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.

There are no new reviews from last week (though I am working on a review of a book I mentioned in last week’s Leaning Pile of Books post, Tomorrow’s Kin by Nancy Kress), but the week did bring a few intriguing books to cover today!

The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen

The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen

This short story collection by Nebula, Word Fantasy, and Mythopoeic Award–winning author Jane Yolen will be released on November 14 (trade paperback, ebook). It includes an introduction by Holly Black plus some notes on these stories and poems by the author.


Where is Wendy? Leading a labor strike against the Lost Boys, of course.

A Scottish academic unearths ancient evil in a fishing village. Edgar Allan Poe’s young bride is beguiled by a most unusual bird. Dorothy, lifted from Kansas, returns as a gymnastic sophisticate. Emily Dickinson dwells in possibility and sails away in a starship made of light. Alice’s wicked nemesis has jaws and claws but really needs a sense of humor.

In Jane Yolen’s first full collection in more than ten years discover new and uncollected tales of beloved characters, literary legends, and much more. Enter the Emerald Circus and be astonished by the transformations within.

Table of Contents

Andersen’s Witch
Lost Girls (Nebula Award Winner)
Tough Alice
Blown Away
A Knot of Toads
The Quiet Monk
The Bird  (Original story)
Belle Bloody Merciless Dame
Jewel in the Toad Queen’s Crown
A Gift of Magicians
Rabbit Hole
Our Lady of the Greenwood
The Confession of Brother Blaise
Wonder Land
Evian Steel
Sister Emily’s Lightship

The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

The Tethered Mage (Swords and Fire #1) by Melissa Caruso

This fantasy debut novel, the first book in a trilogy, will be released on October 24 (trade paperback, ebook).


In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled — taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army.

Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire.

Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations.

But fate has bound the heir and the mage. And as war looms on the horizon, a single spark could turn their city into a pyre.

The Tethered Mage is the first novel in a spellbinding new fantasy series.

The House on Durrow Street by Galen Beckett

The House on Durrow Street (Mrs. Quent #2) by Galen Beckett

I recently read and reviewed The Magicians and Mrs. Quent and found it thoroughly engrossing. In fact, I immediately ordered the rest of the trilogy after I finished reading it!


Her courage saved the country of Altania and earned the love of a hero of the realm. Now sensible Ivy Quent wants only to turn her father’s sprawling, mysterious house into a proper home. But soon she is swept into fashionable society’s highest circles of power—a world that is vital to her family’s future but replete with perilous temptations.

Yet far greater danger lies beyond the city’s glittering ballrooms—and Ivy must race to unlock the secrets that lie within the old house on Durrow Street before outlaw magicians and an ancient ravening force plunge Altania into darkness forever.

The Master of Heathcrest Hall by Galen Beckett

The Master of Heathcrest Hall (Mrs. Quent #3) by Galen Beckett

The third book in the Mrs. Quent trilogy showed up in time for last week’s post, but I saved it for this week since the second book hadn’t arrived yet. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series!


Even as her husband is about to attain undreamed-of power, Ivy Quent fears for her family’s safety. With war looming and turmoil sweeping the nation of Altania, Ivy finds the long-abandoned manor on the moors a temporary haven. But nowhere is really safe from the treachery that threatens all the Quents have risked to achieve. And an even greater peril is stirring deep within the countryside’s beautiful green estates. As Ivy dares an alliance with a brilliant illusionist and a dangerous lord, she races to master her forbidden talents and unravel the terrible truth at the heart of her land’s unrest—even as a triumphant, inhuman darkness rises to claim Altania eternally for its own.

Additional Book(s):

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

It’s been a couple of weeks since the last one of these posts went up due to the holiday weekend so this post includes books from the last two weeks (other than one book I am saving for a later post because I’m waiting for a related book to show up!).

Before covering the latest books, here are the posts from the last couple of weeks in case you missed any of them:

And now, recent books in the mail!

Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis

Snowspelled (The Harwood Spellbook #1) by Stephanie Burgis

Snowspelled, a fantasy novella, will be released on September 4 (ebook, paperback). The recent cover reveal at The Book Smugglers includes Stephanie Burgis’ commentary on the cover and a giveaway of a print of the cover art (the giveaway ends in four days).

Stephanie Burgis described this as her “escape-/just-for-fun/comfort-writing project” on Goodreads, and it does indeed sound like fun!


In nineteenth-century Angland, magic is reserved for gentlemen while ladies attend to the more practical business of politics. But Cassandra Harwood has never followed the rules…

Four months ago, Cassandra Harwood was the first woman magician in Angland, and she was betrothed to the brilliant, intense love of her life.

Now Cassandra is trapped in a snowbound house party deep in the elven dales, surrounded by bickering gentleman magicians, manipulative lady politicians, her own interfering family members, and, worst of all, her infuriatingly stubborn ex-fiancé, who refuses to understand that she’s given him up for his own good.

But the greatest danger of all lies outside the manor in the falling snow, where a powerful and malevolent elf-lord lurks…and Cassandra lost all of her own magic four months ago.

To save herself, Cassandra will have to discover exactly what inner powers she still possesses – and risk everything to win a new kind of happiness.

A witty and sparkling romantic fantasy novella for adults that opens a brand-new series from the author of Kat, Incorrigible, Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets.

Volume I of The Harwood Spellbook

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Provenance, a standalone novel set in the same universe as Ann Leckie’s multiple-major-award-winning Imperial Radch trilogy, will be released on September 26 (hardcover, ebook).


Following her record-breaking debut trilogy, Ann Leckie, winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke and Locus Awards, returns with an enthralling new novel of power, theft, privilege and birthright.

A power-driven young woman has just one chance to secure the status she craves and regain priceless lost artifacts prized by her people. She must free their thief from a prison planet from which no one has ever returned.

Ingray and her charge will return to her home world to find their planet in political turmoil, at the heart of an escalating interstellar conflict. Together, they must make a new plan to salvage Ingray’s future, her family, and her world, before they are lost to her for good.

Tomorrow's Kin by Nancy Kress

Tomorrow’s Kin (Yesterday’s Kin #1) by Nancy Kress

Tomorrow’s Kin, the first book in a new trilogy based/expanding on the Nebula Award–winning novella Yesterday’s Kin, will be available on July 11 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

The first third of the book is the novella Yesterday’s Kin, and if you haven’t read this yet, you can read chapter one on the Tor-Forge blog. has an excerpt that picks up right after Yesterday’s Kin ends, but of course, this will spoil the first part if you haven’t already read the novella!

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year since I thought Yesterday’s Kin (my review) was excellent, and I’ve already finished reading Tomorrow’s Kin—I couldn’t put it down!


Tomorrow’s Kin is the first volume in and all new hard science fiction trilogy by Nancy Kress based on the Nebula Award-winning Yesterday’s Kin.

The aliens have arrived… they’ve landed their Embassy ship on a platform in New York Harbor, and will only speak with the United Nations. They say that their world is so different from Earth, in terms of gravity and atmosphere, that they cannot leave their ship. The population of Earth has erupted in fear and speculation.

One day Dr. Marianne Jenner, an obscure scientist working with the human genome, receives an invitation that she cannot refuse. The Secret Service arrives at her college to escort her to New York, for she has been invited, along with the Secretary General of the UN and a few other ambassadors, to visit the alien Embassy.

The truth is about to be revealed. Earth’s most elite scientists have ten months to prevent a disaster―and not everyone is willing to wait.

Additional Book(s):

Since the beginning of 2016, I have been reading and reviewing one book a month based on the results of a poll on PatreonAll of these monthly reviews can be viewed here.

July’s theme is standalone novels. As much as I love a good series, I was finding the idea of potentially starting yet another one a bit daunting so I gathered some books without sequels for this poll. This month’s book selections were as follows:

The July book is…

In the Forests of Serre by Patricia A. McKillip
In the Forests of Serre by Patricia A. McKillip

Returning from war, Prince Ronan of Serre accidentally tramples a white hen in the road— and earns a witch’s curse. Her words are meaningless to a man mourning his dead wife and child, but they come to pass all the same; Ronan has not been home a day before his father insists on an arranged marriage. As he gazes into the forest, desperate for a way out, Ronan glimpses a wonderful firebird perched on a nearby branch. He follows where it leads him—into a sideways world where his father’s palace no longer exists. But his intended, the beautiful Princess Sidonie, is on her way to the palace. And her fate depends on Ronan wanting to find his way home. . . .

As always, I’m excited to read any book written by Patricia McKillip—I love her writing!

The Waking Land, Callie Bates’ debut novel, is the first book in a new epic fantasy trilogy featuring a heroine with conflicting loyalties and the power to wake the land like her ancestors of old, an ability last possessed two hundred years ago. Though I can understand why this new release is often compared to Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale due to its wild magic and the heroine’s connection with nature, it’s not a comparison I would make: The Waking Land does not have the same fairy tale quality as either of these, and in my opinion, it falls far short of both these novels.

When Elanna was five years old, the royal guard barged into her nursery, murdered her nurse, and brought her to the adults’ interrupted dinner party, where she witnessed King Antoine pointing a gun at her father, the Duke of Caeris. The king then placed the weapon against Elanna’s head and accused her father of betraying the crown but, since there was a lack of concrete evidence of wrongdoing, he also declared he would be merciful. Instead of having the duke tried and executed, he took his frightened young daughter as a hostage, promising to treat her well—that is, as long as her father remains loyal to king and country, of course.

Fourteen years later, Elanna has come to love King Antoine like a father and feels that she may even have a stronger relationship with him than his own daughter. She’s grateful that he rescued her from life in the unrefined backwater in which she was born and enabled her to be raised in civilization with a proper education, especially since he’s encouraged her desire to study botany. Since she was a child, Elanna has been able to make plants grow simply by touching them and awaken specters from the stones simply by dropping her blood upon them, though she hides these abilities and immerses herself in science instead as witchcraft is strictly forbidden. However, once a year she allows herself to sneak away from the palace to visit an old circle of stones, where she spills her blood and witnesses its power to conjure apparitions.

After Elanna returns from her latest annual trip to the stones, she goes to the greenhouse but finds it odd that she can’t find her mentor or the deadly mushroom she’s observing as part of her studies. She soon receives news that the king has been poisoned, and her teacher has been taken prisoner due to his knowledge in this area—but when the king dies, suspicion falls on Elanna, forcing her to flee her home.

Though she’s soon found by her father’s people, Elanna doesn’t trust Caerisians or the family she’s not heard from since the night she was taken hostage, nor does she want to become a pawn in her father’s revolution. Yet if Caeris is to gain its freedom, its only hope may be Elanna and her power of waking the land.

The Waking Land had potential to be a captivating novel, and I appreciated that the author added an unusual spin to the story through Elanna’s characterization. Despite a strong opening, I did find myself considering leaving the book unfinished a few times during the first fifteen percent due to the first person present tense narration and the main character herself, but it soon became difficult to put down. Unfortunately, I found myself rushing through the last quarter in order to finish it and move on to the next book, and I ended up feeling that it failed to deliver a novel that was worth the time spent reading it. Though the history and lore of the world stand out to an extent, it incorporated a lot of common fantasy tropes with forbidden magic, old magic reappearing, and revolution, and there was not much that I found memorable besides Elanna’s internal conflict.

At first, Elanna seemed fickle since one moment she’d be sneaking away to do magic and the next she’d be reflecting on magic as evil and unsophisticated. However, it seems as though she’s trying to convince herself this is what she believes because it’s much easier to survive in a country rife with witch hunters if she stifles that side of herself. Even aside from that, it seems as though it would be difficult for her to shake these ideas: she was taken from her home when she was only five years old, and she’s grown up hearing this and knowing that there are severe consequences for witchcraft. She has few memories of her own family, and she’s forgiven King Antoine for holding a gun to her head when she was young since it was a political move that saved the country, and he’s been nothing but kind to her since that day—plus she feels abandoned by her parents since they never rescued her or contacted her, and I suspect that also made it easier for her to replace them with the king who threatened her as a child. Furthermore, she’s struggling with guilt over a mistake innocently made when she was too young to understand what she did. Her feelings and life are quite complicated, and I thought this added some interesting dimension to her character. She didn’t always make the best decisions, but I could understand the fears and psychology that drove her to behave as she did.

The aspects of the novel that are not focused on the complexities of Elanna’s mindset were not as compelling, though, and other than that, The Waking Land is a rather average book at best. Elanna is recklessly brave and compassionate in a way that is familiar for main protagonists, and her narrative voice is not particularly engaging, even irritating at times because of being told in first person present tense. It also seems as though the people around her think far more highly of her than she deserves (unless they are antagonists, of course), citing that she may have some ability to be persuasive because she is ‘charming and well spoken.’ In no way did I feel she proved herself to be either of these, and it’s not possible they saw another side of her not shown to readers: those suggesting she possessed these qualities had either just met her or become reacquainted with her for the first time since she was taken hostage.

Most of the other characters are not terribly compelling either, and if they are, it’s mainly because they have mysterious motivations or secrets rather than because they possess depth and personality. There is a romance between Elanna and one of these characters, and though it’s understandable why the two would be drawn to each other given some similarities between them, it also seems too quickly developed given the amount of time they spend together and their interactions. Despite some commonalities, their romance seems to primarily be based on physical attraction, which certainly isn’t unrealistic but also doesn’t make a relationship interesting to read about.

Though The Waking Land does have some positive qualities—a strong beginning, a deeply and understandably conflicted heroine—and was even a page-turner at times, it didn’t manage to hold my attention all the way to the end. It grew into a more standard, predictable tale, and even the epic finale fell flat for me because I didn’t find the characters, prose, or world fascinating enough to make up for this.

My Rating: 5/10

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

Read an Excerpt from The Waking Land

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent
by Galen Beckett
498pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 7.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.1/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.53/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.57/5

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett is the first book in the Mrs. Quent trilogy, a Regency-esque fantasy set in a secondary world. The book itself is also split into three disparate but connected sections spanning subgenres: the first is primarily fantasy of manners, the second is mainly Gothic fantasy, and the last has more in common with traditional high fantasy with its focus on magic and higher stakes. While I feel that it’s a flawed novel in many ways, it’s also one of the most engrossing books I’ve read lately—in fact, the first thing I did after finishing it was order the next two books, The House on Durrow Street and The Master of Heathcrest Hall, because I really want to know what happens next!

While the Lockwell family lives in a respectable (though not fashionable) part of the city of Invarel, their financial situation has been in decline over the last few years, making it difficult for them to continue to afford their residence. Mr. Lockwell, once an esteemed doctor and scientist, has been confined to the house for nearly ten years after the practice of magick left him incapable of coherent communication. Only Ivy, his sensible eldest daughter, can calm him when agitated, and it is she whom her mother and sisters have relied upon to hold the family together since his affliction.

Before his illness, Mr. Lockwell taught Ivy the principles of problem solving, and she believes there must be a way to she can help her father. Since magick caused his ailment, Ivy is convinced magick must also be the solution and spends much of her time scouring the books in his library looking for answers, even though it’s dreadfully improper for women to do magick.

When picking up books her father scattered all over the library one day, Ivy discovers a title she’s never seen before but doesn’t give it much thought, assuming one of her youngest sister’s books was misplaced. However, she takes a closer look at it after she begins to suspect her father is leaving hints for her to seek that particular book and learns from its inscription that her father meant to give it to her for her thirteenth birthday, which occurred right after his magickal mishap. When Ivy finds a riddle hidden within it, she’s certain her father knew what was to befall him at the time and left her a clue that will lead to the answers she’s been looking for all these years. Ivy is determined to solve this mystery for her father’s sake, but more may be at stake than one person—the fate of her entire world may hinge on her figuring out this puzzle before it’s too late.

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is a delightful novel with a wonderful heroine and entertaining conversations, but it’s far from a perfect novel. Though I devoured it—even loved reading it!—it’s best enjoyed if one does not think about it too hard. It’s one of those books in which many problems could be solved by better communication, whether it’s people telling others important information earlier or mysterious strangers actually explaining what’s happening instead of being cryptic. There are also times in the second section that I didn’t think Ivy behaved completely in character in order to draw out that mystery as long as possible. However, despite all these quibbles, it was immensely entertaining and I could hardly put it down!

The first section has obvious similarities to the work of Jane Austen with its focus on society, relationships, and class inequality and serves as an introduction to the city of Invarel and the three main protagonists. Though this is primarily Ivy’s story, it also follows two other characters: Mr. Rafferdy, a lord’s son who is more interested in entertainment than business and responsibilities, and Mr. Garritt, a man struggling to provide for himself and his sister after their father squandered their money. The first chapter belongs to Ivy, and I knew I was going to like her from the very first line:


It was generally held knowledge among the people who lived on Whitward Street that the eldest of the three Miss Lockwells had a peculiar habit of reading while walking.

In addition to being a reader, she’s clever, kind, dutiful, and courageous, and she was my favorite of all the characters. With all her wonderful character traits, she almost seemed a little too perfect, but she did have a tendency to be a little recklessly adventurous at times, plus she could be a little judgmental and quick to anger (though she was also quick to reassess her first impression and feel remorse upon realizing she had made an error).

It took me a little longer to warm to the other two protagonists, especially since Ivy’s story begins with a clear direction given her goal to help her father, and it’s not immediately apparent how the other two fit. Mr. Rafferdy’s first chapter involves discussion with completely different characters at a party, and Mr. Garritt’s first chapter largely involves discussion with yet more completely different characters at a tavern (though at least he has his own goal of getting a loan while Mr. Rafferdy is rather aimless at first). They do eventually tie into Ivy’s story more, although Mr. Garritt’s story is much more loosely connected than Mr. Rafferdy’s—especially since Mr. Rafferdy immediately falls head over heels for Ivy and makes every effort to ensure he runs into her as often as possible, even though a lord’s son can never marry a woman of such low status.

The second part of The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is completely different from the first and last, as it switches to first person perspective in the form of Ivy’s journal. This spookier section is commonly compared to Jane Eyre, and it’s very different in tone from the lighter first. Ivy is a governess to two children, and she encounters some mysteries in the countryside: the children keep insisting they see someone outside who talks to them, and people in a nearby town find Ivy’s appearance unnerving. Some may find the change in point of view jarring, but I enjoyed spending more time with Ivy and learning more about the past with her.

The final section returns to Invarel and the original structure, and this part is where Mr. Rafferdy and Mr. Garritt’s roles become more necessary (though the former more than the latter). Book Three is focused on magick and political turmoil, and all characters are involved with different aspects of the former while Mr. Garritt’s adventures allow a glimpse of the rebellion against the king.

Though certainly not as witty or sharp as its authorial influences, The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is a thoroughly captivating read with a compelling main character at its center. It does have a tendency to put following the plot line before sense, but since it seems as though this novel is setting up a larger story and there are still a lot of unanswered questions, it’s possible at least some of these issues will be addressed in the sequels. It’s not a thoughtful book with much depth, but it’s a great book for those times one just wants to be immersed in a story—and I am very much looking forward to learning what happens next in The House on Durrow Street!

My Rating: 7.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

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

The House of Binding Thorns
by Aliette de Bodard
368pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.8/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.25/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.13/5

The House of Binding Thorns by Nebula Award–winning author Aliette de Bodard is the second novel in the Dominion of the Fallen series, a dark Gothic fantasy set in the ruins of an alternate Paris containing fallen angels, magic, and a dragon kingdom under the Seine. Though it follows events in the previous novel set in this world, BSFA Award winner The House of Shattered Wings, it’s considered a standalone sequel: it shifts the focus from House Silverspires to House Hawthorn and the dragon kingdom, and while it follows a couple of the same characters as the first novel, it also introduces some new ones. It’s certainly not absolutely necessary to read The House of Shattered Wings first (and, personally, I much prefer the newer book), but it would probably be helpful to do so since this novel does continue the stories of some of the same characters.

After the head of Silverspires learned of their House alchemist’s angel essence addiction, she dismissed Madeleine from their protection. Madeleine was then reclaimed by Asmodeus of Hawthorn, who has haunted her nightmares ever since she crawled away from this House twenty years ago—the night of the violent coup that ended with Asmodeus’ ascension to the head of House Hawthorn, many deaths, and her own severe injuries that never completely healed.

Once Madeleine has been weaned off the drug, Asmodeus presents her with a choice that is not much of a choice: she must pledge her loyalty to him and avoid relapsing in order to serve the House, or he’ll “release her.” Shortly after obtaining her oath of fealty, Asmodeus informs her that he intends for her to accompany a Seine-bound delegation that will be negotiating a formal alliance between Hawthorn and the dragon kingdom through Asmodeus’ betrothal to a dragon prince. All is not well in the dragon kingdom, and the diplomats find the dragons appear sick and frightened, there seem to be divisions among them, and the envoy Hawthorn sent to pave the delegation’s way has not been seen in three days—and no one knows what happened to her.

The cause of the dragon kingdom’s vulnerability is a recent influx of angel essence that has left many of its inhabitants skeletal with easily broken antlers. Considering that Hawthorn is the closest House to the Seine and the one that would benefit the most from their weakness, the dragons believed them to be a possible culprit and sent one of their own, Thuan, to infiltrate the House. For the last six months, Thuan has been acting the part of a young Annamite mortal seeking to become a dependent of the House, but in fact he has been trying to uncover the source of the angel essence destroying his kingdom—before it’s too late.

Despite its power, Hawthorn has enemies of its own, and both the House and the dragon kingdom may need to work together to survive—or they may fall together.

Though it featured an intriguing world and some lovely prose, I felt The House of Shattered Wings was hindered by too much narrative introspection that didn’t add to the story or advance the characterization, making parts of it rather dull (my review). In the end, it had enough strengths that I ended up deciding to give The House of Binding Thorns a chance, especially after learning it focused on House Hawthorn and Asmodeus, who was one of the more compelling characters from the previous book—and I’m happy I did since it’s a far superior novel.

Like the first Dominion of the Fallen novel, The House of Binding Thorns features some beautiful writing, and its further exploration of the world allows this to shine even more as it brings to life the wonder and decay of the dragon kingdom, the creepiness of a certain copse of trees, and other parts of the devastated Paris that de Bodard has created. While the perspectives in The House of Shattered Wings were limited to characters within House Silverspires, this novel’s point of view characters are both inside and outside of Hawthorn:

  • Madeleine, an angel essence addict and alchemist sent to the dragon kingdom as part of Hawthorn’s delegation (her story is continued from the previous book, in which she was part of House Silverspires)
  • Thuan, a several-decades-old dragon posing as a teenage Annamite boy in Hawthorn in order to investigate their potential involvement in the affairs of the dragon kingdom
  • Philippe, a former Immortal of the Jade Emperor’s court desperately trying to learn how to resurrect a dead friend (his story is continued from the previous book, in which he was in House Silverspires against his will)
  • Francoise, an Annamite woman on the edges of the Annamite community because they disapprove of her choice to love a Fallen (Berith, Asmodeus’ dying Fall-sister)

While I still felt each of them could have been fleshed out with more distinct narrative voices, I did find both Madeleine and Philippe’s stories and characters were more engaging than in the previous book. Madeleine’s struggles as an addict and a traumatized victim of Hawthorn’s coup are sympathetic and heartfelt, and though she wasn’t my favorite character, I enjoyed her story since the dragon kingdom was mostly viewed through her eyes. By far, my favorite point of view character was Thuan—his secret identity added some tension since there’s always the possibility of his discovery, and though dutiful to his kingdom, he also grapples a little with guilt over lying to those within the House who have treated him kindly (plus I love dragons!). However, I thought Francoise was the most fascinating and well-drawn character even if I preferred following some of the others’ stories.

Out of the four main characters, Francoise is probably the most “ordinary” and least powerful. She’s not a dragon or magician (though Berith can temporarily lend her some of her magic) nor does she have the power that comes from being part of a House, which makes the way she approaches challenges all the more admirable. She bravely faces Asmodeus, a Fallen feared by even Philippe and Thuan, on more than one occasion, and is a pillar of inner strength and resilience—and, unusually for fantasy, she does it all while pregnant or recovering from a difficult birth.

In general, The House of Binding Thorns is a unique addition to the speculative fiction genre. Though themes of community and belonging are not uncommon in stories, these are deftly and thoughtfully handled here, and it also examines post-colonialism with inspiration from France’s interference in Vietnam and the Opium Wars. Like many fantasy novels, it has an emphasis on power and those who wield it, but I found its approach to power struggles refreshing. Various characters and factions are grasping for dominance, but many of them do not seem to be doing so out of greed or a desire to become powerful, but mainly for survival—not only their own, but that of those they care about or their community as a whole. Despite a plethora of powerful characters with dragons, magicians, and Fallen, there is some balance and no one is so secure that they do not fear anyone else.

As mentioned, Asmodeus instills terror in even dragons and former Immortals due to his notorious ruthlessness and, though not a point of view character, he’s a fascinating character who tends to steal the show. He’s still somewhat mysterious since we only see him through the eyes of others, but it is shown that he does have a moral code of sorts since he tends to keep his word and look out for Hawthorn’s dependents—and there are even a couple of times some vulnerability shines through the mask he presents to the world.

The House of Binding Thorns further develops the world of the Dominion of the Fallen and is much stronger and more memorable than the previously published novel. It’s more engaging and better paced with gorgeous, atmospheric writing that fits the story and setting (of course, more focus on the dragon kingdom is quite welcome too!). Though more compelling than in The House of Shattered Wings, the characters did not seem as distinct or “alive” as I would have liked, but other than that, I thought The House of Binding Thorns was a standout novel.

My Rating: 8/10

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

Related Links: