I’m thrilled to have a guest post by Mia Tsai to share with you today! Her debut novel, Bitter Medicine, is a xianxia-inspired contemporary fantasy book about a magical calligrapher descended from the Chinese god of medicine working with a half-elf security expert. It will be available in trade paperback and ebook next week—on March 14!


Cover of Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai
Cover Art by Jialing Pan
More Information & Book Excerpt



In this inspired contemporary fantasy, a Chinese immortal and a French elf navigate romance, family loyalty, and workplace demands. In her debut novel, Mia Tsai has created a paranormal adventure that is full of humor, passion, and depth.

As a descendant of the Chinese god of medicine, ignored middle child Elle was destined to be a doctor. Instead, she is underemployed as a mediocre magical calligrapher at the fairy temp agency, paranoid that her murderous younger brother will find her and their elder brother. Using her full abilities will expose Elle’s location. Nevertheless, she challenges herself by covertly outfitting Luc, her client and crush, with high-powered glyphs.

Half-elf Luc, the agency’s top security expert, has his own secret: he’s responsible for a curse laid on two children from an old assignment. To heal them, he’ll need to perform his job duties with unrelenting excellence and earn time off from his tyrannical boss.

When Elle saves Luc’s life on a mission, he brings her a gift and a request for stronger magic to ensure success on the next job—except the next job is hunting down Elle’s younger brother.

As Luc and Elle collaborate, their chemistry blooms. Happiness, for once, is an option for them both. But Elle is loyal to her family, and Luc is bound by his true name. To win freedom from duty, they must make unexpected sacrifices.

The Case for Aftermaths

I love endings. They’re easily my favorite part of the book both to read and write, so much so that when I read a book, I often peek at the ending well before I get there just to get a sense of what I should expect. It’s reassuring, in a way, to know that things will coalesce and turn out for good or ill. As a writer, I write toward my ending; I never start a project without knowing exactly how it ends.

Endings are predictable: the hero wins or loses following a stirring climax, which is often a confrontation of some kind. The reader walks away from the book (or the arc, or the chapter, or anything that might constitute an ending because books are full of endings) with the satisfaction of the win or the ache of the loss and many feelings, depending on the complexity of said win or loss. It’s often here that an author will stop the story (or start a new story) because it’s a logical place to stop.

But what I love more than endings are aftermaths.

I’m a character-driven reader and writer. No matter the magic and wonder in a book, especially in a fantasy, I’m drawn to the realities and contradictions of being human. We’re messy and flawed and have emotions we sometimes can’t control. We take action and then face the consequences of those actions. Characters in books go through so many traumatic events, events that form endings—and then very little is said about what happens immediately after. Sometimes, I think about the ending of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, where—spoiler alert, if you haven’t read it—he has his heroes ride off into the sunset, quite literally, allowing the reader to bask in the happy ending until “S. Morgenstern” inserts a series of awful things that happen five minutes later. Goldman then has to cut in to make sure the reader gets the satisfying ending that was promised.

Except I wasn’t that reader. I had questions, you see. How was Westley supposed to sit a horse after his ordeal? For that matter, how was Fezzik supposed to sit a horse? And aren’t they all being chased? Is that book two material?

I think about what happens next all the time because storylines are not lines, but cycles. Stories can be engines of perpetual motion, where every ending becomes a beginning. Where, after the big conflict, you sift through the ashes and find the seeds of growth. I like to joke, except I’m being very serious, that when I find a place of maximum pain in the story, I go and press on it a little more to see what happens. I write five minutes past the ending to see if there’s something more the characters can give. The instinct is to stop where it hurts, but sometimes, if you push further, you’ll find the scene extends in ways you hadn’t anticipated. That five minutes can turn into ten minutes, and then suddenly, there’s a new depth of emotion.

So: the aftermath. The denouement. I am invested in a denouement where the sun still rises on the next day. We don’t often get to see the climactic story events reverberating through the text, especially not in the direct thereafter, but those ripples are the story to me. I want to ask What now? and get an answer. I want to see how characters approach rebuilding, because that can be more difficult than the fighting, or how they heal their minds and spirits along with their bodies.

Two examples of aftermath stories come to mind: the Scouring of the Shire and the end of Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay. The Scouring of the Shire, when I first read it as a kid, felt tacked-on to me, as if it were just one more way for Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin to suffer. As a child, I loved the neatness of Sauron’s fall, of Aragorn’s crowning and wedding and Praise them with great praise! As an adult, though, I see the necessity of the Scouring. War exacts a heavy toll and nothing remains untouched by it, and I respect Tolkien for staying with his characters—and himself—and showing us the human toll. Likewise, in Mockingjay, we see (spoilers once again!) how life is not always happy for Katniss and Peeta, and how their new normal, for however long it stretches, is only bearable if they have each other.

This really hits, for me, at the heart of what it means to tell a story. No matter the trappings of the setting, no matter the cool factor or the ooh, shiny!, the story is about human emotion and connection at every level. An aftermath, then, is a way to extend those connections and get deeper insight on who the characters are, to reveal their frailties in the best and worst of situations.

I’ll admit, though, not everyone likes to see what comes after, especially if a story isn’t supposed to be that deep. And Western media likes to present solutions like they’re event horizons to be crossed. It’s much easier to imagine the big win will fix everything. But the reality of it is that nothing is tidy, not even in worlds where everything is made up. Embrace the idea of looking beyond the goal. Use an aftermath to show that the sun will still rise tomorrow. Give us aftermaths so we can process alongside our heroes.

Photo of Mia Tsai
Photo Credit: Wynne Photography
Mia Tsai is a Taiwanese American author of speculative fiction. She lives in Atlanta with her family and, when not writing, is a hype woman for her orchids and a devoted cat gopher. Her favorite things include music of all kinds (really, truly) and taking long trips with nothing but the open road and a saucy rhythm section. She has been quoted in Glamour once. In her other lives, she is a professional editor, photographer, and musician. Mia is on Twitter at @itsamia and on Instagram at @mia.tsai.books.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight books I got over the last week that sound like they may be interesting—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration. 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, along with series information and the publisher’s book description.

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

I added one new ebook to the TBR last week, and I received the book I mentioned I’d ordered in last weekend’s Leaning Pile of Books. Since I already discussed A Deadly Education and highlighted the rest of The Scholomance series in that post, I’m not going to cover my book purchase in this week’s feature.

In case you missed it, here’s what went up last week:

And now, a new book that sounds fantastic!

Cover of Song of the Mango and Other New Myths by Vida Cruz-Borja

Song of the Mango and Other New Myths by Vida Cruz-Borja

This short story collection was published by Ateneo de Manila University Press last year and is available in paperback and ebook. Depending on where you live, you may only be able to find the digital edition, which is currently available through Kindle Unlimited or for $4.99 on Amazon. The author’s website does have some information on how to get a shipping quote for a paperback if you are outside the Philippines.

There is also a Story Notes page with more background on each of these tales, which include “Odd and Ugly” and “Have Your #Hugot Harvested at This Diwata-Owned Café.”

Vida Cruz-Borja is also the author of the wonderful Ignyte Award–winning essay “We Are the Mountain: A Look at the Inactive Protagonist.”


A diwata brings a grieving slave’s brother back to life as a mango tree. Two writers write their ideal lovers into existence with ink from a mangkukulam. A kapre and a farmgirl play out a tale as old as time in Spanish colonial Philippines. A girl with a magical heritage must rescue a bumbling cartographer from the hidden city of Biringan. Maria Makiling opens a pop-up café with human heartbreak on the menu.

In Song of the Mango and Other New Myths, Vida Cruz-Borja brings stories woven from elements of classical myths and folklore from the Philippines and other parts of the world, as well as from visions of the modern and of the future. In worlds richly reimagined and reinvented, these “new myths” explore hidden depths from flawed characters who strive to search for a just and equal world, whether that may be in the realm of ordinary humans or the realm of magical creatures.


As an Amazon Associate and Bookshop affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Note: This review covers the third book in a trilogy, and it contains spoilers for the previous books in the series after the fifth paragraph. You may prefer to read my review of The Obsidian Tower (book 1) or my review of The Quicksilver Court (book 2).

The Ivory Tomb concludes Melissa Caruso’s Rooks and Ruin trilogy, a standalone series set about 150 years after her Swords and Fire trilogy (The Tethered Mage, The Defiant Heir, The Unbound Empire). Rooks and Ruin follows Ryx, the appointed protector of her Witch Lord grandmother’s castle. For 4000 years, her family has been responsible for making sure The Door That Must Never Be Opened in the building’s Black Tower remains shut, but things go horribly wrong when a visiting ambassador breaks their millennia-long streak of success as guardians. To make matters even worse, Ryx—whose touch kills living things—accidentally comes into contact with the diplomat while trying to keep her from opening the Door, further enflaming political tensions.

This incident starts the series’ main story, which involves learning about what happened last time the Door was opened while trying to prevent the same horrors from happening again. Ryx also discovers the truth about her own strange magic that is so unlike the rest of her family’s powers, which bring life instead of taking it away, and grapples with self-acceptance.

I adored the first book in this trilogy, The Obsidian Tower. It’s filled with interpersonal drama with friends and foes alike gathered in the castle while a murderer runs rampant, and it kept me pondering who may or may not be trustworthy. It also did a fantastic job setting up the mysteries surrounding the Door and Ryx’s powers, and I could hardly put it down. Even better, I kept thinking about it after I did have to set it down.

However, I didn’t love the next book, The Quicksilver Court, the same way as the first. It’s still very good with some memorable scenes and lines of dialogue (and the great reveal about Ryx’s powers), but I didn’t find it nearly as riveting as the first book. The palace setting wasn’t as captivating as the family castle with its history and occasional rooms of bone, and the interpersonal connections were less compelling. This installment delved more into the pasts of Ryx’s friends in the Rookery, and I didn’t think these characters had enough depth or charisma to carry that amount of focus.

And though I found it to be more of a page-turner than the second book, The Ivory Tomb is my least favorite of the three. It’s a good, well-paced book with amusing dialogue, and I found it extremely readable after the first 40 pages or so. Yet, I also found that there weren’t parts or lines that stuck with me after I finished it. It just didn’t have that special spark that takes a story to the next level—and given that I felt similarly about parts of the previous book, I didn’t love this series nearly as much as Swords and Fire despite my love for the first book in the trilogy.

From this point forward, there will be spoilers for the first two books in this series.

The Ivory Tomb starts shortly after the end of the previous book, which revealed that all nine of the demons who nearly destroyed the world are once again running loose. Ryx is still trying to come to terms with the fact that she’s one of them—sort of—since her grandmother saved her life by letting one of the demons merge with her when she was deathly ill as a baby. This was one of the most benevolent demons but also one of the most destructive ones: Disaster. After Ryx learns that she’s part Disaster (which really explains so much), the memories of her life as a demon start to come back in bits and pieces, but there’s still a lot that she doesn’t remember from that time.

I have never liked amnesia as a story device. Fortunately, this novel’s brisk pacing meant there were enough other things happening that I kept turning the pages, and this case is at least a little different from the norm since Ryx retains her human memories. However, the holes in her memory contributed to my overall feeling that this could have been a stronger book. Ryx’s (very understandable) concerns about how her friends would react to the news that she was the legendary demon who nearly destroyed the world were compelling, but the fact that she couldn’t remember much of her personal history with the other demons made their interactions kind of lackluster.

A major part of this book’s storyline involves Ryx encountering the various demons who are wreaking havoc on the world. The others remembered her, for better or worse, but she tended to just have vague memories and feelings related to them. These interactions between Ryx and the other demons are a sort of family drama since she thinks of them as kin: she doesn’t necessarily like all of them, but she feels obligated to at least try to reason with them and work out a peaceful solution. However, I found this rather lifeless compared to all the human family drama in the first book, where it was clear why tensions existed between these people. There were obvious reasons they had messy relationships; it wasn’t just someone being shocked Ryx didn’t remember what happened between them, only for Ryx to eventually recall what had happened and fill the reader in after the fact. This probably would have worked for me if the new demons had more personality, but they’re rather one-dimensional beings named after their primary drive or power. Of course, this makes sense for these types of characters, but they still could have been imbued with some charisma that made them stand out more.

I couldn’t help but compare this to the Swords and Fire trilogy (although at least part of my preference for this series was due to the political drama and the way it played with fantasy tropes). Amalia, the protagonist, had no personal history with a lot of the Witch Lords she met, but they each had quirks and charm that made them captivating even if they only briefly appeared. But it was more than just that: the characters in the earlier series were more vibrant in general. The relationships Amalia had with people seemed better fleshed out and defined—including those with characters she met along the way, though to be fair, Ryx did have less people experience since exuding death made it difficult to get close to others—and the scenes and dialogue sparkled, particularly in the second and third books. Rooks and Ruin seemed more like it was going through the motions without giving it that extra shine, especially when it came to the characters in the Rookery. (I actually did like badass warrior Ashe and scholarly Bastian, whose little bits of dimension and duality worked better for me than the attempts made with the other two members. Even so, I didn’t find them nearly as memorable as many of the characters in Swords and Fire.)

But like I said earlier, I thought that The Ivory Tomb was a good book, as you can see from my rating. After the first few chapters, it kept me interested in finding out what happened until the very end, and I enjoyed it more than many of the books I read or sampled last year. It still had the same elements that I liked about the previous installment, particularly Ryx’s relationship with the mage Severin and the foxlike chimera who is more than he appears, Whisper. (I really liked Whisper. A lot.)

The Ivory Tomb just didn’t have that special spark, that tricky-to-define heart, that would have made the characters and story live in my memory as other books have—the way The Obsidian Tower did, or the way the Swords and Fire series did.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.

Rooks and Ruin Excerpts:

  1. The Obsidian Tower
  2. The Quicksilver Court

Reviews of Previous Book(s) in the Rooks and Ruin trilogy:

  1. The Obsidian Tower
  2. The Quicksilver Court

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight books I got over the last week that sound like they may be interesting—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration. 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, along with series information and the publisher’s book description.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org, and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Last week brought three books, one electronic ARC and two gifts from my husband.

There haven’t been any new posts since the last one of these features, but I’m working on a review I hope to have up soon. Plus The Scarlet Circus giveaway that accompanied Jane Yolen’s guest post has come to an end. I’ve heard from both winners, so better luck next time to those of you who did not receive an email about it!

Cover of Of Light and Shadow by Tanaz Bhathena

Of Light and Shadow by Tanaz Bhathena

Tanaz Bhathena’s next novel, a standalone YA fantasy book, will be released on May 23 (hardcover, ebook). Her previous work includes the YA fantasy books in The Wrath of Ambar duology. Hunted by the Sky, the first book in the series, won the Ontario Library Association’s White Pine Award for Canadian young adult literature and the Bapsi Sidhwa Literary Prize for works by Zoroastrian authors.

The author mentioned that Of Light and Shadow contains the following in a post on Goodreads:

an infamous bandit
a rakish prince
an enemies-to-lovers romance
magical beings inspired by Persian and Zoroastrian mythology
a corrupt world inspired by the badlands of 17th century India

Between the mythological inspirations and character dynamic, this sounds rather intriguing to me!


Of Light and Shadow is a novel about magic, mayhem, love, and betrayal—the story of a bandit and a prince who change each other in unexpected ways.

When they don’t give us our birthright, we steal it.

Roshan Chaya is out for justice. Abandoned by her parents at birth and adopted by the kingdom of Jwala’s most notorious bandit before his brutal murder, she is now leader of the Shadow Clan, a gang of farmers-turned-bandits impoverished by the provincial governor’s atrocities and corruption. Roshan’s goal: to avenge her adoptive father and earn back rights and dignity for her people.

Prince Navin has always felt like an outcast. Second in line for the throne, he has never been close to his grandmother, Queen Bhairavi of Jwala. When a night out drinking with friends leads to his capture by the infamous Shadow Clan, Navin schemes to befriend Roshan and use her as a means to escape. His ploy, however, brings Navin closer to the corruption and poverty at the heart of Roshan’s province, raising questions about its governor and Navin’s own family.

To further complicate things, the closer Roshan and Navin get, the harder it becomes to fight their growing attraction. But how can they trust each other when the world as they know it starts to fall apart?

Set in a magical world inspired by the badlands of 17th century India, this standalone epic fantasy novel by Tanaz Bhathena is packed with political tensions, dangerous schemes, and swoon-worthy romance that asks the age old question: can love conquer all?

Cover of The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

The Last Graduate (The Scholomance #2) by Naomi Novik

All three books in The Scholomance are out now, and this one is available in hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook. The publisher’s website has an excerpt and audio sample from The Last Graduate.

The last two books in this series were a gift from my husband, who knew this was a bit risky since I wasn’t sure about continuing this series after reading A Deadly Education. But he’d heard that the series got better and seen some raves about them, so he decided to get them for me anyway. Given that, I’m glad he did.

Although I found the rambling voice tedious, I came to really like El as a character and I am curious about where the story goes. I also wonder if this is a book I might like better knowing where it ends up, so I ordered a print copy in order to reread it and go into the rest of the series with it fresh in my mind. (It will also be interesting to see if reading it in print makes it a better experience since I do tend to find that works better for me, and I think this is a case where that could make a difference.)


NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The specter of graduation looms large as Naomi Novik’s groundbreaking, New York Times bestselling trilogy continues in the stunning sequel to A Deadly Education.

“The climactic graduation-day battle will bring cheers, tears, and gasps as the second of the Scholomance trilogy closes with a breathtaking cliff-hanger.”—Booklist (starred review)


In Wisdom, Shelter. That’s the official motto of the Scholomance. I suppose you could even argue that it’s true—only the wisdom is hard to come by, so the shelter’s rather scant.

Our beloved school does its best to devour all its students—but now that I’ve reached my senior year and have actually won myself a handful of allies, it’s suddenly developed a very particular craving for me. And even if I somehow make it through the endless waves of maleficaria that it keeps throwing at me in between grueling homework assignments, I haven’t any idea how my allies and I are going to make it through the graduation hall alive.

Unless, of course, I finally accept my foretold destiny of dark sorcery and destruction. That would certainly let me sail straight out of here. The course of wisdom, surely.

But I’m not giving in—not to the mals, not to fate, and especially not to the Scholomance. I’m going to get myself and my friends out of this hideous place for good—even if it’s the last thing I do.

With keen insight and mordant humor, Novik reminds us that sometimes it is not enough to rewrite the rules—sometimes, you need to toss out the entire rulebook.

The magic of the Scholomance trilogy continues in The Golden Enclaves

Cover of The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

The Golden Enclaves (The Scholomance #3) by Naomi Novik

The last book in The Scholomance came out late last year and is currently available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. The publisher’s website has an excerpt and audio sample from The Golden Enclaves.

Warning: The book description below does contain spoilers for the previous book. (Yes, I totally spoiled myself, although it also wasn’t detailed enough that I’m all that upset about it.)



#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER • Saving the world is a test no school of magic can prepare you for in the triumphant conclusion to the New York Times bestselling trilogy that began with A Deadly Education and The Last Graduate.

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Paste, Publishers Weekly

The one thing you never talk about while you’re in the Scholomance is what you’ll do when you get out. Not even the richest enclaver would tempt fate that way. But it’s all we dream about: the hideously slim chance we’ll survive to make it out the gates and improbably find ourselves with a life ahead of us, a life outside the Scholomance halls.

And now the impossible dream has come true. I’m out, we’re all out—and I didn’t even have to turn into a monstrous dark witch to make it happen. So much for my great-grandmother’s prophecy of doom and destruction. I didn’t kill enclavers, I saved them. Me and Orion and our allies. Our graduation plan worked to perfection: We saved everyone and made the world safe for all wizards and brought peace and harmony to all the enclaves everywhere.

Ha, only joking! Actually, it’s gone all wrong. Someone else has picked up the project of destroying enclaves in my stead, and probably everyone we saved is about to get killed in the brewing enclave war. And the first thing I’ve got to do now, having miraculously gotten out of the Scholomance, is turn straight around and find a way back in.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight books I got over the last week that sound like they may be interesting—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration. 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, along with series information and the publisher’s book description.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org, and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

There are no new book arrivals from the last week, but now that I’ve got both my favorite books of 2022 and most anticipated books of 2023 posts up, I’m catching up with a belated holiday gift edition of this feature! This week’s highlights are all books that I got for Christmas, and although a couple of them are not categorized as fantasy or science fiction, I included them anyway because I think other fans of these genres may find them interesting as well.

But first, here is last week’s post in case you missed it:

And now, the books from over the holidays!

Cover of What We Fed to the Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri

What We Fed to the Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri

This collection of nine short stories narrated by various animals came out toward the end of last year. It’s currently available in trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook, and the publisher’s website has an excerpt from What We Fed to the Manticore.

I’m not sure exactly how many of these stories qualify as speculative fiction (in the more traditional sense, as opposed to speculating about how animals might tell their stories). It is sometimes tagged as fantasy, and I’ve seen reviews that mention it contains some magical realism and myth. Since this collection’s themes include environmentalism and conservation, it may also have some stories that appeal to science fiction readers interested in climate fiction.

In any case, stories told from the perspectives of animals sounds amazing, and I’ve seen nothing but praise for this book. I’m looking forward to taking some time to really sink into these stories, imagining the world as viewed through the eyes of a tiger, a whale, a donkey, a vulture, and the other animals in this book.


In nine stories that span the globe, What We Fed to the Manticore takes readers inside the minds of a full cast of animal narrators to understand the triumphs, heartbreaks, and complexities of the creatures that share our world.

Through nine emotionally vivid stories, all narrated from animal perspectives, Talia Lakshmi Kolluri’s debut collection explores themes of environmentalism, conservation, identity, belonging, loss, and family with resounding heart and deep tenderness. In Kolluri’s pages, a faithful hound mourns the loss of the endangered rhino he swore to protect. Vultures seek meaning as they attend to the antelope that perished in Central Asia. A beloved donkey’s loyalty to a zookeeper in Gaza is put to the ultimate test. And a wounded pigeon in Delhi finds an unlikely friend.

In striking, immersive detail against the backdrop of an ever-changing international landscape, What We Fed to the Manticore speaks to the fears and joys of the creatures we share our world with, and ultimately places the reader under the rich canopy of the tree of life.

Cover of Dauntless by Elisa A. Bonnin

Dauntless by Elisa A. Bonnin

This Filipino-inspired YA fantasy debut came out toward the end of last year and is currently available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. The paperback edition will be released in June.

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from Dauntless.

I read this already and really enjoyed it, especially the beasts, the magical armor, and the settlements in giant, widespread trees. This is a book in a setting that’s a bit different than usual, and I had a lot of fun exploring this world with Seri, the main character.


A teen girl must bring together two broken worlds in order to save her nation in this lush, Filipino-inspired young adult fantasy novel from debut author Elisa A. Bonnin.

“Be dauntless, for the hopes of the People rest in you.”

Seri’s world is defined by very clear rules: The beasts prowl the forest paths and hunt the People. The valiant explore the unknown world, kill the beasts, and gain strength from the armor they make from them. As an assistant to Eshai Unbroken, a young valor commander with a near-mythical reputation, Seri has seen first-hand the struggle to keep the beasts at bay and ensure the safety of the spreading trees where the People make their homes. That was how it always had been, and how it always would be. Until the day Seri encounters Tsana.

Tsana is, impossibly, a stranger from the unknown world who can communicate with the beasts – a fact that makes Seri begin to doubt everything she’s ever been taught. As Seri and Tsana grow closer, their worlds begin to collide, with deadly consequences. Somehow, with the world on the brink of war, Seri will have to find a way to make peace.

Cover of Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge

Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge; translated by Jeremy Tiang

This was the first one of Yan Ge’s books written in Chinese to be translated into English and published in the US. It’s available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook, and the publisher’s website includes a sample from Strange Beasts of China.

This is another book that I want to read because it features fantastic animals, and I love that the protagonist is a cryptozoologist.


From one of the most exciting voices in contemporary Chinese literature, an uncanny and playful novel that blurs the line between human and beast …

In the fictional Chinese city of Yong’an, an amateur cryptozoologist is commissioned to uncover the stories of its fabled beasts. These creatures live alongside humans in near-inconspicuousness—save their greenish skin, serrated earlobes, and strange birthmarks.

Aided by her elusive former professor and his enigmatic assistant, our narrator sets off to document each beast, and is slowly drawn deeper into a mystery that threatens her very sense of self.

Part detective story, part metaphysical enquiry, Strange Beasts of China engages existential questions of identity, humanity, love and morality with whimsy and stylistic verve.

Cover of Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman

Here Be Dragons (Welsh Princes #1) by Sharon Kay Penman

First published in 1985, Here Be Dragons is currently available in trade paperback and ebook.

I’ve seen Sharon Kay Penman’s historical fiction books recommended for fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, and that’s exactly why I had Here Be Dragons on my wish list. It doesn’t have any fantastical elements that I’m aware of, but it sounds like the political conflicts are intense, so I’m excited! (As much as I love the dragons and direwolves, the characters and royal/house politics are largely why A Song of Ice and Fire is one of my longtime favorites, after all.)


Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England’s ruthless, power-hungry King John. Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce by marrying the English king’s beloved illegitimate daughter, Joanna, who slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband. But as John’s attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales—and Llewelyn—Joanna must decide where her love and loyalties truly lie.

The turbulent clashes of two disparate worlds and the destinies of the individuals caught between them spring to life in this magnificent novel of power and passion, loyalty and lies. The book that began the trilogy that includes Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning, Here Be Dragons brings thirteenth-century England, France, and Wales to tangled, tempestuous life.

Today I’m thrilled to have a guest post by storyteller, poet, and essayist Jane Yolen with a giveaway of her latest book, The Scarlet Circus! She’s the author of over 400 books, including Briar Rose, the Pit Dragon Chronicles, the Great Alta series, the Young Merlin Trilogy, Sister Emily’s Lightship and Other Stories, and The Emerald Circus. Her work has won Nebula, World Fantasy, and Mythopoeic Awards, among others, and she is a recipient of the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award, the SFWA Grand Master Award, and the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association Grand Master Award.

The Scarlet Circus, a collection of romantic fantasy short stories, will be released in trade paperback and ebook next week—on Valentine’s Day! I also have two copies to give away courtesy of Tachyon Publications: a print copy for a reader from the US and an ebook for someone outside the US. See below for more information on the book and author, Jane Yolen’s guest post, and the giveaway rules!


Cover of The Scarlet Circus by Jane Yolen
More Information & Book Excerpt


The Scarlet Circus, the fourth volume in Yolen’s award-winning short fiction series brings you passionate treasures and unexpected transformations. This bewitching assemblage, with an original introduction from Brandon Sanderson, is an ideal read for anyone who appreciates witty, compelling, and classic romantic fantasy.

A rakish fairy meets the real Juliet behind Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. A jewelry artist travels to the past to meet a successful silver-smith. The addled crew of a ship at sea discovers a mysterious merman. More than one ignored princess finds her match in the most unlikely men.

From ecstasy to tragedy, with love blossoming shyly, love at first sight, and even love borne of practical necessity—beloved fantasist Jane Yolen’s newest collection celebrates romance in all its glory.

I think there are two basic kinds of fantasy love stories: straight-ahead romance (all sex withheld ’till marriage) and truly sexy stories, all faucets and facets and laced pieces open wide.

But within those two rather large spaces, there is room for a bunch of other kinds of romantic tales: western romances, mystery romances, historical romances, LGBTQIA+ romances, magical romances, fairy-tale romances, romances with animals of all sorts, hip or hippy romances, upper-class romances, cross-continents romances, cross-religions romances, cross-sexualities romances, polymorphous romances, and on and on and on.

How mermaids do it fascinates me in a slippery sort of way. How do vampires—in a bloody kind of way? How do aliens do the deed? Depends on whether you are from Venus or Mars, I suppose. We are endlessly fascinated.

I have written a bunch of romance short stories published in magazines, anthologies, and collections, with mostly fantastical, supernatural, or cross-species romances, almost by accident. And it is the love elements, only secondarily the sexual elements that I find interesting to explore. (By day and in a book.) My editor and I have fashioned The Scarlet Circus out of our favorites, adding back notes for those interested in how each story came to be written and an additional romantic poem that “speaks” to each story.

Also, many of my fantasy novels are romantic as well. I’d like to point especially to Briar Rose and Except the Queen.

At night, I am amazingly single-minded. Not alone. But single-minded. One me. One man at a time. Twice married with a death between us, both widowed for years, and meeting again in our 80s.

As to both those love stories—they were both super romantic. My first husband climbed in through the window of my first-floor apartment that I shared with two New York City librarians. We were having a housewarming, and too many people (including the folk band the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem) were crowding into the front door.

This handsome and brilliant young man climbed in; spotted me, standing in the middle of the apartment, hands on my hips, my long dark braid hanging past my bottom (it was the 1960s); kissed me on the nape of the neck; and said, “My name is David Stemple, and I am a friend of one of the girls in the apartment.” And I—a born Manhattanite and no stranger to snark—replied, “I am one of the girls in the apartment and you are no friend of mine.”

Dear Reader, two years later I married him!

The second round, after I had been many years a widow, ten years of which I was also a very bad date (evidently), I got an email from a man I had dated for two months in college—both of us the “school poet.” Peter Tacy had been at Williams, I was at Smith. Mostly we talked about Dickinson and Yeats, our two favorite poets. Not a romance. And then we broke up. And two weeks later he spotted a young woman at Bennington, whom he married. And two years later, I met my first husband. Peter and I bumped into one another at two conferences over the years, both educational conferences. Shook hands. And then, after I was widowed and after he was widowed as well, The New Yorker published a five-and-a-half-page review of YA Holocaust novels by someone I didn’t know, but three of the books she kept talking about were mine.

Since I don’t subscribe to The New Yorker and they have never taken single poem of mine nor reviewed me before, I was surprised when this voice from the past, Peter, sent me a copy of the review and said that he was going to visit the Emily Dickinson Museum/House, and wasn’t it somewhere near my house? “Twenty minutes!” I said. We had lunch. I fell in love with his dog. And then with him.

And now, Dear Reader, we have been together since Covid broke out and we had to live for three months seeing no one else but one another while living in his house. And we write poems together that are published in small magazines. And we are living as happily ever after as an 83- and an 85-year-old can.


Here’s a poem written just for you. It is about Peter and me and the Now.

Some Men

Some men are from Jupiter,
some from Mars,
and some with wider spider wisdom
trap their wives
with recipes from the best
French cooks,
or their Italian teachers.
I supply the chocolate
on my own.
And love soaks through
the pores of his enchantment,
the lines of our poems.

Photo of Jane Yolen JANE YOLEN is the author of more than four hundred books, including children’s fiction, poetry, short stories, graphic novels, nonfiction, fantasy, and science fiction. Her publications include Owl Moon, The Devil’s Arithmetic, Briar Rose, Sister Emily’s Starship, and Sister Light, Sister Dark. Among her many honors are the Caldecott and Christopher Medals and multiple Nebula, World Fantasy, Mythopoeic, Golden Kite, and Jewish Book awards. Yolen is also a teacher of writing and a book reviewer. She lives in Western Massachusetts and St Andrews, Scotland.

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out Fantasy Cafe’s Scarlet Circus Giveaway Google form, linked below. One entry per household and the winner will be randomly selected. Those from the US are eligible to win a print copy. Everyone else is eligible to win the ebook. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Friday, February 17. Each winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them after 24 hours has passed, a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winners. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Note: This giveaway has come to a close, and links to enter have been removed.