The Unbound Empire
by Melissa Caruso
560pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.43/5
 

Between watching the rushed final season of Game of Thrones and reading a couple of recent conclusions to trilogies, I’ve been thinking a lot about series endings—especially how rare it is to find a multi-volume story whose final installment measures up to its previous ones. Many series I’ve otherwise loved have had concluding volumes that didn’t entirely work for me, and in many of these cases, my problem wasn’t where the story ended up but how it got to that point. Though I do sometimes find endings to be too neatly, happily wrapped up given the characters’ difficult journeys (or, on occasion, too dismal and depressing for my taste), many of the series I’ve felt had weaker final installments primarily had issues with pacing: often, earlier and middle parts seem drawn out with characterization left by the wayside, then later parts pick up and proceed at a breakneck pace, and suddenly, it’s over. The end.

The Unbound Empire, the third volume in Melissa Caruso’s Venetian-inspired Swords and Fire trilogy, is one of those rare series finales done right. It’s well paced without leaving behind all the fun dialogue and interactions that were a large part of why I enjoyed the series so much in the first place. Successes feel earned. Character arcs advance in believable ways that fit naturally with the previous two books. And it maintains the balance between being so tightly resolved that it seems that the story doesn’t continue after the last page and so loosely resolved that it’s an unsatisfying conclusion. There’s enough work to be done that it’s not at all hard to imagine characters will continue to learn and grow as they face further problems after that final page, but it also didn’t have dangling plotlines or big unanswered questions that will haunt me forever.

In fact, the entire Swords and Fire trilogy is a series done right, cementing Melissa Caruso’s first three novels as some of my recent favorites. They’re entertaining and effortlessly readable with heart, humor, and thoughtful storytelling that makes them stand out. Though there’s much about them that feels familiar from the magics to a young heroine finding her place in the world, the mix of details and their execution make it fresh—from gender equality and LGBTQ acceptance removing some common obstacles, to the various governments that make the countries and conflicts more interesting than the oft-used monarchies, to the intricacies of how the mage-marked are controlled or not, to how mandatory service to the Empire is desirable for many mages since they are fed, sheltered, and protected from threats, to the individual quirks of the various Witch Lords. (You can read more about these in my reviews of the first two books, The Tethered Mage and The Defiant Heir.) Even the love triangle is a bit different from the norm and unusually well handled, but I won’t discuss that any further to avoid spoiling how it plays out!

In particular, I appreciated Amalia’s progression throughout these three books. When The Tethered Mage began, Amalia preferred books and magical theory studies to politics and had not yet acquired the acumen expected of her as the heir to her mother’s place on the ruling council. But her story is not about escaping the shackles of expectation to pursue her own goals—rather, it’s about embracing a role that she would not have chosen for herself and making it her own. Although I do often enjoy stories in which characters defy such roles to follow their hearts, I found it refreshing to follow one who chose to be dutiful instead, and Amalia still very much forged her own path as she made her own judgments and pursued her own goals. Her scholarly background was a strength—especially since the main villain, Ruven, used obscure knowledge gleaned from texts in addition to his powers—and Amalia had no illusions that she would ever be (or should be) just like her mother, though she did take her advice seriously and learn from her.

Throughout the trilogy, Amalia becomes more politically perceptive, and it’s gratifying to see just how far she’s come in The Unbound Empire. In the previous book, she seemed more naive and hesitant, and it also seemed to me that she got more credit than she deserved in the end, but her achievements seem deserved in the final book. She’s more aware of the games being played, and it’s delightful to read about actual competent nemeses as she tries to discover and thwart Ruven’s plans. Amalia realizes that Ruven is manipulative and unlikely to consider himself bound by his word later when he attempts to persuade her with reason or emotion, nor does Ruven automatically take Amalia’s words at face value considering what he knows about her. Although Ruven is one of those character types I often find dull—the type primarily motivated by greed and power with no apparent redeeming qualities—he is a compelling villain because he’s capable, making his depravity all the more chilling. He doesn’t make glaringly obvious mistakes, and even though he’s extraordinarily powerful as someone who can control others with a touch, heal himself, and draw from the life within his domain, he also has more than one trick up his sleeve. He uses his magic in different and sometimes unexpected ways, and he doesn’t just rely on his innate abilities in his pursuit of continental domination: he also studies, experiments, and invents all kinds of macabre horrors.

In addition to dealing with Ruven’s attempt to add her country to his own dominion in The Unbound Empire, Amalia also works on passing a law that will give the mage-marked more freedom while continuing her struggle with the consequences of the decision she made at the end of the previous book. As Amalia and Zaira face the possibility of unleashing the latter’s deadly fire in defense, a major theme in this novel is retaining one’s compassion when in a position that forces one to make life and death decisions in the service of protecting one’s people. How does one take the more difficult path of acknowledging their accountability instead of distancing oneself from the crushing weight of such responsibility—or giving in and simply becoming the monstrous person they feel they are in making such judgments? How does one remain true to their own principles when it seems that there are no good choices and time is running out?

There are no easy solutions, but Amalia has many supportive relationships and people she can rely on for help. Though she seems to believe her friend (and one corner of the love triangle) Marcello is the only person she can discuss such matters with, that’s just not true. Her accidental bond with Zaira has grown into a beautiful friendship, and Zaira will always bluntly (and, often, crassly) speak her mind, having no reservations whatsoever about telling Amalia when she thinks she’s making a misstep or being too hard on herself. Amalia also gets a glimpse of the softer side behind her mother’s ruthless exterior, and I loved the sage advice that La Contessa gave her about their role in the Empire, especially that she dispensed it without telling Amalia specifically how to think and be. Even Amalia’s suitor (and other corner of the love triangle) Kathe—one of the feared seventeen Witch Lords, who entered into a mutual courtship arrangement with Amalia for political appearances—has some wisdom to impart to her about ruling and has become someone she can turn to as more than just an ally in the fight against Ruven.

Many of Amalia’s connections shine brightly, and though each also shows a more serious side, Zaira and Kathe in particular add some much needed amusement in the midst of all the high stakes. Zaira has a way with words that makes conversations particularly interesting, and Kathe—whose hobbies include playing games and decorating trees with the skulls of his enemies—has a presence that automatically makes everything more interesting.

In fact, meeting Kathe is the main reason I found The Defiant Heir the most fun book in the series, but The Unbound Empire is both immensely fun and a technically stronger book, given that I didn’t have the feeling that Amalia was building her reputation too easily. It’s an excellent conclusion to the Swords and Fire trilogy, and I’m excited to read more by Melissa Caruso—especially considering her next series will be set in the same world as her first!

My Rating: 9/10

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

Read an Excerpt from The Unbound Empire

Reviews of Previous Books in the Swords and Fire trilogy:

  1. The Tethered Mage
  2. The Defiant Heir

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (most of which are unsolicited books from publishers). 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.

Last week brought one book I’m very excited about (photo of the book next to Lying Cat), but first, here’s last week’s review in case you missed it:

And now, book mail!

The Ten Thousand Doors of January Cover

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Hugo and Nebula Award–nominated author Alix E. Harrow’s debut novel will be released on September 10 in the US and September 12 in the UK (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

Orbit has a brief excerpt from The Ten Thousand Doors of January in their acquisition announcement.

Alix E. Harrow also wrote a guest post for this year’s Women in SF&F Month:

In Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, September is sent on a quest to find a magical casket and take up her mother’s sword. But when she opens the casket she doesn’t find a sword—she finds a wrench, because her mother is a mechanic. If it were me opening that casket in the Worsted Woods of Fairyland, I would find a library.

You can read the rest of “My Mother’s Sword” here.

 

In the early 1900s, a young woman searches for her place in the world after finding a mysterious book in this captivating, lyrical debut.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a spellbinding tale of unforgettable love, impossible journeys, and the power of stories to lead to worlds never imagined.

Additional Books:

Book Description:

The searing conclusion of the thrilling epic fantasy trilogy that saw a young girl trained by an arcane order of nuns grow into the fiercest of warriors…

They came against her as a child. Now they face the woman.

The ice is advancing, the Corridor narrowing, and the empire is under siege from the Scithrowl in the east and the Durns in the west. Everywhere, the emperor’s armies are in retreat.

Nona Grey faces the final challenges that must be overcome if she is to become a full sister in the order of her choice. But it seems unlikely that she and her friends will have time to earn a nun’s habit before war is on their doorstep.

Even a warrior like Nona cannot hope to turn the tide of war.

The shiphearts offer strength that she might use to protect those she loves, but it’s a power that corrupts. A final battle is coming in which she will be torn between friends, unable to save them all. A battle in which her own demons will try to unmake her.

A battle in which hearts will be broken, lovers lost, thrones burned.

 

Holy Sister, the final volume in Mark Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor trilogy, was easily one of my most anticipated books of 2019 since I absolutely loved Red Sister and also rather enjoyed Grey Sister (both of which were among my favorite books of 2017 and 2018). Red Sister was an incredibly engaging introduction to Nona, a young girl condemned to die after defending her friend from a violent nobleman, who would have been mortally wounded if not for his family’s great wealth providing access to the best magical healing. Both Nona and her friend were to hang for this, and though the other girl did not escape her punishment, Nona was saved at the last moment by Abbess Glass of the Convent of Sweet Mercy. The abbess made Nona a novice and had her begin training in the Totally Badass Ways of the nuns of the Ancestor, whose trainees learned everything from geography, history, and religion to combat, stealth, and poisons. Nona easily won me over with her fierceness and loyalty, and I was also intrigued by the secret past that frightened this otherwise fearless girl so much that she kept it from her friends (and the reader) throughout most of the first novel.

Grey Sister only made me more invested in Nona, her friends, and her teachers. I appreciated the theme of strength and power having a variety of forms and the exciting events of the second half, but it was primarily these characters that kept me reading in spite of some uneven pacing and awkward writing that kept it from being as polished as the first novel. Unfortunately, I thought Holy Sister continued this trend of subsequent volumes declining in quality—except the difference between the second and third books is far more significant than the difference between the first and second books.

Holy Sister did have some of the features that made the previous books memorable from the intense moments of badassery to the importance of different types of strength and power, but I felt it lacked heart. Characterization took a backseat as it seemed like the characters were going through the motions of wrapping up plot points, and it just wasn’t satisfying even if there were occasionally some good scenes. The friendships I was once so invested in didn’t have the same life; conversations between characters who once had captivating interactions fell flat. After their scenes in Grey Sister, I wouldn’t have thought I could find Nona and Zole spending so much time together boring, but I did (even if I did like the general trajectory of their stories and the handling of the Chosen One trope).

Though Holy Sister is shorter than both the previous books, it felt like it had a lot of filler since I just didn’t find it as pleasurable to read. It alternates between two timelines, one starting right after the end of Grey Sister and one starting three years later that eventually ties in with the flash-forwards from the first two novels, and I didn’t think this method worked well. There was too much jumping back and forth without any real tension about how the past led to the present, and much of the past could have been condensed, especially since it just seemed to drag without interesting characterization or dialogue. The present timeline was more compelling, but it also seemed to plod at times until the last few chapters, the only part where I really wanted to keep reading. I also thought that the revelation of how the flash-forwards fit into the overall story was lackluster: looking back at the previous sections knowing how it all plays out makes them seem like they were only added for dramatic effect, not because they truly fit.

After spending so much time speculating about those scenes, this was a disappointment—but that basically sums up my feelings about Holy Sister: disappointing. I am glad I read it, but mainly because it provided closure after reading and enthusing about the previous two books, not because I found it a particularly entertaining reading experience (although most readers seem to have had a better time with it than I did, so you may feel differently!).

My Rating: 4.5/10

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

Read an Excerpt from Holy Sister

Reviews of Previous Books in the Book of the Ancestor Trilogy:

  1. Red Sister
  2. Grey Sister

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (most of which are unsolicited books from publishers). 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.

Last week brought two ARCs, both of which sound intriguing. There weren’t any new reviews last week, but I do have one in progress that I expect to go up this week (probably Tuesday).

The Gossamer Mage - Julie E. Czerneda - Book Cover

The Gossamer Mage by Julie E. Czerneda

This standalone epic fantasy will be released on August 6 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

Julie E. Czerneda’s website has a brief excerpt from The Gossamer Mage.

 

From an Aurora Award-winning author comes a new fantasy epic in which one mage must stand against a Deathless Goddess who controls all magic.

Only in Tananen do people worship a single deity: the Deathless Goddess. Only in this small, forbidden realm are there those haunted by words of no language known to woman or man. The words are Her Gift, and they summon magic.

Mage scribes learn to write Her words as intentions: spells to make beasts or plants, designed to any purpose. If an intention is flawed, what the mage creates is a gossamer: a magical creature as wild and free as it is costly for the mage.

For Her Gift comes at a steep price. Each successful intention ages a mage until they dare no more. But her magic demands to be used; the Deathless Goddess will take her fee, and mages will die.

To end this terrible toll, the greatest mage in Tananen vows to find and destroy Her. He has yet to learn She is all that protects Tananen from what waits outside. And all that keeps magic alive.

Boundless - R. A. Salvatore - Book Cover

Boundless: A Drizzt Novel (Generations #2) by R. A. Salvatore

Boundless, R. A. Salvatore’s next Drizzt Do-Urden novel, will be released on September 10 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

The Harper Collins website has an excerpt and audio sample from Timeless, the first book in the Generations trilogy.

 

This second book in New York Times bestselling author R. A. Salvatore’s all-new trilogy—full of swordplay, danger, and imaginative thrills—features one of fantasy’s most beloved and enduring characters, Drizzt Do’Urden.

Split between time and two worlds, Zaknafein had always been conflicted. That inner turmoil was magnified by his inferior position as a male dark elf in the matriarchal drow society. Only his status as one of the greatest warriors—as well as his friendship with the mercenary Jarlaxle—kept him sane. When he finally perished, he was content knowing he left behind a legacy as substantial as his son Drizzt.

Except . . . someone isn’t ready for Zaknafein to be dead. And now he’s back, hundreds of years later, in a world he doesn’t recognize. His son’s companions are not the prideful—and bigoted—males the drow warrior was accustomed to in his previous life. Drizzt’s circle includes dwarves, elves, and, perhaps worst of all, a human wife.

Struggling to navigate this transformed new world, Zaknafein realizes that some things have not changed: the threat of demons and the machinations of a drow matron no longer content with her family’s position in the ranks of Houses.

Though he has been displaced in time, Zaknafein is still a warrior. And no matter what prejudices he must overcome, he knows he will do his duty and fight by Drizzt’s side to stem the tide of darkness that threatens the Realms.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (most of which are unsolicited books from publishers). 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.

Like last weekend, I’m covering some of the highlights from April, plus a couple of books from last week. The first of these came from the publisher, and the rest were gifts.

Unraveling - Karen Lord - Book Cover

Unraveling by Karen Lord

Karen Lord’s next book will be released on June 4 (hardcover, ebook). The publisher’s website has an excerpt from Unraveling.

I’ve been looking forward to this novel since I enjoyed Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds and Redemption in Indigo.

 

In this standalone fantasy novel by an award-winning author, the dark truth behind a string of unusual murders leads to an otherworldly exploration of spirits, myth, and memory, steeped in Caribbean storytelling.

Dr. Miranda Ecouvo, forensic therapist of the City, just helped put a serial killer behind bars. But she soon discovers that her investigation into seven unusual murders is not yet complete. A near-death experience throws her out of time and into a realm of labyrinths and spirits. There, she encounters brothers Chance and the Trickster, who have an otherworldly interest in the seemingly mundane crimes from her files.

It appears the true mastermind behind the murders is still on the loose, chasing a myth to achieve immortality. Together, Miranda, Chance, and the Trickster must travel through conjured mazes, following threads of memory to locate the shadowy killer. As they journey deeper, they discover even more questions that will take pain and patience to answer. What is the price of power? Where is the path to redemption? And how can they stop the man—or monster—who would kill the innocent to live forever?

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings Anthology Cover

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman

This anthology of retold Asian myths and legends is available now (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The publisher’s website has a sample from A Thousand Beginnings and Endings.

 

Star-crossed lovers, meddling immortals, feigned identities, battles of wits, and dire warnings: these are the stuff of fairy tale, myth, and folklore that have drawn us in for centuries.

Sixteen bestselling and acclaimed authors reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in short stories that are by turns enchanting, heartbreaking, romantic, and passionate.

Compiled by We Need Diverse Books’s Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman—who both contributed stories to this edition, as well—the authors included in this exquisite collection are: Renée Ahdieh, Sona Charaipotra, Preeti Chhibber, Roshani Chokshi, Aliette de Bodard, Melissa de la Cruz, Julie Kagawa, Rahul Kanakia, Lori M. Lee, E. C. Myers, Cindy Pon, Aisha Saeed, Shveta Thakrar, and Alyssa Wong.

A mountain loses her heart. Two sisters transform into birds to escape captivity. A young man learns the true meaning of sacrifice. A young woman takes up her mother’s mantle and leads the dead to their final resting place.

From fantasy to science fiction to contemporary, from romance to tales of revenge, these stories will beguile readers from start to finish. For fans of Neil Gaiman’s Unnatural Creatures and Ameriie’s New York Times–bestselling Because You Love to Hate Me.

A Spark of White Fire - Sangu Mandanna - Book Cover

A Spark of White Fire (Celestial Trilogy #1) by Sangu Mandanna

The first book in the Celestial Trilogy, a science fiction series based on the Mahabrahata, is out now (hardcover, ebook, paperback coming in August). A House of Rage and Sorrow, the second book in the trilogy, is scheduled for release on September 3, and a prequel short story, “Steel and Flowers” can be read online.

I got A Spark of White Fire for my birthday, and I’ve already read it since I’d been hearing a lot about it. And it is wonderful—a blend of space opera and myth with interesting character twists and turns. I can hardly wait for A House of Rage and Sorrow!

 

The first book in a scifi retelling of the Mahabrahata. When Esmae wins a contest of skill, she sets off events that trigger an inevitable and unwinnable war that pits her against the family she would give anything to return to.

In a universe of capricious gods, dark moons, and kingdoms built on the backs of spaceships, a cursed queen sends her infant daughter away, a jealous uncle steals the throne of Kali from his nephew, and an exiled prince vows to take his crown back.

Raised alone and far away from her home on Kali, Esmae longs to return to her family. When the King of Wychstar offers to gift the unbeatable, sentient warship Titania to a warrior that can win his competition, she sees her way home: she’ll enter the competition, reveal her true identity to the world, and help her famous brother win back the crown of Kali.

It’s a great plan. Until it falls apart.

Inspired by the Mahabharata and other ancient Indian stories, A Spark of White Fire is a lush, sweeping space opera about family, curses, and the endless battle between jealousy and love.

Red Clocks - Leni Zumas - Book Cover

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Red Clocks—a national bestseller, a Time Best Book of the Year, and a Goodreads Choice Award finalist in the Science Fiction category—is out now (hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, audiobook). It’s also a finalist for this year’s Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards, which were just announced last week.

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from Red Clocks.

 

Five women. One question. What is a woman for?

In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling herbalist, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.

RED CLOCKS is at once a riveting drama, whose mysteries unfold with magnetic energy, and a shattering novel of ideas. In the vein of Margaret Atwood and Eileen Myles, Leni Zumas fearlessly explores the contours of female experience, evoking THE HANDMAID’S TALE for a new millennium. This is a story of resilience, transformation, and hope in tumultuous-even frightening-times.

Saga, Volume 7 Cover

Saga, Volume 7 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Saga, Volume 7 is out now in paperback and ebook (as are volumes 8 and 9, which I still need to read).

I read this a couple of nights ago, and it is SO GOOD (and that ending!).

 

From the worldwide bestselling team of FIONA STAPLES and BRIAN K. VAUGHAN, “The War for Phang” is an epic, self-contained SAGA event! Finally reunited with her ever-expanding family, Hazel travels to a war-torn comet that Wreath and Landfall have been battling over for ages. New friendships are forged and others are lost forever in this action-packed volume about families, combat and the refugee experience.

Collects issues 37 through 42.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (most of which are unsolicited books from publishers). 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.

It’s been a while since the last one of these features since last month was dedicated to featuring wonderful guest posts for Women in SF&F Month 2019. (If you missed it, that link goes to a page with all the information you should need to catch up!)

It would take forever to cover all the books that have come in since then, so I’m just going to cover some of the highlights this weekend and next, starting with five arrivals from the last month or so.

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay’s next novel, set in a world inspired by Renaissance Italy, will be released on May 14 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

Penguin Random House Canada has an excerpt from A Brightness Long Ago, and Penguin Random House has a schedule for some upcoming US tour events (at the moment, they are in Seattle and San Francisco).

I’ve been looking forward to this one since Guy Gavriel Kay has written some novels I’m particularly fond of—including River of Stars, which I was fortunate enough to ask him some questions about in an interview in 2013.

 

International bestselling author Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest work is set in a world evoking early Renaissance Italy and offers an extraordinary cast of characters whose lives come together through destiny, love, and ambition.

In a chamber overlooking the nighttime waterways of a maritime city, a man looks back on his youth and the people who shaped his life. Danio Cerra’s intelligence won him entry to a renowned school even though he was only the son of a tailor. He took service at the court of a ruling count—and soon learned why that man was known as the Beast.

Danio’s fate changed the moment he saw and recognized Adria Ripoli as she entered the count’s chambers one autumn night—intending to kill. Born to power, Adria had chosen, instead of a life of comfort, one of danger—and freedom. Which is how she encounters Danio in a perilous time and place.

Vivid figures share the unfolding story. Among them: a healer determined to defy her expected lot; a charming, frivolous son of immense wealth; a powerful religious leader more decadent than devout; and, affecting all these lives and many more, two larger-than-life mercenary commanders, lifelong adversaries, whose rivalry puts a world in the balance.

A Brightness Long Ago offers both compelling drama and deeply moving reflections on the nature of memory, the choices we make in life, and the role played by the turning of Fortune’s wheel.

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Joan He’s debut novel was released last month (hardcover, ebook). NPR has an excerpt from Descendant of the Crane.

This is another book I’ve been looking forward to for a while. I’m about halfway through it right now, and so far, it’s quite good—prettily written with truth as a major theme.

It’s also a beautiful book, and the copy I pre-ordered came with a lovely bookmark and some character cards. (I did take some photos of these for Twitter!)

 

Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own. Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom. Determined to find her father’s killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death… because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information illicitly provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust even her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of her kingdom at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

In this shimmering Chinese-inspired fantasy, debut author Joan He introduces a determined and vulnerable young heroine struggling to do right in a world brimming with deception.

Dreams of Dark and Light by Tanith Lee Cover

Dreams of Dark and Light: The Great Short Fiction of Tanith Lee

Dreams of Dark and Light is out of print, so I was thrilled to get a copy of it for my birthday last month! I want to read more by Tanith Lee, and I’ve wanted to read this book in particular since T. Frohock recommended it as being an especially good collection of her short fiction.

 

Tanith Lee today is one of the most versatile and respected writers of fantasy, horror, and science fiction, and DREAMS OF DARK AND LIGHT represents a massive mid-career retrospective of her achievements over the previous decade.

Here are unforgettable tales of werewolves that prowl chateaux, an Earthwoman in exile on a distant planet, demons that inhabit bodies of the living dead, a race of vampiric creatures who prey upon a cursed castle, and many other works of exotic vision, mythic science fiction, and contemporary horror. Also included are two stories that have received the World Fantasy Award, “Elle est Trois, (La Mort)” and “The Gorgon,” making DREAMS OF DARK AND LIGHT a distinguished one volume library of myth-weaving at its most eloquent and evocative.

Jade War by Fonda Lee Cover

Jade War (The Green Bone Saga #2) by Fonda Lee

Jade War will be released on July 23 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

Jade City, the first book in The Green Bone Saga, won World Fantasy and Aurora Awards and was a Nebula Award finalist. The publisher’s website has an excerpt from Jade City, and the author’s website has some extras and an audiobook sample.

I am curious to find out where this series goes next after Jade City (which I reviewed here).

 

In Jade War, the sequel to the World Fantasy Award-winning novel Jade City, the Kaul siblings battle rival clans for honor and control over an Asia-inspired fantasy metropolis.

On the island of Kekon, the Kaul family is locked in a violent feud for control of the capital city and the supply of magical jade that endows trained Green Bone warriors with supernatural powers they alone have possessed for hundreds of years.

Beyond Kekon’s borders, war is brewing. Powerful foreign governments and mercenary criminal kingpins alike turn their eyes on the island nation. Jade, Kekon’s most prized resource, could make them rich – or give them the edge they’d need to topple their rivals.

Faced with threats on all sides, the Kaul family is forced to form new and dangerous alliances, confront enemies in the darkest streets and the tallest office towers, and put honor aside in order to do whatever it takes to ensure their own survival – and that of all the Green Bones of Kekon.

Jade War is the second book of the Green Bone Saga, an epic trilogy about family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of blood and jade.

The Green Bone Saga
Jade City
Jade War

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City - K. J. Parker - Cover

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K. J. Parker

The latest novel by K. J. Parker came out last month (trade paperback, ebook). The publisher’s website has an excerpt from Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City.

 

K. J. Parker’s new novel is the remarkable tale of the siege of a walled city, and the even more remarkable man who had to defend it.

A siege is approaching, and the city has little time to prepare. The people have no food and no weapons, and the enemy has sworn to slaughter them all.

To save the city will take a miracle, but what it has is Orhan. A colonel of engineers, Orhan has far more experience with bridge-building than battles, is a cheat and a liar, and has a serious problem with authority. He is, in other words, perfect for the job.

Sixteen Ways To Defend a Walled City is the story of Orhan, son of Siyyah Doctus Felix Praeclarissimus, and his history of the Great Siege, written down so that the deeds and sufferings of great men may never be forgotten.