
Hare House by Sally Hinchcliffe (Mantle, £14.99)
The unnamed narrator of this modern gothic begins her story with the accidental killing of a hare. The creature’s significance will be clear to anyone familiar with legends of shape-shifting witches, and sets the tone for Hinchcliffe’s eerie and subtle second novel. The narrator, formerly a teacher in London, looks forward to peaceful solitude in the small cottage she has rented on a remote Scottish estate. But much as she enjoys her solitary explorations of the beautiful countryside, she is plagued by the sour, disapproving woman in the adjoining cottage, and irresistibly drawn to the big house, where her handsome landlord lives with his troubled young sister. Tension mounts after a heavy snowstorm downs power lines and closes roads. This deliciously chilly tale dodges the expected outcome and maintains a delicate balance between psychology and witchcraft right to its disturbing end.
The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A Lee Martinez (Jo Fletcher, £8.99)
For 27 years Constance Verity has led a life of fantastic adventure, solving crimes, uncovering conspiracies, saving lives, even travelling through time and space. But she’s fed up now, and wants nothing more than a normal life, a regular boyfriend and even a boring job. She decides to track down the fairy godmother whose gift set the course of her life and force her to undo the spell. Of course this is no easy task, with danger round every corner, but she’s never failed yet. This very funny, enjoyable fantasy from 2016 is being published for the first time in Britain along with a sequel, Constance Verity Saves the World. A film adaptation is in the works.