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 (most of which are unsolicited books from publishers). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Last week brought one expected book (since I had ordered it) and two more surprise books in the mail. But first, here’s the latest review in case you missed it:

  • Mirage by Somaiya Daud — It took me a few chapters to get into this one, but once I did, I could hardly put it down. “Mirage is a quiet yet powerful, character-driven, feminist book and a finely crafted work of art. I loved it, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to those craving beautiful writing, realistically drawn main protagonists, hope shining through the heartbreak, and slow burn complicated sort-of-friendships…Somaiya Daud doesn’t just tell us that Amani is a woman of faith and compassion, a poet, a scholar—but imbues her narrative with these qualities to create a perfect fit for the character whose story she’s telling. It’s rare that I read a book like this in which the author so vividly brings their protagonist to life through their viewpoint, and it’s especially impressive how Amani’s poetic voice reflects her soul.”

And now, the latest book arrivals!

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

This massive epic fantasy novel by The Bone Season author Samantha Shannon was just released last week (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog has an excerpt from The Priory of the Orange Tree.

This book appeared on my list of anticipated speculative fiction books of 2019, and I was excited when the copy I pre-ordered showed up on release day. It sounds excellent, plus the hardcover edition is beautiful!


From the internationally bestselling author of The Bone Season, a trailblazing, epic high fantasy about a world on the brink of war with dragons—and the women who must lead the fight to save it.

A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

The Women's War by Jenna Glass

The Women’s War (The Women’s War #1) by Jenna Glass

This epic fantasy by Jenna Glass (also known as author Jenna Black) will be released on March 5 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

The author’s website has an excerpt from The Women’s War.


In a high fantasy feminist epic, a revolutionary spell gives women the ability to control their own fertility—with consequences that rock their patriarchal society to its core.

When a nobleman’s first duty is to produce a male heir, women are treated like possessions and bargaining chips. But as the aftereffects of a world-altering spell ripple out physically and culturally, women at last have a bargaining chip of their own. And two women in particular find themselves at the crossroads of change.

Alys is the widowed mother of two teenage children, and the disinherited daughter of a king. Her existence has been carefully proscribed, but now she discovers a fierce talent not only for politics but also for magic—once deemed solely the domain of men. Meanwhile, in a neighboring kingdom, young Ellin finds herself unexpectedly on the throne after the sudden death of her grandfather the king and everyone else who stood ahead of her in the line of succession. Conventional wisdom holds that she will marry quickly, then quietly surrender the throne to her new husband…. Only, Ellin has other ideas.

The tensions building in the two kingdoms grow abruptly worse when a caravan of exiled women and their escort of disgraced soldiers stumbles upon a new source of magic in what was once uninhabitable desert. This new and revolutionary magic—which only women can wield—threatens to tear down what is left of the patriarchy. And the men who currently hold power will do anything to fight back.

Additional Book(s):

Mirage, Somaiya Daud’s debut novel and the first book in a young adult science fiction/fantasy trilogy, intrigued me long before it had a cover or a full description. Basically, I knew it was inspired by the author’s Moroccan background and featured the body double trope (one of my favorites!), and that was all it took for me to want to read this book.

Months later, I visited a bookstore and found a display of recent releases, including Mirage. The final book’s generic summary made me a little hesitant to pick it up, especially since I hadn’t seen enough discussion of this novel to know whether or not its prose, characters, or themes might be compelling. But in the end, that memory of my initial excitement about Mirage and its influences, my love for stories involving secret identities and palace life, and its promising opening sentence convinced me to purchase it.


On a small moon orbiting a large planet, in a small farmhouse in a small village, there was a box, and in this box was a feather.
—page 8 (first line of Chapter 1)

Not judging this novel by its cover copy turned out to be an excellent life choice: Mirage is a quiet yet powerful, character-driven, feminist book and a finely crafted work of art. I loved it, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to those craving beautiful writing, realistically drawn main protagonists, hope shining through the heartbreak, and slow burn complicated sort-of-friendships.


There were moments when I glimpsed the world as it was before the occupation of the Vath. When my mother or father spoke without thinking, or a village aunt said “when I was young,” or a man sang an old song I’d never heard before. The bones of our old ways of life were there, barely traceable, and I wanted them back. I wanted all of us to remember what we’d been, how strong we were. And endurance was strength, to be sure, but even a rock wore away to nothing if asked to endure enough rain.
—page 11

Eighteen-year-old Amani has spent her entire life on a poverty-stricken moon in a star system claimed by Mathis of the Vathek Empire, Conqueror of the Stars, before she was born. Throughout his reign, the ruthless king and his government have done all they can within the confines of galactic law to erase the culture and traditions of those they colonized, from the nobility’s ancestral tattoos to their language to Amani’s beloved poetry—that which has power to kindle the flames of rebellion.

Though the Vath have been known to interrupt large gatherings of Amani’s people, they do not tend to interfere with majority night celebrations for small villages on backwater moons. However, Imperial droids do just that on the night Amani and other girls within her community are being welcomed into adulthood. They demand that all the girls around Amani’s age line up against the wall and then scan each of their faces. When they get to Amani, they appear to find what they are looking for and force her to accompany them, making her leave behind her home and family without any explanation as to why.

Amani is taken to the planet around which her moon orbits and brought before the daughter of the king and a deceased noblewoman from his conquered realm, Princess Maram: who, Amani is shocked to realize, looks like her mirror image. Now that Maram is nearing the age that will require her to make more public appearances as Imperial Inheritor, her father would prefer that any assassination attempts be directed at someone other than his heir. Given her uncanny resemblance to the princess, Amani was chosen for this role and must learn to mimic Maram’s mannerisms and behavior—including the sharp tongue and maliciousness that make it likely someone will try to kill her—or her own life will be forfeit.

As Amani is thrust into Maram’s role, she discovers ways to use her unique position within the palace to aid the resistance and even comes to enjoy her time spent with the princess’ handsome fiancé, although she does not feel the same way about her time spent with the princess herself. But the more Amani observes Maram and (literally) walks in her shoes, the more she comes to understand the struggles and vulnerabilities that forged the infamous princess. Amani comes to realize that Maram too may have just been trying to survive within her father’s harsh Empire and that the face she presents to the world may not actually reflect her heart—or the ruler she’ll be someday, if it’s not too late for her to learn to be her true self instead of the cruel king’s heir…

Mirage is not an action-heavy book, nor is it one filled with twists and turns; its intensity stems from its emotional impact and thoughtful creation of true-to-life characters and relationships. Although the lovely prose was captivating from the very beginning, I didn’t expect it to be an especially memorable book at first, but I became hooked after reading about 15–20%. Once I reached that point, I savored every word and scene, finding myself more invested in Mirage than in the vast majority of books I read—and more invested in Amani than the vast majority of characters in the books I read.

Amani is the heart of Mirage, and as such, she is the main reason this book is fantastic. Her first person perspective is artful: It’s smooth and elegant and can be quite beautiful, but it doesn’t become ornate or dense enough to make the writing the primary focus instead of Amani herself. Somaiya Daud doesn’t just tell us that Amani is a woman of faith and compassion, a poet, a scholar—but imbues her narrative with these qualities to create a perfect fit for the character whose story she’s telling. It’s rare that I read a book like this in which the author so vividly brings their protagonist to life through their viewpoint, and it’s especially impressive how Amani’s poetic voice reflects her soul.

And I loved Amani. Despite the confines of her new life as the princess’ body double, she quietly but purposefully drives her own story through her own decisions and their consequences. She takes risks to help her people, not rashly but because she has evaluated the potential outcomes and judged that the good she might do outweighs the bad that may come to her as a result. Amani doesn’t have magic powers or flashy skills with which she can fight back against the Empire; her weapons are subtler ones that can nevertheless leave a large impression, ones that grow out of her hope, empathy, and insight.

These traits—particularly Amani’s affinity for understanding people and the experiences that shaped them—also affect the relationships she develops in the palace, especially that with her love interest and Maram. Even though Amani was immediately attracted to the former and their relationship grew quickly, this didn’t seem like a case of insta-love to me. There were scenes showing what drew them together as they built a foundation upon respect and trust, discovering the freedom to simply be themselves around one another. The progression of their romantic relationship was sweet and well done, and I enjoyed it.

But it was Amani’s complex relationship with Maram that I found most compelling. Amani hates Maram from the first time they meet (quite understandably, as the princess had her mauled by a bird of prey shortly after they were introduced), and although she doesn’t disregard her terrible actions later, she also starts to see the vulnerable edges below her callous exterior. Amani is probably the first person to ever look below the surface and truly see Maram: her loneliness, her fears, her longing to belong. She realizes how it must have been to grow up surrounded by people who only cared about her as a princess and not as a person, including her own father and her own half-sister, who would like nothing more than to take her place as their father’s successor. She realizes how it must be for Maram to visit her mother’s family, dreading that they can only see her as the daughter of their conqueror. As Amani comes to see there’s a different side of Maram that she tries to keep hidden, she begins to draw out that other side and even finds herself becoming surprisingly fond of the princess. (Though, by the end, the two are on rockier footing once again, which is one of the reasons I’m reluctant to refer to their relationship as outright friendship even though that’s the closest descriptor I can think of. As I said earlier, it’s complicated!)

Despite its short length and large focus on the major characters, Mirage does provide an in-depth picture of the world’s history and culture. Amani’s religion is especially prominent since she finds joy and comfort in sacred writings and especially loves poetry and stories about the prophetess Massinia. These are important to Amani, and it seems as though they will likely have a large role to play in the series as well.

Mirage is an unforgettable novel with an unforgettable protagonist, and once I became immersed in it after the first few chapters, it completely worked for me on every level. Without a doubt, Somaiya Daud is a new author to watch with her gorgeous writing that masterfully intersects character and voice. I’m excited to read more of her work in the future, starting with the continuation of Amani’s story in Court of Lions (coming in August 2019!).

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Read an Excerpt from Mirage

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 (most of which are unsolicited books from publishers). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

It’s been a few weeks since one of the posts, mainly just due to being busy (which means I haven’t finished the review I have in progress eitherI’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to finish it this week, but my plans to finish have been foiled the last couple of weeks!).

Here are the surprise books that showed up over the last couple of weeks, plus a recent ebook (the first of these, which I’ve been hearing is quite good!).

Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik

Polaris Rising (The Consortium Rebellion #1) by Jessie Mihalik

This space opera romance and trilogy opener was just released earlier this month (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook).

The author’s website has an excerpt from Polaris Rising.


A space princess on the run and a notorious outlaw soldier become unlikely allies in this imaginative, sexy space opera adventure—the first in an exciting science fiction trilogy.

In the far distant future, the universe is officially ruled by the Royal Consortium, but the High Councillors, the heads of the three High Houses, wield the true power. As the fifth of six children, Ada von Hasenberg has no authority; her only value to her High House is as a pawn in a political marriage. When her father arranges for her to wed a noble from House Rockhurst, a man she neither wants nor loves, Ada seizes control of her own destiny. The spirited princess flees before the betrothal ceremony and disappears among the stars.

Ada eluded her father’s forces for two years, but now her luck has run out. To ensure she cannot escape again, the fiery princess is thrown into a prison cell with Marcus Loch. Known as the Devil of Fornax Zero, Loch is rumored to have killed his entire chain of command during the Fornax Rebellion, and the Consortium wants his head.

When the ship returning them to Earth is attacked by a battle cruiser from rival House Rockhurst, Ada realizes that if her jilted fiancé captures her, she’ll become a political prisoner and a liability to her House. Her only hope is to strike a deal with the dangerous fugitive: a fortune if he helps her escape.

But when you make a deal with an irresistibly attractive Devil, you may lose more than you bargained for . . .

Unfettered 3 Anthology

Unfettered III: New Tales by Masters of Fantasy edited by Shawn Speakman

Unfettered III, an anthology with proceeds going toward helping SF&F authors and artists with medical debt, will be released on March 19 (hardcover, ebook, and audiobook).

There is also a signed/numbered limited edition with signatures from all contributors, who include Lev Grossman, Mark Lawrence, Megan Lindholm (Robin Hobb), Seanan McGuire, Naomi Novik, Brandon Sanderson, and many more. (The book description has the full list of authors.)

This thick book also includes a short foreword written by Jacqueline Carey, and each author wrote a brief introduction to their story.

From the editor of the award-winning anthology Unfettered comes the newest installment in the science fiction and fantasy series, Unfettered III.

Be haunted by the chilling ghost story of Megan Lindholm. Revisit the Magicians world with Lev Grossman. Return to Osten Ard in an epic first look at Tad Williams’s Empire of Grass. Share a heartfelt story of loss and gain with Callie Bates. Cross the sands of the desert planet Dune with Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. Travel the Ways in a new Wheel of Time novella with Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson. Enter the amazing potter city of Seven with Naomi Novik. And many more stories, all wondrous alongside beautiful art by Todd Lockwood!

More than 700 pages of stellar SF&F from the likes of:

  • Callie Bates
  • Terry Brooks
  • Delilah S. Dawson
  • Jason Denzel
  • David Anthony Durham
  • Lev Grossman
  • John Gwynne
  • Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson
  • Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson
  • Mark Lawrence
  • Megan Lindholm (Robin Hobb)
  • Seanan McGuire
  • Naomi Novik
  • Peter Orullian
  • Cat Rambo
  • Robert V.S. Redick
  • Ken Scholes
  • Scott Sigler
  • Anna Smith Spark
  • Shawn Speakman
  • Anna Stephens
  • Patrick Swenson
  • Ramon Terrell
  • Marc Turner
  • Carrie Vaughn
  • Tad Williams
  • Deborah A. Wolf

Lacking health insurance when he was diagnosed with cancer, Shawn Speakman asked friends in the science fiction and fantasy writing community to donate short stories he could use to counter mounting medical debt. The result was Unfettered, an anthology offering tales from some of the best authors working today.

Now, in Unfettered III, Speakman continues to pay forward the aid he received, raising money to combat medical debt for SF&F artists and authors. He has gathered together a great mix of new and favorite writers―free to write what they like―the result a powerful new anthology perfect for all readers.

Unfettered III is sure to astound with the magic bound within its pages. All the while raising money for a charitable cause.

Because protecting our artists and authors is as important as the stories they tell.

The Last Tsar's Dragons by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple

The Last Tsar’s Dragons by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple

The Last Tsar’s Dragons, a short story that was expanded into a novella, will be released on June 19 (trade paperback, ebook).


It is the waning days of the Russian monarchy. A reckless man rules the land and his dragons rule the sky. Though the Tsar aims his dragons at his enemies―Jews and Bolsheviks―his entire country is catching fire. Conspiracies suffuse the royal court: bureaucrats jostle one another for power, the mad monk Rasputin schemes for the Tsar’s ear, and the desperate queen takes drastic measures to protect her family.

Revolution is in the air―and the Red Army is hatching its own weapons.

Discover Russia’s October Revolution, reimagined in flight by the acclaimed mother-and-son writing team of the Locus Award-winning novel, Pay the Piper, and the Seelie Wars series.

Additional Books:

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 (most of which are unsolicited books from publishers). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Last week brought some February releases, including two sequels to books I enjoyed and an intriguing anthology. Before covering the latest arrivals, here are the latest reviews in case you missed them:

On to the latest book arrivals!

Sisters of the Fire by Kim Wilkins

Sisters of the Fire (Blood and Gold #2) by Kim Wilkins

Sisters of the Fire, a 2016 Aurealis Award nominee for Best Fantasy Novel, will be released in the US on February 5 (hardcover, ebook).

The publisher’s website has “Look Inside” previews from both this and the previous book in the Blood and Gold series:

  1. Daughters of the Storm (also has an excerpt)
  2. Sisters of the Fire

My review of Daughters of the Storm is here. I found it to be an enjoyable, character-focused story with interesting ties between these five sisters (although I did wish the characters had a bit more dimension).


In the next chapter of a fantasy series featuring five unforgettable sisters—the warrior, the magician, the lover, the zealot, and the gossip—an insidious threat jeopardizes a fragile peace.

Four years have passed since the five royal sisters—daughters of the king—worked together to restore their father to health and to the throne while fracturing the bonds among themselves almost irreparably. Only Bluebell remains at home, dutifully serving as heir to her father’s kingdom. Rose has been cast aside by her former husband and hides in exile with her aunt, separated forever from her beloved daughter, Rowan. Ash wanders the distant wastes with her teacher, learning magic and hunting dragons, determined that the dread fate she has foreseen for herself and her loved ones never comes to pass. Ivy rules over a prosperous seaport, married to an aged husband she hates yet finding delight in her two young sons and a handsome captain of the guard. And as for Willow, she hides the most dangerous secret of all—one that could destroy all that the sisters once sought to save.

The saga begins in . . .

A People's Future of the United States Anthology

A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams

A People’s Future of the United States, an anthology of twenty-five stories, will be released on February 5 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook).

The publisher’s website has a “Look Inside” preview of A People’s Future of the United States that contains the full table of contents. It has an incredible lineup of authors, including N. K. Jemisin, Charlie Jane Anders, Seanan McGuire, and Tananarive Due. (The book description below lists all the writers at the end.)

The Penguin Random House website also has a schedule of related tour events with the following authors:


A glittering landscape of twenty-five speculative stories that challenge oppression and envision new futures for America—from N. K. Jemisin, Charles Yu, Jamie Ford, G. Willow Wilson, Charlie Jane Anders, Hugh Howey, and more.

In these tumultuous times, in our deeply divided country, many people are angry, frightened, and hurting. Knowing that imagining a brighter tomorrow has always been an act of resistance, editors Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams invited an extraordinarily talented group of writers to share stories that explore new forms of freedom, love, and justice. They asked for narratives that would challenge oppressive American myths, release us from the chokehold of our history, and give us new futures to believe in.

They also asked that the stories be badass.

The result is this spectacular collection of twenty-five tales that blend the dark and the light, the dystopian and the utopian. These tales are vivid with struggle and hardship—whether it’s the othered and the terrorized, or dragonriders and covert commandos—but these characters don’t flee, they fight.

Thrilling, inspiring, and a sheer joy to read, A People’s Future of the United States is a gift for anyone who believes in our power to dream a just world.

Featuring stories by Violet Allen • Charlie Jane Anders • Lesley Nneka Arimah • Ashok K. Banker • Tobias S. Buckell • Tananarive Due • Omar El Akkad • Jamie Ford • Maria Dahvana Headley • Hugh Howey • Lizz Huerta • Justina Ireland • N. K. Jemisin • Alice Sola Kim • Seanan McGuire • Sam J. Miller • Daniel José Older • Malka Older • Gabby Rivera • A. Merc Rustad • Kai Cheng Thom • Catherynne M. Valente • Daniel H. Wilson • G. Willow Wilson • Charles Yu

Thornbound (The Harwood Spellbook #2) by Stephanie Burgis

Thornbound, which continues Cassandra Harwood’s story following Snowspelled, will be released on February 25 (ebook, paperback).

Snowspelled (my review) is a delightful, wintry, romantic fantasy novella about a woman who defied gender roles by becoming a mage instead of a politician. Though Cassandra is going through a particularly difficult time when it begins, it’s ultimately optimistic and forward-thinking with a wonderful romance and supportive family relationships.

Stephanie Burgis’ website has excerpts from Snowspelled if you want to check out the first book before the upcoming publication of book two:


Cassandra Harwood scandalized her nation when she became the first woman magician in Angland. Now, she’s ready to teach a whole new generation of bright young women at her radical new school, the Thornfell College of Magic…

Until a sinister fey altar is discovered in the school library, the ruling Boudiccate sends a delegation to shut down Thornfell, and Cassandra’s own husband is torn away from her.

As malevolent vines slither in from the forest and ruthless politicians scheme against her, Cassandra must fight the greatest battle of her life to save her love, her school, and the future of the young women of Angland.

Additional Books:

Book Description:

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER–NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR, The Washington Post, People, Time, Amazon, Entertainment Weekly, Bustle, Newsweek, the A.V. Club, Christian Science Monitor and Refinery 29, Buzzfeed, Paste, Audible, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Thrillist, NYPL, Self Real Simple, Goodreads, Boston Globe, Electric Literature, BookPage, the Guardian, Book Riot, Seattle Times, and Business Insider

“A bold and subversive retelling of the goddess’s story,” this #1 New York Times bestseller is “both epic and intimate in its scope, recasting the most infamous female figure from the Odyssey as a hero in her own right” (Alexandra Alter, The New York Times).

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world.

There’s a good chance you’ve already heard about Madeline Miller’s newest novel, Circe: it was a #1 New York Times bestseller and widely considered to be one of the best books of 2018. (It also appeared on my own list of favorite books of 2018.)

Circe is the story of the titular Greek goddess, told from her own perspective through rich, lyrical writing. It covers a large span of time that could only belong an immortal, chronicling her early years with her parents and siblings, her discovery of her sorcery and particular gift for transformation, her exile to an island, and encounters with various figures from Greek mythology. Earlier in her tale, Circe’s views of those around her are not always accurate, and she gradually comes to understand the reality of the world of the gods—particularly the ways in which the women around her must be calculated in order to grasp power of their own.

Circe is a sympathetic character with her desire for connection, and I found the novel to be beautifully written and powerful. Her time on the island could drag at times—which is why this was not higher on my favorite books list—but other than that, Circe is fantastic.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Read an Excerpt from Circe

Book Description:

In a city that runs on industrialized magic, a secret war will be fought to overwrite reality itself–the first in a dazzling new series from City of Stairs author Robert Jackson Bennett.

Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.

But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic–the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience–have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.

Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.

To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.

Foundryside, the first book in Robert Jackson Bennett’s Founders Trilogy, is a lot of fun. It’s brimming with discovery between learning about its creative magic system and the sentient key that Sancia steals in the beginning, plus there are mysteries related to characters’ pasts. Though I didn’t think any of the characters had a lot of depth, I did find them entertaining to follow and especially enjoyed reading about Sancia, a thief struggling to survive in this grim city of powerful Houses—and one who has the unique ability to “hear” magical objects that she doesn’t entirely understand.

I didn’t love Foundryside: in addition to the lack of in-depth characterization, I also found it to be rather exposition-heavy at times plus the dialogue style is a bit modernly casual for my taste (even if it can be entertaining!). However, I did enjoy it and am certainly curious about the next book—and hopeful that the story will be smoother given that the background will have already been covered in the first book.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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

Read an Excerpt from Foundryside


Book Description:

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 Heart Forger is the middle book in Rin Chupeco’s Bone Witch trilogy, following The Bone Witch (my review). As with the first book, I loved Tea: a powerful necromancer whose rage and desire for justice inspired her to follow her own path rather than the one expected of bone witches.

Though I did enjoy The Heart Forger, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as The Bone Witch (but I seem to be one of the few who feels that way!). The main reason I preferred the first book was that I found the characterization more compelling since it showed such a huge disparity between past Tea and present Tea, and I didn’t find that these two story lines in this installment had me thinking about how they came together as much. I also felt that the worldbuilding still contained a lot of fascinating but underdeveloped concepts, and despite the abundance of lovely prose, my reading flow was often interrupted by awkward phrasing and pieces that needed to be reworded for clarity. However, I was entertained by The Heart Forger and am looking forward to The Shadow Glass (coming March 5).

My Rating: 7.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Read an Excerpt from The Heart Forger

Review(s) of Previous Books in the Bone Witch Trilogy:

  1. The Bone Witch

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee is the latest book from Disney-Hyperion’s Rick Riordan Presents imprint, whose goal is “to publish great middle grade authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds, to let them tell their own stories inspired by the mythology and folklore of their own heritage.” I was especially intrigued by Dragon Pearl with its fusion of space opera and Korean mythology (which Yoon Ha Lee wrote about here), and I’ve been wanting to read more by this book’s author after being captivated by his short story “The Coin of Heart’s Desire,” inspired by Korean folktales about the Dragon King Under the Sea. Though I did indeed love the general idea of this book, I also felt that the story itself was far too rushed and could have been better executed. Perhaps I would have found it to be an exciting introduction to science fiction and space adventures as a middle grade age reader, but the reader I am today—the one who most enjoys character-driven stories with strongly developed interpersonal relationships of all kinds—didn’t find Dragon Pearl particularly compelling, despite appreciating its foundations.

Thirteen-year-old Min longs for the day she can leave behind the daily drudgery of maintaining hydroponic units, preparing food, and cleaning air filters to join the Thousand Worlds Space Forces, just like her older brother Jun. But Min’s dream of serving the Space Forces with her brother is threatened when an investigator comes to her family’s home bearing news about Jun: he claims that Jun deserted to find the Dragon Pearl, sought for its incredible power to terraform an entire world within a single day.

As surprised as she is to learn that the Dragon Pearl is not merely a legend, Min finds the possibility of her brother being a traitor even more unbelievable. Jun worked too hard to get into the Space Forces to throw away his career like that, and it’s not like him to make waves or bend the rules (unlike his far more troublesome sister). Min is perturbed when her mother politely offers to share food with someone who would accuse her brother of such appalling disloyalty, but she relishes the opportunity to transform herself into a table so she can eavesdrop on the ensuing conversation—even though her mother forbids the use of magic. Min noticed that her mother’s been breaking her own rules throughout this encounter, so why should she obey them?

When their visitor has the audacity to threaten to investigate their entire family, Min becomes enraged. She changes back to human form, scattering food all over the kitchen and revealing the very secret she was afraid an investigation would uncover: that she, like the rest of her family, is a gumiho. Although humans are accepting of other supernaturals like dragons and goblins, they tend to hate fox spirits with their reputation for deceitfulness, and Min suspects this man feels similarly. Assuming that he is reaching for a weapon in response to finding himself in their midst, Min responds by swiftly whacking him over the head with a nearby saucepan.

Min is tasked with cleaning up the food-based mess she made while her mother and aunties discuss cleaning up the far worse mess she made  involving the investigator currently lying unconscious upon their floor. After overhearing a suggestion that perhaps she should be sent away to stay with family friends she’s never met, Min decides to take matters into her own hands and search for Jun herself—and proceeds to Charm and shape-shift her way through the stars on a quest to prove her brother’s innocence.

Although I can’t say I found Dragon Pearl to be especially engrossing at any point, it certainly contained various elements that I liked. It has a fun premise with its blend of space adventure and fantasy and story stemming from the strong sibling bond that impels Min to undertake her journey in the first place. The opening chapters were an interesting introduction to Min, and I did enjoy learning more about her fox spirit abilities and the various supernatural beings she encountered, including ghosts and a tiger captain. I was particularly fond of her friendship with two cadets in the Space Forces: a dragon with weather powers and a goblin who could produce food from thin air with their enchanted spork. I also appreciated that there was acceptance of all genders within the Space Forces, the occasional bits of humor throughout the story, and that the ending wasn’t exactly what I had been expecting.

But despite all these good pieces, I felt that the book never quite came together as a whole. It’s not actually slow paced since there’s always something happening, yet I found it dull after the first few chapters and struggled to finish it. Once Min sets out to find her brother, she seems to bounce from situation to situation as she meets many different people and supernaturals, and there are far too many characters with too little characterization. The only character who seems at all developed is the main protagonist, and delightful as she is, Min can basically be summarized as being loyal and impulsive (too impulsive if you ask me, but then, this is the opinion of a human who doesn’t have an impulsive bone in her body).

This book also seemed incomplete to me since there were a lot of parts that seemed as though they would be expanded on later but were not, and the author has said that this was written as a standalone so there will not necessarily be more to come. I did read an early unfinished copy and it’s possible that this had something to do with that, but there were enough of these instances that I wouldn’t have expected there to still be this many loose ends in a galley. There are details that leave one wondering about what precisely happened, such as Min’s puzzlement over the hidden meaning in a letter and a sword with a scent that seems significant, and these are never explained. In these cases, I can understand a lack of explanation since these were clues for Min and knowing the full story behind them was not actually important to her overall journey in the end (even if I personally wanted more information about them!).

However, there was one instance like this I thought should have had some followup regardless. At one point, Min reflects on the fact that she has learned some conflicting information that doesn’t line up, but then this is dropped completely without any further questioning or resolution. Since she is so impulsive, perhaps it just didn’t matter to her anymore once the moment was past—she didn’t try to learn more about other curiosities she encountered along the way once they no longer mattered to her mission, after all—but I found it strange that Min didn’t so much as wonder about it again later. It was described as bothering her, and I find it difficult to believe the determined gumiho who went to such lengths to find her brother wouldn’t at the very least ask about something that troubled her.

Though Dragon Pearl didn’t entirely work for me, I did admire the author’s vision of the world and incorporation of folklore and thought it featured some intriguing aspects. I suspect this imaginative book will resonate more with younger readers and those who prefer plot-driven books over character-driven ones (and it has indeed gotten many rave reviews!).

My Rating: 5/10

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

Read an Excerpt from Dragon Pearl