Katie Waitman’s debut novel The Merro Tree was selected as the Del Rey Discovery of the Year  in 1997, and it also won the Compton Crook Award (an award for best first science fiction, fantasy, or horror novel of the year). The Divided, Waitman’s second novel, was released in 1999, but she has not published a novel since despite having finished a sequel to The Merro Tree.

The Merro Tree is the story of Mikk of Vyzania, starting shortly before he was born. It details his struggles with his abusive mother, who would like for him to become a great artist someday, perhaps even a performance master. Mikk too would like to be a performance master, but he has difficulty with learning due to his extra-sensitive sight and hearing. When his mother decides she’s had enough, his father has him sent to a school for the performing arts where Mikk is discovered by a great performance master and becomes his last apprentice—and eventually an even greater performance master. Mikk travels throughout the galaxy, performing for the peoples of different planets and learning the arts of alien cultures.

However, the first scene introducing Mikk takes place long afterward when Mikk is in prison, arrested for defying the Council’s ban on performing Somalite songdance. He is awaiting the announcement of the members of the tribunal who will interrogate him before deciding if he deserves to die for his crime. These chapters about Mikk’s life after his arrest are interspersed throughout the novel until his past catches up to that point; then it completes the rest of this story.

I haven’t heard much about The Merro Tree, but what I have heard is overwhelmingly positive. More than 50% of its ratings on Goodreads are 5 stars and it currently has an average rating of 4.31. It seems to be a little known but beloved book, and I was excited to finally take my copy off the bookshelf and read it for Sci-Fi Month. Now that I’ve read it, I think my expectations were much too high, and I may have enjoyed it more had I not been expecting to be amazed by it. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy reading The Merro Tree—I actually found it very readable and thought the story it told was quite compelling and unique. I do understand why so many people love it, but I personally wished it had more depth and felt it could be very trite and simplistic.

The Merro Tree is a very different science fiction book; at least, I had never read a book with an alien artist as the main character before! I was originally planning to say it was a very peaceful book unfocused on conflict and the fate of the worlds, but I decided that wasn’t quite accurate. Much of the story is light on conflict, and it’s not an action-filled or violent story, but there is a conflict between Mikk and the Council who regulated what he could perform. Mikk’s fate hangs in the balance since he may be sentenced to death. While it may be a stretch to say the fate of the worlds is affected by one man’s life, Mikk did inspire people on many worlds. It’s possible the outcome of the sentencing may create repercussions for his fellow artists by setting a precedent.

It does take a long time for the book to get to the specific circumstances surrounding the ban and Mikk’s imprisonment, and I did want to see the themes about artistic expression and culture explored more in depth than they were. While I’m glad the themes didn’t overshadow telling a good story, I also felt that the way they came up more closer to the end made it seem rushed and that there was room for more exploration. As it was, the way some of the story was wrapped up with a revelation about art by one character was just plain cheesy.

I also would have liked more depth from the characters, most of whom fit quite neatly into either “good” or “bad” categories. Mikk is so inhumanly perfect I found him difficult to connect to, and I found it frustrating that I wasn’t terribly emotionally invested in his story, even knowing he was facing a potential death sentence. Since Vyzanians are a long-lived race (one of them dies at 1,250 years old), it’s at least plausible that Mikk could become a master of various types of performing arts since he has a lot of time in which to practice and master his abilities. Part Two, entitled “The Apprentice,” covers 100 years so it’s not like he learns everything overnight! Yet he is also able to pick up new languages almost immediately (and this does not appear to be typical in comparison to other Vyzanians), and he does become the greatest performance master in the galaxy. Mikk is curious, compassionate, has a special fondness for children, and is accepting of other aliens and their cultures. As far as I could tell, Mikk’s biggest flaws were being stubborn and not giving up, and everyone seemed to love Mikk or come to love Mikk unless they were presented as not being particularly good people. On the other hand, someone has to be the greatest performance master in the galaxy and it makes sense that this person would be an impressive individual. He’s an inspiration to others and he’s perfectly likable, but I also thought he was so good that he wasn’t multi-faceted enough to be interesting.

In contrast, I thought the portrayal of one of Mikk’s foes was quite poorly done. The Council member Oplup is constantly described as being fat to the extent where this quality seemed to be emphasized over all others—there was such emphasis on his massive size that it stuck in my memory more than anything related to his personality or actual character. It was mentioned that his growing size was related to his religion, but I just kept getting the feeling that Oplup was supposed to be unlikable for being large as much as he was supposed to for being unkind to Mikk because it was mentioned repeatedly.

The Merro Tree was a good story that was never dull and kept me turning the pages; however, I felt it had too many problems to be a great book. The characters were too simplistic, the cultures and themes could have had more depth, and the ending seemed rushed (and was occasionally corny). I would be interested in reading the sequel were it ever published, but I wouldn’t be in a rush to do so.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.


Sci-Fi Month

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. 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.

This week brought four books in the mail, three recently released books and one ARC coming out next year.

Next week, Sci-Fi Month posts continue with a review of The Merro Tree by Katie Waitman. In the meantime, you can check out the schedule for Sci-Fi Month and read some of the great discussions, recommendations, and reviews that have gone up since the beginning of the month.

On to the new books!

Allegiance by Beth Bernobich

Allegiance (River of Souls #3) by Beth Bernobich

Allegiance is the final book in the River of Souls trilogy, following Passion Play and Queen’s Hunt. It was just released in hardcover and ebook on October 29, and an excerpt from Allegiance can be read on Tor.com. If you missed the first or second book, excerpts from those are also available online: Passion Play and Queen’s Hunt.

I still need to read the copy of Queen’s Hunt I purchased last year (it and several other books are in a literal to-read pile I made awhile ago that I can’t read quickly enough to keep up with), but I was quite excited to find a copy of the third book in the mail. I thought Passion Play was far from perfect but also an incredibly readable story, and I’m quite interested to see what happens in the rest of the series. Plus, I thought Beth Bernobich’s short story “River of Souls” was wonderful.


With Leos Dzavek dead and his Council in turmoil, the king of Veraene sees his chance to launch his long-desired war against Károví. Ilse Zhalina and Raul Kosenmark know the people of Károví are not so easily defeated, however. Raul sets off for Duenne to confront his king and retake his place in Veraene’s Court. Ilse Zhalina embarks on the long journey from Károví with a letter vital to their cause of peace. Both of them must beware of Markus Khandarr, King Armand’s most trusted Councilor and Raul’s long-time enemy, who has plans of his own.

Twenty-First Century Science Fiction edited by David G. Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Twenty-First Century Science Fiction edited by David G. Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Twenty-First Century Science Fiction was just released on November 5 (hardcover, ebook). The list of authors with stories in it is quite impressive and includes Elizabeth Bear, Charles Stross, Mary Robinette Kowal, John Scalzi, Catherynne M. Valente, Paul Cornell, Madeline Ashby, Ken Liu, Jo Walton, Cory Doctorow, Yoon Ha Lee, and many more.


Twenty-First Century Science Fiction is an enormous anthology of short stories—close to 250,000 words—edited by two of the most prestigious and award-winning editors in the SF field and featuring recent stories from some of science fiction’s greatest up-and-coming authors.

David Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden have long been recognized as two of the most skilled and trusted arbiters of the field, but Twenty-First Century Science Fiction presents fans’ first opportunities to see what their considerable talents come up with together, and also to get a unique perspective on what’s coming next in the science fiction field.

The anthology includes authors ranging from bestselling and established favorites to incandescent new talents including Paolo Bacigalupi, Cory Doctorow, Catherynne M. Valente, John Scalzi, Jo Walton, Charles Stross, Elizabeth Bear, and Peter Watts, and the stories selected include winners and nominees of all of the science fiction field’s major awards.

To Dance With the Devil by Cat Adams

To Dance With the Devil (Blood Singer #6) by Cat Adams

This urban fantasy book by USA Today bestselling authors C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp was released on November 5 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook). An excerpt from To Dance With the Devil can be read on the authors’ website.

The first 5 books in the Blood Singer series are as follows:

  1. Blood Song
  2. Siren Song
  3. Demon Song
  4. The Isis Collar
  5. The Eldritch Conspiracy

Excerpts from each of these books can be read on the authors’ website.


The successful urban fantasy series continues as Celia Graves—part human, part vampire, part Siren—faces black magic and heartbreak.

Celia Graves’s newest client is one of the last surviving members of a magical family that is trapped in a generations-old feud with other magic-workers. She’s supposed to die at the next full moon unless Celia can broker peace between the clans or break the curse before it can take effect.

For the first time in a long while, Celia’s personal life is looking up. Her vampire abilities seem to be under control, her Siren abilities have gotten more reliable, and even though her office was blown up, her services are more in demand than ever now that she’s fought off terrorists and been part of the royal wedding of the year. Her friends all seem to be finding love and her grandmother has—finally—agreed to go to family therapy. The only trouble spot is Celia’s love life. Not long ago, she had two boyfriends.

Now she barely has one and she isn’t sure she wants him. But Bruno DeLuca is a powerful mage and Celia needs his help . . . especially after she’s attacked and her client is kidnapped.

Reflected by Rhiannon Held

Reflected (Silver #3) by Rhiannon Held

Reflected is scheduled for release on February 18, 2014 (trade paperback, ebook). The two previous books in the series are Silver (excerpt) and Tarnished (excerpt), respectively.


Falling in love in a werewolf pack leads to some very bad choices in this new novel from the author of Silver.

Rhiannon Held continues the secret lives of the werewolf packs that live and hunt alongside human society in Reflected, the third book of the series that began with her debut novel, Silver. Silver and her mate Andrew Dare are pack leaders of the entire North American werewolf population, and that makes the more traditional packs in Europe very nervous indeed. It’s getting hard to hide from human surveillance.

Tankborn by Karen Sandler is the first book in a young adult science fiction trilogy by the same name. The second book, Awakening, is available now with the final book, Rebellion, to follow in spring 2014.

On the planet Loka, the people who fled there from Earth are divided into groups with different amounts of land, wealth, and power depending on their social status. Whether high-status or lowborn, they all have one commonality: they are trueborn, making them much better off than the tankborn.

The tankborn, or GENs (Genetically Engineered Non-humans), are created by humans and gestate in a tank. GENs are developed with a little bit of animal DNA, used to give them their skets, or skill sets. Until they reach the age of 15, GENs live with a nurture mother, another tankborn made specially for caretaking, and perhaps some nurture siblings. Once a GEN turns 15, he or she is given an assignment that requires leaving one’s family behind, sometimes forever. A GEN has no control over their assignment, but it’s supposed to keep them safe and it’s supposed to make them happy since they are doing a task that matches their sket. If they perform their task well and avoid conflicts with the trueborn, they have nothing to fear; however, a tankborn who leaves their assigned area, uses advanced technology, or raises their voice to a trueborn can be reset—becoming an empty shell without a trace of their memories and personality.

As Kayla nears her fifteenth birthday, she wonders what type of assignment she’ll be given and if it will take her far away from her family or bring her closer to her friend Mishalla, who was recently assigned. Shortly before Kayla’s birthday, an enforcer in the Brigade brings her the clothing she’ll need for her assignment and a data upload with a message Kayla is not expecting: Your help is required, Kayla 6982, nurture daughter of Tala. Hidden with her new clothes is a package that she is asked to hide from everyone and bring with her to her assignment. She decides to embark on this mysterious mission and cleverly avoids all searches of both her belongings and herself to bring this item with her on her new assignment as caretaker to an elderly trueborn man.

Tankborn was an entertaining story, and I enjoyed reading it immensely. Taken individually, the science fiction elements were not all that unique—humanity settling on another planet when Earth became uninhabitable, genetically engineered people and questions about their humanity, and some advanced technologies. However, the additional details, such as the societal structure with the various degrees of status and the religious beliefs of the GENs, were well done and made the book seem unique as a whole. Besides being a science fiction story, there’s also some mystery/suspense and a little romance, though I did think that the world and story were the strengths of this novel. I felt that some of the revelations were predictable, the characterization could have been stronger, and that the two romantic subplots seemed underdeveloped and rather rushed—but none of those criticisms kept me from eagerly turning the pages or wanting to read the second book!

Of course, the main science fiction element explored in Tankborn were the GENs, the easily identifiable people with tattoos on their cheeks for neural transmission of data who were viewed as non-human. The two most prominent viewpoint characters, Kayla and Mishalla, are GENs and this provides a glimpse of their everyday lives and struggles—from Kayla’s mistreatment by trueborn boys merely for being tankborn to Mishalla’s inability to be seen in public with a trueborn boy, even one who is lowborn. Through these two characters, readers are shown what tankborns face through firsthand encounters. I also found it interesting that there was a religious component to the story, and GENs believe that the Infinite spoke to the prophets about how to create them. Kayla’s perspective has some focus on her religious beliefs and her complex relationship with religion. She resents having to follow a set path in life, but at the same time she has faith in the Infinite and truly believes what she has been taught: the Infinite designed GENs for a purpose and when their task is completed they return to the Infinite, an experience solely belonging to those who are tankborn. Throughout the story, more about the origin of the GENs and Kayla’s past are revealed and while aspects of these (particularly Kayla’s history) were rather predictable, I remained engaged in the book from start to finish.

Kayla is attracted to Devak, a handsome high-status trueborn who stops some boys from throwing rocks at her brother in the first chapter (and of course turns out to be the great-grandson of the man she is assigned to care for!). There are some sections from Devak’s point of view, and out of all the characters, he is the one who changes the most throughout the story as he works through his own beliefs about the humanity of GENs. In the first scene with Kayla, Devak shows kindness but it’s also clear he doesn’t see GENs as equals. He believes himself to be decent to GENs, but as he spends time with Kayla, he finds himself constantly thinking or saying things that show he does in fact believe he’s superior to GENs. The more he talks to Kayla, the more he questions his beliefs about humanity, which he has questioned somewhat due to the influence of his great-grandfather, who treats tankborns the same way he would anyone else. I thought Devak was believable as a character who has had some good influences but also has to deal with some prejudices he’s learned from society and the rest of his family. His mother is just plain rude to GENs, but his father has taught him everything they do is for the good of GENs or even lowborns, which is easy to believe until Kayla asks him if he’s ever asked any of these people how they actually feel. I thought Karen Sandler did an excellent job of showing Devak as a generally decent person who has soaked up what the world around him is constantly teaching him.

I especially appreciated that Devak learned and changed through the story because he’s the only character who wasn’t black or white in viewpoint. He was the only character who didn’t fall into an extreme since most were either rude to or ignored GENs or treated them as equals. His great-grandfather, Zul, is also an interesting character: he’s 102 years old and bed-ridden but he doesn’t let that stop him from being a force to be reckoned with!

Despite containing a couple of interesting characters, this was more of a plot-driven book and I did feel like Kayla and Mishalla had interchangeable personalities and voices. Neither stood out as a unique person and they seemed more like vehicles for the story than characters with a life of their own, swept up by the story and driven by the plot. As long as they were also courageous enough to embark on mysterious missions, it seemed as though any GEN character could have been in the place of Kayla or Mishalla. Most of the unique traits they had came from their particular makeup as a genetically engineered person, such as the way Kayla felt like a freak because of her strength and her unusually marked arms. They’re both perfectly likable characters (though Kayla’s story was more interesting than Mishalla’s), but neither came alive. While it makes some sense since both their lives were planned out for them, neither seems to have unique hopes, dreams, or interests aside from their respective love interests.

On the subject of the romantic interests, both relationships seemed very rushed and I never really understood what brought either couple together. There’s at least some time for Kayla and Devak to get to know each other, but there are very few scenes with Mishalla and Eoghan (to be fair, Mishalla’s storyline has fewer pages overall).

All complaints aside, I did truly enjoy Tankborn and found it a very engaging book. It kept me turning the pages, wanting to find out the truth about tankborns and how Kayla and Mishalla’s stories ended. Even if I would have liked to see more to her character than being tankborn, I could sympathize with Kayla from the very first chapter, which showed just how poorly tankborns were treated for simply being tankborn. I appreciated that there were at least some nuances in how the characters viewed GENs and dealt with their own prejudices and views on humanity, and I thought the social structure and beliefs came together very well in this story. I definitely plan to continue this series (and even considered reading the next book immediately after this one before deciding to try to fit in some books by different authors for Sci-Fi Month!).

My Rating: 7.5/10

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

Other Reviews:

Sci-Fi Month
Sci-Fi Month

It’s now Sci-Fi Month, and I’m thrilled that the first official post is science fiction reading advice from Max Gladstone! He is the author of Three Parts Dead, a novel so well received that he was one of the 2013 finalists for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. His second novel, Two Serpents Rise, was just released on October 29 (read an excerpt).

Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone Max Gladstone

The Best Science Fiction Reading Advice I’ve Ever Received
By Max Gladstone

Science Fiction is a hard genre to learn without help.  It’s big, it’s old, and metric tons of new books come out every year.  The great lights of modern litfic produce one novel a decade, if that, while genre writers write an order of magnitude faster.  Even worse, science fiction is intertextual and referential—great writers tend to be great readers, and incorporate other writers’ concepts.  As a kid I strained my brain trying to reconcile the Ender universe with LeGuin’s Hainish books—they had to take place in the same universe, since obviously both had ansibles!

In my experience the genre is best passed down by word of mouth—more knowledgeable friends, parents, teachers, and librarians introduce us to the key works, and help us expand.  “If you liked x, you’ll probably like Y!”  My uncle Danny got me started with boxes of old paperbacks, from Asimov to Zelazny.  But if you’re not lucky enough to have someone drop off boxloads of awesome old books, where should you start?

To which end I pass on the advice I received from my uncle, as I stared gobsmacked at piles of paperbacks: start with the books that won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards.  The Nebula’s awarded by professional science fiction writers, while the Hugo—even though it isn’t awarded by straight-up popular vote—is open to all fans who have the money to pay for a supporting membership at the last WorldCon.  Both awards have their advantages, and books that win both wowed professionals and fans alike, and tend to have real staying power.

Here’s the list, shamelessly culled from Wikipedia:

Starting with Dune, you work your way up to get a sense of where the genre has been, and where it’s going.  Themes emerge and fade with the decades.

I doubt you’d find a single person to claim that this list represents all the best books of the field.  Zelazny’s work doesn’t appear here, for example, nor does Bruce Sterling’s, and Hyperion is nowhere to be seen.  There’s a shortage of Fritz Leiber and Samuel Delaney and Kim Stanley Robinson. But if you’re looking to expand your foundation, this is a good way to go!

And, as a special bonus, this list is somewhat fractal.  When you reach the end, you encounter Among Others, a brilliant reading list woven through an equally brilliant novel.  Write down all those titles, and continue.

If you’re new to the genre, I hope this helped!  If you’re not: what reading list do you use to help people find their feet in science fiction?

Sci-Fi Month

Today marks the beginning of Sci-Fi Month, a month-long celebration of all things science fiction organized by Rinn of Rinn Reads. She’s put together quite an event: 50 bloggers and 25 authors are participating in Sci-Fi Month festivities! With so many different contributors, there will be quite a variety of posts on books, TV shows, films, and games throughout the month. To see what’s happening, check out the schedule of blogs and topics.

For those who are visiting for the first time because of Sci-Fi Month, welcome! I’m Kristen, a website developer/programmer from Maine and an avid fan of speculative fiction. I have my husband, who occasionally blogs here, to blame for making me into a fan of speculative fiction about ten years ago. Before I met him, I don’t think I’d read anything that was science fiction or fantasy since reading A Wrinkle in Time and The Chronicles of Narnia in elementary school, even though I’ve always liked reading and loved those particular books as a child. Then he got me to read books like Beggars In Spain by Nancy Kress, a fascinating book about society and politics focused on the creation of people who don’t need to sleep, and I ended up hooked on speculative fiction. I went on to read more of his recommendations for SFF (like Taliesin by Stephen Lawhead and Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones) and went on to discover a couple of authors I got him to read in turn (like Robin Hobb and George R. R. Martin, and more recently, Iain M. Banks and Lois McMaster Bujold).

I like reading good books, and a lot of the things that make a book special to me—great characters, writing, and storytelling—are not limited to speculative fiction. However, I do find myself coming back to both fantasy and science fiction books again and again because there is no limit to the imagination. There’s no boundary to where the story can take place or the ways the world(s) can operate. I can’t really think of a specific reason I like my favorite science fiction books that can’t be applied to my favorite fantasy books—I like interesting worlds, and I like well-written books that make me connect with and empathize with the characters. There is something about being able explore the future and visit different planets that’s very appealing, though, and I am partial to space opera for that ability to travel to different parts of the galaxy. Some of my favorites are The Last Hawk and Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro, The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks, and Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold.

As for more favorite science fiction books, I’ll be talking about those later this month (and I’m going to try to pull my husband away from grad school, work, and NaNoWriMo long enough to contribute his own list!). Speaking of which, here’s what I have planned for Sci-Fi Month:

Tankborn by Karen Sandler The Merro Tree by Katie Waitman Warchild by Karin Lowachee

November 2    Guest Post by Max Gladstone: The Best Science Fiction Reading Advice I’ve Ever Received
November 6    Book Review: Tankborn by Karen Sandler
November 13  Book Review: The Merro Tree by Katie Waitman
November 20 Book Review: Warchild by Karin Lowachee
November 29 Science Fiction Book Recommendations

I’ve been having a great time picking up some science fiction books from my to-read pile so I may try to fit in some book reviews, but it will depend on spare time available, especially since I have some fantasy reviews I still need to catch up on this month! But there are a bunch of books on my “if I have time” pile that sound really good that I’d love to read this month. Any advice on where to start if I have time? I’m considering Up Against It by M. J. Locke, A Confederation of Valor by Tanya Huff, City of Pearl by Karen Traviss, and Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee.

Book of Iron is a novella-length prequel to another one of Elizabeth Bear’s novellas, Bone and Jewel Creatures. These books are set in the same world as her Eternal Sky trilogy consisting of Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, and the upcoming Steles of the Sky. Book of Iron is a self-contained story and it is not necessary to read any of these other books first.

Bijou the Artificer and her two companions, Prince Salih and Kaulus the Necromancer, have made a name for themselves in the city of Messaline and are often sought after for assistance with special problems. However, the reputation of the three adventurers has spread beyond Messaline, particularly tales of their time spent in Ancient Erem. When three foreign adventurers come seeking Erem, they first approach the prince and the two Wizards to ask permission to continue their journey.

Led by the legendary 600-year-old necromancer Maledysaunte, the travelers have come seeking the mother of one of the other party members, the Wizard Salamander. Salamander’s mother is a rare wizard with a gift for order, permanence, and resistance to change. She has gone into Erem, and the consequences of a Wizard with her power mastering the artifacts in this ancient place could be disastrous. Once Bijou and her associates hear their story and learn the importance of their mission, they decide to accompany them: after all, six are better than three, especially when three of them have lived to tell the tale of their experiences in dangerous Erem.

While Book of Iron has a lot in common with Eternal Sky in addition to the setting, it is also quite different from this series. Like Eternal Sky, it’s beautifully and intelligently written, engaging, and populated by an intriguing cast of characters. Due to its much shorter length, Book of Iron doesn’t share the same rich detail yet it manages to have a lot of impact despite being a short book. It’s largely an adventure story, and it’s more straightforward and fun than any of Elizabeth Bear’s other books I’ve read, yet it also has depth, particularly in Bijou’s characterization.

One aspect of the setting that I particularly enjoyed were the combinations of traditional epic fantasy with technology and magic with science. Book of Iron is a quest adventure story with wizards and princes, but Bijou and her fellow adventurers get to their destination by automobile… and then ride into dangerous Erem astride the bones of horses, an ass, and a camel. Aeroplanes and pistols also exist in this world, and while it’s not unusual to combine even more modern technology than in this book with a fantasy setting, I haven’t read many books that do so as naturally as this one (though, admittedly, there’s very little technology other than what I just mentioned).

One of the things I loved so much about Eternal Sky was that the wizards used scientific knowledge together with magic, in a complete reversal of the science vs. magic trope. The wizards who were healers didn’t just concentrate hard and magically cure their patients but used their powers in combination with their knowledge of human anatomy. Since it is shorter, Book of Iron doesn’t have as much detail on Wizardry or as clear a picture of the scientific thinking involved, but magic and science are still intertwined. There’s a lot of thought and hard work that go into magic, and Bijou thinks of her Wizardry as science when she’s pondering what dissection could teach her about fate and necromancy:


This is not the time for science, she told herself, knowing it for a lie. As far as she was concerned, thinking about Wizardry was a constant. [pp. 39]

A couple of the Wizards are Necromancers, but there are some unusual schools of Wizardry as well. Bijou is an Artificer gifted at animating bones. She can simply animate them with her will, or she can make her own amazing creations like Ambrosias. Ambrosias was crafted into a bejeweled centipede from the bones of horses and cats and the skull of a ferret and given a personality. There are also wizards of chaos and order, and the Wizard sought by Bijou and her companions is one of the latter, a precisian. Precisians are rare and dangerous because their gift is making permanent creations that are stubbornly resistant to change.

Other than Bijou, whose personal journey is a significant part of the story, the characters are not terribly deep, which is not surprising given the length of the book. However, I’d love to read more about some of the other characters given the glimpses I did get from this novella. I suspect Kaulus, a necromancer who is afraid of death, may have an interesting history. Maledysaunte, an immortal who looks nothing like the rumors of the “Hag of Wolf Wood” made her sound, also seems like a character with potential for an intriguing backstory. I’m now hoping for more books about the different characters, but I’m also quite happy to know that I can read more about Bijou in Bone and Jewel Creatures.

Book of Iron is both thoroughly entertaining and thoughtfully written. While it’s largely a quest adventure, it doesn’t ignore the setting and characterization, and I especially liked that Bijou learned throughout the book and had a different outlook by the time the book was over. My only complaint about it is that the book is too short, but such is the nature of novella length fiction, and I don’t really find wanting more stories about these characters to be a terrible reaction (it’s certainly better than the opposite!).

My Rating: 8.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Read an Excerpt