Peter F. Hamilton's grand Void series spanned tens of thousands of pages and many books suitable for light weightlifting. Though his "Great North Road" (Del Rey, $30, 951 pages) can also contribute to overall fitness levels, it is a self-contained work.
Hamilton's overarching concerns are several -- including environmentalism and the dangers of corporate decision-making, to name just two. But framing the book is a murder investigation in Newcastle in the year 2143.
Despite that future date, police work is still police work, and people are still people (which was true in the Void series, as well), so there's much that's comparable to the 21st century. Hamilton, as one would expect, draws several compelling characters, and the mystery keeps the mental gears turning.
Still, "Great North Road" is not a complete success; there are some inexplicable sacrifices and holes in the plot. (The avenging monster could have taken care of all the good guys at one time, for example, rather than picking them off one by one.)
Nonetheless, "Great North Road" is a fun read, and one of those books that makes you glad it's got a lot of pages. If the finish isn't quite as strong as the start, well that's a nitpick.
I admit the cover's pretty cheesy, but "Queen's Hunt" by Beth Bernobich (Tor, $24.99, 332 pages) still deserves attention. It's Book 2 in a series that began with "Passion Play," and it's a typical pre-industrial fantasy with magic and paranormal powers. But just as with "Passion Play," Bernobich transcends the familiar formula with strong characterizations, a complex plot and solid writing.
Also on the positive side, "Queen's Hunt" is a more or less complete book, rather than the usual Vol. 2, which simply digs the protagonists deeper and deeper into a hole that the author won't let them start climbing out of until midway through Book 3. There is some stretching of one's suspension of disbelief, but Bernobich manages to mix romance, adventure and political maneuvering into a coherent, entertaining narrative. As fantasy readers know so well, that's easier said than done.
"Whispers Under Ground" by Ben Aaronovitch (Del Rey, $7.99, 303 pages) is the author's third book about Constable Peter Grant, who works in the generally derided paranormal department of the London police, but does so with a cheeky charm and a knack for getting in trouble.
"Whispers" isn't quite as snappy as "Midnight Riot" and "Moon Over Soho," but it's still a fun read, despite the violence. It's also a welcome change from the deeply depressing dystopic novels that usually land in my mailbox.
If you haven't sampled this series yet but consider modern police work, actual magic (with Latin formulas that are hard to learn) and a mythic underpinning to a modern metropolis a good mix, you should definitely start with the first installment, "Midnight Riot."
"Bowl of Heaven" by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven (Tor, $25.99, 412 pages). I just don't understand why a respected publishing house like Tor misleads consumers into buying a book without mentioning anywhere on the jacket that it's the first of a series. What's the point? Do they think that fooling readers will build customer loyalty? Or do they just not care that the investment from a buyer triples when it's a trilogy?
And in any event, this Benford/Niven collaboration is essentially "Ringworld 2.0," except it's not nearly as good as "Ringworld." "Bowl" has cardboard characters (both human and alien), lots of fanciful technology and a couple of secrets that won't be revealed until Book 3, when the parted lovers finally reunite. (Yes, that's just a guess, but I'm pretty sure it's a safe guess.)
If Tor had made clear this was a trilogy, I would have advised waiting until at least Book 2 before jumping in. But corporate greed angers me, so on general principle I'm going with a check-it-out-of-the-library recommendation.
Clay Kallam's "Other Worlds" column is published here monthly. Contact him at email@example.com.