Happy New Year! In addition to being the start of a new year, today is the day this blog is officially a teenager: Fantasy Cafe turns 13 years old today! I can hardly believe I’ve been blogging that long.

Now that I’ve read everything I will ever read in 2019, it’s time for the favorite books of 2019 list. My main goal for the year was to embrace what I love and ruthlessly cull books that aren’t drawing me in. (This is different than not being in the right mood for a book: it means if nothing about the writing, world, or characters makes me want to keep going after the first 50 pages or so, just get it off the bookshelf/to-read pile and don’t look back.) The latter is still a bit hard at times (what if it gets better?!), but I think I did a decent job with the former considering I ended up with 8 books released in 2019 that I loved, 3 published before 2019 that I loved, and 2 I thought were noteworthy as honorable mentions. That’s better than the number of highlights I had in 2018.

Cover images link to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Favorite Books Released in 2019

The Ten Thousand Doors of January Cover

Book of the Year
1. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
My Review

This standalone historical portal fantasy novel set during the early 1900s is about January Scaller, who often heard words like “willful” and “temerarious” used to describe her as a child. When she was seven years old, she discovered and stepped through a Door to another world, but when she tried to share her experience, she was punished for making up tales and lectured on the necessity of being a “good girl who minds her place.” Lonely and desperate for affection, she took that lesson to heart and molded herself into someone demure and proper, as was expected of her. Then at seventeen years old, January came across a mysterious book titled The Ten Thousand Doors, which begins as a scholarly account of Doors like the one she found but becomes a personal account of how they changed the author’s life—and in escaping into this story of true love, adventure, determination, and tragedy, January’s life also changed.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a treasure. It’s not only a celebration of books and stories but also is itself a beautifully told story with two exquisitely written, unique bibliophilic voices between January’s first person narration and that of The Ten Thousand Doors (which is included in its entirety, complete with delightful footnotes!). It’s an ode to words, imagination, and stories, particularly the power they have to burrow into hearts and souls and show one something true, meaningful, and lasting—and it is in itself just that type of book. It’s also an ode to dreamers and outsiders, to being who you are and daring to write your own story despite society’s attempts to shape your path into one that doesn’t fit you, among being a book about so many other things—and it is magnificent.

It’s an indelible book that seems destined to be a classic, and The Ten Thousand Doors of January is my choice for Book of the Year in 2019.

Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri - Book Cover

Book of the Year Runner-Up
2. Realm of Ash (The Books of Ambha #2) by Tasha Suri
My Review

Empire of Sand, Tasha Suri’s fantasy debut novel inspired by Mughal India and Indian classical dance, was my Book of the Year in 2018, and Realm of Ash is also stellar. It’s similar in feel to the previous novel with gorgeous writing, intricate themes, dimensional relationships of all kinds, and a slow build romance founded on respect and shared goals, yet it stands apart as being different given its story, characters, and deeper maturity. While it expands the world and explores the aftermath of the first book, Realm of Ash is a standalone companion novel that follows Arwa approximately a decade after her sister’s story in Empire of Sand. It begins with Arwa being newly widowed as the sole survivor of a massacre, saved by the very same blood she’d spent her life fearing. Believing that this blood may be able to break the curse on their kingdom and prevent future attacks like what she experienced, Arwa offers to serve a princess in pursuit of a solution. Her offer is accepted, and she ends up secretly working forbidden occult magic in the dead of night with a scholarly illegitimate prince, who introduces her to the titular spirit realm.

Like its predecessor, I loved Realm of Ash and found it deeply affecting. At its heart, Arwa’s story is about taking back a piece of herself that had been stolen from her and the different sides of love—both its crueler side and its softer side. It’s also about society and power structures, truth and the cost of knowledge, and the need to forge new paths by “dreaming a new world,” and the lyrically sharp prose that cuts deep makes it all the more hauntingly memorable. Realm of Ash is one of those special books I expect to reread one day even with the ever-increasing number of books I want to read for the first time.

The Unbound Empire by Melissa Caruso

3. The Unbound Empire (Swords and Fire Trilogy #3) by Melissa Caruso
My Review

The Unbound Empire is one of those rare series conclusions that I felt was done right. Successes feel earned, character arcs make sense, and it manages to be satisfying without dangling loose ends or being so neatly tied up that it seems as though the characters have done everything important they’ll ever do. It also has a great pace: it always seems to be moving forward, but it also isn’t so rushed that it glosses over the fun dialogue and character interactions that were a large part of why I loved these books in the first place, like a lot of series finales tend to. This entire series is immensely entertaining with each book getting better, and I also appreciated that it does a few things that seemed a little different than the usual, especially when mixed together: from following a protagonist who embraces the role she’s born into and makes it her own, to focusing on governments that are not monarchies, to being set in a society with gender and LGBTQ+ equality, to including a love triangle with more nuance than most, to the final book having an actual competent villain. It was incredibly refreshing to encounter a villain who was powerful but also enhanced his magic with knowledge and didn’t just reuse the same tricks all the time. This made a character who was basically 100% Pure Evil work so much better for me than they normally do.

Although I found the previous book slightly more entertaining due to its introduction to Kathe, the Crow Lord who enjoys playing games and steals every single scene he is in, I think this is the strongest book in the series. (But never fear if you too are a Kathe fan—he is one of the reasons I loved this installment too!)

Both of the previous books in this trilogy were also among my favorites of their release years:

Review of The Tethered Mage (Swords and Fire Trilogy #1)
Review of The Defiant Heir (Swords and Fire Trilogy #2)

The Kingdom of Copper by S. A. Chakraborty

4. The Kingdom of Copper (Daevabad Trilogy #2) by S. A. Chakraborty

I read City of Brass, the first book in the Daevabad Trilogy, earlier this year and had generally positive but somewhat mixed feelings about it: which is to say I can’t decide whether I merely liked it or really liked it since it had a fascinating world and lush writing, but the travel parts were so slow. It begins with Nahri, a con woman with some unusual abilities with healing and languages, discovering she’s only half human when she accidentally summons a djinn who served the non-human side of her family. This mysterious man then takes her from her home in Cairo to the djinn city Daevabad, where Nahri eventually meets the other main point-of-view character: a naive, principled young warrior prince named Ali. Once their stories converged, I found the book far more engaging and ended up being interested in what happened to both of them, but I didn’t expect to love the sequel as much as I did since the first book did seem to crawl at times.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself being a moody reader who couldn’t seem to settle on a book to read. I kept picking up books I was eager to read, then putting them down again—until I picked up The Kingdom of Copper. This installment is more focused on characters and political factions within Daevabad, and I found it far more absorbing than the first book in the trilogy. It’s largely about a new generation wanting to amend the mistakes of the previous generation to create a better, more just world, and the difficulty of doing so when those with the most power seem intent on repeating the same mistakes. I thought the characters were better fleshed out in this installment and found many of their interactions riveting (even amusing at times!), and I thought the choices they made at the end were fitting.

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

5. The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3) by Katherine Arden
My Review of The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1)
My Review of The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy #2)

The Winter of the Witch is an excellent series conclusion that expands on the world while remaining true to the feel of the previous books in the trilogy, and all three of the Winternight books are wonderful: beautifully written historical fantasy based on Russian folklore with well-crafted characters. The Bear and the Nightingale begins before Vasya’s birth, with her mother being told that she would be a child like her own mother, rumored to be a witch. And Vasya does indeed see spirits that most others cannot, spirits that are now reviled as devils with the spread of Christianity. I love how Vasya embraces her gifts despite how they’re viewed by everyone around her and does not drown in angst about having unusual powers, and The Winter of the Witch reveals more about the grandmother she inherited them from and where she came from. It’s an emotional final book, and this entire trilogy is among my recent favorites. These are books that belong on my bookshelf forever.

The Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang

6. The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War #2) by R. F. Kuang
My Review of The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1)

The Poppy War, R. F. Kuang’s debut novel inspired by Chinese history and the Second Sino-Japanese War, was one of my favorite books of 2018 with its unflinching look at war and its impact—and The Dragon Republic offers the same and is even better. This series follows Rin, a war orphan whose drive gets her accepted into an elite military school where she discovers she has shamanic abilities. She doesn’t even get to finish her training before she’s thrust into a war, and The Dragon Republic has yet more war, gods, and magic. It’s a meaty book that delves more into the country’s politics and its relations to other lands, and it seems to largely be about the futility of war and how it harms everyone involved. Rin’s a fascinating character: one who has done monstrous things that seem all the more chilling because she is also someone who still exhibits some empathy and is sympathetic in some ways.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black - Book Cover The Wicked King by Holly Black - Book Cover The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black - Book Cover

7. The Folk of the Air Trilogy by Holly Black
The Cruel Prince, The Wicked King, The Queen of Nothing

Technically, only the second and third books in this trilogy came out this year, but I read all three this year and found them highly addictive. The Folk of the Air follows Jude, a human who grew in Faerie with her twin sister and half-redcap older sister after the latter’s biological father slaughtered her parents and raised all three of the children. The sisters live in a brutal world, and The Cruel Prince is about Jude deciding that if she cannot be better than the people of Faerie she will become so much worse—and training as a spy, honing her fighting skills, and practicing mithridatism. In The Wicked King, Jude learns it’s easier to acquire power than it is to hang on to it, and it has an amazing ending that made me very glad there wasn’t a long wait for the third book. I did feel that The Queen of Nothing was the weakest of the three since it lost some of the previous books’ edge and rushed some events and character development, but I still had a wonderful time reading it.

Sure, Jude has a bloodthirsty streak, but I loved her resolve, determination, and voice. Jude is my Murder Protagonist of 2019.

Honorable Mentions of 2019

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Descendant of the Crane, Joan He’s debut Chinese-inspired fantasy novel, follows a young queen thrust into leadership earlier than she expected. As she tries to solve the mystery of her father’s death, she learns that the world is not as straightforward as she’d always believed—nor was the father she so admired. The writing is lovely, and it’s an impressive first novel with a wonderful ending that has a rather interesting revelation about a certain character…

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia - Book Cover

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Gods of Jade and Shadow is a standalone historical fantasy novel set during the 1920s with mythology inspired by the Popol Vuh. Casiopea spends her days serving wealthy family members who treat her like dirt, dreaming of one day being free to travel. Then one day she inadvertently frees the Mayan god of death she didn’t realize was locked in a chest in her grandfather’s bedroom. Now bound together, Casiopea and the god journey to retrieve the body parts that were taken from him before he was locked away—while the brother who overthrew the recently freed Mayan deity plots to stop them. The story and voice are delightful, and I rather enjoyed this novel.

Favorite Books Published Before 2019

A Spark of White Fire - Sangu Mandanna - Book Cover

1. A Spark of White Fire (Celestial Trilogy #1) by Sangu Mandanna
My Review

Sangu Mandana’s Mahabharata-inspired Celestial Trilogy begins when a secret princess decides to reveal her true identity by defeating her twin brother in a competition for a god-forged sentient warship—even though a war goddess warned her that it would be best for her to remain in the shadows. A Spark of White Fire is one of the most exciting, fun novels I’ve read this year, and I particularly enjoyed reading about Esmae meeting the family she never knew after she won the contest—especially since she discovered her preconceptions about many of them were wrong… This also has an amazing final scene that sets the stage for the rather aptly named A House of Rage and Sorrow (which had a superb ending as well, although I preferred the first book overall).

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

2. The Book of M by Peng Shepherd
My Review

The Book of M, Peng Shepherd’s debut novel, is a memorable post-apocalyptic tale in which some people suddenly lost their shadows—and soon after, all of these people without shadows started losing their memories. The longer they remained shadowless, the more they forgot, but they regained the ability to reshape the world into their faulty picture of what it was supposed to be. Rich with symbolism and allegory, it follows four characters navigating this chaotic landscape—one of whom recently lost her shadow, and another who lost his memories in an accident before the world collapsed—and explores the connection between memory and identity. It’s a creative novel with wonderful storytelling, and it also has a superb twist at the end that I thought was perfect.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight books I got over the last week—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (most of which are unsolicited books from publishers). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included, along with series information and the publisher’s book description. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

It’s been a few weeks since one of these posts. I spent some of my weekend time working on last week’s post, which took forever to write since it’s not possible to adequately describe how gorgeous this book is:

  • Review of Realm of Ash (The Books of Ambha #2) by Tasha Suri — This standalone sequel to Empire of Sand about Mehr’s younger sister, Arwa, is a little slow to start but comes together beautifully. I cannot recommend these books highly enough to those who love poetic introspection that cuts deep, characters and relationships with dimension, and stories with hope shining through the darkness.

And now, the latest book arrivals!

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal - Book Cover

We Hunt the Flame (Sands of Arawiya #1) by Hafsah Faizal

We Hunt the Flame, Hafsah Faizal’s New York Times bestselling debut novel, was released earlier this year (hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook). I’d been looking forward to this one for a while, and when I saw the author link to some signed copies for sale on Twitter, I couldn’t resist buying one!

Hypable has a chapter one excerpt, and Macmillan has a chapter two excerpt.

You can also read Hafsah Faizal’s guest post from Women in SF&F Month 2019 on realizing why she incorporated the girl disguised as a boy trope into this novel.

We Free the Stars, the second half of this tale, is scheduled for release in July 2020.


Set in a richly detailed world inspired by ancient Arabia, Hafsah Faizal’s We Hunt the Flame—first in the Sands of Arawiya duology—is a gripping debut of discovery, conquering fear, and taking identity into your own hands.

People lived because she killed. People died because he lived.

Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the sultan. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways. Both Zafira and Nasir are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya—but neither wants to be.

War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the sultan on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.

Legacy of Ash by Matthew Ward - Book Cover

Legacy of Ash (Legacy #1) by Matthew Ward

This epic fantasy novel is available in ebook and audiobook now with the trade paperback to come in April.

The Orbit website has an excerpt from Legacy of Ash.


Legacy of Ash is an unmissable fantasy debut–an epic tale of intrigue and revolution, soldiers and assassins, ancient magic and the eternal clash of empires.

A shadow has fallen over the Tressian Republic.

Ruling families — once protectors of justice and democracy — now plot against one another with sharp words and sharper knives. Blinded by ambition, they remain heedless of the threat posed by the invading armies of the Hadari Empire.

Yet as Tressia falls, heroes rise.

Viktor Akadra is the Republic’s champion. A warrior without equal, he hides a secret that would see him burned as a heretic.

Josiri Trelan is Viktor’s sworn enemy. A political prisoner, he dreams of reigniting his mother’s failed rebellion.

And yet Calenne Trelan, Josiri’s sister, seeks only to break free of their tarnished legacy; to escape the expectation and prejudice that haunts the family name.

As war spreads across the Republic, these three must set aside their differences in order to save their home. Yet decades of bad blood are not easily set aside. And victory — if it comes at all — will demand a darker price than any of them could have imagined.

Buzz Kill by David Sosnowski - Book Cover

Buzz Kill by David Sosnowski

Buzz Kill, a prequel to Happy Doomsday, will be released on January 28 (hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, audiobook).


Pandora Lynch lives in Alaska with her single dad, an online therapist for Silicon Valley’s brightest and squirreliest. Homeschooled by computer and a self-taught hacker, Pandora is about to enter high school to learn how to be normal. That’s the plan at least.

NorCal runaway George Jedson is a hacker too—one who leaves the systems he attacks working better than before. After being scooped up by a social media giant, will George go legit—or pull off the biggest hack ever? Not even his therapist knows for sure, but maybe the headshrinker’s daughter…

After meeting in cyberspace, the two young hackers combine their passions to conceive a brainchild named BUZZ. Can this baby AI learn to behave, or will it be like its parents and think outside the box?

With a hilarious and deeply empathetic narrative voice, this elegiac and unapologetically irreverent novel is both humorous and tragic without ever taking itself too seriously.

Additional Book(s):

Realm of Ash
by Tasha Suri
496pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.25/5

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Empire of Sand, Tasha Suri’s fantasy debut novel inspired by Mughal India, is a gorgeous novel and one that I found deeply affecting—I loved it so much that it was my choice for Book of the Year in 2018 with its rich storytelling, fascinating world, and beautiful writing. Most of all, I was enchanted by the main characters and the vividly drawn relationships, especially the slow burn romance that grew from respect and common values, and its exploration of choice and connection.

Realm of Ash, the second novel in The Books of Ambha, was one of my most anticipated books of 2019, possibly even my most anticipated book of the year given my fondness for Tasha Suri’s first novel—and just like her debut, it’s a gorgeous book. It’s difficult to say which of the two I enjoyed more, even though I preferred the main characters and love story in the first and thought this one was slower overall. It still has a lovely slow build romance, wonderful characters, and the quality storytelling, world building, and writing that I appreciated about the first, but it’s also a more mature, complex book. It kept me reading late into the night and is one of those special books I expect to reread in the future despite the never-ending pile of books I want to read for the first time.

In short: I loved Realm of Ash and found it deeply affecting, just like Empire of Sand.

Although Realm of Ash expands on the world and consequences resulting from the end of the previous book, it’s more of a companion novel to Empire of Sand than a direct sequel since it follows different characters approximately a decade later. Technically, you could read this book first if you don’t mind discovering the truth about the Empire along with the main protagonist, but I’d recommend reading them in order to get the most out of them.

This novel is a story about Mehr’s younger sister, Arwa, who was only nine years old when the head of the faith forced her only sibling to enter his service because of the power in her blood, rare even for those descended from the gods like herself. Unlike Mehr, who was old enough to remember their mother and learn from her before her exile, Arwa knew very little about that side of her heritage—especially since the woman who married her father and raised her as her own daughter strove to keep it that way. Before she was made to leave home, Mehr did teach Arwa that drawing her blood would keep the daiva she feared from harming her, as they’d realize she’s related to them and recall their vow not to hurt one of their own. But the main lesson ingrained into Arwa about that part of herself was that it was best kept hidden: her father’s people hated her biological mother’s people, and their family fell into disgrace after her sister refused to let go of their rites and traditions.

Now 21 years old, Arwa also knows that this blood is the only reason she’s alive: extracting some spared her from a massacre at the military fort her husband had commanded, making her the sole survivor of an attack caused by a feral spirit. As a widow, she’s expected to either spend the rest of her days with her parents or in a hermitage with other women who outlived their husbands. Fearing the same blood that saved her, Arwa chooses the latter, hoping for respite from curiosity about how she alone evaded death and wishing to spare her family further suffering.

But Arwa is unable to escape the daiva and ends up revealing the truth of her ancestry to another widow, one who still has ties to the royal family. Arwa offers to serve the princess, believing her blood may be key to breaking the curse that has swept through their land ever since their religious leader died several years ago—the same curse that’s resulted in an increase in incidents like the bloodbath she witnessed.

The princess accepts and has Arwa brought to her palace to spend her nights secretly working forbidden occult magic with a scholarly illegitimate prince, who introduces her to the realm of ash: a spirit realm with their ancestors. As a descendant of the head of the faith, the prince seeks to unravel the mystery of keeping the horrors of the curse at bay, a goal that seems within reach with Arwa’s involvement—but the two discover the need to forge a new path, all while facing danger and turmoil within the royal family as the Emperor’s health fails.

Realm of Ash had my interest from the beginning, especially considering that I was already familiar with the world and Arwa’s childhood after reading Empire of Sand, but it did take longer to completely draw me in than the previously published book. The overarching story, Arwa’s development, the romance, and emergent themes are built slowly and carefully—masterfully, and powerfully, as words and scenes come to have immense impact. Like its predecessor, it has high stakes without being action packed, has darkness running through it but is ultimately hopeful, and has a focus on choice and connection, but it’s very much its own tale. As with her previous novel, Tasha Suri is particularly adept at creating relationships with dimension and a lyrically sharp introspective voice, and her exploration of truth, love, power, and anger viewed through Arwa’s eyes is piercing.

Arwa’s journey is intensely poignant—at its heart, it’s about having had a part of herself stolen from her, discovering that piece of herself she never completely realized was missing, and taking it back. From the earliest pages, Arwa’s rage simmers, and as she discovers more about her history and those who had control over it, she comes to realize much of her fury is misdirected. Initially, she blamed Mehr for being taken—for not blending in and behaving as a proper noblewoman should, like Arwa always has—rather than her oppressors. But as she learns more of their shared past, she realizes who is truly to blame and the cruelty inherent in the love that tried to protect her from reality.

Though all of Arwa’s various relationships are compelling, the romance that develops between her and Zahir, the illegitimate prince with whom she traverses the realm of ash, has the most weight. Zahir is despised because of his mother—he could have been executed just like her, if not for his sister’s affection—and is lonely, living and studying in isolation. He knows what it’s like to be unsure of where he stands and which rules others expect him to follow as someone who is royalty yet not; he knows that Arwa may have similar insecurities as a widow who unexpectedly finds herself in the taboo situation of meeting a man alone by order of the princess. As the two work together to figure out how to break the curse, they come to care for each other and come to see themselves as being their own “mystic order of two.” Theirs is a romance founded on common goals and respect, one in which two people who have always had to be careful about showing their true selves can just be their true selves with one another—one in which they lift each other up and are all the stronger for having the other in their life.

Realm of Ash is an enchanting novel with a compelling story, a fantastic world, wonderful characters, and elegant, hauntingly memorable prose. All this, plus the insight it offers into the world in which we live—from society and power structures, to truth and the cost of knowledge, to the necessity of “dreaming a new world”—make it an indelible book. Tasha Suri is a master of crafting poetic, quietly sharp introspection that cuts deep, and both of her novels have great emotional resonance. I can hardly wait to read more of her work.

My Rating: 9/10

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

Reviews of Other Book(s) in The Books of Ambha:

  1. Empire of Sand

Read an Excerpt from Realm of Ash

Read Tasha Suri’s Women in SF&F Month 2019 Essay (on fairy tales and Indian classical dance as an inspiration for the magic system in The Books of Ambha)

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight books I got over the last week—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (most of which are unsolicited books from publishers). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included, along with series information and the publisher’s book description. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

It has been A Week so I didn’t get a chance to finish any book reviews, but at least it was a great week for books! I recently won M. L. Wang‘s 100 Goodreads Reviews Celebration Giveaway, which included all three of her novels and some lovely swag like bookmarks and character cards, and was rather excited when the prizes arrived last week! Plus, a pre-ordered book I’ve been looking forward to for a while showed up…

The Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang - Book Cover

The Sword of Kaigen (A Theonite War Story) by M. L. Wang

The Sword of Kaigen, a standalone military fantasy novel set thirteen years before the Theonite books, was released earlier this year (paperback, ebook). And I just saw that the ebook is currently just $.99 on Amazon for the duration of #TheSwordOfKaigenBlogTour (through November 29)!

The Sword of Kaigen is also a finalist in this year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off: Kitty G announced just a couple of days ago that it’s her winner, making it one of ten books that will be moving on to the final round.

The author’s website has both an Amazon preview and a text sample from The Sword of Kaigen.

I keep hearing this novel is excellent and it sounds wonderful!


On a mountainside at the edge of the Kaigenese Empire live the most powerful warriors in the world, superhumans capable of raising the sea and wielding blades of ice. For hundreds of years, the fighters of the Kusanagi Peninsula have held the Empire’s enemies at bay, earning their frozen spit of land the name ‘The Sword of Kaigen.’

Born into Kusanagi’s legendary Matsuda family, fourteen-year-old Mamoru has always known his purpose: to master his family’s fighting techniques and defend his homeland. But when an outsider arrives and pulls back the curtain on Kaigen’s alleged age of peace, Mamoru realizes that he might not have much time to become the fighter he was bred to be. Worse, the empire he was bred to defend may stand on a foundation of lies.

Misaki told herself that she left the passions of her youth behind when she married into the Matsuda house. Determined to be a good housewife and mother, she hid away her sword, along with everything from her days as a fighter in a faraway country. But with her growing son asking questions about the outside world, the threat of an impending invasion looming across the sea, and her frigid husband grating on her nerves, Misaki finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface.

When the winds of war reach their peninsula, will the Matsuda family have the strength to defend their empire? Or will they tear each other apart before the true enemies even reach their shores?

A rich elemental magic system and deep world-building make this martial fantasy perfect for fans of R.F. Kuang, Brandon Sanderson, Leigh Bardugo, and Lian Hearn.

Theonite: Planet Adyn by M. L. Wang - Book Cover

Theonite: Planet Adyn (Theonite #1) by M. L. Wang

The first book in the Theonite series, which is set in the same universe as The Sword of Kaigen, is out now (paperback, ebook).

The author’s website has both an Amazon preview and a text sample from Theonite: Planet Adyn.

Superpowers, crime-fighters, parallel dimensions, and a mysterious villain—this sounds like a comic book in novel form in the very best of ways!


Joan is at her happiest when she uses her powers – stirring air currents, creating fire, and levitating metal objects – but she learned at a young age that no one in her small-minded suburban town was prepared to accept her abilities. Since that painful revelation, she has hidden her powers, isolating herself from others, even keeping her own parents at a distance.

However, all that changes when a spastic but charming boy named Daniel Thundyil transfers to her school and she begins to suspect that he is concealing powers of his own. Burning with curiosity and desperate to end her loneliness, Joan makes it her mission to get to the bottom of this boy’s secrets. What she doesn’t realize is that Daniel isn’t just another Earthling with uncanny abilities; he is an inter-dimensional traveler from a world of super-powered beings. And the moment she started prying into his life, she put herself in the sights of the godlike evil that follows him from his dimension.

Now, the most powerful girl on Earth faces a choice: will she retreat back to the safety of her life in hiding or brave the storm for a chance at truth and friendship?

For Daniel Thundyil and his crime-fighter father, Robin, adventures in exotic places are nothing new. The two of them have chased criminals all over their own planet of super-powered beings. But this is the first time a mission has brought them to a parallel dimension, and something about it doesn’t sit right with Daniel. Questions gather like storm clouds: Who is this villain they are hunting? Why won’t Robin reveal his name? As the sky darkens, Daniel and Joan start to wonder who is really being hunted.

Theonite: Orbit by M. L. Wang - Book Cover

Theonite: Orbit (Theonite #2) by M. L. Wang

The second book in the Theonite series is also available now (paperback, ebook).

The author’s website has both an Amazon preview and a text sample from Theonite: Orbit.


This was a world where two black women with spears trumped three white men with guns, and one unarmed musician trumped them all. This was going to take some getting used to…

After barely escaping Earth with their lives, Joan and Daniel scramble to piece together the mystery of Killer 31 while dodging police, security guards, fanboys, and a dark hooded figures.Daniel always intended to take on the Firebird mantle and fight his father’s enemies, but he didn’t expect to have to do it at the age of thirteen under a hail of spears and bullets.

Joan was hoping to find a world where she wouldn’t be isolated because of her powers, but adjusting to existence on the bottom of Duna’s racial hierarchy turns out to be more painful than any of the alienation she experienced on Earth.

Grieving, unbalanced, and quickly becoming the most wanted people on the Dakkabana space station, Joan and Daniel are forced to strike up alliances with some unlikely people: a hyperactive Firebird fanboy, a friendly painter, and the disappointing son of an otherwise powerful warrior family. Can the group of misfits pull together into something resembling a team in time to outsmart their enemies and save Firebird? Or will Robin Thundyil’s legacy disappear with him?

The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black - Book Cover

The Queen of Nothing (Folk of the Air #3) by Holly Black

The final book in the Folk of the Air trilogy just came out last week (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

Hachette has an excerpt from The Queen of Nothing, as well as samples from the previous books in the series:

  1. The Cruel Prince (text and audio samples)
  2. The Wicked King

The end of The Wicked King was amazing and infuriating (because it stopped there), and I had to find out what happened next! I already finished reading it this weekend because it’s short and the Internet is dark and full of spoilers, but I’m still processing how I feel about it. I definitely loved reading it and enjoyed Jude’s voice and the dialogue, but it seemed less twisty and dark than the first two books.


From the #1 New York Times bestselling author Holly Black, comes the highly anticipated and jaw-dropping finale to The Folk of the Air trilogy.

He will be the destruction of the crown and the ruination of the throne

Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold onto. Jude learned this lesson when she released her control over the wicked king, Cardan, in exchange for immeasurable power.

Now as the exiled mortal Queen of Faerie, Jude is powerless and left reeling from Cardan’s betrayal. She bides her time determined to reclaim everything he took from her. Opportunity arrives in the form of her deceptive twin sister, Taryn, whose mortal life is in peril.

Jude must risk venturing back into the treacherous Faerie Court, and confront her lingering feelings for Cardan, if she wishes to save her sister. But Elfhame is not as she left it. War is brewing. As Jude slips deep within enemy lines she becomes ensnared in the conflict’s bloody politics.

And, when a dormant yet powerful curse is unleashed, panic spreads throughout the land, forcing her to choose between her ambition and her humanity…

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight books I got over the last week—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (most of which are unsolicited books from publishers). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included, along with series information and the publisher’s book description. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Last week brought a book I’m very excited about (and I recently bought a signed copy of a book I loved, although I’m just linking to my review in the list at the end since I have written about it and am sure I will be writing about it again in my yearly favorites post!), but first, here’s the latest review in case you missed it:

Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender - Book Cover

Queen of the Conquered (Islands of Blood and Storm #1) by Kacen Callender

This Caribbean-inspired epic fantasy novel, Lambda Literary Award–winning author Kacen Callender’s first book for adults, was released last week (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook).

Orbit has an excerpt containing the prologue and first three chapters of Queen of the Conquered.


An ambitious young woman with the power to control minds seeks vengeance against the royals who murdered her family, in a Caribbean-inspired fantasy world embattled by colonial oppression.

Sigourney Rose is the only surviving daughter of a noble lineage on the islands of Hans Lollik. When she was a child, her family was murdered by the islands’ colonizers, who have massacred and enslaved generations of her people — and now, Sigourney is ready to exact her revenge.

When the childless king of the islands declares that he will choose his successor from amongst eligible noble families, Sigourney uses her ability to read and control minds to manipulate her way onto the royal island and into the ranks of the ruling colonizers. But when she arrives, prepared to fight for control of all the islands, Sigourney finds herself the target of a dangerous, unknown magic.

Someone is killing off the ruling families to clear a path to the throne. As the bodies pile up and all eyes regard her with suspicion, Sigourney must find allies among her prey and the murderer among her peers… lest she become the next victim.

Queen of the Conquered reckons with the many layers of power and privilege in a lush fantasy world — perfect for readers of S. A. Chakraborty, Ken Liu, and Tasha Suri.

Additional Books:

A House of Rage and Sorrow
by Sangu Mandanna
264pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.5/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.56/5

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

A House of Rage and Sorrow is the second book in Sangu Mandanna’s Mahabharata-inspired Celestial Trilogy, a young adult series combining mythic fantasy with space opera to tell the story of Esmae Rey, a princess who grew up desperate to connect with her twin and the rest of the family she never knew—a princess whose very existence was kept secret by the mother who sent her away, fearing a curse involving her daughter.

In A Spark of White Fire, Esmae decided to step out of the darkness into the light after seventeen years of living in obscurity, despite having been warned by the war goddess who divulged her true identity to her that it would be best if she remained in the shadows. The heretofore unknown girl made shock waves throughout the galaxy when she not only bested beloved exiled prince Alexi Rey in a contest for the indestructible, god-forged sentient warship Titania but also revealed herself to be the formerly presumed winner’s twin. This one act led to a horrific vision foreseen by the gods, and though it didn’t exactly unfold as expected, Esmae still suffered great losses—including her dream of being her brother’s closest ally and standing by him to defeat the uncle who stole his crown.

When A House of Rage and Sorrow opens three months later, Esame has staunchly sided with the uncle who accepted and cared for her and started the war with her twin that many within their house had been working to avoid. She feels as though she’s let so many down—her grandmother, her cousin, her mentor, and even Titania, who had chosen to join the twin she believed least likely to set off the conflict brewing between the Reys—but she is too consumed by her rage and sorrow to end it. Esmae doesn’t want to simply kill Alexi—that would be too easy on him—but wants to destroy his reputation, incensed that he remains highly regarded even after publicly shedding his honor on the day he betrayed her. Yet with the god of tricks (and bargains! He hates it when we mortals forget that part!) aiding Alexi, the twins’ war threatens to escalate beyond their kingdoms: for he seeks to free an imprisoned great beast that would devour entire stars, all because she could bring battles with Titania to a stalemate.

After reading A Spark of White Fire earlier this year, A House of Rage and Sorrow became one of my most highly anticipated books of 2019. I pre-ordered a copy and began reading it soon after its arrival but was surprised to find it less riveting than the previous book, which had a vivid narrative voice and masterful pacing that perfectly balanced character development and plot. The sequel is actually too quickly paced: a slightly shorter novel that adds another perspective besides Esmae’s (Titania‘s) and seems more focused on shocking revelations and plot than characterization, despite its many characters. I also thought that the writing was not as poignant as the first, and though that may have been due to Esmae’s increasing anger and jadedness, I rarely felt her oft-mentioned rage earlier in the novel.

Like the series opener, many of the clues leading to big revelations are seeded with the subtlety of a flashing neon sign. Although predictability isn’t necessarily bad, I do prefer that hints regarding Big Reveals leave at least some question as to whether or not my suspicions could be wrong. Interspersing the warship’s viewpoint with Esmae’s also added exposition and more obvious tip-offs about certain events, even if it did include some interesting bits and pieces (and gave a better idea of how much Titania cares about Esmae, as well as providing more insight into her thoughts and emotions). Having an additional narrative also supplemented my impression that this book was less intimate and centered than the first with all the characters weaving in and out. I did appreciate that most of these personalities were not clearly “good” or “evil” and I was never bored by it, but I was underwhelmed for a while considering how thoroughly enjoyable I found A Spark of White Fire.

But it improved later and the last 20% is amazing—among the best, most memorable sequence of chapters I’ve read this year. Esmae is forced to confront a devastating truth, and her rage becomes palpable as it boils over into a frothing mess that will leave a permanent mark. Given this and the wonderful foundation set in the first book, I’m still obsessed with this trilogy and where it’s headed, despite believing the middle volume to be a weaker installment.

That’s in part because of the excellently handled themes and the way they tie in with and expand on those from the previous book. This series is largely about family, both biological and found family, and this sequel has parallels with the first as Esmae continues to chase wishes only to realize she already had what she’d been longing for the whole time. It concerns people making mistakes that cascade into problems for the next generation, and the cycle created when those who come after feel as though the odds are stacked against them and make the same mistakes. It shows Esmae grappling with the reality that she’s had to fight for every single scrap of power she’s accumulated while her twin brother has been freely given loyalty, love, and acclaim; it shows the courage of taking an honest look at oneself and facing the worst parts. Esmae’s struggles are heartbreaking and relatable, and her anger is understandable even when she makes horrific choices and descends further into her fury and darkness.

Most of all, I loved that Esmae is not a static character—she will never be the same after the conclusion of A House of Rage and Sorrow. I can hardly wait to learn how that impacts the rest of her story, coming in September 2020.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Reviews of Other Book(s) in The Celestial Trilogy:

  1. A Spark of White Fire

Read “Steel and Flowers” (prequel short story about Kyra)