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 few books, including three I’ve already mentioned here. Here’s more information on them in case you missed them the first time:

Before I get to the rest of the books, there are a few things I want to mention:

Last week, I hosted the cover reveal for Julie Czerneda’s upcoming fantasy novel, A Play of Shadow (Night’s Edge #2). She and cover artist Matt Stawicki also shared some insight into the process of developing the cover, and there are still a few days left to enter to win a copy of A Turn of Light (Night’s Edge #1).

I was very sad to read the news that Angry Robot’s YA imprint Strange Chemistry was discontinued and will not be publishing any more books. Martha Wells, whose books Emilie and the Hollow World and Emilie and the Sky World were published through them, blogged about it and said that it’s a good time to get any Strange Chemistry books you want and that this would help the authors. A list of books published by Strange Chemistry is here. I ordered a couple of Strange Chemistry books I’ve been wanting to read the night of this announcement and will talk about them in more detail after they arrive, but I purchased Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen and Cracked by Eliza Crewe after hearing both of these are excellent books (links go to reviews).  My personal favorite Strange Chemistry book I’ve read is Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier, and you can read more about this news and possibilities for future books on the author’s blog.

Now on to the rest of the books!

Radiant by Karina Sumner-Smith

Radiant (Towers Trilogy #1) by Karina Sumner-Smith

Radiant will be released on September 2 (paperback, ebook). I’m really excited about reading this one since it sounds very compelling, plus I liked the small sample from it that I read. While this is the author’s first novel, she has written several short stories including the 2006 Nebula-nominated story “An End to All Things,” which this upcoming futuristic fantasy novel is based on.


Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.

When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body—any body—so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless—until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.

With two extremely strong female protagonists, Radiant is a story of fighting for what you believe in and finding strength that you never thought you had.

The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler

The Shadow Throne (The Shadow Campaigns #2) by Django Wexler

The Shadow Throne will be released on July 1 (hardcover, ebook). I haven’t yet read the first book in the series, The Thousand Names, but I’ve heard it’s quite good. There is also currently a US/Canada giveaway on Goodreads for 12 paperback copies of the first book, and an excerpt from The Thousand Names is available on


Anyone can plot a coup or fire an assassin’s bullet. But in a world of muskets and magic, it takes considerably more to seize the throne.

The ailing King of the Vordan lies on his deathbed. When he dies, his daughter, Raesinia Orboan, will become the first Queen Regnant in centuries—and a ripe target for the ambitious men who seek to control her. The most dangerous of these is Duke Orlanko, Minister of Information and master of the secret police. Having meticulously silenced his adversaries through intimidation, imprisonment, and execution, Orlanko is the most feared man in the kingdom.

And he knows an arcane secret that puts Raesinia completely at his mercy.

Exposure would mean ruin, but Raesinia is determined to find a way to break herself—and her country—out of Orlanko’s iron grip. She finds unlikely allies in the returning war hero Janus bet Vhalnich, fresh from a brilliant campaign in the colony of Khandar, and his loyal deputies, Captain Marcus d’Ivoire and Lieutenant Winter Ihernglass.

As Marcus and Winter struggle to find their places in the home they never thought they would see again, they help Janus and Raesinia set in motion events that could free Vordan from Orlanko’s influence—at the price of throwing the nation into chaos. But with the people suffering under the Duke’s tyranny, they intend to protect the kingdom with every power they can command, earthly or otherwise.

The Dark Defiles (US cover) The Dark Defiles by Richard K. Morgan

The Dark Defiles (A Land Fit for Heroes #3) by Richard K. Morgan

The Dark Defiles will be released on October 7 in the US (paperback, ebook) and November 20 in the UK (hardcover, ebook). The US cover is on the left above and the UK cover on the right. I usually just use the cover for the copy of the book I have, but since the ARC doesn’t have a cover I didn’t realize the first cover I found wasn’t the US cover and was planning to use it. After I realized it was the UK cover, I found the US one and didn’t think it was nearly as interesting, so I decided to show both cover images.

The first two books in this trilogy are as follows:

  1. The Steel Remains (Read an Excerpt)
  2. The Cold Commands (Look Inside This Book)

Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold meets George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones in the final novel in Richard K. Morgan’s epic A Land Fit for Heroes trilogy, which burst onto the fantasy scene with The Steel Remains and The Cold Commands.

Ringil Eskiath, a reluctant hero viewed as a corrupt degenerate by the very people who demand his help, has traveled far in search of the Illwrack Changeling, a deathless human sorcerer-warrior raised by the bloodthirsty Aldrain, former rulers of the world. Separated from his companions—Egar the Dragonbane and Archeth—Ringil risks his soul to master a deadly magic that alone can challenge the might of the Changeling. While Archeth and the Dragonbane embark on a trail of blood and tears that ends up exposing long-buried secrets, Ringil finds himself tested as never before, with his life and all existence hanging in the balance.

The High Druid's Blade by Terry Brooks

The High Druid’s Blade: The Defenders of Shannara by Terry Brooks

The High Druid’s Blade, a stand alone Shannara book, will be released on July 8 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). Visit the author’s website for more information or to read the first two chapters.


Legend has it that Paxon Leah is descended from the royals and warriors who once ruled the Highlands and waged war with magical weapons. But those kings, queens, and heroes are long gone, and there is nothing enchanted about the antique sword that hangs above Paxon’s fireplace. Running his family’s modest shipping business, Paxon leads a quiet life—until extraordinary circumstances overturn his simple world . . . and rewrite his destiny.

When his brash young sister is abducted by a menacing stranger, Paxon races to her rescue with the only weapon he can find. And in a harrowing duel, he is stunned to discover powerful magic unleashed within him—and within his ancestors’ ancient blade. But his formidable new ability is dangerous in untrained hands, and Paxon must master it quickly because his nearly fatal clash with the dark sorcerer Arcannen won’t be his last. Leaving behind home and hearth, he journeys to the keep of the fabled Druid order to learn the secrets of magic and earn the right to become their sworn protector.

But treachery is afoot deep in the Druids’ ranks. And the blackest of sorcery is twisting a helpless innocent into a murderous agent of evil. To halt an insidious plot that threatens not only the Druid order but all the Four Lands, Paxon Leah must summon the profound magic in his blood and the legendary mettle of his elders in the battle fate has chosen him to fight.

Today I’m excited to reveal the cover for Julie E. Czerneda’s upcoming fantasy novel A Play of Shadow! I’m also thrilled that both the author and cover artist Matt Stawicki are sharing some insight into the process of creating the art for it. A Play of Shadow, the second book in the Night’s Edge series, will be released in November 2014—and there’s an opportunity to enter to win the first book in the series, A Turn of Light, at the end of this post!

I hope you enjoy seeing the cover and reading about its development as much as I did!

A Play of Shadow
(click to enlarge)

Thank you, Kristen and Fantasy Book Café, for hosting the cover reveal of my new book! – Julie Czerneda (And for letting us talk about it too.)

You Start with Turtles…

Ah, cover art. The artist sits down–in a comfy chair–reads the whole book–loving it while absorbing all the detail necessary for visual art–then voila! springs from that chair, brush or equivalent in hand, to produce the finished illustration–satisfying everyone involved–before moving on to the next book. In, say, a week.

Julie: “What do you think, Matt? Have I caught the essence?” (Because voila! here he is in person!)

Matt: “I wish! But, that’s not exactly the way it goes. Usually I’m given either the manuscript or an abridged version of it. As I read the information I take notes or highlight areas that I think may be good for a cover scene. From there I usually start doing small very loose sketches. After that I refine the sketches I like, once I’ve chosen a direction or several directions that will be presented to the client.”

There goes my image of the artist-as-relaxing while I suffer. Kidding aside, folks, unless you’re both author and artist–and there are those amazing people out there–and have time to do both–again, even amazing people cannot do it all–cover art involves a high degree of professional collaboration and working to everyone’s deadlines. Some covers (whistles innocently) need to be done before the book’s finished, to be included in catalogues etc. Then there are those pesky “details.” We writer-types rely on the imagination of readers for many of those. Sometimes, too much.

Julie: “Matt? What do you find is usually under-described by an author?”

Matt: “That really depends on the author. Some have a real knack for describing the environment or even emotion or relationships. Others write in a very character-driven manner, where every detail of the characters themselves is described.”

Take note, new writers. Best to do both! Generally speaking, the author’s role is to write the book. Unless the artist is like Matt, who does read quite a bit, the editor, or art director, will pick out the scene (or a few for the artist to choose from) that best suits the house style as well as marketing needs. Trust me, you don’t want your light-hearted romantic fantasy with a horror cover. From then on, it’s between the publisher and artist. As Matt mentioned, there’ll be one or more sketches for comment, revision, and ultimate approval, followed by the final work of art. When does the author come in again?

Opens package, or file. Sits back. Cries, “Oh, my final art! Shiny!!!” (Hopefully.)

Over the years I’ve become more involved than most authors in my cover art, a trust and privilege I owe to my editor and publisher, Sheila Gilbert of DAW Books. Knowing the time frame for production of my books, I propose a scene (or a few) for the cover first of all. Sheila decides which would be best, then I write a couple of descriptive paragraphs for that moment in the story along with a few pages of character and setting detail. Where I can, I add photo references. Off goes the package to the artist.

Until this book.When I say the cover of A Play of Shadow started with a turtle? It did. I knew mad and magical turtles would be a feature in the sequel, as house toads are in A Turn of Light. (Matt, your toad on the cover of the first book is amazing–complete with pointy teeth!) What sort of turtle? I’d read of the work of Dr. Abigail (Abby) Dominy with terrapins and was enchanted to learn they have markings visible only in UV light. In the Night’s Edge series, what you see depends on when you look. Sunset reveals the magical. Perfect!

So there’d be turtles. I sent Matt, with her kind permission, Abby’s reference material.

Julie: “I admit to curiosity, Matt. What was your first reaction to ‘turtles?’”

Matt: “Turtles you say, huh? Actually, I have to say that after the toads in ‘Turn of Light’ I wasn’t really all that surprised. Julie, you have a wonderful way of incorporating a whimsical quality into these magical worlds that I really like. It kind of reminds me of Alice in Wonderland a little bit.”

Julie, blushing. “Thank you!”

Of course, turtles alone, however delightful, wouldn’t be enough. Fortunately, I had a setting in mind, one in which turtles fit nicely. San Antonio’s Riverwalk was my inspiration.

San Antonio’s Riverwalk
CREDIT: Roger Czerneda Photography
(click to enlarge)

References for that were easy. We’d been there! My other half, Roger, had a wealth of gorgeous photos and I sent a selection of those to Matt, who nailed everything about this astonishing place, plus mimrol, magic, and lighting. Though there was that clamour at the very last minute for little red eyeballs.

Julie: “Sorry about the eyeballs, Matt.”

Matt: “Eyeballs happen. The San Antonio Riverwalk was an great environment as a point of reference for this piece. I have family in Texas and have been there many times as a kid and loved it! This was a great opportunity to finally get to bring it to life in a fantasy painting!”

Julie: “Whew! I mean, I didn’t know that, I’m so pleased!”

Last and most importantly, characters. While there are as many cover styles as there are books, Play had to have the main characters as well as turtles and setting. Preferably at a fraught and interesting moment. Oh, but that was easy. What do turtles most resemble? Stepping stones! How better to trap the unwary visitor? Matt, I love how you captured Bannan and Jenn just as realization dawns. (There were three versions at the sketch stage; this was our favourite.) Also, see the three people on the bridge? Big moment indeed. The scene almost wrote itself from the visual.

A Play of Shadow Sketches
CREDIT: Matthew Stawicki
(click to enlarge)

But the very best thing about this cover? The clothes! As for Turn, clothing was part of the world-building, and I’d already decided on the sensibilities of the Naalish. I sent Matt my notes, including a photo of the purse Bannan would carry. The result blew me away!

To the point where I did something I’ve never done before.

When it came time to write my description of the clothing within the story, I asked Matt if he’d proofread it for me, which he did, most helpfully.

Julie: “Was that a first for you too, Matt?”

Matt: “It was a first. Usually I don’t have as much direct contact with the author at all. As Julie mentioned, DAW is a great company to work for because they let their artists and authors have quite a bit of leeway and contact during the process.”

The result you see here and will read there. People sometimes complain covers don’t match what’s in the book. I promise you, there couldn’t be a closer match than this. For me, the entire process was fun, inspiring, and pure delight. I want to thank Matt–and Sheila, who was very involved throughout–for the result.

And my turtles.

You can enjoy more of Matt’s amazing work at and begin reading A Play of Shadow starting tomorrow at!

Since 1997, Canadian author/editor Julie E. Czerneda has poured her love of biology into SF novels published by DAW Books NY. Her latest work is the fantasy A Turn of Light, set in the valley of Marrowdell, itself based in large part on early pioneer settlements. There are house toads as well as dragons, and not all is what it seems. Coming fall 2014: Species Imperative, the 10th anniversary omnibus edition of her acclaimed SF trilogy, and A Play of Shadow, sequel to Turn and next in what is now the“Night’s Edge” series. Julie’s currently hard at work on the concluding trilogy to her Clan Chronicles series (Reunification), between breaks to canoe into the wild. Visit for more.

I have one copy of the first book in the Night’s Edge series, A Turn of Light, to give away to one resident of the US or Canada!

A Turn of Light by Julie E. Czerneda

About A Turn of Light:

The village of Marrowdell is an isolated pioneer community, but it is also the place where two worlds overlap, and at the turn of light–sunset–the world of magic known as the Verge can briefly be seen.

Jenn Nalynn belongs to both Verge and Marrowdell, but even she doesn’t know how special she is–or that her invisible friend Wisp is actually a dragon sent to guard her… and keep her from leaving the valley. But Jenn longs to see the world, and thinking that a husband will help her reach this goal, she decides to create one using spells. Of course, everything goes awry, and suddenly her “invisible friend” has been transformed into a man. But he is not the only newcomer to Marrowdell, and far from the most dangerous of those who are suddenly finding their way to the valley…

Read Chapter One

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 “A Turn of Light 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 Wednesday, June 25. 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 book).

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!

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

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 one finished book and one ARC in the mail, but before I get to the books, there are a couple of things I want to mention.

On Wednesday, I was part of a Mind Meld at SF Signal in which those contributing were asked “How Long Do You Have a Book Before You Read It?” This is the topic to check out if you too obtain books at a much faster pace than you can read them.

The cover reveal of Julie Czerneda’s upcoming fantasy novel A Play of Shadow will be here at Fantasy Cafe tomorrow! There will also be a discussion of the art with input from both the author and Matt Stawicki, the cover artist, and a chance to win the first book in the Night’s Edge series, A Turn of Light.

Now, last week’s books in the mail!

Child of a Hidden Sea by A. M. Dellamonica

Child of a Hidden Sea (Stormwrack #1) by A. M. Dellamonica

I was pretty excited to open a package containing this book since it was on a list of books I was looking forward to that I made earlier this year! Child of a Hidden Sea will be released on June 24 (hardcover/ebook), and the author is working on the sequel, Daughter of No Nation.

An excerpt from Child of a Hidden Sea is available on, as well as two other stories set in this world: “Among the Silvering Herd” and “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti.”


One minute, twenty-four-year-old Sophie Hansa is in a San Francisco alley trying to save the life of the aunt she has never known. The next, she finds herself flung into the warm and salty waters of an unfamiliar world. Glowing moths fall to the waves around her, and the sleek bodies of unseen fish glide against her submerged ankles.

The world is Stormwrack, a series of island nations with a variety of cultures and economies—and a language different from any Sophie has heard.

Sophie doesn’t know it yet, but she has just stepped into the middle of a political firestorm, and a conspiracy that could destroy a world she has just discovered… her world, where everyone seems to know who she is, and where she is forbidden to stay.

But Sophie is stubborn, and smart, and refuses to be cast adrift by people who don’t know her and yet wish her gone. With the help of a sister she has never known, and a ship captain who would rather she had never arrived, she must navigate the shoals of the highly charged politics of Stormwrack, and win the right to decide for herself whether she stays in this wondrous world . . . or is doomed to exile, in Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica.

The Shotgun Arcana by R. S. Belcher

The Shotgun Arcana (Golgotha #2) by R. S. Belcher

The Shotgun Arcana will be released in October (hardcover/ebook). An excerpt from the first book in the series, The Six-Gun Tarot, is available on


R. S. Belcher’s debut novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, was enthusiastically greeted by critics and readers, who praised its wildly inventive mixture of dark fantasy, steampunk, and the Wild West. Now Belcher returns to Golgotha, Nevada, a bustling frontier town that hides more than its fair share of unnatural secrets.

1870. A haven for the blessed and the damned, including a fallen angel, a mad scientist, a pirate queen, and a deputy who is kin to coyotes, Golgotha has come through many nightmarish trials, but now an army of thirty-two outlaws, lunatics, serial killers, and cannibals are converging on the town, drawn by a grisly relic that dates back to the Donner Party…and the dawn of humanity.

Sheriff Jon Highfather and his deputies already have their hands full dealing with train robbers, a mysterious series of brutal murders, and the usual outbreaks of weirdness.  But with thirty-two of the most vicious killers on Earth riding into Golgotha in just a few day’s time, the town and its people will be tested as never before—and some of them will never be the same.

The Shotgun Arcana is even more spectacularly ambitious and imaginative than The Six-Gun Tarot, and confirms R. S. Belcher’s status as a rising star.

Today I have a guest post by fantasy author Marie Brennan, whose books include the Onyx Court series, the Doppelganger duology, and Memoirs by Lady Trent. The first Memoir by Lady Trent, A Natural History of Dragons, is available now. The second, A Tropic of Serpents, was released in the US earlier this year and is scheduled for release in the UK on June 20 (although it seems to be available now in some stores). I loved A Natural History of Dragons, an enchanting, beautifully illustrated book that tells the story of the early life of Lady Trent and her first major adventure as a dragon naturalist, and I’m delighted the author of this wonderful novel is here today to discuss five mythological creatures that rarely appear in fantasy fiction!

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

Have you ever flipped through a Monster Manual from the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game? They’re chock full of bizarre creatures, from aasimars to zoogs. Some of them are based on real folklore — dragons, demons, dryads — but others are the pure invention of the game designers (rust monsters, anyone? gelatinous cubes?).

Which makes those books a lot like old medieval bestiaries. The people who wrote those were recording some creatures that existed in folklore, but sometimes I think they made up a few extras, just to entertain themselves. How else do you explain some of these bizarre creations?

Here, in no particular order, are five mythological critters that have been sadly neglected by fantasy fiction, which ought to appear in many more stories than they do:

1) Blemmyes

Shakespeare described these in Othello, except he erroneously called them anthropophagi: “men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders.” They don’t so much have heads as faces in their bodies — mouths in their chests, eyes in their shoulders. Herodotus said they lived in ancient Libya; maybe it was a bit of local folklore there, or maybe it was just something somebody told him once and so he wrote it down. If you look at woodcuts of the blemmyes, they’re incredibly silly-looking — but imagine one of them shoving food into his chest. I know it would freak me out. (There’s a Chinese creature called the Xingtian that’s similar, too. Maybe it used to be a worldwide species?)

2) Mokumokuren

Japan is full of weird monsters; they made card games out of them long before the advent of Pokemon and similar titles. Mokumokuren are one of my favorites, because they’re so useless. If you let your rice-paper screens become damaged and don’t repair them, then eyes will look out out at you from the holes while you sleep. Which is all they do. They don’t suck out your life or anything like that; they just watch you. Oh, and you can get rid of them by simply repairing your screens.

3) Jiliang

This one comes out of a Chinese text called The Guideways Through Mountains and Seas, which is more than two thousand years old. The West has stories about the Fountain of Youth and so on, but in this case it’s a horse: white body, red mane, gold eyes, and anybody who rides it will live for a thousand years. (Come to think of it, the white body and red mane remind me of the way the hounds of the Otherworld are described in Welsh folklore.) This seems ripe for a Captain Ahab-like quest to catch the horse and live for a millennium. Has anybody written that yet?

4) Cikavac

This Serbian creature is great for lazy people: it will steal honey and milk and so on from other people’s farms and bring them to you. Obtaining one is a bit of a pain, though: apparently you need the egg of a black hen, and then you need a woman to carry it under her armpit for forty days — during which time I imagine it would start to smell more than a little, especially since the woman isn’t allowed to wash her face until the forty days are up. But hey, you could start a household industry hatching those things for other people!

5) Hafgufa

Careful what islands you tie up your boat on. One of them might actually be an enormous sea creature — one with a really gross method of feeding. According to a twelfth-century Norse text, it would belch up whatever it had eaten earlier, which would attract a bunch of other fish to feast on its leavings. Then it would swallow the whole mess, new and old. But it would also be happy to eat any people that went exploring on its face, and there’s nothing like an adventure where the land really is trying to eat you . . . .

Really, mythology is just crammed with weird things. It’s a gold mine of stories waiting to be told!

Marie BrennanMarie Brennan is the author of nine novels, including the Doppelganger and Onyx Court series. With Fate Conspire won Kirkus Review Best Fiction of the Year. She won two Isaac Asimov Awards for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Grand Prizes in 2003, and has received honourable mentions for Year’s Best Science Fiction and Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror.

A Natural History of Dragons
by Marie Brennan
320pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 4.2/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.88/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.76/5

This has often been the way with me: notions too mad for another to take seriously are the very notions I seize upon and enact, often in the most organized and sensible fashion. (I say this not out of pride, for it is a very stupid habit that has nearly gotten me killed more than once, but out of honesty. If you do not understand what my husband has called my deranged practicality, very little of my life will make the slightest bit of sense.) [pp. 25]

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan is the first in a series of five books chronicling the past adventures of the famous dragon naturalist Isabella, Lady Trent. This book begins with her early life—a little about her childhood, her early interest in dragons, and eventually her marriage—and then proceeds to focus on her first important adventure involving the study of dragons. The second Memoir by Lady Trent, The Tropic of Serpents, was released in the US earlier this year and will be released in the UK on June 20.

Even as a child, Isabella had an “unladylike” interest in the subject of natural history, particularly when applied to dragons. Her curiosity about such matters led her to many actions of which her mother would disapprove: preserving and collecting dead sparklings, dissecting an expired bird to learn how its wings work, reading Sir Richard Edgeworth’s renowned reference A Natural History of Dragons, and dressing as a boy in order to sneak into a party of men hunting a wolf-drake. The latter incident resulted in her injury, and after that she attempted to fit her mother’s idea of a proper lady for a couple of years by spending her time horseback riding and sketching. While Isabella later learned to appreciate some of the skills she learned during this time, she found the years during which she abandoned her interests dreadfully dull.

Marriage was inevitable for a young woman from Scirland, and once Isabella reached sixteen years of age, her mother turned her attentions toward seeing her daughter wed a fine gentlemen. In hopes that it may help her secure some happiness for herself, her father provided her with a list of eligible scholarly gentlemen likely to have well-stocked libraries, including some who owned A Natural History of Dragons. When Isabella later toured a menagerie with her brother, she made the acquaintance of one of these gentlemen, Mr. Camherst, in the dragon room. The two conversed about dragons and met again after that at various social engagements, and eventually Mr. Camherst proposed to her, intrigued that she seemed to be interested in him for his hobby rather than his wealth. Isabella agreed, but only after embarrassing herself by making it clear she was primarily interested in his library (which did not deter Mr. Camherst, who found this more amusing than insulting).

Isabella and Jacob Camherst married, and while Isabella enjoyed the library, she found her wifely social duties rather dull. Eventually, she resumed studying sparklings and met Lord Hilford, who has traveled all over the world studying and even capturing dragons. After learning of his upcoming expedition to study rock-wyrms in Vystrana, Isabella determined to convince Jacob to go on this trip. She persuaded him to do so, but she soon discovered that living vicariously through his adventures is not enough for her, nor is studying the little sparklings at home. Isabella decided that she herself must accompany this expedition and managed to persuade both her husband and Lord Hilford to allow her to come. When the expedition arrives in Vystrana, they are attacked by a rock-wyrm before they even reach their lodgings and they quickly learn their work will be even more difficult than expected—the rock-wyrms have recently begun attacking people and no one knows the reason for this sudden change in their behavior.

A Natural History of Dragons sounded like a book I would enjoy based on its premise: memoirs written by a woman who defied the social conventions of her time to become a dragon naturalist famed for great discoveries in her field. It was indeed a book I enjoyed very much, but what truly made this book a gem was Lady Trent herself. She’s a fascinating character as one who overcame many obstacles in order to pursue her dreams, and she also has a compelling narrative voice that makes her story a delight to read. As she reflects back on her early life, she does so with straightforward honesty and a sharp wit. I loved her storytelling style and the personality that came through the pages, and I thought the inclusion of some of Isabella’s sketches added to the charm of A Natural History of Dragons.

The plot itself is not particularly extraordinary. It’s largely an account of Isabella’s early life that eventually turns its primary focus to her expedition to Vystrana and the mystery of the recent changes in rock-wyrm behavior. There is much time spent on her studies and interactions with the local people, and there’s a little bit of a love story since Jacob and Isabella do come to care for each other (not that they weren’t fond of each other before they were married, but they did seem to get married more because society expected it than because they wanted to). Without Isabella’s character and narrative, this book would not have been particularly memorable, but she made it special.

I loved that Isabella is a character motivated by an insatiable curiosity that drove her to keep learning despite the constant reminders that women were not supposed to behave as she did or find the study of natural history worthwhile. Most of all I loved her courage—not so much her ability to face dragons since these actions often seemed reckless more than brave, but the courage it took for her to follow her dreams knowing that she’d be judged as foolish and improper. At first, she does attempt to fit into the mold expected for a young lady by quietly sketching and remaining quiet about her enthusiasm and knowledge about dragons, but she slowly begins to follow her own path instead of society’s and has adventures and makes remarkable discoveries.

If there is one thing I wanted more of from this book, it was to be more emotionally invested in what happened. There certainly were some emotional moments, but there was a certain distance that kept me from getting too attached. This is perfectly fitting for this book since it is supposed to be a memoir about Isabella’s career as a dragon naturalist, not her most intimate feelings and secrets. However, it did keep me from wholeheartedly loving this novel with no reservations even though I thought a great deal of it.

A Natural History of Dragons is not a book that stands out for its plot, but it has a memorable main character with an engaging narrative voice. I’m looking forward to reading more of Lady Trent’s adventures and finding out what happened in the next stage of Isabella’s life, as I found the first volume of her memoirs utterly charming.

My Rating: 9/10

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

Read an Excerpt (and view some illustrations) from A Natural History of Dragons

Other Reviews:

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.

Last week brought one ARC in the mail. This week, I expect to have at least one review up since I’ve almost finished my review of Marie Brennan’s wonderful book A Natural History of Dragons. After that, I’ll probably start working on my review of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison even though that means I’ll be putting up two very positive reviews in a row (these are two of my favorite books I’ve read this year).

On to this week’s book!

Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell

Traitor’s Blade (Greatcoats #1) by Sebastien de Castell

This fantasy novel is available now in the UK and Canada and is scheduled for hardcover/ebook release in the US on July 1 (although both Barnes and Noble and Amazon list is as being available July 15). An excerpt from Traitor’s Blade can be read on


In the first of a new fantasy series by Sebastien de Castell, a disgraced swordsman struggles to redeem himself by protecting a young girl caught in the web of a royal conspiracy.

Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their king’s head on a spike.Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters. All they have left is the promise they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the king’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn.