Book Description from Goodreads:

On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery”, a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well.

Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.

Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

Truthwitch, the first book in the Witchlands series by Susan Dennard, was released in both the US and the UK earlier this month. I started hearing that this book was amazing months before it was published and was incredibly excited about reading it. Despite having a fun plotline once it finally got going, I didn’t find the novel particularly memorable since the writing, world, and main characters did not work for me.

I almost didn’t even finish Truthwitch because I thought the first quarter of the book was badly done. It was both action packed and full of exposition as it introduced the world and characters, but neither of these were fleshed out enough to draw me in. I also found some of the dialogue and situations overdone and outright cheesy, like Safi putting on an act to get out of being searched by the guards. She gets away with it because gull droppings always end up landing on her and do at that precise moment—and the guards are too busy laughing at her to be concerned with doing their jobs. Although Safi and Iseult’s close friendship and status as total badasses who fight well together was compelling, it wasn’t enough to carry earlier parts of the book.

Despite their relationship being the only appealing factor for quite awhile, I started to find it more readable after Safi and Iseult separated for a little while. As a noblewoman, Safi is required to go to the emperor’s ball, and it soon becomes clear that something major is going to happen at this event. Though Iseult cannot go with her, she visits her people, which leads to learning more about her family, her magic, and her feelings about both. Their separation ends after both Safi and Iseult end up fleeing danger and then meeting up again, and by this point, I was more interested in finding out what happened to them—but even though I was driven to turn the pages, I found it rather unsatisfying after I finished the book and reflected more on what I’d read.

One reason I didn’t find it satisfying is that there’s a lack of subtlety, and this is especially apparent in the characterization of the four main protagonists. (Although the biggest focus is on Safi and Iseult, there are also parts from the point of view of two others: the Windwitch Prince Merik and the Bloodwitch Aeduan.) All their personalities are rather one dimensional without any nuance and their thoughts tend to come back to the same subjects repeatedly. The situations surrounding these characters are more interesting than the people themselves, and because of this, I actually found I’d be more likely to read the next book to learn more about some secondary characters whose motivations remain unclear than the main characters themselves.

Another issue I had is that the information supplied about the world is both too much and too little: there is a lot of exposition, but it’s light on the details of the world history. I didn’t find the world to be very original or well developed and thought there was an “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to the magic. It seemed as though every type of common ability imaginable was present: fire, air, water, earth, blood, lie detection, illusions, and more. Though this has potential to be a fun setting, I didn’t think anything particularly creative was done with it and these powers seemed to exist for plot convenience and cool fight scenes. Additionally, there is a fantasy trope that is very obviously set up and predictable. Of course, not every book needs to have a unique setting or be free from tropes to be excellent, but I felt this was a large issue with this book since it did have other problems as well.

Despite those issues, the last three quarters of Truthwitch did keep me turning the pages to find out what happened next and I’ve had a hard time figuring out whether to rate it a 5 or 6 because of that. Immediately after finishing it, I thought I might like it enough to read the next book even though I wasn’t very impressed by it. However, I’ve changed my mind after thinking about it some more, rereading much of it, and realizing there wasn’t much to keep me invested in it other than finding out more about some of the secondary characters. The first quarter didn’t appeal to me at all, and even after it picked up more, the writing, main characters, and world didn’t do much for me in the end so the final verdict is: it’s okay.

My Rating: 5/10

Where I got my reading copy: Read an ARC from the UK publisher; rereading for this review was from a finished copy provided by the US publisher.

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 one book I’m very excited about, but first, here are last week’s posts in case you missed them:

I’m currently working on a review of Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, and after that’s done I’ll be starting on my review of The Changeling Sea.

Now, the book that I’m really looking forward to reading!

The Lyre Thief by Jennifer Fallon

The Lyre Thief (War of the Gods Trilogy #1) by Jennifer Fallon

The Lyre Thief, set in the same world as the other two trilogies in the Hythrun Chronicles, will be released in the US on March 8 (hardcover, ebook). It takes place ten years after the Demon Child Trilogy (Medalon, Treason Keep, and Harshini).

I’ve been meaning to read a book by Jennifer Fallon for awhile and this sounds really good! The description on the back of the ARC makes it sound even better since it mentions a couple of things I really like: “switched identities” and “meddlesome gods” (including a God of Liars).


Her Serene Highness, Rakaia, Princess of Fardohnya, is off to Hythria, where her eldest sister is now the High Princess, to find herself a husband, and escape the inevitable bloodbath in the harem when her brother takes the throne.

Rakaia is not interested in marrying anyone, least of all some brute of a Hythrun Warlord she’s never met, but she has a plan to save herself from that, too. If she can just convince her baseborn sister, Charisee, to play along, she might actually get away with it.

But there is trouble brewing across the continent. High Prince of Hythria, Damin Wolfblade, must head north to save the peace negotiated a decade ago between the Harshini, Hythria, Fardohnya, Medalon and Karien. He must leave behind an even more dangerous conflict brewing between his wife and his powerful mother, Princess Marla.

…And in far off Medalon, someone has stolen the music.

Their quest for the tiny stolen lyre containing the essence of the God of Music will eventually touch all their lives, threaten everything they hold dear and prove to be far more personal than any of them can imagine.

Additional Books:

Book Description from Goodreads:

SERPENTINE is a sweeping fantasy set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology.

Lush with details from Chinese folklore, SERPENTINE tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns sixteen, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell.

When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self – even as she falls in love for the first time.

Serpentine is about a handmaid, Skybright, who wakes up one night to find she no longer has legs but a serpent coil. In the morning, she appears fully human again, but she continues to occasionally shift into this other form against her will. As she tries to learn about her connection to the serpent demon and master control over her two different forms, she also begins to fall in love with Kai Sen, a young man raised by monks.

Though I felt that Serpentine was longer than necessary for the amount of story contained within it, it is a lovely story. I very much enjoyed the mythology, Skybright’s encounters with the mysterious Stone, the focus on Skybright’s complicated friendship with her mistress Zhen Ni, and the ending. Skybright’s fears and struggles with accepting this other side of herself are realistically examined and sympathetic, and she’s determined, practical, and loyal to the ones she cares about.

While there was much I appreciated about Serpentine, I also thought it dragged at times, the characters other than Skybright did not come alive, and the love story was rushed since Skybright and Kai Sen barely knew each other. I probably would have loved Serpentine had it been tighter with some more compelling characterization, but though it had some interesting elements, I’m not sure if I’ll read the sequel (although the description of the next book on Goodreads does sound really good!).

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Burn for Me
by Ilona Andrews
400pp (Mass Market Paperback)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 4.8/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.26/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.4/5

Book Description from Goodreads:

#1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews launches a brand new Hidden Legacy series, in which one woman must place her trust in a seductive, dangerous man who sets off an even more dangerous desire…

Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile case. Nevada isn’t sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire.

Then she’s kidnapped by Connor “Mad” Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run or surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive.

Rogan’s after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she’s getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world.

Despite what the book spine claims and cover image indicates, this novel is not technically a paranormal romance even though there is a lot of romantic tension in the second half of the book. The first quarter of the book is primarily focused on introducing the world and Nevada’s latest job assignment: capturing Adam Pierce, a dangerously strong pyrokinetic who really enjoys setting things on fire. Immediately after her first encounter with Adam about a quarter of the way through the book, she’s kidnapped by Mad Rogan, a dangerously strong telekinetic with some telepathic ability whose cousin requested that he find her teenage son, recently seen committing arson with Adam. He chains Nevada in his basement and uses his telepathy to try to extract what she knows about Adam, but this is much harder than he expected since Nevada secretly has will-based magic of her own. He lets her go and later the two decide it’s best that they work together to find Adam. Nevada can’t stop thinking about how amazingly good-looking Mad Rogan is but tries to fight her attraction to him because he’s a psychopath.

This is a fun book with some of the classic Ilona Andrews style of amusing dialogue and narrative. The world isn’t terribly original since it’s basically people with different superhuman abilities, but that’s not an issue since it does certainly allow for some interesting situations. Nevada herself is wonderful: determined, smart, practical, forthright, and compassionate.

However, although I enjoyed reading some of her snappy dialogue with Mad Rogan, I also find it difficult to envision an eventual romance between the two (which I assume there will be due to the paranormal romance label). I suspect some of the awful things Nevada believes about him will turn out to be false, but even so, he drugged and abducted her, can kill without remorse, and used his power to choke a woman with her own dress. Nevada is completely right to think being in a relationship with him is a terrible idea!

Burn for Me is entertaining, and I do want to read the second book in the Hidden Legacy series once it’s released even if I did have some problems with it.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: I received it as a Christmas gift since it was a book on my wish list.

The Very Best of Kate Elliott
by Kate Elliott
384pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.01/5

Book Description from Goodreads:

Strong heroines and riveting storytelling are the hallmark of groundbreaking fantasy author Kate Elliott (“Crown of Stars,” “Crossroads”). Elliott is a highly-compelling voice in genre fiction, an innovative author of historically-based narratives set in imaginary worlds. This first, retrospective collection of her short fiction is the essential guide to Elliott’s shorter works. Here her bold adventuresses, complex quests, noble sacrifices, and hard-won victories shine in classic, compact legends.

In “The Memory of Peace,” a girl’s powerful emotions rouse the magic of a city devastated by war. Meeting in “The Queen’s Garden,” two princesses unite to protect their kingdom from the blind ambition of their corrupted father. While “Riding the Shore of the River of Death” a chieftain’s daughter finds an unlikely ally on her path to self-determination.

Elliott’s many readers, as well as fantasy fans in search of powerful stories featuring well-drawn female characters, will revel in this unique gathering of truly memorable tales.

Short fiction is not my favorite format since I tend to prefer longer stories with more time to explore characters and worlds, but I really wanted to read this because I’ve wanted to read more by Kate Elliott since I loved her Spiritwalker trilogy (Cold Magic, Cold Fire, Cold Steel). The Very Best of Kate Elliott contains an introduction by the author, twelve short stories, and four essays previously published online. Two short stories are set in the same world as the Crown of Stars series, one is set in the same world as Crossroads trilogy, two are set in the same world as the Jaran series, and one is set in the same world as the Spiritwalker trilogy.

Although I appreciated some of the themes and elements that went into the short stories, I didn’t find any of them to be particularly compelling. The only one I found at all memorable was the Jaran story “My Voice Is in My Sword” and that was only because of the darkly humorous ending; until that point, I thought that story was okay but not great. However, I did very much enjoy reading the four essays, especially the two on the portrayal of women in fiction (“The Omniscient Breasts” and “The Narrative of Women in Fear and Pain”) and the one on immigration (“And Pharaoh’s Heart Hardened”), a topic close to the author’s own heart as the child of immigrants.

My Rating: 5/10

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

In November, I launched the Fantasy Café Patreon account. One of the reward tiers allows voting on blog content for the following month. The first of these polls took place in December, determining one book to be read and reviewed in January. The theme of the month was fantasy books at least 15 years old and the January book is…

The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip

The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip

Since the day her father’s fishing boat returned without him, Peri and her mother have mourned his loss. Her mother sinks into a deep depression and spends her days gazing out at the sea. Unable to control her anger and sadness any longer, Peri uses the small magic she knows to hex the sea. And suddenly into her drab life come the King’s sons—changelings with strange ties to the underwater kingdom—a young magician, and, finally, love.

I’ll be reading it next since I just finished reading Ilana C. Myer’s Last Song Before Night. In February, I’ll be announcing the book selected in this month’s poll, which is a book not published by one of the large publishers. If you’d like to vote on the February poll determining a book to be read and reviewed in March, there’s still time to sign up before the end of January!

Book Description from Goodreads:

Toby thought she understood her own past; she thought she knew the score.

She was wrong.

It’s time to learn the truth.

Seanan McGuire’s debut Rosemary and Rue was an intriguing start to the October Daye series, and it became one of my favorite urban fantasies after reading the first few installments: there’s darkness and difficult choices, but endearing characters and amusing narrative and dialogue keep it from becoming overwhelmingly gloomy. Although I do find it annoying that Toby often misses the obvious, this does fit her character since she’s not really the reflective type. She’s the type to jump into the action feet-first and do whatever it takes to make things right, and she’s admirable because of her determination and heart. The books in the series kept getting better and better, and I was hooked.

Although I still enjoy the series and plan to keep reading it, I did not think The Winter Long was as good as most of the earlier books (and I thought the previous book ended the streak of the books continuing to get better as well). It’s possible that my expectations for this particular volume were much too high since the book description promised that Toby would learn the truth about her past, and the acknowledgments discuss that events in this book have been planned since the very beginning. While it’s true there are a lot of revelations, none of them were as surprising as I’d been expecting nor did they change much for Toby as a character. They certainly tie into her past in earlier books and some of what is learned will probably be more important to her story in future books, but I thought the new knowledge gained in this book was a letdown compared to the revelations about Amandine and therefore Toby’s magic in Late Eclipses. It seemed like the first half of the book mostly consisted of Toby being upset about learning the truth about one situation, wandering around to check on everyone, and then searching for answers that are rather conveniently found by simply showing up in the right place at the right time.

Earlier books in the series could be dark with terrible, lasting consequences, and another issue I had with this book was how easily anything potentially bad was resolved, often as a result of Toby’s magic. It’s beginning to seem like a rather convenient way to reset everything back to normal like it never even happened, which is making it difficult for me to be concerned about the characters being in danger anymore. (At the same time, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I were being intentionally lulled into a false sense of security before everything awful in the universe happens in a later book.)

Although I didn’t enjoy it as much as most of the other books in the series, The Winter Long is an entertaining book with some high points. Despite her abilities becoming a solution to so many potential problems, I did like reading about Toby’s magic and what she discovers she can do with it. Her relationships with the other characters are also great, and it’s fun to read the conversations she has with them. Also, some of the new information learned in this book is interesting even if it’s not quite as earth-shattering or compelling as I’d been hoping.

While a couple of momentous events happened, I didn’t feel like The Winter Long advanced the series very much. It had the amusing dialogue that I’ve come to expect from these books, but Toby and her friends did not evolve as characters and any major obstacles thrown at them were quickly resolved with only temporary costs. It’s possible more will be done with the new knowledge gained in this book in future installments, but there wasn’t much in this book that surprised me—and I didn’t feel like most of what was revealed changed anything other than making Toby more knowledgeable about what had happened in the past.

My Rating: 7/10

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

My Reviews of Other Books in the October Daye Series:

  1. Rosemary and Rue
  2. A Local Habitation
  3. An Artificial Night
  4. Late Eclipses
  5. One Salt Sea
  6. Ashes of Honor
  7. Chimes at Midnight

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.

A book I am very excited about reading showed up last week, but first, my favorite books of 2015 list went up last week in case you missed it.

Now, the book that showed up that sounds fantastic!

Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis

Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis

Masks and Shadows will be released on April 12 (trade paperback, ebook). It sounds like a book I would enjoy and was on my recent 16 Most Anticipated Books of 2016 list.


The year is 1779, and Carlo Morelli, the most renowned castrato singer in Europe, has been invited as an honored guest to Eszterháza Palace. With Carlo in Prince Nikolaus Esterházy’s carriage, ride a Prussian spy and one of the most notorious alchemists in the Habsburg Empire. Already at Eszterháza is Charlotte von Steinbeck, the very proper sister of Prince Nikolaus’s mistress. Charlotte has retreated to the countryside to mourn her husband’s death. Now, she must overcome the ingrained rules of her society in order to uncover the dangerous secrets lurking within the palace’s golden walls. Music, magic, and blackmail mingle in a plot to assassinate the Habsburg Emperor and Empress–a plot that can only be stopped if Carlo and Charlotte can see through the masks worn by everyone they meet.

Additional Books: