If you’re looking for a read that will both challenge and entertain, then the five modern works of fiction included in this roundup should be right up your alley. From rampaging gamers to mysterious blue lights in the sky to spies with various levels of success, these novels all offer unique insights into our world and the people who dwell upon it.
We Are Watching Eliza Bright
by A.E. Osworth
Grand Central Publishing, 416 pages, $25.76
In an unflinching portrayal of fan culture and the pervasive techy zeitgeist, A.E. Osworth’s We Are Watching Eliza Bright follows the eponymous Eliza Bright as she navigates the male-dominated world of video game coding. As an elite coder for Fancy Dog Games, Eliza should be living the dream, but in reality she’s facing hostility and sabotage from both male colleagues and overly dedicated male fans of the game she’s working on. When the company casually dismisses her formal complaint about her treatment, Eliza turns to a journalist for help, only to find her story plastered across the internet. Having lost her job and been doxxed, Eliza is pursued by an incensed community of deluded gamers both online and in the real world, although she also becomes a figure for women from all walks of life to rally behind. Scared and unsure who she can trust, Eliza seeks refuge with the Sixsterhood, a secretive collective that might just have the power to save her from the gamers. As both the members of the Sixsterhood and the keyboard warriors of Reddit watch on, Eliza finds herself embroiled in a dangerous game of cat and mouse that might ultimately prove the death of her.
The Stars Are Not Yet Bells: A Novel
by Hannah Lillith
Assadi, Riverhead Books, 240 pages, $25.00
Generations of people have been drawn to the mysterious island of Lyra, which is located off the coast of Georgia, by the strange blue lights that appear over the water. There are also rumors of rare and valuable mineral rocks distributed beneath its surface. Enchanted by the mystery and hoping to make their fortune, Simon and Elle Ranier decide to move to Lyra from New York City while World War Two rages in Europe. They remain on the island for decades, raising a family as they continuously search for the source of the blue lights. After fifty years of living on Lyra, Elle looks back over her life and, in the increasingly rare lucid moments in which she is free from the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, ponders on the real meaning of a secret she has long kept buried. She wonders how her family was able to survive so long despite Simon being unable to locate and exploit either the blue lights or the rumored mineral rocks. She also wonders what happened to Gabriel, the handsome man who accompanied them to the island and was willing to risk everything to find the source of the lights. The Stars Are Not Yet Bells by Hannah Lillith Assadi is a splendid tale of love surviving against the odds and the human need to pursue the mysterious.
by Grégoire Courtois
Coach House Books, 224 pages, $17.95
In the alarmingly dystopian world of Grégoire Courtois’ The Agents, the agents in question don’t know who they’re working for or why, although they manage to keep extremely busy watching never-ending data feeds from the relative safety of their cubicles in a massive tower block. On the empty floors of the block, bands of rival agents fight to the death, and the only way to escape the endless cycle is suicide. Among all this madness, a disparate group of individuals are doing what they can to survive while avoiding becoming too enmeshed in the agenting: Theodore has amputated his toes and so must now maintain a thirty-degree angle in order to stay upright; Solveig has found herself to be pregnant, even though the agents don’t typically have sex; Lazlo has a passion for art that his work as an agent can’t diminish; Clara has given in to despair and the desire to self-harm; and newcomer Hick has somehow carved out a happy and strategically important niche for himself. As the battle for the block’s territory heats up, none of the agents are sure if they will survive or, even, if they really want to.
The Torqued Man: A Novel
by Peter Mann
Harper, 384 pages, $26.99
In September 1945, with World War Two having finally drawn to a close, two manuscripts are discovered amidst the ruins of Berlin, two different accounts of the life of an Irish spy during the war. One of the manuscripts is a journal kept by Adrian de Groot, a secret anti-Nazi and a reluctant German military intelligence officer. In it, he charts his relationship with Irishman Frank Pike, his agent, friend, and occasional lover. According to de Groot, Pike is an IRA operative who was released from prison in Spain in order to assist with the German invasion of Great Britain, although he never actually to the chance to do so. The second manuscript provides an entirely different account of Pike’s activities in Germany. Rather than collaborating, in this account Pike assumed the identity of folk hero Finn McCool and engaged in clandestine work for the Allies, assassinating Nazi doctors until he finally had the opportunity to kill Hitler’s personal physician. As the similarities and differences between the manuscripts become clear, Peter Mann’s The Torqued Man causes readers to question the nature of the relationship between de Groot and Pike as well as what the pair would have been willing to do to survive in their fascist reality.
Gods of Deception
by David Adams Cleveland
Greenleaf Book Group Press, 928 pages, $33.95
Gods of Deception by David Adams Cleveland follows ninety-five-year-old Judge Edward Dimock, the man who famously defended Alger Hiss during the Cold War era trial of the century, as he writes his memoir. From the safety of his Catskill bolt-hole, Judge Dimock thinks back over secrets that he has kept hidden for nearly fifty years, secrets that have the potential to change both American history and the course of his own family’s history. Unsure if Hiss really was guilty of spying for Stalin, or if his deception might even have extended beyond what was suspected, Judge Dimock enlists the help of his grandson, George Altmann, a renowned astrophysicist, to search out the truth. Quite the skilled amateur detective, George soon finds evidence of Hiss’ guilt, including the mysterious deaths of a number of potential witnesses, as well as of Dimock family secrets that have damaged both the clan itself and the security of the wider world. It all amounts to a thrilling spy story that encompasses family tragedy, unrequited love, astrophysics, art, and much more.