Book Expo America, or BEA, is the largest trade book fair in North America, which means that pretty much every single publisher in the U.S. (plus many from overseas) converge on the universally loathed Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City for one brief, packed week of buzz about books.
Last week, I joined the thousands of footsore book enthusiasts making the long walk from 8th Avenue to the Javitz Center, in search of this fall’s big trends in fantasy literature. Here’s what I discovered:
1. Zombies: They Just Keep Coming Back
Zombies may be much less alluring than vampires (all that rotting flesh is kind of a turn-off), but this fall, they’re poised to take over the world.
In September, Ace Books’ leads off with Dust by Joan Frances Turner, written from the first person perspective of a girl who died nine years ago in a car crash and came back as a zombie. Most zombie novels are told from the perspective of humans fleeing the horde, so this book delivers a twist from the get-go: See what it really feels like to be undead.
Not to be outdone, Orbit launches a series called Living With the Dead by Jesse Petersen. Book 1, Married With Zombies (coming in September), follows a married couple on the verge of divorce whose marriage counselor turns out to be a zombie. The follow-up, Flip This Zombie, comes out in January 2011. According to the catalog copy, “the couple that slays together, stays together.” Cue laugh track.
Building on their success with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, tiny (and eccentric) publisher Quirk Books will publish Night of the Living Trekkies by Kevin Anderson and Sam Stall in September. The story follows a group of Trekkies, dressed as their favorite characters, at a Star Trek convention that is attacked by a horde of zombies. You know you want to read it.
The young adult market also has zombie fever. In September, look for Zombies Vs. Unicorns (Simon & Schuster) edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier; it’s a collection of short stories about, you guessed it, zombies and unicorns. In October, Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin (Simon & Schuster) tells the story of a teenager growing up in a zombie-infested America.
2. Steampunk: When Victorian Machines Attack
Another trend in fantasy this fall is steampunk — a growing genre (and subculture) in which Victorian-era machines and technology (you know, steam-powered stuff) intersect with magic. Think Sherlock Holmes (the recent movie starring Robert Downey, Jr.), and add something paranormal: magicians, vampires, etc.
Cherie Priest’s Dreadnought (Tor), the follow-up to her Boneshaker (which featured zombies, by the way), comes out this September. In October, Felix Gilman’s The Half-Made World (Tor) reimagines the American West as a fantasy epic.
And in the YA category, two much-anticipated steampunk adventures await. Cassandra Clare’s The Clockwork Angel, the first in a companion series to her bestselling Mortal Instruments (Simon & Schuster), comes out in August. And Scott Westerfeld’s Behemoth, the sequel to Leviathan, comes out in October.
3. Young Adult: Teens Have All the Fun
As you may have noticed, YA is everywhere in fantasy this season. One of the most interesting things I noticed at BEA was the fact that all the big buzz books were YA — there was a distinct lack of buzz in the adult fantasy genre.
Within the YA category, the biggest fantasy releases are all about angels. I don’t mean sparkly, happy angels with white wings; no, I mean fallen angels. Who become your extremely sexy boyfriend. For example, there’s Torment by Lauren Kate (Random House, Sept. 2010), the sequel to Fallen (fallen angels in reform school). And there’s Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick (Simon & Schuster, Nov. 2010), the sequel to her bestelling Hush, Hush (fallen angels in the country). Alexandra Adornetto’s Halo (Feiwel & Friends, Aug. 2010) features a girl angel instead of a boy.
Not into angels? Firelight by Sophie Jordan (HarperTeen, Sept. 2010) is about a girl who can shapeshift into a dragon, and “her dangerous romance with the boy whose family hunts her” (according to the publisher). And then there’s Paranormalcy (HarperTeen, Oct. 2010), about an otherwise normal girl who works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency. Oh yeah; her ex-boyfriend is a fairy and she’s falling in love with a shapeshifter.
Most of the lead YA titles appear to be chasing the popularity of Twilight, but the jury is out on whether angels, even fallen ones, can defeat vampires.
4. High Fantasy: Kind of at a Low Point
Despite the fact that the penultimate novel of Robert Jordan’s monumental Wheel of Time series is coming out this fall — Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor, Oct. 2010) — there was mighty little buzz about traditional high fantasy at this year’s BEA. In fact, during my time on the show floor, I couldn’t even find representatives from two of the major genre publishers, Tor and Del Rey. (Admittedly, everyone agreed that this year BEA was much smaller than in the past, and limited to two days instead of three.)
That said, HBO’s upcoming adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones may be poised to inject some buzz into the high fantasy genre. And even though publishers weren’t pushing big fantasy epics this fall, their catalogs still contain them — from Tad Williams‘ Shadowheart (Daw, Nov. 2010) to the Black Library’s Warhammer books, which continue to sell epic fantasy mayhem around the world.
5. The Bottom Line: Fantasy is Crossing Genres
For me, the biggest takeaway from BEA regarding fantasy is this: Buzz happens to books that cross genres. Fantasy + Horror = Zombies. Fantasy + History + Early Tech = Steampunk. Fantasy + Romance = Paranormal Romance.
It’s no wonder that YA tends to generate some of the biggest buzz, because YA crosses genres all the time. Like steampunk or paranormal romance, it gives readers who might not otherwise read “fantasy” a number of hooks to grab onto.
What fantasy novels are you looking forward to this year? And can anyone really stop the zombie apocalypse?
Malinda Lo is the author of the Lambda-nominated teen fantasy novel Ash. Visit her website.
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