The Magic (and Malaise) of Families

New novels by Fonda Lee, Martha Wells, Nick Harkaway, Kelly Link and Emma Törzs. + Credit…Adolfo Redaño Here are five extraordinary books about families — chosen, imposed or estranged — and the astonishing array of skills required to secure or survive them. Fonda Lee’s UNTETHERED SKY (Tordotcom, 152 pp., $22.99) combines falconry and ancient Persian mythology into a short, stand-alone fantasy. In Dartha, man-eating monsters called manticores stalk the countryside, insatiable and unstoppable — except by rocs, gigantic birds of prey. The people of Dartha have learned to defend themselves by capturing fledgling rocs and training them in the Royal Mews to hunt manticores reliably. Called ruhkers, these trainers live strange, obsessed lives devoted to rearing their rocs in a ferocious and mutually beneficial partnership. “Untethered Sky” is the story of Ester, a ruhker, recalling the training of her first roc, Zahra. Having lost her family to a manticore attack, Ester throws herself into her work, developing close, fervent relationships with her roc, her fellow ruhkers — and no one else. Not even the prince who takes an interest in ruhking and decides to market it to a wider audience. Like a hunt, the book has a tense and stalking pace, circling a distant tragedy before closing in for the kill. At the heart of the story is Ester’s knowledge that she has dedicated her life to a creature whose mind she can’t know and whose love she can’t earn, but whose power she nevertheless depends on for survival every day. Whereas Lee’s Green Bone Saga was a sprawling trilogy rooted in the intricacies of a contemporary city-state, here she produces gripping action set in vast spaces writ as clean and spare as a dry bone, and the result is tremendous. Reversing that trajectory, Martha Wells has followed up her best-selling series of Murderbot novellas with a return to full-length, epic fantasy. WITCH KING (Tordotcom, $28.99, 414 pp.) , a deeply immersive throwback to a beloved (and for me, foundational) species of 1990s fantasy doorstop, is full of cataclysmic intrigues between mostly immortal families, complete with map and dramatis […]

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