Women in SF&F Month Banner

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the third annual Women in SF&F Month! Women in SF&F Month began after there were some discussions about women’s contributions to science fiction and fantasy both as authors and bloggers. I’d felt that women in general were often not given the recognition they deserve in speculative fiction for a long time, and I did see a few comments like “Women do not write fantasy and science fiction” or “Women do not review fantasy and science fiction” in response to these discussions. After that, I decided to spend the month of April highlighting some of the many women who were contributing to fantasy and science fiction and showing that yes, indeed, there are women writing, reading, and discussing all kinds of speculative fiction. (The longer version of why I think reading and supporting women who write speculative fiction is important is here.)

Like the two previous years, I’ve invited several women contributing to SF&F to write guest posts, and their guest posts will be shared throughout the month of April. Once again, some guests will be discussing topics related to women in speculative fiction, but not all, since the goal is to get some interesting people, thoughts, and books all in one place—and perhaps find some new books and blogs to read! (I have already added a few books to my wishlist, and the month hasn’t even officially started yet.)

I’m very excited about this year’s Women in SF&F Month and its contributors! The guests for the first week are:

womeninsff_week1_2014

April 1: Renay from Lady Business
April 2: Cinda Williams Chima (Seven Realms, The Heir Chronicles)
April 3: Khanh from The Book Nookery
April 4: Beth Bernobich (Passion Play, Queen’s Hunt, Fox and Phoenix)
April 5: Anne Lyle (The Alchemist of Souls, The Merchant of Dreams)

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably heard that Elizabeth Bear is one of my favorite authors and that I think the first two Eternal Sky books are her best books I’ve read—and that is why I’m thrilled to be giving away the entire trilogy today! I cannot gush about the two books I’ve read in this trilogy enough; the wonderful setting, lovely prose, and amazing characters make these some of the finest fantasy books I’ve had the pleasure of reading. With the release of the final book coming up on April 8, it’s the perfect time to start reading the series!

Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear

About the First Book in the Trilogy, Range of Ghosts:

Temur, grandson of the Great Khan, is walking away from a battlefield where he was left for dead. All around lie the fallen armies of his cousin and his brother, who made war to rule the Khaganate. Temur is now the legitimate heir by blood to his grandfather’s throne, but he is not the strongest. Going into exile is the only way to survive his ruthless cousin.

Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. Then she was sent to be the wife of a Prince in Song, but that marriage ended in battle and blood. Now she has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of the wizards. These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to strife and civil war through guile and deceit and sorcerous power.

Range of Ghosts Excerpt | Shattered Pillars Excerpt | Steles of the Sky Excerpt

Courtesy of Tor Books, I have a set containing all three Eternal Sky books to give away! This giveaway is open to those with a mailing address in the US or Canada, and it includes Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, and Steles of the Sky.

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 “Eternal Sky Giveaway.” One entry per person and one winner will be randomly selected. Those from the US or Canada are eligible to win this giveaway. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Monday, April 7. The winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then 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 books).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winner. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Good luck!

Note: Now that the giveaway is over, the form has been removed.

The Winner’s Curse is the first book in a young adult fantasy trilogy by Marie Rutkoski, author of The Shadow Society and The Kronos Chronicles. “Bridge of Snow,” her beautifully written short story about Arin set years before The Winner’s Curse and featuring a Herrani tale, is free online.

As the daughter of the renowned General Trajan, Kestrel is expected to one day join the Valorian military. While Kestrel’s father requires that she regularly train in weapons, both of them know that her military strength is not in physical combat: Kestrel’s gift is a sharp and strategic mind. Kestrel excels at games of strategy and uses her wits to her advantage, but she has no interest in using this ability to fight their nation’s battles as her father dreams. Her true love is music, an unsuitable pursuit for a wealthy Valorian. Their society values music when performed by others but consider creating it beneath them, particularly since it was appreciated by the people of Herran they conquered and enslaved.

When she is not playing piano or following her father’s training schedule, Kestrel often spends time with her friend Jess. As the two are wandering through the city market one day, Jess becomes distracted and accidentally leads them to the crowded slave market as an auction is beginning. It’s too busy for them to escape, and Kestrel finds herself unwittingly bidding on the young Herrani, a blacksmith and singer whose refusal to demonstrate the latter ability as commanded strikes a chord with her. Once other potential bidders see that the general’s daughter thinks this man is valuable, they bid as well. Kestrel wins in the end by paying a rather exorbitant price, but she does not realize how high the cost of this purchase actually is or just how complicated this man will make her people’s lives—or her own.

The Winner’s Curse is a page-turner even though the first part of the book is much slower than the exciting second part. Even with a slower start, I found it really easy to pick up and quickly become absorbed in. Marie Rutkoski has a very natural, easy-to-read writing style, and I also found myself interested in finding out how the relationship between Kestrel and Arin, the slave she purchased, unfolded. Despite finding it difficult to put down, I didn’t find the book particularly memorable once I did manage to stop reading it. While it’s very enjoyable, there’s not enough world or character depth to make it truly stand out, although I am invested enough to read the second book once it’s available.

The setting is influenced by Roman and Greek history, particularly Rome’s subjugation of Greece, with Valoria having conquered Herran and enslaved its people. Other than the fictional nations and a few references to Herrani gods, there is not much about this book that is fantasy. That’s not a negative quality since I’ve enjoyed many fantasy books that are light on fantastic elements, but it does mean The Winner’s Curse is more focused on its characters and plot than detailed world-building. The novel does excel at portraying a relationship between two people in unequal stations, because of course, Kestrel and Arin do fall in love.

However, there is no insta-love or even instant attraction between the two. Kestrel is drawn to Arin at the slave market because she empathizes with his defiant attitude, but she doesn’t purchase him because she desires him for herself or finds him irresistibly dreamy. After she does own him, she feels guilty for her actions and is surprised to later find herself caring for him. Arin despises Kestrel at first, but he comes to care for her gradually as he learns what type of person she is and sees how much they have in common. Even with their growing attraction, neither ever completely forgets their situation because of love but cares for the other in spite of themselves. Both are very aware of the power imbalance between them, and both are conflicted about their feelings with their loyalties to their families and countries. I thought Marie Rutkoski superbly illustrated how two people on opposing sides might react to falling in love and the types of obstacles they would face.

While the book was told from the perspective of both Kestrel and Arin, more pages were dedicated to Kestrel’s viewpoint. I felt like I had a clearer idea of Kestrel’s personality and background than Arin’s, but with two more books in the series, that may change. Arin has a defiant streak and a temper, and he and Kestrel both share a love of music and a gift for strategic thinking. It was interesting to read the interactions between the two and how they each came to admire the other’s abilities, but neither character was entirely three dimensional. Kestrel is close to perfect, given her calculating mind and her skill as a musician. Her gifts are balanced by a flaw, her failure to excel at weapons despite having trained her entire life. However, her ability at strategy over-compensates for this disadvantage since Kestrel is able to make accurate connections with what appears to be insufficient information. For instance, she surmises that a child did not belong to his mother’s husband mainly because he is not an ugly baby like the rest of his siblings were. She is extremely confident about her conclusions, and she tends to be correct even when her realizations seemed to be lucky guesses more than a well-reasoned course of thought.

The writing was more functional than beautiful, but it was lovely at times. The Winner’s Curse is a dialogue-heavy book with short paragraphs, making it really easy to read at a good pace—and I did devour it. I had a terrible time putting it down once I started reading it, although I did quickly forget about it once I did manage to put it down during the first half. The second half was more intense and fun, leading to a great ending that left me interested in reading the next book even if not incredibly eager to do so.

The Winner’s Curse is an entertaining book with a well-developed relationship, but it does not have enough originality or character development to make it truly memorable. In spite of that, I am quite certain I will be reading the next book—primarily for the dynamic between Kestrel and Arin, two people who have completely fallen for each other but who also have the potential to end up as well-matched adversaries.

My Rating: 7/10

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

Read an Excerpt | Free Kindle Edition: Chapters 1-5 | Free NOOK Book: Chapters 1-5

Other Reviews of The Winner’s Curse:

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. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week brought a lot of books! A bunch showed up in the mail, and my husband and I bought a graphic novel for the iPad.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Words cannot express how excited I am to read this book! Katherine Addison is another name for Sarah Monette, author of The Doctrine of Labyrinth series. This is one of my favorite series ever, particularly for its excellent characterization and narrative voice. I am thrilled that she has a new novel being released, and I’m going to start reading it as soon as I finish the book I’m reading now.

The Goblin Emperor will be available on April 1 (hardcover, ebook). The first four chapters are on Tor.com.

 

A vividly imagined fantasy of court intrigue and dark magics in a steampunk-inflected world, by a brilliant young talent.

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.

This exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.

Saga Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Saga, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples

I loved the first two volumes of Saga and was eagerly awaiting the next volume in April—but I was pleasantly surprised do discover the release date was actually a little earlier than I had thought! My husband told me he saw it was available, and about two minutes later we had a copy for the iPad. I read it earlier today and enjoyed it very much.

It appears that the electronic version of Volume 3 was released last week, but the paperback is scheduled for release on March 25. There is an excerpt from the first volume on Tor.com.

 

Winner of the 2013 Hugo award for Best Graphic Story! When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe. From New York Times bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina) and critically acclaimed artist Fiona Staples (Mystery Society, North 40), Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults. In volume 3, as new parents Marko and Alana travel to an alien world to visit their hero, the family’s pursuers finally close in on their targets.

The Revolutions by Felix Gilman

The Revolutions by Felix Gilman

The Revolutions will be released in the US on April 1 (hardcover, ebook) and in the UK in September. An excerpt can be read on Tor.com.

 

Following his spectacularly reviewed Half-Made World duology, Felix Gilman pens a sweeping stand-alone tale of Victorian science fiction, arcane exploration, and planetary romance.

In 1893, young journalist Arthur Shaw is at work in the British Museum Reading Room when the Great Storm hits London, wreaking unprecedented damage. In its aftermath, Arthur’s newspaper closes, owing him money, and all his debts come due at once. His fiancé Josephine takes a job as a stenographer for some of the fashionable spiritualist and occult societies of fin de siècle London society. At one of her meetings, Arthur is given a job lead for what seems to be accounting work, but at a salary many times what any clerk could expect. The work is long and peculiar, as the workers spend all day performing unnerving calculations that make them hallucinate or even go mad, but the money is compelling.

Things are beginning to look up when the perils of dabbling in the esoteric suddenly come to a head: A war breaks out between competing magical societies. Josephine joins one of them for a hazardous occult exploration—an experiment which threatens to leave her stranded at the outer limits of consciousness, among the celestial spheres.

Arthur won’t give up his great love so easily, and hunts for a way to save her, as Josephine fights for survival…somewhere in the vicinity of Mars.

The Folklore of Discworld by Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson

The Folklore of Discworld by Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson

The Folklore of Discworld will be on sale March 25 (paperback, ebook).  An excerpt is available on the publisher’s website, including the introduction which tells of how the two authors met at one of Terry Pratchett’s book signings.

 

OFFERING INSIGHTS INTO ALL 40 DISCWORLD NOVELS
Find out
- Why cheeses roll down hills
– The hazards of treacle mining
– What’s so uncanny about the humble hare
-The origins of orcs (which are not the same as goblins!)
– Why witches come in threes
  
Legends, myths, fairytales, superstitions. Our world is full of the stories we have told ourselves about where we came from and how we got there. It is the same on Discworld, except that beings such as vampires, trolls, golems, witches and, possibly, gods, which on Earth are creatures of the imagination, are real, alive, and in some cases kicking on the Disc.

The Folklore of Discworld, coauthored by Terry Pratchett and leading British folklorist Jacqueline Simpson, is an invaluable reference for longtime Discworld fans and newcomers alike. An irreverent yet illuminating look at the living myths and folklore that are reflected, celebrated, and affectionately libeled in the uniquely imaginative universe of Discworld.

The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher

The Oversight (Oversight #1) by Charlie Fletcher

The Oversight will be released on May 6 (paperback, ebook). There is a preview of the book at io9, including the first two chapters.

 

Only five still guard the borders between the worlds.
Only five hold back what waits on the other side.

Once the Oversight, the secret society that policed the lines between the mundane and the magic, counted hundreds of brave souls among its members. Now their numbers can be counted on a single hand.

When a vagabond brings a screaming girl to the Oversight’s London headquarters, it seems their hopes for a new recruit will be fulfilled – but the girl is a trap.

As the borders between this world and the next begin to break down, murders erupt across the city, the Oversight are torn viciously apart, and their enemies close in for the final blow.

This gothic fantasy from Charlie Fletcher (the Stoneheart trilogy) spins a tale of witch-hunters, supra-naturalists, mirror-walkers and magicians. Meet the Oversight, and remember: when they fall, so do we all.

The Pilgrims by Will Elliott

The Pilgrims (The Pendulum Trilogy #1) by Will Elliott

The Pilgrims was released on March 18 (hardcover, ebook). An excerpt is available on Tor.com.

 

Eric Albright is a twenty-six-year-old journalist living in London. That is to say he would be a journalist if he got off his backside. But this luckless slacker isn’t all bad—he has a soft spot for his sometimes friend Stuart Casey, the homeless old drunk who mostly lives under the railway bridge near his flat. Eric is willing to let his life just drift by…until the day a small red door appears on the graffiti-covered wall of the bridge, and a gang of strange-looking people—Eric’s pretty sure one of them is a giant—dash out of the door and rob the nearby newsagent. From that day on Eric and Case haunt the arch, waiting for the door to reappear.

When it does, both Eric and Case choose to go through…to the land of Levaal. A place where a mountain-sized dragon with the powers of a god lies sleeping beneath a great white castle. In the castle the sinister Lord Vous rules with an iron fist, and the Project, designed to effect his transformation into an immortal spirit, nears completion. But Vous’s growing madness is close to consuming him, together with his fear of an imaginary being named Shadow. And soon Eric may lend substance to that fear. An impossibly vast wall divides Levall, and no one has ever seen what lies beyond. Eric and Casey are called Pilgrims, and may have powers that no one in either world yet understands, and soon the wall may be broken. What will enter from the other side?

Pilgrims is no ordinary alternate-world fantasy; with this first volume in The Pendulum Trilogy, Will Elliott’s brilliantly subversive imagination twists the conventions of the alternate-world fantasy genre, providing an unforgettable visionary experience.

The Time Traveler's Almanac edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

The Time Traveler’s Almanac edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

The Time Traveler’s Almanac was released on March 18 (hardcover, paperback, ebook). The preface is available on the NPR website.

 

The Time Traveler’s Almanac is the largest and most definitive collection of time travel stories ever assembled. Gathered into one volume by intrepid chrononauts and world-renowned anthologists Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, this book compiles more than a century’s worth of literary travels into the past and the future that will serve to reacquaint readers with beloved classics of the time travel genre and introduce them to thrilling contemporary innovations.

This marvelous volume includes nearly seventy journeys through time from authors such as Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, William Gibson, Ursula K. Le Guin, George R. R. Martin, Michael Moorcock, H. G. Wells, and Connie Willis, as well as helpful non-fiction articles original to this volume (such as Charles Yu’s “Top Ten Tips For Time Travelers”).

In fact, this book is like a time machine of its very own, covering millions of years of Earth’s history from the age of the dinosaurs through to strange and fascinating futures, spanning the ages from the beginning of time to its very end. The Time Traveler’s Almanac is the ultimate anthology for the time traveler in your life.

Lockstep by Karl Schroeder

Lockstep by Karl Schroeder

Lockstep will be released on March 25 (hardcover, ebook). An excerpt can be read on Tor.com.

 

When seventeen-year-old Toby McGonigal finds himself lost in space, separated from his family, he expects his next drift into cold sleep to be his last. After all, the planet he’s orbiting is frozen and sunless, and the cities are dead. But when Toby wakes again, he’s surprised to discover a thriving planet, a strange and prosperous galaxy, and something stranger still—that he’s been asleep for 14,000 years.

Welcome to the Lockstep Empire, where civilization is kept alive by careful hibernation. Here cold sleeps can last decades and waking moments mere weeks. Its citizens survive for millennia, traveling asleep on long voyages between worlds. Not only is Lockstep the new center of the galaxy, but Toby is shocked to learn that the Empire is still ruled by its founding family: his own.

Toby’s brother Peter has become a terrible tyrant. Suspicious of the return of his long-lost brother, whose rightful inheritance also controls the lockstep hibernation cycles, Peter sees Toby as a threat to his regime. Now, with the help of a lockstep girl named Corva, Toby must survive the forces of this new Empire, outwit his siblings, and save human civilization.

Karl Schroeder’s Lockstep is a grand innovation in hard SF space opera.

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

This middle grade fantasy will be released on March 25 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). It’s not the start of a series, but the author is writing a companion novel in the same world focusing on different characters. An excerpt from The Mark of the Dragonfly is available on the publisher’s website.

 

Fans of The City of Ember will love The Mark of the Dragonfly, an adventure story set in a magical world that is both exciting and dangerous.

Piper has never seen the Mark of the Dragonfly until she finds the girl amid the wreckage of a caravan in the Meteor Fields.

The girl doesn’t remember a thing about her life, but the intricate tattoo on her arm is proof that she’s from the Dragonfly Territories and that she’s protected by the king. Which means a reward for Piper if she can get the girl home.

The one sure way to the Territories is the 401, a great old beauty of a train. But a ticket costs more coin than Piper could make in a year. And stowing away is a difficult prospect–everyone knows that getting past the peculiar green-eyed boy who stands guard is nearly impossible.

Life for Piper just turned dangerous. A little bit magical. And very exciting, if she can manage to survive the journey.

The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher

The Burning Dark (Spider War #1) by Adam Christopher

The Burning Dark will be released on March 25 (hardcover, ebook). An excerpt is available on Tor.com.

 

Adam Christopher’s dazzling first novel, Empire State, was named the Best Book of 2012 by SciFi Now magazine. Now he explores new dimensions of time and space in The Burning Dark.

Back in the day, Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland had led the Fleet into battle against an implacable machine intelligence capable of devouring entire worlds. But after saving a planet, and getting a bum robot knee in the process, he finds himself relegated to one of the most remote backwaters in Fleetspace to oversee the decommissioning of a semi-deserted space station well past its use-by date.

But all is not well aboard the U-Star Coast City. The station’s reclusive Commandant is nowhere to be seen, leaving Cleveland to deal with a hostile crew on his own. Persistent malfunctions plague the station’s systems while interference from a toxic purple star makes even ordinary communications problematic. Alien shadows and whispers seem to haunt the lonely corridors and airlocks, fraying the nerves of everyone aboard.

Isolated and friendless, Cleveland reaches out to the universe via an old-fashioned space radio, only to tune in to a strange, enigmatic signal: a woman’s voice that seems to echo across a thousand light-years of space. But is the transmission just a random bit of static from the past—or a warning of an undying menace beyond mortal comprehension?

Black Dog is the first book in a new YA contemporary fantasy series by Rachel Neumeier. It will definitely be at least a duology since the second book is scheduled for release next year, but the author has mentioned she’d also like to write a third book on her blog.

Once Edward Toland and Malvern Vonhausel both belonged to the Dimilioc, a powerful group of black dogs. The two enemies were both exiled, but leaving Dimilioc did not end their enmity. Even after Toland relocated to Mexico and married, his wife had to hide the two of them and their three children: Alejandro, a black dog and the oldest; Natividad, a Pure girl with the power to protect others like her Pure mother; and Miguel, Natividad’s human twin. However, Vonhausel eventually found the family and murdered the children’s mother and father, although the three siblings managed to escape.

Natividad and her brothers believe their best chance for survival lies with the Dimilioc and head north to their territory in the northern United States. Since the Dimilioc value the Pure, they can at least be assured that Natividad should have a place there, although whether or not they will be willing to take in another black dog and a human boy is a gamble. When the siblings do reach the Dimilioc territory in Vermont, they find their numbers greatly diminished after the recent war that wiped out the vampires. Fifteen-year-old Natividad offers to marry any one of the black dogs of the Dimilioc, since this genetic match can provide them with strong black dogs and Pure daughters.

As suspected, convincing the Dimilioc to accept Alejandro and Miguel is more difficult than persuading them to shelter their sister, but the Dimilioc Master decides to allow them to stay after testing the two brothers. He also accepts Natividad’s offer of marriage to one of the Dimilioc but decrees that she will be allowed to choose which on her sixteenth birthday in four months and that none of them can touch her until then. Ezekiel, their executioner, is not too pleased with the latter part of this proclamation and makes it very clear that he intends to be the one to marry Natividad. In the meantime, the Dimilioc make plans to bring in more black dogs and strengthen the Pack—and they’re going to need all the strength they can get when Vonhausel comes against them with a power unlike any they have witnessed before.

My first experience with Rachel Neumeier’s writing was her previous novel, House of Shadows, an enchanting and beautifully written fantasy set in a secondary world. After loving that book, I was rather curious about her contemporary fantasy Black Dog. While I preferred the former, mainly because the writing style was more appealing to me, I also very much enjoyed Black Dog for its vivid world and endearing characters. The prose, particularly the dialogue, did not always work for me, but the top notch world building certainly did—and the more I reflect on it and reread parts of it, the more excited I am to read the sequel.

The highlight of Black Dog is the world: it’s vast and it has a history, but these are integrated into the story. Past events are revealed in a way that flows naturally, and they also have an effect on the present. The situation Natividad and her brothers are in at the beginning of the book is the result of a conflict involving their father before they were even born, and both their problems and Dimilioc’s are related to a recent war against the vampires. One of the obstacles the Dimilioc face is change and adjusting to the aftermath, which requires that they evaluate eliminating some of their long-held traditions. There’s also some much older history related to the Pure mentioned, and I have a suspicion this will be important as more of Natividad’s story unravels in the next book. Even though this novel focuses on a fairly small, close-knit group of people, there’s scope and it’s quite clear there is more to this world than these characters and what happens to them. Given that there are references to previous major events and other parts of the world, it seems as though there are many stories that could be written in this setting and much more to explore in other installments.

After the world, the novel’s biggest strength is its characters. In particular, I enjoyed the sibling relationships and how the three desired to protect one another—and were each capable of doing so in their own different way. Alejandro has physical strength as a black dog, and Natividad has her magic and abilities to calm and protect. Miguel, the only sibling who is not a point of view character, does not have any extraordinary powers as a human, but his advice and insight are invaluable (and he’s learned to be pretty good with a pistol, too!).

The other characters from Dimilioc are not as developed, but many seem to have interesting backgrounds and I’m hoping to learn more about some of the newer members in the next book. I’m also intrigued by Ezekiel, even if I do find his sudden attachment to Natividad somewhat creepy. Ezekiel is in some ways nearly too perfect since he’s an exceptionally strong black dog who became their executioner when he was barely even a teenager, but he also seems to be somewhat isolated and lonely due to his exceptional qualities. By the end of the book, I was quite curious about his story and why he’s so drawn to Natividad, and I even found myself rather interested in finding out if he’d win her over in the next book, despite some misgivings about this attraction. In general, I had some reservations about Natividad agreeing to select a husband at only 16 years of age, even though it was her suggestion and her choice. Overall, very little of this book is focused on Ezekiel and Natividad, but I’m guessing there will be more focus on them in the next book.

It’s not a grim book, but the mythology is rather dark since black dogs are at war with their nature. While I’ve read similar concepts in books focusing on wolves, this particular internal conflict seems much stronger than others I’ve read about. At one point, Natividad chastises someone for damning a black dog, explaining “Black dogs walk so close to the edge of Hell anyway. Never damn a black dog, it could happen, do you see?” (pp. 217) The black dogs are closer to hellhounds than wolves, and it takes a lot of control for them to learn to refrain from killing people.

My biggest issue with this novel is that the writing was a little casual for my taste. The dialogue is realistic and reads the way people speak, but that style is one I don’t always find easy to read. It uses “alright” a lot and there were many words emphasized in italics throughout the narrative. While there were a few times this grated on me, it wasn’t a huge problem for me, especially once I became interested in the story and finding out what happened next.

Even though I had a few nitpicks about the prose style, I did very much enjoy Black Dog. The world is epic, the characters intriguing, and the end had some promising developments that left me eager to read more in the next book.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: From the publisher at the request of the author.

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews of Black Dog:

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. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week there isn’t a new pile of books since only one book arrived, but it is a book I’m quite excited about (and have already started reading!).

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Half a King (Shattered Sea #1) by Joe Abercrombie

Half a King, the first book in a fantasy trilogy, will be released in the US on July 8 (hardcover, ebook). The UK release date is July 3. The entire trilogy is supposed to be released in the span of a year with Half the World scheduled for publication in February 2015 and Half a War in July 2015. I had heard it was a young adult fantasy, but it sounds as though it’s going to be marketed as both adult fantasy and young adult. You can read more about the complexities of determining which books to categorize as young adult and the categorization of this particular series on the author’s blog.

 

“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.