The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Due to the holidays and the beginning of a new year, it’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these posts. Also due to the holidays, there are far too many books that I want to feature to highlight them all today! Since it would have taken forever to set up a post that included detailed information for all those books, I limited it to six featured books (one ARC and five Christmas gifts) and listed all the other books that showed up since the last Leaning Pile of Books post below. Some of these are books in the mail, some are holiday presents, and one is a book I purchased.

In case you missed it, here are the reviews and lists that went up since the last one of these articles:

And now, the latest books!

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Certain Dark Things was released in October 2016, and I’ve been hearing it is excellent. Even aside from that, I’ve wanted to read it ever since I first read the description and saw the cover!

The blog My Friend Amy has an excerpt from Certain Dark Things.

 

Welcome to Mexico City… An Oasis In A Sea Of Vampires…

Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is busy eking out a living when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life.

Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, must feast on the young to survive and Domingo looks especially tasty. Smart, beautiful, and dangerous, Atl needs to escape to South America, far from the rival narco-vampire clan pursuing her. Domingo is smitten.

Her plan doesn’t include developing any real attachment to Domingo. Hell, the only living creature she loves is her trusty Doberman. Little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his effervescent charm.

And then there’s Ana, a cop who suddenly finds herself following a trail of corpses and winds up smack in the middle of vampire gang rivalries.

Vampires, humans, cops, and gangsters collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive?

Cold Welcome by Elizabeth Moon

Cold Welcome (Vatta’s Peace #1) by Elizabeth Moon

Cold Welcome, the first book in a new series following the Vatta’s War series, is scheduled for release in April (hardcover, ebook).

 

Nebula Award–winning author Elizabeth Moon makes a triumphant return to science fiction with a thrilling series featuring Kylara Vatta, the daring hero of her acclaimed Vatta’s War sequence.

After nearly a decade away, Nebula Award–winning author Elizabeth Moon makes a triumphant return to science fiction with this installment in a thrilling new series featuring the daring hero of her acclaimed Vatta’s War sequence.

Summoned to the home planet of her family’s business empire, space-fleet commander Kylara Vatta is told to expect a hero’s welcome. But instead she is thrown into danger unlike any other she has faced and finds herself isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world, commanding a motley group of unfamiliar troops, and struggling day by day to survive in a deadly environment with sabotaged gear. Only her undeniable talent for command can give her ragtag band a fighting chance.

Yet even as Ky leads her team from one crisis to another, her family and friends refuse to give up hope, endeavoring to mount a rescue from halfway around the planet—a task that is complicated as Ky and her supporters find secrets others will kill to protect: a conspiracy infecting both government and military that threatens not only her own group’s survival but her entire home planet.

Lord of the Two Lands by Judith Tarr

Lord of the Two Lands by Judith Tarr

I’ve heard Lord of the Two Lands is excellent, and I also quite like the sound of a historical fantasy about Alexander the Great!

 

In 336 B.C., Egypt lay under the yoke of Persia, ruled by Governors appointed by the King of Kings in Persis. And in the Temple of Amon in Thebes dwelt the only living child of Nectanebo, the last fully Egyptian Pharaoh, who had been defeated in battle and slain by Darius’s servants

But from the north a spirit of fire was moving across the World. A great warrior and general, the king of Macedonia, had risen to rule the Hellenic city-states. Now he was determined to challenge the might of the Persian Empire, to engage Darius himself in battle, and to defeat him. He was called Alexander, and the priests of Amon in Egypt saw that he was destined to rule their ancient land.

So they sent Meriamon, Beloved of Amon, daughter of Pharaoh, Singer and Priestess of the God, up from Egypt to the Plains of Issus, where a great battle had been fought, and the Persian king defeated. There she was to find Alexander, and persuade him to turn from the straight Eastward road and come south – where the double crown of Egypt awaited him.

LORD OF THE TWO LANDS is firmly based in the history of Alexander the Great, and then steeped in the rich, sun-drenched magics of ancient Egypt. It will transport you back to the time of heroes, when one man changed the face of the world.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire #1) by Yoon Ha Lee

Ninefox Gambit sounds interesting, and I also wanted to read Yoon Ha Lee’s first novel because I enjoyed “The Coin of Heart’s Desire” in the Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales anthology. I’ve seen Ninefox Gambit appear on quite a few “Best Books of 2016” lists so now I’m even more intrigued by it!

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from Ninefox Gambit.

 

The first installment of the trilogy, Ninefox Gambit, centers on disgraced captain Kel Cheris, who must recapture the formidable Fortress of Scattered Needles in order to redeem herself in front of the Hexarchate.

To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general.

Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics. Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics. Cheris’s career isn’t the only thing at stake. If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.

Cheris’s best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress.

The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own. As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao–because she might be his next victim.

Seed to Harvest by Octavia Butler

Seed to Harvest (Patternmaster #1-4) by Octavia E. Butler

Kindred is an amazing, incredibly powerful novel and one of the best books I read last year. I want to read everything Octavia Butler has written, and this series in particular sounds very interesting.

 

Contains the novels Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Clay’s Ark, and Patternmaster.

In her classic Patternist series, multiple Hugo and Nebula award winner Octavia E. Butler established themes of identity and transformation that echo throughout her distinguished career. Now collected for the first time in one volume, these four novels take readers on a wondrous odyssey from a mythic, prim/ordial past to a fantastic far future.

In ancient Africa, a female demigod of nurture and fertility mates with a powerful, destructive male entity. Together they birth a race of madmen, visionaries, and psychics who cling to civilization’s margins and back alleys for millenia, coming together in a telepathic Pattern just as Earth is consumed by a cosmic invasion. Now these new beings–no longer mearly human–will battle to rule the transfigured world.

Wolfblade by Jennifer Fallon

Wolfblade (Wolfblade Trilogy #1) by Jennifer Fallon

One of my favorite books of 2016 was The Lyre Thief, the first book in a new series set after the Wolfblade and Demon Child trilogies. It piqued my interest about the previous stories set in this world, and since I loved Marla, I’m especially interested in reading more about her in Wolfblade!

 

Marla Wolfblade of Hythria is determined to restore her family’s great name, but conspirators surround her: the Sorcerers’ Collective, the Patriots — even members of her own family. She must make sure her son Damin lives to be old enough to restore the Wolfblade name to its former glory.

Elezaar the Dwarf is a small man with big secrets — but that doesn’t matter to Marla Wolfblade. Her brother is the High Prince of Hythria, and, in this fiercely patriarchal society, her fate will be decided on his whim. She needs someone politically astute to guide her through the maze of court politics — and Elezaar the Dwarf knows more than he lets on.

As Elezaar teaches Marla the Rules of Gaining and Wielding Power, Marla starts on the road to becoming a tactician and a wily diplomat — but will that be enough to keep her son alive?

Additional Books:

Since the beginning of 2016, I have been reading and reviewing one book a month based on the results of a poll on PatreonAll of these monthly reviews can be viewed here.

It’s impossible to keep up with all the books, and even aside from there always being more books to read than time to read them in, I’ve missed out on some books I was especially eager to read the last couple of years due to moving so many times—so I thought it would be great to start the new year by catching up a little! The January poll selections are books that I’d like to read before the next book comes out later this year (I’m not positive the sequel to the first book on the list will actually be published this year, but in any case, I’d like to read it). The choices for the January book were as follows:

The first monthly book of 2017 is…

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

Multi-award winning author Aliette de Bodard, brings her story of the War in Heaven to Paris, igniting the City of Light in a fantasy of divine power and deep conspiracy…

In the late Twentieth Century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins. The Great Magicians’ War left a trail of devastation in its wake. The Grand Magasins have been reduced to piles of debris, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine has turned black with ashes and rubble and the remnants of the spells that tore the city apart. But those that survived still retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital.

Once the most powerful and formidable, House Silverspires now lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.

Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel; an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction; and a resentful young man wielding spells of unknown origin. They may be Silverspires’ salvation—or the architects of its last, irreversible fall. And if Silverspires falls, so may the city itself.

Aliette de Bodard is an excellent writer, and this sounds fantastic. I’m excited about reading it this month!

One of the most exciting parts of a new year is looking forward to all the new books it will bring—upcoming installments in favorite series, stories written by esteemed authors, and novels by new-to-me writers that draw the eye with compelling descriptions (and perhaps a striking cover to match that enticing blurb!). There are so many intriguing 2017 releases that it was quite difficult to narrow down this year’s list to a reasonable number of books.

As usual, there are a few novels in series I particularly enjoy that do not yet have a publication date. If these three books came out in 2017, it would make the year even better:

  • The Thorn of Emberlain by Scott Lynch
  • The Warboy by Karin Lowachee
  • Winds of Winter by George R. R. Martin

A couple of books on this list also appeared on last year’s list because they were originally scheduled for release in 2016 before being pushed back to 2017. I could not leave either off since they are by two authors whose work I am always excited to read!

Without further ado, here are some of the books I’m most looking forward to in 2017, ordered by current scheduled publication date.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Release Date: January 10

Though I’m currently reading it, The Bear and the Nightingale was already on my list even before a copy showed up in the mail! This novel sounded right up my alley since I love fairy tales and folk tales, and after sampling the first chapter, I had to keep reading. The writing is lovely, and so far, it’s every bit as enchanting as I’d hoped.

 

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman
The Burning Page (The Invisible Library #3) by Genevieve Cogman
US Release Date: January 10

The Invisible Library (my review) was on my favorite books of 2015 list, and The Masked City was one of my favorite books of 2016 so of course the next Invisible Library book has to be here! This series follows the adventures of Irene, a spy who travels to alternate worlds in order to collect books for an organization existing outside of space and time known as the Library—and it is so much fun. It’s also largely an ode to the power of language, story, and books themselves, and as if that weren’t enough to endear them to this bibliophile, it also features a delightful narrative voice and a practical, capable, quick-thinking heroine. Additional highlights include dragons, fae, and hints of deeper mysteries surrounding the Library to be unraveled later.

 

Never judge a book by its cover…

Due to her involvement in an unfortunate set of mishaps between the dragons and the Fae, Librarian spy Irene is stuck on probation, doing what should be simple fetch-and-retrieve projects for the mysterious Library. But trouble has a tendency of finding both Irene and her apprentice, Kai—a dragon prince—and, before they know it, they are entangled in more danger than they can handle…

Irene’s longtime nemesis, Alberich, has once again been making waves across multiple worlds, and, this time, his goals are much larger than obtaining a single book or wreaking vengeance upon a single Librarian. He aims to destroy the entire Library—and make sure Irene goes down with it.

With so much at stake, Irene will need every tool at her disposal to stay alive. But even as she draws her allies close around her, the greatest danger might be lurking from somewhere close—someone she never expected to betray her…

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
Release Date: February 7

Dark fairy tales are among my favorite types of stories, so this debut novel piqued my interest the very first time I heard about it. Since then, I’ve only heard praise for Wintersong so I continue to look forward to its release!

 

Beware the goblin men and the wares they sell.

All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.

But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.

Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.

Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza
Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza
Release Date: February 7

Empress of a Thousand Skies is another debut novel and the first book in a duology. Science fiction with a determined princess and a fugitive facing a galactic threat sounds like fun, plus I love the title!

 

Empress
Rhee, also known as Crown Princess Rhiannon Ta’an, is the sole surviving heir to a powerful dynasty. She’ll stop at nothing to avenge her family and claim her throne.

Fugitive
Aly has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. But when he’s falsely accused of killing Rhee, he’s forced to prove his innocence to save his reputation – and his life.

Madman
With planets on the brink of war, Rhee and Aly are thrown together to confront a ruthless evil that threatens the fate of the entire galaxy.

A saga of vengeance, warfare, and the true meaning of legacy.

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
Release Date: February 14

Miranda and Caliban is a Shakespeare-inspired novel written by Jacqueline Carey—I don’t believe any further explanation of why I want to read this is necessary!

 

A lovely girl grows up in isolation where her father, a powerful magus, has spirited them to in order to keep them safe.

We all know the tale of Prospero’s quest for revenge, but what of Miranda? Or Caliban, the so-called savage Prospero chained to his will?

In this incredible retelling of the fantastical tale, Jacqueline Carey shows readers the other side of the coin—the dutiful and tenderhearted Miranda, who loves her father but is terribly lonely. And Caliban, the strange and feral boy Prospero has bewitched to serve him. The two find solace and companionship in each other as Prospero weaves his magic and dreams of revenge.

Always under Prospero’s jealous eye, Miranda and Caliban battle the dark, unknowable forces that bind them to the island even as the pangs of adolescence create a new awareness of each other and their doomed relationship.

Miranda and Caliban is bestselling fantasy author Jacqueline Carey’s gorgeous retelling of The Tempest. With hypnotic prose and a wild imagination, Carey explores the themes of twisted love and unchecked power that lie at the heart of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, while serving up a fresh take on the play’s iconic characters.

In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle
In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle
Release Date: February 14

Although this appears to be unrelated to The Last Unicorn, I still want to read any story Peter S. Beagle writes featuring a unicorn!

 

From the acclaimed author of The Last Unicorn comes a new, exquisitely-told unicorn fable for the modern age.

Claudio Bianchi has lived alone for many years on a hillside in Southern Italy’s scenic Calabria. Set in his ways and suspicious of outsiders, Claudio has always resisted change, preferring farming and writing poetry. But one chilly morning, as though from a dream, an impossible visitor appears at the farm. When Claudio comes to her aid, an act of kindness throws his world into chaos. Suddenly he must stave off inquisitive onlookers, invasive media, and even more sinister influences.

Lyrical, gripping, and wise, In Calabria confirms Peter S. Beagle’s continuing legacy as one of fantasy’s most legendary authors.

Retribution (War of the Gods #2) by Jennifer Fallon
Release Date: March 1

I’m not 100% sure this is still scheduled for March 2017 (at least, in the US) since it doesn’t seem to have a cover yet and the publisher’s website does not list it. However, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for it because The Lyre Thief (my review) was an immensely entertaining book with meddling gods and false identities—and was another one of my favorite books of 2016!

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Release Date: March 28

Laini Taylor is a master of prose: it’s vivid and beautiful yet effortless to read. She’s also wonderful at worlds and characters and has written some deliciously dark stories (such as the creepy tale “Hatchling” in Lips Touch: Three Times). It only took reading two of her books for me to realize that I want to read everything she authors!

 

A new epic fantasy by National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author Laini Taylor of the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy.

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around— and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? and if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

In this sweeping and breathtaking new novel by National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor, author of the New York Times bestselling Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage.

Welcome to Weep.

Assassin's Fate by Robin Hobb
Assassin’s Fate (The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy #3) by Robin Hobb
Release Date: May 9

Robin Hobb has written several of my favorite fantasy books. I devoured her Farseer trilogy, then Liveship Traders, then Tawny Man (or, at least, what there was of it—not all of the books were out at the time and I remember ordering the third one from the UK because it was released there before the US). I was thrilled when she decided to continue Fitz’s story in this trilogy, and I loved the first two novels: Fool’s Assassin (my review) and Fool’s Quest (my review). The latter in particular was satisfying as a long-time fan of these series, and I’m excited to find out what happens next!

Warning: The book description below does contain spoilers for previous books in this series.

 

The final book in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy.

Prince FitzChivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee was violently abducted from Withywoods by Servants of the Four in their search for the Unexpected Son, foretold to wield great power. With Fitz in pursuit, the Servants fled through a Skill-pillar, leaving no trace. It seems certain that they and their young hostage have perished in the Skill-river.

Clerres, where White Prophets were trained by the Servants to set the world on a better path, has been corrupted by greed. Fitz is determined to reach the city and take vengeance on the Four, not only for the loss of Bee but also for their torture of the Fool. Accompanied by FitzVigilant, son of the assassin Chade, Chade’s protégé Spark and the stableboy Perseverance, Bee’s only friend, their journey will take them from the Elderling city of Kelsingra, down the perilous Rain Wild River, and on to the Pirate Isles.

Their mission for revenge will become a voyage of discovery, as well as of reunions, transformations and heartrending shocks. Startling answers to old mysteries are revealed. What became of the liveships Paragon and Vivacia and their crews? What is the origin of the Others and their eerie beach? How are liveships and dragons connected?

But Fitz and his followers are not the only ones with a deadly grudge against the Four. An ancient wrong will bring them unlikely and dangerous allies in their quest. And if the corrupt society of Clerres is to be brought down, Fitz and the Fool will have to make a series of profound and fateful sacrifices.

ASSASSIN’S FATE is a magnificent tour de force and with it Robin Hobb demonstrates yet again that she is the reigning queen of epic fantasy.

Thick As Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner
Thick as Thieves (Queen’s Thief #5) by Megan Whalen Turner
Release Date: May 16

Since I still need to read the fourth book, I dithered about whether or not to include Thick as Thieves here. Although I’m slightly behind, I decided I could not leave it off: after all, The Queen of Attolia is one of my favorites due to its characters and deft subtlety. (The book description does indicate this is a stand alone, but I still want to read them in order!)

 

Discover the world of the Queen’s Thief

Thick as Thieves is the eagerly anticipated new stand-alone novel set in the world of the Queen’s Thief. New York Times-bestselling author Megan Whalen Turner’s entrancing and award-winning Queen’s Thief novels bring to life the world of the epics and feature one of the most charismatic and incorrigible characters of fiction, Eugenides the thief. Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief novels are rich with political machinations and intrigue, battles lost and won, dangerous journeys, divine intervention, power, passion, revenge, and deception. Perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo, Marie Lu, Patrick Rothfuss, and George R. R. Martin.

Kamet, a secretary and slave to his Mede master, has the ambition and the means to become one of the most powerful people in the Empire. But with a whispered warning the future he envisioned is wrenched away, and he is forced onto a very different path. Set in the world of the Queen’s Thief, this epic adventure sees an ordinary hero take on an extraordinary mission. The Queen’s Thief novels have been praised by writers, critics, reviewers, and fans, and have been honored with glowing reviews, “best of” citations, and numerous awards, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Newbery Honor, the Andre Norton Award shortlist, and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. Discover and rediscover the stand-alone companion stories The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings, all epic novels set in the world of the Queen’s Thief. Thick as Thieves includes two maps, a map of the world of the Queen’s Thief, and a map of Kamet’s journey.

Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh
Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist #1) by Renée Ahdieh
Release Date: May 16

Due to the problem of too many books and too little time, I have yet to read The Wrath and the Dawn despite hearing it’s fantastic. As wonderful as it does sound, I think Flame in the Mist sounds even better. (Of course, I would—it features one of my favorite tropes!)

 

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.

Tomorrow's Kin by Nancy Kress
Tomorrow’s Kin (Yesterday’s Kin #1) by Nancy Kress
Release Date: July 11

Nancy Kress is a superb science fiction author, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does with her upcoming trilogy beginning with Tomorrow’s Kin. This upcoming series will expand upon her fantastic novella Yesterday’s Kin (my review), a thoughtful, nearly impossible to put down story about a scientist and her family.

 

Tomorrow’s Kin is the first volume in and all new hard SF trilogy by Nancy Kress based on the Nebula Award-winning Yesterday’s Kin.

The aliens have arrived… they’ve landed their Embassy ship on a platform in New York Harbor, and will only speak with the United Nations. They say that their world is so different from Earth, in terms of gravity and atmosphere, that they cannot leave their ship. The population of Earth has erupted in fear and speculation.

One day Dr. Marianne Jenner, an obscure scientist working with the human genome, receives an invitation that she cannot refuse. The Secret Service arrives at her college to escort her to New York, for she has been invited, along with the Secretary General of the UN and a few other ambassadors, to visit the alien Embassy.

The truth is about to be revealed. Earth s most elite scientists have ten months to prevent a disaster and not everyone is willing to wait.

The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin
The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth #3) by N. K. Jemisin
Release Date: August 15

N. K. Jemisin is a phenomenal writer and a consistently excellent author—one of the best there is, in my opinion. Her Broken Earth trilogy is brilliant, unique, complex, and powerfully written, and I’m looking forward to finding out how it ends after being blown away by The Obelisk Gate (my review): my book-related highlight of 2016.

 

THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.

The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.

Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.

For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.

The remarkable conclusion to the post-apocalyptic and highly acclaimed trilogy that began with the multi-award-nominated The Fifth Season.

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard
An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard
Release Date: September 26

Roses and Rot, Kat Howard’s debut novel, is a fantastic book involving sisters, art, and fairy tales. It was another one of my favorites of 2016, and it left me looking forward to more by this author. I was quite happy to learn that her second novel is scheduled for release this year!

 

There is a dark secret that is hiding at the heart of New York City and diminishing the city’s magicians’ power in this fantasy thriller by acclaimed author Kat Howard.

In New York City, magic controls everything. But the power of magic is fading. No one knows what is happening, except for Sydney—a new, rare magician with incredible power that has been unmatched in decades, and she may be the only person who is able to stop the darkness that is weakening the magic. But Sydney doesn’t want to help the system, she wants to destroy it.

Sydney comes from the House of Shadows, which controls the magic with the help of sacrifices from magicians.

The Stone in the Skull (Lotus Kingdoms #1) by Elizabeth Bear
Release Date: October 10

Elizabeth Bear’s writing is gorgeous. As she’s another of my favorite authors, I’d be thrilled about any of her upcoming books, but I’m particularly excited about this trilogy since it’s set in the same world as her Eternal Sky books (Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, Steles of the Sky).

 

Hugo Award winning author Elizabeth Bear returns to her critically acclaimed epic fantasy world of the Eternal Sky with a brand new trilogy.

The Stone in the Skull, the first volume in her new trilogy, takes readers over the dangerous mountain passes of the Steles of the Sky and south into the Lotus Kingdoms.

The Gage is a brass automaton created by a wizard of Messaline around the core of a human being. His wizard is long dead, and he works as a mercenary. He is carrying a message from a the most powerful sorcerer of Messaline to the Rajni of the Lotus Kingdom. With him is The Dead Man, a bitter survivor of the body guard of the deposed Uthman Caliphate, protecting the message and the Gage. They are friends, of a peculiar sort.

They are walking into a dynastic war between the rulers of the shattered bits of a once great Empire.

It goes without saying that 2016 wasn’t a great year in a lot of ways, and it wasn’t a great year for me personally, either. I had to spend part of it moving yet again (I’ve moved in 2014, 2015, and 2016 now), and the only major thing that happened this year that was actually good was visiting Ireland. (Although that was amazing—I went on a Game of Thrones Tour of filming locations and “met” a couple of the Northern Inuit dogs who were direwolves in the show, and I also visited a lot of other interesting places while I was there!)

Direwolves
Dublin Castle Cafe

It’s actually quite surprising to me that I read more this year than last and actually managed to stay ahead of my Goodreads reading goal for most of the year (until November, when I started falling behind). In the end, I did meet my goal of reading 40 books, although I attempted to read several more and read somewhere between 100-200 pages in quite a few. Since there are so many books to read and so many older books I’ve missed, I’m trying to do better about just dropping books that aren’t working for me and moving on.

Part of that is due to a new feature this year, reading and reviewing one book per month based on a poll on Patreon. Although some of the books were fairly recent, none were released in 2016 and some were older books. This has helped me get to some of the books I’ve been meaning to read for awhile despite the allure of shiny new releases, such as Forerunner by Andre Norton and Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee. All the books reviewed for Patreon in 2016 can be seen here.

In addition to these and other reviews, April 2016 was the fifth annual Women in SF&F Month, a month dedicated to highlighting women’s contributions to speculative fiction. Renay and I updated the list of favorite SFF books by women with 2015’s contributions and collected more recommendations, and there were many guest posts about a variety of topics related to equity, favorite works by women, or writing and speculative fiction in general, such as:

All Women in SF&F Month posts from 2016 can be found here.

Looking back, it’s been a busier year than I’d thought! As always, I discovered a lot of great books over the last year, and today I’d like to highlight some of my favorite books of 2016, both new releases and some released before last year.

 

Favorite Books Released in 2016

The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin

1. The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth #2) by N. K. Jemisin
My Review

N. K. Jemisin is one of the most consistently excellent authors I’ve read, and The Obelisk Gate is my favorite of her novels yet. The first book in this trilogy, The Fifth Season, was on my 2015 favorites list for its brilliance and uniqueness but wasn’t my top favorite since I didn’t find it as thoroughly engaging as other books I’d read. However, The Obelisk Gate has all of those qualities and I could hardly put it down! It’s both personal and epic, and the characters are complex people shown at their best and worst—people with complicated views and emotions. This is a fantastic story with lots of depth, and I especially loved the exploration of how individuals are shaped by their experiences and each other. Even though I was fortunate enough to read a couple of older books I enjoyed just as much as The Obelisk Gate, this is the BEST book I read this year regardless of publication date: a thoughtful, perceptive, phenomenally written book that’s also a page turner.

The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

2. The Masked City (The Invisible Library #2) by Genevieve Cogman
(Not Yet Reviewed)

I just finished reading this not that long ago so I haven’t reviewed it yet, but I found it to be every bit as delightful as the first book in this series, The Invisible Library (my review). It follows the adventures of Irene, a Librarian Spy with an organization existing outside of space and time that has the primary goal of collecting books from alternate worlds. Like the previous installment, it’s immensely fun with a delightful narrative voice, and I enjoy how practical, matter-of-fact, and clear-thinking Irene continues to be, even when facing great peril—including fae plots, potentially angry dragons, and a dangerous rescue mission to a chaotic alternate Venice!

Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

3. Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda
My (Brief) Review of Issue 1

This graphic novel is bleak and violent yet absolutely gorgeous (well, when it’s not too gory for me since I’m incredibly squeamish!). Sana Takeda’s artwork is stunningly beautiful with exquisite details, and this may be the first graphic novel I’ve read in which I spent as much time gazing at the graphics as reading the story. Issue one made me curious about Maika’s history and her connection with the monster, but I found it worked much better for me when I was able to immerse myself in the story by reading multiple issues back to back in this volume.

The Lyre Thief by Jennifer Fallon

4. The Lyre Thief (War of the Gods #1) by Jennifer Fallon
My Review

The Lyre Thief was my first book by Jennifer Fallon but it definitely will not be my last! This is an incredibly entertaining book featuring two of my favorite tropes: false identities and meddling gods. Though it includes several perspectives, the majority of the story focuses on a princess and her friend Charisee, an illegitimate daughter of the king born a slave. The princess’s mother fears for her daughter’s life and arranges for her to be married to a foreigner—but her actual plan is for her to escape during the long journey to her husband’s land and for Charisee to pretend she is the royal bride-to-be. In doing so, the false princess attracts the attention of the God of Liars, who is incredibly pleased by her service. It’s so much fun, and I loved reading about many of the characters, especially Charisee.

Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

5. Roses and Rot by Kat Howard
My Review

Roses and Rot is an absorbing debut novel with sisterhood, art, and fairy tales at its core. It’s a contemporary fantasy about two sisters, a writer and a dancer, accepted into an art program that turns out to have a sinister purpose—and how it drives a competitive wedge between the two women when they’re starting to put the pieces of their relationship together after years of separation. It’s quite aptly titled as it’s filled with both beauty and ugliness in its exploration of the difficulty of creation and relationships, and this is mixed in with the darker side of fairy tales. Best of all is the complexity of the bond between the two sisters.

6. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
My Review

All the Birds in the Sky is a difficult book to summarize since it includes a hodgepodge of elements: adventures both magical and scientific, an AI, and communication with animals, to name a few. It follows the lives of a young witch and a young scientist destined to change—or perhaps even destroy—the world, but it’s largely about the impact each has on the other and the longing for connection. Though chaotic, I thought Charlie Jane Anders made it all work, and I especially loved the sense of humor that shines through the narrative voice, even when there’s darkness.

 

Favorite Books Published Before 2016

The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip

1. The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip
My Review

The Changeling Sea is enchanting, and I savored every lovely word of it. It’s a tale that mixes the legendary with the everyday: though islander Peri becomes tangled in events involving a prince who is not what he seems and a sea dragon who is also not what he seems, she spends her days working at an inn rife with ordinary village conversation (even if it does involve the mysterious appearance of a sea dragon!). It’s a small book but it has large themes of love, loss, and humanity with a memorable ending, and Peri is a wonderful heroine who surprises everyone, including herself.

Kindred by Octavia Butler

2. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
My Review

Kindred, the story of a black woman named Dana repeatedly sent to the antebellum South to aid an accident-prone ancestor, is an incredibly powerful novel. It’s a gripping page turner since I desperately wanted to find out what happened to Dana, and it’s also an examination of the acceptance of slavery and the reinforcement of racial inequality. Kindred offers an unflinchingly honest, harrowing view of the atrocities human beings are capable of committing through the eyes of a courageous, tough, and compassionate heroine—and it’s unforgettable.

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

3. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
My Review

Though intrigued by the description I’d heard—Jane Austen with dragons!—I was still skeptical about Tooth and Claw. Dragons eating the weak to gain strength sounded so literal, and it seemed like it would be difficult to imagine giant dragons riding trains. The social commentary is not subtle and it did require some suspension of disbelief to picture dragons donning hats and writing letters, and yet it was absolutely delightful with endearing dragon characters!

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

4. Golden Son (Red Rising #2) by Pierce Brown
My (Brief) Review

I was surprised by how thoroughly engaging Golden Son turned out to be: although I enjoyed Red Rising, I had some reservations about it and I didn’t love it. Golden Son was nearly impossible to put down since it had so many twists and turns and kept me wanting to know what the true motivations of various characters were, and I thought it was far superior to the first book in the trilogy. (Unfortunately, I’m struggling with the concluding volume about 200 pages into it, which is why that one is absent from this list despite how much fun I had reading Golden Son.)

The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

5. The Midnight Queen (Noctis Magicae #1) by Sylvia Izzo Hunter
My Review

Sylvia Izzo Hunter’s debut novel is charming. The Midnight Queen follows two characters: Gray, a student of wizardry taken captive by one of his professors, and Sophie, the professor’s middle daughter who exudes magick even though she insists she has none of her own. It’s set in an alternate version of our world in which Christianity never became a major religion, and it has family secrets and hidden identities, a conspiracy, and romance.

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

6. Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
My Review

The narrator bluntly states that this is not a tidy story at the beginning, and this voice and the chaotic nature are part of its charm. Partially based on a Senegalese folk tale, it’s vividly told and peppered with humor and wit. Paama is a resourceful character, and I particularly enjoyed reading about the tales she invented to explain away the absurd situations her husband kept getting into—they didn’t fool anyone, but everyone admired her grace, tact, and quick thinking!

Bone and Jewel Creatures by Elizabeth Bear

7. Bone and Jewel Creatures by Elizabeth Bear
My Review

This novella, set in the same world as the Eternal Sky trilogy, is beautifully written. I read the prequel novella Book of Iron first (my review) and thought Bijou was a wonderful character—and I still do after reading more about her. In this story, she’s in her nineties, surrounded by the titular bone and jewel creatures she’s created and animated throughout the years. The descriptions of her menagerie are lovely, and I also found the perspective of the feral child she saves and cares for unique and compelling.

Sign for the Sacred by Storm Constantine

8. Sign for the Sacred by Storm Constantine
My Review

Sign for the Sacred revolves around one key figure—the prophet Resenence Jeopardy, a charismatic man who is loved by many and feared by the Church of Ixmarity. The three main point-of-view characters are all seeking him, including one who knew him quite well when they were both slaves in the same House. His tale of being given to the Church and becoming close to Resenence before he was famous was the highlight of this lengthy novel, which explores religion and the power that an individual can have upon others.

Sign for the Sacred
by Storm Constantine
566pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.53/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.83/5
 

Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu trilogy are among my favorite books, partially because of the beautiful prose and their exploration of gender but mostly because the main protagonists are vibrant and fascinating. Since discovering them I’ve wanted to read more of her books, and though there are a lot more of them left for me to read, I’ve yet to find one as compelling as the Wraeththu books. The latest book in my quest to read more by this author, Sign for the Sacred, was more engaging than some of her other work I’ve read but fell short of Wreaththu. I still enjoyed Sign for the Sacred, though, even if it seemed slow at times.

Sign for the Sacred–currently a stand alone fantasy novel even though Storm Constantine has never thought this was the end of the story and hopes to write the sequel in full some day–was written and first published in the early 1990s. My edition, released through Stark House in 2002, also includes extras providing some fascinating insight into its creation and the artistic process: an introduction from the author about the story’s themes and her inspiration from the Goth music scene, an excerpt from an early version of the novel that was quite different, and a few chapters from the unfinished sequel, Death By Sweetness.

This novel is the tale of Resenence Jeopardy, a prophet whom many believe to be a threat to the powerful Church of Ixmarity—and yet, it’s not completely his story even though he’s the thread connecting all the main storylines, which are told from the perspectives of individuals seeking him.

Lucien, like Jeopardy, was once a Vibrancer, a dancer who performed routines with religious significance to the Church of Ixmarity. Also like Jeopardy, Lucien was a slave purchased by the House of Mandru, and is the only main character who knew him before he became a renowned prophet. He is also the only one who was ever close to him, as the two performed together and were also lovers for awhile. Lucien’s story, the most prominent one, largely consists of his telling the story of his past to another he encountered during his travels, beginning with his family being forced to give him to the Church at a young age and ending with how he came to be on his current quest.

Delilah is impelled to pursue Jeopardy after everyone else in her village dies due to a cursed visitor, doomed to mindlessly slaughter everyone he encounters once the moon rises and infect them with a plague when the sun reigns. For some reason, Delilah is immune to both of these and feels that must mean she and this man are bound somehow. When he tells her of the only one who could completely still his affliction—Resenence Jeopardy—Delilah is intrigued and decides to join him on his expedition to reunite with the prophet.

Cleo, a poisoner’s wife, is bored with her life until her husband approaches her about a difficult business situation. A rich client came to him with his sister’s child: the son of Resenence Jeopardy, who, like all of the sorcerer’s children, will be tortured and killed by the Church. His uncle wanted a more peaceful death for the boy but was unable to go through with it at the last moment, prompting Cleo’s husband to turn to her for advice. Cleo is immediately taken with the child and cares for him herself, but his uncle changes his mind again, fearing the consequences of the Church’s displeasure to himself and his family, and Cleo is devastated when she returns from visiting a friend to discover the boy is gone, killed by her husband at his client’s wish. In her grief, Cleo embarks on a journey to find the father of the boy that she loved and lost.

Though not one of the central stories, the Archimagery of the Church of Ixmarity and an ecclesiarch within the Church named Implexion also have related perspectives woven into the tale. Implexion fears and despises Resenence Jeopardy—he’s the one who advocated for his children to be put to death—but some around him harbor concerns that his hatred for the prophet is becoming a dangerous obsession.

Despite having different thoughts, views, and feelings about Resenence Jeopardy, they will all be changed because of him.

Sign for the Sacred can be untidy and meandering, but there’s an art to it making it more reflective of reality since the story and characters do not seem scripted: at times, the characters’ actions are frustrating and not entirely comprehensible, but they’re all the more human because of this. It also incorporates a lot of compelling themes, from journeys both literal and metaphorical, to power wielded by both an individual and an organized group, to the ability for a variety of individuals to have different perceptions of the same events and actions. Although it’s not a book that inspired new thoughts on any of these themes, it is one that put them together in striking way, leaving plenty to think about related to the story and the fate of the characters.

My favorite part was Lucien and his tale. Toward the beginning, his perspective was actually the least engaging of the three major ones since it started with his travels instead of a transformative event. Once the main focus turned to his past I was hooked. He’s the one I thought had the most character development since it showed his entire life, not just the present or a brief overview of his past. It’s also through his eyes that we get the most information about Resenence Jeopardy, since he’s the only one who not only knew him before he was famous but also was close to him at any point.

Though I found it interesting to read about others’ reactions to Jeopardy, it took me awhile to completely understand the fascination with him. By the end of the story I could see his appeal, even if it was largely due to the mystery surrounding him. Lucien’s first encounter with him was unpleasant, and he was often too self-absorbed to listen to other people so I found him to be a jerk earlier in the tale. Since he was supposed to be a figure who engendered strong feelings, whether love or hate, that’s a reasonable reaction, but later I had difficulty seeing what was so special about him that anyone would care about him either way. I don’t think his charm always translated well through the written word since his allure was not profound speeches or ideas but beauty and charisma. Toward the end, there were enough unanswered questions about the precise nature of his power and influence that I understood the obsession with him as a prophet, even aside from being intellectually aware that people found him to be a magnetic individual.

My biggest problem with Sign for the Sacred is that there was too much focus on literal journeys, making Delilah and Cleo’s sections seem rather long-winded at times. After they both decided to seek Resenence Jeopardy most of their perspectives were dedicated to mystical encounters and the people they met along the way. Though this is part of what made it ring true and they contained some important scenes it also seemed much too drawn out at times, especially since I didn’t think either character was as fleshed out as Lucien (which made sense since his part was his life story).

Like the central figure binding the various perspectives together, Sign for the Sacred is an elusive book, leaving a lot open to interpretation so readers—like the characters—can have different ideas about what transpired. Though it contains familiar elements, the author’s rich vocabulary and approach make it a unique book that stands out as different from most fantasy books I’ve read, and I found it enjoyable even if not as absorbing as some of the other books I’ve read by Storm Constantine.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

This book is December’s selection from a poll on Patreon.

Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred, first published in 1979, is an incredible novel. Though it’s speculative fiction utilizing time travel, much of its focus is showing a glimpse into the past, and the way the author incorporated so much about society into such a well paced story is nothing short of masterful. It’s a book I find difficult to recommend because it’s filled with ugliness and brutality due to its forthright examination of slavery, and as such, may be too grim for some to endure. Yet I want to recommend it to everyone because it is a powerful book showing exactly what fiction can be.

Kindred tells the story of Dana, a black woman suddenly transported from 1976 to the antebellum South. She has no idea how she got from her living room to a riverbank and does not even realize that she’s in a completely different century from whence she came: all she knows is that a redheaded child is about to drown before her eyes if she doesn’t do something about it. Without hesitation, Dana jumps into the water, pulls the boy to shore, and saves his life using artificial respiration—but soon fears saving his life will cost her own when she turns around to find herself facing the boy’s father and his rifle.

Dana is convinced she is about to be killed but instead ends up back in her house as suddenly as she left. Her husband only saw her disappear for a couple of seconds and can barely believe her account of what happened to her even though she returned drenched and muddy. Dana can hardly believe it herself and dreads the thought of it happening again—and later that evening, it does.

Once again, Dana sees a child in danger: a lone child with red hair a few years older than the drowning boy, this time standing in front of burning draperies. She puts out the fire and prevents the house from going up in flames but is not sent home immediately after the threat is gone as she was before. Dana learns that this boy, named Rufus, is the child she pulled out of the river earlier, now a few years older, and that not only is she in a different state but also a different time: the year 1815. As she converses with him, she comes to realize that this boy, the son of a slave owner, is the exact same Rufus recorded as one of her ancestors in the family Bible that was passed down to her. Somehow, they are connected by more than blood and he seems to be able to pull her into his time whenever he’s in trouble—and does so throughout his lifetime, again and again, sometimes keeping Dana in the 1800s for a long time.

Before Kindred, my only experience with Octavia Butler’s work was her novel Parable of the Sower. Though thoughtful with a wonderful main character, I found it more an interesting book than a page turner, but Kindred is both gripping and reflective. It doesn’t spend a lot of time introducing Dana and her life in the present timeline (although it does fill in some details about her relationship with her husband Kevin and both their families’ displeasure with their interracial marriage later) but quickly plunges into her trips to the past. From the very beginning, I liked her and was also quite frustrated on her behalf as she kept getting pulled backwards in time to rescue to her accident-prone ancestor, often from his own folly. Dana is practical, compassionate, and far tougher than she gives herself credit for being, and the main reason I was glued to the book was to find out what happened to her.

Even though it is technically a book about time travel, I didn’t think that was the primary focus of Kindred. Both the basic idea of what’s happening to Dana and Rufus’ identity are revealed early, but how Rufus managed to pull her into his time or why precisely she went back instead of another is never explained. Dana definitely has an impact on the past as she saves Rufus several times and becomes an important figure in his life, but it’s not a book that’s about accidentally making major changes affecting the present or one that dwells too much on the butterfly effect (although Dana does have some concerns about what would happen to Rufus’ daughter Hagar and the rest of her line, including herself, if she were to fail to save him before he can father this child). Most of Kindred takes place in the past and shows Dana’s attempts to survive there, allowing readers to see events firsthand through her eyes as a black woman from the late 1900s transported to the antebellum South.

As such, it’s often a distressing story. When Dana returns to the present the first time after nearly being shot, she’s traumatized and her time in the past only gets worse from there as she witnesses firsthand—and is subject to—the inhumane treatment of slaves. She describes seeing someone beaten and how shockingly different it is from televised violence, as she can smell their sweat and hear their cries. She observes a chilling game played by slave children in which they pretend to sell each other to the highest bidder. It includes racial slurs, violence, and rape: it is unflinchingly honest when depicting the atrocities human beings are capable of committing.

This is why my thoughts kept turning to “Mind of Her Mind,” a superb essay on the work of Octavia Butler that Wendy wrote for Women in SF&F Month 2015, when reading Kindred, particularly this part:

 

Her protagonists’ experiences often made me feel uncomfortable, to say the least, not merely because she so openly broached such taboo topics, but because Butler showed me a frightening world where the scariest person was me. Butler’s writing feels as if she is holding a mirror up in front of the reader, revealing humanity at its best and at its worst and questioning your place within it. What we consider good and evil, right and wrong, is all called into question as Butler peers into our souls with her words.

Kindred is frightening because, despite the time travel and fictional characters, it’s rooted in history and mirrors society. I felt one line in particular that Dana uttered during a conversation with Kevin struck to the heart of this novel: “I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery” (pp. 101). It shows how the attitudes that permeate society reinforce racial inequality, and how it can be easy to be an observer of injustice, especially the further one is from being personally affected by it. Dana herself at times felt like an observer as a visitor from the past, but her white husband found it easier to dismiss the treatment of slaves as not as bad as he may have expected instead of seeing it as plenty bad enough.

Seeing Rufus at different points in time also shows a boy who could have grown up to be kind under different circumstances. As a child, he’s certainly absorbed what society has taught him and repeats what he’s learned from his parents, but Dana actually likes him and has hope that maybe, just maybe, she can be a positive influence and he won’t end up like his cruel father. Yet, he turns out to be largely terrible, though he and even his father still have moments when they are not completely heartless, making their more horrific moments all the more disquieting.

Kindred is the absorbing tale of a young woman forced to navigate the troubled waters of a hostile era she’s only experienced through books and television, and it’s also an in-depth examination of society, particularly racial inequality and its reinforcement. Given its exploration of slavery and related themes, much of it is quite harrowing, but it’s all the more powerful and memorable because of its candidness bringing the worst of humanity to light. Even though much of what is described is common knowledge, the way Octavia Butler presents it through Dana’s perspective is particularly impactful, and it’s tragic how relevant this story is in the year 2016.

My Rating: 10/10

Where I got my reading copy: I received it for Christmas a couple years ago (it was on my wish list).