Instead of writing one huge post of all the books I’m looking forward to in 2012 with info on them, I had decided to highlight some of these books in their own posts throughout the rest of 2011. I’ve decided to carry this feature forward into this year as I discover new books coming out this year that sound interesting and continue with books of 2013 as it gets closer to the end of the year.

The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

This is just one of those books I love the sound of. Plus I find it appealing that it’s a self-contained book with less than 200 pages. While I do love long stories, sometimes it’s nice to read a story that doesn’t require a huge chunk of time to complete! The Emperor’s Soul will be released in trade paperback in November.

About The Emperor’s Soul:

From the bestselling author of the Mistborn Trilogy and co-author of the final three books of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series comes the tale of a heretic thief who is the only hope for the survival of an empire.

Shai is a Forger, a foreigner who can flawlessly copy and re-create any item by rewriting its history with skillful magic. Though condemned to death after trying to steal the emperor’s scepter, she is given one opportunity to save herself. Despite the fact that her skill as a Forger is considered an abomination by her captors, Shai will attempt to create a new soul for the emperor, who is almost dead from the attack of assassins.

Delving deeply into his life, she discovers Emperor Ashravan’s truest nature—and the opportunity to exploit it. Her only possible ally is one who is truly loyal to the emperor, but councilor Gaotona must overcome his prejudices to understand that her forgery is as much artistry as it is deception.

Skillfully deducing the machinations of her captors, Shai needs a perfect plan to escape. The fate of the kingdom lies in one impossible task. Is it possible to create a forgery of a soul so convincing that it is better than the soul itself?

Other Books of 2012:

The Killing Moon
by N. K. Jemisin
404pp (Paperback/Ebook)
My Rating: 9.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.33/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.13/5
 

The Killing Moon is the first book of the Dreamblood, a new Egyptian-inspired fantasy duology by N. K. Jemisin, whose Inheritance trilogy has books that were nominated for the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards. It was released in trade paperback and ebook earlier this month, and The Shadowed Sun (Dreamblood 2) will be available next month. Rest assured that despite the small wait between volumes, there is no cliff-hanger ending at the end of The Killing Moon, and the next book has a different set of main characters. This novel’s storyline feels resolved, but it also definitely leaves space for exploring what happens after this resolution.

Gujaareh is a land of peace devoted to the worship of the dream goddess Hananja. To maintain this peace and order, their warrior-priests (or Gatherers) are trained to kill, both by physical and magical means. Gatherers must be able to hold their own in a fight, and they must also be able to sneak into homes where they send those they have been ordered to kill to their favorite place in a dream – where they remain forever once the Gatherer has cut their ties to the waking world. In return, the Gatherer collects their dreamblood, which can then be used to help others, such as by healing those who are ill. Sometimes a Gatherer is sent to kill the corrupt and other times they are requested to bring peace to those who are suffering or dying, but a Gatherer does not question the rightness of his actions. He does what he must in the service of Hananja for the benefit of all Gujaareh, as have those who came before him.

Ehiru, the best of the Gatherers, has had to spend more of his nights gathering with the recent death of his mentor. On one such night, he has an experience he has never had before that shakes him to his core – he performs a Gathering that does not go well and does not end peacefully for the corrupted merchant he was sent to kill. While it does not have him questioning his faith or purpose of Gathering, it does have him questioning his abilities – at least until he is sent to kill Sunandi, a spy from neighboring Kisua. Sunandi has been investigating the circumstances of the death of her own mentor, and she is quite horrified when she uncovers the secrets he learned before his untimely death. When Sunandi mentions some happenings that correspond with Ehiru’s experiences on the night of his Gathering that went wrong, it makes him question the reality of Gujaareh’s structure and what is going on beneath the surface.

The Killing Moon is a fantastic book and my personal favorite I’ve read so far this year. It’s a book that excels on all levels – the writing, world, characters, and story all worked for me. In fact, I’m having trouble thinking of anything that I didn’t like about it. It was a little slow a couple of times, but it wasn’t really slow enough for long enough that it stands out as a flaw to me. It also didn’t have the same emotional impact that came with a single main character’s viewpoint in the Inheritance books, but that didn’t really bother me, either, since I thought this was a stronger book overall and it did still have memorable scenes.

First of all, The Killing Moon is very different from the Inheritance books in quite a few ways. It’s told from multiple perspectives in the third person instead of one first person viewpoint so it doesn’t have the intensely personal, chatty narrative style the previous books did. Also, there’s no romantic subplot and the world is much more ordered than the chaos of the godlings. For all its differences, there are some general similarities since Gujaareh is influenced by its goddess even though she and the other gods aren’t out walking among the people and there is a theme of history being rewritten by those in power. Even with the feeling of more distance from the characters, I found them more interesting than many of the ones in the Inheritance novels and I was still rather attached to some of them by the end.

From the very opening chapter, I was drawn in by the way it detailed a night of Gathering for Ehiru. It was very dark, but I enjoyed seeing this from Ehiru’s perspective, particularly as it introduced him as someone with the qualities Sunandi later noted – a blend of compassion and ruthlessness. Despite being a killer, the first time we see Ehiru kill is out of mercy for an old dying man who is perfectly content to leave his misery behind. Yet in the same chapter we also see him kill someone who doesn’t really want to die in the Gathering that goes wrong. Ehiru is one of those people who absolutely believes he is doing the right thing and has faith in what his religious system has told him. The assassin with a heart of gold is a common trope, but Ehiru isn’t doing it for money or survival but out of pure religious fervor. In spite of the way he holds fast to this belief system, he is very likable. He questions what he believes when presented with evidence, and he is kind with great strength of character. Throughout the book, he also has to fight his own internal demons since there is a struggle Gatherers must face against their own nature the longer they collect dreamblood in this manner.

While I’d call Ehiru the main protagonist, there are two other major characters, Ehiru’s apprentice Njiri and Sunandi, the ambassador from Kisua who discovers all is not right in the nation-state of Gujaareh. Both of them were great characters. Njiri is newly apprenticed to Ehiru and has to face a tough test under the circumstances. He is both naive due to his young age and wise for his young age and he has lots of resolve and inner strength. His relationship with Ehiru is complex, as Njiri seems to view him as a mixture of father, mentor, savior, friend, and someone he has romantic feelings for. Sunandi is a savvy spy who understands politics well, and like the other two she has lots of determination. All of them encounter tough situations that showcase just how much inner strength they all have. What I really enjoyed about getting the perspectives of all three of them is that Sunandi has completely opposing views from the two Gatherers, yet I could understand both perspectives and relate to all three of them. Sunandi finds the practice of Gathering and the way Gujaareh is run abhorrent while Ehiru and Njiri believe death is a natural part of the life cycle and not to be feared. Both viewpoints are a result of their cultural upbringings, and both of them make sense based on the experiences these characters had.

While these three are the main characters, there are several other perspectives, including one of the other Gatherers, the Superior of the Hetawa (Hananja’s temple), and the Prince. All the different characters were very believable with realistic motivations for behaving the way they did. The villain had no qualms about doing terrible things but also had some motives that made sense. There were reasons for being driven to the point of villainy, and it was not just due to an innate evil nature. This is the type of villain I like, one who is capable of evil but also didn’t set out on the path of evil until there was a motivation that set it in motion.

What continues to impress me about N. K. Jemisin’s writing is that it is simultaneously simple and complex. It’s easy to read and follow, but at the same time there is this huge, well-constructed world to discover over the course of the novel. This world with its social structure and rules is detailed and fully fleshed out, and between that and its characters, it seems vividly real. N. K. Jemisin has real skill in weaving this into the story – it’s very different from our world, but it’s also not told in one big infodump and it’s also not terribly confusing. It’s told by being immersed in the story, through living it, through the eyes of the characters. As the story continues, more is learned about the world and the rules of the Gatherers. Part of this is through some interludes discussing some myths and the few opening lines at the start of the chapters, but it all ties together beautifully to paint a picture of Gujaareh.

The Killing Moon has many familiar themes, including many of my own favorites such as power, corruption, religion, the pursuit of truth, and ingrained cultural societies that are not as ideal as they may seem on the surface. Taken by themselves, these are not incredibly original themes (although they are ones I am personally drawn to and love to read about), but both the story and the amazing world-building contribute to keeping them from feeling at all recycled or stale.

I loved The Killing Moon; it is exactly my sort of fantasy book. It’s dark, not all ends happily, and there is a price for magic. The characters are likable but face difficult decisions that put them to the test and exhibit what they’re made of. At the end of the book, they’re not at the same place they started from but have learned over the course of their journey. All this takes place in a well-built, detailed world that gradually unfolds and is vividly alive. Reading The Killing Moon was a treat and I can hardly wait to see what’s in store in The Shadowed Sun.

My Rating: 9.5/10

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

Read Excerpts from The Killing Moon:

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. 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 1 ARC and 3 review copies, 2 of which I’m VERY excited about. I’m already reading one of them now.

Sharps by K. J. Parker

Sharps by K. J. Parker

K. J. Parker’s latest book will be released on July 17 (trade paperback, ebook). I just started it this weekend. I haven’t gotten far yet since I’m trying to get caught up on reviews before going to BEA, but it’s very promising so far! Ever since reading The Folding Knife, I’ve wanted to read more by K. J. Parker so I’m really excited about reading this. The Folding Knife was fantastic and I’ve heard great things about Parker’s other books as well.

K.J. Parker’s new novel is a perfectly executed tale of intrigue and deception.

For the first time in nearly forty years, an uneasy truce has been called between two neighbouring kingdoms. The war has been long and brutal, fought over the usual things: resources, land, money…

Now, there is a chance for peace. Diplomatic talks have begun and with them, the games. Two teams of fencers represent their nations at this pivotal moment.

When the future of the world lies balanced on the point of a rapier, one misstep could mean ruin for all. Human nature being what it is, does peace really have a chance?

The Shadowed Sun by N. K. Jemisin

The Shadowed Sun (The Dreamblood #2) by N. K. Jemisin

The first Dreamblood book, The Killing Moon, was released earlier this month. I’m working on a review of it now that should be up sometime this week, but basically I loved it. It’s my favorite book I’ve read so far this year so I am really excited about reading the second book!

The Shadowed Sun will be released in trade paperback and ebook formats on June 12. Chapter One is available on the author’s website (she says that only chapter one is there right now because the following chapters have spoilers for The Killing Moon so it should be safe to read if you haven’t read that yet).

Gujaareh, the city of dreams, suffers under the imperial rule of the Kisuati Protectorate. A city where the only law was peace now knows violence and oppression. And nightmares: a mysterious and deadly plague haunts the citizens of Gujaareh, dooming the infected to die screaming in their sleep. Trapped between dark dreams and cruel overlords, the people yearn to rise up—but Gujaareh has known peace for too long.

Someone must show them the way.

Hope lies with two outcasts: the first woman ever allowed to join the dream goddess’ priesthood, and an exiled prince who longs to reclaim his birthright. Together, they must resist the Kisuati occupation and uncover the source of the killing dreams… before Gujaareh is lost forever.

Silver by Rhiannon Held

Silver by Rhiannon Held

This debut urban fantasy novel about werewolves will be released in trade paperback and ebook on June 5. According to the author’s website, this is the first book in a series although I can’t find the name of it there or on the press release that came with the book. An excerpt from Silver is available on Tor.com.

Andrew Dare is a werewolf. He’s the enforcer for the Roanoke pack, and responsible for capturing or killing any Were intruders in Roanoke’s territory. But the lone Were he’s tracking doesn’t smell or act like anyone he’s ever encountered. And when he catches her, it doesn’t get any better. She’s beautiful, she’s crazy, and someone has tortured her by injecting silver into her veins. She says her name is Silver, and that she’s lost her wild self and can’t shift any more.

The packs in North America have a live-and-let-live attitude, and try not to overlap with each other. But Silver represents a terrible threat to every Were on the continent.

Andrew and Silver will join forces to track down this menace while discovering their own power and their passion for each other.

Lethal Rider by Larissa Ione

Lethal Rider (Lords of Deliverance #3) by Larissa Ione

The first two Lords of Deliverance books are Eternal Rider and Immortal Rider. An excerpt from Lethal Rider is available on the author’s website. This book was released in mass market paperback and ebook formats on May 22 in the US and will be released on June 1 in the UK.

I’m not much of a paranormal romance reader so I don’t know much about this series, but readers on Goodreads seemed to like this installment quite a bit.

They’re here. They ride. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Born of a match between good and evil, four siblings stand between hell’s minions and everything they want to destroy. They are the Lords of Deliverance, and they have the power to ward off Doomsday…or let it ride…

LETHAL RIDER

Thanatos, the most deadly Horseman of the Apocalypse, has endured thousands of years of celibacy to prevent the end of days. But just one night with the wickedly sexy Aegis Guardian, Regan Cooper, shatters centuries of resolve. Yet their passion comes with a price. And Thanatos must face a truth more terrifying than an apocalypse-he’s about to become a father.

Demon-slayer Regan Cooper never imagined herself the maternal type, but with the fate of the world hanging in the balance she had no choice but to seduce Thanatos and bear his child. Now, as the final battle draws closer and his rage at being betrayed is overshadowed by an undeniable passion for the mother of his child, Thanatos has a life-shattering realization: To save the world, he must sacrifice the only thing he’s ever wanted-a family.

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. 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 got a belated birthday present, 3 review copies, and 1 ARC. There are some great-sounding books in this week’s pile!

God's War by Kameron Hurley

God’s War (Bel Dame Apocrypha #1) by Kameron Hurley

For some reason, this book took forever to show up when my husband ordered it for me for my birthday (which was over a month and a half ago now). But it’s here now, and I am really excited to read it since I’ve been curious about it for awhile. Plus I’ve been a little irritated at myself for not picking it up when I came across it during one of the Borders sales.

God’s War is one of this year’s Nebula Award nominees for Best Novel. This science fiction novel has one sequel, Infidel, and a third book entitled Rapture will be available in November. It is available in trade paperback and ebook, and there are some sample chapters available on Baen Ebooks.

Nyx had already been to hell. One prayer more or less wouldn t make any difference…

On a ravaged, contaminated world, a centuries-old holy war rages, fought by a bloody mix of mercenaries, magicians, and conscripted soldiers. Though the origins of the war are shady and complex, there’s one thing everybody agrees on–

There’s not a chance in hell of ending it.

Nyx is a former government assassin who makes a living cutting off heads for cash. But when a dubious deal between her government and an alien gene pirate goes bad, Nyx’s ugly past makes her the top pick for a covert recovery. The head they want her to bring home could end the war–but at what price?

The world is about to find out.

The City In the Lake by Rachel Neumeier

The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy author Rachel Neumeier kindly sent me some of her books this week. They all sound really good, but I am most curious about this one (and it’s signed, yay!). I read the first page and really liked the writing style, and I’ve been wanting to read this ever since reading this review at The Book Smugglers.

This young adult fantasy book is available in hardcover, mass market paperback, and ebook. The hardcover version is actually available as a $6 bargain book on Amazon right now.

An excerpt from The City in the Lake is available.

THE KINGDOM’S HEART is the City. The City’s heart is the King. The King’s heart is the Prince. The Prince is missing.

Ever since the Prince disappeared, nothing has been right in the Kingdom. Something has disturbed the strange, old magic that whispers around its borders . . . something cunning and powerful. And the disturbance extends to the farthest reaches of the Kingdom, including the idyllic village where Timou is learning to be a mage under her father’s tutelage.

When Timou’s father journeys to the City to help look for the Prince, but never returns, Timou senses that the disturbance in the Kingdom is linked to her—and to the undiscovered heritage of the mother she never knew. She must leave her village, even if it means confronting powers greater than her own, even though what she finds may challenge everything she knows. Even if it means leaving love behind.

This breathtaking first novel spins a web of magic, bravery, and the power of love.

The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier

The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier

This is another young adult fantasy book that sounds really interesting. It was a Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Book of the Year, an ALA-YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Book, and an ALA Amelia Bloomer Recommended Title (for feminist literature).

The Floating Islands is available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook formats. An excerpt is available on the publisher’s website.

When Trei loses his family in a tragic disaster, he must search out distant relatives in a new land. The Floating Islands are unlike anything Trei has ever seen: stunning, majestic, and graced with kajurai, men who soar the skies with wings.

Trei is instantly sky-mad, and desperate to be a kajurai himself.  The only one who fully understands his passion is Araene, his newfound cousin.  Prickly, sarcastic, and gifted, Araene has a secret of her own . . . a dream a girl cannot attain.

Trei and Araene quickly become conspirators as they pursue their individual paths.  But neither suspects that their lives will be deeply entwined, and that the fate of the Floating Islands will lie in their hands. . . .

Filled with rich language, and told in alternating voices, The Floating Islands is an all-encompassing young adult fantasy read.

Land of the Burning Sands by Rachel Neumeier

Land of the Burning Sands (The Griffin Mage #2) by Rachel Neumeier

Books 1 and 3 in the Griffin Mage trilogy aren’t included in this post because I already received unsolicited copies of both when they came out. I’ve almost started book 1 a few times, but random.org has always picked a different book from the list for me when it’s one I’ve been thinking about reading.

The first Griffin Mage book is Lord of the Changing Winds and the last is Law of the Broken Earth. There is also a paperback omnibus containing all three called The Griffin Mage Trilogy. All of these are available as ebooks, and the single volumes are mass market paperback.

These fantasy books are adult fantasy, not young adult. There are excerpts available from all three:

  1. Lord of the Changing Winds
  2. Land of the Burning Sands
  3. Law of the Broken Earth

Gereint Enseichen of Casmantium knows little and cares less about the recent war in which his king tried to use griffins and fire to wrest territory from the neighboring country of Feierabiand…but he knows that his kingdom’s unexpected defeat offers him a chance to escape from his own servitude.

But now that the griffins find themselves in a position of strength, they are not inclined to forgive and the entire kingdom finds itself in deadly peril. Willing or not, Gereint will find himself caught up in a desperate struggle between the griffins and the last remaining Casmantian mage. Even the strongest gifts of making and building may not prove sufficient when the fiery wind of the griffins begins to bury the life of Casmantium beneath the burning sands . . .

This Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova

This Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova

This new urban fantasy will be released in September 2012. It’s a debut novel, and after skimming the first few pages I am a bit curious about it.

What happens when The Firm meets Anita Blake? You get the Halls of Power—our modern world, but twisted. Law, finance, the military, and politics are under the sway of long-lived vampires, werewolves, and the elven Alfar. Humans make the best of rule by “the Spooks,” and contend among themselves to affiliate with the powers-that-be, in order to avoid becoming their prey. Very loyal humans are rewarded with power over other women and men. Very lucky humans are selected to join the vampires, werewolves, and elves—or, on occasion, to live at the Seelie Court.

Linnet Ellery is the offspring of an affluent Connecticut family dating back to Colonial times. Fresh out of law school, she’s beginning her career in a powerful New York “white fang” law firm. She has high hopes of eventually making partner.

But strange things keep happening to her. In a workplace where some humans will eventually achieve immense power and centuries of extra lifespan, office politics can be vicious beyond belief. After some initial missteps, she finds herself sidelined and assigned to unpromising cases. Then, for no reason she can see, she becomes the target of repeated, apparently random violent attacks, escaping injury each time through increasingly improbable circumstances. However, there’s apparently more to Linnet Ellery than a little old-money human privilege. More than even she knows. And as she comes to understand this, she’s going to shake up the system like you wouldn’t believe…. 

Bitterblue is the third novel from New York Times bestselling author Kristin Cashore, whose previous two young adult fantasies impressed quite a few readers. Like its predecessors, Bitterblue is set in the Graceling Realm. It’s a sequel to Graceling that takes place 8 years later with a different protagonist, and Fire is a companion to both that takes place before Graceling and has both a different location and a different protagonist. While I don’t think it matters if Graceling or Fire is read first, I do think reading these two before Bitterblue will make it a more satisfying book, although it’s not strictly necessary to understand the story.

There will be spoilers for Graceling in this review so if you have not yet read that book, you may not want to read on.

For 35 years, Monsea suffered under the tyranny of King Leck. Leck had a Grace (special ability) that allowed him to control people, fogging their minds with his words so they believed anything he said. Any lie Leck told became reality, at least to those who were under his spell. He could convince people they had committed wrongs against those they loved or even make them perform actions they would never do without his coercion. Even worse, he could make them truly believe they enjoyed it.

Eight years after his death, Leck’s villainy is still vividly remembered by the people he ruled, his former advisers, and his daughter Queen Bitterblue. The horrors they endured are not easily forgotten, and waking up from Leck’s control to truly realize what happened is shocking. For Queen Bitterblue, it means ruling a kingdom that needs to rebuild itself, but ruling mostly seems to mean having her advisers bury her under piles of paperwork or force her to preside over rather trivial court cases. Tired of it all, Bitterblue dons a hood to disguise herself and sneaks out of the castle one night. She wanders into a tavern and discovers people gathering to tell stories of the past. Increasingly intrigued by what she hears, Bitterblue continues to sneak out in the middle of the night and ends up meeting Teddy and Saf, two men who make Bitterblue start wondering just how much she doesn’t know about her own kingdom – and what her advisers are hiding from her and why. Bitterblue makes it her mission to discover what exactly happened in the past and what she can do to help her people.

Bitterblue was one of my most anticipated books of this year after reading Fire and Graceling, but I’m sorry to say it wasn’t everything I had hoped. I finished it with very mixed feelings because it is a very maturely written book that handles themes well, and the characterization and some of the dialogue are also wonderful. In many ways, it is better than both Graceling and Fire yet I didn’t love it the way I did Fire or eagerly devour it the way I did Graceling despite its many wonderful qualities. While it does have many strengths, Bitterblue had a major weakness in its plot, which is slow, meandering, and at times, quite dull.

One aspect of Bitterblue that I really appreciate is that it deals with the aftermath of eliminating evil from the kingdom. The story did not end with the removal of the great evil that plagued the land and ignore the long road to recovery after life dealing with a reign of terror as so many fantasy stories do. Monsea was enslaved by Leck for 35 years, and this had a huge impact on its people that they are still dealing with 8 years later. Leck was an incredibly cruel man who controlled people’s minds, and this kind of mad power is going to leave echoes even once he’s gone. Bitterblue undertakes a quest for knowledge about the past and the memories that are hiding from her due to the fog in her mind from Leck’s influence. The overarching themes of the power of knowledge, the convolution of memory, erasure of the past, and lies that grow from good intentions were all thoughtfully handled and well executed.

Likewise, the characterization was excellent. The characters were well-rounded and likable, and had a wonderful camaraderie with each other. Bitterblue herself is exactly the type of character I love, one with great inner strength and intelligence. Her strong will and determination made her shine, especially as she took it upon herself to go out and discover the secrets her advisers were hiding from her. Bitterblue had a love for truth that made her pursue it no matter how painful. Yet, she’s not perfect and she actually tells a lot of lies herself when trying to get to the bottom of happenings in her kingdom. Her reasoning is understandable, though, and she has enough self-doubt and worries to be a realistic young queen who is just learning what it means to be both an adult and a ruler. While Bitterblue is the most prominent character, each and every character comes alive – Katsa with her openness and vibrance,  Saf with his roguishness and secrets, Teddy with his love of truth and knowledge, and Death (pronounced “Deeth”) the dour librarian with a soft spot for cats.

However, the plot is a weakness that kept the book from being truly excellent in spite of having many fantastic qualities. Much of the plot is dedicated to Bitterblue solving the puzzles of the past, and there is too much time spent on all the details of how she does this and the various questions she keeps pondering. In spite of my admiration for the thought that went into this story, it was missing the forward momentum that was needed. That’s not to say it isn’t resolved by the end, because it is and there are some very satisfying scenes for fans of the other two books. It just moved so slowly that it was quite often boring, and it was hard for me remain interested in what was happening a lot of the time.

This particular feeling confused me because I am a reader who prefers character over plot. Yet when I think of all the books I loved for characters over plot, they are books where the characters and their personal journey were a big part of the plot. While Bitterblue does learn more about the world around her, have some new experiences, and lose some of her naivete over the course of this novel, she doesn’t make any discoveries that change the core of who she is. Her character is an important part of the story, but the book is still more about the story of the kingdom and Bitterblue’s discoveries and memories than a big personal transformation. Therefore, this book needs plot in addition to character to keep it engaging.

The romantic subplot is not as memorable as either Katsa’s or Fire’s was. I had mixed feelings about it in this book, but unfortunately, I can’t really discuss it without spoilers for the end.

Overall, Bitterblue was a well-written book with believable characters, relationships, and dialogue. It had some great themes about knowledge and memory that were very thoughtfully executed, and the entire book left me with the impression there was a lot of consideration put into it. Yet it didn’t have the same spark that Fire and Graceling did, and the slow-moving plot kept it from achieving its full potential. If only the plot were tighter, I think this could have been an excellent book. As it is, the plot was slow enough to be a big hindrance to my enjoyment of the novel, and this prevents me from recommending Bitterblue as strongly as I do Kristin Cashore’s other books (especially Fire!).

My Rating: 6/10

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

Read an Excerpt from Bitterblue

Other Reviews of Bitterblue:

Reviews of Other Books in the Graceling Realm:

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Now that Women in SF&F Month is over, I wanted to reflect some on why I think reading and supporting women who write science fiction and fantasy is important. I talked about this a little before the start of the month, but I wanted to elaborate on the subject some more.

In case you did miss the introductory post, I had observed before that it seemed like female authors were reviewed less frequently than men. At one point, I saw something mentioned about women who wrote science fiction and fantasy and realized I couldn’t actually think of that many of them. Most of the books that I read that came highly recommended were written by men, although one or two people occasionally recommended that I read a book by a woman. I had to wonder, does that mean there are not many women writing these genres? I found that hard to believe when I’d always known about as many women who were interested in them as men. So I started looking into it and trying to read and review more books by women since it seemed like a gap that needed to be filled.

This was all based on observations, though, and it was not until recently that I saw some stats. Ladybusiness recently did a study looking at a few science fiction and fantasy blogs that found women were reviewed less overall and composed only about 20% of reviews on blogs run by men. (I do want to note that this is a study of a small sampling compared to the number of blogs out there, though; I’m not even sure how one would begin running a study for all the blogs.) Strange Horizons has also done some similar stats, including stats for both 2010 and 2011. These also include a general idea of gender breakdown by looking at books received for review by Locus, although they do mention a couple of ways in which this breakdown may not be perfect (for example, this included reprints not just books published for the first time in 2011, the same author may have had more than one book sent out for review that year, and some authors may be using pseudonyms that are not the same as their actual gender). In 2011, 47% of books received from US publishers were written or edited by a woman, but only about 1/3 of books received from UK publishers were. Yet many places review an overwhelmingly large percentage of books written by men (and one site dedicated to getting work by women noticed also reviewed mainly women).

VIDA also composed statistics for several major publications such the New York Times and The Atlantic that showed most book reviewers were male and most books reviewed were by men. This is particularly interesting since, in general, more women read than men.

But… What Subgenres of Fantasy and Science Fiction Do Women Write?

Some people seem to default to thinking science fiction and fantasy are “male” genres despite the fact that Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is considered to be the first science fiction book. Whenever the subject of SFF books by women receiving less reviews comes up, many start asking if women actually write that many books in these genres. I’ve seen claims that women don’t write that much speculative fiction unless it is young adult or urban fantasy. I’ve also seen claims that men write more science fiction and women write more fantasy. What is the truth?

The percentage of women writing fantasy and science fiction seems to vary from country to country, but I haven’t seen a detailed breakdown other than this one for Australia. It shows that women write more science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels for adults, young adults, and children with adult and children’s books fairly close to equal between genders (53% and 55% women, respectively). For adult books, 62% of fantasy books are written by women, 43% of science fiction is written by women, and only 18% of horror is written by women. (Horror was also the one of these three that had the least amount of books published overall.)

American stats seem less easily defined. Nancy Kress mentioned in her post that about 40% of the SFWA is made up of women and discussed the difficulty of breaking down subgenres of speculative fiction by gender when there’s so much disagreement over genre definitions. The percentage of women in the SFWA does not necessarily equal the percentage of books by women that come out each year, which I’ve seen ranging from 40% in 2007 on the stats page for Broad Universe to closer to %50 when books received for review were analyzed for the aforementioned 2011 count at Strange Horizons. Both of these sites were using counts from Locus, so the number of books by women in these genres may just be rapidly increasing since the stats from 2000 on Broad Horizons showed 31% of books were written by women.

From what I’ve heard the UK has fewer speculative fiction books by women than either Australia or the US, and this fits with the Strange Horizons stats.

My personal experience as a reader of speculative fiction in the US leads me to believe women writing speculative fiction are not actually difficult to find, even aside from young adult and urban fantasy. When this topic first came up again, I sat down and made a list of women who write science fiction and fantasy that is not young adult or urban fantasy (not, should I note, because I think those categories should not be considered part of speculative fiction but because I saw some comments about women not writing SFF outside of those). Without too much trouble, I came up with a list of over 100 authors. These were all authors I had read or wanted to read; I didn’t go out of my way to find names that I was unfamiliar with, although this past month has shown me there are many of those as well. Since I’ve shifted to reviewing more SFF by women, I have not had trouble finding books to review at all and there are more books by women than I can read and review.

Nothing I’ve seen makes me think there are so few women writing science fiction and fantasy that some review outlets can’t find more books by women to review than are being reviewed in the Ladybusiness study. As far as the reason for so many fewer reviews for women on some sites goes, I’m not sure what it is. Is it just that women have smaller marketing budgets than men and fewer of their books are sent out for review? Is it assumed that male reviewers won’t read as many books by women and publicists don’t send them as many books by women for review in the first place so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy? Is it because many still think of these as male genres and don’t give much consideration to the books by women? I couldn’t say, but I do think looking at stats like these and realizing this is going on is the first step toward improvement.

Why Is It Important to Support Women Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction?

First of all, I want to say it’s not that I think people shouldn’t read books by men, that books by women are “superior” to those written by men, or that women should be reading books by women because they will appeal to them more than books written by men. I don’t think anyone needs to meet a strict 50/50 gender quota when they read or worry about reading the “right” number of books by women. The reason I think reading books by women is important is not that an author’s gender should matter – but that what I’ve seen makes me think that it does matter, at least to some. There are a lot of great writers who happen to be female writing science fiction and fantasy, and I think it’s sad if people aren’t reading them for any reason.

My personal opinion is that there are two issues working together here when it comes to recommendations for science fiction and fantasy books often being so male-dominated:

1. Actual prejudice against women’s writing, or at least the assumption that women write “girly” things not applicable to certain readers.

The first time I saw someone state they actually specifically had a problem with female authors, I was shocked. I really had never thought people thought this way in the 21st century. But apparently some of them do.

It’s not just men who think this way, either, as we learned this month from both N. K. Jemisin and Sarah from Bookworm Blues. I was glad to see them both address this just because I was recently a bit horrified to discover what was lurking in the back of my own psyche when I really questioned my own assumptions about specific types of books. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who didn’t think gender mattered. When I first started noticing that women writing science fiction and fantasy didn’t seem to be talked about as much as male authors, I looked into it and started reading more books by women. I read tons of books by women and tried my best to get more of their names out there.

Yet when I really evaluated what I really thought about urban fantasy written by women as opposed to that written by men, I found that while it isn’t a factor in which I would choose to read, my initial reaction is that urban fantasy written by men is somehow more respectable. I think that’s both because it’s more likely to be read and approved by men as well as by women and because I think of it as less likely to be paranormal romance.

It has the reputation of being fluff, a genre with mystery and adventure – and maybe romance. While mystery and adventure are often considered fluff that I can read and hold my head up high for reading, romance is not. Romance has an “ick” factor. It’s sappy and so girly. But why is what is considered “women’s entertainment” given this stigma? Why should I feel that a story about two people falling in love – an experience most people, both male and female, have – is somehow a) for women b) less respectable than reading a book with magic and wizards (aka, proper male-respected entertainment)? It’s kind of ridiculous, especially that I have found myself surprised to hear about men reading or enjoying romance. Why shouldn’t they? Why is something they also experience in life considered “for women”?

Also, why should I assume a woman in a specific genre is going to write about romance? Some women don’t. Some women aren’t that interested in romance, and whether they are or not, either is perfectly fine. Our tastes do not have to be dictated by what is expected of our gender.

So I definitely think some people have ideas about books that are “for women” and books that are “for men” with the “for men” category being something people are less ashamed of reading, regardless of gender. But if even some women are ashamed of reading books “for women” or have an idea that women write “girly” things, how much harder must it be for some men to get past these ideas? (However, I do believe some men have less of an issue with this than some women, and there are also some women who think books by men aren’t for them, either.)

2. Lack of knowledge about the variety of women writing science fiction and fantasy.

This is really the part I hoped to combat this past April since I experienced it myself. Often when looking for book recommendations the names you hear over and over again are male authors – Robert Jordan, George R. R. Martin, Scott Lynch, Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson, etc., etc. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy books by many of these authors, but my own experience has been that women’s names do not come up as often when looking for book recommendations on the Internet (although, I do think this has been getting better than it used to be more recently, especially as more people have become aware of this issue). And this makes me sad when there are so many female authors writing great science fiction and fantasy who also deserve to be read and recommended.

It could also be in part that so many of the well-known older authors of fantasy and science fiction are men, and there’s this whole cycle of the same names being recommended over and over again. Yet it seems that I also see newer male authors discussed a lot more than newer female authors.

In any case, I do think it is both important to get their names out there and show that science fiction and fantasy are not just for men. Different people have different tastes. Some men will like these genres, and some will not. Some women will like these genres, and some will not. It’s not an equation determined by gender, although there are certain factors that may apply (such as women thinking these genres aren’t the type of thing they would like because they’re supposed to be “for men” or women not enjoying some fantasy due to the way female characters are often left out or given minor roles while all the men do stuff).

Also, it does bother me when I see statements about women not writing science fiction and fantasy other than young adult and urban fantasy for two reasons:

1. It’s lumping all women into the same category and reinforcing the stereotype that women tend to write certain things. Women write all kinds of different types of books, just like women enjoy all kinds of different books. Yes, some of these are young adult or urban fantasy. Absolutely, some of these are fantasy or science fiction with romantic elements. And some of it is not. If claims that women don’t write certain types of fantasy and science fiction continue, the women who are doing something different will continue to be ignored because many will dismiss it since, you know, women don’t write that stuff. The ones who do will be seen as exceptions, not the norm.

2. It’s lumping all women in the same category and dismissing these categories as less important. This may not be the intention of some who say this, but it’s the impression it gives me, especially when I do often see men who write in these categories not as readily dismissed (Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow, Jim Butcher, to name a few – perhaps this is just because they are respected authors but in any case it still stands that there’s no reason to dismiss entire categories of books). Furthermore, young adult is just a category. A book is not less fantasy or science fiction just because it is marketed for a younger audience, nor is it necessarily “bad” just because it is marketed for a non-adult audience. It is still speculative fiction, and it even has been nominated for or even won genre awards like the Hugo when written by big names like Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow, and J. K. Rowling. Some young adult books I’ve read are actually better written and smarter than some adult books I’ve read. It depends on the book, not the category.

I do want to make it clear that I’m not saying just read women for the sake of reading books by women either. Chances are, you won’t like every book by a woman you read. I know I haven’t, just like I don’t like every book by a man I’ve read. I don’t think you need to recommend books by women you thought were bad just to try to get people reading more women. There’s enough of a variety of women writers out there that I do think everyone should be able to find some speculative fiction books by women they enjoy, though.

Why Is It Important to Recognize Female Fans of Science Fiction and Fantasy?

Much of the same can be applied to women who blog about science fiction and fantasy. When people started talking about favorite bloggers who cover fantasy and science fiction and not one woman came up, it concerned me because I don’t want to see the same pattern with female bloggers that I see with female authors. I have no idea how you’d even begin to measure the percentage of female vs. male SFF bloggers since I’m sure there are plenty of them out there I don’t even know about and perhaps a few different communities. But there’s not a shortage of women interested in science fiction and fantasy despite what some people seem to think, and these women have opinions and recommendations worth listening to. It may be harder to find some female bloggers who just cover science fiction and fantasy, but there’s also quite a few female bloggers I wasn’t aware of until recently who are more focused on SFF so perhaps many of them have been less visible to me as well. And even if someone does blog about other genres, it doesn’t mean what they have to say about the science fiction and fantasy books they read is any less worthwhile. They still have good recommendations, and there’s still a lot that can be learned from them.

Continuing to say “There aren’t many women out there who blog about science fiction and fantasy” just causes people to see what they think they know – all the men who do blog about these genres and none of the women. Or, if they do see a woman blogging about it, she’s an exception to the rule.

Feedback and What’s Next

Many of the questions I’ve brought up here can’t be answered effectively without a lot more thought and data. Getting a book written, published, reviewed, and into a reader’s hands requires a long process with a lot of different gatekeepers – editors, PR staff, bloggers, and the readers themselves. If there’s even just a little bit of bias at any of these levels, it can affect the whole process. Whether or not a book sells often has very little to do with the book itself, and belief may be a big part of it. If a significant number of people don’t believe women write worthwhile SFF, or they don’t believe there are that many female authors in those genres, it can potentially affect how a book is marketed or reviewed. That is why I wanted to spend April focusing on getting the names of some female authors out there and hearing what they had to say instead of trying to say a specific part of the process is to blame. If readers’ attitudes change, then that’s enough.

I’m not promising anything since this took up just about all of my time this last month that wasn’t spent at the day job and now I feel ridiculously behind on reviews, but I am considering doing something like this again next year. What I would like to know is if you think this would be worth doing again next year, and if so, what would you like to see? I didn’t have as much time to plan ahead for this as I would have liked since I wanted to do this while people were still thinking about the various review studies, but if I were to do this again next year I’d like to start thinking about it earlier.

I would like to say thank you to every single person who took the time to write a guest post for April. As mentioned above, it was somewhat short notice, and I appreciate the many people who took the time to participate. I truly enjoyed reading everyone’s post and had a great time with the event. Regardless of different opinions on the issue of women writing science fiction and fantasy, I hope that some of you found some new authors and blogs that you enjoy – because that was the main goal.