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.

A Beginning at the End
by Mike Chen
400pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 5/10
Amazon Rating: 3.9/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.92/5
 

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

A Beginning at the End, Mike Chen’s second novel after his Goodreads Science Fiction Choice Award–nominated debut Here and Now and Then, is a post-apocalyptic tale about found family and starting over after the world didn’t exactly end, but rather paused and changed. It’s mainly set in San Francisco in 2025, six years after a worldwide pandemic killed approximately five billion people. Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder (PASD) has become common, and nearly everyone lost someone—or more likely, several someones—to the global disease.

With the resulting 70% drop in the US population, the Family Stability Board ensures that the children who remain are raised by those who meet their criteria for “social normalcy,” and people are encouraged to prioritize stability over love when choosing a spouse. But dating and meeting new people is difficult when many are hesitant to attend large social gatherings, shake hands, or do anything that could increase their chances of catching an illness like the one that caused so much death around the globe—especially after news of recent bouts of flu in Florida begins to spread.

This is the story of three survivors who had been carrying on without supportive relationships becoming each other’s support. Rob, a widowed single father, faces the scrutiny of the Family Stability Board when his seven-year-old daughter begins acting out at school. Fearing that his child will be taken from him, Rob finds himself sharing his problems with Krista, a wedding/event planner with financial problems, when the two are stuck in an elevator during a power outage. As a result, Krista begins babysitting Rob’s little girl while he attempts to prove he’s socially normal by attending speed dating sessions and PASD support group meetings. At the latter, Rob comes to better know one of his coworkers, Moira, and both Rob and Moira find someone they can open up to in each other—a bond of trust Rob has not had since his wife’s death, and one Moira has never had with her fiancé, whom she’s primarily marrying for security. And when Rob’s daughter is in trouble, he can turn to not only Moira but also Krista, who has come to care for the little girl she’s been watching in spite of herself.

A Beginning at the End is a straightforward, feel-good story told from the third person perspectives of Rob, Krista, and Moira (with occasional brief chapters from the perspective of Rob’s daughter, Sunny). Though various articles and presidential speeches provide more insight into the world than what is shown through these characters’ flashbacks and present circumstances, I didn’t feel that it delved particularly deeply into the post-apocalyptic society: it’s mainly about the everyday lives of these three people as they move forward and form their own family ties. Yet, like the world-building, I thought the characterization was too limited to be compelling. These three were clearly shaped by their pasts and personalities (a bit too clearly for my taste, as a lot is spelled out without leaving room for subtlety), but they seemed closer to caricatures than real people given the amount of focus on a few key traits and main issues.

For Rob, this is in the form of his loneliness and social awkwardness, and his major problems are keeping his daughter and fixing the mess he made when he didn’t know how to get two-year-old Sunny to accept that her recently deceased mother was never coming back. Krista is a firm believer in getting over things (even the end of the world as they knew it!) and looking forward, never back. Her cynicism and attitude serve her well in some ways since she refuses to put up with toxicity, but she’s also quick to cut people off when differences arise rather than trying to work through them—even decent people who genuinely care about her. Moira was a nineteen-year-old pop star when the world fell apart, and she fled that life and the domineering father who made her live it the first chance she got. She’s been running from her past and hiding her identity ever since, and she even became engaged to a man who does not know who she truly is.

The main reason I kept reading this novel after the first few chapters was due to curiosity about how Moira’s hidden past would catch up with her, and although I never found it utterly captivating, I was somewhat interested in finding out how these three stories would converge and end at first. But I found it less engaging as I got further into it and probably would have left it unfinished if it wasn’t a fairly short, quick read. I prefer books that delve more deeply into characters and/or worlds, and I am also fond of lyrical prose with a distinctive voice rather than the plain style used in this novel. (That is not to say this is badly written—although I was not pausing to savor turns of phrase, I also wasn’t pausing to cringe at them! Although it’s not my preferred style, I believe it does take skill to write prose that’s easy to breeze through.)

A Beginning at the End wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it may appeal more to those looking for an effortlessly readable, hopeful book about found family.

My Rating: 5/10

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

Read an Excerpt from A Beginning at the End

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight 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, along with series information and the publisher’s book description. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

It’s been a while since I posted one of these features, mainly because it was extremely busy with the holidays, work projects, and a couple of large articles I was working on:

Since it has been some time, it would take far too long to go through all the books, so I’m highlighting three books that arrived since last time (one ARC and two Christmas gifts), followed by a link to last week’s one arrival.

Moontangled by Stephanie Burgis - Book Cover

Moontangled (A Harwood Spellbook Novella) by Stephanie Burgis

Stephanie Burgis’ delightful Harwood Spellbook series is set in an alternate magical version of England in which Boudicca’s rebellion against the Romans was successful—and led to a tradition of women handling politics and men handling magic. Moontangled, a novella about Juliana and Caroline set after the two books about Cassandra, will be released on February 3 (ebook, paperback).

The author’s website has an excerpt from Moontangled, as well as more information on The Harwood Spellbook. I’ve also reviewed the other books in the series:

 

Take one ambitious politician and one determined magician with wildly different aims for their next meeting.

Add a secret betrothal, a family scandal, and a heaping of dangerous fey magic in an enchanted wood…and watch the sparks fly!

For just one moonlit, memorable night, Thornfell College of Magic has flung open its doors, inviting guests from around the nation to an outdoor ball intended to introduce the first-ever class of women magicians to society…but one magician and one invited guest have far more pressing goals of their own for the night.

Quietly brilliant Juliana Banks is determined to win back the affections of her secret fiancée, rising politician Caroline Fennell, who has become inexplicably distant. If Juliana needs to use magic to get her stubborn fiancée to pay her attention…well, then, as the top student in her class, she is more than ready to take on that challenge!

Unbeknownst to Juliana, though, Caroline plans to nobly sacrifice their betrothal for Juliana’s own sake – and no one has ever accused iron-willed Caroline Fennell of being easy to deter from any goal.

Their path to mutual happiness may seem tangled beyond repair…but when they enter the fey-ruled woods that border Thornfell College, these two determined women will find all of their plans upended in a night of unexpected and magical possibilities.

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan - Book Cover

Voyage of the Basilisk (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #3) by Marie Brennan

I adored A Natural History of Dragons (my review) and was excited to get the books in the series I didn’t have (#3–5) for Christmas. This entire series about a dragon naturalist and her experiences is complete, and a standalone sequel about Isabella’s granddaughter titled Turning Darkness into Light came out last year.

Marie Brennan’s website has more about the series with excerpts, including a sample from the first book.

 

The thrilling adventure of Lady Trent continues in Marie Brennan’s Voyage of the Basilisk . . .

Devoted readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoirs, A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, may believe themselves already acquainted with the particulars of her historic voyage aboard the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk, but the true story of that illuminating, harrowing, and scandalous journey has never been revealed―until now.

Six years after her perilous exploits in Eriga, Isabella embarks on her most ambitious expedition yet: a two-year trip around the world to study all manner of dragons in every place they might be found. From feathered serpents sunning themselves in the ruins of a fallen civilization to the mighty sea serpents of the tropics, these creatures are a source of both endless fascination and frequent peril. Accompanying her is not only her young son, Jake, but a chivalrous foreign archaeologist whose interests converge with Isabella’s in ways both professional and personal.

Science is, of course, the primary objective of the voyage, but Isabella’s life is rarely so simple. She must cope with storms, shipwrecks, intrigue, and warfare, even as she makes a discovery that offers a revolutionary new insight into the ancient history of dragons.

 

The Lady Trent Memoirs
1. A Natural History of Dragons
2. The Tropic of Serpents
3. Voyage of the Basilisk
4. In the Labyrinth of Drakes
5. Within the Sanctuary of Wings

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern - Book Cover

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Erin Morgenstern’s latest novel, which came out toward the end of last year, was another Christmas gift—a signed copy, no less! I haven’t yet read The Night Circus despite owning a copy (I know, the shame!), but I have heard such wonderful things about this book and that it has some thematic similarities to Alix E. Harrow’s amazing debut novel, The Ten Thousand Doors of January.

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from The Starless Sea.

 

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Night Circus, a timeless love story set in a secret underground world—a place of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a starless sea.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues—a bee, a key, and a sword—that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library hidden far below the surface of the earth. What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians—it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also of those who are intent on its destruction. Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose—in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

Additional Book(s):

This looks like another amazing year of speculative fiction! As usual, this is by no means a comprehensive list of books coming out this year, but it is a comprehensive list of 2020 releases I know about that sound most compelling to me personally—in some cases, these are new installments in series I love or books by authors whose work I’ve enjoyed, but there are also some books by new-to-me authors that sounded intriguing too. My personal taste tends to run toward fantasy with historical settings, speculative fiction influenced by various mythologies, fairy tales and retellings, and books with animals (dragons count as animals, right?).

You may notice there are a few books from last year’s list. This is because those ended up being moved from 2019 to 2020, which may very well happen again with some of the books currently scheduled for this year. I did not include books I’m hoping for that I’m not certain are coming out this year, like The Winds of Winter, The Thorn of Emberlain, and Alix E. Harrow’s upcoming book about suffragette witches in the 1890s. I’m sure that more books will be announced later that I want to read or that, despite the vast amount of time I spent scouring the Internet, I missed some.

This list is ordered by release date, if known, and these dates are US release dates unless otherwise stated. There are a few books at the end that do not have one yet other than sometime in 2020 (some of which I couldn’t even find much information about), but I included anything I’m excited about currently scheduled for release this year. The first couple of books on this list did just come out this week, but the rest are upcoming.

Due to the length of this blog post, I’m only showing the first 10 books on the main page. You can click the title of the post or the ‘more…’ link after the tenth book to read the entire article.

Cover images link to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez
Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: January 7

Woven in Moonlight caught my eye because of its gorgeous cover—designed by the author, as she discussed in this interview—but held my gaze with its description. It’s a Bolivian-inspired young adult fantasy novel that promises romance and magic, and I’ve mentioned before how much I love the body double trope…

 

A lush tapestry of magic, romance, and revolución, drawing inspiration from Bolivian politics and history.

Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.

When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.

She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princess, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge―and her Condesa.

Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton - Book Cover
Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: January 7

A couple of years after the release of The Queens of Innis Lear, Tessa Gratton has a second fantasy novel based on one of Shakespeare’s works: this time, with inspiration from Henry IV, Part 1.

You can read more about it in the author’s article on queering Shakespeare and adapting her favorite of his plays on the Tor/Forge Blog, and she also discussed it here a few months ago as part of her beautiful essay on grief and the loss of her mother titled “Death and the Fantasist.”

 

Tessa Gratton’s Lady Hotspur is a sweeping, heart-stopping Shakespearean novel of betrayal and battlefields and destiny.

STRIKE FAST, LOVE HARD, LIVE FOREVER

This is the motto of the Lady Knights—sworn to fealty under a struggling kingdom, promised to defend the prospective heir, Banna Mora.

But when a fearsome rebellion overthrows the throne, Mora is faced with an agonizing choice: give up everything she’s been raised to love, and allow a king-killer to be rewarded—or retake the throne, and take up arms against the newest heir, Hal Bolingbrooke, Mora’s own childhood best friend and sworn head of the Lady Knights.

Hal loathes being a Prince; she’s much more comfortable instated on the Throne of Misrule, a raucous underground nether-court where passion rules all. She yearns to live up to the wishes of everyone she loves best—but that means sacrificing her own heart, and so she will disappoint everyone until the moment she can rise to prove those expectations wrong.

And between these two fierce Princes is the woman who will decide all their fates—Lady Hotspur Persy, the fiery and bold knight whose support will turn the tides of the coming war.

Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore - Book Cover
Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: January 14

I’ve heard that Anna-Marie McLemore’s novels The Weight of Feathers and When the Moon Was Ours are wonderful, so I was excited to discover they have a fairytale retelling of “The Red Shoes” coming soon!

 

With Anna-Marie McLemore’s signature lush prose, Dark and Deepest Red pairs the forbidding magic of a fairy tale with a modern story of passion and betrayal.

Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.

Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.

The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez - Book Cover
The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: January 14

The Vanished Birds sounds like a thoughtful science fiction epic about found family and connection (which I love!), and the little bit that I read seemed well written.

 

A mysterious child lands in the care of a solitary woman, changing both of their lives forever, in this captivating debut of connection across space and time.

“The best of what science fiction can be: a thought-provoking, heartrending story about the choices that define our lives.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

A solitary ship captain, drifting through time.

Nia Imani is a woman out of place. Traveling through the stars condenses decades into mere months for her, though the years continue to march steadily onward for everyone she has ever known. Her friends and lovers have aged past her. She lives only for the next paycheck, until the day she meets a mysterious boy, fallen from the sky.

A mute child, burdened with unimaginable power.

The scarred boy does not speak, his only form of communication the haunting music he plays on an old wooden flute. Captured by his songs and otherworldly nature, Nia decides to take the boy in to live amongst her crew. Soon, these two outsiders discover in each other the things they lack. For him, a home, a place of love and safety. For her, an anchor to the world outside of herself. For both of them, a family. But Nia is not the only one who wants the boy.

A millennia-old woman, poised to burn down the future.

Fumiko Nakajima designed the ships that allowed humanity to flee a dying Earth. One thousand years later, she now regrets what she has done in the name of progress. When chance brings Fumiko, Nia, and the child together, she recognizes the potential of his gifts, and what will happen if the ruling powers discover him. So she sends the pair to the distant corners of space to hide them as she crafts a plan to redeem her old mistakes.

But time is running out. The past hungers for the boy, and when it catches up, it threatens to tear this makeshift family apart.

Ashlords by Scott Reintgen - Book Cover
Ashlords by Scott Reintgen
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: January 21

Any book with a horse (or a cat…or a bird) on the cover is sure to get my attention, and I love the idea of phoenix horses.

 

Red Rising meets The Scorpio Races in this epic fantasy following three phoenix horse riders–skilled at alchemy–who must compete at The Races–the modern spectacle that has replaced warfare within their empire.

Every year since the Ashlords were gifted phoenix horses by their gods, they’ve raced them. First into battle, then on great hunts, and finally for the pure sport of seeing who rode the fastest. Centuries of blood and fire carved their competition into a more modern spectacle: The Races.

Over the course of a multi-day event, elite riders from clashing cultures vie to be crowned champion. But the modern version of the sport requires more than good riding. Competitors must be skilled at creating and controlling phoenix horses made of ash and alchemy, which are summoned back to life each sunrise with uniquely crafted powers to cover impossible distances and challenges before bursting into flames at sunset. But good alchemy only matters if a rider knows how to defend their phoenix horse at night. Murder is outlawed, but breaking bones and poisoning ashes? That’s all legal and encouraged.

In this year’s Races, eleven riders will compete, but three of them have more to lose than the rest–a champion’s daughter, a scholarship entrant, and a revolutionary’s son. Who will attain their own dream of glory? Or will they all flame out in defeat?

Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers - Book Cover
Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: January 21

After I thought I had finally decided exactly which books would appear on this list, I saw Rogue Princess on Renay’s list of anticipated books for the first quarter of 2020 and was intrigued by the cover and her reasons for wanting to read it. And then I saw it is “a gender-swapped sci-fi YA retelling of Cinderella” and it found its way onto this list…

 

A princess fleeing an arranged marriage teams up with a snarky commoner to foil a rebel plot in B. R. Myers’ Rogue Princess, a gender-swapped sci-fi YA retelling of Cinderella.

Princess Delia knows her duty: She must choose a prince to marry in order to secure an alliance and save her failing planet. Yet she secretly dreams of true love, and feels there must be a better way. Determined to chart her own course, she steals a spaceship to avoid the marriage, only to discover a handsome stowaway.

All Aidan wanted was to “borrow” a few palace trinkets to help him get off the planet. Okay, so maybe escaping on a royal ship wasn’t the smartest plan, but he never expected to be kidnapped by a runaway princess!

Sparks fly as this headstrong princess and clever thief battle wits, but everything changes when they inadvertently uncover a rebel conspiracy that could destroy their planet forever.

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K. S. Villoso - Book Cover
The Wolf of Oren-Yaro (Chronicles of the Bitch Queen #1) by K. S. Villoso
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: February 18 (Trade Paperback); Ebook Now Available

Even if I hadn’t heard this was an excellent novel from people who read the original self-published version, I’d still be intrigued by it just because of the first line:

They called me the Bitch Queen, the she-wolf, because I murdered a man and exiled my king the night before they crowned me.

Now that’s an opening that makes me want to find out more!

 

A queen of a divided land must unite her people, even if they hate her, even if it means stopping a ruin that she helped create. A debut epic fantasy from an exciting new voice.

“They called me the Bitch Queen, the she-wolf, because I murdered a man and exiled my king the night before they crowned me.”

Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves, which nearly tore her nation apart. But her arranged marriage with the son of a rival clan should herald peaceful days to come.

However, her husband’s sudden departure before their reign begins puts a quick end to those dreams, and the kingdom is fractured beyond repair.

Years later, Talyien receives a message, one that will send her across the sea. What’s meant to be an effort at reconciling the past becomes an assassination attempt. Stranded in a land she doesn’t know, with no idea whom she can trust, Talyien will have to embrace her namesake.

A wolf of Oren-yaro is not tamed.

Carved from Stone and Dream by T. Frohock - Book Cover
Carved from Stone and Dream (Los Nefilim #2) by T. Frohock
Read a Brief Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: February 25

This is the second Los Nefilim novel, which features the same world and characters first introduced in T. Frohock’s Los Nefilim novellas (In Midnight’s SilenceWithout Light or Guide, and The Second Death, collected in one volume titled Los Nefilim). T. Frohock tends to write the type of dark, unique stories with compelling, complex characters that appeal to me, and you can read more about this particular world in T. Frohock’s essay  “Angels and Daimons and the Supernatural World of Los Nefilim” here on Fantasy Cafe.

 

In this sequel to Where Oblivion Lives, the first entry in the Los Nefilim series set during the Spanish Civil War, a coded notebook containing the identities of Los Nefilim’s spies falls into enemy hands, and Diago is faced with an impossible choice: betray Los Nefilim or save his family.

February 1939

Catalonia has fallen. Los Nefilim is in retreat.

With the Nationalist forces hard on their heels, the members of Los Nefilim—Spanish Nephilim that possess the power to harness music and light in the supernatural war between the angels and daimons—make a desperate run for the French border.

Diago Alvarez, a singular being of angelic and daimonic descent, follows Guillermo and a small group of nefilim through the Pyrenees, where the ice is as treacherous as postwar loyalties—both can kill with a single slip. When a notebook of Los Nefilim’s undercover operatives falls into a traitor’s hands, Diago and Guillermo risk their lives to track it down. As they uncover a pocket realm deep within the Pyrenees, Diago discovers his family is held hostage.

Faced with an impossible choice: betray Los Nefilim, or watch his family die, Diago must nurture the daimonic song he has so long denied in order to save those he loves.

A Phoenix First Must Burn Anthology - Book Cover
A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope edited by Patrice Caldwell
Read the Introduction by Patrice Caldwell
Scheduled Release Date: March 10

This anthology (whose beautiful title is from Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Talents) looks and sounds wonderful, especially from the introduction linked above. It includes stories by the following sixteen authors:

  • Elizabeth Acevedo
  • Amerie
  • Patrice Caldwell
  • Dhonielle Clayton
  • Jalissa Corrie
  • Somaiya Daud
  • Charlotte Nicole Davis
  • Alaya Dawn Johnson
  • Justina Ireland
  • Danny Lore
  • L.L. McKinney
  • Danielle Paige
  • Rebecca Roanhorse
  • Karen Strong
  • Ashley Woodfolk
  • Ibi Zoboi
 

Sixteen tales by bestselling and award-winning authors that explore the Black experience through fantasy, science fiction, and magic.

Evoking Beyoncé’s Lemonade for a teen audience, these authors who are truly Octavia Butler’s heirs, have woven worlds to create a stunning narrative that centers Black women and gender nonconforming individuals. A Phoenix First Must Burn will take you on a journey from folktales retold to futuristic societies and everything in between. Filled with stories of love and betrayal, strength and resistance, this collection contains an array of complex and true-to-life characters in which you cannot help but see yourself reflected. Witches and scientists, sisters and lovers, priestesses and rebels: the heroines of A Phoenix First Must Burn shine brightly. You will never forget them.

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin - Book Cover
The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin
Read Entertainment Weekly Preview
Scheduled Release Date: March 24

Basically, if N. K. Jemisin wrote it, I want to read it. I think she’s one of the absolute best speculative fiction writers there is with her consistently wonderful stories, thoughtful worlds, and complex characters, and her writing sings.

 

Five New Yorkers must come together in order to defend their city from an ancient evil in the first book of a stunning new novel by Hugo Award-winning and NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin.

Every great city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got six.

But every city also has a dark side. A roiling, ancient evil stirs in the halls of power, threatening to destroy the city and her six newborn avatars unless they can come together and stop it once and for all.

For more from N. K. Jemisin, check out:

The Inheritance Trilogy
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
The Broken Kingdoms
The Kingdom of Gods

The Inheritance Trilogy (omnibus edition)
Shades in Shadow: An Inheritance Triptych (e-only short fiction)
The Awakened Kingdom (e-only novella)

Dreamblood Duology
The Killing Moon
The Shadowed Sun

The Dreamblood Duology (omnibus)

The Broken Earth
The Fifth Season
The Obelisk Gate
The Stone Sky

How Long ’til Black Future Month? (short story collection)

(more…)

Happy New Year! In addition to being the start of a new year, today is the day this blog is officially a teenager: Fantasy Cafe turns 13 years old today! I can hardly believe I’ve been blogging that long.

Now that I’ve read everything I will ever read in 2019, it’s time for the favorite books of 2019 list. My main goal for the year was to embrace what I love and ruthlessly cull books that aren’t drawing me in. (This is different than not being in the right mood for a book: it means if nothing about the writing, world, or characters makes me want to keep going after the first 50 pages or so, just get it off the bookshelf/to-read pile and don’t look back.) The latter is still a bit hard at times (what if it gets better?!), but I think I did a decent job with the former considering I ended up with 8 books released in 2019 that I loved, 3 published before 2019 that I loved, and 2 I thought were noteworthy as honorable mentions. That’s better than the number of highlights I had in 2018.

Cover images link to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Favorite Books Released in 2019

The Ten Thousand Doors of January Cover

Book of the Year
1. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
My Review

This standalone historical portal fantasy novel set during the early 1900s is about January Scaller, who often heard words like “willful” and “temerarious” used to describe her as a child. When she was seven years old, she discovered and stepped through a Door to another world, but when she tried to share her experience, she was punished for making up tales and lectured on the necessity of being a “good girl who minds her place.” Lonely and desperate for affection, she took that lesson to heart and molded herself into someone demure and proper, as was expected of her. Then at seventeen years old, January came across a mysterious book titled The Ten Thousand Doors, which begins as a scholarly account of Doors like the one she found but becomes a personal account of how they changed the author’s life—and in escaping into this story of true love, adventure, determination, and tragedy, January’s life also changed.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a treasure. It’s not only a celebration of books and stories but also is itself a beautifully told story with two exquisitely written, unique bibliophilic voices between January’s first person narration and that of The Ten Thousand Doors (which is included in its entirety, complete with delightful footnotes!). It’s an ode to words, imagination, and stories, particularly the power they have to burrow into hearts and souls and show one something true, meaningful, and lasting—and it is in itself just that type of book. It’s also an ode to dreamers and outsiders, to being who you are and daring to write your own story despite society’s attempts to shape your path into one that doesn’t fit you, among being a book about so many other things—and it is magnificent.

It’s an indelible book that seems destined to be a classic, and The Ten Thousand Doors of January is my choice for Book of the Year in 2019.

Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri - Book Cover

Book of the Year Runner-Up
2. Realm of Ash (The Books of Ambha #2) by Tasha Suri
My Review

Empire of Sand, Tasha Suri’s fantasy debut novel inspired by Mughal India and Indian classical dance, was my Book of the Year in 2018, and Realm of Ash is also stellar. It’s similar in feel to the previous novel with gorgeous writing, intricate themes, dimensional relationships of all kinds, and a slow build romance founded on respect and shared goals, yet it stands apart as being different given its story, characters, and deeper maturity. While it expands the world and explores the aftermath of the first book, Realm of Ash is a standalone companion novel that follows Arwa approximately a decade after her sister’s story in Empire of Sand. It begins with Arwa being newly widowed as the sole survivor of a massacre, saved by the very same blood she’d spent her life fearing. Believing that this blood may be able to break the curse on their kingdom and prevent future attacks like what she experienced, Arwa offers to serve a princess in pursuit of a solution. Her offer is accepted, and she ends up secretly working forbidden occult magic in the dead of night with a scholarly illegitimate prince, who introduces her to the titular spirit realm.

Like its predecessor, I loved Realm of Ash and found it deeply affecting. At its heart, Arwa’s story is about taking back a piece of herself that had been stolen from her and the different sides of love—both its crueler side and its softer side. It’s also about society and power structures, truth and the cost of knowledge, and the need to forge new paths by “dreaming a new world,” and the lyrically sharp prose that cuts deep makes it all the more hauntingly memorable. Realm of Ash is one of those special books I expect to reread one day even with the ever-increasing number of books I want to read for the first time.

The Unbound Empire by Melissa Caruso

3. The Unbound Empire (Swords and Fire Trilogy #3) by Melissa Caruso
My Review

The Unbound Empire is one of those rare series conclusions that I felt was done right. Successes feel earned, character arcs make sense, and it manages to be satisfying without dangling loose ends or being so neatly tied up that it seems as though the characters have done everything important they’ll ever do. It also has a great pace: it always seems to be moving forward, but it also isn’t so rushed that it glosses over the fun dialogue and character interactions that were a large part of why I loved these books in the first place, like a lot of series finales tend to. This entire series is immensely entertaining with each book getting better, and I also appreciated that it does a few things that seemed a little different than the usual, especially when mixed together: from following a protagonist who embraces the role she’s born into and makes it her own, to focusing on governments that are not monarchies, to being set in a society with gender and LGBTQ+ equality, to including a love triangle with more nuance than most, to the final book having an actual competent villain. It was incredibly refreshing to encounter a villain who was powerful but also enhanced his magic with knowledge and didn’t just reuse the same tricks all the time. This made a character who was basically 100% Pure Evil work so much better for me than they normally do.

Although I found the previous book slightly more entertaining due to its introduction to Kathe, the Crow Lord who enjoys playing games and steals every single scene he is in, I think this is the strongest book in the series. (But never fear if you too are a Kathe fan—he is one of the reasons I loved this installment too!)

Both of the previous books in this trilogy were also among my favorites of their release years:

Review of The Tethered Mage (Swords and Fire Trilogy #1)
Review of The Defiant Heir (Swords and Fire Trilogy #2)

The Kingdom of Copper by S. A. Chakraborty

4. The Kingdom of Copper (Daevabad Trilogy #2) by S. A. Chakraborty

I read City of Brass, the first book in the Daevabad Trilogy, earlier this year and had generally positive but somewhat mixed feelings about it: which is to say I can’t decide whether I merely liked it or really liked it since it had a fascinating world and lush writing, but the travel parts were so slow. It begins with Nahri, a con woman with some unusual abilities with healing and languages, discovering she’s only half human when she accidentally summons a djinn who served the non-human side of her family. This mysterious man then takes her from her home in Cairo to the djinn city Daevabad, where Nahri eventually meets the other main point-of-view character: a naive, principled young warrior prince named Ali. Once their stories converged, I found the book far more engaging and ended up being interested in what happened to both of them, but I didn’t expect to love the sequel as much as I did since the first book did seem to crawl at times.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself being a moody reader who couldn’t seem to settle on a book to read. I kept picking up books I was eager to read, then putting them down again—until I picked up The Kingdom of Copper. This installment is more focused on characters and political factions within Daevabad, and I found it far more absorbing than the first book in the trilogy. It’s largely about a new generation wanting to amend the mistakes of the previous generation to create a better, more just world, and the difficulty of doing so when those with the most power seem intent on repeating the same mistakes. I thought the characters were better fleshed out in this installment and found many of their interactions riveting (even amusing at times!), and I thought the choices they made at the end were fitting.

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

5. The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3) by Katherine Arden
My Review of The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1)
My Review of The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy #2)

The Winter of the Witch is an excellent series conclusion that expands on the world while remaining true to the feel of the previous books in the trilogy, and all three of the Winternight books are wonderful: beautifully written historical fantasy based on Russian folklore with well-crafted characters. The Bear and the Nightingale begins before Vasya’s birth, with her mother being told that she would be a child like her own mother, rumored to be a witch. And Vasya does indeed see spirits that most others cannot, spirits that are now reviled as devils with the spread of Christianity. I love how Vasya embraces her gifts despite how they’re viewed by everyone around her and does not drown in angst about having unusual powers, and The Winter of the Witch reveals more about the grandmother she inherited them from and where she came from. It’s an emotional final book, and this entire trilogy is among my recent favorites. These are books that belong on my bookshelf forever.

The Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang

6. The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War #2) by R. F. Kuang
My Review of The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1)

The Poppy War, R. F. Kuang’s debut novel inspired by Chinese history and the Second Sino-Japanese War, was one of my favorite books of 2018 with its unflinching look at war and its impact—and The Dragon Republic offers the same and is even better. This series follows Rin, a war orphan whose drive gets her accepted into an elite military school where she discovers she has shamanic abilities. She doesn’t even get to finish her training before she’s thrust into a war, and The Dragon Republic has yet more war, gods, and magic. It’s a meaty book that delves more into the country’s politics and its relations to other lands, and it seems to largely be about the futility of war and how it harms everyone involved. Rin’s a fascinating character: one who has done monstrous things that seem all the more chilling because she is also someone who still exhibits some empathy and is sympathetic in some ways.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black - Book Cover The Wicked King by Holly Black - Book Cover The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black - Book Cover

7. The Folk of the Air Trilogy by Holly Black
The Cruel Prince, The Wicked King, The Queen of Nothing

Technically, only the second and third books in this trilogy came out this year, but I read all three this year and found them highly addictive. The Folk of the Air follows Jude, a human who grew in Faerie with her twin sister and half-redcap older sister after the latter’s biological father slaughtered her parents and raised all three of the children. The sisters live in a brutal world, and The Cruel Prince is about Jude deciding that if she cannot be better than the people of Faerie she will become so much worse—and training as a spy, honing her fighting skills, and practicing mithridatism. In The Wicked King, Jude learns it’s easier to acquire power than it is to hang on to it, and it has an amazing ending that made me very glad there wasn’t a long wait for the third book. I did feel that The Queen of Nothing was the weakest of the three since it lost some of the previous books’ edge and rushed some events and character development, but I still had a wonderful time reading it.

Sure, Jude has a bloodthirsty streak, but I loved her resolve, determination, and voice. Jude is my Murder Protagonist of 2019.

Honorable Mentions of 2019

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Descendant of the Crane, Joan He’s debut Chinese-inspired fantasy novel, follows a young queen thrust into leadership earlier than she expected. As she tries to solve the mystery of her father’s death, she learns that the world is not as straightforward as she’d always believed—nor was the father she so admired. The writing is lovely, and it’s an impressive first novel with a wonderful ending that has a rather interesting revelation about a certain character…

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia - Book Cover

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Gods of Jade and Shadow is a standalone historical fantasy novel set during the 1920s with mythology inspired by the Popol Vuh. Casiopea spends her days serving wealthy family members who treat her like dirt, dreaming of one day being free to travel. Then one day she inadvertently frees the Mayan god of death she didn’t realize was locked in a chest in her grandfather’s bedroom. Now bound together, Casiopea and the god journey to retrieve the body parts that were taken from him before he was locked away—while the brother who overthrew the recently freed Mayan deity plots to stop them. The story and voice are delightful, and I rather enjoyed this novel.

Favorite Books Published Before 2019

A Spark of White Fire - Sangu Mandanna - Book Cover

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

Sangu Mandana’s Mahabharata-inspired Celestial Trilogy begins when a secret princess decides to reveal her true identity by defeating her twin brother in a competition for a god-forged sentient warship—even though a war goddess warned her that it would be best for her to remain in the shadows. A Spark of White Fire is one of the most exciting, fun novels I’ve read this year, and I particularly enjoyed reading about Esmae meeting the family she never knew after she won the contest—especially since she discovered her preconceptions about many of them were wrong… This also has an amazing final scene that sets the stage for the rather aptly named A House of Rage and Sorrow (which had a superb ending as well, although I preferred the first book overall).

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

2. The Book of M by Peng Shepherd
My Review

The Book of M, Peng Shepherd’s debut novel, is a memorable post-apocalyptic tale in which some people suddenly lost their shadows—and soon after, all of these people without shadows started losing their memories. The longer they remained shadowless, the more they forgot, but they regained the ability to reshape the world into their faulty picture of what it was supposed to be. Rich with symbolism and allegory, it follows four characters navigating this chaotic landscape—one of whom recently lost her shadow, and another who lost his memories in an accident before the world collapsed—and explores the connection between memory and identity. It’s a creative novel with wonderful storytelling, and it also has a superb twist at the end that I thought was perfect.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight 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, along with series information and the publisher’s book description. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

It’s been a few weeks since one of these posts. I spent some of my weekend time working on last week’s post, which took forever to write since it’s not possible to adequately describe how gorgeous this book is:

  • Review of Realm of Ash (The Books of Ambha #2) by Tasha Suri — This standalone sequel to Empire of Sand about Mehr’s younger sister, Arwa, is a little slow to start but comes together beautifully. I cannot recommend these books highly enough to those who love poetic introspection that cuts deep, characters and relationships with dimension, and stories with hope shining through the darkness.

And now, the latest book arrivals!

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal - Book Cover

We Hunt the Flame (Sands of Arawiya #1) by Hafsah Faizal

We Hunt the Flame, Hafsah Faizal’s New York Times bestselling debut novel, was released earlier this year (hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook). I’d been looking forward to this one for a while, and when I saw the author link to some signed copies for sale on Twitter, I couldn’t resist buying one!

Hypable has a chapter one excerpt, and Macmillan has a chapter two excerpt.

You can also read Hafsah Faizal’s guest post from Women in SF&F Month 2019 on realizing why she incorporated the girl disguised as a boy trope into this novel.

We Free the Stars, the second half of this tale, is scheduled for release in July 2020.

 

Set in a richly detailed world inspired by ancient Arabia, Hafsah Faizal’s We Hunt the Flame—first in the Sands of Arawiya duology—is a gripping debut of discovery, conquering fear, and taking identity into your own hands.

People lived because she killed. People died because he lived.

Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the sultan. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways. Both Zafira and Nasir are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya—but neither wants to be.

War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the sultan on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.

Legacy of Ash by Matthew Ward - Book Cover

Legacy of Ash (Legacy #1) by Matthew Ward

This epic fantasy novel is available in ebook and audiobook now with the trade paperback to come in April.

The Orbit website has an excerpt from Legacy of Ash.

 

Legacy of Ash is an unmissable fantasy debut–an epic tale of intrigue and revolution, soldiers and assassins, ancient magic and the eternal clash of empires.

A shadow has fallen over the Tressian Republic.

Ruling families — once protectors of justice and democracy — now plot against one another with sharp words and sharper knives. Blinded by ambition, they remain heedless of the threat posed by the invading armies of the Hadari Empire.

Yet as Tressia falls, heroes rise.

Viktor Akadra is the Republic’s champion. A warrior without equal, he hides a secret that would see him burned as a heretic.

Josiri Trelan is Viktor’s sworn enemy. A political prisoner, he dreams of reigniting his mother’s failed rebellion.

And yet Calenne Trelan, Josiri’s sister, seeks only to break free of their tarnished legacy; to escape the expectation and prejudice that haunts the family name.

As war spreads across the Republic, these three must set aside their differences in order to save their home. Yet decades of bad blood are not easily set aside. And victory — if it comes at all — will demand a darker price than any of them could have imagined.

Buzz Kill by David Sosnowski - Book Cover

Buzz Kill by David Sosnowski

Buzz Kill, a prequel to Happy Doomsday, will be released on January 28 (hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, audiobook).

 

Pandora Lynch lives in Alaska with her single dad, an online therapist for Silicon Valley’s brightest and squirreliest. Homeschooled by computer and a self-taught hacker, Pandora is about to enter high school to learn how to be normal. That’s the plan at least.

NorCal runaway George Jedson is a hacker too—one who leaves the systems he attacks working better than before. After being scooped up by a social media giant, will George go legit—or pull off the biggest hack ever? Not even his therapist knows for sure, but maybe the headshrinker’s daughter…

After meeting in cyberspace, the two young hackers combine their passions to conceive a brainchild named BUZZ. Can this baby AI learn to behave, or will it be like its parents and think outside the box?

With a hilarious and deeply empathetic narrative voice, this elegiac and unapologetically irreverent novel is both humorous and tragic without ever taking itself too seriously.

Additional Book(s):