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

It’s not exactly a leaning pile this week since only one book came in the mail last week, but I’m rather intrigued by this one—which I knew nothing about until it showed up on my doorstep!

The Throne of the Five Winds - S. C. Emmett - Book Cover

The Throne of the Five Winds (Hostage of Empire #1) by S. C. Emmett

The Throne of the Five Winds, the first book in a new epic fantasy trilogy by bestselling author Lilith Saintcrow writing as S. C. Emmett, will be released on October 15 (trade paperback, ebook).

 

Two queens, two concubines, six princes.
Innumerable secret agendas.
A single hidden blade.

The imperial palace — full of ambitious royals, sly gossip, and unforeseen perils — is perhaps the most dangerous place in the Empire of Zhaon. Komor Yala, lady-in-waiting to the princess of the vanquished kingdom of Khir, has only her wits and her hidden blade to protect herself and her charge, who was sacrificed in marriage to the enemy as a hostage for her conquered people’s good behavior, to secure a tenuous peace.

But the Emperor is aging, and the Khir princess and her lady-in-waiting soon find themselves pawns in the six princes’ deadly schemes for the throne — and a single spark could ignite fresh rebellion in Khir.

Then, the Emperor falls ill — and a far bloodier game begins…

The Throne of the Five Winds is the first installment of the Hostage of Empire series, an intricate and ruthless East Asia-inspired epic fantasy trilogy perfect for fans of George R. R. Martin, Ken Liu, Kate Elliott, and K. Arsenault Rivera.

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

Last week brought a few books, but first, here’s last week’s review in case you missed it:

  • Unraveling by Karen Lord — This is a wonderfully done mythic mystery novel that journeys through time and memory, but as much as I appreciated the thought and skill that went into its creation, I didn’t love it since it engaged my head much more than my heart.

And now, the latest book mail!

The Bone Ships - RJ Barker - Book Cover

The Bone Ships (The Tide Child Trilogy #1) by RJ Barker

The Bone Ships, the first book in a new adventure fantasy series by Gemmell Morningstar Award– and British Fantasy Award–nominated author RJ Barker, will be released on September 24 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook).

 

A crew of condemned criminals embark on a suicide mission to hunt the first sea dragon seen in centuries in the first book of this adventure fantasy trilogy.

Violent raids plague the divided isles of the Scattered Archipelago. Fleets constantly battle for dominance and glory, and no commander stands higher among them than “Lucky” Meas Gilbryn.

But betrayed and condemned to command a ship of criminals, Meas is forced on suicide mission to hunt the first living sea-dragon in generations. Everyone wants it, but Meas Gilbryn has her own ideas about the great beast. In the Scattered Archipelago, a dragon’s life, like all lives, is bound in blood, death and treachery.

The Tide Child Trilogy
The Bone Ships

For more from RJ Barker, check out:

The Wounded Kingdom
Age of Assassins
Blood of Assassins
King of Assassins

Protect the Prince - Jennifer Estep - Book Cover

Protect the Prince (Crown of Shards #2) by Jennifer Estep

Protect the Prince, the second novel in New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Estep’s epic fantasy series Crown of Shards, will be released on July 2 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook).

The publisher’s website has samples from the first two books in the series:

  1. Kill the Queen
  2. Protect the Prince
 

Magic, murder, adventure, and romance combine in this second novel in the exciting Crown of Shards saga from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Estep.

Everleigh Blair might be the new gladiator queen of Bellona, but her problems are far from over.

First, Evie has to deal with a court full of arrogant, demanding nobles, all of whom want to get their greedy hands on her crown. As if that wasn’t bad enough, an assassin tries to kill Evie in her own throne room.

Despite the dangers, Evie goes ahead with a scheduled trip to the neighboring kingdom of Andvari in order to secure a desperately needed alliance. But complicating matters is the stubborn Andvarian king, who wants to punish Evie for the deaths of his countrymen during the Seven Spire massacre.

Dark forces are also at work inside the Andvarian palace, and Evie soon realizes that no one is safe. Worse, her immunity to magic starts acting in strange, unexpected ways, which makes Evie wonder whether she is truly strong enough to be a Winter Queen.

Evie’s magic, life, and crown aren’t the only things in danger—so is her heart, thanks to Lucas Sullivan, the Andvarian king’s bastard son and Evie’s … well, Evie isn’t quite sure what Sullivan is to her.

Only one thing is certain—protecting a prince might be even harder than killing a queen…

Additional Books:

Book Description:

In this standalone fantasy novel by an award-winning author, the dark truth behind a string of unusual murders leads to an otherworldly exploration of spirits, myth, and memory, steeped in Caribbean storytelling.

Dr. Miranda Ecouvo, forensic therapist of the City, just helped put a serial killer behind bars. But she soon discovers that her investigation into seven unusual murders is not yet complete. A near-death experience throws her out of time and into a realm of labyrinths and spirits. There, she encounters brothers Chance and the Trickster, who have an otherworldly interest in the seemingly mundane crimes from her files.

It appears the true mastermind behind the murders is still on the loose, chasing a myth to achieve immortality. Together, Miranda, Chance, and the Trickster must travel through conjured mazes, following threads of memory to locate the shadowy killer. As they journey deeper, they discover even more questions that will take pain and patience to answer. What is the price of power? Where is the path to redemption? And how can they stop the man—or monster—who would kill the innocent to live forever?

Unraveling, Karen Lord’s latest novel, is a standalone sequel to her wonderful World Fantasy Award–nominated, Frank Collymore Literary Award– and Mythopoeic Fantasy Award–winning first novel, Redemption in Indigo. Although it has ties to the previous book and some of its characters, Unraveling is quite different from it stylistically, making it seem like its own story more than a continuation of Redemption in Indigo to me. Redemption in Indigo is a folktale brimming with wit and humor told as though being narrated by a storyteller, and while it also contains some wit and lovely phrasing, Unraveling is a murder mystery with darker shades told through less conspicuous prose. It’s also a complicated journey through time and memory that may be a bit bewildering to us mere mortals at times.

“Bewildering” may sound like a negative quality, but I don’t see it that way in this particular case: the fact that this isn’t a straightforward whodunit adds depth and uniqueness to this tale. Lord did a fantastic job making Chance and the Trickster, undying who are currently mortal, both familiarly human and otherworldly in their approach to people and questions of morality, and they and the angels have an alien concept of time. The details of what human investigators had learned about the murders were gradually revealed, and it also delved into what was/is/will be—which could be confusing to those of us who experience time linearly, yet was also consistent and handled well.

Unraveling is a perfectly good book, one that obviously took skill and thoughtfulness to create. Yet as immersive as I found it after the first three chapters or so, it never managed to engage my heart the same way it engaged my head. The crimes and discovering the culprit are a big part of it, and there’s not much room for in-depth characterization with numerous characters connected to the serial killings constantly weaving in and out—although I do think the characters are decently developed considering the type of story and the short length of the novel. Ultimately, I appreciate Unraveling as art but do not find it memorable because my personal taste tends more toward books that delve deeper into the characters, and I much prefer Redemption in Indigo.

My Rating: 7/10

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

Read an Excerpt from Unraveling

My Review of Redemption in Indigo

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

The first of these books actually showed up the week before last, but I didn’t do this feature for the one book last week because I spent that time making progress on another post:

  • Review of The Unbound Empire (Swords and Fire #3) by Melissa Caruso — This trilogy has heart, humor, and thoughtful storytelling, and I felt that this final installment was one of those rare series endings done right. All three books are just SO MUCH FUN, especially the second and third books, making this one of my recent favorite series.

The Red-Stained Wings - Elizabeth Bear - Book Cover

The Red-Stained Wings (The Lotus Kingdoms #2) by Elizabeth Bear

The Red-Stained Wings, the second book in The Lotus Kingdoms series set in the same world as the Eternal Sky trilogy beginning with the excellent novel Range of Ghosts, is out now (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

Excerpts from both books in The Lotus Kingdoms are available:

  1. The Stone in the Skull
  2. The Red-Stained Wings
 

Hugo Award–winning author Elizabeth Bear returns to the epic fantasy world of the Lotus Kingdoms with The Red-Stained Wings, the sequel to The Stone in the Skull, taking the Gage into desert lands under a deadly sky to answer the riddle of the Stone in the Skull.

io9―New Sci-Fi and Fantasy for May
The Verge―13 New Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels for May

The Gage and the Dead Man brought a message from the greatest wizard of Messaline to the ruling queen of Sarathai, one of the Lotus Kingdoms. But the message was a riddle, and the Lotus Kingdoms are at war.

Elizabeth Bear created her secondary world of the Eternal Sky in her highly praised novel The Range of Ghosts and its sequels.

The Lotus Kingdoms
#1 The Stone in the Skull
#2 The Red-Stained Wings

The Eternal Sky Trilogy
#1 Range of Ghosts
#2 Shattered Pillars
#3 Steles of the Sky

Wanderers - Chuck Wendig - Book Cover

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

Wanderers, an apocalyptic thriller, will be released on July 2 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from Wanderers.

 

A decadent rock star. A deeply religious radio host. A disgraced scientist. And a teenage girl who may be the world’s last hope. From the mind of Chuck Wendig comes “a magnum opus . . . a story about survival that’s not just about you and me, but all of us, together” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and her sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.

For as the sleepwalking phenomenon awakens terror and violence in America, the real danger may not be the epidemic but the fear of it. With society collapsing all around them—and an ultraviolent militia threatening to exterminate them—the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart—or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.

Additional Books:

The Unbound Empire
by Melissa Caruso
560pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.43/5
 

Between watching the rushed final season of Game of Thrones and reading a couple of recent conclusions to trilogies, I’ve been thinking a lot about series endings—especially how rare it is to find a multi-volume story whose final installment measures up to its previous ones. Many series I’ve otherwise loved have had concluding volumes that didn’t entirely work for me, and in many of these cases, my problem wasn’t where the story ended up but how it got to that point. Though I do sometimes find endings to be too neatly, happily wrapped up given the characters’ difficult journeys (or, on occasion, too dismal and depressing for my taste), many of the series I’ve felt had weaker final installments primarily had issues with pacing: often, earlier and middle parts seem drawn out with characterization left by the wayside, then later parts pick up and proceed at a breakneck pace, and suddenly, it’s over. The end.

The Unbound Empire, the third volume in Melissa Caruso’s Venetian-inspired Swords and Fire trilogy, is one of those rare series finales done right. It’s well paced without leaving behind all the fun dialogue and interactions that were a large part of why I enjoyed the series so much in the first place. Successes feel earned. Character arcs advance in believable ways that fit naturally with the previous two books. And it maintains the balance between being so tightly resolved that it seems that the story doesn’t continue after the last page and so loosely resolved that it’s an unsatisfying conclusion. There’s enough work to be done that it’s not at all hard to imagine characters will continue to learn and grow as they face further problems after that final page, but it also didn’t have dangling plotlines or big unanswered questions that will haunt me forever.

In fact, the entire Swords and Fire trilogy is a series done right, cementing Melissa Caruso’s first three novels as some of my recent favorites. They’re entertaining and effortlessly readable with heart, humor, and thoughtful storytelling that makes them stand out. Though there’s much about them that feels familiar from the magics to a young heroine finding her place in the world, the mix of details and their execution make it fresh—from gender equality and LGBTQ acceptance removing some common obstacles, to the various governments that make the countries and conflicts more interesting than the oft-used monarchies, to the intricacies of how the mage-marked are controlled or not, to how mandatory service to the Empire is desirable for many mages since they are fed, sheltered, and protected from threats, to the individual quirks of the various Witch Lords. (You can read more about these in my reviews of the first two books, The Tethered Mage and The Defiant Heir.) Even the love triangle is a bit different from the norm and unusually well handled, but I won’t discuss that any further to avoid spoiling how it plays out!

In particular, I appreciated Amalia’s progression throughout these three books. When The Tethered Mage began, Amalia preferred books and magical theory studies to politics and had not yet acquired the acumen expected of her as the heir to her mother’s place on the ruling council. But her story is not about escaping the shackles of expectation to pursue her own goals—rather, it’s about embracing a role that she would not have chosen for herself and making it her own. Although I do often enjoy stories in which characters defy such roles to follow their hearts, I found it refreshing to follow one who chose to be dutiful instead, and Amalia still very much forged her own path as she made her own judgments and pursued her own goals. Her scholarly background was a strength—especially since the main villain, Ruven, used obscure knowledge gleaned from texts in addition to his powers—and Amalia had no illusions that she would ever be (or should be) just like her mother, though she did take her advice seriously and learn from her.

Throughout the trilogy, Amalia becomes more politically perceptive, and it’s gratifying to see just how far she’s come in The Unbound Empire. In the previous book, she seemed more naive and hesitant, and it also seemed to me that she got more credit than she deserved in the end, but her achievements seem deserved in the final book. She’s more aware of the games being played, and it’s delightful to read about actual competent nemeses as she tries to discover and thwart Ruven’s plans. Amalia realizes that Ruven is manipulative and unlikely to consider himself bound by his word later when he attempts to persuade her with reason or emotion, nor does Ruven automatically take Amalia’s words at face value considering what he knows about her. Although Ruven is one of those character types I often find dull—the type primarily motivated by greed and power with no apparent redeeming qualities—he is a compelling villain because he’s capable, making his depravity all the more chilling. He doesn’t make glaringly obvious mistakes, and even though he’s extraordinarily powerful as someone who can control others with a touch, heal himself, and draw from the life within his domain, he also has more than one trick up his sleeve. He uses his magic in different and sometimes unexpected ways, and he doesn’t just rely on his innate abilities in his pursuit of continental domination: he also studies, experiments, and invents all kinds of macabre horrors.

In addition to dealing with Ruven’s attempt to add her country to his own dominion in The Unbound Empire, Amalia also works on passing a law that will give the mage-marked more freedom while continuing her struggle with the consequences of the decision she made at the end of the previous book. As Amalia and Zaira face the possibility of unleashing the latter’s deadly fire in defense, a major theme in this novel is retaining one’s compassion when in a position that forces one to make life and death decisions in the service of protecting one’s people. How does one take the more difficult path of acknowledging their accountability instead of distancing oneself from the crushing weight of such responsibility—or giving in and simply becoming the monstrous person they feel they are in making such judgments? How does one remain true to their own principles when it seems that there are no good choices and time is running out?

There are no easy solutions, but Amalia has many supportive relationships and people she can rely on for help. Though she seems to believe her friend (and one corner of the love triangle) Marcello is the only person she can discuss such matters with, that’s just not true. Her accidental bond with Zaira has grown into a beautiful friendship, and Zaira will always bluntly (and, often, crassly) speak her mind, having no reservations whatsoever about telling Amalia when she thinks she’s making a misstep or being too hard on herself. Amalia also gets a glimpse of the softer side behind her mother’s ruthless exterior, and I loved the sage advice that La Contessa gave her about their role in the Empire, especially that she dispensed it without telling Amalia specifically how to think and be. Even Amalia’s suitor (and other corner of the love triangle) Kathe—one of the feared seventeen Witch Lords, who entered into a mutual courtship arrangement with Amalia for political appearances—has some wisdom to impart to her about ruling and has become someone she can turn to as more than just an ally in the fight against Ruven.

Many of Amalia’s connections shine brightly, and though each also shows a more serious side, Zaira and Kathe in particular add some much needed amusement in the midst of all the high stakes. Zaira has a way with words that makes conversations particularly interesting, and Kathe—whose hobbies include playing games and decorating trees with the skulls of his enemies—has a presence that automatically makes everything more interesting.

In fact, meeting Kathe is the main reason I found The Defiant Heir the most fun book in the series, but The Unbound Empire is both immensely fun and a technically stronger book, given that I didn’t have the feeling that Amalia was building her reputation too easily. It’s an excellent conclusion to the Swords and Fire trilogy, and I’m excited to read more by Melissa Caruso—especially considering her next series will be set in the same world as her first!

My Rating: 9/10

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

Read an Excerpt from The Unbound Empire

Reviews of Previous Books in the Swords and Fire trilogy:

  1. The Tethered Mage
  2. The Defiant Heir

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

Last week brought one book I’m very excited about (photo of the book next to Lying Cat), but first, here’s last week’s review in case you missed it:

And now, book mail!

The Ten Thousand Doors of January Cover

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Hugo and Nebula Award–nominated author Alix E. Harrow’s debut novel will be released on September 10 in the US and September 12 in the UK (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

Orbit has a brief excerpt from The Ten Thousand Doors of January in their acquisition announcement.

Alix E. Harrow also wrote a guest post for this year’s Women in SF&F Month:

In Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, September is sent on a quest to find a magical casket and take up her mother’s sword. But when she opens the casket she doesn’t find a sword—she finds a wrench, because her mother is a mechanic. If it were me opening that casket in the Worsted Woods of Fairyland, I would find a library.

You can read the rest of “My Mother’s Sword” here.

 

In the early 1900s, a young woman searches for her place in the world after finding a mysterious book in this captivating, lyrical debut.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a spellbinding tale of unforgettable love, impossible journeys, and the power of stories to lead to worlds never imagined.

Additional Books: