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

Last week brought some books that sound rather intriguing, especially the first and last (which I didn’t feature with the cover and description today because I already featured it earlier this year). The first of these includes many well-known authors, and the last is a soon-to-be-released debut novel.

The Book of Swords edited by Gardner Dozois

The Book of Swords edited by Gardner Dozois

This anthology will be released on October 10 (hardcover, ebook). As you can see in the book description below, it contains an incredible lineup of authors including but not limited to George R. R. Martin, Robin Hobb, Elizabeth Bear, Scott Lynch, Ken Liu, Kate Elliott, and C. J. Cherryh.

George R. R. Martin’s “The Sons of the Dragon” is a tale from the past set in the same world as A Song of Ice and Fire (and, as can be guessed from the title, it’s about Targaryens).

Robin Hobb’s “Her Father’s Sword” is set in the Realm of the Elderlings and features FitzChivalry Farseer.

 

New epic fantasy in the grand tradition—including a never-before-published Song of Ice and Fire story by George R. R. Martin!

Fantasy fiction has produced some of the most unforgettable heroes ever conjured onto the page: Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian, Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Classic characters like these made sword and sorcery a storytelling sensation, a cornerstone of fantasy fiction—and an inspiration for a new generation of writers, spinning their own outsize tales of magic and swashbuckling adventure.

Now, in The Book of Swords, acclaimed editor and bestselling author Gardner Dozois presents an all-new anthology of original epic tales by a stellar cast of award-winning modern masters—many of them set in their authors’ best-loved worlds. Join today’s finest tellers of fantastic tales, including George R. R. Martin, K. J. Parker, Robin Hobb, Ken Liu, C. J. Cherryh, Daniel Abraham, Lavie Tidhar, Ellen Kushner, and more on action-packed journeys into the outer realms of dark enchantment and intrepid derring-do, featuring a stunning assortment of fearless swordsmen and warrior women who face down danger and death at every turn with courage, cunning, and cold steel.

FEATURING SIXTEEN ALL-NEW STORIES:

“The Best Man Wins” by K. J. Parker
“Her Father’s Sword” by Robin Hobb
“The Hidden Girl” by Ken Liu
“The Sword of Destiny” by Matthew Hughes
“‘I Am a Handsome Man,’ Said Apollo Crow” by Kate Elliott
“The Triumph of Virtue” by Walter Jon Williams
“The Mocking Tower” by Daniel Abraham
“Hrunting” by C. J. Cherryh
“A Long, Cold Trail” by Garth Nix
“When I Was a Highwayman” by Ellen Kushner
“The Smoke of Gold Is Glory” by Scott Lynch
“The Colgrid Conundrum” by Rich Larson
“The King’s Evil” by Elizabeth Bear
“Waterfalling” by Lavie Tidhar
“The Sword Tyraste” by Cecelia Holland
“The Sons of the Dragon” by George R. R. Martin
 
And an introduction by Gardner Dozois

Seven Stones to Stand or Fall by Diana Gabaldon

Seven Stones to Stand or Fall by Diana Gabaldon

This collection of Outlander-related stories (mainly novellas) by #1 New York Times bestselling author Diana Gabaldon, including two new novellas, will be released on June 27 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

For more information such as a brief description of each story and a couple of excerpts, see the Seven Stones to Stand or Fall page on Diana Gabaldon’s website.

 

A magnificent collection of Outlander short fiction—including two never-before-published novellas—featuring Jamie Fraser, Lord John Grey, Master Raymond, and many more, from #1 New York Times bestselling author Diana Gabaldon

“The Custom of the Army” begins with Lord John Grey being shocked by an electric eel and ends at the Battle of Quebec. Then comes “The Space Between,” where it is revealed that the Comte St. Germain is not dead, Master Raymond appears, and a widowed young wine dealer escorts a would-be novice to a convent in Paris. In “A Plague of Zombies,” Lord John unexpectedly becomes military governor of Jamaica when the original governor is gnawed by what probably wasn’t a giant rat. “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” is the moving story of Roger MacKenzie’s parents during World War II. In “Virgins,” Jamie Fraser, aged nineteen, and Ian Murray, aged twenty, become mercenaries in France, no matter that neither has yet bedded a lass or killed a man. But they’re trying. . . . “A Fugitive Green” is the story of Lord John’s elder brother, Hal, and a seventeen-year-old rare book dealer with a sideline in theft, forgery, and blackmail. And finally, in “Besieged,” Lord John learns that his mother is in Havana—and that the British Navy is on their way to lay siege to the city.

Filling in mesmerizing chapters in the lives of characters readers have followed over the course of thousands of pages, Gabaldon’s genius is on full display throughout this must-have collection.

The Bones of the Earth by Rachel Dunne

The Bones of the Earth (Bound Gods #2) by Rachel Dunne

The second Bound Gods novel will be released on June 27 (trade paperback, ebook).

The Harper Collins website has a sample from In the Shadow of the Gods, the first Bound Gods novel.

 

A mismatched band of mortals and their violent, secretive leader must stand against a pair of resentful gods to save their world in this second volume in Rachel Dunne’s breathtaking dark epic fantasy trilogy, The Bound Gods, which began with In the Shadow of the Gods.

To win the coming battle for control of the world and the mortals who dwell in it, the cunning priest Joros secretly assembled a team of powerful fighters—Scal, a lost and damaged swordsman from the North; Vatri, a scarred priestess who claims to see the future in her fires; Anddyr, a drug-addled mage wandering between sanity and madness; and Rora and Aro, a pair of twins who have secretly survived beyond the reach of the law.

But the war is only beginning for these disparate warriors and victory is far from certain when the enemy is a pair of vengeful gods. As the bound Twins strengthen in force against their parents—the Divine Mother and Almighty Father—who exiled them, a shadow begins to spread across the land, threatening to engulf all in its wake.

As deadly magic takes hold, the tenuous bonds tying these uneasy allies begins to unravel. If they cannot find a way to keep their band together, each of their lives—and the entire world—will be lost to the darkness, leaving nothing but the bones of the earth. . . .

A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

A Plague of Giants (Seven Kennings #1) by Kevin Hearne

The first book in this upcoming epic fantasy trilogy by New York Times bestselling author Kevin Hearne will be released on October 17 (hardcover, ebook).

Unbound Worlds has an interview with Kevin Hearne discussing A Plague of Giants.

 

From the author of The Iron Druid Chronicles, a thrilling novel that kicks off a fantasy series with an entirely new mythology—complete with shape-shifting bards, fire-wielding giants, and children who can speak to astonishing beasts

MOTHER AND WARRIOR
Tallynd is a soldier who has already survived her toughest battle: losing her husband. But now she finds herself on the front lines of an invasion of giants, intent on wiping out the entire kingdom, including Tallynd’s two sons—all that she has left. The stakes have never been higher. If Tallynd fails, her boys may never become men.

SCHOLAR AND SPY
Dervan is an historian who longs for a simple, quiet life. But he’s drawn into intrigue when he’s hired to record the tales of a mysterious bard who may be a spy or even an assassin for a rival kingdom. As the bard shares his fantastical stories, Dervan makes a shocking discovery: He may have a connection to the tales, one that will bring his own secrets to light.

REBEL AND HERO
Abhi’s family have always been hunters, but Abhi wants to choose a different life for himself. Embarking on a journey of self-discovery, Abhi soon learns that his destiny is far greater than he imagined: a powerful new magic thrust upon him may hold the key to defeating the giants once and for all—if it doesn’t destroy him first.

Set in a magical world of terror and wonder, this novel is a deeply felt epic of courage and war, in which the fates of these characters intertwine—and where ordinary people become heroes, and their lives become legend.

Additional Book(s):

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

Last week brought quite a few books, but first, here’s last week’s post in case you missed it:

  • Review of the May Patreon Book, The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier. I was torn about this one: I loved the setting and story and appreciated that the book was quite different in a lot of ways, but the narrative voice, dialogue, and pacing didn’t entirely work for me. However, there were enough strengths that I’ll probably read the sequel that is planned when it’s out.

The Dragon's Legacy by Deborah A. Wolf

The Dragon’s Legacy (The Dragon’s Legacy #1) by Deborah A. Wolf

The Dragon’s Legacy was released in April (hardcover, ebook).

I quite like the cover, plus it has two of my favorites: dragons and cats who bond with humans!

 

In the heart of the singing desert, the people are fading from the world. Mothers bear few live children, the warriors and wardens are hard-pressed to protect those who remain, and the vash’ai—the great cats who have called the people kithren for as long as there have been stories—bond with fewer humans each year. High above, the Sun Dragon sings a song of life and love while far below, the Earth Dragon slumbers as she has since the beginning of time. Her sleep is fitful, and from the darkness of her dreams come whispers of war… and death.

Sulema is a newly minted warrior of the people and a true Ja’Akari—a daughter of the unforgiving desert. When a mysterious young man appears in her home of Aish Kalumm, she learns that the Dragon King is dying in distant Atualon. As the king fades, so does the magic that sings the Earth Dragon to sleep.

There are those who wish to keep the dragon trapped in endless slumber. Others would tap her power to claim it for their own. And there are those who would have her wake, so they might laugh as the world burns.

Soleri by Michael Johnston

Soleri (#1 in Series) by Michael Johnston

This epic fantasy will be released on June 13 (hardcover, ebook). Tor.com has an excerpt from Soleri.

 

Michael Johnston brings you the first in a new epic fantasy series inspired by ancient Egyptian history and King Lear.

The ruling family of the Soleri Empire has been in power longer than even the calendars that stretch back 2,826 years. Those records tell a history of conquest and domination by a people descended from gods, older than anything in the known world. No living person has seen them for centuries, yet their grip on their four subjugate kingdoms remains tighter than ever.

On the day of the annual eclipse, the Harkan king, Arko-Hark Wadi, sets off on a hunt and shirks his duty rather than bow to the emperor. Ren, his son and heir, is a prisoner in the capital, while his daughters struggle against their own chains. Merit, the eldest, has found a way to stand against imperial law and marry the man she desires, but needs her sister’s help, and Kepi has her own ideas.

Meanwhile, Sarra Amunet, Mother Priestess of the sun god’s cult, holds the keys to the end of an empire and a past betrayal that could shatter her family.

Detailed and historical, vast in scope and intricate in conception, Soleri bristles with primal magic and unexpected violence. It is a world of ancient and elaborate rites, of unseen power and kingdoms ravaged by war, where victory comes with a price, and every truth conceals a deeper secret.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale (The Bear and the Nightingale #1) by Katherine Arden

Katherine Arden’s wonderful debut novel, published early this year, is being released in trade paperback on June 27. Unbound Worlds has an excerpt from The Bear and the Nightingale, and you can read more about the creation of its heroine and Katherine Arden’s decision to give her self acceptance in her Women in SF&F Month guest post.

I loved The Bear and the Nightingale, and it’s one of my favorite books of 2017!

 

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A magical debut novel for readers of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman’s myth-rich fantasies, The Bear and the Nightingale spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Additional Books:

 

First published in 2011, Rachel Neumeier’s young adult fantasy novel The Floating Islands was received with acclaim: it was a Junior Library Guild selection and a Kirkus Best Children’s Book of the Year, chosen for the ALA-YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Book list, and recommended on the ALA Amelia Bloomer list of feminist literature. Though currently a standalone that completes the two main protagonists’ story arcs, it does leave much of the setting open for further exploration and the author does have plans for a sequel to this book with floating islands, dragons of fire and air, magic, and food references (seriously, do not read this while hungry).

Trei’s long journey from Toulounn to the Floating Islands is fraught with grief. When he returned home after spending the summer with his aunt and uncle, he found it buried in ash after a nearby mount erupted—his father, mother, and sister all buried with it. After this, he went back to the only other family he knew, but despite always having seemed fond of Trei in the past, his uncle refused to make his half-Islander nephew part of his household and pay the tax necessary for him to become a citizen of Toulounn, as Trei’s father would have done once he was of age. Instead, he gave Trei some money, leaving him to make the trip alone to his mother’s family on the distant Floating Islands, held aloft by sky dragon magic off the southwestern coast of Toulounn.

In his despair, Trei barely notices anything on his voyage—until he catches his first glimpse of the wondrous Floating Islands and the winged men flying overhead, also aided by sky dragon magic. Trei immediately realizes he must become one of these fliers, and after his Islander relatives take him in, his uncle helps him set up an audition to join their ranks even though being half-Toulounnese may be an obstacle in achieving this goal.

Araenè, Trei’s cousin, initially resents the new addition to her household since it makes finding the privacy necessary to sneak out of the house and attend classes in the guise of a boy more difficult for her. As a talented cook, Araenè has always wanted to become a chef, but girls are not supposed to attend lectures or do anything other than marry once they reach womanhood. However, she finds a supportive ally in Trei when he discovers her subterfuge—though his sister never had the same problem with pursuing her art, he thinks she would have done the same as Araenè under the circumstances, and this shared secret binds the two closer in friendship.

When Toulounn sets its sights on conquering the Floating Islands, Trei and Araenè are in unique positions to work together for the good of the Floating Islands: Trei, as one of the novices gifted with air magic by the sky dragons and someone with knowledge of Toulounn, and Araenè, in her role as the boy Arei and an apprentice to a master of the hidden school of magic who discovered she had the mage gift. However, in order to succeed, each of them must overcome a personal hurdle: Trei, caught between loyalty to his homeland and his new home, and Araenè, struggling with whether or not to trust her new mentor.

The Floating Islands contains some familiar themes—such as finding one’s place in the world while persevering against the constraints of social roles defined by criteria outside one’s control—yet the backdrop of the setting makes it wholly unique. It’s also a wonderful story, largely uplifting and hopeful (though there is death and tragedy that is not ignored by the characters affected, it doesn’t dwell too much on the sadder parts and is more focused on moving forward afterward). Even so, I find myself conflicted about this novel: I did love the world and story and would be likely to read any sequels, but I also thought it had stock characters, dull narrative and dialogue, and uneven pacing.

In my opinion, the highlight of the novel is the setting and all the fantastic elements. It’s full of magic with the air dragons responsible for both the unusually buoyant nature of the islands and some of its people, fire dragons, and a hidden mage school with friendly doors that appear and tend to open to somewhere one needs to be. Although the story arc felt complete, it seemed to leave a lot of questions unanswered for a standalone novel so I was glad to discover that a sequel is planned. There’s much left to learn about the dragons, particularly the relationships between the different types and their history with the islands, and the workings of magic.

There are some lovely descriptions of the more fantastic aspects, such as the wonder of the Floating Islands and flight, but I also felt the narrative was often bogged down by too much description while glossing over parts I wanted to know more about (such as the details of knowledge of mathematics being necessary for magic). Trei and Araenè’s voices sounded similar with lots of internal monologue about what they were doing or what they should do filled with italics for emphasis, and though there was a lot of telling about their individuality, there wasn’t much showing they had distinct personalities through their rather serious narrations. The dialogue was probably intended to sound like the way people actually talk, filled with ums and wells and elliptic pauses and the overuse of phrases like “do you see,” but this also didn’t really work for me since I prefer reading smoother dialogue even though I realize this style is more realistic.

Although both Trei and Araenè are likable and sympathetic characters, I didn’t find either of them terribly compelling aside from their circumstances. Trei seemed a little more fleshed out to me than his cousin, probably due to the fact that he does have the bigger role in the story. He’s brave and empathetic, and his tale shows his grief and loss as he’s haunted by nightmares about the disaster that destroyed his home and the difficulty of being caught between loyalty to his previous homeland and his new nation. Araenè is rebellious, courageous, and determined, but other than a few personality traits, it seemed she was primarily defined by her love of cooking. Though she could have had more dimension as a character, this did make the story more unusual and memorable. I thought it was a nice twist to read about a girl who wasn’t trying to attain one of the more traditional goals denied girls, such as becoming a warrior, but a girl who simply wanted to be a chef: the chance to actually study the art and make a career of it instead of only cooking for her family. Even Araenè’s mage talent is related to food since she identifies magic by different smells, such as lemon, ginger, nutmeg, and fenugreek. I actually thought tying her magic to different scents was an interesting concept, but these descriptions also became rather repetitive quickly.

The secondary characters are mostly interchangeable, and I found it difficult to keep track of the other students in the mage school and the boys Trei trained alongside. The only one who stood out was Trei’s friend Ceirfei, who just wanted to be treated the same as all the other fliers despite his elevated status.

The Floating Islands is a great story with some originality, and the world is filled with wonder with its islands kept afloat by dragons and magical schools. However, I did think there were a few things holding it back from its full potential: the conclusion was rushed compared to the middle, which dragged at times; the narrative and dialogue were not entirely to my taste despite some lovely prose; and the two main characters did not show a lot of depth through their voices. It’s a book I found interesting but not gripping, yet I probably will read the planned sequel when it’s available because of the amazing setting and the touches that do make this book stand out as different.

My Rating: 6.5/10

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

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

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

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

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner

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

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

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

 

Discover the world of the Queen’s Thief

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

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

Additional Book(s):

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

ABOUT PERILOUS PROPHECY

Perilous Prophecy by Leanna Renee Hieber

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER TWO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Correct, I am not,” she replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LR Hieber Author Photo (by C. Johnstone)

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

Photo by C. Johnstone

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

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

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

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

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

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

 

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

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

The Dark Arts of Blood by Freda Warrington

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Redder Than Blood by Tanith Lee

Redder Than Blood by Tanith Lee

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

 

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

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

A sleeping beauty never meant to be woken…

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

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

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

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona was on my wish list because:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Borderline by Mishell Baker

Borderline (The Arcadia Project #1) by Mishell Baker

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

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

 

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

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

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

No pressure.

The White Road of the Moon by Rachel Neumeier

The White Road of the Moon by Rachel Neumeier

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The Rose Society by Marie Lu

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Additional Book Highlights: