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

This week’s books are mainly purchases made with the remainder of the gift card I got for my birthday (all three of which are young adult fantasy). Before getting to these books, a quick update:

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

A Crown of Wishes (The Star-Touched Queen #2) by Roshani Chokshi

This companion novel to The Star-Touched Queen focusing on Maya’s sister Gauri was released earlier this year (hardcover, ebook). Entertainment Weekly has a chapter one excerpt from A Crown of Wishes.

I enjoyed The Star-Touched Queen, especially Maya and her personal journey, and am quite curious about Gauri’s story! The publisher’s website has an excerpt from The Star-Touched Queen.

 

From the author of The Star-Touched Queen comes a beautiful lush fantasy, Roshani Chokshi’s A Crown of Wishes.

Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. Unsatisfied with becoming a mere puppet king, Vikram offers Gauri a chance to win back her kingdom in exchange for her battle prowess. Together, they’ll have to set aside their differences and team up to win the Tournament of Wishes – a competition held in a mythical city where the Lord of Wealth promises a wish to the victor.

Reaching the tournament is just the beginning. Once they arrive, danger takes on new shapes: poisonous courtesans and mischievous story birds, a feast of fears and twisted fairy revels.

Every which way they turn new trials will test their wit and strength. But what Gauri and Vikram will soon discover is that there’s nothing more dangerous than what they most desire.

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

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

The first book in The Bone Witch series was released earlier this year (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The publisher’s website has an excerpt from The Bone Witch.

I absolutely love this cover, and the main protagonist sounds quite interesting! Rin Chupeco discussed Tea in her guest post on changing the definition of “strong” heroines and the importance of flawed heroines during last month’s Women in SF&F Month series.

 

In the captivating start to a new, darkly lyrical fantasy series for readers of Leigh Bardugo and Sabaa Tahir, Tea can raise the dead, but resurrection comes at a price…

Let me be clear: I never intended to raise my brother from his grave, though he may claim otherwise. If there’s anything I’ve learned from him in the years since, it’s that the dead hide truths as well as the living.

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha―one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

Memoirs of a Geisha meets The Name of the Wind in this brilliant new fantasy series by Rin Chupeco!

Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner

Thick as Thieves (Queen’s Thief #5) by Megan Whalen Turner

Thick as Thieves was just released earlier this month (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). I love the Queen’s Thief books, especially The Queen of Attolia, so I knew that I had to save some of my birthday gift card for this one!

Megan Whalen Turner also wrote a guest post during Women in SF&F Month.

 

Discover the world of the Queen’s Thief

Thick as Thieves is the eagerly anticipated new stand-alone novel set in the world of the Queen’s Thief. New York Times-bestselling author Megan Whalen Turner’s entrancing and award-winning Queen’s Thief novels bring to life the world of the epics and feature one of the most charismatic and incorrigible characters of fiction, Eugenides the thief. Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief novels are rich with political machinations and intrigue, battles lost and won, dangerous journeys, divine intervention, power, passion, revenge, and deception. Perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo, Marie Lu, Patrick Rothfuss, and George R. R. Martin.

Kamet, a secretary and slave to his Mede master, has the ambition and the means to become one of the most powerful people in the Empire. But with a whispered warning the future he envisioned is wrenched away, and he is forced onto a very different path. Set in the world of the Queen’s Thief, this epic adventure sees an ordinary hero take on an extraordinary mission. The Queen’s Thief novels have been praised by writers, critics, reviewers, and fans, and have been honored with glowing reviews, “best of” citations, and numerous awards, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Newbery Honor, the Andre Norton Award shortlist, and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. Discover and rediscover the stand-alone companion stories The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings, all epic novels set in the world of the Queen’s Thief. Thick as Thieves includes two maps, a map of the world of the Queen’s Thief, and a map of Kamet’s journey.

Additional Book(s):

Today I have an exclusive excerpt from Perilous Prophecy by Leanna Renee Hieber to share with you! This prequel to Strangely Beautiful, a Prism Award winner for Best Fantasy Novel as The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess, is being re-released in a new, revised trade paperback/ebook edition on June 20.

ABOUT PERILOUS PROPHECY

Perilous Prophecy by Leanna Renee Hieber

Cairo in the 1860s is a bustling metropolis where people from all walks of life mix and mingle, mostly in complex harmony. When evil ghosts and unquiet spirits stalk the city’s streets, the Guard are summoned―six young men and women of different cultures, backgrounds, and faiths, gifted by their Goddess with great powers.

While others of the Guard embrace their duties, their leader, British-born Beatrice, is gripped by doubt. What right has she, a bookish, sheltered, eighteen-year-old, to lead others into battle? Why isn’t dark-eyed, compelling Ibrahim, who is stronger of will than Beatrice, the one in charge?

Ghosts maraud through Cairo’s streets, heralding a terrible darkness. Beatrice and her Guard have little time to master their powers; a great battle looms as an ancient prophecy roars toward its final, deadly conclusion.

This enchanting prequel to Leanna Renee Hieber’s gaslamp fantasy, Strangely Beautiful, returns to print after more than a decade, edited and revised for Tor’s publication.

CHAPTER TWO

Ibrahim Wasil stared at the smoldering  foundation of his home. He’d watched it burn for several hours, hanging back from the crowd, his keen ears picking up all the murmuring about the dead bodies rumored to be inside. His, they thought, and the body of the man who had acted like his father. Not his true father. Only Allah knew where his real parents were or if they had ever felt guilty for abandoning him as a baby on the stoop of an Englishman’s home.

“Like Moses,” his friend Isaac had once said when they were children, playing in a university courtyard. Isaac was a Jew, but the Fatimid Caliphate had had a relative tolerance for other religious groups, and while that ancient empire was long fallen, some of its basic principles remained in Masir, in al-Qahira, in this city the Europeans called Cairo.

There were tensions, of course, between faiths, races, classes, and intentions. The pale skin of colonial interest could never entirely be trusted, whether it be French or British. However, one kind and gracious example of pale skin had raised him unquestioningly as his own, yet with respect for his birthright: James Tipton had made sure that Ibrahim was heir to his rightful Arabic language and faith and proud of the name Tipton had given him, the name of a prophet. Tipton had also taught Ibrahim the Queen’s English and escorted him to Christian services as well as Muslim calls to prayer. A professor of religion at the University of Cairo, Ibrahim’s father had encouraged him to be whatever he wished and had given him a place to call home while he determined what that might be.

Ibrahim wasn’t sure who or what he prayed to as he stared at the ashes of the only home he’d ever known, the tomb of the one true good man he’d ever known.

He’d begun the day as a creature of two worlds, English and Arabian. Now, alone at the age of eighteen, orphaned for a second time, he wasn’t sure which world would take him, or if he would have to choose. James Tipton had managed to effortlessly create a loving mix of faith, culture, and sensibility. Others Ibrahim had met, both English and Arabian, made it seem one had cling to specific viewpoints and reject all the rest. Some of his own people rejected outright the honest intentions of James and others at the university and had accused Ibrahim of abandoning his true self by living among them. For a boy who never for a moment forgot he’d been abandoned on a doorstep, this was a deeply painful accusation.

Uprooted, he could be anything now, anyone. He could choose to be a ghost, he realized. The crowd assumed him dead, after all. Was that the answer? To be a ghost? Wondering and wandering? Something had pushed him out of bed, into the market, early this morning, an unusual desire for ripe, glorious pomegranates. That strange, pressing urge, he realized, had saved his life. Would that it had saved the life of the man who’d provided a home for him.

A sudden, violent gust knocked him forward, and a furor rose within him as if a bird loosed from a cage flapped madly at his insides. The pomegranates he had held through all the hours he had watched his home burn fell to the ground, rolling away and bleeding onto the sandy stone.

As if this day had not held changes enough, Ibrahim now suffered yet another. Thinking he had become like the dead, he now saw them.

Ghosts stared back from every few feet; grayscale and luminous, spirits from Cairo and the specters of nomads, ghosts of all faiths and races, eras and classes. He felt an overwhelming wish to follow each and every one, to understand why they had been driven to Cairo’s streets, eternally wandering in and out of shops and homes.

He heard a strange new voice, speaking in a language he’d never before heard and yet, miraculously, understood: “Hello, my torchbearer, Intuition. I saw the measure of the man you could be and had to save you from your fate. I’m sorry for your loss, but you gain new family and a new future today. I have plucked you from an early death to learn a story and fight the good fight. In the beginning were two lovers, beings of light who fought wrath and woe. We are their continued struggle, and it is in their name I welcome you to the Guard.”

Ibrahim heard these confounding words both within himself and all around him. Before he could begin to process them, his gaze fell upon the transparent ghost of James Tipton.

With a puzzled expression on his grayscale face, the man floated over his home, staring at its cremated remains, then surveying the gathered crowd. When his gaze fell on the young man he’d lovingly and unquestioningly called son, he smiled his small, consistent smile, as if in seeing Ibrahim safe, Tipton had determined that all was well.

His adoptive father waved, and Ibrahim bit back tears. His senses could not be trusted, and he would not show such womanly frailty, yet he was nearly overwhelmed. The bird kept beating in his chest. Something urged him to move forward, to seek out a new destiny. He had the uncanny sensation that he was now tied to other beings than himself and that he would never be alone again. But was that what he wanted? The sensation was both terrifying and wonderful. Was this comfort or madness?

A blinding light bloomed beside him and he turned to behold a luminous woman, the flawless epitome of many types of beauty, made from shifting colors.

“You are not Allah,” he said, uncertain.

“Correct, I am not,” she replied.

“Or one of the saints. Or prophets. You are an angel, then?” Ibrahim pressed his eyes closed, wondering if she would vanish when he opened them, if his mind had been entirely torn asunder by the day. She was still there, in all her colors.

“An angel if you like, it doesn’t really matter. Come, Ibrahim,” the woman entreated. “I’m sorry for your loss. Let me show you where you belong.”

She held out a shimmering hand. Ibrahim looked at it, then back at the burning rubble. James Tipton had vanished. Ibrahim hoped that his Christian saints would hold him close. He was a good man. Surely Allah would take him. The two faiths, having come from the same roots, weren’t dissimilar when one stripped away mankind’s trappings. Something greater would take care of his father.

“Do not be afraid,” the woman said. “I’m here to take you home.” Ibrahim gulped. She lowered her hand, giving no sign of offense that he had not touched her. Glancing at the pomegranates lying bruised and dribbling onto the stones, she frowned and kicked the fruit aside, then began to walk away.

“Come,” she bade him, and he did, following her through the city.

As they headed to a destination unknown, Ibrahim felt moved to ask only one question. He knew that whatever had spoken to him—the thing that was now within him—was inherently good, just like the man who’d raised him. His senses had grown sharper, and he’d never felt so alive. The world was at his fingertips.

Ibrahim had never been a social creature. He liked books, grand architecture, and quiet spaces. His brain was nearly bursting with strains of poetry, texts in their entirety, and scholarly pursuits, yet he was suddenly made happy by the certainty that he was on his way to meet friends.

“My mind is changing,” he murmured. “Why?”

“You’ll see” was the only answer the multicolored angel would give.

LR Hieber Author Photo (by C. Johnstone)

About the Author
Actress, playwright and author Leanna Renee Hieber is the award-winning, bestselling author of Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels for adults and teens. Her Strangely Beautiful saga, beginning with The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, hit Barnes & Noble and Borders Bestseller lists and garnered numerous regional genre awards, with new revised editions from Tor Books now available. Darker Still was named an American Bookseller’s Association “Indie Next List” pick and a Scholastic Book Club “Highly Recommended” title. Her new Gaslamp Fantasy saga, The Eterna Files and Eterna and Omega, is now available from Tor Books. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies such as Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, Willful Impropriety, The Mammoth Book of Gaslamp Romance, featured on Tor.com and she writes for Criminal Element. A 4 time Prism Award winner for excellence in the genre of Fantasy Romance, Leanna’s books have been selected for national book club editions and translated into languages such as Complex Chinese, German and Polish. A proud member of performer unions Actors Equity and SAG-AFTRA, she lives in New York City where she is a licensed ghost tour guide and has been featured in film and television on shows like Boardwalk Empire. She is represented by Paul Stevens of the Donald Maass agency and is active on Twitter @leannarenee.

Photo by C. Johnstone

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

It’s been quiet here since the end of April, but I’m working on getting back into the swing of things! On Tuesday, I will have an exclusive excerpt from Leanna Renee Hieber’s Perilous Prophecy to share with you. I’ve also begun working on a review of one of my most anticipated books of the year, Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Fate.

There have been far too many books purchased or received since the last one of these featured posts in March to highlight all of them here (especially since my birthday is in April, resulting in books as gifts and a trip to two bookstores) so I’m only covering the books I’m most excited about from the last month and a half today. The additional books list at the end is not complete and just contains the books I’m at least as interested in reading as the other books featured in this post (these additional books are all birthday gifts or purchases made with a birthday gift card). For the featured books, I tried to stick to books/series that I haven’t highlighted as recently or that were not included in my most anticipated books of the year list, which is why some of the books I’ve been most looking forward to are listed without covers and descriptions.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

This new edition of Patricia A. McKillip’s World Fantasy Award-winning novel The Forgotten Beasts of Eld will be released September 19 (trade paperback, ebook). It contains an introduction by Gail Carriger and has a lovely new cover.

I have read this before (although I have not yet reviewed it!), and it is an excellent book. This and The Changeling Sea are tied for my favorite McKillip books I’ve read so far.

 

Young Sybel, the heiress of powerful wizards, needs the company of no-one outside her gates. In her exquisite stone mansion, she is attended by exotic, magical beasts: Riddle-master Cyrin the boar; the treasure-starved dragon Gyld; Gules the Lyon, tawny master of the Southern Deserts; Ter, the fiercely vengeful falcon; Moriah, feline Lady of the Night. Sybel only lacks the exquisite and mysterious Liralen, which continues to elude her most powerful enchantments.

But when a soldier bearing an infant arrives, Sybel discovers that the world of man and magic is full of both love and deceit―and the possibility of more power than she can possibly imagine.

The Dark Arts of Blood by Freda Warrington

The Dark Arts of Blood (Blood Wine Sequence #4) by Freda Warrington

Freda Warrington has written some excellent books, including Elfland and the first book in the Blood Wine Sequence, A Taste of Blood Wine. The latter is my favorite of her books I’ve read (my review), and though I haven’t yet read the second book in the series, I know I’m going to need to read them all and was thrilled to get this as a birthday gift!

The first three books in this series (A Taste of Blood Wine, A Dance in Blood Velvet, and The Dark Blood of Poppies) were originally published in the 1990s and were re-released within the last four years. The Dark Arts of Blood was published for the first time in 2015.

 

In 1920s Switzerland, vampire lovers Charlotte and Karl are drawn into turmoil as Godric Reiniger, a local filmmaker and activist with sinister ambitions, begins his rise to power.

Meanwhile, fiery dancer Emil achieves his dream to partner the legendary ballerina and vampire Violette Lenoir – until his forbidden desire for her becomes an obsession. Rejected, spiralling towards madness, he seeks solace with a mysterious beauty, Fadiya. But she too is a vampire, with a hidden agenda.

When Karl and Charlotte undertake the perilous journey to rescue Emil, they unearth secrets that threaten the very existence of vampire-kind.

Redder Than Blood by Tanith Lee

Redder Than Blood by Tanith Lee

This short story collection of fairy tale retellings was released in April (trade paperback, ebook). I love fairy tales and I want to read more by Tanith Lee so I’m quite curious about this one!

 

A vampiric Snow White whose pious stepmother is her only salvation….

A supernatural Cinderella who strikes at midnight, leaving behind a prince mad with desire….

A sleeping beauty never meant to be woken…

In her World Fantasy Award-nominated short story collection, Red as Blood, Tanith Lee deconstructed familiar fairy tales, recapturing their original darkness and horror in haunting new interpretations. Behind gilded words and poised princesses, she exposed a sinister world of violence, madness, and dangerous enchantments.

With Redder than Blood, Lee resumes the tradition of twisting tales. Among its nineteen tales, this volume explores unnerving variations of Beauty and the Beast, The Frog Prince, Snow White, and other classics, including three never-before-published stories.

A recognized master fantasist, Tanith Lee has won multiple awards for her craft, including the British Fantasy Award, the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, and the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Horror.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona was on my wish list because:

a) It’s supposed to be really good
b) Supervillainy!
c) Dragons!

I was quite happy to receive a copy for my birthday.

 

The graphic novel debut from rising star Noelle Stevenson, based on her beloved and critically acclaimed web comic, which Slate awarded its Cartoonist Studio Prize, calling it “a deadpan epic.”

Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard

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

The second Dominion of the Fallen novel, following The House of Shattered Wings, was released in April (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

I was on the fence about whether or not to read this after the first book (my review of The House of Shattered Wings), but I heard it had more Asmodeus so I decided to go ahead… and so far, I’m really glad I did since I’m enjoying it much more than the first. (Also, it has more dragons!) Since I started in April, I didn’t have much time to read and had to set it aside for the Patreon book, but I’m planning to go back to it after finishing this month’s Patreon book.

 

The multi-award-winning author of The House of Shattered Wings continues her Dominion of the Fallen saga as Paris endures the aftermath of a devastating arcane war….

As the city rebuilds from the onslaught of sorcery that nearly destroyed it, the great Houses of Paris, ruled by Fallen angels, still contest one another for control over the capital.

House Silverspires was once the most powerful, but just as it sought to rise again, an ancient evil brought it low. Phillippe, an immortal who escaped the carnage, has a singular goal—to resurrect someone he lost. But the cost of such magic might be more than he can bear.

In House Hawthorn, Madeleine the alchemist has had her addiction to angel essence savagely broken. Struggling to live on, she is forced on a perilous diplomatic mission to the underwater dragon kingdom—and finds herself in the midst of intrigues that have already caused one previous emissary to mysteriously disappear….

As the Houses seek a peace more devastating than war, those caught between new fears and old hatreds must find strength—or fall prey to a magic that seeks to bind all to its will.

Borderline by Mishell Baker

Borderline (The Arcadia Project #1) by Mishell Baker

Borderline is one of this year’s Nebula nominees and I’ve been hearing it’s excellent, so I couldn’t resist getting it when I came across a copy in the bookstore!

The second book in the series, Phantom Pains, was released in March.

 

A cynical, disabled film director with borderline personality disorder gets recruited to join a secret organization that oversees relations between Hollywood and Fairyland in this Nebula Award–nominated and Tiptree Award Honor Book that’s the first novel in a new urban fantasy series from debut author Mishell Baker.

A year ago, Millie lost her legs and her filmmaking career in a failed suicide attempt. Just when she’s sure the credits have rolled on her life story, she gets a second chance with the Arcadia Project: a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales.

For her first assignment, Millie is tasked with tracking down a missing movie star who also happens to be a nobleman of the Seelie Court. To find him, she’ll have to smooth-talk Hollywood power players and uncover the surreal and sometimes terrifying truth behind the glamour of Tinseltown. But stronger forces than just her inner demons are sabotaging her progress, and if she fails to unravel the conspiracy behind the noble’s disappearance, not only will she be out on the streets, but the shattering of a centuries-old peace could spark an all-out war between worlds.

No pressure.

The White Road of the Moon by Rachel Neumeier

The White Road of the Moon by Rachel Neumeier

The White Road of the Moon was released in March (hardcover, ebook). This has an intriguing first line:

There were more than twenty-four hundred people in the town of Tikiy-by-the-Water, but only one of them was alive.

I loved Rachel Neumeier’s House of Shadows and really enjoyed Black Dog so I’ve been trying to read all her books.

 

Leigh Bardugo meets The Sixth Sense in this story of one girl’s perilous journey to restore a lost order.

Imagine you live with your aunt, who hates you so much she’s going to sell you into a dreadful apprenticeship. Imagine you run away before that can happen. Imagine that you can see ghosts—and talk with the dead. People like you are feared, even shunned.

Now imagine . . . the first people you encounter after your escape are a mysterious stranger and a ghost boy, who seem to need you desperately—though you don’t understand who they are or exactly what they want you to do. So you set off on a treacherous journey, with only a ghost dog for company. And you find that what lies before you is a task so monumental that it could change the world.

The Rose Society by Marie Lu

The Rose Society (The Young Elites #2) by Marie Lu

The Young Elites (my review) made me curious about the rest of this series so I purchased this when I came across it in the bookstore (along with Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer—apparently, I was the second person to buy that same exact combination of books from that bookstore that day).

This trilogy ended with The Midnight Star, which was released last year.

 

Bestselling author and New York Times proclaimed “hit factory” Marie Lu delivers another heart-pounding adventure in this exhilarating sequel to The Young Elites. 

Once upon a time, a girl had a father, a prince, a society of friends. Then they betrayed her, and she destroyed them all.

Adelina Amouteru’s heart has suffered at the hands of both family and friends, turning her down the bitter path of revenge. Now known and feared as the White Wolf, she and her sister flee Kenettra to find other Young Elites in the hopes of building her own army of allies. Her goal: to strike down the Inquisition Axis, the white-cloaked soldiers who nearly killed her.

But Adelina is no heroine. Her powers, fed only by fear and hate, have started to grow beyond her control. She does not trust her newfound Elite friends. Teren Santoro, leader of the Inquisition, wants her dead. And her former friends, Raffaele and the Dagger Society, want to stop her thirst for vengeance. Adelina struggles to cling to the good within her. But how can someone be good, when her very existence depends on darkness?

Additional Book Highlights:

Since the beginning of 2016, I have been reading and reviewing one book a month based on the results of a poll on PatreonAll of these monthly reviews can be viewed here.

The May theme is books featuring dragons. Reading time has been scarce until recently, but I’ve been reading Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Binding Thorns and Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Fate—and enjoying the dragons in both of them so much that I wanted to read more books featuring dragons this month! The May book selections were as follows:

The May book is…

The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier
The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier

When Trei loses his family in a tragic disaster, he must search out distant relatives in a new land. The Floating Islands are unlike anything Trei has ever seen: stunning, majestic, and graced with kajurai, men who soar the skies with wings.

Trei is instantly sky-mad, and desperate to be a kajurai himself.  The only one who fully understands his passion is Araene, his newfound cousin.  Prickly, sarcastic, and gifted, Araene has a secret of her own . . . a dream a girl cannot attain.

Trei and Araene quickly become conspirators as they pursue their individual paths.  But neither suspects that their lives will be deeply entwined, and that the fate of the Floating Islands will lie in their hands. . . .

Filled with rich language, and told in alternating voices, The Floating Islands is an all-encompassing young adult fantasy read.

I’ve wanted to read The Floating Islands for awhile so I’m looking forward to it! (It actually came as a pleasant surprise to me that it fit this theme—I discovered this when browsing through dragon book lists and reviews on Goodreads, searching for suitable books already on my shelves.)

Women in SF&F Month Banner

It’s difficult to believe that the final week of the month is over—thank you so much to all of last week’s guests! Here’s a brief overview of last week in case you missed any of their essays:

We will continue to collect speculative fiction books by women to add to the 2017 list for another week: click here to add up to 10 SFF books by women you read and loved in the last year. You can find the list of recommendations from 2013-2016 here.

This month’s Patreon book theme was science fiction selected for a James Tiptree Award honor, and I posted my review of April’s selection yesterday: Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler. It was fascinating, unsettling, engaging, disturbing—and I loved it!

April 2017 has come to an end, and it is possible that this was the last Women in SF&F Month—or, at least, the last one that fills the entire month. It’s been great fun, but it is very time-consuming to organize and keep going for an entire month. Since I do enjoy reading all the essays, I am reluctant to end it entirely, which is why I’m considering perhaps just making it two weeks in April next year, but I’ll have to see what’s going on in my life when the time comes.

In case this does end up being the last Women in SF&F Month series, I want to say thank you to everyone who has written a piece over the last six years, everyone who has shared these articles on social media, and everyone who has read these articles. It has been a pleasure, and I’ve been floored by the incredible essays that have been part of this series since it first began in 2012.

Octavia E. Butler’s Wild Seed became the fourth Patternist novel upon its publication in 1980, though it is first in chronological order. A total of five Patternist novels were released, and all but one of these (Survivor, which the author did not want reprinted) comprise the omnibus Seed to HarvestWild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Clay’s Ark, and Patternmaster. This collection begins with 1690 and ends in the distant future, although many believe it’s best to read these in publication order instead: Patternmaster, Mind of My Mind, Wild Seed, Clay’s Ark. Since I’ve only read Wild Seed so far, I cannot comment on which order is preferable, but I can say that I found this to be a fascinating, engaging, disturbing story worthy of its place on the James Tiptree Award 1995 Retrospective Honor List.

For 3700 years, Doro has survived by killing people and inhabiting their bodies. He occupies his time by gathering humans who also have special talents—those whom most would consider witches due to abilities like telepathy or telekinesis—and breeding them to create more like them. Over the centuries, he’s rarely met anyone who even comes close to being his equal, and if anyone becomes too powerful or rebellious, he puts them to death.

On a visit to one of the seed villages he maintains in Africa, he finds his people have been taken by slavers in his absence, but he finds something unexpected when his senses draw him toward someone southwest of his former colony: Anyanwu, who appears to be an elderly woman. She is indeed an old woman, having lived about 300 years, but the true form she reveals to Doro is that of a beautiful young woman. When she was around twenty years old, Anyanwu stopped aging and discovered she had the ability to control her body. She can alter her human appearance, become an animal, heal herself (and, to a lesser extent, others), and crush a rock with her bare hands.

Doro is ecstatic to have discovered what he calls “wild seed” and dreams of what type of children a woman like Anyanwu will produce after being bred to people of his choosing. He coerces her into accompanying him to the New World, promising her children who will not die and threatening to take her children and grandchildren in her place if she refuses. Though Anyanwu does not like Doro’s casual disregard for human life or threats to capture and intermarry her descendants, she does come to care for Doro as her husband. However, she despises him after they arrive in New York and he reveals that he intends for her to marry his favorite son, Isaac, and have children by him, Doro, and anyone else Doro commands. If she resists, he will do to her what he does to anyone who refuses to submit to him: kill her.

Wild Seed chronicles the relationship of these two immortals from their meeting in 1690 to the mid-1800s, as a man who has lived 3700 years with no true challenges to his power encounters a woman like none other: one with enough power in her own right to potentially be his match.

Like all of Octavia E. Butler’s books I’ve read, Wild Seed is a fascinating book with lots to analyze and consider. The highlight of the book, in my opinion, is the central characters: their similarities, their differences, and their complicated relationship with each other. Doro and Anyanwu are uniquely alike in some ways—both being long lived and able to change their bodies’ ages, skin tones, and sexes—but they’re polar opposites in most ways. Doro is a wanderer who travels the world going from settlement to settlement; Anyanwu prefers to be settled in one place, surrounded by her own people. Doro is selfish and nonempathic; Anyanwu is selfless and compassionate. Doro takes human life casually; Anyanwu only kills to protect herself or others. However, they can’t escape that they are the only two people who subsist throughout the ages.

The story is told from both of their perspectives, and Doro is rather abhorrent right from the start. When he learns some of his people were taken by slavers on the very first page, his first thought is how “they had undone in a few hours the work of a thousand years.” His pride is hurt because he couldn’t protect his people, but he doesn’t spend any time dwelling on what happened beyond how it affected his ego and his obsession with eugenics. When he meets Anyanwu, he tells her he’ll spare her children and grandchildren if she comes with him, but he’s already planning to gather them and breed them to each other the first chance he gets. He does what he wants, and no one will stand in his way—nor will pesky human morality, such as beliefs like People Should Have Free Will or Murder and Incest Are Not Okay.

He is a compelling character even so, especially considering that despite his vile ways he does seem to care for a rare few people including Isaac, whom he still wants alive even after he’s old enough to have outlived his usefulness to Doro. However, I consider this to ultimately be Anyanwu’s story, and she is the best part of the novel and both a likable and compelling character. She’s a survivor and protector who can be fierce when necessary, and I appreciated that her abilities were tied in to her characterization. She doesn’t just heal people in the blink of an eye but has to have an understanding of medicine and the human body in order to do so: she has to figure out how to reproduce the problem within her own body and experiment with fixing it. Needless to say, this is risky, but the fact that she did it shows her selflessness, and the fact that she’s been able to keep herself alive for centuries despite this practice shows her cleverness (which is also illustrated in other ways as she deals with Doro).

The only reason I’m not giving Wild Seed a rating of 10/10 is that it took a little while to get going toward the beginning. Though the opening with Doro and Anyanwu’s meeting pulled me in, it started to lose my attention while they were traveling to the ship that would take them to the New World. However, after they reached this destination and it introduced Doro’s son Isaac (and Anyanwu discovered how to become a dolphin!), it managed to capture my attention again and I didn’t want to put it down until the end.

Wild Seed is an absorbing story of two immortals who clash but ultimately cannot escape each other: for as unlike as they are, there’s also no one else like them. Though remarkably unsettling at times, it’s also a deeply compelling examination of these two characters and their complex bond, and I found it to (mostly) be a thoroughly engrossing novel.

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: My husband gave me Seed to Harvest for Christmas.

This book is April’s selection from a poll on Patreon.