Today I’m delighted to welcome Leanna Renee Hieber! Her debut novel, the enjoyable Prism-Award-winning The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, was recently reissued as Strangely Beautiful, a single volume containing revised editions of the first two novels in this saga. She is also the author of the Magic Most Foul trilogy beginning with Darker Still, and the second book in her Eterna Files series, Eterna and Omega, was just released earlier this month.

The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber Eterna and Omega by Leanna Renee Hieber

Penny Dreadful’s Betrayal and the Complexity of Feminism in the Gothic Tradition

Hello friends, this is the topic for a graduate thesis, not a blog post, so strap in.

Anyone who has seen my presentations at workshops and conventions across the country knows how passionate I am about Gothic fiction. As the author of ten Gothic, Gaslamp Fantasy novels, now with Tor, beginning with The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker back in 2009 to its recent revised reissue as Strangely Beautiful and my current Eterna Files series, I’ve made a career of writing characters that could have been mere victims or plot devices in a traditional Gothic plot and instead I let them live full lives of agency and developed, meaningful choices. My focus study in college was the Victorian era, so I do come at this from both an academic and professional level.

When a modern Gothic show, such as Penny Dreadful, while set in the Victorian Era, shuns some Victorian conventions but in effect reinforces some of the same, and the most harmful old stereotypes and violences against women who had proven so strong and capable from the start, this is not only a betrayal of the character, but a harmful replay of the Victorian paradox of women being unable to win due to constant double-standards, and being not even considered fully human; vessels for punishment and sacrifice.

The 19th century was a time of unprecedented change in terms of the Industrial Revolution, the shift from rural to urban populations, the creation of the middle class, rampant global colonialism and in the US, relocation and genocide of the native population. It was also a time of great innovation and the birth of many human and animal rights causes. But full rights were a long way off for most women and the vote wouldn’t come until 20 years into the next century. Laws about a woman’s ability to own property or keep what had belonged to her family or husband, as well as domestic abuse laws, didn’t begin until the mid-1800s, women being the property of fathers or husbands.

The 19th century dangerously misunderstood women’s holistic health and sexuality. Through a variety of male-dominated pseudo-sciences, women were found not to be sexual beings and those who did express desire often found themselves harshly corrected if not sent to an asylum. Binary gender roles were violently strict for men and women, and both found themselves victims of the paradox of not being “enough” either way, too limited to be able to express full emotional, physical and psychological humanity.

The tradition of Gothic fiction focuses on extremes. Rooted in psychological perspective, dread and tension, rather than an all-out descent into horror, the Gothic hangs you on a precipice. It leaves a lot to imagination, indulges in wild, often paranormal scenarios, lush if not purple prose, sometimes boasting unreliable narrators and questionable perspectives. The Gothic has always been titillating, as themes of possession, psychosis, physical drives, conditions and general sexuality were things Victorians didn’t dare talk about on the surface. The Gothic tells repressed truths in exaggerated metaphors.

A reader must approach the Gothic with both the willingness to sit back and enjoy the ride, giving over to the razor-thin, perilous edge between beauty and terror, but also be willing to understand the societal pressures, paralysis, obsessions, fetishes, prisons and contradictions from whence the stories come.

The Gothic tends to have a revival in times of great change and/or societal fear. In this day and age where the discourse of politics has devolved into orange tantrums and unprecedented, unfiltered antagonism, it is no wonder that there’s been an upsurge in the Gothic, as artists are tapping into the world’s fear of “the other,” just like Stoker’s subliminal themes in Dracula.

Many female writers, following a trail emblazoned by writers like Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley and the Brontë sisters to name just a few, were writing Gothic novels, ghost stories and “Sensational” novels like Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret and Gothic styled ghost stories through the century, all of which either overtly or subtly talk of the limited options for women at the time. In a stifling, limiting, often tragic era, writers examined the double standards of the ‘angel versus whore’ dilemma, and the various prisons of half the population, across all classes. For a number of Gothic tales, It Does Not End Well, and the sacrifices for women are enormous, if not deadly.

In our modern day and age, we can subvert this trope and move it forward as laws, societal mores and science has broadened our view of the world to allow for more understanding, choice, freedom and equality, though the fight continues to be fought across many social fronts, only with different vernacular and conditions.

The reason I’m here is Kristen noticed my impassioned Twitter rant about the Gothic, Victorian-set supernatural drama Penny Dreadful after having been a devoted fan of the series until the end. Let me be very clear that I’m only angry because I care. Deeply. I loved (almost all) of the characters in Penny Dreadful. It is the most mainstream embodiment of the genre I’ve spent my entire career in. I not only wanted it to be great, I needed it to be, as I knew I’d be called upon to discuss the series due to my expertise in similar-styled fiction. But if it had been me, I’d have made very different choices for the sake of the really wonderful characters the show had once championed.

By season three, we’ve heard or been shown a thousand times that “everyone is a monster,” but there’s still ways to be clever about “monstrosity” and not be doubly, hypocritically monstrous towards women. Female sexuality was monstrous to the Victorians and in Penny Dreadful it is also used as such. The dire, violent consequences of sex for the characters in Penny Dreadful were disproportionately heaped upon the female characters without a balancing force anywhere else in the series. I’m no prude and I’m not adverse to tragedy, but it has to be fair and balanced.

The only character with a seemingly healthy sense of her sexuality, the trans character Angelique, is murdered in season 2. Double trope foul there, reinforcing yet another violent narrative for queer characters. I kept waiting for a counterpoint to Angelique’s murder to offset that red-flag foul, and all we got at the end of season 2 was the murder of the one prominent person of color. Triple trope foul.

I know the point of Penny Dreadful is monstrous tragedy. I’ve no issue with that. The show’s title comes from 19th century sensationalist stories and ‘tabloid fiction,’ the dime-store novel if you will, called penny dreadfuls, and none of it ended well or happily.

Eva Green’s performance as the central character, Vanessa Ives, was breathtaking. Spectacular. She was the root by which I grounded myself in that wild world. There were some great and clever, bold things this show did for female and female identifying characters. Vanessa was her own woman for most of the show, and called her own shots, for better or for worse. But any ground gained was ruined by the finale.

Vanessa is to Penny Dreadful as Mina was to Stoker’s Dracula. Many of Penny Dreadful’s characters are taken and twisted around from Stoker’s classic 1897 novel. The show used many visual and storytelling parallels. To set Vanessa up as Mina-strong and then give her the Lucy treatment at the end, right down to the parallel of 3 sad white dudes staring down at her grave, was an uncharacteristic and poorly timed reversal of what had been set up from the beginning.

Far more independent, savvy, worldly and aware of darkness and danger than Stoker’s Mina, Vanessa had, until this peculiar end, not needed rescuing, claiming, or fighting over, and was no ordinary damsel in distress. The ending made her seem as though there was nothing but darkness left, all her capacity and fight vanished. I didn’t recognize the woman in the last episode of her own show. It isn’t the death I minded. It was the ‘mercy killing’ by a male hand to serve more character arcs of that same pain. I don’t mind earned tragedy, I understand tales of horror where ‘everyone dies.’ I am a fan of melancholy. Poe is my favorite, most beloved author. But deaths have to be earned for their own reasons and preferably not out of feminine weakness, please.

The finale was glaringly imbalanced. None of the other main characters died. She was the only sacrifice, when it was utterly improbable that all other characters would have lived through the battle. Frankenstein couldn’t even hold his gun. Frankenstein should have been dead a season ago.

This is tip-of-the-iceberg stuff and I have far more to say about the other characters and scenes, but I’ve got to get back to my own book deadlines. I try to offer my readers a rollicking Gothic supernatural saga and I try never to revisit the imbalanced tropes questioned here; instead I play broadly in this incredible genre where anything is possible and the paranormal can be an empowering force for all involved, and once empowered characters remain so. I don’t toy with agency. I wield it. That’s what feminism in the Gothic can be, allowing women their own choices by their own hand, their own agency to act for themselves, destroy themselves or get themselves out of situations. Not without help, none of us can go our whole lives alone, but there are ways to make sure the audience is aware that the character is making her own choices of her own mind and free will, not just a victim of circumstance or pawn of fate, her death interchangeable with her life.

For a perfect example of a film doing EVERYTHING right by what the genre is capable of, please watch Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak. Please take note how amazing Del Toro’s characters are and what he does with them. All of them are powerful and intriguing in their own right and all of them making choices with agency, for better or worse, acting not as one-dimensional victims or plot devices but as characters surpassing trope, all within a very trope-heavy environment. It’s full of tragedy and passion, beauty and terror and that dizzying whirl that makes the Gothic so delectable. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted for the genre. So it does exist.

Let’s celebrate the great representations and when something really misses the mark, let’s call it out as dreadful indeed.

Happy Haunting,

Leanna Renee Hieber
http://leannareneehieber.com

Leanna Renee Heiber
Photo Credit: C. Johnstone
LEANNA RENEE HIEBER’S first novel, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, is a foundation work of gaslamp fantasy and the winner of two Prism Awards. Hieber has been a finalist for the Daphne Du Maurier Award. Her travel schedule and other news can be found at Leannareneehieber.com.

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.

Both of this week’s books sound amazing, but first, here’s what happened last week in case you missed it!

Julie Czerneda stopped by as part of the Futures Past Tour celebrating the upcoming release of the second Reunification book, The Gate to Futures Past. She shared the story of her recent move while in the midst of book deadlines, and there’s also a giveaway—I’m giving away two sets of the first two Reunification books! You can also enter the tour-wide Rafflecopter giveaway for all eight Clan Chronicles books.

I’m actually going through preparing to move myself at the moment (the sorting of books is indeed HARD!) so I haven’t had much time for reading or writing reviews lately. However, there will be a guest post by Leanna Renee Hieber on Tuesday.

Now, this week’s books!

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Everfair, award-winning author Nisi Shawl’s debut novel, will be released on September 6 (hardcover and ebook with the audiobook following in October). Tor.com has an excerpt from Everfair.

There will be an Everfair tour throughout the month of September including events in Washington, Texas, Arizona, California, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Georgia. To see the dates, times, and locations, check out the News section on Nisi Shawl’s home page.

Nisi Shawl’s collection Filter House was one of the 2009 recipients of the Tiptree Award, and her short fiction has also been nominated for the World Fantasy Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Award, the Gaylactic Spectrum Award, and the Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award. Her story “Cruel Sistah” was selected for the Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror in 2005.

 

Everfair is a wonderful Neo-Victorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier. Fabian Socialists from Great Britian join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

Shawl’s speculative masterpiece manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history. Everfair is told from a multiplicity of voices: Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans in complex relationships with one another, in a compelling range of voices that have historically been silenced. Everfair is not only a beautiful book but an educational and inspiring one that will give the reader new insight into an often ignored period of history.

Magic Binds by Ilona Andrews

Magic Binds (Kate Daniels #9) by Ilona Andrews

The latest novel in the Kate Daniels series by New York Times bestselling author(s) Ilona Andrews will be released on September 20 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

This is one of my favorite ongoing series (books 3 and 4 are especially amazing!). The novels are as follows:

  1. Magic Bites
  2. Magic Burns
  3. Magic Strikes
  4. Magic Bleeds
  5. Magic Slays
  6. Magic Rises
  7. Magic Breaks
  8. Magic Shifts
 

Mercenary Kate Daniels knows all too well that magic in post-Shift Atlanta is a dangerous business. But nothing she’s faced could have prepared her for this…

Kate and the former Beast Lord Curran Lennart are finally making their relationship official. But there are some steep obstacles standing in the way of their walk to the altar…

Kate’s father, Roland, has kidnapped the demigod Saiman and is slowly bleeding him dry in his never-ending bid for power. A Witch Oracle has predicted that if Kate marries the man she loves, Atlanta will burn and she will lose him forever. And the only person Kate can ask for help is long dead.

The odds are impossible. The future is grim. But Kate Daniels has never been one to play by the rules…

Today I’m delighted to welcome Julie Czerneda as part of the Futures Past Tour celebrating the release of her upcoming science fiction novel! The Gate to Futures Past, the second book in the Reunification trilogy after This Gulf of Time and Stars, will be released on September 6, and I have a guest post by the author and a book giveaway of both Reunification books—plus DAW Books is offering a tour-wide giveaway of all eight Clan Chronicles books!

This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie E. Czerneda The Gate to Futures Past by Julie E. Czerneda
Cover Credit: Matt Stawicki

Move in the Midst? Oh, why not?!

Let me count the ways, shall I? First, to set the scene.

We’d lived in the same spot for a staggering (for us) 24 years. Time to go, we decided. Late spring, 2015, we put our house on the market for a month—a trial run, so to speak—then took it off again. No takers and, after all, I’d a book to finish. This Gulf of Time and Stars, as it happened. Having garnered all manner of useful information, my darling Roger applied himself to making our home more saleable, whilst I focussed on writing. That’s how we roll, you see.

Fast forward, oh, say five months. Now almost spring, 2016, with Gulf long done and released. I’m in the final, rather agonizing third of its sequel, The Gate to Futures Past.

Roger sidles into my office. He does that when I’m writing, so as not to disturb my train of thought, but this time there’s a certain “Indiana Jones dares enter scary temple” quality to that sidle. I pause.

“We were too late, last year,” he begins.

I give a cautious nod.

“We should put the house up much sooner this time.”

My fingers clench the keys. “Sooner as in—?”

“Spring’s just around the corner.” So help me, he’s grinning.

I glance hopefully at the screen, but the page number is still the same as a moment ago. As yesterday, for that matter. Tough spot, this midst of story.

Spring is the time, but… “I can’t stop to help,” I admit. There’s decluttering, cleaning, all that post-winter stuff. We’ve lists. Long ones.

“I’ll do it all,” Roger offers with truly distressing enthusiasm. “Don’t think about it. You write. We’ll be on the market by next month.” Whoosh and he’s gone, leaving me staring at the screen as I recall what being on the market means. Vacuuming daily? Only the start. Then—

His head pokes around the corner. “You’re absolutely right about painting the library walls first. I’ll bring up boxes for your books and you can pack—” an airy wave “—when you need a break! I’ll do the rest.”

And so it began.

Julie Czerneda's Books to Sort
On the advice of our son, I took all the books from their shelves and put back only those I loved to reread.

I did, in fact, keep writing. I did pack and sort books—and help paint—but Roger did indeed do everything else. I send the first draft to my editor-dear, Sheila E. Gilbert of DAW (Hugo winner!!!), added vacuuming to my daily routine, and we signed the paperwork to list the house slightly before the end of March, said the listing to go live in a week. Remember that.

Because before the listing went anywhere? A couple came to our house, fell in love, and bought it on the spot.

Which would have been wonderful, but their only condition? That we be out by the end of the month.

(Yes, in the previous month I’d finished a book. Not just any book, but an emotionally charged, important book! A book whose revisions were going to circle back to me as soon as Sheila had a moment to read it. Which could be at any moment.)

I’ll set the stage again. I decided to resist.

“We—” Roger starts.

“Excuse us,” I tell the agent, and virtually drag my beloved into the other room.

“We can,” Roger assures me. “You revise. I’ll pack everything. It’s a great book. Sheila will love it. There may not be a thing to fix.”

This from a man who’s lived with an author for almost 40 years.

“It’s a great offer,” he goes on, unrepentant. “No more vacuuming!”

A major enticement, to be sure, but move out in the midst of revising said important, emotionally charged story? I’m not quite hyperventilating. “I can’t help till the book’s done,” I warn him. Again.

“I’ll do it all.”

That’s what he thinks. “Not my office. It stays normal.” As normal as can be.

A look of horror fills his dear face. “But—”

I stand firm. “Not a single box. Not one thing off a wall till I send in the final book.”

Roger grins and that, as they say, is that. Resistance was always to be futile. “We’ve sold the house! We’re moving!” A period of vast joy and dancing ensues, because this is what we wanted.

Followed by a brief, weighty pause because yes, we’d forgotten something.

“Where are we moving to?” he asks, very slowly.

“You pack,” I offered. “I’ll find a place.” And did. Lest this make me seem amazing, I spent a whole 15 minutes on kijiji, located available rental properties in the area of our interest based on two key criteria—was there room for the books and did it have appliances?—and picked three to check out. Next day, we drive five hours, see the top two, pick one, and rent it. Day after that?

Drive home. Day after? Surprise! (Not really, but it adds dramatic tension, right?) Page proofs for This Gulf of Time and Stars arrive, aka the mass market.

Did those, shipped them back, and boom—into the revisions for Gate. (Which Sheila did in fact love, as Roger predicted, and which did need tweaks and fixes, as I’d expected, mostly mine because of how quickly I’d wrapped the ending because I was in the MIDST!)

From then on, I’m revising to the nurrrip! of the tape gun in the next room.

True to his word, Roger did do everything he could without touching my office. I’d finish a section and discover the dining room dismantled. Another, and our bedroom closet had emptied. The basement filled with odd-shaped bundles wrapped in cellophane, Roger having discovered packing film and gone mad. His brothers came to help at one point. At least I remembered company at meals. Understandably, there were things my beloved couldn’t pack or wrap, mostly in hopes I’d decide I no longer loved ALL the books. The rental place wasn’t that big, you see.

As those final three weeks flew by, I do believe the poor man was beginning to have nightmares about the untimely packing of books.

Me? Mine were of being mistakenly wrapped in cellophane—when I wasn’t swimming in edit notes.

Four days before the movers were to load our belongings in their truck, I ran spellcheck and hit send. Gate was done. Ish. Roger and I shared a celebratory bottle of wine, grabbed a quick supper, then?

I took tape gun in hand and headed back to my office.

Julie Czerneda's Empty Office
After doing the math, Roger suggested I no longer stack books in the middle of rooms.

Having bid a fond farewell to twenty-one boxes of books I no longer required in my life, I packed the rest—five rooms of shelves—in four days. The six boxes of my own first editions and current manuscripts I labelled “A—Most Important—Julie’s Office” for the movers.* Our fabulous friend next door packed our kitchen. Thanks, Kate! As for my office? I packed my suitcase with what clothes were left to me and everything I’d need to proofread Gate. Oh yes, that was going to happen in the midst of moving INTO the new place.

Our move couldn’t have gone better. Not surprisingly, our movers hadn’t encountered a Roger Prepped Home™ before. There were murmurs of stunned appreciation. They did their best to infuse some random elements by piling anything they weren’t sure of into the dining room.

Roger Prepped Home™
By the morning the movers arrived, Roger had sorted our stuff into different rooms and the garage based on fragility, type of material, and size.

And that was that. We’d moved in the midst.

Oh, what happened next? Another post, I think. I may title it “Life in a Faraday Cage.” Or maybe “Author, Alpacas, and Any Signal Yet?”

The main thing, however, is that we’re happy. While I write, in the midst of boxes, Roger’s searching for that new home to fit all the books.

It’s how we roll, you see. Together.

Julie Czerneda's New Office
It took a while to unpack my office, but I was hardly suffering. Nice view, isn’t it? And there are swallows.

*One of my special boxes did get to my new office. The other five? Found at last, a month later, at the bottom of three very tall stacks of boxes labelled “C-Store in Driveshed.” Only slightly crushed. We had to laugh.

Clan Chronicles Series

About the Series:
The Clan Chronicles is set in a far future where a mutual Trade Pact encourages peaceful commerce among a multitude of alien and Human worlds. The alien Clan, humanoid in appearance, have been living in secrecy and wealth on Human worlds, relying on their innate ability to move through the M’hir and bypass normal space. The Clan bred to increase that power, only to learn its terrible price: females who can’t help but kill prospective mates. Sira di Sarc is the first female of her kind facing that reality. With the help of a Human starship captain, Jason Morgan, himself a talented telepath, Sira must find a morally acceptable solution before it’s too late. But with the Clan exposed, her time is running out. The Stratification trilogy follows Sira’s ancestor, Aryl Sarc, and shows how their power first came to be as well as how the Clan came to live in the Trade Pact. The Trade Pact trilogy is the story of Sira and Morgan, and the trouble facing the Clan. Reunification will conclude the series and answer, at last, #whoaretheclan.

And what will be the fate of all.


Julie Czerneda
Photo Credit: Roger Czerneda Photography

About the Author:
Since 1997, Canadian author/former biologist Julie E. Czerneda has shared her boundless curiosity about living things through her science fiction, published by DAW Books, NY. Recently, she began her first fantasy series: Night’s Edge with A Turn of Light, winner of the 2014 Aurora Award for Best English Novel. A Play of Shadow followed, winning the 2015 Aurora. While there’ll be more fantasy, Julie’s back in science fiction to complete her Clan Chronicles series. Reunification #1: This Gulf of Time and Stars, came out in 2015. #2: The Gate to Futures Past will be released this September. Volume #3: To Guard Against the Dark, follows October 2017. An award-winning editor as well, Julie’s latest project is editing the 2017 Nebula Awards Showcase, a singular honour. Meet Julie at Acadia’s Dark Sky Festival, Bar Harbor, Maine this September and at Hal-Con, Halifax, this November. For more, please visit www.czerneda.com.

Throughout the entire blog tour, there’s a chance to win all eight books in the Clan Chronicles (The Stratification Trilogy, The Trade Pact Trilogy, and the first two books in the Reunification trilogy). Below that giveaway is information on entering to win the two latest books!

Both giveaways are US/Canada only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Courtesy of DAW Books, I have two sets of the first two Reunification books to give away! Each set includes This Gulf of Time and Stars in mass market paperback and The Gate to Futures Past in hardcover.

Reunification 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 “Reunification Giveaway.” One entry per household and two winners will be randomly selected. Those from the United States or Canada are eligible to win this giveaway. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Monday, September 5. Each 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 book).

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

Good luck!

Update: The form has been removed now that the giveaway is over.

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.

Three books, all of which sound quite intriguing, showed up in the mail last week, but first, here’s the latest review in case you missed it.

Last week, I reviewed N. K. Jemisin’s brilliant, complex, thoroughly engaging novel The Obelisk Gate (which was also released last week). I absolutely loved it—it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read and I can’t rave about it enough! And I was thrilled that the previous book The Fifth Season won the Hugo Award last night.

Now, the latest books!

Breath of Earth by Beth Cato

Breath of Earth (The Breath of Earth #1) by Beth Cato

Breath of Earth, the first book in a new series by Clockwork Dagger author Beth Cato, will be released August 23 (trade paperback, ebook).

I’ve wanted to read this ever since I first heard about it and saw the cover so I was quite excited when it showed up!

 

After the Earth’s power is suddenly left unprotected, a young geomancer must rely on her unique magical powers to survive in in this fresh fantasy series from the author of acclaimed The Clockwork Dagger.

In an alternate 1906, the United States and Japan have forged a powerful confederation—the Unified Pacific—in an attempt to dominate the world. Their first target is a vulnerable China. In San Francisco, headstrong Ingrid Carmichael is assisting a group of powerful geomancer Wardens who have no idea of the depth of her power—or that she is the only woman to possess such skills.

When assassins kill the Wardens, Ingrid and her mentor are protected by her incredible magic. But the pair is far from safe. Without its full force of guardian geomancers, the city is on the brink of a cataclysmic earthquake that will expose Earth’s powers to masterminds determined to control the energy for their own dark ends. The danger escalates when Chinese refugees, preparing to fight the encroaching American and Japanese, fracture the uneasy alliance between the Pacific allies, transforming the city into a veritable powder keg. And the slightest tremor will set it off. . . .

Forced on the run, Ingrid makes some shocking discoveries about herself. Her powerful magic has grown even more fearsome . . . and she may be the fulcrum on which the balance of world power rests.

Of Sand and Malice Made by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Of Sand and Malice Made (Song of Shattered Sands Prequel) by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Of Sand and Malice Made, a prequel to the Song of Shattered Sands series beginning with Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, will be released on September 6 (hardcover, ebook). Tor.com has excerpts from both of these books:

The second book in the series, With Blood Upon the Sand, is scheduled for release in February 2017.

I’ve considered picking up the first book in this series in the bookstore a couple of times now so I’m really curious about this one! I also love the cover and title.

 

Çeda, the heroine of the novel Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, is the youngest pit fighter in the history of the great desert city of Sharakhai. In this prequel, she has already made her name in the arena as the fearsome, undefeated White Wolf; none but her closest friends and allies know her true identity.

But this all changes when she crosses the path of Rümayesh, an ehrekh, a sadistic creature forged long ago by the god of chaos. The ehrekh are usually desert dwellers, but this one lurks in the dark corners of Sharakhai, toying with and preying on humans. As Rümayesh works to unmask the White Wolf and claim Çeda for her own, Çeda’s struggle becomes a battle for her very soul.

The Weaver by Emmi Itäranta

The Weaver by Emmi Itäranta

The Weaver will be released on November 1 (paperback, ebook, audiobook). This is Emmi Itäranta’s second novel; her first novel Memory of Water was nominated for several awards, including the Philip K. Dick Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Tiptree Award.

 

The author of the critically acclaimed Memory of Water returns with this literary ecological tale in the vein of Ursula K. Le Guin and Sheri S. Tepper, in which an innocent young woman becomes entangled in a web of ancient secrets and deadly lies that lie at the dark center of her prosperous island world.

Eliana is a model citizen of the island, a weaver in the prestigious House of Webs. She also harbors a dangerous secret—she can dream, an ability forbidden by the island’s elusive council of elders. No one talks about the dreamers, the undesirables ostracized from society.

But the web of protection Eliana has woven around herself begins to unravel when a young girl is found lying unconscious in a pool of blood on the stones outside the house. Robbed of speech by her attackers, the only clue to her identity is one word tattooed in invisible ink across her palm: Eliana. Why does this mysterious girl bear her name? What links her to the weaver—and how can she hold Eliana’s fate in her hand?

As Eliana finds herself growing closer to this injured girl she is bound to in ways she doesn’t understand, the enchanting lies of the island begin to crumble, revealing a deep and ancient corruption. Joining a band of brave rebels determined to expose the island’s dark secrets, Eliana becomes a target of ruthless forces determined to destroy her. To save herself and those she loves, she must call on the power within her she thought was her greatest weakness: her dreams.

 

It’s astonishing to recall that N. K. Jemisin’s impressive debut novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was released a mere six years ago since it’s difficult to imagine a time when she wasn’t one of my favorite authors. In the last few years, she’s published six more novels—the rest of the Inheritance trilogy, the Dreamblood duology, and now, the first two books in The Broken Earth trilogy—and has proven to be one of the more consistently excellent writers I’ve read. Three of her novels (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, and The Killing Moon) were among my favorites, and now, I’m adding a fourth book by her to that list: her latest release, The Obelisk Gate, which even surpasses these other beloved novels as her best yet.

The Fifth Season, the first book in The Broken Earth trilogy, is a brilliant book and a strong start to the series, but I didn’t find it as thoroughly engaging as other books by N. K. Jemisin that I’ve read. Though the writing, worldbuilding, and characterization were all fantastic, there were some parts that didn’t quite hold my attention even though I figured their importance would be revealed later in the trilogy. When the book ended, it seemed as though it was just starting to get to the heart of the story so I expected that the next may be more captivating—and was it ever! The Obelisk Gate expands on the first, tying everything together masterfully, and is a rare book that kept me glued to the pages from start to finish and reflecting on it even after I’d put it down.

I’m not going to discuss the plot since I don’t want to give away anything too earth-shattering; suffice to say it picks up where the last book left off and also provides more insight into Nassun and Schaffa. The characterization is incredible: each character is complex and crafted with care to show them at their best and their worst. In the hands of many authors, a character like Schaffa would be evil with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Though many of his actions are terrible, it’s also clear that he does care about some of his charges and believes he is helping them. The bad he’s done is not overshadowed or forgotten, but he’s a fully human character capable of a range of actions and complicated views and emotions—in fact, this can be said of all the characters.

The connections between characters and the examination of the way people are shaped by their experiences makes this all the more compelling. The influence of others is a particularly powerful theme in this novel, especially as shown through the exploration of the mother-daughter relationship between Essun and Nassun. In The Fifth Season, Essun’s concern for her daughter may make one imagine a caring relationship, but the reality is that Essun has made many mistakes with her daughter in the name of trying to protect her. Nassun’s relationship with both her parents is heartbreaking: she feels unloved by the mother who trains her so harshly and always felt closer to her father until the day he discovered she was an orogene. Later, Nassun begins to understand the training that molded her mother, and she herself is much like Essun though she’d prefer not to be.

In addition to being personal, The Obelisk Gate is epic and this manages to balance both quite well. More information is revealed about the stone eaters, obelisks, and the Seasons, and the way the author parcels out the details leading to revelations is logical and organized—and enticing enough to keep me wanting to know more! Every aspect of this novel is thoughtful, from how life forms would respond to Seasons to the ways people would try to survive. I also loved that it delved into how different people learn and the advantages and disadvantages of structured instruction. Essun feels that she has greater knowledge than others due to being Fulcrum trained. Though she does often know how to do tasks self-trained orogenes do not, she finds that she doesn’t understand quite as much as she thinks she does. Others sometimes discover new ways of doing orogeny that she never thought to do since she had teachers who told her how to think about orogeny and what was possible—teachers who sometimes didn’t want her to know exactly what was possible.

The writing is also phenomenal, sometimes chatty and straightforward and often perceptive. Although the prose in the first book was also lovely, I thought this one had a lot more emotional resonance since it seemed to probe more deeply into the characters’ psyches. Nassun’s perspective was especially affecting since she’s so young and feels so rejected, and some of her thoughts were especially heartbreaking, such as when she was contemplating that her father’s love came “wrapped in pain” after his discovery that she was an orogene.

The only thing that bothered me about the entire book was that I occasionally wondered how it could effectively portray some of what the characters were thinking and feeling, given who is narrating the story. Sometimes it’s reasonable to believe the narrator would have an idea of this, but there were a couple of details that I thought unlikely to even be considered by the one telling the story. However, this is a minuscule issue since I’d much rather have a view into the characters’ innermost thoughts than the alternative (and the trilogy isn’t over yet so perhaps there will be an explanation by the end!).

In short, The Obelisk Gate is an excellent book: the best book I’ve read by N. K. Jemisin, the best book I’ve read this year, and one of the best books I’ve ever read period. The writing, worldbuilding, characterization, and storytelling are all outstanding, blending together to create a fascinating story simultaneously large-scale and intimate. It’s a truly unforgettable novel, one I’m still turning over in my mind a month after reading it, and I cannot wait to read the conclusion.

My Rating: 10/10

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

Read an Excerpt from The Obelisk Gate

Reviews of Other Book(s) in This Series:

  1. The Fifth Season

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

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

I’m working on a review of the most amazing book I’ve read this year, The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin. It’s out in just a couple of days, and I thought it was better than The Fifth Season (which I didn’t love the same way as many of N. K. Jemisin’s other books, even though I really liked it and thought it was incredibly well done).

Now, for the latest book…

The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

The Masked City (The Invisible Library #2) by Genevieve Cogman

The Masked City will be released in the US on September 6 (paperback, ebook). It seems to already be available in audiobook, and this book has been available in the UK since last December. The Burning Page, the third book in the series, will be released in the UK in December and the US in January 2017.

Barnes and Noble has an excerpt from The Invisible Library, the first book in the series.

The Invisible Library is so much fun (my review), and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series!

 

Librarian-spy Irene and her apprentice Kai are back in the second in this “dazzling”* book-filled fantasy series from the author of The Invisible Library.

The written word is mightier than the sword—most of the time…

Working in an alternate version of Victorian London, Librarian-spy Irene has settled into a routine, collecting important fiction for the mysterious Library and blending in nicely with the local culture. But when her apprentice, Kai—a dragon of royal descent—is kidnapped by the Fae, her carefully crafted undercover operation begins to crumble.

Kai’s abduction could incite a conflict between the forces of chaos and order that would devastate all worlds and all dimensions. To keep humanity from getting caught in the crossfire, Irene will have to team up with a local Fae leader to travel deep into a version of Venice filled with dark magic, strange coincidences, and a perpetual celebration of Carnival—and save her friend before he becomes the first casualty of a catastrophic war.

But navigating the tumultuous landscape of Fae politics will take more than Irene’s book-smarts and fast-talking—to ward off Armageddon, she might have to sacrifice everything she holds dear….

INCLUDES AUTHOR INTERVIEW