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, one ARC and three review copies showed up in the mail. One of these has already been mentioned in one of these posts when the ARC showed up: River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay, which will be released in hardcover and ebook on April 2. I have already read this one and thought it was excellent, and it’s my favorite book I’ve read this year so far. Last week I posted an interview with Guy Gavriel Kay about this upcoming book and his writing, and he had really interesting answers.

On to the other books!

Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon

Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon

This first book in a new young adult science fiction series will be released in trade paperback and ebook in the US and Canada on May 7. It will be available in B-format paperback in the UK and Australia on May 2. There is currently a Goodreads giveaway for 3 copies of Zenn Scarlett, and those from several countries are eligible to win.

I am incredibly excited about reading this book! The author contacted me awhile ago to see if I wanted an ARC when they were available, and I was immediately intrigued by the premise of a character training to be a veterinarian specializing in alien life forms on Mars. I wanted to be a veterinarian myself when I was young, and I just love this concept. And the cover is quite striking, too!

 

When you’re studying to be exoveterinarian specializing in exotic, alien life forms, school… is a different kind of animal.

Zenn Scarlett is a resourceful, determined 17-year-old girl working hard to make it through her novice year of exovet training. That means she’s learning to care for alien creatures that are mostly large, generally dangerous and profoundly fascinating. Zenn’s all-important end-of-term tests at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars are coming up, and, she’s feeling confident of acing the exams. But when a series of inexplicable animal escapes and other disturbing events hit the school, Zenn finds herself being blamed for the problems. As if this isn’t enough to deal with, her absent father has abruptly stopped communicating with her; Liam Tucker, a local towner boy, is acting unusually, annoyingly friendly; and, strangest of all: Zenn is worried she’s started sharing the thoughts of the creatures around her. Which is impossible, of course. Nonetheless, she can’t deny what she’s feeling.

Now, with the help of Liam and Hamish, an eight-foot sentient insectoid also training at the clinic, Zenn must learn what’s happened to her father, solve the mystery of who, if anyone, is sabotaging the cloister, and determine if she’s actually sensing the consciousness of her alien patients… or just losing her mind. All without failing her novice year….

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock (The Lumatere Chronicles #1) by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock, winner of the Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel and the first book in a young adult fantasy trilogy, is available now. The second book, Froi of the Exiles, has also been released. Quintana of Charyn, the third book, will be released in the US on April 23, 2013. (It appears to already be out in Australia, where Melina Marchetta lives, and may be available in some other countries now, too.) An excerpt from Finnikin of the Rock can be read on the publisher’s website.

The cover quote by Kristin Cashore calling it “Dark and beautiful and utterly believable” has me very excited about reading this.

 

2008 Printz Award Winner Melina Marchetta crafts an epic fantasy of ancient magic, exile, feudal intrigue, and romance that rivets from the first page.

Finnikin was only a child during the five days of the unspeakable, when the royal family of Lumatere were brutally murdered, and an imposter seized the throne. Now a curse binds all who remain inside Lumatere’s walls, and those who escaped roam the surrounding lands as exiles, persecuted and despairing, dying by the thousands in fever camps. In a narrative crackling with the tension of an imminent storm, Finnikin, now on the cusp of manhood, is compelled to join forces with an arrogant and enigmatic young novice named Evanjalin, who claims that her dark dreams will lead the exiles to a surviving royal child and a way to pierce the cursed barrier and regain the land of Lumatere. But Evanjalin’s unpredictable behavior suggests that she is not what she seems — and the startling truth will test Finnikin’s faith not only in her, but in all he knows to be true about himself and his destiny.

Rebel Angels by Michele Lang

Rebel Angels (Lady Lazarus #3) by Michele Lang

Rebel Angels, the final book in the Lady Lazarus trilogy following Lady Lazarus and Dark Victory, was released in hardcover and ebook on March 12. An excerpt from Rebel Angels can be read on tor.com.

 

Magda Lazarus has twice come back from the dead to fight the Nazis’ devastating conquest of Poland. To prevent the Holocaust her sister has seen in terrible visions, Magda will need the Heaven Sapphire, a gem powerful enough to defeat even the demon Asmodel. With the future of all Europe in the balance, Magda and her husband, the fallen angel Raziel, begin a perilous journey to the Caucasus, the resting place of the fabled stone.

Surrounded by Germans, Russians, and mistrustful Azerbaijani tribesmen, Magda must summon all her magic to withstand the predations of the deadly supernatural foes. But more dangerous yet is the power of the Sapphire itself, which could stop Hitler…or destroy Magda.

Rebel Angels, the climactic book of Michele Lang’s Lady Lazarus trilogy, filled with suspense, magic, and action, will have readers at the edge of their seats until the exciting conclusion.

Today I’m excited to have an interview with Guy Gavriel Kay, the author of the upcoming novel River of Stars, to share with you! River of Stars will be released on April 2, and you can read the first chapter now.

Of course, Guy Gavriel Kay has written several books in addition to this forthcoming novel, including Under Heaven, a book set in the same world approximately 400 years before River of Stars. A few years ago, I read Tigana, and it became an immediate favorite with powerful scenes that stuck with me long after reading it. River of Stars is a beautifully reflective novel with compelling characters that also remained with me after reading it, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to ask the author a few questions. I hope you enjoy reading his answers as much as I did!

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay

Fantasy Cafe: First, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions today. I recently finished reading River of Stars and enjoyed it immensely so I’m glad to have the opportunity to learn more about it directly from you. Like many of your books, River of Stars is set in a fantasy setting inspired by history, specifically China’s Song Dynasty. What was it about this particular place and time that inspired you to write a story using it as a foundation?

Guy Gavriel Kay: Happy to do it, Kristen, and a good set of questions here.

As I have often said (written, orated!) I have a fascination with the way the past works on the present. Both personal memory and personal history (as in Ysabel, say) and collective, for a nation or an empire. The Song Dynasty was obsessed with aspects of what had gone before it, some scholars ands collectors looking to discover or reclaim the past, while politicians were fiercely anxious to avoid the ‘mistakes’ made 400 years ago and more recently. The period was just about perfect for me to explore some of my own fierce interests. Add a complex, sophisticated society in flux and conflict, both internal and external, (something I always look for) and some spectacularly interesting men and women and … it was a pretty powerful lure.

FC: The Acknowledgments discuss the extensive and detailed research you did when writing River of Stars. What is the most fascinating or surprising fact you learned in the course of your research for this novel?

GGK: I love the research phase, my problem is always bringing it to an end.  There are so many things I could share (and probably bore you with!). One unexpected discovery was how hot the Song is today among historians of China. There is so much being written and debated regarding that period, because it is seen now as the beginnings of the modern world there, the shift from ‘medieval’. That meant I had a great many new books and articles to read, and a great many people to contact, with topics of controversy and discussion (which I love to find). In reading and correspondence, I was especially engaged by the shifting role of women in this period. In general it was a difficult time, scaling back the scope allowed for women in some earlier centuries. But in the midst of this one of the very most beloved and influential woman songwriter/poets ever in China emerged. I was also really engaged by the intense political clashes of the day, the revolving door of exile and recall to power (assuming exile didn’t kill you!). It isn’t so much finding parallels to today (there is a risk in forcing parallels) but the sheer ferocity of the political battles is so dramatic.

FC: Since we’ve discussed the historical side of your writing, I don’t want to leave out the fantasy side of it! On your website, there’s an essay about fantasy titled “Home and Away” in which you state:

 

What I am offering is the notion that fantasy has the potential to be one such way of addressing the issues that the past so often throws at the present day. It isn’t just an evasion, an escape, a hiding from truths of the world: it can be an acknowledgment that those truths are complex, morally difficult, and that many different sorts of techniques and processes may lead to a book’s resonating deeply for a reader and a time.

What truths of the world resonate with you? Which specific fantasy stories have showed you these complex truths and made you think about them in a new way?

GGK: Well, excellence is rare – that’s why we value it so much, if you think about it. That means I’m more inclined to cite masterpieces. From The Once and Future King, read so long ago, I learned how elements of the fantastic are entirely consistent with larger themes of peace and war and good stewardship through all times and periods. I also will never forget the complexity of some figure, such as White’s Lancelot, gentle in the extreme because he so feared the anger within himself. And White is also masterful at switching tone within a book, from whimsy to deep sorrow – just as our lives switch tone. Tolkien is a master class in harnessing myth and legend to narrative and theme. Alan Garner’s The Owl Service is brilliant on the resonance of place in our lives and through history, something that remains important in my own thought and writing. And I’ll mention E.R. Eddison whose word-drunk glory showed me, very young, that language could be so utterly central to shaping mood and a sense of strangeness, the idea that we are not here.

I also like working with the fantastic in exploring history for another reason. It is way too easy for us today to be smug and complacent about our values, our insights, how much more we know than the poor fools of yesterday. I want to give value and resonance to what people believed. So if ghosts or fox-women (or faeries in the forest, in an earlier book) were part of the worldview of my characters, I will show that in the books, to try to help modern readers better see that world view. Using fantasy is a gateway to doing that. (I’ll also work with psychological elements and interpretations – we are all children of our own time, too.)

FC: Do you think that epic fantasy works differently than, say, science fiction (which has long had an explicit goal of putting a warped mirror to the real world) or fantastic fairy tales (which are repositories of parable) when it comes to casting the past and present in a new light?  Does adding epic-ness to fantasy change how that works?

GGK: A tricky question, partly because your science fiction comment applies (I suspect you’d agree) only to a subset of science fiction. The ‘bundling’ of science fiction and fantasy is always problematic, a function, as much as anything, of American publishing history. I have a long habit of resisting obsessive categorization, so if we steer towards subdividing fantasy into epic, sword & sorcery, paranormal, urban, gritty … I’m going to need a drink or two and have to watch my inner curmudgeon. As a glancing answer I’ll say that ‘epic’ tends to imply (or demand) a focus on scale and narrative, and this often puts a negative pressure on character, language, and theme. This isn’t a rule, but it is a tendency. It dovetails with, say, the famous Hollywood injunction to ‘cut to story’. Cutting to the story kills nuance.

FC: The characters in River of Stars are inspired by people with great achievements, such as the female poet Li Qingzhao and General Yue Fei as the basis for Lin Shan and Ren Daiyan, respectively. How do you balance inclusion of historic achievements and qualities with making them unique characters?

GGK: That’s a great question. It happens to make me feel good, too, as I just received a letter last week from a scholar in Chinese history who said really lovely things about ‘owning’ the material and finding a way to make the characters ‘them and not-them’, referring to those inspired by real people. But remember – only some of them, as with all my books, are inspired by the actual. Novelists invent, too.

Let me begin by saying that my expectation, always, is that the vast majority of readers will not know the templates and inspirations for such characters and that’s as it should be. No one should need to do homework to read a novel! At the same time, I take a lot of pride in trying to work carefully with the core material for my own satisfaction. My creative process seems to flow best when I do that, rather than allowing myself some sort of ‘it’s just a fantasy, do what you like’ out clause. The real figures of history often trigger my thinking and imagination, but the novels take place in Kitai, not China. There are many reasons why I do that (I have written speeches and essays on the topic.). This means that character interactions and plot elements can happen in my novel that could not (did not!) in history. I can offer those who know the period some grace notes, while giving those who don’t know a thing about the time what I hope will meet my permanent goal: interesting things happening to interesting people, written in an interesting way.

FC: You seem to have a great deal of respect for the people you are building from in your stories. Have you ever put a historical tidbit in just to honor the real person or removed an aspect of their life out of respect, even if the character might have worked better another way?

GGK: That one stopped me cold! I have certainly made some significant changes in the lives of characters inspired by real ones, in that their fates are not identical. But these are always in the service of the story being told. These changes can be for very different reasons, book to book. A Song for Arbonne reverses the result of the Albigensian Crusade, my hope being that readers might think a bit about how the potential for women in western history might have been different if that had happened. The Sarantine Mosaic involves the death of someone that precludes an invasion that really occurred, again shifting what we understand of western history. There are a couple of small grace notes in River of Stars that honor one or two magnificent figures (secondary ones) but I can absolutely say that this wouldn’t ever happen if the character or story would have been better without that! I will add that I have often wanted to avoid the death of characters (going all the way back to Fionavar) but the imperatives of the story were too damned strong.

FC: The power of words was an important theme in River of Stars, which seems like a logical value for an author to get behind. Are there words or writings that you go back to at different times in your life and find power in?

GGK: Endlessly. I am a believer in re-reading. I think, especially with fiction, we often push hard to find out what happens, and subtleties in language or character emerge far more a second (or third!) time around. With poetry it is so much about language that re-reading is simply a reaffirmation of love and pleasure. And one of the things that fascinates me is how changes in us, in our own lives and understanding of the world over time, make for changes in our response to works we’ve read before. Reading, as I often say, is a dialogue, not a monologue, readers brings themselves to the book, and what we are as people is not constant. A favourite quote from someone I know is that every time he read Shakespeare, Shakespeare seemed to know everything that had happened in his life since the last reading!

FC: In River of Stars, there’s reference to a single defining moment, one where if things had just been a little different or fallen into place a little differently, a person’s path would have gone down a different road and changed everything. Did you have one of these moments when it came to becoming an author or writing one of your books?

GGK: I do believe that ‘accident’ can play a role in our lives, on a macro or a micro scale. Certainly the early circumstance of my involvement with The Silmarillion played such a role in mine, in complex ways that would take way too long for an answer here. On a smaller scale, the fact that I went with my family back to Provence in 2004-5 led directly to Ysabel. I had a trunk full of research books, intending to read and then begin writing a book inspired by the Silk Road. But returning to the south of France after many years I was overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, history of that part of the world, and ideas and images began pressing hard. I resisted for a bit, but most writers are likely to tell you that’s fruitless and foolish (both). And then, because of that shift to writing Ysabel, came Under Heaven, because even though I knew I would go back to a China-inspired book after, in the period that intervened, I moved away from the Silk Road idea (I think it would have been too close to Sailing to Sarantium) and ended up obsessed with the Tang Dynasty. So two novels, out of an accident of geography. What if I had gone to Melbourne, instead?

FC: If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be and why?

GGK: Cute story: my youngest brother carried, for years, through high school and university, a card in his wallet that said: ‘If I am found with amnesia, please give me the following books to read …’

My caveat to this answer is that reading something for the first time in my fifties would be an utterly different experience from reading it first at twelve or twenty. So I’m actually not sure what to say. I think I’ll go with Shakespeare’s tragedies, and add Twelfth Night, because I love it so much. There is something almost overwhelming, trying to imagine the impact of those plays today, if I knew absolutely nothing about them. Of course I could also pick Goodnight Moon …

About Guy Gavriel Kay:

GUY GAVRIEL KAY is the #1 internationally bestselling author of eleven previous novels and an acclaimed collection of poetry, Beyond This Dark House.

Kay was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, and raised in Winnipeg. In the 1970’s he was retained by the Estate of J.R.R. Tolkien to assist in the editorial construction of Tolkien’s posthumously published The Silmarillion. He returned to Canada from Oxford to take a law degree at the University of Toronto and was called to the Bar in Ontario.

Kay became Principal Writer and Associate Producer for the CBC radio series, “The Scales of Justice“, dramatizing major criminal trials in Canadian history. He also wrote several episodes when the series later moved to television. He has written social and political commentary for the National Post and the Globe and Mail and for The Guardian in England, and has spoken on a variety of topics at universities and conferences around the world.

In 1984, Kay’s first novel, The Summer Tree, the first volume of The Fionavar Tapestry, was published to considerable acclaim in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, and then in a number of countries and languages. In 1990 Viking Canada’s edition of his novel Tigana reached the national bestseller list, and his next book A Song for Arbonne debuted at #1 in Canada.

Translations now exceed twenty languages and Kay has toured and read on behalf of his publishers and at literary events in Canada, the United States, England, Poland, France, Russia, Croatia, Serbia, Mexico and Greece, among others, with his next international appearance being slated for June 2010 in Shanghai and Beijing. He has been nominated for and has won numerous literary awards including the World Fantasy Award and is the recipient of the International Goliardos Prize (presented in Mexico City) for his contributions to the literature of the fantastic. Guy Gavriel Kay’s work has inspired artists and writers around the world to create original music, verse, and art.

Kay lives in Toronto with his wife and sons.

Please visit: www.guygavrielkay.ca and www.brightweavings.com for additional information or follow Guy Gavriel Kay on twitter @GuyGavrielKay

GGK Photo

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, I purchased one book I’ve been wanting to read for awhile and four review copies showed up. Two of these are books I already mentioned in one of these posts when the ARC showed up, so I’ll just link to those posts in you want to know more about them:

Shattered Pillars was one of my most anticipated releases of 2013 since I LOVED Range of Ghosts, and I’m reading that one now.

On to the other books!

Quintessence by David Walton

Quintessence by David Walton

Quintessence is David Walton’s second novel; his first, Terminal Mind, won the Philip K. Dick Award in 2008. Walton is working on a sequel to Quintessence.

Quintessence will be released in hardcover and ebook on March 19. The first three chapters can be read on the author’s website.

 

Imagine an Age of Exploration full of alchemy, human dissection, sea monsters, betrayal, torture, religious controversy, and magic. In Europe, the magic is thin, but at the edge of the world, where the stars reach down close to the Earth, wonders abound. This drives the bravest explorers to the alluring Western Ocean. Christopher Sinclair is an alchemist who cares only about one thing: quintessence, a substance he believes will grant magical powers and immortality. And he has a ship.

Warchild by Karin Lowachee

Warchild by Karin Lowachee

Confession: This is the second copy of this book I have purchased. When I first got my iPad, I read a sample online and purchased the ebook since new print copies are hard to find and/or expensive. I really enjoyed what I read from it but never finished it despite that because I discovered I hate reading on the iPad. With the second annual Women in SF&F Month coming up, I was thinking about this book again (Shara from Calico Reaction said it was her favorite science fiction novel last year and Janice from Janicu’s Book Blog also mentioned it as one of her favorite science fiction books last year). I decided I need to actually read all the way through because it seemed REALLY good so I found a used print copy and ordered it.

There are two other books set in the Warchild universe, Burndive and Cagebird. They are mosaic novels instead of a trilogy following the same character. Here’s what Lowachee says about how the three novels fit together on the Warchild Universe page on her website:

 

I began to envision a mosaic of novels, each told from single points of view, interpreting the effects of war and an arduous peace process. The protagonists would be full of flaws, their personalities would perhaps challenge the reader; they would be as real as I could make them (writing in depth from a single point of view is what I call ‘method writing’), each with a unique way of looking at their world, each with the ability to become better people (sometimes despite themselves.) Many different themes manifested through the telling, providing a mostly unconscious cohesion to it all. I don’t regard these books as a chronological trilogy, but as a mosaic series: each piece is as individual as the characters who narrate their stories, and put together they form a bigger picture. It begins with Jos, continues with privileged Ryan, and has temporarily concluded with the voice of the ‘enemy,’ Yuri. I never intended Yuri’s to be the final piece in this mosaic, but we’ll see what the future brings.

There’s more on the series on the page linked to above, and it sounds incredibly interesting.

 

When Jos’ parents are killed in an attack on their trading ship, the boy is kidnapped by the attackers and then escapes – only to fall into the alien hands of humanity’s greatest enemies. He is soon coerced into becoming a spy against the human race.

A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire #3) by George R. R. Martin

This one probably needs no introduction… A Storm of Swords is the third book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (and the best one, in my opinion).

This particular mass market paperback is the official tie-in to the HBO series Game of Thrones. Season 3, which will include events from this book, begins on March 31st in the US. This edition of the book will be available on March 26th.

 

Here is the third volume in George R.R. Martin’s magnificent cycle of novels that includes A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. Together, this series comprises a genuine masterpiece of modern fantasy, destined to stand as one of the great achievements of imaginative fiction.

Of the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, victim of the sorceress who holds him in her thrall. Young Robb still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world. And as opposing forces maneuver for the final showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost limits of civilization, accompanied by a horde of mythical Others—a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords…

Midnight Blue-Light Special
by Seanan McGuire
328pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 7.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.7/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.13/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.38/5
 

Midnight Blue-Light Special is the second book in the InCryptid series by Seanan McGuire, following Discount Armageddon. The first two books in this urban fantasy series are set in New York City and follow the adventures of Verity Price, a young woman torn between her family calling of cryptozoology and her lifelong love of dancing. The next two InCryptid books will be about her brother Alex.

While Midnight Blue-Light Special could be read as a stand alone, it is a direct sequel to the first book and there may be spoilers for Discount Armageddon in this review. If you are new to this series, I’d recommend reading my review of Discount Armageddon instead of this one. It’s a better introduction to the series in general, and I also explain why I want to be Verity Price when I grow up (setting aside the fact that she’s technically younger than I am).

 

Cryptid, noun:

1. Any creature whose existence has been suggested but not proven scientifically. Term officially coined by cryptozoologist John E. Wall in 1983.

2. That thing that’s getting ready to eat your head.

3. See also: “monster.”

Long ago, Verity Price’s ancestors defected from the Covenant of St. George, an organization dedicated to eliminating cryptids from the world. They began to question whether or not there were cryptids worthy of preservation, and now they remove the destructive ones and protect those that aren’t particularly harmful (such as the enthusiastic, talkative, devoutly religious creatures known as the Aeslin mice). Since then, the Price family has lived in the United States in secret—that is, until the day Verity was captured by Dominic de Luca, a member of the Covenant of St. George. After an understandably rocky beginning, the two end up working together, and they’re kinda-sorta-dating by the beginning of Midnight Blue-Light Special, even if Verity is a bit unsure about just how far she can trust a member of the Covenant.

When Verity is working her shift one day, Dominic interrupts her at work, insisting he needs to speak with her immediately. He informs her that some members of the Covenant will be visiting New York City to check on him and begin purging the city of cryptids, and he warns Verity to leave the city before their imminent arrival. However, it’s impossible for Verity to remove all the cryptids in the city, and she refuses to flee when she may be able to help some of them. Even though she feels betrayed, she agrees to allow Dominic to assist her, but both Verity and Dominic have a choice to make. Neither can serve two masters forever—Dominic must choose to either continue to hold to his lifelong beliefs or embrace a new perspective (and Verity), and Verity’s year in New York City is nearing its end, meaning she must choose between her dedication to cryptozoology and her lifelong dream of professional dancing.

Like the first book in the series, Midnight Blue-Light Special is full of humor and Price family quips, but it is darker than its predecessor (though it hasn’t reached the same dark depths as McGuire’s other urban fantasy series, October Daye, so far). Some difficult decisions need to be made, there’s danger in spades, and some heartbreak. While I generally prefer darker books in which the characters are faced with tough choices, I think I had more fun with the first book since it introduced me to the world of the cryptids and the amazing Price family. I felt a bit like this second book didn’t provide any deeper exploration of the world and premise introduced in the first book. Despite feeling like the second installment didn’t expand on the first book as much as I’d like, I did enjoy it very much.

The one aspect that did seem further developed in this book was the characters. This was a book of choices for Verity, Sarah, and Dominic. For the most part, the choices they made weren’t particularly surprising to me, but I did enjoy getting to read more about Verity’s cousin Sarah, who has a point of view in this book (though I did find the parts containing her from Verity’s perspective more compelling and illuminating than her own viewpoint). I particularly love just how different Verity and Sarah are, and the type of “kickass” character Verity is. She is one of those characters who never leaves home without weapons hidden all over her person and has no qualms about jumping into a fight. Yet she is not all brawn without brains but a combination of both with a side of compassion. She’s a cryptozoologist who enjoys learning about the world and helping those around her. Also, while Verity will get involved in the action, she considers her situation first. When she’s in a tough spot, she doesn’t just fight her way out–she thinks of her best chances for success and she can exercise caution when necessary.

Sarah is a very different character from Verity and it not at all the type to want to be in the middle of the action. She has different strengths with her telepathic abilities and intelligence, and is capable of doing what she feels needs to be done. While she’s really not the main protagonist, in many ways this is Sarah’s book in the end. It’s about her, the strength she finds within, and the difficult choice she makes.

While I loved how Verity and Sarah were depicted as two very different personalities with different strengths, the romance didn’t entirely work for me since I don’t quite understand Verity’s attraction to Dominic. Apparently, he’s handsome and the two obviously have a bit in common since he could compete closely with Verity in a “Who Can Hide the Most Weapons on Their Person” contest. I can admire the fact that he can question his ingrained beliefs about cryptids enough to want to warn Verity to get out of New York City when others from his organization are coming, but it didn’t seem like his character was developed all that much more in the second book than the first. These thoughts may be based on unfair comparisons since Tybalt from McGuire’s October Daye series oozes with charisma and only gets better as a character as the series progresses. I think I found it easier not to compare the two with the first book because I was interested to see where Dominic’s character ended up, but I didn’t learn much more about him in this book than the first, nor was I given any hints to wonder about him. This is perfectly reasonable given the structure of the InCryptid books. After all, the series isn’t all about Dominic and Verity; it would be a bit frustrating to have burning questions only to have the next books focus on a different character!

Despite some misgivings about the romance, I did really enjoy how Verity and Dominic’s relationship was not weighed down by unnecessary drama. Since Dominic is part of an organization that is an enemy of Verity’s family, there’s plenty of opportunity for this, especially when he comes to her at the beginning of the book to warn her about the upcoming visit by other Covenant members. Verity’s first reaction is to tell him to get out since she feels betrayed. She’s upset by this for a little while, but once it’s pointed out to her that Dominic seemed to be concerned about her and might be willing to work with her to minimize the damage to the cryptid population, she actually listens to this advice. Verity decides this is the reasonable thing to do. This could have quite easily turned into a Big Angsty Book where she refused to talk to Dominic to increase the tension, but it did not. I rather liked that there wasn’t a lot of drama between them because of this, and the focus was on Dominic’s choice between the Covenant and Verity rather than a spat between Dominic and Verity over their arrival, which he had no control over.

Like its predecessor, Midnight Blue-Light Special is humorous and highly entertaining without a dull moment. While I wanted to see the premise of the first book built on a little more in the second book, I thought it did a great job with a kickass main protagonist who had strengths beyond her fighting ability as well as a quieter character with inner strength. I also enjoyed that it got a bit darker and the stakes were higher for the characters, and I’m certainly looking forward to reading more in this series.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews of Midnight Blue-Light Special:

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 a finished copy and an e-ARC showed up, both of which I’m VERY excited about reading!

First, a quick review update since there haven’t been many reviews here lately. Due to running another Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy Month this year, I haven’t had much time leftover for reading and reviewing in the spare time I have (i.e., time when I’m not working at my full time job). I’m hoping there will be a bit more time to get caught up on some reviews soon, but once April starts, there probably won’t be any new reviews until May. In the meantime, I have started a review of Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire, which just came out last week and is an awesome second installment in the InCryptid series. I’m hoping that review will be up soon, and I also have plans to review The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord as soon as time allows.

On to the books that came in this week!

Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

Sister Mine will be released in hardcover and ebook on March 12. An excerpt is available on the publisher’s website.

I recently read a post praising Nalo Hopkinson’s work at Dark Cargo, and the discussion of her characterization made me really want to pick up one of her books. So having this one show up in the mail out of the blue really made my day! I’m excited to read it, and I’m hoping to read it later this month.

 

As the only one in the family without magic, Makeda has decided to move out on her own and make a life for herself among the claypicken humans. But when her father goes missing, Makeda will have to find her own power–and reconcile with her twin sister, Abby-if she’s to have a hope of saving him . . .

We’d had to be cut free of our mother’s womb. She’d never have been able to push the two-headed sport that was me and Abby out the usual way. Abby and I were fused, you see. Conjoined twins. Abby’s head, torso and left arm protruded from my chest. But here’s the real kicker; Abby had the magic, I didn’t. Far as the Family was concerned, Abby was one of them, though cursed, as I was, with the tragic flaw of mortality.

SISTER MINE

Now adults, Makeda and Abby still share their childhood home. The surgery to separate the two girls gave Abby a permanent limp, but left Makeda with what feels like an even worse deformity: no mojo. The daughters of a celestial demigod and a human woman, Makeda and Abby were raised by their magical father, the god of growing things–an unusual childhood that made them extremely close. Ever since Abby’s magical talent began to develop, though, in the form of an unearthly singing voice, the sisters have become increasingly distant.

Today, Makeda has decided it’s high time to move out and make her own life among the other nonmagical, claypicken humans–after all, she’s one of them. In Cheerful Rest, a run-down warehouse, Makeda finds exactly what she’s been looking for: a place to get some space from Abby and begin building her own independent life. There’s even a resident band, led by the charismatic (and attractive) building superintendent.

But when her father goes missing, Makeda will have to find her own talent–and reconcile with Abby–if she’s to have a hope of saving him . . .

Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian

Cobweb Bride (Cobweb Bride Trilogy #1) by Vera Nazarian

The final version of Cobweb Bride is slated for release on July 15 of this year. I backed the Kickstarter for this book, so I’m pretty excited to see an ARC! It sounds pretty interesting, plus I really enjoyed Vera Nazarian’s novel Lords of Rainbow.

There will be a Goodreads giveaway for Cobweb Bride starting on May 3.

 

COBWEB BRIDE (Cobweb Bride Trilogy, Book One) is a history-flavored fantasy novel with romantic elements of the Persephone myth, about Death’s ultimatum to the world.

What if you killed someone and then fell in love with them?

In an alternate Renaissance world, somewhere in an imaginary “pocket” of Europe called the Kingdom of Lethe, Death comes, in the form of a grim Spaniard, to claim his Bride. Until she is found, in a single time-stopping moment all dying stops. There is no relief for the mortally wounded and the terminally ill….

Covered in white cobwebs of a thousand snow spiders she lies in the darkness… Her skin is cold as snow… Her eyes frozen… Her gaze, fiercely alive…

While kings and emperors send expeditions to search for a suitable Bride for Death, armies of the undead wage an endless war… A black knight roams the forest at the command of his undead father… Spies and political treacheries abound at the imperial Silver Court…. Murdered lovers find themselves locked in the realm of the living…

Look closer — through the cobweb filaments of her hair and along each strand shine stars…

And one small village girl, Percy—an unwanted, ungainly middle daughter—is faced with the responsibility of granting her dying grandmother the desperate release she needs.

As a result, Percy joins the crowds of other young women of the land in a desperate quest to Death’s own mysterious holding in the deepest forests of the North…

And everyone is trying to stop her.

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Last year I dedicated the month of April to highlighting women’s contributions to science fiction and fantasy, both as writers producing work in the genre of speculative fiction and bloggers sharing their love for the SFF books they read. By the end of the month I was floored by the many amazing posts I had gotten from authors and bloggers and the reactions here and on other blogs! At the time I said I wasn’t sure I was going to do it again because a lot of work went in to putting it all together, but a year later I’m happy to say that I’m again turning April into Women in SF&F Month on Fantasy Cafe!

Discussing women’s work in speculative fiction has been important to me ever since I saw the question raised about whether or not women were writing science fiction and fantasy a few years ago. They were, of course, and doing a lot of wonderful work, but they were not in the spotlight and did not spring to mind the same way male authors did. Since then, it’s been important to me to do what I can to talk about their work and try to change that.

Even in just the few short years since I noticed this, I do think women’s names are mentioned far more often than they used to be. Yet I am often reminded of just how far there is to go. This was the case last year when I saw some studies examining the review coverage of women’s books when compared to men’s the previous year. The results were not pretty. Around the same time, there was some discussion of nominating book bloggers for the fan categories in the Hugo Award and none of the bloggers I saw mentioned as potential candidates were women despite the many women who do write about science fiction and fantasy books. (That seems to have changed this year as I’ve seen a few women mentioned for fan writer and fanzine awards.)

It seems as though this issue is getting more attention now than then, but I also still see many things that make me think that the more it’s discussed, the better. The 2012 Count was just released by VIDA again, and it’s still pretty dismal. Then I saw this thread on LibraryThing about “Women and Fantasy” just a couple of days ago. None of the books on this “Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2013” list with over 200 votes are written by women (a few of these books are unlikely to come in 2013, but that’s beside the point). There are still assumptions made about women as a group, and women’s books still do not seem to be as visible.

Last year I chose not to wade into the debates about the hows and whys (too much), instead just letting the authors and bloggers talk about what they love and highlight their tremendous work. It turned into some great posts to read so I’ll be doing the same again this year. I won’t give them away just yet, but just like last year, there are a whole bunch of guests I am VERY excited about and I can’t wait to share what they have to say!

I’ll have more soon, though possibly not quite as many reviews as I might like because I’m gathering guest posts. Next month will be more than worth it though!