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Stephanie Burgis’ The Harwood Spellbook series thus far follows women scandalously refusing to conform to the traditions of Angland, an alternate version of nineteenth-century England with magic and mythical beings like elves and fey. In this world, the Celtic queen Boudicca successfully defeated the Romans, leading to the establishment of a group of ruling women known as the Boudiccate—and a strict gender divide between political and magical careers. After all, it’s known that ladies are suited to pursuits requiring a practical nature, such as governing, and gentlemen are suited to more creative pursuits that will not be hindered by their emotional, irrational natures, such as magic.

But Cassandra Harwood was determined to learn magic regardless of society’s rules and has been working to break down barriers for women. Aided by her perseverance and her family name, she became the first woman to be accepted into the academy for magicians. Though she excelled at it, her magical career was cut short after she had an accident that prevented her from being able to actually cast spells. After she had some time to grieve and accept the fact that her plans had been upended, she decided to use her knowledge to help other women who wished to learn magic do so, and she opened the first school for female magicians in Thornbound. The recently-released novella Moontangled deals with the aftereffects of events in Thornbound for Juliana Banks, a magician-in-training at the new school, and Caroline Fennell, a politician—a secretly engaged couple whose relationship is in jeopardy.

After having received some unusually distant letters from Caroline since the last time she saw her, Juliana believes that the ball at the Thornfell College of Magic will be the perfect opportunity for her and her fiancée to reconnect. But their private excursion into the woods does not end up being the romantic rendezvous she’d imagined: Caroline breaks off their engagement, assuming Juliana will be better off without her now that she’s a pariah with damaged career prospects. Though devastated by this turn of events, Juliana says she understands without telling Caroline how she truly feels, assuming that her formerly betrothed has chosen her ambitions over her.

Yet the woods of Thornfell are dark and full of terrors, and when the fey who lurk there interfere in their lives, both women are determined to protect the one she loves…

Moontangled is a short, sweet, compulsively readable tale that unfolds over the course of one night. Although it is a self-contained story that explains circumstances from both Juliana’s and Caroline’s (third person) perspectives, it’s probably best to read Snowspelled and Thornbound before this novella. Cassandra’s books introduce these two protagonists and the world’s social rules, plus Thornbound has a plot involving both the local fey and the scandal that led to Caroline’s current situation and the romantic misunderstanding. Moontangled most likely can be read and enjoyed as a standalone, but I think having that background on these characters and the Boudiccate’s expectations helps with most clearly understanding its major conflicts.

Like the rest of this series, Moontangled is a fun story with a happy ending. Also like the rest of the series, it doesn’t have the type of character depth that makes stories especially memorable to me, yet I admire Stephanie Burgis’ skill at writing this type of story. I really appreciate that these books contain problems that could make a book seem rather heavy—such as obstacles related to gender discrimination, the grief and loss of no longer being able to practice a craft one dreamed of and worked toward, the choice between true love and the surest path to achieving one’s lifelong career goals—without feeling melancholic. This is in part due to them having HEAs, but it’s also due to them having a somewhat whimsical tone and being set in a world that seems removed from ours with the gender perception reversal and abundance of magic: it may be an alternate version of our world with some familiar general issues and attitudes, but it’s VERY alternate.

The main relationship hurdle Juliana and Caroline encountered is similar to the one Amy and Jonathan dealt with in the prequel novella Spellswept (my favorite in this series so far). Like Amy in the prequel, Caroline hopes to one day join the Boudiccate, meaning she’s expected to wed a magician—but instead she fell for and became engaged to Juliana. The two kept their betrothal secret and hoped that Juliana would be able to fulfill her own dream of becoming a magician despite the gender barrier, especially after learning Cassandra Harwood did just that.

With the new magic school for women, it’s possible that Juliana could be that magician, just as they’d planned—but with magic typically being the domain of men, Juliana is going to have a tougher time being accepted as one. And suddenly, Caroline’s swift political climb that made it seem inevitable she’d become a member of the Boudiccate one day reversed, resulting in the miscommunication that is integral to this novella’s plot.

At first, I wasn’t sure that this misunderstanding was believable. Caroline and Juliana were fully aware of the fact that being together might hinder Caroline’s ascension to the Boudiccate when they became engaged, and Juliana’s acceptance into the school for magicians meant that there was hope she would become one after all—which made it seem odd that Caroline would just give up when they faced yet another obstacle. But at the same time, that was the only way they saw this working out and it was going according to plan until Caroline’s aunt/mentor made her professional life unexpectedly difficult.

Although part of me still feels like Juliana and Caroline were close enough that they should have communicated better, I also feel like this ends up being plausible in these circumstances. They did spend some time apart with only handwritten letters for communication, and Caroline had some time to get it stuck into her head that she needed to let Juliana go for her own good. Not being in political circles, Juliana didn’t realize what Caroline was going through since her response to events was to withdraw and keep everything to herself—and with some lingering issues from her upbringing, Juliana’s quick to assume she didn’t mean as much to Caroline as her profession, especially since their engagement was kept secret due to Caroline’s career goals.

Moontangled is the story of Juliana and Caroline working through these problems while facing the problem of protecting each other from the dangers of the woods of Thornfell College—with a dash of magic, of course! I did feel that it resolved too hastily and easily given the scope of the lack of communication and that the fey’s “mysterious” intent was obvious from the start, but I also found it to be an entertaining, diverting tale that doesn’t take long to read due to its quick pacing and short length.

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: Electronic ARC from the author.

Read an Excerpt from Moontangled

Reviews of Other Books in The Harwood Spellbook Series:

 

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Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, a standalone Popol Vuh–inspired historical fantasy novel set during the 1920s, tells the story of a quest to reunite a formerly entrapped Mayan god of death with his missing eye, ear, and index finger—as the brother who separated him from his body parts and imprisoned him in the first place tries to thwart him in order to remain upon his throne.

The journey begins when eighteen-year-old Casiopea Tun inadvertently frees the god, not realizing that the mysterious locked chest in her grandfather’s bedroom contains an imprisoned deity instead of the riches she imagined. When she reaches in to rummage for treasure hidden below the skeletal remains, a bone shard becomes embedded in her hand and the rest of the bones assemble before her, eventually settling into a fully formed—and completely naked—man. He claims to be the Supreme Lord of Xibalba, betrayed by his brother with the aid of Casiopea’s grandfather and now bound to Casiopea through the piece of himself in her hand. She will die if the bone shard is not removed soon, but the Supreme Lord of Xibalba cannot remove it since he’s not 100% pure god without his missing body parts and jade necklace. So Casiopea leaves home to join the search for the items that will restore him to full godhood, leading from her small Mexican town to cities in Mexico and the southern United States—and even into the depths of the Mayan underworld.

Gods of Jade and Shadow is a charming tale of a young woman discovering how Mayan myths and legends intersect with the real world, narrated via the style of oral storytelling. The start is a little reminiscent of Cinderella given that Casiopea spends her days cleaning and running errands for other family members who treat her like dirt, plus it includes a brief mention of her being too focused on pragmatism to see herself as a tragic Cinderella-like figure. During earlier parts of the novel, I was thinking of it as being a tiny bit like the Disney version of Cinderella if she had a wicked cousin instead of wicked stepsisters, and if she had a Mayan god of death who made her dreams of traveling come true rather than a fairy godmother who sent her to the ball, and if she got fine dresses from a demon instead of that fairy godmother. I suppose one could say it’s also a tiny bit like Cinderella if the Mayan god were also the handsome prince, and if she were racing against the clock to remove a bone shard before it kills her rather than to get home before the magic expires, and if the ending were more bittersweet than happily ever after. But obviously, it becomes quite a stretch to compare the entire novel to the fairy tale after the first few chapters, even though there are some echoes of it with Casiopea’s situation and mistreatment.

I loved Casiopea herself and the way she responded to those injustices. She recognizes that the rest of their family is not fair to herself and her mother, and she does attempt to argue when she knows they are being unreasonable. Her mother chastises her for not just accepting the way things are and worries she will become bitter, but Casiopea does not hunger for vengeance. She simply believes that justice and mercy are worth fighting for, and she’s courageous and kind without being long-suffering or naively hopeful. I also found it interesting that Casiopea becomes less “ladylike” according to the standards set by her family and church throughout her adventure—donning modern fashions, getting a scandalously short haircut after sacrificing her long locks for necromancy, and generally engaging in activities she was taught would lead to burning in hell for all eternity (such as laying eyes upon an attractive naked man to whom she was not married, no matter how little control she had over the circumstances).

Casiopea’s dynamic with Hun-Kamé, the displaced Supreme Lord of Xibalba, is wonderful, especially earlier in the story before their shared link has begun to make him more mortal. He’s so serious that Casiopea’s sarcastic responses are completely lost on him, whether it’s about the simplicity of meeting a demon for the first time (“Do not sell him your soul and you’ll be fine,” he advises) or the purity of coffee (which he believes should never be adulterated with milk). He treats Casiopea with respect, which she is not accustomed to, and he sees her for who she is: someone with a brave, heroic heart. Though this is not a romance, there is a love story that develops between the two as they face obstacles together and Hun-Kamé finds it increasingly difficult to remember what it is to be a god.

Gods of Jade and Shadow is a fast-paced mythical expedition through a corner of the world (and underworld) and is a fantastic book when viewed as such, which is how I believe it’s intended. However, my personal taste does tend toward stories with more in-depth character development, and given that this quickly moves from place to place and character to character, there’s not a lot of time in which to get to know the characters. Not even the major characters—who also include Hun-Kamé’s treacherous brother and Casiopea’s cousin, whose stories also get some focus—are what I’d call three dimensional, although I did enjoy reading their tales. There were also times I found my eyes glazing over toward the middle, even though I was captivated by the beginning, end, and any part set in Xibalba. Those are minor issues overall but are the main reasons Gods of Jade and Shadow was one of my honorable mentions of 2019 instead of one of my favorites of the year.

Gods of Jade and Shadow is a delightful novel inspired by Mayan myths and legends. It’s certainly one of the more notable books I discovered last year, and it’s also available in paperback today!

My Rating: 8/10

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

Read an Excerpt from Gods of Jade and Shadow

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 (the latter of which are mainly 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, along with series information and the publisher’s book description. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

There are no new reviews since last weekend, but I am hoping to finish the one I have in progress over the next couple of days.

On to last week’s book arrivals!

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett - Book Cover

Shorefall (The Founders Trilogy #2) by Robert Jackson Bennett

The second book in Robert Jackson Bennett’s Founders Trilogy will be released on April 21 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The Penguin Random House website has an excerpt from Shorefall.

Their website has an excerpt from Foundryside, the first book in the series, as well. I also wrote a brief review of Foundryside, which I found to be fun with a creative magic system but also lighter on character development and heavier on exposition than I’d like.

 

As a magical revolution remakes a city, an ancient evil is awakened in a brilliant new novel from the Hugo-nominated author of Foundryside and the Divine Cities trilogy.

A few years ago, Sancia Grado would’ve happily watched Tevanne burn. Now, she’s hoping to transform her city into something new. Something better. Together with allies Orso, Gregor, and Berenice, she’s about to strike a deadly blow against Tevanne’s cruel robber-baron rulers and wrest power from their hands for the first time in decades.

But then comes a terrifying warning: Crasedes Magnus himself, the first of the legendary hierophants, is about to be reborn. And if he returns, Tevanne will be just the first place to feel his wrath.

Thousands of years ago, Crasedes was an ordinary man who did the impossible: Using the magic of scriving—the art of imbuing objects with sentience—he convinced reality that he was something more than human. Wielding powers beyond comprehension, he strode the world like a god for centuries, meting out justice and razing empires single-handedly, cleansing the world through fire and destruction—and even defeating death itself.

Like it or not, it’s up to Sancia to stop him. But to have a chance in the battle to come, she’ll have to call upon a god of her own—and unlock the door to a scriving technology that could change what it means to be human. And no matter who wins, nothing will ever be the same.

The awe-inspiring second installment of the Founders Trilogy, Shorefall returns us to the world Robert Jackson Bennett created in his acclaimed Foundryside . . . and forges it anew.

The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood - Book Cover

The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A. K. Larkwood

A. K. Larkwood’s debut novel was just released last week (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). Tor.com has an excerpt from The Unspoken Name.

I’ve been hearing great things about The Unspoken Name, and I’m rather intrigued by A. K. Larkwood’s description of its origins from its Tor.com announcement:

The Unspoken Name grew out of my long-standing curiosity about villains’ sidekicks: what might it take to stay loyal to a boss who is clearly bad news? What do you owe to someone who saves your life, and what do they owe to you? That, and I wanted to write a sweeping adventure with all the wizard’s towers, giant snakes and awful undead things I’ve always loved.

Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together also has a wonderful interview with A. K. Larkwood.

 

A. K. Larkwood’s The Unspoken Name is a stunning debut fantasy about an orc priestess turned wizard’s assassin.

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does―she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin―the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn―gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

Crush the King by Jennifer Estep - Book Cover

Crush the King (Crown of Shards #3) by Jennifer Estep

The conclusion to Jennifer Estep’s Crown of Shards trilogy will be released on March 17 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook). Although this completes Evie’s story, there are plans for more books set in this world.

Jennifer Estep’s website has an excerpt from Crush the King, and the Harper Collins website has excerpts from the previous books in the series:

  1. Kill the Queen
  2. Protect the Prince
 

A fierce gladiator queen must face off against her enemies in an epic battle in this next thrilling installment of New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Estep’s Crown of Shards series—an action-packed adventure full of magic, murderous machinations, courtly intrigue, and pulse-pounding romance.

Queen Everleigh Blair of Bellona has survived the mass murder of the royal family, become a fearsome warrior trained by an elite gladiator troupe, and unleashed her ability to destroy magic. After surviving yet another assassination attempt orchestrated by the conniving king of Morta, Evie has had enough. It’s time to turn the tables and take the fight to her enemies.

There is no better opportunity to strike than during the Regalia Games, a time when warriors, nobles, and royals from all the kingdoms come together to compete in various sporting events. With the help of her loyal friends, Evie goes on the attack at the Regalia, but things don’t turn out the way she hopes. Soon, she is facing a terrifying new threat, and she will have to dig deep and learn even more about her growing magic if she has any chance of defeating her foes.

Because to secure her throne and ensure her kingdom’s survival, Evie must think like a true Bellonan: she must outsmart and outwit her enemies . . . and crush the king.

Scarlet Odyssey by C. T. Rwizi - Book Cover

Scarlet Oddysey (Red Plains #1) by C. T. Rwizi

C. T. Rwizi’s debut novel, the first book in a fantasy series drawing inspiration from sub-Saharan Africa’s cultures and myths, will be released on July 1 (hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook).

io9 has an excerpt from Scarlet Odyssey.

 

Magic is women’s work; war is men’s. But in the coming battle, none of that will matter.

Men do not become mystics. They become warriors. But eighteen-year-old Salo has never been good at conforming to his tribe’s expectations. For as long as he can remember, he has loved books and magic in a culture where such things are considered unmanly. Despite it being sacrilege, Salo has worked on a magical device in secret that will awaken his latent magical powers. And when his village is attacked by a cruel enchantress, Salo knows that it is time to take action.

Salo’s queen is surprisingly accepting of his desire to be a mystic, but she will not allow him to stay in the tribe. Instead, she sends Salo on a quest. The quest will take him thousands of miles north to the Jungle City, the political heart of the continent. There he must gather information on a growing threat to his tribe.

On the way to the city, he is joined by three fellow outcasts: a shunned female warrior, a mysterious nomad, and a deadly assassin. But they’re being hunted by the same enchantress who attacked Salo’s village. She may hold the key to Salo’s awakening—and his redemption.

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 (the latter of which are mainly 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, along with series information and the publisher’s book description. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

There are a couple of books that look rather intriguing to highlight this week, but first, here’s last week’s review in case you missed it:

Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie - Book Cover

Bonds of Brass (Bloodright Trilogy #1) by Emily Skrutskie

This space opera about a pilot and a secret prince is scheduled for release on April 7 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

I’ve had my eye on Bonds of Brass ever since I saw Emily Skrutskie’s trope list on Twitter, which includes “forbidden love,” “best friends PINING,” “scary empress moms,” “the inherent DRAMA of empire,” and much more. It sounds like a lot of fun so I was pretty excited when a copy arrived yesterday!

 

A young pilot risks everything to save his best friend—the man he trusts most and might even love—only to learn that his friend is secretly the heir to a brutal galactic empire.

“Riveting, wildly fun, and incredibly smart.”—Emily A. Duncan, New York Times bestselling author of Wicked Saints

Ettian’s life was shattered when the merciless Umber Empire invaded his world. He’s spent seven years putting himself back together under its rule, joining an Umber military academy and becoming the best pilot in his class. Even better, he’s met Gal—his exasperating and infuriatingly enticing roommate who’s made the academy feel like a new home.

But when dozens of classmates spring an assassination plot on Gal, a devastating secret comes to light: Gal is the heir to the Umber Empire. Ettian barely manages to save his best friend and flee the compromised academy unscathed, rattled that Gal stands to inherit the empire that broke him, and that there are still people willing to fight back against Umber rule.

As they piece together a way to deliver Gal safely to his throne, Ettian finds himself torn in half by an impossible choice. Does he save the man who’s won his heart and trust that Gal’s goodness could transform the empire? Or does he throw his lot in with the brewing rebellion and fight to take back what’s rightfully theirs?

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin - Book Cover

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (A Song of Ice and Fire) written by George R. R. Martin and illustrated by Gary Gianni

This illustrated collection of three prequels to A Song of Ice and Fire is coming out in paperback on February 25. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is already available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook.

The Penguin Random House website has an excerpt from A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, which includes the following novellas about Dunk and Egg: “The Hedge Knight,” “The Sworn Sword,” and “The Mystery Knight.”

 

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Taking place nearly a century before the events of A Game of Thrones, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms compiles the first three official prequel novellas to George R. R. Martin’s ongoing masterwork, A Song of Ice and Fire.

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY LOS ANGELES TIMES AND BUZZFEED

These never-before-collected adventures recount an age when the Targaryen line still holds the Iron Throne, and the memory of the last dragon has not yet passed from living consciousness. Before Tyrion Lannister and Podrick Payne, there was Dunk and Egg. A young, naïve but ultimately courageous hedge knight, Ser Duncan the Tall towers above his rivals—in stature if not experience. Tagging along is his diminutive squire, a boy called Egg—whose true name is hidden from all he and Dunk encounter. Though more improbable heroes may not be found in all of Westeros, great destinies lay ahead for these two . . . as do powerful foes, royal intrigue, and outrageous exploits.

Featuring more than 160 all-new illustrations by Gary Gianni, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a must-have collection that proves chivalry isn’t dead—yet.

Additional Books:

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The Secret Chapter is the sixth book in Genevieve Cogman’s delightful Invisible Library series, which follows the adventures of Librarian Irene Winters. Irene is an agent of the Library—the one that exists outside of time and space, where its vast collection of books from alternate worlds maintains balance throughout the multiverse.

Although this organization is known for its neutrality (at least, to the few aware of its existence), its Librarians also have a reputation for being a bit nefarious (again, to the few aware of their existence). Preventing a world from descending too far into chaos or order is a critical task that requires a book from that specific world—the more unique it is to that world, the better. But owners of uncommon versions with secret chapters and the like aren’t always willing to part with them, so Librarians are trained as spies and thieves for the good of the worlds. Those who have seen firsthand a Librarian’s proficiency with the Language, which allows them to use carefully crafted words to alter reality, tend to be even more suspicious of them: whether they believe the Language to be sorcery, witchcraft, or just plain old trickery.

These rumors of Librarians’ special skills work in Irene’s favor when a world she holds dear is in danger in The Secret Chapter. The book that would save it belongs to the mysterious Mr. Nemo, a criminal collector presiding over his own personal villain lair on a private Caribbean island, and he’s willing to give it to her: if she and her colleague will join the team he’s assembled to steal a 368-square-foot painting from a museum with top-notch security. (And if their heist is successful and they bring the artwork back to him, of course.)

Irene doesn’t exactly have a choice in the matter: even if she didn’t desperately need this particular book, the first potential team member to refuse Mr. Nemo’s “offer” is immediately fed to the sharks. But getting a crew composed of four Fae, two dragons, and one Librarian to work together may be even more impossible than actually absconding with the gargantuan artwork. The Fae and dragons distrust each other as always, no one trusts Irene besides her dragon associate, the two dragons loathe each other, and it’s not like any of them have a good reason to trust strangers who were not exactly selected for being honest, law-abiding types…

The Invisible Library series is incredibly fun and especially well suited to bibliophiles with a fondness for genre fiction. Although it is light on character development, the narrative and dialogue add some personality, and I love Irene’s bookish bent. I also appreciate that she is a competent, quick-thinking protagonist quite adept at getting herself out of zany situations—which comes in handy as a book thief/spy/alternate world traveler.

As much as I enjoyed the first four books in this series, I did feel that the fifth book (The Mortal Word) was disappointing in comparison: the setting was generic, and it was lacking much of the banter and high jinks that make this series entertaining. Though I didn’t think the voice and dialogue were quite as strong as I recall them being in the first four books, I did think The Secret Chapter was superior to the previous installment. Irene is in her element with all the excitement of visits to a secret villain lair in a nineteen-eighties-era world’s Caribbean, run-ins with criminals and dragons, and (of course) the big art heist in an alternate early twenty-first-century world’s Vienna.

In addition to being filled with daring exploits, The Secret Chapter has themes revolving around the people and experiences who shape one into the person they are. We finally meet Irene’s parents and see firsthand that their relationship with her is somewhat strained and distant, and there’s also a little reflection on how she became the Librarian she is because of their influence, as well as discussion of the importance of her time attending school on the world she’s hoping to save. We also learn more about Kai’s draconic family and some of their secrets, and some intriguing mysteries about the history of dragons arise.

A minor issue I’ve had with the series more recently is that the last couple of installments have been closer to standalone adventures than books building upon threads from earlier books. Although I do wish that we knew a little more about that revelation from the end of book three by this point, The Secret Chapter did seem less standalone. It keeps being hinted that there’s more to the Library than Irene knows, and with this book also showing that there is more to the dragons’ past than is commonly known, I’m hoping that means the major forces in this universe will start being explored more. I don’t want all the answers immediately, of course, but I would like there to be less hinting and more revealing—even if that’s just little bits of new information to theorize about, as in this novel, rather than solid answers.

The Secret Chapter is another diverting tale in the Invisible Library series. Although I didn’t think it had quite the same charm as the first four books in the series, it’s a better book than the previous installment that left me pondering the puzzle of dragons—and I’m looking forward to the next chapter in Irene’s saga!

My Rating: 7/10

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

Read an Excerpt from The Secret Chapter

Reviews of the Previous Books in the Invisible Library Series:

  1. The Invisible Library
  2. The Masked City
  3. The Burning Page
  4. The Lost Plot
  5. The Mortal Word

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 (the latter of which are mainly 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, along with series information and the publisher’s book description. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Last week brought two books in the mail, but first, here’s the latest review in case you missed it:

  • A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen — This is a hopeful story about found family set in an alternative (I hope) near future, six years after approximately five billion people died in a worldwide pandemic. It wasn’t what I’d call a bad book but also wasn’t exactly my cup of tea since I didn’t find the world or characters to have a lot of depth, and the story is told via plain, straightforward prose.

Now, the latest book arrivals!

The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso - Book Cover

The Obsidian Tower (Rooks and Ruin #1) by Melissa Caruso

The Obsidian Tower, the first book in a new series set in the same world as the Swords and Fire trilogy, will be released on June 2 (trade paperback, ebook). It takes place about 150 years after the previous series and follows new characters.

This is one of the 2020 book releases I’ve been most excited about reading since I loved Melissa Caruso’s debut series. It starts with a young noblewoman inadvertently becoming bound to a powerful fire mage when trying to prevent the city from burning down, and as much as I enjoyed the first book, the next two books are even better.

They feature:

  • Problems involving love vs. duty
  • A heroine taking a role she wouldn’t have chosen for herself and making it her own
  • Friendships
  • Governments that aren’t monarchies
  • A setting with gender/LGBTQ equality
  • An actual competent villain
  • A blunt, foul-mouthed fire mage
  • An intense vote
  • Danger and destruction
  • A Witch Lord who has an affinity for crows and lives for playing games (and also likes to make dramatic or sneaky entrances that do not involve just using the front door)
  • A love triangle that does something a bit different
  • Women being badass in a variety of ways
  • Difficult choices
  • Powerful magic (that often leads to danger and destruction)
  • Celebrations with sinister schemes afoot
  • Excellent pacing
  • Fun dialogue
  • A satisfying conclusion
  • And much more!

I’ve reviewed the entire series, and each book was on my favorites list for the year of its release. If you want to check those out while waiting for The Obsidian Tower, the Swords and Fire trilogy is as follows:

  1. The Tethered Mage (My 8/10 Review | Excerpt)
  2. The Defiant Heir (My 9/10 Review)
  3. The Unbound Empire (My 9/10 Review)
 

The Obsidian Tower begins a bold new epic fantasy trilogy in which the broken magic of one woman will either save an entire continent-or completely destroy it.

As the granddaughter of a Witch Lord of Vaskandar, Ryx was destined for power and prestige. But a childhood illness left her with broken magic that drains the life from anything she touches, and Vaskandar has no place for a mage with unusable powers. So Ryx has resigned herself to an isolated life as the warden of Gloamingard, her grandmother’s castle.

At Gloamingard’s heart lies a black tower. Sealed by magic, it guards a dangerous secret that has been contained for thousands of years. Until one impetuous decision Ryx makes leaves her with blood on her hands-and unleashes a threat that could doom everything she loves to fall to darkness.

The Queen's Bargain by Anne Bishop - Book Cover

The Queen’s Bargain (Black Jewels #10) by Anne Bishop

A new book set in the Black Jewels world will be released on March 10 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). Anne Bishop’s website has an excerpt from The Queen’s Bargain, and the Penguin Random House website lists some book tour events around the time of its publication.

The Black Jewels books have been recommended to me multiple times as dark fantasy I’d probably like, but I’ve not (yet) read any of them. It sounds as though The Queen’s Bargain can be read as a standalone with its own story arc, but Anne Bishop’s website does suggest reading the other books first on her page about the series, which includes the recommended reading order.

 

POWER HAS A PRICE. SO DOES LOVE.

Return to the dark, sensual, and powerful world of the Black Jewels in this long-awaited new story in the New York Times bestselling fantasy saga.

After a youthful mistake, Lord Dillon’s reputation is in tatters, leaving him vulnerable to aristo girls looking for a bit of fun. To restore his reputation and honor, he needs a handfast–a one-year contract of marriage. He sets his sights on Jillian, a young Eyrien witch from Ebon Rih, who he believes has only a flimsy connection to the noble society that spurned him. Unfortunately for Dillon, he is unaware of Jillian’s true connections until he finds himself facing Lucivar Yaslana, the volatile Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih.

Meanwhile, Surreal SaDiablo’s marriage is crumbling. Daemon Sadi, the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan, recognizes there is something wrong between him and Surreal, but he doesn’t realize that his attempt to suppress his own nature in order to spare his wife is causing his mind to splinter. To save Daemon, and the Realm of Kaeleer if he breaks, help must be sought from someone who no longer exists in any of the Realms–the only Queen powerful enough to control Daemon Sadi. The Queen known as Witch.

As Jillian rides the winds of first love with Dillon, Daemon and Surreal struggle to survive the wounds of a marriage turned stormy–and Lucivar has to find a way to keep everyone in his family safe…even from each other.