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 (often these 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.

Sorry it’s been quiet here for so long. I’ve been extremely busy lately between work projects and many things breaking and needing to be replaced all around the same time (including my car, my laptop, and my iPhone so it’s been quite an irritating few weeks!).

I’ve been attempting to work on a review of Sam Hawke’s City of Lies (which I really, really liked), but I’ve just had too much going on to make much progress. I’m hoping to have more time to work on it soon!

Since it’s been a little while since I wrote one of these posts and about 10 (!) books showed up in the mail last week, I just picked 5 books that look especially compelling to highlight today and linked to the books that I’ve already covered in one of these posts. However, there are more recent books I want to feature so I’ll pick 5 more books next time (and so on, until I’ve caught up on all the books I want to highlight).

Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto

Crown of Feathers (Crown of Feathers #1) by Nicki Pau Preto

This young adult fantasy debut novel will be released on February 12, 2019 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

This is one of five books that arrived last week in a #ShelfQueens package from Simon & Schuster focused on “tales of literary ladies who rule,” and my eye was immediately drawn to this book because of the gorgeous cover. The colors are beautiful, plus animals on covers tend to pique my interest—especially if they are birds, cats, or horses!

Then I read the description and was even more intrigued. Crown of Feathers sounds right up my alley, and I’m now pretty excited about reading it!

 

An Ember in the Ashes meets Three Dark Crowns in this lush debut fantasy novel about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to join a secret group of warriors that ride phoenixes into battle.

I had a sister, once…

In a world ruled by fierce warrior queens, a grand empire was built upon the backs of Phoenix Riders—legendary heroes who soared through the sky on wings of fire—until a war between two sisters ripped it all apart.

I promised her the throne would not come between us.

Sixteen years later, Veronyka is a war orphan who dreams of becoming a Phoenix Rider from the stories of old. After a shocking betrayal from her controlling sister, Veronyka strikes out alone to find the Riders—even if that means disguising herself as a boy to join their ranks.

But it is a fact of life that one must kill or be killed. Rule or be ruled.

Just as Veronyka finally feels like she belongs, her sister turns up and reveals a tangled web of lies between them that will change everything. And meanwhile, the new empire has learned of the Riders’ return and intends to destroy them once and for all.

Sometimes the title of queen is given. Sometimes it must be taken.

Crown of Feathers is an epic fantasy about love’s incredible power to save—or to destroy. Interspersed throughout is the story of Avalkyra Ashfire, the last Rider queen, who would rather see her empire burn than fall into her sister’s hands.

Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell

Sky Without Stars (System Divine #1) by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell

This young adult science fiction novel, a reimagining of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, will be released on March 26, 2019 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

Sky Without Stars is another book from the #ShelfQueens package that I thought sounded particularly intriguing.

 

In the tradition of The Lunar Chronicles, this sweeping reimagining of Les Misérables tells the story of three teens from very different backgrounds who are thrown together amidst the looming threat of revolution on the French planet-colony of Laterre.

A thief.
An officer.
A guardian. 

Three strangers, one shared destiny…

When the Last Days came, the planet of Laterre promised hope. A new life for a wealthy French family and their descendants. But five hundred years later, it’s now a place where an extravagant elite class reigns supreme; where the clouds hide the stars and the poor starve in the streets; where a rebel group, long thought dead, is resurfacing.

Whispers of revolution have begun—a revolution that hinges on three unlikely heroes…

Chatine is a street-savvy thief who will do anything to escape the brutal Regime, including spy on Marcellus, the grandson of the most powerful man on the planet.

Marcellus is an officer—and the son of a renowned traitor. In training to take command of the military, Marcellus begins to doubt the government he’s vowed to serve when his father dies and leaves behind a cryptic message that only one person can read: a girl named Alouette.

Alouette is living in an underground refuge, where she guards and protects the last surviving library on the planet. But a shocking murder will bring Alouette to the surface for the first time in twelve years…and plunge Laterre into chaos.

All three have a role to play in a dangerous game of revolution—and together they will shape the future of a planet.

Power, romance, and destiny collide in this sweeping reimagining of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, Les Misérables.

The Cold Is in Her Bones by Peternelle van Arsdale

The Cold Is in Her Bones by Peternelle van Arsdale

This young adult dark fairy tale partially based on the story of Medusa is scheduled for release on January 22, 2019 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

The Cold Is in Her Bones is another #ShelfQueens title that caught my eye since I enjoy dark fairy tales and reimagined myths.

 

One girl must uncover secrets of the past to save her friend from a terrible curse in this dark and mesmerizing story of love, revenge, and redemption inspired by the myth of Medusa.

Milla knows two things to be true: Demons are real, and fear will keep her safe.

Milla’s whole world is her family’s farm. She is never allowed to travel to the village and her only friend is her beloved older brother, Niklas. When a bright-eyed girl named Iris comes to stay, Milla hopes her loneliness might finally be coming to an end. But Iris has a secret she’s forbidden to share: The village is cursed by a demon who possesses girls at random, and the townspeople live in terror of who it will come for next.

Now, it seems, the demon has come for Iris. When Iris is captured and imprisoned with other possessed girls, Milla leaves home to rescue her and break the curse forever. Her only company on the journey is a terrible new secret of her own: Milla is changing, too, and may soon be a demon herself.

Suspenseful and vividly imagined, The Cold Is in Her Bones is a novel about the dark, reverberating power of pain, the yearning to be seen and understood, and the fragile optimism of love.

Roar of Sky by Beth Cato

Roar of Sky (Breath of Earth #3) by Beth Cato

This final volume in the Blood of Earth trilogy was released last week (trade paperback, ebook).

The publisher’s website has a sample from Roar of Sky, plus samples from the first two books in this historical fantasy series:

  1. Breath of Earth
  2. Call of Fire
 

In this stunning conclusion to the acclaimed Blood of Earth trilogy—a thrilling alternate history laced with earth magic, fantastic creatures, and steampunk elements—geomancer Ingrid must find a way to use her extraordinary abilities to save her world from the woman hell-bent on destroying it.

Thanks to her geomantic magic, Ingrid has successfully eluded Ambassador Blum, the power-hungry kitsune who seeks to achieve world domination for the Unified Pacific. But using her abilities has taken its toll: Ingrid’s body has been left severely weakened, and she must remain on the run with her friends Cy and Fenris.

Hoping to learn more about her magical roots and the strength her bloodline carries, Ingrid makes her way across the Pacific to Hawaii, home to the ancient volcano goddess Madam Pele. What she discovers in this paradise is not at all what she expects—and perhaps exactly what she needs.

But Ambassador Blum comes from the same world of old magic and mythic power. And if Ingrid cannot defeat her once and for all, she knows Blum will use that power to take the lives of everyone she holds dear before escalating a war that will rip the world to pieces.

Gates of Stone by Angus Macallan

Gates of Stone (Lord of the Islands #1) by Angus Macallan

This epic fantasy novel will be released on February 19 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook).

Like Crown of Feathers, Gates of Stone largely caught my eye at first because of the cover. The description also sounds interesting, but I’m really hoping that the book actually features at least one tiger!

 

In a world of blood and magic, a powerful epic fantasy begins…

AN EMPEROR’S DAUGHTER WHO WILL NOT BE DENIED
Just before her sixteenth birthday, Princess Katerina is refused her rightful place as heir to the Empire of the Ice-Bear—solely because of her sex. Determined to regain her inheritance, she murders the foreign lord she’s been ordered to marry and embarks on a perilous voyage to the lush, tropical islands of the Laut Besar in search of the vast wealth and power she needs to claim the Empire for herself.

A PRINCE FORCED TO TAKE A STAND
On a small island kingdom, Prince Arjun’s idyllic life is shattered when a malignant sorcerer invades, slaughters his people and steals the sacred sword of Jun’s ancestors. With his royal father dead and his palace in ruins, Jun reluctantly tracks the sorcerer and the magical blade far across the pirate-infested waters of the Laut Besar.

A SORCERER SEEKING TO DESTROY THE WORLD
Long ago the powerful relics known as the Seven Keys were used to safely lock away the terrifying evils of the Seven Hells. With Jun’s ancient sword in his grasp, the sorcerer Mangku has claimed the first Key, and begun his mission to unleash catastrophe upon the land.

As the destinies of these three entwine in the lawless islands of the Laut Besar, the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. For if the sorcerer cannot be stopped, the world itself will be unmade…

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 (often these 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.

This covers two weeks since I was away for a few days and traveling home all day last Sunday, and there are some rather intriguing books that have shown up in the mail lately to cover today! I also went on a book shopping adventure during my trip and, of course, I couldn’t resist buying a few books I saw…

How Long 'til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin

How Long ’til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin

This collection of short stories by N. K. Jemisin will be released on November 27 (hardcover, ebook).

N. K. Jemisin won the Hugo Award for Best Novel three years in a row for each book in her Broken Earth trilogy, and her story “The City Born Great” was nominated for a Hugo Award (and is included in this book!). She’s also one of my favorite authors so I was pretty excited when this one showed up!

 

Three-time Hugo Award winner N. K. Jemisin’s first collection of short fiction challenges and enchants with breathtaking stories of destruction, rebirth, and redemption.

N. K. Jemisin is one of the most powerful and acclaimed speculative fiction authors of our time. In the first collection of her evocative short fiction, Jemisin equally challenges and delights readers with thought-provoking narratives of destruction, rebirth, and redemption.

Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow South must save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

This middle grade space opera will be released on January 15, 2019 (hardcover, ebook).

I love the sound of this with its mix of science fiction and fantasy based on Korean mythology, plus I’ve wanted to read more by Yoon Ha Lee after enjoying “The Coin of Heart’s Desire” in the anthology Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales.

 

Rick Riordan Presents Yoon Ha Lee’s space opera about thirteen-year-old Min, who comes from a long line of fox spirits. But you’d never know it by looking at her.

To keep the family safe, Min’s mother insists that none of them use any fox-magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times. Min feels hemmed in by the household rules and resents the endless chores, the cousins who crowd her, and the aunties who judge her. She would like nothing more than to escape Jinju, her neglected, dust-ridden, and impoverished planet. She’s counting the days until she can follow her older brother, Jun, into the Space Forces and see more of the Thousand Worlds.

When word arrives that Jun is suspected of leaving his post to go in search of the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is wrong. Jun would never desert his battle cruiser, even for a mystical object rumored to have tremendous power. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name.

Min’s quest will have her meeting gamblers, pirates, and vengeful ghosts. It will involve deception, lies, and sabotage. She will be forced to use more fox-magic than ever before, and to rely on all of her cleverness and bravery. The outcome may not be what she had hoped, but it has the potential to exceed her wildest dreams.

This sci-fi adventure with the underpinnings of Korean mythology will transport you to a world far beyond your imagination.

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Mirage (Mirage #1) by Somaiya Daud

This young adult science fiction novel was released last month (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). Entertainment Weekly has an excerpt from Mirage.

This was on my list of anticipated books of 2018 so I had to buy it when I found it on display in a store.

 

In a world dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated home.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty―and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection…because one wrong move could lead to her death.

Banewreaker by Jacqueline Carey

Banewreaker (The Sundering #1) by Jacqueline Carey

One of Jacqueline Carey’s earlier fantasy novels, Banewreaker is currently available in ebook and audiobook but is more difficult to find in print. I love Jacqueline Carey’s writing and am particularly fond of all her epic fantasy books I’ve read (especially her newest, Starless!) so I bought this when I came across it in a used bookstore.

Jacqueline Carey’s website has a sample from Banewreaker. Godslayer is the second half of The Sundering duology.

 

Following the triumphant success of her Kushiel series (Kushiel’s DartKushiel’s ChosenKushiel’s Avatar), Jacqueline Carey now turns her hand to another startling fable, an epic tale of gods waging war in their bid to control an entire universe and the mortals they use as chess pieces in a most deadly game.

Once, the Seven Shapers dwelled in accord. First-born among them was Haomane, Lord-of-Thought and with his brother and sister gods, the Seven drew upon of the power of the Souma, claimed a race of beings for their own and began Shaping the world to their will.

But Haomane saw the ways of this new world and was displeased. For in his younger brother Satoris, once called the Sower, Haomane thought too prideful and in his gift, the quickening of the flesh too freely to the races…and to that of Man in particular. Haomane asked Satoris to withdraw his Gift from Men but he refused. And so began the Shapers’ War.

Eons have passed. The war that ensued Sundered the very world. Haomane and his siblings lay to one end of a vast ocean unable to touch their creations, Satoris and the races of the world on the other. Satoris has been broken and left adrift among the peoples of the world and is reviled, with most of the races believing that it was he alone who caused the rift and depriving them of the balm of the Seven. He sits in Darkhaven, controlling his own dominion–seeking not victory but neither vengeance.

But still Haomane is not content. Through Haomane’s whispers in the minds and hearts of the races of the world come a prophecy that if Satoris were defeated, the world could be made whole and all would bask in the light of the Souma again. And the few who stay by Satoris are viewed as the ultimate evil. And so the races come together to defeat Satoris, a being who helped engender them all but who is caught in his elder brother’s warp.

Strong storytelling with evocative, compelling, and unforgettable characters, Banewrecker ultimately asks the question:

If all that is considered good considers you evil, are you?

Unexpected Magic: Collected Stories by Diana Wynne Jones

Unexpected Magic: Collected Stories by Diana Wynne Jones

This collection of short stories and one novella by Diana Wynne Jones was another used bookstore purchase. I couldn’t resist getting it when I found a hardcover copy in decent condition, but it is currently available in mass market paperback and ebook.

 

Master storyteller Diana Wynne Jones presents ariveting collection of unpredictable tales, including:

  • A cat tells how the kindhearted wizard she owns is suddenly called upon to defeat a horrific Beast.
  • When Anne has mumps, her drawings come to life, and she must protect her home from them.
  • Four children become involved in the intrigue surrounding an innocent prince, an evil count, and a brave outlaw.

These fifteen stories and one novella will enchant, startle, and surprise!

Search Image by Julie E. Czerneda

Search Image (Web Shifter’s Library #1) by Julie E. Czerneda

Julie E. Czerneda’s newest science fiction novel will be released on October 2 (hardcover, ebook). Search Image is the first book in a new series about Esen from the Web Shifter trilogy, which begins with Beholder’s Eye.

 

The first book in the Web Shifter’s Library series returns to the adventures of Esen, a shapeshifting alien and member of an ancient yet endangered race, who must navigate the perils of a hostile universe.

Esen’s back! And the dear little blob is in trouble, again.

Things began so well. She and her Human friend Paul Ragem are ready to celebrate the first anniversary of their greatest accomplishment, the All Species’ Library of Linguistics and Culture, by welcoming his family back. He hopes. Having mourned his supposed death years ago, understandably, feelings are bent.

Instead, they’ve unexpected guests, starting with an old acquaintance. Paul’s father has gone missing under dire circumstances.

Before he can convince Esen to help him search, a friend shows up to use the Library. A crisis on Dokeci Na is about to explode into violence. To stop it, Evan Gooseberry needs answers. Unfortunately, the artifact he brought in trade holds its own distracting secret. A touch of very familiar blue. Web-flesh.

The race is on. Paul, to find his father. Esen, to search for a mysterious legacy while helping Evan avert an extinction. What none of them realize is the price of success will be the most terrible choice of all.

Additional Book(s):

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 (often these 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.

Before covering the latest books, here’s what happened last week in case you missed it:

  • Review of Iron and Magic (Iron Covenant #1) by Ilona Andrews — After hearing that it was best to read the first book in this spin-off from Kate Daniels before reading the final book, I purchased a copy to read first. I did not like it.
  • Review of Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews and a Reflection on the Kate Daniels Series — This is a review of the final Kate Daniels book beginning with some context about the series as a whole, focusing on why I LOVE the earlier books and why the later books didn’t work for me nearly as well. Magic Triumphs was fun enough to read once (though not nearly as great as earlier books), but I thought it was horrible as a finale to this ten-book series. My experience with Magic Binds (Kate Daniels #9), Iron and Magic, and the rushed wrap-up in this novel have led me to conclude I’m done reading any books related to this series— even though it was one of my favorites until around book seven. (I probably would have stopped reading after book nine if it had not been the penultimate installment.)

Now, on to the latest book arrivals!

The Antidote by Shelley Sackier

The Antidote by Shelley Sackier

This young adult romantic fantasy—with a rather lovely cover!—will be released on February 5, 2019 (hardcover, ebook).

 

From the author of The Freemason’s Daughter comes a lush romantic fantasy perfect for fans of Everless!

In the world of healers, there is no room for magic.

Fee knows this, just as certainly as she knows that her magic must be kept secret.

But the crown prince Xavi, Fee’s best friend and only source of comfort, is sick. So sick, that Fee can barely contain the magic lying dormant inside her. She could use it, just a little, to heal him. But magic comes at a deadly cost—and attracts those who would seek to snuff it out forever.

A wisp of a spell later, Fee finds herself caught in a whirl of secret motivations and dark pasts, where no one is who—or what—they appear to be. And saving her best friend means delving deeper into the tempting and treacherous world whose call she’s long resisted—uncovering a secret that will change everything.

Laini Taylor meets Sara Holland in this lavish fantasy from lauded historical romance author Shelley Sackier!

The Spectral City by Leanna Renee Hieber

The Spectral City (The Spectral City #1) by Leanna Renee Hieber

This gaslamp fantasy will be released on November 27 (ebook).

Leanna Renee Hieber has written a couple of guest posts here discussing Gothic fantasy that offer some insight into her type of story:

Penny Dreadful‘s Betrayal and the Complexity of Feminism in the Gothic Tradition

The Gothic as a Canary in Fear’s Coal Mine (from Women in SF&F Month 2017)

 

Solving crime isn’t only for the living.

In turn-of-the century New York City, the police have an off-the-books spiritual go-to when it comes to solving puzzling corporeal crimes . . .

Her name is Eve Whitby, gifted medium and spearhead of The Ghost Precinct. When most women are traveling in a gilded society that promises only well-appointed marriage, the confident nineteen-year-old Eve navigates a social circle that carries a different kind of chill. Working with the diligent but skeptical Lieutenant Horowitz, as well as a group of fellow psychics and wayward ghosts, Eve holds her own against detractors and threats to solve New York’s most disturbing crimes as only a medium of her ability can.

But as accustomed as Eve is to ghastly crimes and all matters of the uncanny, even she is unsettled by her department’s latest mystery. Her ghostly conduits are starting to disappear one by one as though snatched away by some evil force determined to upset the balance between two realms, and most important—destroy the Ghost Precinct forever. Now Eve must brave the darkness to find the vanished souls. She has no choice. It’s her job to make sure no one is ever left for dead.

Additional Books:

Magic Triumphs is the tenth and final book in Ilona Andrews’ New York Times bestselling Kate Daniels series, though it won’t be the last book set in this world since there are two more Iron Covenant books planned. The epilogue of this novel also teases another spin-off, but I’m not planning to read any of them: as far as I’m concerned, this series should have ended earlier, and many of the issues I’ve had with the later books were present in this unsatisfying conclusion.

It’s with a mixture of sadness and relief that I bid farewell to Kate Daniels: a little sadness that it’s over but more because it ended without fulfilling its great potential, and relief because I no longer need to keep reading to find out how the story ends. You see, this series was one of my favorites once, books that remained with me after I finished them in a way that few manage to do. The authors maintained a fantastic balance between action and characterization, all while incorporating exciting fights and underutilized mythologies that resulted in novels that were precisely my cup of tea. The earlier books also had a darker edge that appealed to me, one that led to lasting consequences as a result of living in such a dangerous world. When a character made a difficult choice, the results were not easily swept under the rug like it never happened. When a character died or dealt with trauma, it mattered.

But most of all, I loved Kate: her development, her determination, and the way she approached every situation with a sense of humor. I enjoyed watching her go from a loner who had been taught that her very survival depended on hiding and avoiding relationships to finding a best friend in Andrea and love with Curran—and the way her first person narration reflected this, as she went from being secretive about her powers and family history to gradually becoming more and more open.

I was thoroughly invested in these characters and their stories for more than half the series. Although I thought the plot and mythological components were not as well done in the sixth book (Magic Rises), the dialogue, humor, and the amazing fight scene with Hugh made it work for me regardless. (Hugh was a large part of the reason I found that one incredibly engaging, and I was incredibly disappointed by his story in Iron and Magic.)

Then my enthusiasm for the series began to wane around the seventh book (Magic Breaks) and hit an all-time low with the ninth book (Magic Binds). Looking back, it seems it was around this point characterization started taking a backseat to characters being badass and cracking jokes—and without the former, they just seemed to be going through the motions instead of being fully fleshed out individuals, especially since the dialogue was weaker. Though there were still fun moments, they didn’t pack an emotional punch, and once-vibrant personalities seemed to be mere shadows of what they once were—even Kate.

It also seemed to me that the books lost their edge and developed a pattern of playing it safe closer to the end of the series. Obstacles were often easily removed, and Kate was kept from making choices that might have led to compelling character development but would have made life more difficult for her. That’s not to say that bad things never happen in later books, but when they do, they wrap up easily without major lasting effects. They just don’t matter like they once did.

Magic Triumphs follows the recent trends of minimal character development and overcoming challenges so swiftly that victory doesn’t seem earned. That said, it is entertaining and I found it far more readable and polished than Iron and Magic (even if it did annoy me that Kate’s child’s age was inconsistent). But despite some fun dialogue and amusing moments, it still fell short in comparison to older books in the series and wasn’t all that memorable—aside from the fact that it is a horrible finale to a ten-book series, that is.

It begins rather typically with a mystery: two hundred people vanished, and whoever or whatever could manage to make a great number of people disappear from their homes left only their bones behind. Kate then attempts to figure out what’s going on while protecting her thirteen-month-old (or maybe eighteen-month-old?) son from assassins. Meanwhile, various characters show up at different stages, creating an excuse for snappy dialogue. At this point, there are so many characters all getting a brief moment in the spotlight that they do not get a chance to shine as individuals, and even Andrea and Kate’s friendship seemed stale.

The biggest problem is that this seems like a filler book in the middle of a series for approximately the first 90%. Roland is mentioned once in awhile but barely even present until close to the end, and Magic’s Big Triumph occurs in about 20 pages. (This is not an exaggeration.) The ending is so rushed that there’s not much tension, and one part that should have been heart-wrenching was resolved so quickly and neatly that it barely left an impression. After that, there are a few emotionless paragraphs summarizing what happened to various characters. Earlier in the series, I would have found some of the more tragic fates affecting, but the wooden delivery combined with the more recent wooden characterization meant it didn’t have that much of an impact on me.

If Magic Triumphs had not been the final book in the series, I probably would have found it fine—certainly nowhere near the quality of earlier books in the series due to the lack of characterization and poor pacing, but not bad as a quick diversion. It was a delight to revel in Kate’s prowess as a magical sword-wielding badass and discover her son’s developing powers, and I was glad that the series finally tackled a particular mythology (which I won’t spoil!). However, it was weak as the culmination of Kate’s arc, and I’m disappointed that a series once so full of heart didn’t end on a high note.

My Rating: 4/10

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

Reviews of Previous Books in the Kate Daniels Series:

  1. Magic Bites
  2. Magic Burns
  3. Magic Strikes
  4. Magic Bleeds
  5. Magic Slays
  6. Magic Rises
  7. Magic Breaks
  8. Magic Shifts
  9. Magic Binds

Iron and Magic is the first book in the Iron Covenant trilogy, a spin-off from Ilona Andrews’ New York Times bestselling Kate Daniels series set between the ninth and tenth books (Magic Binds and Magic Triumphs, respectively). This novel focuses on Roland’s former warlord, Hugh d’Ambray, as he fights an internal battle and mysterious magical forces—and his new wife, a powerful woman known as the White Warlock.

After a prologue showing how Roland had Hugh brought to him as a child, Iron and Magic opens by showing the aftereffects of Hugh’s failure to do as commanded. Since Roland dismissed him and cut him off from his magic, Hugh has largely existed in a drunken stupor attempting to drown out the void left where his master’s godlike presence once dwelt. But when the soldiers of the Iron Dogs are being killed for their loyalty to Hugh, he realizes he must pull himself together for their sake.

Hugh and his remaining soldiers need food and shelter, and Elara has a castle but needs defenders against the head of the Golden Legion and his vampires: exactly the type of enemy the Iron Dogs specialize in destroying. However, the two leaders’ advisers fear that an alliance between their peoples will not work unless it’s difficult for their union to be broken when it inevitably becomes advantageous for one side to split, and they propose a political marriage. Neither Hugh nor Elara is particularly pleased with the idea of marrying the other, but they both agree to do so for the good of their people—and they wed even though they despise each other from the first time they meet.

Though I once considered the Kate Daniels series to be one of my favorites, my enthusiasm for these books has been steadily waning since the seventh installment. The last few novels have not met the same high standards set by the earlier books, and I thought that the last book I’d read before this (Magic Binds) was the weakest one yet—in fact, I probably would have quit reading the series at that point if the next book had not been the finale.

Given that, I was leaning toward skipping Iron and Magic even though I would have once devoured any book related to Kate Daniels. I was somewhat curious about Hugh’s story, though, and then I heard that this should be read before Magic Triumphs. So I set aside my copy of the latter and purchased a copy of Iron and Magic to read first.

Reader, I have regrets.

For all my problems with Magic Triumphs (which I read right after finishing this and will be reviewing separately), it was at least readable and fun. Despite occasional interesting parts, I cannot say the same about Iron and Magic, which I found to be largely boring and nowhere near as polished as even the more recent Kate Daniels books. It had many of the classic Ilona Andrews features—a magical mystery plot, a grand fight, main characters being powerful and badass, incorporation of less commonly utilized mythology—but the execution fell flat. The fights and tactical discussions were dull, the attempts at witty dialogue failed miserably, and typographical errors were numerous. The secondary characters did not have much personality of their own, and the main characters were not particularly engaging either.

There was potential for some interesting characterization with Hugh, but it seemed to me that the authors erased a lot of what made him compelling in an attempt to make him more palatable as a protagonist. Part of what made Hugh such an intriguing villain in the Kate Daniels books was that he and Kate were raised similarly but made different choices and ultimately decided to follow very different paths—but it turns out that Hugh never actually had a choice.

The very beginning of this novel shows how Roland not only started training him when he was a child without a family, but promised him he’d never be hungry again. He told him he was special and unique and he’d teach him to be able to take care of himself, all while exuding that loving charismatic demeanor that made Hugh feel as though he were looking upon God. However, instead of exploring this connection and how it shaped Hugh, all his bad actions are waved away by making him into Roland’s puppet. Hugh didn’t want to do evil, and if Roland wanted him to do something he didn’t want to do, he simply overrode his free will and adjusted him to want to do as commanded.

That’s not to say that Hugh was automatically a good person as he dealt with the aftermath of having been cast out by Roland. He certainly acted like a real jerk at times, but there were also plenty of cliche signs that he wasn’t so bad underneath it all: his men remained loyal to him, animals and children immediately liked him, and of course, Elara eventually fell for him.

Like Hugh, Elara had potential to be fascinating but didn’t quite hit the mark. In many ways, Elara seems like Kate except her character was built in a rush and not handled with nearly as much skill. Elara too has a mysterious power that she tries to hide, but it’s not as subtly drawn as Kate’s was nor does it seem as creative as hers. Her magic even reminded Hugh of Kate’s, and she’s also fiercely protective like her.

The love-to-hate relationship between Hugh and Elara was also reminiscent of the romance that occurred in the main series, but instead of gradually developing throughout several books as a secondary plot, it was a hurried and unsatisfying main plot. The progression of their relationship did not seem natural since they went from despising each other to sometimes being attracted to each other for no apparent reason to TRUE LOVE. Though there were some scenes in which they’re supposed to be seeing each other in a new light, I didn’t think they worked well. They didn’t get across why they would suddenly start to like each other strongly enough, and it seemed more like they were drawn to each other because the story required it than because it seemed fitting for their characters to do so. Furthermore, their “banter” was not particularly amusing or clever: it largely consisted of the two calling each other names like “harpy” and “bastard.”

Despite not enjoying most of Iron and Magic, I did enjoy learning more of Hugh’s thoughts on Kate and Roland and having some background when reading Magic Triumphs. (And I did rather like the divine elephant, brief as its appearance was.) However, this novel was not vital to reading the last installment of Kate Daniels, and in retrospect, I would have preferred to spend my time and money on a different book. I doubt I’ll be continuing Iron Covenant or reading any further stories related to the Kate Daniels—even though it was, once upon a time, a series I loved.

My Rating: 3/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

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 (often these 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.

Since there was only one book arrival the week before last, there are a couple of weeks to cover here—but first, here are the posts that went up since the last one of these features in case you missed either of them:

  • Review of The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang — I enjoyed this dark war story quite a bit and found it engrossing from the very first page.
  • Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven (& Romantic Fantasy Giveaway) — This contains some information on upcoming romantic fantasy Phoenix Unbound and how to enter a Romantic Fantasy Starter Kit giveaway including this book plus five more by Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Nalini Singh, Chloe Neill, and Anne Bishop. (Phoenix Unbound came in the mail last week and sounds intriguing, but I’m not featuring it today since it’s already covered in the last blog post!)

And now, recent books in the mail (minus Phoenix Unbound)!

The Last Unicorn: The Lost Journey by Peter S. Beagle

The Last Unicorn: The Lost Journey by Peter S. Beagle

A special hardcover edition of this book will be released on November 12 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Peter S. Beagle’s beloved The Last Unicorn. The Lost Journey contains an earlier draft of the story that was eventually reworked into the tale of the Last Unicorn that so many of us know and love.

This version of the book features an introduction by Patrick Rothfuss, a preface by Carrie Vaughn, an afterword by Peter S. Beagle, and illustrations by Stephanie Law. The publisher’s website has some examples of the original artwork.

 

Special Commemorative Edition celebrating the 50th Anniversary of The Last Unicorn

Introduction by Patrick Rothfuss
Preface by Carrie Vaughn
Original illustrations by Stephanie Law

Peter S. Beagle first imagined his beloved heroine when he was twenty-three, half a decade before she sprang into the world. Now the Last Unicorn’s fantastical origins are recaptured in this lovely commemorative hardcover. Here you will discover the eighty-five page genesis of Beagle’s masterpiece, his own wry musings upon his early career, charming original illustrations, and tributes from modern fantasy legends Patrick Rothfuss and Carrie Vaughn.

In this wonderfully strange adventure, a brave unicorn leaves her solitary life behind, determined to discover if she is the last of her kind. She is forewarned by a forlorn dragon and befuddled by a chatty butterfly; her unfamiliar traveling companion will be an exiled demon with a split personality and a penchant for philosophy.

Somewhere between mythology, modernity, and magic, the Last Unicorn has found herself on the road less traveled by . . . until now.

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen

This short story collection will be released on November 5 (trade paperback, ebook). The publisher’s website lists the stories and poems found within How to Fracture a Fairy Tale.

 

Fantasy legend Jane Yolen (The Emerald Circus The Devil’s Arithmetic), adored by generations of readers of all ages, delights with these effortlessly wide-ranging fairy tales, myths, and legends. She fractures the classics to reveal their crystalline secrets, holding them to the light and presenting them transformed: a spinner of straw as a falsely-accused moneylender, a philosophical bridge who longs for its troll, and the villainous wolf retiring to a nursing home. Each offering features an intimate author note and poem, allowing readers to discover stories old, new, and refined for the world we live in―or a much better version of it.

Someone Like Me by M. R. Carey

Someone Like Me by M. R. Carey

This speculative fiction thriller by the author of The Girl with All the Gifts will be released on November 6 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

 

From the author of the million-copy bestseller The Girl With All the Gifts comes a heart-stopping thriller with twists you won’t see coming and a heroine you can’t trust.

Liz Kendall wouldn’t hurt a fly. Even when times get tough, she’s devoted to bringing up her two kids in a loving home.

But there’s another side to Liz—one that’s dark and malicious. She will do anything to get her way, no matter how extreme.

And when this other side of her takes control, the consequences are devastating.

Love her or hate her: there are two sides to every story….

Thin Air by Richard K. Morgan

Thin Air by Richard K. Morgan

This science fiction noir novel by the author of the Philip K. Dick Award–winning novel Altered Carbon will be released on October 23 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

 

An atmospheric tale of corruption and abduction set on Mars, from the author of the award-winning science fiction novel Altered Carbon, now an exciting new series from Netflix.

From the moment Richard K. Morgan’s dazzling debut, Altered Carbon, burst onto the scene, it was clear that a distinctive new voice had arrived to shake up science fiction. His subsequent novels—including the sequels Broken Angels and Woken Furies—confirmed him as a master of hard-boiled futuristic thrillers. Now Morgan returns to the world of SF noir with a riveting tale of crime, corruption, and deadly crisis on a planet teetering close to the edge.

On a Mars where ruthless corporate interests violently collide with a homegrown independence movement as Earth-based overlords battle for profits and power, Hakan Veil is an ex–professional enforcer equipped with military-grade body tech that’s made him a human killing machine. But he’s had enough of the turbulent red planet, and all he wants is a ticket back home—which is just what he’s offered by the Earth Oversight organization, in exchange for being the bodyguard for an EO investigator. It’s a beyond-easy gig for a heavy hitter like Veil . . . until it isn’t.

When Veil’s charge, Madison Madekwe, starts looking into the mysterious disappearance of a lottery winner, she stirs up a hornet’s nest of intrigue and murder. And the deeper Veil is drawn into the dangerous game being played, the more long-buried secrets claw their way to the Martian surface. Now it’s the expert assassin on the wrong end of a lethal weapon—as Veil stands targeted by powerful enemies hellbent on taking him down, by any means necessary.