The best recent science fiction and fantasy – review roundup

<span>Photograph: jejim120/Alamy</span>
Photograph: jejim120/Alamy

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Jo Fletcher, £16.99)
Inspired by HG Wells’ classic tale, a version set not on an unknown island, but in Yucatán, Mexico, in 1871, after the native Mayan people had refused to work any longer for their European oppressors. This Dr Moreau is dependent on the landowning Izalde family for patronage. But the Izaldes grow impatient as Moreau’s promise to supply them with the ideal new workforce remains unfulfilled, and his daughter Carlota knows that, unless she can seduce the charming Eduardo Izalde into marriage, her family will lose everything. Once again the author of Mexican Gothic demonstrates her genius for genre mashups, combining contemporary political awareness with the appeal of a creepy gothic romance.

Thrust by Lidia Yuknavitch (Canongate, £16.99)
More like a long, disturbing dream than a novel of plot or character, the latest work from the author of The Book of Joan opens in 2085, on a boat of day trippers eager to view the almost entirely submerged Statue of Liberty. One is a child who can travel by water back and forth through time: she feels a duty to carry random objects (a coin, an apple, a rope) to particular individuals in earlier periods. Along the way she meets turtles, a whale and worms who lecture her on the stupidity of human beings. At times this resembles The Water Babies, a didactic, sentimental fantasy written with a belief in the power of imagination and a moral purpose. But it’s no book for children. The lives touched by the magical child are those of earlier immigrants, including several in 1886 working to reassemble the Statue of Liberty, and Aurora, a one-legged French sexual radical. Key to the whole is the idea that human beings must learn new ways of living and understanding: this extends to the very concept of narrative. Anyone expecting resolution or explanations will be frustrated, but for those willing to go with the flow it’s a fascinating, unsettling ride.

The Ballad of Perilous Graves by Alex Jennings (Orion, £8.99)
New Orleans is a city like no other, and Nola, a fabulous alternative version created in Jennings’ debut novel, is a place where music is magic, trolley cars travel through the sky, ghosts and zombies mingle with street crazies, and citizens await the arrival of the next big storm, wondering if they’ll survive this time. Perry Graves, his sister Brendy and their supernaturally strong neighbour, Peaches Lavelle, must find out who has been stealing the magical songs that have kept Nola safe. Meanwhile, Casey Ravel, a young trans man recently returned to the New Orleans we know, will discover his own connection to the magical city of Nola. The two worlds of this gripping and inventive fantasy are so vividly depicted that reading it is a bit like taking a fabulous city break.

Life Ceremony by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori (Granta, £12.99)
Thirteen stories by the Japanese author who became an international bestseller with Convenience Store Woman. Picking up on themes in her novel Earthlings, most of these stories are about alienation, exploring what it means to be “normal” through a close focus on characters, nearly always women, who do not conform to social expectations. In the title story, the narrator remembers that when she was a child, it was forbidden to eat human flesh, and wonders why no one questions the present tradition of marking every death with a ritual in which the flesh of the deceased is cooked and eaten. In the even more disturbing Puzzle, Sanae is considered by her workmates to be an exceptionally kind and empathic person, but feels herself to be something more like a building or a machine, not a life form at all, despite her yearnings to be like the people around her. The author’s plain, clear, observational style makes the stories strangely believable, easy to read and hard to forget.

Old Country by Matt and Harrison Query (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99)
Harry and Sasha buy a small ranch in a remote part of Idaho and prepare to live their dream. All is pretty wonderful until their neighbours – who had seemed so sane and kind – warn them that the valley is cursed and give them instructions for rituals that must be followed to stay safe. Of course they don’t believe any of it; until the weird things start happening, just as predicted. This is classic supernatural horror, made freshly compelling with believable characters and perfect pacing, and almost impossible to put down.