The Best of Nancy Kress
by Nancy Kress
560pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: --/5
LibraryThing Rating: --/5
Goodreads Rating: 4/5

The Best of Nancy Kress, comprised of 21 short stories, novelettes, and novellas, will be released by Subterranean Press next week. This collection, which will be available as both a signed limited edition hardcover and an ebook, also contains an introduction and afterwords after each story, all written by the author. The stories within this volume are the author’s own personal favorites, other than a couple of novellas that were too long to include, and most of them are science fiction. The complete table of contents from The Best of Nancy Kress can be seen on the publisher’s website.

Before reading this collection, I had only read three stories shorter than novel length written by Nancy Kress, and I’d been especially impressed by a couple of her recent novellas, Yesterday’s Kin and After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall. Even though I only enjoyed about one fourth of these stories to the same degree as those two excellent books, I am now even more in awe of her ability to pack more intriguing ideas and characterization into her shorter fiction than I would have thought possible. It’s often difficult for me to read short stories, and this is easily the longest book containing them I’ve ever read—and yet, I found all but one of them compelling in some way. While the stories were not in publication order, I also thought it showed the progression of her writing skill over time. The end of the book listed each story with the year it was published, and I noticed that almost all of the ones I felt were weaker were the oldest stories in the book.

Although I love the way she tackles thoughtful questions and incorporates hard science into her stories without dry infodumps, I think much of what makes her stories so appealing is that they’re all very much about characters—and often, flawed ones. Some are decent people facing difficult circumstances, but most of them have a mixture of strong and weak personality traits with a few more terrible than others. One of my favorite stories was about a woman who got her vengeance with science in a most diabolical manner, and neither major character in that tale seemed like a good person! Even if they did some awful things, they were well-characterized with clear motivations.

Each character seems quite real, whether human, alien, or even a dog. When I first realized one of the two narrators in “Dancing on Air” was a doberman, I wasn’t sure it would work, but it actually did. Angel, a bioengineered dog, was not very intelligent, but this made him the perfect narrator for the part of the story viewed from his perspective. He was able to observe without having the analytical ability to piece together what was actually happening, allowing that part to begin as a mystery, and he also had a voice that fit. This was a great story about ballet and genetic engineering that showed parallels between two mothers of ballerinas and their daughters.

Perhaps the best example of Nancy Kress’ skill with combining examination of ideas with complex characters and relationships is her phenomenal Hugo and Nebula Award-winning novella, “Beggars in Spain,” my favorite in this volume. It is the longest story in this collection, but the amount contained within its pages is still incredible for this length: everything from examination of future developments in genetic engineering to the societal changes and philosophies resulting from both this and other technological advances to the more personal story of a family. The beginning is immediately gripping: a man and his wife are meeting with a doctor to determine the genetic engineering of their child. They end up with one daughter engineered to be exactly the way her father wanted—intelligent and joyful with no need for sleep—and an unexpected “twin” with no genetic engineering whatsoever, exactly what their mother had wanted. Neither parent even attempts to hide that they have a favored child, and Leisha and Alice have a complicated relationship, to say the least! It also shows the world’s reaction to Leisha and other “sleepless” like her, brilliant people who have more hours in their day than other people to devote to studies, professions, or athletic training. The ending also had unexpected emotional impact considering that I didn’t feel like the characters themselves were as compelling as their relationships and lives.

While I liked the longest story best, one of my other favorites was one of the shortest stories in the collection, “Margin of Error.” I don’t want to give away too much about what happened in those six pages, but they contained an excellent science fiction story that was mostly a conversation between two sisters. It gave a clear picture of their past, their relationship, and their characters, and the final lines they spoke to each other toward the end were perfect.

Besides having a variety of story lengths, this volume also contains a remarkable assortment of concepts. One is a reversal of the common time travel story—instead of characters going to the past to change it, they bring people from the past to their present, which is forever changed because of this. Another is a tale of people and their mission in the far future while another another tells what really happened in the Garden of Eden. Each story is unique, and even the two stories that both deal with a similar scenario (meeting an alien for the first time) are about very different situations and characters.

The Best of Nancy Kress is a superb collection by an outstanding writer who excels at telling a large story without a large word count. Although I did enjoy some stories more than others, I found nearly every story engaging on some level whether it was due to the strength of the ideas, characterization, or storytelling—or, in several cases, all of these!

My Rating: 8/10

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

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). 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.

Some books that sound excellent showed up in the mail this past week, plus I bought a couple I’ve been wanting to read on a gelato and bookstore trip this weekend.

In case you missed it, I posted my review of Defiant (Towers Trilogy #2) by Karina Sumner-Smith last week. If you missed the first book and would rather start with a review of that, I also reviewed Radiant awhile ago. This is a really interesting series, and it will be completed in November.

On to the new books!

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal #1) by Zen Cho

This debut novel, the first book in a trilogy, was released earlier this month (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). An excerpt from Sorcerer to the Crown can be read on

This was a purchase from my trip to the bookstore this weekend. I’ve heard this is good, it sounds really good, and while I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I have to admit the beautiful cover just made me want to read it even more!


In this sparkling debut, magic and mayhem clash with the British elite…

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer

Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer

This epic fantasy, a debut novel, will be released on September 29 (hardcover, ebook). An excerpt from Last Song Before Night is available on Ilana Myer, Fran Wilde (Updraft), and Seth Dickinson (The Traitor Baru Cormorant) will be doing events in New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont as part of The Fall Flights of Fantasy Tour.

I’ve heard that this debut is wonderful, and after taking a look at it, I’m quite interested in reading it!


A high fantasy following a young woman’s defiance of her culture as she undertakes a dangerous quest to restore her world’s lost magic in Ilana C. Myer’s Last Song Before Night.

Her name was Kimbralin Amaristoth: sister to a cruel brother, daughter of a hateful family. But that name she has forsworn, and now she is simply Lin, a musician and lyricist of uncommon ability in a land where women are forbidden to answer such callings-a fugitive who must conceal her identity or risk imprisonment and even death.

On the eve of a great festival, Lin learns that an ancient scourge has returned to the land of Eivar, a pandemic both deadly and unnatural. Its resurgence brings with it the memory of an apocalypse that transformed half a continent. Long ago, magic was everywhere, rising from artistic expression-from song, from verse, from stories. But in Eivar, where poets once wove enchantments from their words and harps, the power was lost. Forbidden experiments in blood divination unleashed the plague that is remembered as the Red Death, killing thousands before it was stopped, and Eivar’s connection to the Otherworld from which all enchantment flowed, broken.

The Red Death’s return can mean only one thing: someone is spilling innocent blood in order to master dark magic. Now poets who thought only to gain fame for their songs face a challenge much greater: galvanized by Valanir Ocune, greatest Seer of the age, Lin and several others set out to reclaim their legacy and reopen the way to the Otherworld-a quest that will test their deepest desires, imperil their lives, and decide the future.

Black Wolves by Kate Elliott

Black Wolves (Black Wolves Trilogy #1) by Kate Elliott

Black Wolves, the first book in an epic fantasy trilogy set in the same world as the Crossroads Trilogy, will be released on November 3 (trade paperback, ebook).

As mentioned recently when I featured Kate Elliott’s recent young adult book, Court of Fives, I loved her Spiritwalker trilogy (Cold Magic, Cold Fire, and Cold Steel). I now want to read everything she has written!


An exiled captain returns to help the son of the king who died under his protection in this rich and multi-layered first book in an action-packed new series.

Twenty two years have passed since Kellas, once Captain of the legendary Black Wolves, lost his King and with him his honor. With the King murdered and the Black Wolves disbanded, Kellas lives as an exile far from the palace he once guarded with his life.

Until Marshal Dannarah, sister to the dead King, comes to him with a plea-rejoin the palace guard and save her nephew, King Jehosh, before he meets his father’s fate.

Combining the best of Shogun and Netflix’s Marco Polo, Black Wolves is an unmissable treat for epic fantasy lovers everywhere.

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

The House of Shattered Wings (Dominion of the Fallen #1) by Aliette de Bodard

This new book from Nebula, Locus, and BSFA Award-winning author Aliette de Bodard was released in August (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The first chapter of The House of Shattered Wings can be read on the author’s website.

This was the other book I got at the bookstore. I’ve heard good things about it, and I also enjoyed reading Aliette de Bodard’s Hugo-, Nebula-, and Locus-nominated novella On a Red Station, Drifting, as well as her Hugo-nominated, Nebula and Locus Award-winning short story “Immersion” (which can be read for free online).


Multi-award winning author Aliette de Bodard, brings her story of the War in Heaven to Paris, igniting the City of Light in a fantasy of divine power and deep conspiracy…

In the late twentieth century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins, the aftermath of a Great War between arcane powers. The Grand Magasins have been reduced to piles of debris, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine has turned black with ashes and rubble and the remnants of the spells that tore the city apart. But those that survived still retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital.

Once the most powerful and formidable, House Silverspires now lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.

Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel; an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction; and a resentful young man wielding spells of unknown origin. They may be Silverspires’ salvation—or the architects of its last, irreversible fall. And if Silverspires falls, so may the city itself.

Dreamseeker by C.S. Friedman

Dreamseeker (Dreamwalker #2) by C. S. Friedman

Dreamseeker will be released on November 3 (hardcover, ebook).

I haven’t read Dreamwalker, the first book in the series, but it is a book I’m curious about so I might have to pick up a copy at some point! C. S. Friedman is a great author, and I very much enjoyed both of her books I have read (the space opera In Conquest Born and the dark epic fantasy Feast of Souls).


Dreamseeker is the gripping sequel to C.S. Friedman’s Dreamwalker.

Other Books:

Defiant by Karina Sumner-Smith is the second book in the Towers Trilogy—which will be completed in November with the release of Towers Fall! The series, beginning with the author’s debut novel Radiant, is set in the same world as her Nebula-nominated short story “An End to All Things.” I was particularly impressed with the world, writing, and overall uniqueness of Radiant, and Defiant continues to build on that world while keeping the focus on Xhea and Shai, both as friends and individuals.

More than two months after the end of Radiant, Xhea remains at Edren and has still not healed from the knee injury resulting from saving Shai. The great amount of magic generated by her ghost friend’s presence more than pays for Xhea’s room and board, but Xhea remains unaware of just how much impact bringing a Radiant to Edren has had—until the day she and Shai are summoned by Lorn Edren’s wife, Emara, shortly after Xhea followed a strange ghost underground and witnessed the crumbling of Edren’s barricade.

While the people of Edren have attempted to hide Shai and Xhea’s presence as much as possible, the other towers have noticed—it would be difficult for them not to, as there has never been magic as strong as hers in the Lower City. Edren fears that the attack on their barricade may be the beginning of a war, and they would have never known about it if not for Xhea. With her rare ability to tolerate going underground, they may be able to learn more about what happened, including whether or not any of the other skyscrapers’ barricades have similar problems. Xhea agrees to investigate but what she discovers is that it’s not just Shai’s power others seek to use—they also covet her own dark magic that she herself does not understand.

While I didn’t love Radiant, I thought it was a strong debut novel—original and thoughtfully composed with some lovely, picturesque prose—and these impressive qualities ensured that I would be reading more by Karina Sumner-Smith! Conveniently, there was not a long wait between the first and second books in this trilogy, and I did not have to wait long to read Defiant, which I found shared many strengths and weaknesses with the first book. Like Radiant, it had an opening chapter that made me eager to find out what happened next and a phenomenal ending, but also like the previous book, it had some pacing problems and an overabundance of narrative. I enjoyed that the relationship given the most focus remained Xhea and Shai’s friendship, but they spent a lot of time apart which led to a lot of internal thoughts and description, especially considering most people other than Xhea cannot see or hear Shai. As with the first book, there is some lovely writing, although it didn’t strike me as having quite as much beauty as Radiant. In the end, my experience with Defiant was very much like that with the first book—except that I thought this book was more readable than the first without being quite as memorable.

It’s been difficult to pinpoint why I had that reaction to it since I did find it to be more of a page-turner than the first book, especially the chapters from Xhea’s perspective in which she learned more about her mysterious power. This book both answered questions and set up more questions to be explored in the next book, and while I’m definitely interested in learning more in the conclusion, the ending didn’t pique my curiosity quite as much as the end of Radiant. I think that’s primarily because I’m most interested in reading about characters, and most of what I’m left wondering about after reading Defiant is related to the world and magic rather than characters’ pasts or motivations. Although I enjoy reading about both Xhea and Shai, neither has a personality that makes spending time inside her head particularly compelling so I did not become more invested in either after reading more about them. While Xhea’s perspective occasionally strikes me as a little humorous, both of them are mostly serious. This makes perfect sense given all that they’ve been through and continue to go through, but I tend to prefer that narrators have more of a sense of humor or other distinct traits that come through in books as narrative-heavy as this one.

The world-building continues to be the highlight of this series. In Radiant, I usually felt like I was one step behind Xhea and her knowledge, and I rather liked that since what she conveyed and held back fit with her situation and thoughts. However, I think a lot of what made this book more readable than the first was that I was closer to equal footing with Xhea because a lot of the important parts in this book were also new to her as she learned more about her magic and her past. Like the previous book, there is a focus on the cost of power. In my review of Radiant, I discussed how Xhea’s story showed the cost of too little power in a world in which magic was necessary for life itself and Shai’s the cost of too much. In Defiant, both girls’ stories are more parallel as both are sought for completely different types of magic—and both are treated as sources of useful magic rather than people.

Overall, I enjoyed Defiant about as much as the first book in the Towers Trilogy. Both books have strong world-building, openings, and endings but also falter a bit with pacing and too much narrative. While I felt that Radiant seemed a little more carefully crafted and written, I loved that Defiant delved further into the fantastic world that Karina Sumner-Smith has created—and introduced some intriguing developments that set the stage for Towers Fall.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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

Other Reviews of Defiant:

Reviews of Other Book(s) in the Towers Trilogy:

  1. Radiant

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration (often unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Last week brought two books in the mail. I was hoping to make a trip to the bookstore over the weekend, but I’m now planning to go browse the bookstore next weekend. There are a LOT of recent releases that sound fantastic!

Dragon Coast by Greg van Eekhout

Dragon Coast (Daniel Blackland #3) by Greg van Eekhout

This conclusion to a trilogy will be released on September 15 (hardcover, ebook). The previous two books are California Bones (which has its own website at and Pacific Fire, in that order.

An excerpt from Dragon Coast can be read on the Tor-Forge blog, and if you missed the first book, has an excerpt from California Bones.

I haven’t read the previous books in this series, but they do sound rather interesting.


Dragon Coast: the sequel to Greg Van Eekhout’s California Bones and Pacific Fire, in which Daniel Blackland must pull off the most improbable theft of all.

Daniel’s adopted son Sam, made from the magical essence of the tyrannical Hierarch of Southern California whom Daniel overthrew and killed, is lost-consumed by the great Pacific firedrake secretly assembled by Daniel’s half-brother, Paul.

But Sam is still alive and aware, in magical form, trapped inside the dragon as it rampages around Los Angeles, periodically torching a neighborhood or two.

Daniel has a plan to rescue Sam. It will involve the rarest of substances, axis mundi, pieces of the bones of the great dragon at the center of the Earth. Daniel will have to go to the kingdom of Northern California, boldly posing as his half-brother, come to claim his place in the competition to be appointed Lord High Osteomancer of the Northern Kingdom. Only when the Northern Hierarch, in her throne room at Golden Gate Park, raises her scepter to confirm Daniel in his position will he have an opportunity to steal the axis mundi-under the gaze of the Hierarch herself.

And that’s just the first obstacle.

Sound by Alexandra Duncan

Sound by Alexandra Duncan

This young adult science fiction novel will be released on September 22 (hardcover, ebook). It’s a companion to Alexandra Duncan’s debut novel, Salvage, which was a finalist for the Andre Norton Award and a Compton Crook Award winner.


SOUND is the stand-alone companion to Alexandra Duncan’s acclaimed novel Salvage, a debut that internationally bestselling author Stephanie Perkins called “kick-ass, brilliant, feminist science fiction.” For fans of Beth Revis, Firefly, and Battlestar Galactica.

As a child, Ava’s adopted sister Miyole watched her mother take to the stars, piloting her own ship from Earth to space making deliveries. Now a teen herself, Miyole is finally living her dream as a research assistant on her very first space voyage. If she plays her cards right, she could even be given permission to conduct her own research and experiments in her own habitat lab on the flight home. But when her ship saves a rover that has been viciously attacked by looters and kidnappers, Miyole—along with a rescued rover girl named Cassia—embarks on a mission to rescue Cassia’s abducted brother, and that changes the course of Miyole’s life forever.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration (often unsolicited). 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.

Before I get to this week’s featured book, here’s what happened last week in case you missed it.

Last week, I did some catching up with some mini reviews: one on fairy tales and one for other books I that I hadn’t reviewed yet. I also finished reading Defiant by Karina Sumner-Smith last week and am now working on a review of it.

Now, this week’s featured book!

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Walk on Earth a Stranger (The Gold Seer Trilogy #1) by Rae Carson

This first book in a new trilogy by New York Times bestselling author Rae Carson will be released on September 22 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). An excerpt from Walk on Earth a Stranger can be read on Epic Reads.

I’ve been wanting to read the first book in Rae Carson’s Fire and Thorns trilogy, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, for awhile now, and I’ve heard that this book is excellent as well. I’ve wanted to read them both even more since reading an interview she did as a Guest of Honor at this year’s Sirens Conference (which sounds incredible and will be held in Denver, Colorado, in October).


Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety?

Walk on Earth a Stranger, the first book in this new trilogy, introduces—as only Rae Carson can—a strong heroine, a perilous road, a fantastical twist, and a slow-burning romance. Includes a map and author’s note on historical research.

Other Books:

Book Description from Goodreads:

We’d had to be cut free of our mother’s womb. She’d never have been able to push the two-headed sport that was me and Abby out the usual way. Abby and I were fused, you see. Conjoined twins. Abby’s head, torso, and left arm protruded from my chest. But here’s the real kicker; Abby had the magic, I didn’t. Far as the Family was concerned, Abby was one of them, though cursed, as I was, with the tragic flaw of mortality.

Now adults, Makeda and Abby still share their childhood home. The surgery to separate the two girls gave Abby a permanent limp, but left Makeda with what feels like an even worse deformity: no mojo. The daughters of a celestial demigod and a human woman, Makeda and Abby were raised by their magical father, the god of growing things–a highly unusual childhood that made them extremely close. Ever since Abby’s magical talent began to develop, though, in the form of an unearthly singing voice, the sisters have become increasingly distant.

Today, Makeda has decided it’s high time to move out and make her own life among the other nonmagical, claypicken humans–after all, she’s one of them. In Cheerful Rest, a run-down warehouse space, Makeda finds exactly what she’s been looking for: an opportunity to live apart from Abby and begin building her own independent life. There’s even a resident band, led by the charismatic (and attractive) building superintendent.

But when her father goes missing, Makeda will have to discover her own talent–and reconcile with Abby–if she’s to have a hope of saving him . . .

Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson is the story of Makeda, a young woman with a demi-god father and a human mother who did not inherit any of the power of her paternal family—even though her twin sister Abby did. Makeda never felt like she belonged to the Family, and as she and Abby grew older, the two grew further apart to the point where Makeda decided to get her own apartment in the beginning of this book. I really enjoyed seeing Makeda come into her own throughout the novel as she learns the truth about her family and herself that has been hidden for so long, as well as reading about her complicated relationship with Abby. It’s an absorbing stand alone contemporary fantasy, and I started collecting Nalo Hopkinson’s older titles after reading it.

My Rating: 8/10

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

Lord of the Changing Winds
by Rachel Neumeier
400pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 3.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.35/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.38/5

Book Description from Goodreads:

Griffins lounged all around them, inscrutable as cats, brazen as summer. They turned their heads to look at Kes out of fierce, inhuman eyes. Their feathers, ruffled by the wind that came down the mountain, looked like they had been poured out of light; their lion haunches like they had been fashioned out of gold. A white griffin, close at hand, looked like it had been made of alabaster and white marble and then lit from within by white fire. Its eyes were the pitiless blue-white of the desert sky.

Little ever happens in the quiet villages of peaceful Feierabiand. The course of Kes’ life seems set: she’ll grow up to be an herb-woman and healer for the village of Minas Ford, never quite fitting in but always more or less accepted. And she’s content with that path — or she thinks she is. Until the day the griffins come down from the mountains, bringing with them the fiery wind of their desert and a desperate need for a healer. But what the griffins need is a healer who is not quite human . . . or a healer who can be made into something not quite human.

Lord of the Changing Winds by Rachel Neumeier is a self-contained story despite being the first book in the Griffin Mage trilogy. Unlike my favorite book I’ve read by the same author, House of Shadows, it took awhile for it to pull me in, but I ended up enjoying it. There are too few fantasy books about griffins, and these were quite interesting since they were alien as a group yet still had their own individual personalities. Both main characters were sympathetic, but I also wasn’t as invested in either as much as I would have liked. However, this introduced an intriguing world I’d like to revisit and I do plan to read the next book, Land of the Burning Sands.

My Rating: 7/10

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

Book Description from Goodreads:

In his critically acclaimed novel Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay told a vivid and powerful story inspired by China’s Tang Dynasty. Now, the international bestselling and multiple award-winning author revisits that invented setting four centuries later with an epic of prideful emperors, battling courtiers, bandits and soldiers, nomadic invasions, and a woman battling in her own way, to find a new place for women in the world – a world inspired this time by the glittering, decadent Song Dynasty.

Ren Daiyan was still just a boy when he took the lives of seven men while guarding an imperial magistrate of Kitai. That moment on a lonely road changed his life—in entirely unexpected ways, sending him into the forests of Kitai among the outlaws. From there he emerges years later—and his life changes again, dramatically, as he circles towards the court and emperor, while war approaches Kitai from the north.

Lin Shan is the daughter of a scholar, his beloved only child. Educated by him in ways young women never are, gifted as a songwriter and calligrapher, she finds herself living a life suspended between two worlds. Her intelligence captivates an emperor—and alienates women at the court. But when her father’s life is endangered by the savage politics of the day, Shan must act in ways no woman ever has.

In an empire divided by bitter factions circling an exquisitely cultured emperor who loves his gardens and his art far more than the burdens of governing, dramatic events on the northern steppe alter the balance of power in the world, leading to events no one could have foretold, under the river of stars.

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay is set in the same world as Under Heaven, but it’s set about 400 years later and stands alone. While it took some time to completely draw me in, I ended up loving River of Stars. It’s a long story that takes awhile to get going, and it took some time for me to get used to the writing style but I found it lovely once I did become accustomed to it. It’s a reflective book involving themes of war and power, including the power of words, and legends, particularly how they can grow as they’re retold, morphing into more extraordinary tales. While I liked that it was introspective, I did feel that sometimes this was overdone and repetitive, but this was minor overall considering how very much I enjoyed reading it. There are also compelling characters and heart-wrenching tragedies, and River of Stars is very much the type of novel that is right up my alley. I didn’t love it quite as much as Tigana, my favorite of Kay’s novels so far, but it was still fantastic.

My Rating: 9/10

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

Book Description from Goodreads:

Devi Morris isn’t your average mercenary. She has plans. Big ones. And a ton of ambition. It’s a combination that’s going to get her killed one day – but not just yet.

That is, until she just gets a job on a tiny trade ship with a nasty reputation for surprises. The Glorious Fool isn’t misnamed: it likes to get into trouble, so much so that one year of security work under its captain is equal to five years everywhere else. With odds like that, Devi knows she’s found the perfect way to get the jump on the next part of her Plan. But the Fool doesn’t give up its secrets without a fight, and one year on this ship might be more than even Devi can handle.

If Sigouney Weaver in Alien met Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, you’d get Deviana Morris — a hot new mercenary earning her stripes to join an elite fighting force. Until one alien bite throws her whole future into jeopardy.

Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach is the first book in the Paradox trilogy. My experience with it seems to be unusual: I really struggled to get into it and almost didn’t finish it. It had a lot of action and was fairly quickly paced, and I’ve found those types of books often don’t work for me if I’m not already invested in the characters. At that point, I wasn’t, and I ended up setting it aside after reading around 100 pages. I did decide to try reading it again later, and I nearly quit reading when I was still bored after a couple more chapters—but then, around the halfway point, the mysteries started to interest me and I ended up really enjoying the second half of Fortune’s Pawn. This is definitely not a complete story on its own, and later parts of the book and the ending were good enough to make me curious about what happens in the next book even though the first half didn’t work for me.

My Rating: 6/10

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