The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight books I got over the last week that sound like they may be interesting—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (the latter of which are mainly 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.

Over the last week, I added two books to the TBR, one purchase and one ARC. But first, here’s last week’s post in case you missed it:

  • Review of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia — This creative, haunting Gothic horror story gradually moves from quietly disconcerting to loudly disturbing as the secrets of a creepy mansion owned by a creepy family unfold. It’s one of my favorite books of the year!

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust - Book Cover

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

This new novel by the author of Girls Made of Snow and Glass just came out earlier this month (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). Bustle has an excerpt from Girl, Serpent, Thorn.

Girl, Serpent, Glass is a book I’ve been especially looking forward to—I love fairy tales and have been hearing such wonderful things about it!

 

Melissa Bashardoust’s Girl, Serpent, Thorn is “an alluring feminist fairy tale” (Kirkus Reviews) about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse.

There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik - Cover Image

A Deadly Education (The Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik

The first book in a new trilogy by New York Times bestselling author Naomi Novik will be released on September 29 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). Entertainment Weekly has an excerpt from A Deadly Education.

I LOVED Uprooted, and I love the sound of this based on what Naomi Novik wrote about its inspirations:

“One of the oldest legends of a school for witchcraft and wizardry is the story of the Scholomance, a hidden institution said to be run by the Devil himself, where the students are cloistered for years, never seeing the sun while learning the darkest of arts. Ever since I first read about this mysterious place in my middle-school library, I’ve been imagining its story. Who are the students in its classrooms and why would they or their parents accept the price the school exacts?”

(The quote above and the rest of the piece it’s from are currently on the home page of the author’s website, which is linked in the line below the cover image above.)

 

From the New York Times bestselling author of Uprooted and Spinning Silver comes the story of an unwilling dark sorceress who is destined to rewrite the rules of magic.

“The dark school of magic I’ve been waiting for.” Katherine Arden, author of Winternight Trilogy

I decided that Orion Lake needed to die after the second time he saved my life.

Everyone loves Orion Lake. Everyone else, that is. Far as I’m concerned, he can keep his flashy combat magic to himself. I’m not joining his pack of adoring fans.

I don’t need help surviving the Scholomance, even if they do. Forget the hordes of monsters and cursed artifacts, I’m probably the most dangerous thing in the place. Just give me a chance and I’ll level mountains and kill untold millions, make myself the dark queen of the world.

At least, that’s what the world expects me to do. Most of the other students in here would be delighted if Orion killed me like one more evil thing that’s crawled out of the drains. Sometimes I think they want me to turn into the evil witch they assume I am. The school itself certainly does.

But the Scholomance isn’t getting what it wants from me. And neither is Orion Lake. I may not be anyone’s idea of the shining hero, but I’m going to make it out of this place alive, and I’m not going to slaughter thousands to do it, either.

Although I’m giving serious consideration to just one.

With flawless mastery, Naomi Novik creates a heroine for the ages—a character so sharply realized and so richly nuanced that she will live on in hearts and minds for generations to come.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia weaves Mexican history and supernatural elements into an increasingly unnerving tale of Gothic horror in her latest novel, Mexican Gothic. Set in the 1950s, the spookiness unfolds in a creepy mansion owned by a creepy family in a mountain town inspired by Real del Monte, a place with architecture influenced by the British who arrived in the nineteenth century. Like the British who left their mark on Real del Monte, the fictional Doyle family came from England to run the town’s silver mines and built an English cemetery there—and the story’s horrors are bound to their home and past.

The novel revolves around Noemí, a socialite and university student living in Mexico City, visiting her somewhat recently married cousin, Catalina, a couple of weeks after her father received an odd, rambling letter from her. Catalina wrote of being poisoned by her husband, described ghosts and whispers that can sneak past barred doors, and asked for Noemí to come save her. Concerned, Noemí’s father tried to learn more from Catalina’s husband, who said she’d been distressed but was getting better and refused offers to bring her to the city for care. After her cousin keeps asking for her, Noemí is invited to visit, and her father asks her to determine if there’s an actual problem or if her cousin is just being melodramatic.

It’s immediately clear that something is not right. Noemí found her cousin’s letter to be rather unlike her and thinks it unfair to characterize her as being prone to melodrama, and her cousin’s new home gives off an aura of wrongness from the very start—both the old, decaying mansion itself and most of its occupants. They expect Noemí to be quiet, ask for permission before going into town, and not leave on her own, and the first time she meets her cousin’s new father-in-law, he starts discussing eugenics with her as casually as most discuss the weather. Noemí rarely even gets to see her cousin since she’s told Catalina needs her rest, and what little she does see of her just makes her more concerned about her well being.

And the longer Noemí is there, the weirder it gets. The Doyles’ behavior keeps getting odder, and when Noemí does manage to go into town, the townspeople tell her stories of the house being cursed and a murder-suicide that occurred. The mystery and tension just keep escalating as she learns more about the family and their history, uncovers more secrets and questions, and eventually begins sleepwalking for the first time since she was a child, seeing visions, and having unusually realistic dreams. (Content warning: These dreams do include sexual assault, and there is an attempted rape outside of dreams.)

Although this is horror with humans facing the eerie unknown complete with some supernatural elements, Mexican Gothic is ultimately about facing and fighting evil committed by other humans. Much like how technology is often utilized in science fiction, the fantastic aspects were not a threat on their own: a literal horror was born out of greed, colonialism, misogyny, racism, and an overall disregard for the humanity of others. The backstory is not subtle with its parallels, but I thought it worked well in this case. It was not only fitting for the characters involved and the area’s history, but it was also haunting and creative. (I will never look at mushrooms the same way again.)

It’s a novel that’s more focused on plot and mysteries than delving deeply into characters and relationships, but I liked Noemí and was rooting for her the whole time. Regardless of how clear the message to run from this house and its family gets—and it does indeed scream through the pages—she does not abandon her cousin, nor does she let these horrible people get under her skin. She’s fiercely loyal, determined, and kind at heart, and she never stops advocating for better care for her cousin. She’s resourceful and largely self reliant since Catalina is not able to speak freely or leave her room. However, she’s not quite on her own since she starts to befriend one member of the household who is rather unlike the rest of his family, but she’s also not entirely sure how much she can trust him—although he is kind and helps her out despite cost to himself, he is still a part of this family with its myriad secrets.

The writing style is fairly straightforward, which makes devouring its chapters effortless as they move from quietly disconcerting to loudly disturbing. There were times I felt the prose was more stilted than flowing, and as much as I enjoyed the references to Gothic literature and dark fairy tales throughout, there were also times I thought they were intrusive and self indulgent. However, these were minor issues considering how much I enjoyed reading Mexican Gothic overall.

The way it keeps increasing the stakes to become more and more riveting is part of its charm, but the beginning may seem a bit…slow. I’m hesitant to call it “slow” since it doesn’t meander and keeps moving forward, but I did want to mention this since I had no plans to read this novel after sampling the first chapter. Fortunately, I heard enough praise for it afterward that I decided to at least give it a shot when I was invited to download an electronic copy—and I’m so glad I did since I could hardly put it down after the first couple of chapters or so.

In fact, Mexican Gothic is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. If you’re in the mood for a standalone novel that keeps ramping up the stakes and getting more and more sinister, it may be for you too. (Or maybe even if not—I rarely read horror, and yet I found this one so engaging I want to get a print copy!)

My Rating: 8/10

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

Read Chapter One of Mexican Gothic

Read Another Excerpt from Mexican Gothic

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight books I got over the last week that sound like they may be interesting—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (the latter of which are mainly 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’s books are all purchases: two I ordered from Bookshop during the #BlackoutBestsellerList campaign and one new ebook.

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh - Cover Image

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh

I somehow missed hearing about this Alex Award–winning science fiction title until recently, but Do You Dream of Terra-Two? went straight onto the wish list after I did hear about it.

It’s available in hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook, and the author’s website has an excerpt from Do You Dream of Terra-Two?

 

An NPR favorite book of 2019
Winner of the ALA/YALSA Alex Award

When an Earth-like planet is discovered, a team of six teens, along with three veteran astronauts, embark on a twenty-year trip to set up a planet for human colonization—but find that space is more deadly than they ever could have imagined.

Have you ever hoped you could leave everything behind?
Have you ever dreamt of a better world?
Can a dream sustain a lifetime?

A century ago, an astronomer discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting a nearby star. She predicted that one day humans would travel there to build a utopia. Today, ten astronauts are leaving everything behind to find it. Four are veterans of the twentieth century’s space-race.

And six are teenagers who’ve trained for this mission most of their lives.

It will take the team twenty-three years to reach Terra-Two. Twenty-three years locked in close quarters. Twenty-three years with no one to rely on but each other. Twenty-three years with no rescue possible, should something go wrong.

And something always goes wrong.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon - Cover Image

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

I’ve heard a lot of praise for Rivers Solomon’s debut science fiction novel, and An Unkindness of Ghosts has received a lot of recognition since its publication: it won the Firecracker Award for Fiction, was selected for the Tiptree Honor List, is a Stonewall Honor Book in Literature, and was a finalist for the Locus Award for First Novel and the Lambda Award for LGBTQ SF/F/Horror.

It’s available in trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook (and hardcover, although that appears to be rarer and more expensive at this point), and The Rumpus has an excerpt from An Unkindness of Ghosts.

 

Odd-mannered, obsessive, withdrawn–botanist and healer Aster Gray has little to offer folks in rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She’s used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly the monster they accused of her being, she’d be powerful enough to tear down the walls of HSS Matilda, the generation ship ferrying the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land.

When a series of blackouts threatens Matilda‘s voyage as well as the lonely life Aster has carved out for herself in the slum decks of the ship, she becomes embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer bent on bringing her to heel. Aster may have found a way to improve her lot–if she’s willing to take him on and sow the seeds of civil war.

AN UNKINDNESS OF GHOSTS was a best book of 2017 in The Guardian, NPR, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Bustle, Bookish, Barnes & Noble, and more, as well as a Stonewall Honor Book, Firecracker winner, and a finalist for a Locus, Lambda, Tiptree, and Hurston/Wright award.

Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders by Aliette de Bodard - Cover Image

Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders (Dominion of the Fallen Novella) by Aliette de Bodard

Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders, a Dominion of the Fallen story about Thuan and Asmodeus, just came out last week (paperback, ebook). I’m not sure if it’s technically a novelette or a novella since I’ve seen it referred to as both of these.

Although it is set after the books in the Dominion of the Fallen trilogy, it is a standalone. I couldn’t resist getting it since Thuan was my favorite character in The House of Binding Thorns, plus it involves the Dragon Kingdom. (And I loved Thuan and Asmodeus together in the second book!)

 

From the author of the critically acclaimed Dominion of the Fallen trilogy comes a tale of dragons, and Fallen angels—and also kissing, sarcasm and stabbing.

Lunar New Year should be a time for familial reunions, ancestor worship, and consumption of an unhealthy amount of candied fruit.

But when dragon prince Thuan brings home his brooding and ruthless husband Asmodeus for the New Year, they find not interminable family gatherings, but a corpse outside their quarters. Asmodeus is thrilled by the murder investigation; Thuan, who gets dragged into the political plotting he’d sworn off when he left, is less enthusiastic.

It’ll take all of Asmodeus’s skill with knives, and all of Thuan’s diplomacy, to navigate this one—as well as the troubled waters of their own relationship….

A sparkling standalone book set in a world of dark intrigue.

A Note on Chronology
Spinning off from the Dominion of the Fallen series, which features political intrigue in Gothic devastated Paris, this book stands alone, but chronologically follows The House of Sundering Flames. It’s High Gothic meets C-drama in a Vietnamese inspired world—perfect for fans of The Untamed, KJ Charles, and Roshani Chokshi’s The Gilded Wolves.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight books I got over the last week that sound like they may be interesting—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (the latter of which are mainly 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 two books to add to the TBR, but first, here’s what has been posted since the last one of these features in case you missed anything:

  • “Why Jack the Ripper?” — Katherine Addison discussed Jack the Ripper, who appears in her new fantasy novel, The Angel of the Crows. (The giveaway included in this post is over now, and I’ve heard from both winners.)
  • Review of The Obsidian Tower (Rooks and Ruin #1) by Melissa Caruso — This is the first book in a new epic fantasy series set in the same world as the Sword and Tower trilogy but focusing on different characters about 150 years later. Although it didn’t keep me hooked consistently during the first 20% or so, it ended up being the most engrossing, fun book I’ve read in some time.

And now, the new books!

The Empire of Gold by S. A. Chakraborty - Book Cover

The Empire of Gold (The Daevabad Trilogy #3) by S. A. Chakraborty

The final book in S. A. Chakraborty’s wonderful Daevabad Trilogy was just released last week (hardcover, ebook, audiobook, large print edition). io9 has an excerpt from The Empire of Gold, and the Harper Collins website has an audio extract.

Harper Collins also has both text and audio samples from The City of Brass (the first book) and an audio sample from The Kingdom of Copper (the second book).

I pre-ordered the final book in this trilogy since I LOVED the second book, which was one of my favorite books of last year. (And if you too feel like you’ve forgotten some of the details since reading them, Recaptains has summaries of both The City of Brass and The Kingdom of Copper that I found helpful.)

 

The final chapter in the bestselling, critically acclaimed Daevabad Trilogy, in which a con-woman and an idealistic djinn prince join forces to save a magical kingdom from a devastating civil war.

Daevabad has fallen.

After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people.

But the bloodletting and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.

Having narrowly escaped their murderous families and Daevabad’s deadly politics, Nahri and Ali, now safe in Cairo, face difficult choices of their own. While Nahri finds peace in the old rhythms and familiar comforts of her human home, she is haunted by the knowledge that the loved ones she left behind and the people who considered her a savior are at the mercy of a new tyrant. Ali, too, cannot help but look back, and is determined to return to rescue his city and the family that remains. Seeking support in his mother’s homeland, he discovers that his connection to the marid goes far deeper than expected and threatens not only his relationship with Nahri, but his very faith.

As peace grows more elusive and old players return, Nahri, Ali, and Dara come to understand that in order to remake the world, they may need to fight those they once loved . . . and take a stand for those they once hurt.

Tuyo by Rachel Neumeier - Cover Image

Tuyo (Tuyo #1) by Rachel Neumeier

Tuyo, Rachel Neumeier’s latest fantasy novel, was recently self published (trade paperback, ebook). The Kindle version is also currently available on Kindle Unlimited.

The author’s website contains an excerpt from Tuyo.

I’m excited to read this one, especially since I’ve enjoyed other books by Rachel Neumeier (especially House of Shadows!).

 

Raised a warrior in the harsh winter country, Ryo inGara has always been willing to die for his family and his tribe. When war erupts against the summer country, the prospect of death in battle seems imminent. But when his warleader leaves Ryo as a sacrifice — a tuyo — to die at the hands of their enemies, he faces a fate he never imagined.

Ryo’s captor, a lord of the summer country, may be an enemy . . . but far worse enemies are moving, with the current war nothing but the opening moves in a hidden game Ryo barely glimpses, a game in which all his people may be merely pawns. Suddenly Ryo finds his convictions overturned and his loyalties uncertain. Should he support the man who holds him prisoner, the only man who may be able to defeat their greater enemy? And even if he does, can he persuade his people to do the same?

The Obsidian Tower
by Melissa Caruso
528pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 4.4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.07/5
 

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

The Obsidian Tower was easily one of my most anticipated books of this year after reading Melissa Caruso’s first trilogy, Swords and Fire (The Tethered MageThe Defiant HeirThe Unbound Empire), and I loved it as well. This novel is the first book in the Rooks and Ruin trilogy, a series with new characters set in the same world as Swords and Fire about 150 years after the end of the previous books. Given that, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to read the other three books before The Obsidian Tower. I would recommend it since they’re fantastic and I think having some familiarity with the world and history occasionally makes some of the details more interesting, but I don’t think there’s any reason not to start here if you’re especially drawn to this series or find it easier to get a hold of than the others. (In my opinion, this is also a stronger first volume, even though it did take longer to completely hook me than The Tethered Mage.)

There are two kinds of magic.

There is the kind that lifts you up and fills you with wonder, saving you when all is lost or opening doors to new worlds of possibility. And there is the kind that wrecks you, that shatters you, bitter in your mouth and jagged in your hand, breaking everything you touch.

Mine was the second kind.

As a Witch Lord’s granddaughter who inherited some of her power, Ryx should have life-sustaining magic. But instead of making plants and animals thrive, her magic kills everything—and everyone—she touches.

After her destructive power killed a man when she was just four years old, Ryx went to live with her grandmother. She learned to avoid stables and crowds and to dive out of the way if anyone came too near, and she walked a separate path through the castle to prevent others from accidentally bumping into her and dying. Many of her family members viewed her and her twisted vivomancy as a danger, and they were not at all pleased when Ryx came of age to become a Warden and was charged with protection of her grandmother’s castle—complete with the mysterious Black Tower their family has guarded for four thousand years, passing down the knowledge that “nothing must unseal the Door” from generation to generation.

Since she could not be a typical Warden due to exuding death, Ryx found another way to help her land and people: developing good relations with her mother’s homeland, the Serene Empire. After a few years of doing this diplomatic work, Ryx is trusted with negotiating peace between one of the Witch Lords and the Empire. This would be plenty difficult in and of itself considering the Shrike Lord is the one involved, but it’s even more challenging than expected when his ambassador/fiancée opens the Door to the Black Tower—but not for long, since she comes into contact with Ryx and dies when the castle’s Warden tries to prevent her from further meddling.

But the death of an ambassador betrothed to the Shrike Lord is only the beginning of Ryx’s problems. Her grandmother mysteriously disappears, her aunt annoyingly appears, negotiations continue with the brother of the now-vengeful Shrike Lord—and the more Ryx and a team of magical experts learn about the Black Tower, the more they fear the consequences of the Door being unsealed, even briefly.

The Obsidian Tower drew me in immediately with its opening lines (quoted above) and the following description of Ryx’s magic, but after that, how much it gripped me varied throughout the first 20% or so. It is decently paced from the start, but it also introduced a lot of different characters between the delegations showing up for peace negotiations, a team specializing in analyzing magical threats to the world tasked with examining the Door, a friend keeping an eye on events for their father, and curious, nosy, and/or domineering family members who don’t believe Ryx should be in charge. Plus there’s Whisper, a fox-like chimera who has resided in the castle for as long as anyone can remember and knows a lot of its secrets—but can’t share much of what he knows due to a promise he made. Many of these characters were intriguing (and how I loved Whisper), but I think making the acquaintance of so many of them is mainly why I felt the novel didn’t immediately hit its stride.

But once I was hooked, I was well and truly hooked. Even though I’ve been finding it difficult to get into books for the last few months, The Obsidian Tower kept me turning the pages long after I probably should have put it down to do chores or sleep. Best of all, it’s one of those rare books that kept me thinking about it even after I did manage to put it down, pondering all its various hints and mysteries. It’s filled with so many questions about who can be trusted and various characters’ agendas, the truth of both the Black Tower’s magic and Ryx’s own, and so much more. There are political and personal tensions, and the stakes keep increasing with new revelations about the Door and a murderer on the loose—and then Ryx’s situation keeps getting even more difficult and it keeps getting more and more riveting. It’s the most engrossing, fun book I’ve read in some time.

The writing style is denser than that of Swords and Fire, but it has the same sort of compulsively readable, engaging voice interspersed with amusing thoughts and dialogue as the previously published series. Ryx is an extremely sympathetic narrator since most of her family is unkind to her, fearing her unusual magic and what it could mean for their realm. She’s also lived a rather lonely life since she can’t get too close to anyone other than her grandmother or a powerful vivomancer who actively braces themselves against her magic, and the one time she considered courting someone as a teenager, her grandmother opposed the idea and sent the girl she cared for away. Her situation is a bit eerily familiar at this point in time since Ryx has basically been social distancing for her entire life: she’s had to avoid crowds, and if she does meet with others, she has to make sure she keeps some space between herself and them.

In addition to being about (unsuccessfully) trying to keep things at the castle under control, Ryx’s story is about figuring out who can and can’t be trusted and forging new friendships. In the process, she makes some rather large decisions that can almost seem rash, but I thought most of them made sense with the circumstances. (There was one choice she made toward the end that I thought seemed ill-considered, but I’m torn about whether or not that’s fair since I can also understand why she was in a rush to do something and why that would seem like the best option. I feel like she should have at least tried to find out more before making that kind of decision, but then, she was processing a vast amount of life-changing information while dealing with an overwhelming number of stressful incidents so maybe I should cut her some slack…)

There are also some great secondary characters, and it’s entertaining to read Ryx’s interactions with many of them. As already mentioned, I was especially fond of Whisper (talking animals/animal-like beings are usually a plus), and I was also particularly intrigued by Severin, the Shrike Lord’s brother who became his second representative in the peace talks after the death of the first. He’s one of those characters who seems as though he might have some hidden depths and may be able to be trusted…or maybe trusting him would be the biggest mistake one could make.

As much as I enjoyed many of the secondary characters, I did feel like they tended to fit a bit too neatly into certain boxes: the cousin who lived for dramatic entrances and speeches, the fighter who had to be restrained from stabbing people first and asking questions later, the awkward scholar who could endlessly babble on about his area of expertise, and so on. I rather like some of these types, especially the first two, but they didn’t have a lot of dimension and the way Ryx had a conversation about their pasts with each of her new friends seemed a bit formulaic.

But that’s a minor issue, considering how much fun I had with them and the mysteries that kept me reading. There is so much speculation fodder, and though many questions are answered by the end, there’s a lot more related to the bigger picture to explore in later books—the Black Tower and its history, why Ryx has the magic she does, more about Whisper’s origins after an intriguing revelation toward the end, and I would assume, why no one in the family except Ryx’s grandmother knew the truth about the Door. (The latter is nagging at me, but I also suspect there’s a reason she didn’t share the knowledge even if it seems like it would have been important for the Warden of the castle to know and could have saved a lot of trouble.)

It’s also impressive that this mainly takes place in one ancient castle showcasing a variety of previous Witch Lords’ tastes for things like bone decor, yet it still conveys a lot about the secondary fantasy world with people from different parts of the continent gathered together. Like Swords and Fire, it has a society with gender equality and LGBTQ acceptance, and societal inequality in Ryx’s country is mainly related to magical power.

Once again, Melissa Caruso has written a book that I found near impossible to put down. Even though it didn’t grip me immediately, The Obsidian Tower ended up being the most absorbing book I’ve encountered in quite a while. I can think of no better recommendation than that I was able to get lost in its pages at a time when I had been having great difficulty getting into any books—a remarkable feat at any time, but especially in the year 2020!

My Rating: 9/10

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

Read an Excerpt from The Obsidian Tower

Today I’m thrilled to have a guest post by Katherine Addison to share with you! She’s the author of some of my most treasured fantasy books, The Goblin Emperor and the Doctrine of Labyrinths series, and she’s here to discuss the inclusion of Jack the Ripper in The Angel of the Crows, her latest fantasy novel. The Angel of the Crows is out in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook on June 23 (tomorrow!)—and I also have two hardcover copies to give away to two North American residents, courtesy of Tor Books!

 

Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison - Book Cover
Read an Excerpt

About THE ANGEL OF THE CROWS:

Katherine Addison, author of The Goblin Emperor, returns with The Angel of the Crows, a fantasy novel of alternate 1880s London, where killers stalk the night and the ultimate power is naming.

This is not the story you think it is. These are not the characters you think they are. This is not the book you are expecting.

In an alternate 1880s London, angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings in a well-regulated truce. A fantastic utopia, except for a few things: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. And human beings remain human, with all their kindness and greed and passions and murderous intent.

Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of this London too. But this London has an Angel. The Angel of the Crows.

Why Jack the Ripper?

Jack is not the first serial killer, or even the first “modern” serial killer, but he’s the one we remember. There are several reasons for this, but one of the most important ones is his name. Not “the Whitechapel murderer” but “Jack the Ripper.” Someone was very cunning when they came up with that name. It’s short, punchy, imagination-catching. And the idea of a serial killer writing to the newspapers was new.

To be clear, I don’t think the Whitechapel murderer wrote the letter that starts “Dear Boss.” I don’t think he wrote any of the letters the police received (a couple hundred have survived, and there is a beautiful coffee-table-worthy book about them called Letters from Hell). I think people wrote letters to the police, some of them pretending to be the killer, because people do stupid stuff like that, and then someone got a bright idea.

“Someone” was probably a newspaper reporter or editor because the “Dear Boss” letter wasn’t sent to the police; it was sent to the Central News Agency. It was a publicity stunt. And to make it good, the writer not only claimed to be the Whitechapel murderer, but named him.

(The police fell for it hook, line, and sinker and reproduced the letter and postcard, placarding them in front of police stations, hoping someone would recognize the handwriting. So they were publicly authenticated as being really and truly from the Whitechapel murderer and led everyone off on a wild goose chase. The same thing happened again almost a hundred years later, during the hunt for Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. Someone sent the police a tape recording, and the police wasted countless hours and effort in trying to identify him, on the assumption that he was the Ripper. He wasn’t.)

The letter, and the follow-up postcard that starts, “I wasnt codding dear old Boss,” give the murderer a kind of style, a personality—an ugly personality, but a personality none the less. Something to hang your ideas about the murderer on. They’ve become so enmeshed in the story that even if you don’t believe in them, you call him Jack the Ripper.

And part of Jack’s enduring magnetism, if I can call it that, is that they didn’t catch him. No one ever saw him. To this day, nobody knows who he was. People have theories, and have been having theories since 1888—and the crazy theories about Jack the Ripper are also part of what keeps interest in him alive—but the theories have either been proven wrong or languish in the limbo of not being proven right.

I watched a true crime show about a guy pursuing the theory that one of the men who discovered Polly Nichols’ body was actually the killer. It is a very clever theory—and follows one of the precepts of both detective fiction and police investigation, that the person who finds the body is always suspicious—but is hobbled by the same problem as the other modern-day theories: the lack of a time machine to go back and ask the right people the right questions. Or to send a CSI team back to collect all the evidence we don’t have.

(Okay, obviously, with a working and reliable time machine, you could just go back to the night of one of the murders and wait for Jack to show up. Easy as pie.)

The terror Jack caused in 1888 was rooted in his crimes, the vicious bloody butchering murders of (at least) Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elisabeth Stride, Kate Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly.  But part of the terror was that Jack the Ripper could be anybody. He wasn’t a crazed madman (although plenty of people thought he was), because a crazed madman would have been caught. This was a murderer who knew how to perform normalcy. The idea that the murderer could hide what he was, that someone could be both a brutal, bloody killer and an upright member of society, was both fascinating and profoundly upsetting—as it still is.

It is one of history’s odd coincidences—the sort of thing that’s too on-the-nose to put in a novel—that at the same time as the Whitechapel murders in 1888, a stage version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was being performed at the Lyceum Theatre in London. The relevance was as obvious then as it is today. (Someone even wrote to the police with the theory that the star of the play, Richard Mansfield, was the Whitechapel murderer; his performance was, perhaps, too convincing.)

Jack the Ripper has staying power. The name, the immediate mythologizing, the subsequent theorizing, (the tourism industry in Whitechapel, which also started in 1888), the unresolvable uncertainty: all these things keep Jack a household word. And they make a start—although they certainly don’t add up to an answer—on the question, Why Jack the Ripper?

Photo of Katherine AddisonPhoto Credit: Sheila Perry KATHERINE ADDISON’s short fiction has been selected by The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and The Year’s Best Science Fiction. She is the author of the Locus Award-winning novel The Goblin Emperor. As Sarah Monette, she is the author of the Doctrine of Labyrinths series and co-author, with Elizabeth Bear, of the Iskryne series. She lives near Madison, Wisconsin. You can find her on Twitter as @pennyvixen.

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen AT fantasybookcafe DOT com with the subject “Angel of the Crows Giveaway.” One entry per household and two winners will be randomly selected. Those from North America are eligible to win. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Tuesday, June 30. Each winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them after 24 hours has passed, a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).

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Update: The giveaway has ended.