Although I don’t tend to read post-apocalyptic as much as some other speculative fiction subgenres, Peng Shepherd’s first novel caught my eye before its publication last year—long before The Book of M began garnering acclaim by appearing on numerous Best Books of 2018 lists, becoming a Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fantasy finalist, or more recently, winning the Neukom Literary Arts Award for Debut Speculative Fiction. From the moment I read its description, I was intrigued by the idea of examining the connections between memory and identity by exploring what could happen if people around the world suddenly began losing their memories. Having now read it, I think it will appeal to those more interested in those particular aspects and characters’ journeys—both literal and metaphorical—than those who mainly want answers about why and how such a thing might happen, and despite having a few technical quibbles, I found it compelling, unique, and…well, just plain memorable.

The event that changed the world began on Zero Shadow Day, which occurs a couple of times a year in some parts of the world when the sun aligns directly above specific latitudes on Earth. This position causes people to temporarily “lose” their shadows, but on this particular Zero Shadow Day in Pune, India, one man’s shadow did not reappear when all the others did. At first, watching this man’s movement with no mirroring shadow seemed magical, and as other individuals in India also began losing their shadows, many people wished they too could experience this miracle for themselves.

But the wonder ceased on the fourth day: the day the man failed to recognize his own brothers, who had been his near constant companions since his shadow disappeared. Soon after, it became apparent that everyone without a shadow was losing their memories—and the longer they remained shadowless, the more they forgot.

People forgot their friends and family, how to speak and read, where they lived, that they needed to eat and drink. They no longer remembered that fire was dangerous, that flowers didn’t communicate, that deer didn’t have wings. And when they forgot something strongly enough, their faulty recollections became reality: they could walk through a blaze unharmed, plants could provide them with directions, and bucks with wings in place of antlers appeared.

No one was able to figure out why some people lost their shadows and memories or how to prevent this fate, and this phenomenon continued to spread. Eventually, it came to the United States, where it affected Naz, an Iranian archer training for the Olympics in Boston, and Max and Ory, a married couple attending a wedding in Arlington at the time. The topsy-turvy new world created by the Forgetting turned all their lives into an endless struggle for survival, resulting in Naz journeying to Washington, DC, and Max and Ory doing their best to feed and protect themselves as the last of the wedding party residing in the hotel.

Then Max loses her shadow. Fearing she will become a danger to her husband—and what will happen she inevitably forgets him—she sneaks away while her most important memories are still intact, leading Ory to set out to find her. On their separate quests, they hear rumors of The One Who Gathers in New Orleans and are drawn to find him—for reports indicate he may hold the key to retaining one’s memories.

The Book of M is one of those books I’ve been finding difficult to review and describe because, as much as I enjoyed and appreciated it, I realize it has imperfections and elements that some may have a harder time with than I did: it’s overlong, it has logical issues, and it requires a lot of suspension of disbelief. Plus it didn’t have any characters that I loved (even though I did rather like reading about a couple of them!) and the prose was uneven since it could be unnatural and exposition-heavy at times but beautiful at other times.

Yet the storytelling, overall concept, and twist at the end are all superb, and The Book of M is such an imaginative, magical, indelible book that it winnowed its way into my heart regardless of its clearly visible flaws. It’s one of those books I could hardly stop thinking about after finishing, considering how the various pieces fit together. It’s a book that leaves a permanent mark on the mind, and it belongs on my bookshelf for always.

The Book of M is a novel that provides more questions than answers: though characters wonder, it never so much as hints at why people suddenly lost their shadows and memories, why this happened to some people and not others, or why and how it spread around the world. Given the implication that the connection between memory and shadow is tied to the legend of Chhaya, created as a shadow with all her creator’s memories, I saw it as a near future, post-apocalyptic fairy tale that isn’t about examining why this magic happened but how it affected individuals and society. Readers are left to decide how to interpret the rich symbolism and allegory that imbues its pages, all while examining the intersection of memory and identity—how much of who we are is tied to our remembrances and what is lost without them—and the power of names.

It does this by following four characters whose lives are (eventually, in some cases) bound together in various ways, two with their shadows and memories intact and two who have forgotten pieces of their pasts. Naz, the Olympic hopeful, is my favorite because of her grit, determination, and bond with her sister—and it’s also her viewpoint that first offers the clearest picture of the beginnings of the shadowless, starting with media coverage of the first of them in India. After Naz, I most enjoyed reading about The One Who Gathers, an amnesiac who had forgotten much about himself in a terrible accident and never recovered those memories, though he did retain his shadow and post-accident memories. Max’s perspective is narrated entirely through tape recordings she made after she lost her shadow and set out on her own, fearing what her worsening memory loss will mean for her husband, Ory. Though I didn’t always find her voice natural, even considering she was addressing Ory and it made some sense that she’d explain so much given she was grappling with memory, her story is fascinating and an important part of the novel—a contrast to Ory, who I found dull since he was largely focused on finding Max and didn’t have any particularly compelling characteristics or internal conflicts.

Even viewing it as a tale about these four people built upon myth, there were some aspects that didn’t quite seem to fit to me. For one, it seemed as though the world should have been even more chaotic than shown considering magical memory loss led to vanishing cities and a giant Statue of Liberty rampaging through New York City. Although there was disorder, it seemed somewhat contained and orchestrated since I would have expected travelers to run into more inconveniences related to changing landscapes. I also thought some of the ways magic was used toward the end didn’t entirely make sense, although I could also see a few possible reasons it worked the way it did.

However, none of that was enough of a distraction to prevent me from cherishing a creative story well told—and The Book of M is exactly that.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Read or Listen to a Sample from The Book of M

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

Last week’s book arrivals all sound excellent! There are no new reviews from the last week, but I am working on one I hope to have finished this week.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia - Book Cover

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

This Mexican-inspired dark fairy tale featuring the Mayan god of death will be released on July 23 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from Gods of Jade and Shadow.

I’m pretty excited about reading this one, which sounds amazing, has a stunning cover, and piqued my interest in the first couple of sentences!

 

The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.

Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.

In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.

Where Oblivion Lives by T. Frohock - Book Cover

Where Oblivion Lives (A Los Nefilim Novel) by T. Frohock

This historical fantasy novel, which features the same world and characters as the three novellas in Los Nefilim, was published earlier this year (trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook).

The publisher’s website has an excerpt and an audio sample from Where Oblivion Lives, and T. Frohock wrote about the series here in her guest post “Angels and Daimons and the Supernatural World of Los Nefilim” from the end of 2015.

I bought a couple of books off my wish list recently with a gift card, and this was one of the ones that was especially calling to me after looking through a few book samples.

 

A lyrical historical fantasy adventure, set in 1932 Spain and Germany, that brings to life the world of the novellas collected in Los Nefilim: Spanish Nephilim battling daimons in a supernatural war to save humankind.

Born of daimon and angel, Diago Alvarez is a being unlike all others. The embodiment of dark and light, he has witnessed the good and the horror of this world and those beyond. In the supernatural war between angels and daimons that will determine humankind’s future, Diago has chosen Los Nefilim, the sons and daughters of angels who possess the power to harness music and light.

As the forces of evil gather, Diago must locate the Key, the special chord that will unite the nefilim’s voices, giving them the power to avert the coming civil war between the Republicans and Franco’s Nationalists. Finding the Key will save Spain from plunging into darkness.

And for Diago, it will resurrect the anguish caused by a tragedy he experienced in a past life.

But someone—or something—is determined to stop Diago in his quest and will use his history to destroy him and the nefilim. Hearing his stolen Stradivarius played through the night, Diago is tormented by nightmares about his past life. Each incarnation strengthens the ties shared by the nefilim, whether those bonds are of love or hate . . . or even betrayal.

To retrieve the violin, Diago must journey into enemy territory . . . and face an old nemesis and a fallen angel bent on revenge.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse - Book Cover

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse

Since its publication last year, this post-apocalyptic fantasy has won the Locus Award for Best First Novel and been nominated for the Nebula and (this year’s yet-to-be-announced) Hugo Awards. It’s currently available in hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

NPR has an excerpt from Trail of Lightning, and the publisher’s website has an excerpt from Storm of Locusts, the recently-released second book in the series.

This was another book from my wish list that I purchased with some gift card money since it seemed like one to read sooner rather than later!

 

2019 HUGO AWARD FINALIST, BEST NOVEL

Nebula Award Finalist for Best Novel

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel the rez, unraveling clues from ancient legends, trading favors with tricksters, and battling dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the killings, she will have to confront her past if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, the latest book mail!

The Bone Ships - RJ Barker - Book Cover

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

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

 

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

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

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

The Tide Child Trilogy
The Bone Ships

For more from RJ Barker, check out:

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

Protect the Prince - Jennifer Estep - Book Cover

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

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

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

  1. Kill the Queen
  2. Protect the Prince
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Books:

Book Description:

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 7/10

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

Read an Excerpt from Unraveling

My Review of Redemption in Indigo

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

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

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

The Red-Stained Wings - Elizabeth Bear - Book Cover

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

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

Excerpts from both books in The Lotus Kingdoms are available:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wanderers - Chuck Wendig - Book Cover

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

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

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from Wanderers.

 

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

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

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

Additional Books: