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.

One ARC that I’m VERY excited to read showed up last week, but first, here’s the latest review in case you missed it:

  • The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson — Terror is twofold in this dark fantasy/Gothic horror debut novel combining mysterious witches with the everyday horrors of a patriarchal puritanical society. Immanuelle and her journey kept me turning the pages, and despite having some issues with the ending, I thought it was a strong first novel and look forward to reading more by Alexis Henderson (including the upcoming sequel!).

And now, the latest book in the mail!

The Ikessar Falcon by K. S. Villoso - Cover Image

The Ikessar Falcon (Chronicles of the Bitch Queen #2) by K. S. Villoso

The traditionally published edition of the second book in the Chronicles of the Bitch Queen trilogy, an epic fantasy series whose “worldbuilding is a love letter to the Philippines” (which K. S. Villoso discusses in more detail on her blog), will be released on September 22 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook).

The Fantasy Hive has a short excerpt from The Ikessar Falcon, and the Orbit website has a longer excerpt from The Wolf of Oren-Yaro, the first book in the series.

I absolutely loved The Wolf of Oren-Yaro and found Queen Talyien to be a fascinating, complex character. You can read more about her in K. S. Villoso’s Women in SF&F Month essay from earlier this year, which opens as follows:

“Queen Talyien is a badass.

At least, this was the seed from which the entire concept of this series sprouted. She is the first woman I’ve written this way. Before Talyien, many of my women characters were not warrior types. Most were non-assuming, brimming with strength that bubbled beneath the surface as they faced their challenges with quiet resolution. Years later, when I started in the field of engineering, I learned the textbook definition of strength: a material’s ability to withstand load, to carry a burden.”

And Queen Talyien is made all the more compelling by the strength of her voice, as I discussed in my 9/10 review of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro:

“It’s difficult to put into words just what precisely makes a voice work, but The Wolf of Oren-Yaro has one that works—one of the best I’ve ever encountered. Tali’s expressive, often poetic, flowing narrative carried me into the story and her psyche, made the world and surroundings real, and were a big part of what made this novel so engaging. It contains quite a bit of telling and flashbacks, but I actually enjoyed those parts most of all: they made the story richer by showing glimpses into the culture and events that shaped Tali, and they never seemed overlong or dull because of her compelling voice and the way they tied into her characterization.”

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is my favorite book I’ve read this year, and I’m eager to continue Queen Talyien’s story!

 

The stunning sequel to The Wolf of Oren-yaro where the queen of a divided land struggles to unite her people. Even if they despise her. K. S. Villoso is a “powerful new voice in fantasy.” (Kameron Hurley)

The spiral to madness begins with a single push.

Abandoned by her people, Queen Talyien’s quest takes a turn for the worst as she stumbles upon a plot deeper and more sinister than she could have ever imagined, one that will displace her king and see her son dead. The road home beckons, strewn with a tangled web of deceit and impossible horrors that unearth the nation’s true troubles – creatures from the dark, mad dragons, and men with hearts hungry for power.

To save her land, Talyien must confront the myth others have built around her: Warlord Yeshin’s daughter, symbol of peace, warrior and queen, and everything she could never be.

The price of failure is steep. Her friends are few. And a nation carved by a murderer can only be destined for war.

The Chronicles of the Bitch Queen
The Wolf of Oren-yaro
The Ikessar Falcon

The Year of the Witching
by Alexis Henderson
368pp (Hardcover/Ebook)
My Rating: 7.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.6/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.93/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.04/5
 

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Note: You may want to read this review on the website (instead of by email or feed reader). There are spoiler tags toward the end that should be hidden on the website but may be visible elsewhere.

Terror is twofold in The Year of the Witching, Alexis Henderson’s dark fantasy/Gothic horror debut novel, with its story involving mysterious witch spirits as well as the everyday atrocities that occur in a patriarchal puritanical society—the latter of which is magnified for protagonist Immanuelle Moore, a biracial sixteen year old followed by her mother’s sins and connection to the witchy woods.

Immanuelle’s grandparents were among the wealthiest, most powerful people in their religious community until the Prophet, the leader of their faith, decided to take their daughter as one of his brides. After discovering she was having an affair during their betrothal, the Prophet had the farm boy she loved burned at the pyre, and she retaliated by attempting to murder him the night before their marriage ceremony was to take place. She escaped into the woods said to be haunted by Lilith and her coven and returned home months later, where she died giving birth to her beloved’s child. That same night, her father lost his rare Holy Gifts from the Good Father and had a severe stroke that left him in poor health—and because he and his wife did not shun their daughter and raised her daughter, they also lost their estate, their comfortable lifestyle, their status in the Church, and the respect of their community.

Nearly seventeen years later, Immanuelle’s family is struggling to make ends meet, and she, as their shepherdess, is sent to sell a young ram at the market. She does not find a buyer and ends up leaving with the yearling in tow, but on her way home, the animal breaks free and runs into the forbidden forest. Immanuelle fails to retrieve him but encounters two of the witches she’s heard tales of throughout her life, who give her a book that turns out to be her mother’s journal. From this, Immanuelle learns more of the parents she never knew but is also unnerved by it, especially as it becomes less coherent and eventually devolves into repetition of the words “Blood. Blight. Darkness. Slaughter.”

Soon, Immanuelle fears that these words were prophetic and what they foretold is somehow linked to her and the eerie woods that call to her. She determines to find answers and put a stop to the horrors to come—even if that means studying forbidden knowledge and returning to the forbidden forest.

The Year of the Witching drew me in immediately with smooth prose and a short atmospheric prologue setting the scene for darkness to come with Immanuelle’s mother, drenched in blood and dying, claiming a witch told her that her newborn daughter would be a curse. The main story then picks up nearly seventeen years after the night Immanuelle was born, and I was every bit as drawn into the tale of her everyday life in the religious community of Bethel as the ominous opening. It’s immediately clear that she’s an outcast, the Black daughter of a notoriously sinful woman, and the only people who care for her are her family and her friend Leah—whom she fears she’s about to lose since Leah will soon become the newest bride of the Prophet.

Not so shockingly, Bethel was not built for people like Immanuelle’s father—who, like most Black people, lived apart from the white community in the Outskirts until the Prophet killed him—or the women and girls who are part of the Church. The misogyny that runs rampant in Bethel is not at all subtle: the Father and his followers are good while the Mother and the witches who follow her are bad, the Prophet can add any he wants to his collection of wives, and when he does take a new wife, their marriage ceremony involves the bride lying on an altar while he literally carves a symbol into her forehead with a knife. (Warning: There is some heavy content related to abuse, including discussion of past childhood rape.)

Given her race, gender, class, parentage, and disgraced family, Immanuelle is among those impacted the worst by Bethel’s foundations, but at the start of her journey, she largely accepts the way things are and is not particularly rebellious. She’s not a fervent believer like her grandmother, but her numerous “sins” include breaking the same rules about swimming as famously pious Leah, not saying her prayers at night, and not being appropriately grateful for unpalatable food. I thought this was completely believable for many reasons: she’s grown up isolated, never having been outside of Bethel or among people who weren’t part of this community, and her outsider status worked to shield her from seeing a lot of the hypocrisy and larger atrocities that occur. Being raised with fear of hellfire and brimstone and burning at the pyre makes obedience into a matter of survival, and as someone who is particularly disdained and likely to be punished more harshly for less, it seems probable that Immanuelle would have learned to be wary of rocking the boat.

However, Immanuelle’s story is about discovery and transformation (in addition to witches and curses and spooky forests), and I also thought her growing awareness of the wrongness of their society was equally believable. She learns more about the past and present, helped in part by her developing friendship/potential romance with Ezra, the Prophet’s heir, and his access to his father’s library. As the two come to know each other better, Ezra challenges some of Immanuelle’s perceptions about their laws and treatment of women (and shocks her by reading a forbidden encyclopedia in the guise of Holy Scripture). I liked Ezra from his introductory scene when he laughed at Immanuelle’s sarcastic response to taunts about taking after her mother, but I did feel like it was too convenient that the next Prophet was critical of their religious practices at first. After learning more about Ezra’s upbringing and family relationships, I thought this actually did work as a general character trait, although I still felt he was too perfectly aware to ring true.

But then, I don’t consider this to be a particularly character intensive novel, and none of the characters were as fleshed out as Immanuelle herself. She’s one of the types of characters I enjoy reading about: one who grows and ends up in a different place from where she started, one brimming with determination and the desire to do what’s right, one who is loyal to those she cares about and generally compassionate yet has a sharp edge. The choices she made at the end said a lot about her as a person, and I loved that despite having a different outlook in the final chapters, she still seemed like the same character from the beginning—just one whose experiences had pulled a deeper part of herself from the shadows into the light.

But…My biggest problems with the novel were also tied to the conclusion, as well as later chapters since the last two parts seemed more rushed than the first and the supernatural thread was a letdown. I tried to keep the biggest reasons for this somewhat vague in the section below, but I wasn’t certain this was vague enough so they’re behind spoiler tags.

The latter of those, at least, may be addressed in the upcoming sequel.

Despite these problems and the dissatisfying ending, I did find Immanuelle and her journey engaging, and The Year of the Witching kept me turning the pages (no easy feat in the year 2020!). This immersive debut definitely made me want to look out for more of Alexis Henderson’s future work—including the sequel scheduled for next year!

My Rating: 7.5/10

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

Read an Excerpt from The Year of the Witching

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, I added one book I pre-ordered to the TBR—one of my MOST anticipated releases of 2020, if not THE most anticipated!

Court of Lions by Somaiya Daud - Cover Image

Court of Lions (Mirage #2) by Somaiya Daud

Court of Lions, the sequel to Somaiya Daud’s fantastic debut novel, was just released last week (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). Tor.com has an excerpt from Court of Lions, plus an audio clip and transcript of Somaiya Daud’s discussion of lost culture and the Mirage duology from an interview at First Draft Pod.

The Macmillan website has an excerpt from Mirage, the first book, and if you’ve read it, you may also find Somaiya Daud’s Kindle Notes and Highlights on various quotes and scenes from Mirage on Goodreads interesting.

Mirage is an amazing, brilliant, memorable novel with complex, true-to-life characters and relationships and a main protagonist whose narrative voice is a perfect fit for her personality. As I wrote in my review:

Mirage is a quiet yet powerful, character-driven, feminist book and a finely crafted work of art. I loved it, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to those craving beautiful writing, realistically drawn main protagonists, hope shining through the heartbreak, and slow burn complicated sort-of-friendships.

For more from the author, Somaiya Daud wrote about why she set her story in space in her essay “Ideologies of Space,” which was part of last year’s Women in SF&F Month:

Why are they in space?

This is a question I receive often—most often in reviews that I shouldn’t be reading, but nevertheless, the question persists. It’s part of a constellation of questions that, at their root, share a common source. Why do they rely on the antiquated system of tribes? Why do they hold to old customs?

To me the root of these questions is a misunderstanding of the genre of futurisms often perpetrated by the genre itself. The future often presented to us is sleek and modern, presented as culturally neutral even as it embeds itself in the values and cultures of a specific class and culture. Everyone speaks English or is translated into English, everyone wears pantsuits or skirts, everyone’s hair is pressed or curled or cut into a particular bob. It’s rare that I see braids, dreads, jewelry, or culturally specific dress on anyone from Earth, and rarer still that those aliens who look human aren’t white.

Mirage is one of those books that remained with me long after I put it down, and I’m looking forward to reading more about Amani and Maram in Court of Lions (after rereading the first book!).

 

Court of Lions is the long-awaited second and final installment in the “smart, sexy, and devilishly clever” Mirage series by Somaiya Daud (Renée Ahdieh, New York Times bestselling author of The Beautiful)!

On a planet on the brink of revolution, Amani has been forced into isolation. She’s been torn from the boy she loves and has given up contact with her fellow rebels to protect her family. In taking risks for the rebel cause, Amani may have lost Maram’s trust forever. But the princess is more complex than she seems, and now Amani is once more at her capricious nature. One wrong move could see her executed for high treason.

On the eve of Maram’s marriage to Idris comes an unexpected proposal: in exchange for taking her place in the festivities, Maram will keep Amani’s rebel associations a secret. Alone and desperate, Amani is thrust into the center of the court, navigating the dangerous factions on the princess’s behalf. But the court is not what she expects. As a risky plan grows in her mind, and with the rebels poised to make their stand, Amani begins to believe her world might have a future. But every choice she makes comes with a cost. Can Amani risk the ones she loves the most for a war she’s not sure she can win?

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 is the most recent post in case you missed it:

On to the new books!

The Archer at Dawn by Swati Teerdhala - Cover Image

The Archer at Dawn (Tiger at Midnight #2) by Swati Teerdhala

The second book in the Tiger at Midnight trilogy was released a couple of months go (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The third book in the series is scheduled for release in spring 2021.

Tor.com has a text excerpt from The Archer at Dawn, and the Harper Collins website has an audio sample.

Bustle has a text excerpt from The Tiger at Midnight, the first book in this series, and the Harper Collins website has an audio sample from this book as well.

I bought a copy of the first book in this series when it was on sale a little while ago and enjoyed it, especially the second half and the dynamic between the two main characters. It was especially interesting to meet Esha knowing that Swati Teerdhala had felt she had to try to make her softer and more “likeable” in her first draft but later realized that was holding her back from letting her be who she was, as she discussed in her essay “The Unlikeable Heroine.”

 

Romantic intrigue and electric action fill the gripping sequel to The Tiger at Midnight, a world inspired by ancient Indian history and Hindu mythology. Perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir and Victoria Aveyard.

A stolen throne. A lost princess. A rescue mission to take back what’s theirs.

For Kunal and Esha, finally working together as rebels, the upcoming Sun Mela provides the perfect guise for infiltrating King Vardaan’s vicious court. Kunal returns to his role as dedicated soldier, while Esha uses her new role as adviser to Prince Harun to seek allies for their rebel cause. A radical plan is underfoot to rescue Jansa’s long-lost Princess Reha—the key to the throne.

But amidst the Mela games and glittering festivities, much more dangerous forces lie in wait. With the rebel’s entry into Vardaan’s court, a match has been lit, and long-held secrets will force Kunal and Esha to reconsider their loyalties—to their countries and to each other.

Getting into the palace was the easy task; coming out together will be a battle for their lives. In book two of Swati Teerdhala’s epic fantasy trilogy, a kingdom will fall, a new ruler will rise, and all will burn.

Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne - Cover Image

Architects of Memory (The Memory War #1) by Karen Osborne

Karen Osborne’s science fiction debut novel will be released on August 25 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook). The Macmillan website has an excerpt from Architects of Memory.

 

Millions died after the first contact. An alien weapon holds the key to redemption—or annihilation. Experience Karen Osborne’s unforgettable science fiction debut, Architects of Memory.

Terminally ill salvage pilot Ash Jackson lost everything in the war with the alien Vai, but she’ll be damned if she loses her future. Her plan: to buy, beg, or lie her way out of corporate indenture and find a cure. When her crew salvages a genocidal weapon from a ravaged starship above a dead colony, Ash uncovers a conspiracy of corporate intrigue and betrayal that threatens to turn her into a living weapon.

Crown of Coral and Pearl
by Mara Rutherford
384pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.9/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.94/5
 

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sometimes I wonder if it was our names that determined our fates, or the other way around. Nor and Zadie: coral and pearl. Both precious to our people, both beautiful enough to adorn the necks of queens. But whereas a pearl is prized for its luster, its shape, its lack of imperfections, coral is different. It grows twisted. In its natural form, it can hardly be considered beautiful at all.

I read Crown of Coral and Pearl, Mara Rutherford’s first novel, around the time I first started struggling to get into any books a few months ago because, you know, 2020. The opening lines quoted above made me curious about the two sisters mentioned, and although I never found it to be an especially immersive book, it was easy to focus on despite my difficulty concentrating (even if I did end up thinking the first part was better than the second and didn’t find it all that memorable overall).

This YA fantasy novel is told from the first person perspective of Nor, who dreams of one day seeing more of the world than her ocean village. But no one leaves their home—except for the one chosen to wed the prince once every generation, and everyone knows that girl will be her beautiful twin sister, Zadie. Although the two are practically identical in appearance, Nor has had a visible scar since the day she saved her sister from drowning and had a face-first brush with some blood coral.

Zadie is indeed selected to marry the next king, but after she is injured, Nor is given some cream to use to cover her scar and sent in the guise of her twin. And in the dark, forbidding castle, Nor learns more about the kingdom and its past—and its ties to problems that have been developing in her village.

Although I never found the worldbuilding convincing, I did rather like the image of the ocean village with stilt-legged houses sitting above the water and boats drifting between buildings and out to sea so residents could dive for dinner or pearls to sell. It was, at least, a setting unlike others I’ve encountered, and it’s also where the relationship between the two sisters and the impact of their beauty-obsessed culture on the village’s girls is explored. The twins’ mother spent her adult years bitter that she was not chosen to be the next queen, and this affected the sisters’ childhoods in every way. They were kept from befriending other girls their mother viewed as potential rivals, and Nor thinks it’s a blessing she and her twin remained best friends, knowing that if she had not been scarred their mother would have constantly pitted them against each other.

Once Nor left the ocean village for her future husband’s windowless mountainside castle, I found the story became much blander since it lacked the setting that made it a bit different and the strong bond between the sisters that added some life. Most of the characters were just kind of there, including the kind younger prince Nor was attracted to, and the only character who had any real depth was the cold prince that Nor-as-Zadie was supposed to marry. The novel delved a bit into the upbringing and circumstances that shaped him, his actions were not always predictable, and he had clear goals and ambitions—even if they were evil. This made him by far the most interesting character and the best developed other than Nor herself, but I also felt he was more intriguing in theory than execution and was disappointed by the end.

Crown of Coral and Pearl was readable enough that I finished it, but the more I read, the less engaging I found it. Given the lackluster ending and that it was never more than mildly entertaining, I’m not interested in reading the sequel coming out later this year.

My Rating: 5/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from a publicist.

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.

Over the last week, I added two books to the TBR, one purchase and one ARC. But first, here’s last week’s post in case you missed it:

  • Review of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia — This creative, haunting Gothic horror story gradually moves from quietly disconcerting to loudly disturbing as the secrets of a creepy mansion owned by a creepy family unfold. It’s one of my favorite books of the year!

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust - Book Cover

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

This new novel by the author of Girls Made of Snow and Glass just came out earlier this month (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). Bustle has an excerpt from Girl, Serpent, Thorn.

Girl, Serpent, Glass is a book I’ve been especially looking forward to—I love fairy tales and have been hearing such wonderful things about it!

 

Melissa Bashardoust’s Girl, Serpent, Thorn is “an alluring feminist fairy tale” (Kirkus Reviews) about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse.

There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik - Cover Image

A Deadly Education (The Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik

The first book in a new trilogy by New York Times bestselling author Naomi Novik will be released on September 29 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). Entertainment Weekly has an excerpt from A Deadly Education.

I LOVED Uprooted, and I love the sound of this based on what Naomi Novik wrote about its inspirations:

“One of the oldest legends of a school for witchcraft and wizardry is the story of the Scholomance, a hidden institution said to be run by the Devil himself, where the students are cloistered for years, never seeing the sun while learning the darkest of arts. Ever since I first read about this mysterious place in my middle-school library, I’ve been imagining its story. Who are the students in its classrooms and why would they or their parents accept the price the school exacts?”

(The quote above and the rest of the piece it’s from are currently on the home page of the author’s website, which is linked in the line below the cover image above.)

 

From the New York Times bestselling author of Uprooted and Spinning Silver comes the story of an unwilling dark sorceress who is destined to rewrite the rules of magic.

“The dark school of magic I’ve been waiting for.” Katherine Arden, author of Winternight Trilogy

I decided that Orion Lake needed to die after the second time he saved my life.

Everyone loves Orion Lake. Everyone else, that is. Far as I’m concerned, he can keep his flashy combat magic to himself. I’m not joining his pack of adoring fans.

I don’t need help surviving the Scholomance, even if they do. Forget the hordes of monsters and cursed artifacts, I’m probably the most dangerous thing in the place. Just give me a chance and I’ll level mountains and kill untold millions, make myself the dark queen of the world.

At least, that’s what the world expects me to do. Most of the other students in here would be delighted if Orion killed me like one more evil thing that’s crawled out of the drains. Sometimes I think they want me to turn into the evil witch they assume I am. The school itself certainly does.

But the Scholomance isn’t getting what it wants from me. And neither is Orion Lake. I may not be anyone’s idea of the shining hero, but I’m going to make it out of this place alive, and I’m not going to slaughter thousands to do it, either.

Although I’m giving serious consideration to just one.

With flawless mastery, Naomi Novik creates a heroine for the ages—a character so sharply realized and so richly nuanced that she will live on in hearts and minds for generations to come.