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

This covers books from the last couple of weeks, including three books I bought with a birthday gift card. All of these purchased books appeared on my anticipated 2018 speculative fiction releases list.

Before discussing the latest new arrivals, here’s what was posted last week in case you missed it:

Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Rosewater (The Wormwood Trilogy #1) by Tade Thompson

Rosewater, the African Speculative Fiction Society’s first Nommo Award winner for Best Speculative Fiction Novel and a John W. Campbell Award finalist for Best Science Fiction Novel, will be re-released on September 18 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook). It will be followed by two more books in the series.


Tade Thompson’s Rosewater is the start of an award-winning, cutting edge trilogy set in Nigeria, by one of science fiction’s most engaging new voices.

Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless – people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored healing powers.

Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn’t care to again — but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future.

The Heart Forger by Rin Chupeco

The Heart Forger (The Bone Witch #2) by Rin Chupeco

The sequel to the young adult fantasy The Bone Witch was released earlier this year (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). Rin Chupeco’s website has excerpts from both The Bone Witch and The Heart Forger.

I loved Tea, especially the way the alternating timelines fleshed out her character, and have been looking forward to continuing both of her stories in The Heart Forger (my review of The Bone Witch). Rin Chupeco’s Women in SF&F Month 2017 essay on heroines and writing her own in The Bone Witch details much of why I found Tea to be such a compelling character.


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 Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

The Poppy War (#1 in a Trilogy) by R. F. Kuang

R. F. Kuang’s debut novel was just released earlier this month (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). I’ve been excited about The Poppy War since I first heard about it, and I also very much enjoyed the first chapter, available on Barnes & Noble’s Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog.

R. F. Kuang touched a little on the women in The Poppy War in her Women in SF&F Month 2018 essay “Be a Bitch, Eat the Peach” about her love for Azula with all her rage and ambition.


A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller

Madeline Miller’s latest novel became a #1 New York Times bestseller after its publication last month (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). Entertainment Weekly has an excerpt from Circe.


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.

Additional Book(s):

Before Mars
by Emma Newman
352pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.2/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.2/5

Emma Newman’s latest novel, Before Mars, is set in the same science fiction universe as two of her previously published books, Planetfall and Clarke Award finalist After Atlas. Despite being the third book in this setting, it does stand alone as a complete story, although I did find myself occasionally wondering if I might have felt more connected to it had I read the others first and been familiar with the major events that were referenced. After having finished it, I believe this lack of connection had more to do with the way it introduced some intriguing characterization and concepts but did not follow through with deeper exploration.

Before Mars begins with Anna, a geologist and artist whose billionaire boss sent her to paint unique landscapes of Mars, arriving on the planet after having spent six months alone traveling through space. During her long journey, the closest she came to human contact was being immersed in memories stored in her neural chip—which is rather risky since she’s been told she’s especially susceptible to immersion psychosis, a condition that makes it difficult to distinguish between past memories and present circumstances and can result in seeing things that are not truly there.

After Anna undergoes a successful medical evaluation and is shown to her room, she discovers a note warning her not to trust one of the other four residents of the Mars base. What she finds truly unnerving about this situation is that she knows she had to have written it herself since it’s on the same uncommon non-disposable paper she uses for her art, painted in her own style—but she cannot recall having created it.

This message is just the first in a series of strange occurrences that lead Anna to wonder if she can trust what she sees or if she could be experiencing the same dissonance with reality as her father—who traumatized her so deeply that she’s never been able to forgive him.

Before Mars is largely both a futuristic mystery and a character portrait, and both of these aspects are built upon suspense since the story of Anna’s past is gradually revealed. It starts with the big picture—such as her horror at the idea of becoming like her father—and fills in the details of her childhood and family, her relationship with her husband and daughter, her career as a geologist and hobby as an artist, and how she came to be on Mars. Despite being confident that I knew what had happened with the main mystery within the first couple of chapters, I was curious enough about the hows and whys of it and Anna’s history to keep reading.

One aspect of the novel that kept me turning the pages was the candidness of Anna’s first person viewpoint, particularly when it came to her struggles with motherhood—a role she never wanted in the first place—and postpartum depression. She carries a lot of guilt about not feeling like a good enough mother since she never felt that instant love that everyone always talks about being overwhelmed by the first time they see their child. Anna also never had a desire to make her daughter her whole world and left most of the childcare to her husband. Though there’s focus on her husband and their baby, Anna’s long felt she had to fake her way through life in order to pursue her career ambitions, pretending to be someone else and exhibiting the “normal” human emotions that others expect her to feel. Anna’s perspective is also open about the PTSD from her childhood experience and her dislike of therapy.

As much as I appreciated the honest look at Anna’s fears and some occasional poignant descriptions of her difficulties and art, her narrative didn’t entirely work for me mainly because it delved into her thoughts so thoroughly that not much room was left for subtlety. The majority of Anna’s characterization seems to follow the pattern of a flashback to her life on Earth coupled with a dump of all of her related thoughts, and though Anna’s viewpoint is not 100% reliable since she is capable of lying to herself or changing her mind later, it also often clearly spells out what we’re supposed to know about her. Anna doesn’t actually interact in real-time with those she has the closest relationships with since they’re all back on Earth, and though it fit thematically, I felt that showing all of these through her memories became stale after awhile—especially since it didn’t show her developing meaningful bonds on Mars or undergoing major character development herself. (That’s not to say that she didn’t develop any meaningful relationships on Mars but rather that the forging of such bonds was glossed over.)

As the type of reader who primarily enjoys reading about people over plot, the determining factors in whether or not a book works for me personally are usually characters and the exploration of society—and unfortunately, the latter also failed to keep me interested the further I got into the novel. Since the present timeline is set on an isolated base on Mars occupied by five people, the ways in which the world has changed for humanity as a whole are also glimpsed through flashbacks and infodumps. The main story is primarily focused on advanced technology that is rather standard in science fiction such as the AI that maintains operations on Mars, the printers that automatically create food and many other items, and the neural implants that are central to the story. Though I don’t mind inclusion of common elements, I do tend to prefer stories that examine ideas and societal effects. Before Mars does do this to an extent, but it seemed as though it just brought up typical issues such as security and privacy with increased digitization but only touched on them without going into depth.

That’s the crux of why I found Before Mars increasingly unsatisfying: it basically tried to stuff Anna’s life story plus the Martian mystery into about 340 pages. Though there are some interesting parts here, it’s constantly jumping around as it touches on many topics and themes, but in the end it seems to skim over many of them with a brief mention before racing toward the next thing. I found this frustrating because there were occasionally some beautifully written lines about art or science or humanity, but they were few and far between as it skipped from one scene to the next without breathing room—and I found these and Anna’s past far more compelling than the the Mars story, which seemed to bog down in the middle. It did pick up again toward the end, but at that point, I was still a little curious about the conclusion but mostly wanted to finish what I had started since it was a fairly short book.

If you’re a fan of futuristic mysteries looking for a diverting book, you may enjoy Before Mars more than I did. I have found that books in a similar vein don’t tend to work well for me even though they do for many others, and after reading samples from Planetfall and After Atlas, I concluded that this is probably a case of a well-loved series that is just not my cup of tea.

My Rating: 5/10

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

Read an Excerpt from Before Mars

Today I’m delighted to welcome Karen Sandler to the blog! She’s the author of the Tankborn trilogy, a young adult science fiction series comprised of Tankborn, Awakening, and Rebellion. Tankborn, which I reviewed during Sci-Fi Month 2013, is a futuristic page-turner with some mystery/suspense and a little romance—and Karen Sandler is here today to share about the process of adapting screenplays based on this book and its sequels and the Recombined film project!

Tankborn by Karen Sandler Awakening by Karen Sandler Rebellion by Karen Sandler

Movie to Books to Movie to TV

What starts as a movie script, morphs into a trilogy of books, segues briefly into a short story, rises again as a movie script, and aspires to be a TV series? The Tankborn Trilogy.

First came the movie script, Icer. I’ve been a science geek most of my life. I studied math, physics, and computer science in college and grew up reading and watching science fiction. During a UCLA Extension course on screenwriting I started my first feature length script, Icer, an SF story that revolved around genetic engineering.

After I finished Icer, I wrote other scripts and the occasional novel. But screenwriting is a tough business, so I decided to focus just on novels, and I published my first book in 1998. I wrote mainly romance novels, ten of them for Harlequin. After 16 books, I hit the wall with romance and decided to switch to young adult.

But what to write? I still loved sci-fi. And I had this great sci-fi story in Icer. What if I adapted it as a book for teens? I jumped into the project feet first, moving the Earth-based story from Icer to the planet Loka and changing my main characters from adults to teens. The result was Tankborn, which became a launch book for Lee and Low’s brand new Tu Books imprint.

Over the ensuing years, I completed the trilogy: Tankborn, Awakening, and Rebellion. The three books didn’t follow the original movie script exactly. A feature script is usually only 100-120 pages and the trilogy ended up comprising more than 1100 pages. I had to expand far beyond the story of the script. But each of the books contains bits and pieces of Icer’s story. Step 1 was complete: movie script book trilogy.

Then in September 2016, I had an opportunity to attend an event sponsored jointly by the Alliance of Women Directors and the Writers Guild of America. At the time, I had a number of polished feature scripts I wanted to pitch to the women directors I’d be meeting. Of course, one of those scripts was Icer.

With every intention of pitching Icer, I also brought along a copy of Tankborn. I had no feature film credits to my name, having only had a few short scripts produced. I thought showing the directors a published book might impress them.

It worked, although not necessarily the way I thought it would. Several of the directors I pitched were more interested in the three books of the Tankborn Trilogy than they were in Icer. They kept referring to the trilogy as “IP” (which I eventually figured out was “intellectual property”) and peppered me with questions about them. Three requested copies of the books.

One of those three was director Regina Ainsworth. She’d requested autographed physical copies (I’d sent the others ebooks), and a few months later she contacted me to let me know she wanted to chat with me about my work. We spoke in January 2017 by phone. Regina proposed a feature film (maybe a trilogy), but by then I’d had a real vision of the Tankborn Trilogy as a television series. I made my case, and Regina agreed.

So how was I going to adapt the big, complex plot of Tankborn to the visual medium of television? Especially when I admittedly have a love affair with internal dialogue and tight POV. Being in a character’s head, thinking their thoughts and seeing the world through their eyes, might work in a novel but it’s a non-starter for film or television. An actor has to be able to act out (make visual) everything a character does.

I could have cut all those internal dialogue/tight POV scenes. But sometimes there’s important information in the character’s head that the audience needs to know.

Having written both scripts and books, the challenge was an intriguing one. It was reminiscent of when I was a software engineer and had to modify and debug computer code. Maybe more like translating a program from one computer language to another.

To demonstrate how I translated some of the internal dialogue into a visual scene, I’m including a couple of examples from the novel & pilot below. But first, here’s a thumbnail sketch of Tankborn to give you some story context:

Genetically Engineered Non-humans (GENs) are created in a gen-tank, programmed with a particular ability or skill called a sket, and enslaved from birth. As part of GENs’ gestation in the tank, gene-splicers install circuitry in their bodies and brains. This includes an interface on their cheek that allows “trueborns” to upload or download new programming, or to erase GEN identities entirely during a reset.

On to the examples. Here’s some text from Page 1 of the first book, Tankborn.

Excerpt from Tankborn by Karen Sandler

An actor could show Kayla hunched on the river bank with a disagreeable look on her face showing that she’s unhappy to be there. I could have written some dialogue between Kayla and her nurture-brother Jal to reveal what Kayla’s plans had been for the day. But there was more subtext that needed to be included besides just Kayla’s grumpiness. I really needed to rethink this scene to make it work for a visual medium.

So I created a new scene that hadn’t been in the book. I placed Kayla and her nurture-mother, Tala, at a worship service. Kayla’s and Tala’s argument about why Kayla has to go to the river with Jal is woven in with the worship prayers.

Tankborn TV Series Pilot Excerpt

This bit of dialogue serves three purposes. 1) Introduces the GEN faith which is based on servitude. 2) Sets up Kayla having to go to the river with Jal. 3) Teases Kayla’s “sket,” the special ability that the gene-splicers programmed into her while she was in the tank. Her sket will be revealed in the river scene.

In another new scene that follows the worship service, I include the subtext of Tala’s real reason for sending Kayla to the river to accompany Jal.

Tankborn TV Series Pilot Excerpt

Once I finished the pilot and outlined the entire first season of the Tankborn series, I felt I was close to getting the pieces of a “series bible” together. Then Regina introduced a new wrinkle: we needed a short film, set in Tankborn’s world, to be part of our pitch. We needed a “visual” to sell our concept.

I proposed we base the short film on an “outtake” scene from Tankborn that didn’t make it into the final version of the book. Regina loved the idea, and I went to work on the script. While the pilot was 50 pages, the short film had to be only 5-7 pages. Writing short is tough, but after some back and forth, we locked down the script. We nailed down a title too: Recombined. Step 2 was complete: book trilogy (a fragment of it anyway) movie script.

We’re now on to the next phase of our short film, crowdfunding. That’s where we’ve asked our friends, and friends of friends, and people who don’t even know us if they can pitch in a little bit to help us make Recombined. Click the picture below to check out our campaign.

Recombined Banner

Regina and I are very passionate about this project (as is Neobe Velis, our producer). We’re especially excited that Recombined will be a inclusive production, with a diverse cast and crew. With a particular commitment to gender parity in front of and behind the camera.

But we can’t get it done without help from others. And by “help,” I mean donations. If that’s something that inspires you, check out our campaign page. Any amount from $1 on up will be greatly appreciated. Even better, donations are tax deductible. And every one will help us complete Step 3: Movie script TV series.

Want to share about the campaign on Facebook or Twitter? Also very much appreciated. Here’s a sample post:

I found this fantastic campaign to support – written, directed & produced by women. Join me in amplifying an awesome story! Donate here: #diversity  #inclusion #femalepower #scifimovie

And going back to the beginning of this blog post, you might remember I mentioned that Tankborn segued briefly into a short story. That story is “Sacrifice,” set in Tankborn’s world and featuring new characters. “Sacrifice” is for sale on Amazon, but if you donate any amount to the Recombined campaign from $1 on up, forward me the receipt at karen at karensandler dot net and I will send you a free copy of “Sacrifice” as a thank you.

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

Since last month was Women in SF&F Month, it’s been awhile since one of these posts so there’s a lot of catching up to do! This post covers the last month instead of the last week with the books I’m most intrigued by featured with covers and descriptions, as usual—except for the books that I’m most excited about, which were already featured on my anticipated 2018 releases list (but if you are curious about which ones those are, they are at the end with a link to the full list!).

Last week, I also posted a review of The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso, which came out toward the end of last month. I absolutely LOVED this book, and it’s my favorite 2018 release so far!

On to the latest ARCs and review copies, plus a couple of birthday books!

Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope

Song of Blood and Stone (Earthsinger Chronicles #1) by L. Penelope

L. Penelope’s debut novel, Song of Blood and Stone, won the Black Caucus of the American Library Association’s Self-Publishing EBook Award for Fiction in 2016. On May 1, this romantic fantasy novel became available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats through St. Martin’s Press, who will also be publishing further installments in the Earthsinger Chronicles series.


A treacherous, thrilling, epic fantasy about an outcast drawn into a war between two powerful rulers. 

Orphaned and alone, Jasminda lives in a land where cold whispers of invasion and war linger on the wind. Jasminda herself is an outcast in her homeland of Elsira, where her gift of Earthsong is feared. When ruthless soldiers seek refuge in her isolated cabin, they bring with them a captive–an injured spy who threatens to steal her heart.

Jack’s mission behind enemy lines to prove that the Mantle between Elsira and Lagamiri is about to fall nearly cost him his life, but he is saved by the healing Song of a mysterious young woman. Now he must do whatever it takes to save Elsira and it’s people from the True Father and he needs Jasminda’s Earthsong to do it. They escape their ruthless captors and together they embark on a perilous journey to save Elsira and to uncover the secrets of The Queen Who Sleeps.

Thrust into a hostile society, Jasminda and Jack must rely on one another even as secrets jeopardize their bond. As an ancient evil gains power, Jasminda races to unlock a mystery that promises salvation.

The fates of two nations hang in the balance as Jasminda and Jack must choose between love and duty to fulfill their destinies and end the war.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Space Opera was just released last month (hardcover, ebook, audiobook), and I’ve been hearing a lot of great things about it for the last month or so! has an excerpt from the beginning of Space Opera.


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy meets the joy and glamour of Eurovision in bestselling author Catherynne M. Valente’s science fiction spectacle, where sentient races compete for glory in a galactic musical contest…and the stakes are as high as the fate of planet Earth.

A century ago, the Sentience Wars tore the galaxy apart and nearly ended the entire concept of intelligent space-faring life. In the aftermath, a curious tradition was invented—something to cheer up everyone who was left and bring the shattered worlds together in the spirit of peace, unity, and understanding.

Once every cycle, the great galactic civilizations gather for the Metagalactic Grand Prix—part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past. Species far and wide compete in feats of song, dance and/or whatever facsimile of these can be performed by various creatures who may or may not possess, in the traditional sense, feet, mouths, larynxes, or faces. And if a new species should wish to be counted among the high and the mighty, if a new planet has produced some savage group of animals, machines, or algae that claim to be, against all odds, sentient? Well, then they will have to compete. And if they fail? Sudden extermination for their entire species.

This year, though, humankind has discovered the enormous universe. And while they expected to discover a grand drama of diplomacy, gunships, wormholes, and stoic councils of aliens, they have instead found glitter, lipstick, and electric guitars. Mankind will not get to fight for its destiny—they must sing.

Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes have been chosen to represent their planet on the greatest stage in the galaxy. And the fate of Earth lies in their ability to rock.

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Foundryside (Founders #1) by Robert Jackson Bennett

Foundryside is scheduled for release on August 21 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). And it’s about a thief! (I love thieves.)

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from Foundryside.


In a city that runs on industrialized magic, a secret war will be fought to overwrite reality itself–the first in a dazzling new fantasy 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.

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1) by Rachel Caine

I’ve heard such great things about this series, and I love its premise so I was thrilled to get this book for my birthday!

There are currently three books in this series with a fourth coming out in July, and excerpts from each are available on the publisher’s website:

  1. Ink and Bone
  2. Paper and Fire
  3. Ash and Quill
  4. Smoke and Iron

In an exhilarating new series, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine rewrites history, creating a dangerous world where the Great Library of Alexandria has survived the test of time.…

Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.

When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn.…

The Falconer by Elizabeth May

The Falconer (The Falconer #1) by Elizabeth May

This is another series I’ve been wanting to read for awhile after hearing a lot of good things about it, and this book was also a birthday present.

The entire trilogy is as follows with links to Goodreads:

  1. The Falconer
  2. The Vanishing Throne
  3. The Fallen Kingdom

Debutante by day. Murderess by night. Edinburgh’s only hope.

Edinburgh, 1844. Beautiful Aileana Kameron only looks the part of an aristocratic young lady. In fact, she’s spent the year since her mother died developing her ability to sense the presence of Sithichean, a faery race bent on slaughtering humans. She has a secret mission: to destroy the faery who murdered her mother. But when she learns she’s a Falconer, the last in a line of female warriors and the sole hope of preventing a powerful faery population from massacring all of humanity, her quest for revenge gets a whole lot more complicated. The first volume of a trilogy from an exciting new voice in young adult fantasy, this electrifying thriller blends romance and action with steampunk technology and Scottish lore in a deliciously addictive read.

Age of War by Michael J. Sullivan

Age of War (Legends of the First Empire #3) by Michael J. Sullivan

Age of War, the third book in Legends of the First Empire, will be released on July 3 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

Excerpts from the first two books in the series can be found on the publisher’s website:

  1. Age of Myth
  2. Age of Swords

The epic battle between humankind and their godlike rulers finally ignites in the masterful follow-up to Age of Myth and Age of Swords.

The alliance of humans and renegade Fhrey is fragile—and about to be tested as never before. Persephone keeps the human clans from turning on one another through her iron will and a compassionate heart. The arrogant Fhrey are barely held in check by their leader, Nyphron, who seeks to advance his own nefarious agenda through a loveless marriage that will result in the betrayal of the person Persephone loves most: Raithe, the God Killer.

As the Fhrey overlords marshal their army and sorcerers to crush the rebellion, old loyalties will be challenged while fresh conspiracies will threaten to undo all that Persephone has accomplished. In the darkest hour, when hope is all but lost, new heroes will rise . . . but at what terrible cost?

Books Covered on My Anticipated 2018 Release List:

Additional Books:

The Defiant Heir
by Melissa Caruso
560pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: --/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.43/5

The Tethered Mage, Melissa Caruso’s Venetian-inspired fantasy debut novel, was one of my favorite books read during 2017. The worldbuilding is thoughtfully done, and it also features wonderful characters and relationships, mystery and political intrigue, and a little romantic development. It’s so compulsively readable that I ended up staying up until 2:00 one morning finishing it, and I could hardly wait to continue the story in The Defiant Heir—and now that I’ve also read the sequel, I can hardly wait for the third book in the Swords and Fire trilogy. The Defiant Heir has everything I loved about the first book and more, and it’s even better than The Tethered Mage!

Now that the situation in Ardence has been resolved, the threat of the Raverran Empire ordering Amalia to unleash Zaira’s power as her Falconer, and in turn ordering her Falcon to use her abilities to burn down the city, has ended. However, war with a neighboring country appears likely, and Zaira’s rare gift as a fire mage will be one of the Empire’s greatest assets if they are forced to fight the mighty Witch Lords of Vaskandar.

As the possibility of devastating conflict looms on the horizon, Falconers are being murdered and their Falcons are missing, presumed dead—and all signs point toward one of the seventeen Witch Lords of Vaskandar after one of her assassins attacks a Falcon during a dinner party.

With the fate of her country and its people at stake, Amalia decides that the potential benefits outweigh the risks when she has the chance to form an alliance with another Witch Lord, Kathe the Crow Lord, who may even be able to procure her entry to a gathering of Witch Lords so she can plead her case for peace. Yet the terms of such a partnership remain vague and everything is a game to Kathe—and Amalia’s increasingly uncertain just how dangerous playing Kathe’s games may be…

The Tethered Mage is an excellent debut novel that set a high bar for its followup, but The Defiant Heir takes the series to the next level in every way. While the first book introduced the Raverran Empire and its system for weaponizing mages—and also showed how this could not only work but even be a desirable way of life for many mage-marked given the alternatives—the next book expands the world beyond the borders of Amalia’s homeland, showing a land that’s ruled by mages. This and the focus on Amalia’s father’s side of the family leads to a deeper understanding of the world and its history, and there are also higher stakes deeply felt because of the amount of emotional investment in the characters and the bond between Amalia and Zaira. Plus there’s a lot that’s just plain fun given their camaraderie and amusing dialogue, the various quirks of the Witch Lords, and my favorite new addition of all: Kathe, whose very presence automatically makes everything far more interesting.

There’s a lot I want to gush about cover in this review, but first, I want to emphasize that one of its main strengths is the details: what may seem like little embellishments on their own add up to make a big difference. Though the bones of its main plot and subplots are pretty common in fantasy, it’s fresh and riveting because of touches like humorous conversations and observations, the various personalities, the workings of magic, and even unconventional fashions. There’s much that’s familiar in this novel, but Melissa Caruso made it stand apart not only through these touches but also through the addition of a couple of components that are not terribly common in the genre—and more importantly, by handling them with obvious consideration.

One of the ways she does this is by allowing the characters to be fairly free to be themselves due to gender equality. They may face issues due to class or possessing the mage mark like anyone else, but women (and men) are politicians, warriors, rulers, soldiers, assassins, and mages. When Amalia remembers her cousin being told she couldn’t pretend to be in a certain role because she was a princess, it had nothing to do with her being a girl and everything to do with her being royalty. Men and women alike fear Amalia’s mother, and men do not underestimate her or feel shame for fearing a woman. Zaira is outspoken and prickly, makes crude comments, and flirts with both men and women—and no one questions a woman behaving in such a manner. Marcello and Roland can be reflective and sensitive at times—and no one questions a man behaving in such a manner. There are various degrees of ruthless women and ruthless men, and there are various degrees of women and men who strive to be virtuous. Individuals have a range of personalities, and though they are of course shaped by their experiences, they are not at all boxed in by society’s gendered expectations and it’s incredibly refreshing.

Another somewhat uncommon aspect that I enjoyed is the exploration of systems of government that are not monarchies. The last book showed more of the workings of the Raverran Empire with its doge and Council of Nine (which includes Amalia’s mother and will eventually include Amalia as her heir), and this one is largely focused on Vaskandar. This country is headed by seventeen Witch Lords, each of whom has their own domain and life-based magic with an affinity for a specific plant or animal, such as bears, crows, foxes, laurels, eagles, or spiders, to name a few. These Witch Lords are not a unified group but individuals who follow the rule of the mage-marked and have the same methods for maintaining their power and ties to their land. They may forge alliances with each other, work against each other, or ignore what the others are doing, and they’re various degrees of vicious—though even the more vicious can be motivated by understandable human desires. (But not the Most Vicious. The Most Vicious of them all is just plain evil.)

Learning more about Vaskandar and the secrets of its Witch Lords’ unique power was one of the highlights of The Defiant Heir, and I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of Witch Lords after having only met one of their heirs, the unusually cruel Prince Ruven, in the previous novel. Some of them only briefly appear, but each of them seem like fascinating characters no matter how brief their appearance—and Kathe, the one who appears the most, is one of the major reasons this novel is so engaging. Kathe is a mystery. He’s definitely not fond of torture like Ruven and he certainly can be helpful, but the only straightforward statements he makes are that he has his own ends and can’t be trusted. Though he doesn’t seem like the type to outright lie, he does seem like he may be the type to omit key details, but he’s so charismatic that Amalia and I both couldn’t help but like him all while knowing he might betray Amalia at any time.

Amalia has changed a lot since the beginning of the previous book when she was more interested in books than politics (though she does still like books, of course!). After her recent success at the end of the first novel, she’s more actively stepping into her role as her mother’s heir and keenly experiencing the struggles that come with it: the weight of expectations, the knowledge that she can’t escape making choices that affect lives like her mother does, the difficulty of balancing loyalty to country with compassion, and the sorrow of choosing duty over love. Though there are certainly some heavier parts as Amalia faces some difficult decisions toward the end, there’s also a lot of light in the dialogue between characters and I was especially pleased to see how Amalia and Zaira’s friendship has progressed. Even if they have occasional misunderstandings or disagreements, they obviously trust each other more and their banter and teasing is delightful.

As much as I appreciate that Amalia is a scholarly heroine embracing a legacy based on intelligence and scheming, the biggest issue I had with The Defiant Heir is that I don’t believe Amalia measures up to the reputation she’s beginning to build as a savvy political player. I don’t want to sell her short because she is generally smart even if her inexperience shows at times (such as when verbally sparring with Kathe), and she does have some good ideas and advice. However, there are certainly times when she stumbles into the answer she needs instead of discovering it on her own or receives more credit for a result than she deserves.

That said, I absolutely LOVED The Defiant Heir. It’s extraordinarily fun with wonderful characters and intriguing mysteries that kept me eagerly anticipating what would happen next. While I sped through the first book in this series, I read this one more slowly, savoring every delicious conversation and speculating about where it may be heading—and I can hardly contain my excitement for the third installment in the Swords and Fire trilogy.

My Rating: 9/10

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

Read an Excerpt from The Defiant Heir

Read Melissa Caruso’s Guest Post “Fighting in Ballgowns”

Reviews of Previous Books in the Swords and Fire trilogy:

  1. The Tethered Mage

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Thank you very much to last week’s guests for their essays! Here are links to the final pieces in this year’s series in case you missed either of them:

Also, thank you again to all of this month’s guests for your wonderful essays! To those who may be coming in at the end of this month’s series, you can find all of the Women in SF&F Month 2018 guest posts here, or you can find the ones that came before last week individually below:

* The Reader-Recommended SFF Books by Women Project
In 2013, Renay started the recommendation list project linked on the sidebar—and it’s been a part of Women in SF&F Month every year since! In her guest post earlier this month, she revealed the latest list of recommended books by women including submissions from 2017, and she also issued an invitation to add up to 10 science fiction and/or fantasy books by women that you read and loved in the last year so the list continues to grow this year!

Though the month of guest posts has ended, there is still time to add books to the list using the link above. It will remain open for at least another couple of weeks to allow those just finding out about it time to enter some books.

Thanks for reading!