Today I’m delighted to be part of the blog tour for Beneath the Haunting Sea! This young adult fantasy debut novel was just released on January 9, and Joanna Ruth Meyer describes her new book as follows on Goodreads:

This book is for you if you like:
Betrayal, true love, heartbreak, adventure, a boy who plays piano, a mysterious library, an immortal tree, and an intensely malicious evil sea goddess. Basically, Jane Austen meets The Silmarillion, with kissing.

If that sounds like a book you want to check out, you can keep reading for an excerpt from chapter 9 of Beneath the Haunting Sea (and check out the lovely cover)!

Beneath the Haunting Sea by Joanna Ruth Meyer

About BENEATH THE HAUNTING SEA:

Can’t you hear it, Talia?
Can’t you hear the waves singing?

Sixteen-year-old Talia was born to a life of certainty and luxury, destined to become Empress of half the world. But when an ambitious rival seizes power, she and her mother are banished to a nowhere province on the far edge of the Northern Sea.

It is here, in the drafty halls of the Ruen-Dahr, that Talia discovers family secrets, a melancholy boy with a troubling vision of her future, and a relic that holds the power of an ancient Star. On these shores, the eerie melody of the sea is stronger than ever, revealing long-forgotten tales of the Goddess Rahn. The more dark truths that Talia unravels about the gods’ history—and her own—the more the waves call to her, and it may be her destiny to answer.


The door opened again. A tall man stood there, dressed in a smart black coat and crisp cravat. He was somewhat past middle age, with the shockingly pale skin Talia was growing used to seeing in Ryn, and dark hair shot through with silver, tied back at the nape of his neck.

“Good afternoon,” he said, addressing the driver, though his glance rested briefly on Talia. “You have word from the empress? I’m Ahned, the baron’s steward.”

The driver jabbed his thumb at Talia. “Was paid to deliver her here. You did receive notice of her arrival?”

“We were expecting two ladies. Weeks ago.”

The driver shrugged. “There’s just her. Ship was delayed on account of weather.”

“I see.”

Talia kept chewing on her cheek, trying not to feel like an unwanted horse at an auction.

“Well then.” The driver handed Ahned the leather chest. “Payment, as promised. The annual installments will of course be forthcoming. You may inform the baron.”

“Of course.” Ahned looked at Talia again. “Do you have trunks? Any luggage to bring in?”

She shook her head.

“Ah, well. Best get out of the wet.” He opened the door wider.

The driver tipped his cap to Ahned and dashed back to the coach.

Talia took a deep breath and went into the house.

She stepped into a grand entrance hall made of stone, dim light slipping through the windows set high in the vaulted ceiling. It was just as cold in here as it was outside, if less damp. Talia shivered, dripping water on the floor like a half-drowned cat.

Ahned came in behind her and shut the door. “Welcome to the Ruen-Dahr, Miss Dahl-Saida. Give me a moment, and I’ll see if your room is ready.”

She nodded and he disappeared up the sweeping staircase on the far end of the foyer. Underneath the curve of the stairs was a large pair of double doors, the dark wood carved into shapes she couldn’t distinguish from this distance. Across the room to her left an open doorway led into a carpeted hall.

As she stood there waiting for Ahned, she became gradually aware of a faint thread of music, winding its way from somewhere deep in the house. She’d never heard anything quite like it: soft and sad and beautiful, too. The rain pounded overhead and the music seemed to twist into the scattered rhythm, like the melody was just as natural as the weather.

Minutes ticked by and Ahned didn’t return. Talia’s toes and fingers grew numb with cold. She fidgeted, anxious and impatient, wanting just to sit down with a cup of tea or curl up by a warm fire or—gods above—take a hot bath. She wished Ayah were here—she’d have found some way to get into mischief already.

Talia cast an irritated eye up the stairs, but Ahned still didn’t appear.

The music wound on, tugging at her strangely as she waited, and after a few more moments she couldn’t stand it any longer. She had to find out what it was. With one last glance at the staircase, she crossed the foyer and stepped into the hall. The music grew a little louder. She passed a doorway that looked into a small dining room and kept going. The hall turned to the right, drawing her past a few more doors, all shut, and then at last to the source of the music—a room in the back of the house spilling light and melody into the corridor. She stopped in front of the door and peered in.

The room was small, but comfortable. A pair of armchairs were pulled up to a small fire; a window in the back wall looked out into the rain. Haphazard shelves, overflowing with books and sheet music, lined the walls. Between them hung all kinds of instruments—viols and miniature harps, flutes and recorders of various sizes, a half dozen drums, and more that Talia had no names for.

Underneath the window stood another instrument she didn’t know. It looked like a harpsichord—same shape and strings, same black-and-white keys marching up and down its widest part—but it had a completely different sound.

A young man sat behind the not-harpsichord, lost in creating the mesmerizing music that Talia had heard from the entrance hall. He looked to be about her age, with a wiry build and arms too long for his sleeves. He had light brown hair and skin paler than Ahned’s. The inhabitants of Ryn clearly didn’t spend much time in the sun, although—Talia glanced at the rain running down the window—maybe there wasn’t much sun to spend time in.

She stood there and watched him play, his hands running so easily up and down the keys that she wondered whether the music controlled him.

And then he lifted his head and saw her in the doorway. His fingers froze over the instrument and the music cut off abruptly. He blinked at her, his bright blue eyes owlish behind a pair of silver spectacles, and seemed to grow paler than he already was.

He jerked to his feet, still staring, and slammed a cover over the keys so hard it made Talia jump. “Who are you?” he demanded.

She suddenly wondered what she must look like to him: a half-drowned stranger who hadn’t had a real bath in half a year.

“I’m Talia.” Her voice came out in an undignified high squeak. “Talia Dahl-Saida,” she added, more firmly, “heiress of Irsa.”

“No, no, no.” He shook his head, stepping around the instrument to come over to her. Up close he was several inches taller than Talia, his thatch of hair falling into his eyes and curling a little around his ears. A spattering of freckles ran across his nose and a cravat hung loose around his neck.

He grabbed her arms. “You can’t be here. You have to leave.” He turned her about and propelled her back into the hallway.

She jerked free. “I beg your pardon?”

He unhooked his spectacles and rubbed his eyes, pacing a few steps down the hall before coming back to her. He shoved his spectacles into his shirt pocket and swore, vehemently, by all nine gods and a handful of spirits Talia had never heard of before. “I don’t believe this.” He finally looked at her again.

She liked him a little better after all that swearing. “Who are you?”

He shrugged. “I’m Wen.”

That was not exactly enlightening.

“But you really can’t stay. You have to leave. Tonight, maybe. Tomorrow at the latest. It’s not safe, do you understand?”

No. No, she didn’t understand. She wanted to strangle him with his cravat. “Do you have any idea what I’ve been through to get here? Of course you don’t. How could you? In the last six months I was arrested, shoved onto a boat, and watched my mother die. I just got here and I am not leaving, damn you!”

His eyebrows lifted nearly to the top of his head and he took an involuntary step backwards. “I’m so sor—” he began.

But then Ahned stepped up beside her and offered her his arm. “Ah,” he said, his glance flicking between her and Wen, “I see you two have . . . met. Miss Dahl-Saida, your room is ready. So sorry for the delay.”

Talia took his arm and allowed him to lead her down the hall, casting a baffled look at Wen over her shoulder as she went.

Excerpted from BENEATH THE HAUNTING SEA © Copyright 2018 by Joanna Ruth Meyer. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.


Joanna Ruth Meyer About the Author

Joanna Ruth Meyer is a writer of Young Adult fantasy. She lives with her dear husband and son in Arizona, where it never rains (or at least not often enough for her!). When she’s not writing, she can be found teaching piano lessons, drinking copious amounts of tea, reading thick books, and dreaming of winter.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Visit the other stops on the Tour!

December 19: Mother Daughter Book Club
December 20: YA Books Central
December 21: Fantasy Book Critic
December 22: Brittany’s Book Rambles
December 27: SFFWorld
December 28: Short & Sweet Reviews
December 29: SciFiChick
January 2: The Cover Contessa
January 3: Seeing Double in Neverland
January 4: All Things Urban Fantasy
January 9: Mundie Moms
January 18: YA Interrobang

It looks like 2018 will be a year filled with excellent books, and this is my longest anticipated release list yet with almost 30 books! Each and every one of them sounded too fantastic not to be on such a list, but I’m only showing the first 10 books on the main page due to the length of this blog post. You can click the title of the post or the ‘more…’ link after the tenth book to read the entire article.

This list only includes books that are currently scheduled for publication in 2018 (in publication order). If I couldn’t find news of the book’s release date on the author or publisher’s website, I did not include it even though I might continue to hope for its 2018 release (this includes The Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor and Monstress, Volume 3 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda).

Without further ado, here are several books coming out this year that sound especially excellent!

The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman
The Lost Plot (Invisible Library #4) by Genevieve Cogman
US Release Date: January 9
(Published in the UK in Late 2017)

Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series is so much fun, and I always look forward to each new installment. It follows Irene as she travels to various alternate worlds to acquire books (usually by posing undercover and then stealing them) for the organization known as the Library, which exists outside of time and space. I confess that calling this an “anticipated book” may be a bit of a stretch since it just came out and I recently finished it, but leaving it off the list didn’t seem right, either, considering it was a 2018 release I had been very much looking forward to reading. (And in case you’re wondering since I haven’t reviewed it yet—it is delightful and filled with dragons!)

 

After being commissioned to find a rare book, Librarian Irene and her assistant, Kai, head to Prohibition-era New York and are thrust into the middle of a political fight with dragons, mobsters, and Fae.

In a 1920s-esque New York, Prohibition is in force; fedoras, flapper dresses, and tommy guns are in fashion: and intrigue is afoot. Intrepid Librarians Irene and Kai find themselves caught in the middle of a dragon political contest. It seems a young Librarian has become tangled in this conflict, and if they can’t extricate him, there could be serious repercussions for the mysterious Library. And, as the balance of power across mighty factions hangs in the balance, this could even trigger war.

Irene and Kai are locked in a race against time (and dragons) to procure a rare book. They’ll face gangsters, blackmail, and the Library’s own Internal Affairs department. And if it doesn’t end well, it could have dire consequences on Irene’s job. And, incidentally, on her life…

Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra
Markswoman (Asiana #1) by Rati Mehrotra
Release Date: January 23

The description of Rati Mehrotra’s debut novel Markswoman immediately piqued my interest by mentioning “an order of magical-knife wielding female assassins.” After I finished The Lost Plot, I picked up this novel and was immediately hooked by Kyra’s test to become a Markswoman, and I continue to find the world and the different orders intriguing after having read about 80 pages. (I promise, this is the last book on this list that I’ve read or am currently reading!)

 

An order of magical-knife wielding female assassins brings both peace and chaos to their post-apocalyptic world in this bewitching blend of science fiction and epic fantasy—the first entry in a debut duology that displays the inventiveness of the works of Sarah Beth Durst and Marie Lu.

Kyra is the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, a highly trained sisterhood of elite warriors armed with telepathic blades. Guided by a strict code of conduct, Kyra and the other Orders are sworn to protect the people of Asiana. But to be a Markswoman, an acolyte must repudiate her former life completely. Kyra has pledged to do so, yet she secretly harbors a fierce desire to avenge her dead family.

When Kyra’s beloved mentor dies in mysterious circumstances, and Tamsyn, the powerful, dangerous Mistress of Mental Arts, assumes control of the Order, Kyra is forced on the run. Using one of the strange Transport Hubs that are remnants of Asiana’s long-lost past, she finds herself in the unforgiving wilderness of desert that is home to the Order of Khur, the only Order composed of men. Among them is Rustan, a young, disillusioned Marksman whom she soon befriends.

Kyra is certain that Tamsyn committed murder in a twisted bid for power, but she has no proof. And if she fails to find it, fails in her quest to keep her beloved Order from following Tamsyn down a dark path, it could spell the beginning of the end for Kyra—and for Asiana.

But what she doesn’t realize is that the line between justice and vengeance is razor thin . . . thin as the blade of a knife.

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
Release Date: February 27

Tess of the Road is set in the same world as Seraphina and its sequel Shadow Scale. That’s a pretty good reason to read it in and of itself, but it also sounds fantastic.

 

In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons can be whomever they choose. Tess is none of these things. Tess is. . . different. She speaks out of turn, has wild ideas, and can’t seem to keep out of trouble. Then Tess goes too far. What she’s done is so disgraceful, she can’t even allow herself to think of it. Unfortunately, the past cannot be ignored. So Tess’s family decide the only path for her is a nunnery.

But on the day she is to join the nuns, Tess chooses a different path for herself. She cuts her hair, pulls on her boots, and sets out on a journey. She’s not running away, she’s running towards something. What that something is, she doesn’t know. Tess just knows that the open road is a map to somewhere else—a life where she might belong.

Returning to the spellbinding world of the Southlands she created in the award-winning, New York Times bestselling novel Seraphina, Rachel Hartman explores self-reliance and redemption in this wholly original fantasy.

If Tomorrow Comes by Nancy Kress
If Tomorrow Comes (Yesterday’s Kin #2) by Nancy Kress
Release Date: March 6

Nancy Kress is one of my favorite science fiction authors since she excels at writing books with both interesting ideas and characters. Tomorrow’s Kin, an expansion of the Nebula Award–winning novella Yesterday’s Kin, is smart and compulsively readable with a compelling main protagonist, and I can hardly wait to read the next book in the trilogy!

 

Nancy Kress returns with If Tomorrow Comes, the sequel of Tomorrow’s Kin, part of an all-new hard SF trilogy based on a Nebula Award-winning novella

Ten years after the Aliens left Earth, humanity has succeeded in building a ship, Friendship, in which to follow them home to Kindred. Aboard are a crew of scientists, diplomats, and a squad of Rangers to protect them. But when the Friendship arrives, they find nothing they expected. No interplanetary culture, no industrial base—and no cure for the spore disease.

A timeslip in the apparently instantaneous travel between worlds has occurred and far more than ten years have passed.

Once again scientists find themselves in a race against time to save humanity and their kind from a deadly virus while a clock of a different sort runs down on a military solution no less deadly to all. Amid devastation and plague come stories of heroism and sacrifice and of genetic destiny and free choice, with its implicit promise of conscious change.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha #1) by Tomi Adeyemi
Release Date: March 6

It was the striking cover of Children of Blood and Bone that first caught my eye, and now I desperately want to read it because of the description. Everything about it sounds fantastic, including a heroine and rogue princess working together to outwit another!

Fierce Reads has an excerpt from Children of Blood and Bone if you want to take a peek at it while waiting for March.

 

Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut, perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Sabaa Tahir.

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers―and her growing feelings for an enemy.

Quietus by Tristan Palmgren
Quietus by Tristan Palmgren
Release Date: March 6

Once again, I was first drawn to this cover with its beautiful colors, but I now want to read it because of its description: a transdimensional anthropologist chooses compassion over neutrality.

 

A transdimensional anthropologist can’t keep herself from interfering with Earth’s darkest period of history in this brilliant science fiction debut

Niccolucio, a young Florentine Carthusian monk, leads a devout life until the Black Death kills all of his brothers, leaving him alone and filled with doubt. Habidah, an anthropologist from another universe racked by plague, is overwhelmed by the suffering. Unable to maintain her observer neutrality, she saves Niccolucio from the brink of death.

Habidah discovers that neither her home’s plague nor her assignment on Niccolucio’s world are as she’s been led to believe. Suddenly the pair are drawn into a worlds-spanning conspiracy to topple an empire larger than the human imagination can contain.

Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins
Daughters of the Storm (Blood and Gold #1) by Kim Wilkins
US Release Date: March 6

Australian author Kim Wilkins’ Aurealis Award–nominated novel Daughters of the Storm will be published in the US this year, and it sounds fantastic: five very different sisters must work together for the sake of their kingdom.

 

Five very different sisters team up against their stepbrother to save their kingdom in this Norse-flavored fantasy epic—the start of a new series in the tradition of Naomi Novik, Peter V. Brett, and Robin Hobb.

FIVE ROYAL SISTERS. ONE CROWN.

They are the daughters of a king. Though they share the same royal blood, they could not be more different. Bluebell is a proud warrior, stronger than any man and with an ironclad heart to match. Rose’s heart is all too passionate: She is the queen of a neighboring kingdom who is risking everything for a forbidden love. Ash is discovering a dangerous talent for magic that might be a gift—or a curse. And then there are the twins—vain Ivy, who lives for admiration, and zealous Willow, who lives for the gods.

But when their father is stricken by a mysterious ailment, these five sisters must embark on a desperate journey to save him and prevent their treacherous stepbrother from seizing the throne. Their mission: find the powerful witch who can cure the king. But to succeed on their quest, they must overcome their differences and hope that the secrets they hide from one another and the world are never brought to light. Because if this royal family breaks, it could destroy the kingdom.

The Heart Forger by Rin Chupeco
The Heart Forger (Bone Witch #2) by Rin Chupeco
Release Date: March 20

The Bone Witch is the story of a powerful necromancer who had no idea that she had these abilities until she unwittingly raised her brother from the dead, as told to a bard by Tea herself. Part of what makes Tea such a compelling protagonist is discovering the differences between her character in the past and the harder young woman met by the bard, and I’m looking forward to learning more about what happened to her to cause these changes. (Also, both books have gorgeous covers!)

 

In The Bone Witch, Tea mastered resurrection―now she’s after revenge…

No one knows death like Tea. A bone witch who can resurrect the dead, she has the power to take life…and return it. And she is done with her self-imposed exile. Her heart is set on vengeance, and she now possesses all she needs to command the mighty daeva. With the help of these terrifying beasts, she can finally enact revenge against the royals who wronged her―and took the life of her one true love.

But there are those who plot against her, those who would use Tea’s dark power for their own nefarious ends. Because you can’t kill someone who can never die…

War is brewing among the kingdoms, and when dark magic is at play, no one is safe.

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton
The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton
Release Date: March 27

Tessa Gratton’s upcoming fantasy novel inspired by King Lear sounds wonderful! (I am usually intrigued by fantasy books inspired by Shakespeare.)

 

Inspired by Shakespeare’s King Lear, dynasties battle for the crown in Tessa Gratton’s debut epic adult fantasy The Queens of Innis Lear, a story of deposed kings and betrayed queens

The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. Enemy nations circle the once-bountiful isle, sensing its growing vulnerability, hungry to control the ideal port for all trade routes.

The king’s three daughters―battle-hungry Gaela, master manipulator Regan, and restrained, starblessed Elia―know the realm’s only chance of resurrection is to crown a new sovereign, proving a strong hand can resurrect magic and defend itself. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align and a poison ritual can be enacted.

Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war―but regardless of who wins the crown, the shores of Innis will weep the blood of a house divided.

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard
The Tea Master and the Detective (Xuya Universe) by Aliette de Bodard
Release Date: March 31

Aliette de Bodard described The Tea Master and the Detective on Twitter as “a gender-swapped Sherlock Holmes in space, with Holmes as an eccentric scholar, and Watson as a grumpy discharged war mindship.” I love this idea, the title, and the book cover and am eager to read more by Aliette de Bodard after being captivated by her latest Dominion of the Fallen novel, The House of Binding Thorns.

 

Welcome to the Scattered Pearls Belt, a collection of ring habitats and orbitals ruled by exiled human scholars and powerful families, and held together by living mindships who carry people and freight between the stars. In this fluid society, human and mindship avatars mingle in corridors and in function rooms, and physical and virtual realities overlap, the appareance of environments easily modified and adapted to interlocutors or current mood.

A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow’s Childnow ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow’s Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow’s Child with her.

As they dig deep into the victim’s past, The Shadow’s Child realises that the investigation points to Long Chau’s own murky past…and, ultimately, to the dark and unbearable void that lies between the stars…

(more…)

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (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.

It’s been a couple of weeks since one of these posts largely due to the holidays, and I was fortunate to receive a few books as Christmas gifts to include here along with some other books that sound intriguing.

In case you missed it, I posted a list of my favorite books of 2017 last week. This includes both 2017 releases and books I read published before 2017, and it was a great year of reading!

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang

The Black Tides of Heaven (Tensorate #1) by JY Yang

The Black Tides of Heaven is one of two novellas that were both released on the same day last year. Though they are each supposed to stand alone, this one comes before The Red Threads of Fortune in chronological order.

You can read an excerpt from The Black Tides of Heaven on Tor.com, and you can learn more about the series from an interview with JY Yang on io9.

Both novellas have absolutely gorgeous cover art, and I’ve thought it sounded like an interesting series since I first heard of it. I did read The Black Tides of Heaven shortly after I received it for Christmas and now want to read The Red Threads of Fortune as well.

 

The Black Tides of Heaven is one of a pair of unique, standalone introductions to JY Yang’s Tensorate Series, which Kate Elliott calls “effortlessly fascinating.” For more of the story you can read its twin novella The Red Threads of Fortune, available simultaneously.

Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as infants. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While Mokoya received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, they saw the sickness at the heart of their mother’s Protectorate.

A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue as a pawn in their mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond they share with their twin?

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by Sabaa Tahir

The first two books in this series, An Ember in the Ashes and A Torch Against the Night, are available now. The third book in the series, A Reaper at the Gates, is scheduled for release in June.

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from An Ember in the Ashes.

This is another book I’ve been wanting to read since I first heard about it, and I was thrilled to receive a copy for Christmas!

 

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1) by Philip Pullman

La Belle Sauvage, the first book in a new series set in the same world as His Dark Materials, was released last year. The publisher’s website has an excerpt from La Belle Sauvage.

I enjoyed His Dark Materials so I was excited to receive a signed copy of La Belle Sauvage for Christmas!

 

Philip Pullman returns to the parallel world of his groundbreaking novel The Golden Compass to expand on the story of Lyra, “one of fantasy’s most indelible characters.” (The New York Times Magazine)

Malcolm Polstead is the kind of boy who notices everything but is not much noticed himself. And so perhaps it was inevitable that he would become a spy….

Malcolm’s parents run an inn called the Trout, on the banks of the river Thames, and all of Oxford passes through its doors. Malcolm and his daemon, Asta, routinely overhear news and gossip, and the occasional scandal, but during a winter of unceasing rain, Malcolm catches wind of something new: intrigue.

He finds a secret message inquiring about a dangerous substance called Dust—and the spy it was intended for finds him.

When she asks Malcolm to keep his eyes open, he sees suspicious characters everywhere: the explorer Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; a gyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a daemon. All are asking about the same thing: a girl—just a baby—named Lyra.

Lyra is the kind of person who draws people in like magnets. And Malcolm will brave any danger, and make shocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through the storm.

Torn by Rowenna Miller

Torn (The Unraveled Kingdom #1) by Rowenna Miller

This fantasy debut novel will be released on March 20 (trade paperback, ebook).

I read the first 50 pages and it piqued my curiosity.

 

TORN is the first book in an enchanting debut fantasy series featuring a seamstress who stitches magic into clothing, and the mounting political uprising that forces her to choose between her family and her ambitions, for fans of The Queen of the Tearling.

Sophie is a dressmaker who has managed to open her own shop and lift herself and her brother, Kristos, out of poverty. Her reputation for beautiful ball gowns and discreetly-embroidered charms for luck, love, and protection secures her a commission from the royal family itself — and the commission earns her the attentions of a dashing but entirely unattainable duke.

Meanwhile, Kristos rises to prominence in the growing anti-monarchist movement. Their worlds collide when the revolution’s shadow leader takes him hostage and demands that Sophie place a curse on the queen’s Midwinter costume — or Kristos will die at their hand.

As the proletariat uprising comes to a violent climax, Sophie is torn: between her brother and the community of her birth, and her lover and the life she’s striven to build.

Iron Gold by Pierce Brown

Iron Gold (Red Rising Saga #4) by Pierce Brown

Iron Gold, which follows events in the #1 New York Times bestselling Red Rising trilogy (Red Rising, Golden Son, Morning Star), will be released on January 16 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

Entertainment Weekly has an excerpt from Iron Gold.

 

In the epic next chapter of the Red Rising Saga, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Morning Star pushes the boundaries of one of the boldest series in fiction.

They call him father, liberator, warlord, Slave King, Reaper. But he feels a boy as he falls toward the war-torn planet, his armor red, his army vast, his heart heavy. It is the tenth year of war and the thirty-third of his life.

A decade ago Darrow was the hero of the revolution he believed would break the chains of the Society. But the Rising has shattered everything: Instead of peace and freedom, it has brought endless war. Now he must risk all he has fought for on one last desperate mission. Darrow still believes he can save everyone, but can he save himself?

And throughout the worlds, other destinies entwine with Darrow’s to change his fate forever:

A young Red girl flees tragedy in her refugee camp, and achieves for herself a new life she could never have imagined.

An ex-soldier broken by grief is forced to steal the most valuable thing in the galaxy—or pay with his life.

And Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile to the Sovereign, wanders the stars with his mentor, Cassius, haunted by the loss of the world that Darrow transformed, and dreaming of what will rise from its ashes.

Red Rising was the story of the end of one universe. Iron Gold is the story of the creation of a new one. Witness the beginning of a stunning new saga of tragedy and triumph from masterly New York Times bestselling author Pierce Brown.

Additional Books:

Though 2017 was a terrible year in many ways, it was an extraordinarily good reading year. When looking back, I found that about half of the 40 books I completed are particularly memorable, and I think that’s largely because I’ve gotten a lot better at dropping books that aren’t working for me and moving on to another book I want to read. There are many more books that I attempted in 2017 and set aside after reading the first 50–100 pages: I’ve learned that if there is nothing about the writing, characters, world, or plot that intrigues me by that point, the chances of it being a book worth reading when there are so many books out there waiting to be read is pretty low. In a couple of cases, I do plan to go back to books I set aside because there was something worthwhile about them even if I wasn’t currently in the mood to read them, but the vast majority of them did not seem compelling enough to revisit.

Without further ado, here are my personal highlights of 2017!

Favorite Books Released in 2017

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Book of the Year
1. The Girl in the Tower (Winternight #2) by Katherine Arden

The first two books in Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy were both released this year and are both phenomenal, and The Girl in the Tower is my favorite of the two. It’s beautifully written, atmospheric historical fantasy set in a wintry fourteenth century Rus’ in which Slavic folktales come to life—though most remain unaware of the mythical figures living among them, unlike Vasya. In The Girl in the Tower, Vasya travels to Moscow astride her extraordinary horse, posing as a boy in order to freely be herself without question, and reunites with her brother the warrior-monk and her sister the princess. It has all the strengths of the previous novel, plus it’s more focused and has more excitement than the first. I absolutely loved it, and I just barely managed to read this December release in time for it to be part of this list!

Book of the Year Runner-Up
Epic Fantasy of the Year
(Also, That Book I Kept Recommending Throughout 2017)
2. Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor #1) by Mark Lawrence
My Review

Red Sister topped my list as Book of the Year for most of 2017, although it was a close call between this and the next book on this list! This trilogy opener is the story of Nona, a young girl who would have been hanged for murder had she not been rescued at the last minute by the abbess of the Convent of Sweet Mercy. As she trains in subjects including fighting and poisons, she also can’t escape her mysterious past that she attempts to keep secret from everyone—including the reader. Her obvious unreliability is part of what makes her such a compelling protagonist, as are her fierceness and devotion to her friends, and I was incredibly invested in Nona and her story. Though she herself was the highlight, I also enjoyed just about everything else about it including the other characters, the friendships, the sharp dialogue, and of course, the badass nuns.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Debut of the Year
Author of the Year

3. The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight #1) by Katherine Arden
My Review

In addition to writing my very favorite 2017 release, Katherine Arden also wrote another book that I thought was among the very best of the year: her lovely debut, The Bear and the Nightingale. It’s a beautifully written, atmospheric novel that brings to life the wintry rural setting of fourteenth century Rus’ and the spirits that inhabit it—as well as it’s wonderful heroine, Vasya.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

YA Book of the Year
4. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
My Review

Laini Taylor is one of my favorite authors due to her creativity and characters and, most of all, her exquisite prose: beautifully phrased writing infused with wit and wisdom. Strange the Dreamer features everything I’d expect from one of her books, and though the individual elements of the story are not necessarily unique, they are combined into a unique whole. It’s the tale of a kindhearted librarian (who “couldn’t have belonged at the library more truly if he were a book himself”) obsessed with a magical city whose inhabitants have not been seen or heard from in 200 years—and the vast depths of its mysteries and a problem faced by its residents that turns out to be larger than they realize. The fairy-tale-like first part and Lazlo (the titular Strange the Dreamer himself) are particular highlights of the novel—in addition to Taylor’s gorgeous prose, of course!

The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard

Atmosphere of the Year
Dragons of the Year

5. The House of Binding Thorns (Dominion of the Fallen #2) by Aliette de Bodard
My Review

The House of Binding Thorns is an incredibly atmospheric work of mythic art with gorgeously written descriptions of its alternate version of Paris lying in ruins, and Aliette de Bodard particularly excelled at capturing the wonder and decay of the dragon kingdom beneath the Seine. It’s both thoughtful and different (in a very good way!) as it follows the struggle for survival in this devastated city populated by fallen angels and other powerful individuals. In particular, I enjoyed exploring the dragon kingdom and reading about Thuan, a dragon posing as a teenager in order to investigate House Hawthorn’s potential involvement in the affairs of his kingdom. (I liked the dragons. A lot.)

Debut of the Year Runner-Up
Compulsively Readable Book of the Year
(Or, That Book That Kept Me Reading Until 2:00 AM)
6. The Tethered Mage (Swords and Fire #1) by Melissa Caruso
My Review

Melissa Caruso’s Venetian-inspired fantasy debut novel was so exciting and compulsively readable that I kept telling myself I’d just read one more chapter before going to sleep—and then decided to ignore fatigue to keep reading until it was done at 2:00 AM because I really needed to know what happened right now. It’s the story of Lady Amalia Cornaro, a young woman who accidentally breaks the rules in order to save her city, also accidentally binding herself to a fire mage in the process. The worldbuilding surrounding the system for handling magic is incredibly well done, and I also enjoyed reading about Amalia stepping into her role as her mother’s heir and (slowly) learning to work together with the fire mage (who never lets anyone forget that she is not happy about the whole situation!).

Monstress, Volume 2 by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda

Beautiful Book of the Year
(Surely One of the Prettiest Books of Any Year)
7. Monstress, Volume Two: The Blood Written by Marjorie Liu and Illustrated by Sana Takeda

I finally caught up with the latest volume of Monstress on the very last day of 2017, and it continues to be extraordinary. Though Maika’s story is compelling, particularly when delving further into her relationship with her mother, it’s the gorgeous illustrations that truly make it stand out. Each individual panel is a work of art, and the exquisite details and color palettes are absolutely stunning. As beautiful as the first volume was, I think this one is even more so if that’s even possible, and this volume left me even more in awe of Sana Takeda’s artistry.

Tomorrow's Kin by Nancy Kress

Science Fiction Book of the Year
8. Tomorrow’s Kin (Yesterday’s Kin #1) by Nancy Kress
My Review

Nancy Kress’ skill as a writer never ceases to amaze me: though Tomorrow’s Kin integrates science into the plot, it’s done seamlessly without a bunch of dry infodumps, culminating in a book that is both smart and compulsively readable. In addition to being grounded in biology, it’s also about societal changes and humanity as a whole and has events unfolding in a believable way. A highlight of the novel is main protagonist Marianne Jenner, who is not an action heroine or a potential savior of the world but a geneticist, mother, and grandmother whose not-terribly-momentous (though interesting) scientific discovery leads to her being among the first to meet the aliens and learn why they came to earth.

The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin

Brilliant Book of the Year
9. The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth #3) by N. K. Jemisin

When I read a book by N. K. Jemisin, I feel as though I’m reading a book written by an author who understands humanity on a far deeper level than most, one who has the skill to capture those nuances and complexity and bring them to light—and her brilliant Broken Earth trilogy does this best of all. The world, characters, and prose are all exquisitely crafted in this trilogy that tackles oppression, features complicated relationships, and revolves around a complex heroine. Though I didn’t find The Stone Sky as engaging as much of Jemisin’s previous work including both the previous books in the series (The Obelisk Gate was my favorite book last year) due to pacing, the writing and characterization is far superior to that in most of the books I encountered in 2017.

The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman

Adventure of the Year
10. The Burning Page (Invisible Library #3) by Genevieve Cogman
My Review

The Invisible Library series, which follows the adventures of a woman who collects books from various alternate worlds for an organization existing outside of time and space, is consistently entertaining. Irene (the main protagonist) is a practical, competent quick-thinker who handles even the most absurd situations with aplomb, and I particularly enjoyed her face-off with the villain in this fun-filled third installment.

Honorable Mentions of 2017

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch #1) by Rin Chupeco
My Review

The Bone Witch is the story of Tea, a powerful young necromancer who was unaware she had these abilities until she raised her brother from the dead, as told to a bard who finds her living alone in exile. Though it’s primarily the tale of a younger Tea, it also provides fascinating glimpses of an older, different Tea through the bard’s viewpoint. Given the lovely writing and how much I’m now invested in Tea, I’m really looking forward to the sequel—especially learning more about how Tea went from being the girl she remembers to the harder young woman with sharp edges the bard encounters.

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
My Review

Miranda and Caliban, a prequel/retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest told from the perspectives of both Miranda and Caliban, is a quiet, character-driven novel with some lovely writing. It particularly excels at narrative voice, and Jacqueline Carey does a wonderful job of making the antagonist chilling through his wholehearted belief in his own righteousness as a servant of God.

Favorite Books Published Before 2017

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

1. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip
My Review

Patricia A. McKillip’s World Fantasy Award–winning novel The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a masterpiece of fantasy and one of my favorite books of all time. It was re-released last year with a striking new cover and an introduction by Gail Carriger, and I read this new edition for the first time and the novel itself for the second time—and still absolutely loved this elegantly written story of a mage becoming entangled in human affairs after living in seclusion with her menagerie of legendary animals. Though it contains many familiar elements—a king, mages, a dragon and intelligent animals, an emphasis on threes and sevens—it’s an imaginative, memorable story about power, love and hate, and choice that still seems fresh and unique more than 40 years after its initial publication.

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

2. The King of Attolia (Queen’s Thief #3) by Megan Whalen Turner
My Review

Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series is brilliantly executed, particularly the second and third books, and I appreciate them even more after having read them for the second time last year. (I reread the first three books in the series while exercising with the intention of refreshing my memory before reading the fourth and fifth books, but I still haven’t read the last two since I wanted to devote more attention to them when reading them for the first time.) Though The Queen of Attolia was my favorite of the three the first time I read them, I enjoyed The King of Attolia the most this time (but I did love Queen too!). Clever Eugenides is one of my favorite characters, and I savored every word of The King of Attolia and the way it read like character-driven suspense: though it’s not action-packed, it’s tense and exciting given its structure and what Turner chooses to reveal and when. When I first reviewed it in 2010, I gave it an 8/10, but today I would give it a 10/10.

Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler

3. Wild Seed (Patternist #1) by Octavia E. Butler
My Review

Like every other book I’ve read by Octavia E. Butler, Wild Seed is a fascinating novel, particularly when examining the complex bond between the two central characters. It spans 1690 to the mid-1800s, beginning with the meeting of two immortals who have similar unique abilities but are opposites in just about every other way. Doru has always done whatever he wants without letting pesky beliefs like People Should Have Free Will or Murder and Incest Are Not Okay stand in his way as he attempts to breed other people with special abilities, and no one has ever been able to challenge him in 3700 years—until he meets Anyanwu, a shapeshifter. Like Doru, Anyanwu has lived longer than the average human but she is compassionate and selfless, though she is also a survivor who can be fierce when necessary.

A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston

4. A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston
My Review

A Thousand Nights, a loose retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, is a fairy-tale-like book to savor with writing so lovely that I kept stopping to reread passages. When word reaches the nameless narrator that Lo-Melkhiin is coming to her village seeking a new wife, she knows the one chosen will meet the same fate as the three hundred other queens who came before her: she will soon die. She also knows that her dearest companion, her beautiful sister, will be the most desirable bride, and unable to bear the thought of her closest friend’s imminent death, she takes her place. The heart of A Thousand Nights is not just the bond between these two sisters but also the power of women who are undervalued and underlooked as a whole, especially when they work together.

Night's Master by Tanith Lee

5. Night’s Master (Tales from the Flat Earth #1) by Tanith Lee
My Review

Night’s Master is an unusually structured book without a central plot or a main character, though the one commonality between its tales is the titular character: Azhrarn Prince of Demons, who enjoys visiting the Flat Earth to make mischief among the mortals. Dark and fairy-tale-like with rich prose, I very much enjoyed the tales of trickery and that it added more dimension to Azhrarn by the end.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

6. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
My Review

Nimona is an entertaining, humorous, delightful graphic novel about a young shapeshifter who convinces a notorious villain to accept her as his sidekick but is rather disappointed to learn that he abides by certain rules, such as not murdering people. Given Nimona’s tendency to disobey orders and refusal to adhere to the accepted protocol for encounters between heroes and villains, she turns the life of both her boss and his nemesis upside down. Though fun and lighthearted, it also has some depth as it delves into the characters and examines heroism and villainy—and there’s more to Nimona herself than it may first appear.

In the Forests of Serre by Patricia A. McKillip

7. In the Forests of Serre by Patricia A. McKillip
My Review

Though not my favorite of Patricia A. McKillip’s books, In the Forests of Serre has much of what I love about her work: elegant writing, a fairy tale quality, subversion of tropes, and quiet moments of humor. The story begins with a prince angering a witch by first riding his horse over her hen and then refusing to come into her house, as all the stories warn against entering her abode. The witch curses him, and he’s driven to wander the forest in pursuit of a beautiful bird-woman while the princess he’s to marry is left without a groom—which makes it more likely that the conflict between their countries that this marriage was supposed to prevent will occur after all. I tend to appreciate McKillip’s female characters, and clever, resourceful Princess Sidonie was a particular highlight of this novel.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (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.

Last week brought a few books that sound quite interesting, and in case you missed it, my review of Katherine Arden’s phenomenal novel The Bear and the Nightingale also went up last week. It’s beautifully written, atmospheric, and overall excellent—and one of my two favorite books of 2017 so far!

Now, the latest books in the mail.

Beneath the Haunting Sea by Joanna Ruth Meyer

Beneath the Haunting Sea by Joanna Ruth Meyer

This young adult fantasy debut novel will be released on January 9 (hardcover, ebook). The author’s website has an excerpt from chapter six of Beneath the Haunting Sea.

This sounds intriguing, and the cover is beautiful!

 

Can’t you hear it, Talia?
Can’t you hear the waves singing?

Sixteen-year-old Talia was born to a life of certainty and luxury, destined to become Empress of half the world. But when an ambitious rival seizes power, she and her mother are banished to a nowhere province on the far edge of the Northern Sea.

It is here, in the drafty halls of the Ruen-Dahr, that Talia discovers family secrets, a melancholy boy with a troubling vision of her future, and a relic that holds the power of an ancient Star. On these shores, the eerie melody of the sea is stronger than ever, revealing long-forgotten tales of the Goddess Rahn. The more dark truths that Talia unravels about the gods’ history—and her own—the more the waves call to her, and it may be her destiny to answer.

The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman

The Lost Plot (The Invisible Library #4) by Genevieve Cogman

The fourth book in the Invisible Library series was recently released in the UK and will be released in the US on January 9 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook). The publisher’s website has an excerpt from The Lost Plot.

The Invisible Library series is immensely entertaining and especially wonderful for bibliophiles. It follows Irene, who works as a Librarian spy for an organization existing outside of space and time as she collects books (and, of course, has adventures!) on a variety of alternate worlds.

The first three books in the series are as follows:

  1. The Invisible Library (Excerpt | My Review)
  2. The Masked City (Excerpt | My Review)
  3. The Burning Page (Excerpt | My Review)
 

After being commissioned to find a rare book, Librarian Irene and her assistant, Kai, head to Prohibition-era New York and are thrust into the middle of a political fight with dragons, mobsters, and Fae.

In a 1920s-esque New York, Prohibition is in force; fedoras, flapper dresses, and tommy guns are in fashion: and intrigue is afoot. Intrepid Librarians Irene and Kai find themselves caught in the middle of a dragon political contest. It seems a young Librarian has become tangled in this conflict, and if they can’t extricate him, there could be serious repercussions for the mysterious Library. And, as the balance of power across mighty factions hangs in the balance, this could even trigger war.

Irene and Kai are locked in a race against time (and dragons) to procure a rare book. They’ll face gangsters, blackmail, and the Library’s own Internal Affairs department. And if it doesn’t end well, it could have dire consequences on Irene’s job. And, incidentally, on her life…

Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins

Daughters of the Storm (Blood and Gold #1) by Kim Wilkins

This Aurealis Award–nominated novel by four-time Aurealis Award–winning author Kim Wilkins will be published in the US on March 6 (hardcover, ebook).

I’ve heard good things about Kim Wilkins’ books, and this sounds rather interesting.

 

Five very different sisters team up against their stepbrother to save their kingdom in this Norse-flavored fantasy epic—the start of a new series in the tradition of Naomi Novik, Peter V. Brett, and Robin Hobb.

FIVE ROYAL SISTERS. ONE CROWN.

They are the daughters of a king. Though they share the same royal blood, they could not be more different. Bluebell is a proud warrior, stronger than any man and with an ironclad heart to match. Rose’s heart is all too passionate: She is the queen of a neighboring kingdom who is risking everything for a forbidden love. Ash is discovering a dangerous talent for magic that might be a gift—or a curse. And then there are the twins—vain Ivy, who lives for admiration, and zealous Willow, who lives for the gods.

But when their father is stricken by a mysterious ailment, these five sisters must embark on a desperate journey to save him and prevent their treacherous stepbrother from seizing the throne. Their mission: find the powerful witch who can cure the king. But to succeed on their quest, they must overcome their differences and hope that the secrets they hide from one another and the world are never brought to light. Because if this royal family breaks, it could destroy the kingdom.

Mad Hatters and March Hares edited by Ellen Datlow

Mad Hatters and March Hares edited by Ellen Datlow

This anthology of stories inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland books was just released last week (hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, audiobook). It’s edited by World Fantasy and Hugo Award–winning editor Ellen Datlow and includes stories by Seanan McGuire, Jane Yolen, Catherynne M. Valente, Jeffrey Ford, Priya Sharma, Ysabeau S. Wilce, and more!

 

From master anthologist Ellen Datlow comes an all-original of weird tales inspired by the strangeness of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

Between the hallucinogenic, weird, imaginative wordplay and the brilliant mathematical puzzles and social satire, Alice has been read, enjoyed, and savored by every generation since its publication. Datlow asked eighteen of the most brilliant and acclaimed writers working today to dream up stories inspired by all the strange events and surreal characters found in Wonderland.

Featuring stories and poems from Seanan McGuire, Jane Yolen, Catherynne M. Valente, Delia Sherman, Genevieve Valentine, Priya Sharma, Stephen Graham Jones, Richard Bowes, Jeffrey Ford, Angela Slatter, Andy Duncan, C.S.E. Cooney, Matthew Kressel, Kris Dikeman, Jane Yolen, Kaaron Warren, Ysbeau Wilce, and Katherine Vaz.

Additional Books:

 

The Bear and the Nightingale
by Katherine Arden
336pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.17/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.13/5
 

The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden’s debut novel and the first book in the Winternight trilogy, is Slavic-folklore-inspired historical fantasy set in northern Rus’ during the fourteenth century. This phenomenal book has made quite a mark since its publication early this year: it was a Goodreads Choice Award finalist in both the Best Fantasy and Debut Author categories, Amazon selected it as the best science fiction and fantasy book of 2017, and it has begun appearing on numerous best of the year lists (which I am confident will include my own since, even though very little of 2017 is left, it’s still one of my two favorite new releases!).

Though The Bear and the Nightingale is primarily Vasilisa’s story, it begins before her birth, soon after her mother realizes a fifth child will be joining their family. When she tells her husband the news, she also tells him that their next child will be a girl with the gifts of her own mother, a mysterious woman whose grace and beauty captured the heart and hand of the Grand Prince of Moscow—and who was rumored to be a witch.

Vasya’s mother does not survive childbirth, and for years, the grieving lord never so much as thinks of remarrying. However, after six-year-old Vasya becomes lost in the woods and is found insisting that she saw a gnarled old tree and a one-eyed man that are nowhere to be found, one of her older brothers convinces their father that a wild girl like she must have a mother. He travels to Moscow in search of a wife and returns wed to another Grand Prince’s daughter, a religious young woman named Anna who had hoped to spend the rest of her days in a convent: for only within the walls of a church can she hide from the devils.

Like Vasya, Anna has the second sight, which allows her to see the domovoi and other spirits. While Vasya accepts them as a part of her world and befriends them, her frightened stepmother does all that she can to avoid them. Anna’s only comfort can be found in the teachings of a charismatic young priest from Moscow, who further instills terror of the old ways into the people of the village—who also come to fear Vasya herself, not realizing that her unique sight may be all that can save them…

The Bear and the Nightingale is the first book I read in 2017, and as the year nears its end, it’s still one of the very best books I read this year. It’s taken me a long time to review this one simply because I don’t believe I can adequately describe this gem of a novel and all that it encompasses. The writing is lovely: it’s not dense, yet the smallest of details bring to life both the real-world setting of the wintry wilderness and the fairy tale aspects of the book with its spirits and Morozko the frost-demon. It’s about many things, especially family and humanity, and it follows a heroine who refuses to be anything but who she is on her journey from childhood into young adulthood—but most of all, I appreciate Katherine Arden’s mature approach to ideas that are often portrayed as clearly black and white and how she further enhanced this by making even the least sympathetic of her characters understandable.

From the plot description, it may sound as though this is yet another novel about the evils of organized religion and Christianity in particular. Though it does acknowledge atrocities done by the Church and focus on the conflict between Christianity and the older ways with a lot of empathy for those who held to the latter, I also didn’t read it as being completely anti-religion. One of the more compelling characters is Vasya’s older brother, Sasha, a pious young man who also struggles to carve his own path against his father’s wishes. When he accompanies his father to Moscow, Sasha travels to meet a monk reputed to be a humble servant rather than obsessed with wealth and position, and he decides to become a monk as well—even though this decision causes a rift between him and his father. Showing some earnest men of faith allows Father Konstantin to stand on his own as a flawed representative of the Church rather than a representative of all of Christianity. Additionally, Vasya herself never seems to be rebelling against their religion: she doesn’t appear to have an issue with it coexisting alongside the spirits she sees.

In general, Vasya doesn’t come across as particularly rebellious or mischievous but simply someone who remains steadfastly who she is despite society’s disapproval. She loves to be outdoors, she enjoys horseback riding (and is more interested in fine lord’s horses than fine lords themselves), and she sees no reason to meekly lower her eyes as is expected of good Christian girls. Though she’s uniquely special and the only one in her household to reject feminine norms, it never seems as though she’s supposed to be superior to girls who choose otherwise. Vasya cares for her two sisters, and just as she accepts herself, she accepts them for who they are.

I found it incredibly refreshing to read about a heroine who did not doubt herself even though many others did, as well as one who had a caring relationship with her half-sister despite her stepmother’s constant attempts to make Vasya feel inferior to her own daughter. The sibling relationships are especially wonderful and are one of my favorite parts of the story, especially the closeness between Vasya and her youngest brother, Alyosha. They basically grew up together since Alyosha is only three years older than Vasya, and he is the one who best understands her and stands up for her the most.

The most villainous characters (other than the main mythical villain) are not particularly likable but they’re very human. Anna is terrible to Vasya, and it was clear that much of this was coming from a place of terror and unhappiness. She was forced into a marriage she didn’t want, and Vasya is a constant reminder of the frightening ‘devils’ she tries to escape from as much as possible. Though Father Konstantin is not at all sympathetic since he brings most of his problems upon himself, the pride, self-loathing, and shame that drive him are palpable.

The Bear and the Nightingale is excellent in nearly every way, but it is slower paced and somewhat meandering. The pacing didn’t especially bother me since it was an absorbing tale regardless, plus it was stronger because of the extra insight into the different characters. However, I did feel that it took a long time to build up to the bigger folktale-related conflict that was the meat of the plot and that the climax was over rather quickly in comparison to the rest.

It’s no wonder that The Bear and the Nightingale is commonly being lauded as one of the best books of the year: it’s absolutely magical. It’s wonderfully atmospheric, and the beautiful writing and characterization work together to create a subtly different type of book. The Bear and the Nightingale is an incredible novel, especially astonishing considering it is the author’s debut. I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next in the newly released sequel, The Girl in the Tower, and the conclusion, The Winter of the Witch (coming in August 2018).

My Rating: 9/10

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

Read the First 50 Pages from The Bear and the Nightingale on Unbound Worlds

Read Katherine Arden’s Women in SF&F Month Essay on Heroines