Now that the year is over and I’ve read everything I’m going to read in 2012, it’s time for some favorites of 2012!

I actually didn’t manage to read quite as many books this year as a typical year, partially due to the time involved with organizing and running the Women in SF&F event in April, which took up most of my time not at my full time job for several weeks. (Not that I am complaining about the time involved! It was a highlight of the year for me to have so many amazing guests here, and I am thinking about doing a similar event in April 2013 to highlight women who write and blog about science fiction and fantasy books.)

Despite the number of books read being lower than normal and not having read many books I loved during the first half of the year, it ended up being a quality year overall. Of course, I read books I didn’t like and even didn’t finish two books (not finishing is rare for me), but there were a lot of books read that I did enjoy.

Many books in this post were already mentioned in my Smugglivus post, but this post does include more books and is split up by books published in 2012, 2012 debuts, and books published before 2012. The order may also be different than in my guest post at The Book Smugglers since I hadn’t quite figured out the order yet other than my top 3 and just picked a few of the 5 that came after them to write about.

Favorite Books Released in 2012

Nearly 3/4 of the books I read this year were released this year, which is more than normal for me. Here are the ones I loved the most.

The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin

1. The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin
My Review

N. K. Jemisin’s debut, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, made me an instant fan of her work, and The Killing Moon is her best book I’ve read so far. This is one of those books that excels at everything (writing, storytelling, world-building, and characterization are all fantastic). The opening chapter detailing a night in the life of a ninja priest completely hooked me, and it only got better from there. There’s a lot of depth to the main characters, and I appreciate that each seemed shaped by their life events. I could understand the different perspectives of each, even when they differed from each other. The setting based on Egypt was well-developed, and I just loved everything about this book. It’s a definite keeper.

Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

2. Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear
My Review

I love Elizabeth Bear’s books, and this is my favorite by her I’ve read yet. It’s another book that does everything well from storytelling to writing to characterization to world-building. Range of Ghosts, set in a fantasy world based on Central Asia, starts with a power struggle. Temur’s uncle killed his family, and now he’d like to remove Temur, who comes before him in the line of succession for the title of Khagan. It’s mainly the story of Temur and the once-princess Samarkar, who bravely undergoes the sacrifice required to become a wizard. I loved how it defies some common tropes (I’m thinking of a particular scene but don’t want to spoil it for anyone!), and the magic with its basis in real-world knowledge was amazing. It’s one of those books that’s wondrous yet real, and it has a vivid world because of how it treads that line between wonder and reality.

The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer

3. The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer
My Review

The first book in this trilogy, The Whitefire Crossing, was enjoyable, but The Tainted City was spectacular! My top 3 books were easy this year since they’re all very different books but share a similar excellence when it comes to world-building, characters, and storytelling. Out of the three, this was the one with the most memorable characters, and I really appreciated that I understood the motivations for each character. I like to see villains who aren’t stereotypical people whose only thought is on being EVIL, and I loved the portrayal of one of the villainous characters in this book because he wasn’t that. He was ruthless and despicable, but he was also able to care about the well-being of those he considered his family. There was so much tension that kept me turning the pages in this book, and the contrast between the two main places it was set in were interesting (a desert in which mages were given freedom and another country where magic was highly restricted). This is a superb novel, and it’s only the second book by Courtney Schafer. She’s now joined the list of authors I will read anything by!

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

4. Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor
My Review

Speaking of authors I will read anything by… Laini Taylor has been one of them for awhile. Her writing is poignant and beautiful, and the second book in the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy is alive with vivid imagination. This book is a dark examination of war between the seraphim and the chimaera showing the lives of some individuals on both sides of the conflict. The characters and the situations that drive them are complex, and each side in the war contains some people capable of goodness and some who are very evil indeed.

Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia A. McKillip

5. Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia A. McKillip
My Review

I usually struggle with short stories and lose interest in reading them after reading 2 or 3 so I never would have expected a short story collection to be on my list of favorite books during any year. That one is on my list is a testament to the beauty of Patricia A. McKillip’s writing! Wonders of the Invisible World has a wide range of stories from fantasy to science fiction and even contemporary, some more serious and some more light-hearted and even a bit humorous. She writes spare but beautiful prose, and her stories are thoughtful and reflective. This book made me want to read more of her huge backlist, and I’m hoping to made some progress with that in 2013!

House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier

6. House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier
My Review

Rachel Neumeier is another author whose work I’d never read before this year whose backlist I’d now like to read—and that’s all because of this book! House of Shadows is an enchanting, character-driven story with intriguing magic, secrets, and a bit of romance (but it has other types of relationships, like that between the sisters Karah and Nemienne). The writing is lovely, and two of the characters really shone. I loved Nemienne for her vast inner strength, courage, and sharp mind. She was the one of her sisters who seemed to have no talent in the world, but she finally found one when she set out to help save the family. Taudde, the bard with a secretive past, was a multifaceted character put to the test who ended up being the character I liked best of all.

The Siren Depths by Martha Wells

7. The Siren Depths by Martha Wells
My Review

Last year I discovered Martha Wells with the first book in this series, The Cloud Roads. This third installment in the Books of the Raksura is my favorite of the series since it answers some of the questions in the first book in a very satisfying way. The shapeshifting Raksura and their customs and roles are fascinating, and this is one of those series where the characters just become more endearing with each installment.

Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire

8. Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire
My Review

The October Daye series just keeps getting better and better, and this installment was so satisfying. It keeps up both pacing and character development, and it is humorous, emotional, and exciting. I was on the edge of my seat nearly the entire time I was reading it!

Banner of the Damned by Sherwood Smith

9. Banner of the Damned by Sherwood Smith
My Review

Sherwood Smith is the third new-to-me author I read this year that I now want to read much more by. This is a maturely written fantasy novel with richly detailed world-building. There’s a focus on the everyday lives of the characters, and there are a lot of quiet moments, but there are also some pretty intense scenes, especially toward the end. It had a wonderful narrative style that drew me in, and I also really enjoyed how it depicted the kingdom and other countries it had dealings with.

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress

10. After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress
My Review

I was really impressed by how much was packed into this short book. It’s simply written, but it manages to create tension from the opening scene that doesn’t let up until the end. As the name implies, it’s the story of what happens before, during, and after an apocalypse, and there’s a lot of suspense about what exactly happened.

Favorite Debuts of 2012

I read 7 debuts published this year, and the one at the top of the list is the only one I loved. It was one I was considering for either the ninth or tenth spot on my favorites list, but I ended up deciding the other books were more memorable to me. There were 3 debuts from 2012 I read that were interesting enough that I’m curious about what the authors will write next, and I’m including those 3 here.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

1. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

I just finished this one within the last week and haven’t had a chance to review it yet, but I now understand why so many people have been talking about Seraphina. It’s a wonderful story about a heroine who carries a dangerous secret. It’s well-written, and it’s set in an interesting world where humans and shape-shifting dragons are technically at peace but still harbor animosity toward each other. Seraphina is easily my favorite debut of 2012.

The City's Son by Tom Pollock

2. The City’s Son by Tom Pollock
My Review

This is an incredibly creative, unique urban fantasy featuring the son of the Goddess of the Streets of London and two amazing young women, Beth and her best friend Pen. It’s dark and it got my attention because of its inventiveness and surprising ending. I think the author really took some risks with this one, and I also think they paid off and the book is memorable for that reason. Since I was bored at times for the middle part of the book, I didn’t LOVE this one, but I did find it well worth reading for its creativity and themes.

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

3. Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

This is another book that’s in my “to-review” pile, and another one that’s really unique. It’s an interesting world containing necromancers and gods, and I really appreciated the intelligent characters (who were actually intelligent, not just characters we were told were intelligent). This was another one with an unexpected, great ending that delighted me. Like The City’s Son, I didn’t love this one because it was a bit boring to me at times. BUT there’s a lot to appreciate about this book’s writing, characters, and world, and it’s just plain different so I think it’s another very good debut worth mentioning (and I would like to read Max Gladstone’s next book because it has so many strengths and stands apart from so many other books because of them).

Favorite Books Released Before 2012

There weren’t that many older books that I read that really stood out to me this year, but here are three that did (two of which really are older and one that’s not that old).

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

1. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

This is the last book I read in 2012 so it’s still languishing in to the “to-review” pile. It is one of my very favorites this year along with the first three on my 2012 list. Like the short stories I read by Patricia McKillip, this is a book of beautiful prose that is thoughtfully written and full of meaning. It’s not at all surprising to me that The Forgotten Beasts of Eld won the World Fantasy Award.

Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara

2. Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara
My Review

Translated from Japanese by Cathy Hirano, Dragon Sword and Wind Child is based on a Japanese myth from the Kojiki. It’s a simply told, somewhat quiet story, but I loved the mythical foundation of the book with the long war between Light and Dark. The main character Saya’s bravery and occasional lack of propriety also made her endearing, even if she isn’t one of the deeper characters I’ve read about.

River Marked by Patricia Briggs

3. River Marked by Patricia Briggs
My Review

I’m almost glad I had a cold earlier this year because my search for a comfort read prompted me to finally pick up the sixth Mercy Thompson book. This was a bit quieter than other installments since it’s so focused on Mercy’s character, but I think that’s why I loved this one so much. It delves more into her roots and her shapeshifting ability, and I enjoyed learning more about these.

What were your favorite books you read this year? Do you have any reading goals for 2013? I gave up on reading goals for the most part because they’re too restrictive, but I am hoping to read more older books next year by authors I can’t believe I haven’t read yet (like Andre Norton), read more by some authors I keep meaning to read more by (like Patricia McKillip and Tananarive Due), and get caught up on some books I’ve missed by some favorite authors (like Carol Berg’s most recent trilogy). And I’m hoping to read more books this year than last!

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.

Hope everyone who celebrates had a wonderful holiday! I did, except my vacation has gone by much too quickly!

This week’s edition is books from my wishlist that I received as Christmas gifts with one publisher-sent copy. One is from Angie’s list of books from Women in SF&F Month. Some of these books are ones mentioned by Courtney Schafer in her interview and a few are also from Rachel Neumeier’s list of essential fantasy authors. Others are just books by authors who have written other books I’ve liked, and some came from recommendations for more Patricia McKillip books I’ve gotten from a lot of people since discovering her writing recently. (I already read one of these and it was WONDERFUL!)

Since a lot of these are older books (and because this is a long post and I still need to make my world famous chocolate cheesecake for New Years’ Eve), I’m not going to look for excerpts this time. Many older books don’t have them available online, although they can often be found for many of these books by browsing inside the book at Amazon and other online booksellers.

The Book of Atrix Wolfe by Patricia A. McKillip

The Book of Atrix Wolfe by Patricia A. McKillip

This is one of those books by Patricia McKillip that I’ve been recommended a lot. Angie’s Retro Friday review of it also piqued my interest.

Twenty years ago, the powerful mage Atrix Wolfe unleashed an uncontrollable force that killed his beloved king. Now, the Queen of the Wood has offered him one last chance for redemption. She asks him to find her daughter, who vanished into the human world during the massacre he caused. No one has seen the princess-but deep in the kitchens of the Castle of Pelucir, there is a scullery maid who appeared out of nowhere one night long ago. She cannot speak and her eyes are full of sadness. But there are those who call her beautiful.

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

Another Angie recommendation! This is one of those books I’ve heard very little about, but what little I’ve heard is that it’s wonderful.

In the class of the high school English teacher she has been haunting, Helen feels them: for the first time in 130 years, human eyes are looking at her. They belong to a boy, a boy who has not seemed remarkable until now. And Helen–terrified, but intrigued–is drawn to him. The fact that he is in a body and she is not presents this unlikely couple with their first challenge. But as the lovers struggle to find a way to be together, they begin to discover the secrets of their former lives and of the young people they come to possess.

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

I’d never even HEARD of this author or book before seeing it on Rachel Neumeier’s list, which seems like a shame. Margaret Mahy is well-known and respected author of children’s books in New Zealand. She has written over 120 books and won the Carnegie Medal and the Hans Christian Andersen Award.

When her little brother seems to become possessed by an evil spirit, fourteen-year-old Laura seeks the help of the strangely compelling older boy at school who she is convinced has supernatural powers.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Not science fiction or fantasy but a book I’ve wanted to read for awhile! I actually bought a copy years ago and started to read it before realizing it was the abridged version. Once I realized it was abridged, I stopped reading it since I wanted to read the full version.

A popular bestseller since its publication in 1844, The Count of Monte Christo is one of the great page-turning thrillers of all time. Set against the tumultuous years of the post-Napoleonic era, Dumas’s grand historical romance recounts the swashbuckling adventures of Edmond Dantes, a dashing young sailor falsely accused of treason. The story of his long imprisonment, dramatic escape, and carefully wrought revenge offers up a vision of France that has become immortal. As Robert Louis Stevenson declared, “I do not believe there is another volume extant where you can breathe the same unmingled atmosphere of romance.”

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

Crown Duel (Crown Duel/Court Duel) by Sherwood Smith

After reading Banner of the Damned earlier this year, I have decided I must read more books written by Sherwood Smith! This one is recommended a lot and sounds like something I would like. It is an omnibus containing Crown Duel and Court Duel, plus the short story “Vidanric’s Birthday Surprise.”

Young Countess Meliara swears to her dying father that she and her brother will defend their people from the growing greed of the king. That promise leads them into a war for which they are ill-prepared, which threatens the very people they are trying to protect. But war is simple compared to what follows, in peacetime. Meliara is summoned to live at the royal palace, where friends and enemies look alike, and intrigue fills the dance halls and the drawing rooms. If she is to survive, Meliara must learn a whole new way of fighting-with wits and words and secret alliances.

In war, at least, she knew in whom she could trust. Now she can trust no one.

The Firebird edition of Crown Duel combines the hardcover editions of Crown Duel and Court Duel-and features a never-before-published story by Sherwood Smith!

Devices and Desires by K. J. Parker

Devices and Desires (Engineer #1) by K. J. Parker

Ever since reading The Folding Knife, K. J. Parker has been an author I’ve wanted to read more by and I’ve heard really good things about this trilogy. The books in the Engineer trilogy are as follows:

  1. Devices and Desires
  2. Evil for Evil
  3. The Escapement

When an engineer is sentenced to death for a petty transgression of guild law, he flees the city, leaving behind his wife and daughter. Forced into exile, he seeks a terrible vengeance — one that will leave a trail of death and destruction in its wake. But he will not be able to achieve this by himself. He must draw up his plans using the blood of others…

In a compelling tale of intrigue and injustice, K. J. Parker’s embittered hero takes up arms against his enemies, using the only weapons he has left to him: his ingenuity and his passion — his devices and desires.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

I already read this one, and it’s definitely one of my favorites I’ve read this year. It’s beautifully written and full of layers and meaning.

Sixteen when a baby is brought to her to raise, Sybel has grown up on Eld Mountain. Her only playmates are the creatures of a fantastic menagerie called there by wizardry. Sybel has cared nothing for humans, until the baby awakens emotions previously unknown to her. And when Coren–the man who brought this child–returns, Sybel’s world is again turned upside down.

Fortress in the Eye of Time by C. J. Cherryh

Fortress in the Eye of Time by C. J. Cherryh

A fantasy book by Hugo Award winning author C. J. Cherryh, probably better known for her science fiction books. She’s one of those authors I haven’t read yet, and I need to fix that at some point!

My husband got me a hardcover signed copy, which is pretty nice.

From the three-time Hugo Award-winner comes this “high fantasy” of the wizard Mauryl, kingmaker for a thousand years, and his shaping of a young man who would be king–if only the fates and wizard wars would let him.

The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

The Game of Kings (The Lymond Chronicles #1) by Dorothy Dunnett

I’ve heard this series is challenging but rewarding. It’s been on my wish list for awhile, but seeing what Courtney Schafer said about it in her interview renewed my curiosity about it!

The books in the Lymond Chronicles are as follows:

  1. The Game of Kings
  2. Queens’ Play
  3. The Disorderly Knights
  4. Pawn in Frankincense
  5. The Ringed Castle
  6. Checkmate

For the first time Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles are available in the United States in quality paperback editions.

The first book in the legendary Lymond Chronicles, Game of Kings takes place in 1547. Scotland has been humiliated by an English invasion and is threatened by machinations elsewhere beyond its borders, but it is still free. Paradoxically, her freedom may depend on a man who stands accused of treason: Francis Crawford of Lymond.

Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip

Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip

It’s very rare that I have a short story collection on my wishlist, but since I loved many of the stories in Patricia McKillip’s Wonders of the Invisible World, I’m pretty excited about this one!

A fantasist without equal, Patricia A. McKillip has created worlds of intricate beauty and unforgettably nuanced characters. For 25 years, she’s drawn readers into her spell, spinning modern-day fables with a grace rarely seen. Now she presents a book of previously uncollected short stories, full of beautiful dragons, rueful princesses, and handsome bards, and written in the gorgeous – and often surprisingly funny – prose she’s known for. This is her world, wrapped up in the finery of fairy tales.

Inversions by Iain M. Banks

Inversions (A Culture Novel) by Iain M. Banks

Another Culture book! Reading The Hydrogen Sonata reminded me that I need to read more of these books, and this one sounded really interesting to me after reading about it online.

Iain M. Banks, the international bestselling author of The Player of Games and Consider Phlebas, is a true original, a literary visionary whose brilliant speculative fiction has transported us into worlds of unbounded imagination. Now, in his acclaimed new novel, Banks presents an engrossing portrait of an alien world, and of two very different people bound by a startling and mysterious secret. On a backward world with six moons, an alert spy reports on the doings of one Dr. Vosill, who has mysteriously become the personal physician to the king despite being a foreigner and, even more unthinkably, a woman. Vosill has more enemies than she first realizes. But then she also has more remedies in hand than those who wish her ill can ever guess.

Elsewhere, in another palace across the mountains, a man named DeWar serves as chief bodyguard to the Protector General of Tassasen, a profession he describes as the business of “assassinating assassins.” DeWar, too, has his enemies, but his foes strike more swiftly, and his means of combating them are more direct.

No one trusts the doctor, and the bodyguard trusts no one, but is there a hidden commonality linking their disparate histories? Spiraling around a central core of mystery, deceit, love, and betrayal. Inversions is a dazzling work of science fiction from a versatile and imaginative author writing at the height of his remarkable powers.

New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear

New Amsterdam (New Amsterdam #1) by Elizabeth Bear

I want to read everything Elizabeth Bear has written (which may be difficult since she’s rather prolific but maybe someday). This is one of those books I didn’t know much about other than that she wrote it, but it seems like each of these books is a collection of stories about PI Abigail Irene Garrett. There are 5 books altogether, and the recent one is the last planned.

I’m not sure if it’s necessary to read these books in order (and it sounds as though they aren’t published in chronological order from Goodreads reviews), but here is the publication order:

  1. New Amsterdam
  2. Seven for a Secret
  3. The White City
  4. Ad Eternum
  5. Garrett Investigates

Abigail Irene Garrett drinks too much. She makes scandalous liaisons with inappropriate men, and if in her youth she was a famous beauty, now she is both formidable and notorious! She is a forensic sorceress, and a dedicated officer of a Crown that does not deserve her loyalty. Sebastien de Ulloa is the oldest creature she has ever known. He has forgotten his birth-name, his birth-place, and even the year in which he was born, if he ever knew it. But he still remembers the woman who made him immortal. In a world where the sun never sets on the British Empire, where Holland finally ceded New Amsterdam to the English only during the Napoleonic wars, and where the expansion of the American colonies was halted by the war magic of the Iroquois, they are exiles in the new world – and its only hope for justice!

The Safekeeper's Secret by Sharon Shinn

The Safe-Keeper’s Secret by Sharon Shinn

I’ve only read one book by Sharon Shinn and enjoyed it very much so I need to read more! This is one of her young adult books, and there are some other books in the same setting (The Truth-Teller’s Tale and The Dream-Maker’s Magic).

Damiana is Safe-Keeper in the small village of Tambleham. Neighbors and strangers alike come one by one, in secret, to tell her things they dare not share with anyone else, knowing that Damiana will keep silent. One late night, a mysterious visitor from the city arrives with an unusual secret for the Safe-Keeper–a newborn baby. Damiana, who is expecting her own child, names the foundling Reed and raises him side by side with her daughter, Fiona. As the years pass and the two children grow into teenagers and come of age, they must come to terms with who they are–and who they may be. Sharon Shinn’s many fantasy novels have won her a loyal following. This book, firmly in the tradition of Robin McKinley’s bestselling Spindle’s End and Shinn’s own Summers at Castle Auburn (an ALA Best Book for Young Adults), is thoughtful, warmhearted, and a sheer delight to read.

Song for the Basilisk by Patricia A. McKillip

Song for the Basilisk by Patricia A. McKillip

Another recommended McKillip book and another signed copy given to me by my husband.

During the wedding festivities of his king, Cyan Dag, a knight of Gloinmere, is sought out by a mysterious bard and told a terrifying tale: that the king has married a false queen — a lie cloaked in ancient and powerful sorcery. Spurred on by his steadfast honor and loyalty, Cyan departs on a dangerous quest to rescue the real queen from her tower prison, to prevent war, and to awaken magic in a land that has lost its way.

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

This is another book I was intrigued by after seeing it mentioned in Courtney Schafer’s interview.

New York City is subsumed in arctic winds, dark nights, and white lights, its life unfolds, for it is an extraordinary hive of the imagination, the greatest house ever built, and nothing exists that can check its vitality. One night in winter, Peter Lake, orphan and master-mechanic, attempts to rob a fortress-like mansion on the Upper West Side.

Though he thinks the house is empty, the daughter of the house is home. Thus begins the love between Peter Lake, a middle-aged Irish burglar, and Beverly Penn, a young girl, who is dying.

Peter Lake, a simple, uneducated man, because of a love that, at first he does not fully understand, is driven to stop time and bring back the dead. His great struggle, in a city ever alight with its own energy and beseiged by unprecedented winters, is one of the most beautiful and extraordinary stories of American literature.

Ice Forged by Gail Z. Martin

Ice Forged (Ascendant Kingdoms #1) by Gail Z. Martin

This first book in a new series will be released in trade paperback and ebook on January 8.

Condemned as a murderer for killing the man who dishonored his sister, Blaine “Mick” McFadden has spent the last six years in Velant, a penal colony in the frigid northern wastelands of Edgeland. Harsh military discipline and the oppressive magic of the governor’s mages keep a fragile peace as colonists struggle against a hostile environment. But the supply ships from Dondareth have stopped coming, boding ill for the kingdom that banished the colonists.

Now, McFadden and the people of Velant decide their fate. They can remain in their icy prison, removed from the devastation of the outside world, but facing a subsistence-level existence, or they can return to the ruins of the kingdom that they once called home. Either way, destruction lies ahead…

Days of Blood & Starlight
by Laini Taylor
517pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 4.6/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.59/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.37/5

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor is the second book in the trilogy begun with Daughter of Smoke & Bone. This series is difficult to categorize more specifically than falling within the fantasy genre. The first book seems mostly like a contemporary fantasy/paranormal romance blend, and the next book is mainly set both in Morocco here on Earth and in Eretz but does not have a large romantic component, focusing on war instead. These two books can be found shelved in the young adult section in the US, but this is the only country that does not market these books as adult.

It’s impossible to discuss Days of Blood & Starlight without spoiling events from Daughter of Smoke & Bone (my review). I definitely wouldn’t recommend reading about that before reading the book so if you haven’t read the first one, do not read on unless you love spoilers!


Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a new way of living—one without massacres and torn throats and bonfires of the fallen, without revenants or bastard armies or children ripped from their mothers’ arms to take their turn in the killing and the dying.

Once, the lovers lay entwined in the moon’s secret temple and dreamed of a world that was like a jewel box without a jewel—a paradise waiting for them to fill it with their happiness.


This was not that world.

[pp. 74]

The above quote is the one that I believe best captures the essence of this book since it’s about the aftermath of that dream for a better world being dashed and a war that rages on. In Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Karou fell in love with the angel Akiva and only later remembered her past life in a different body, when she was not a human girl at all but one of the chimaera, Madrigal. The chimaera and seraphim were at war with each other, but Madrigal and Akiva fell in love anyway and hoped for a better world where their people could be at peace—until Madrigal’s people found out about her relationship with an angel and had her beheaded. Akiva went back to those he’d grown up with and continued to fight in the war, not knowing that the resurrectionist Brimstone had saved Madrigal’s soul and brought her back to life as Karou. Yet Karou and Akiva were torn apart again when Akiva confessed to her that he did something he never would have done had he known that Brimstone brought her back: killed Brimstone and the others, ending the chimaeras’ ability to resurrect and eliminating those Karou held dear.

Days of Blood & Starlight continues after this revelation and the separation of Karou and Akiva. Both Karou’s best friend Zuzana and Akiva worry that she may be dead, and Akiva is devastated when he finds a thurible with Karou’s name on it in one of the locations he checks. Since he killed the chimaera’s resurrectionist, he has no hope of the soul within the thurible ever being revived. Heartbroken, Akiva goes back to his two closest friends and the war. However, unlike last time he thought Karou was dead, he isn’t filled with hatred for the chimaera but has renewed hope for the dream of peace they once shared.

Meanwhile, Karou has taken Brimstone’s place as resurrectionist for the chimaera, using the knowledge she had when she was Brimstone’s apprentice Madrigal to build better, stronger bodies. With a replacement for their former resurrectionist, the chimaera have renewed hope as well—not for peace, but for increased fighting prowess with their new bodies designed specially for war.

Technically, I think Daughter of Smoke and Bone was the better book of the two since Days of Blood & Starlight had a bit of a rough start. It wasn’t difficult to read out of terrible dullness, but it did wander around somewhat, and it included a couple of perspectives that did not seem necessary to the story. Despite these flaws, it was a riveting book nearly as wonderful as the first, especially once it got past some of these beginning issues and focused more on Karou and Akiva’s individual stories. Like the first book, it is beautifully written and imaginative, and I loved the darker tone of this story and the exploration of war.

Days of Blood & Starlight does not shy away from the harsh realities of war, nor does it simplify it by delineating between a side that contains the righteous and another containing the dregs of society. Many of the seraphim, especially those in power, are despicable people; likewise, the chimaera have their own horrors, such as the ruthless Thiago. Yet not all on either side seem like horrible people. While those on both sides have committed horrific acts, I got the impression that many of the characters on both sides were decent people who knew nothing other than war.

I applaud Laini Taylor’s ability to create characters I can find sympathetic despite their actions. After Akiva’s involvement with the genocide of the chimaera, it could be very difficult to find him a character one can relate to at all. Karou finds this act unforgivable, and in her place outside of a fictional story, I’m sure I would as well. For that reason, I find it a bit hard to admit that I actually found him a compelling character in this book because of the hard choices he faced, the situation he’s in, and how he seems to have had a change of heart.

While I find it difficult to comprehend his actions, I do think they make sense given his upbringing. Akiva and his close-knit group of seraphim were specially trained warriors and that seemed to be their sole reason for existing. He had been raised to kill chimaera, and once the chimaera killed the one he loved, where else did he have to go? He had other people who cared about him to return to, and he also had a reason to hate the chimaera and believe them to be monsters just like he’d been taught for his entire life if they could kill one of their own simply for falling in love. In context, I think his actions—giving up on his dream for peace, returning to those who cared about him, and joining the only existence he’d ever known with a renewed vengeance for those who killed Madrigal—make sense, as tragic as his involvement in the deaths of Brimstone and the other chimaera we came to love as Karou’s friends was.

The part that really made Akiva interesting to me is that he does prove capable of not just saying he’s remorseful but actually changing, which seems like it would be incredibly difficult after being raised to wage war against the chimaera and then having his heart ripped out by them himself. With Madrigal gone, he must have felt very alone in the world, and meeting Karou and learning the truth about Brimstone seems to have shown him the error of his ways. More importantly, this time he tries to make some changes for the better even when he thinks Karou is dead, which I think says it’s much more than a romantic dream compelling him this time. It doesn’t change the tragic consequences of the past and those who paid for it (and are still paying for it, like Karou), but I think turning away from what one has been taught and all one has ever known like that says something positive about his strength of character and resolve.

Karou, on the other hand, seems to be following the path away from their peaceful dream as she has joined forces with Thiago, the one who betrayed her and had her beheaded, to create better killers for their side of the war. While she’s not killing angels firsthand, she does know Thiago’s nature as a brutal chimaera who seems to have no heart, soul, or moral quandaries whatsoever and that her work is aiding him. She willfully tries to ignore the consequences of her own actions when she begins working as his resurrectionist and attempts to remain in the dark about specific details regarding Thiago’s plans. In a way, she’s reacting the same way Akiva did initially by giving up on peace and dedicating herself to furthering the killing of the other side. Despite her willful ignorance about the results of her work, I don’t remain unsympathetic toward her situation since she is following in Brimstone’s footsteps and is also helping her own people—a people whose numbers are severely diminished due to Akiva and some of the other seraphim.

One of the things I love so much about this book is that I don’t know what to think or what should happen with Karou and Akiva. How could Karou EVER forgive Akiva for what he did? Yet if he truly has a different outlook now and ends up doing a lot of good for her people, how can she not forgive him? Could Karou honestly say she would never have done the same thing in his place if she put herself in his shoes? But HOW could she ever not look at him and think of what he did?

The last 100 pages or so were pretty intense, but for all its bleakness, I also felt there was a thread of hope. That’s not to say this is what I’d call a cheerful book. As may be expected from a book with so much focus on wartime, this book is full of tragedy and heart-wrenching scenes. I would also like to warn potential readers that there is an attempted rape scene in addition to the war-related violence.

Days of Blood & Starlight is a wonderful (even if rather emotionally harrowing) continuation of the story begun in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It does suffer a bit from some meandering viewpoints and a beginning that could have been more tightly plotted, but it is an imaginative, unique book containing some beautiful writing. It doesn’t hold back from showing the horrors of war, but it’s also stronger for showing the complexity of the situation and depicting some of those on both sides as three-dimensional people muddling their way through a war and hatred that pre-dates their existence. Highly recommended to those who have read the first book and like their fiction creative and dark with multifaceted characters.

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews of Days of Blood & Starlight:

There are some books coming out in 2013 to be very excited about! I’m sure more will catch my eye throughout the year as I become aware of more books being released—especially since there are some I’m hoping may be announced as coming out in 2013 later—but here are the 10 I find most intriguing at the moment. They’re in no particular order, except for the first three which are the ones that I’m most looking forward to.

Cold Steel by Kate Elliott

Cold Steel by Kate Elliott
Release: June 2013

This is the conclusion to the Spiritwalker trilogy, following Cold Magic and Cold Fire. The Spiritwalker books take place in an inventive world, an alternate earth with airships, trolls, magic, and a spirit world. I also love the main character Cat and her narrative voice, and the second book in this trilogy became one of my favorites for its dialogue, revelations, characters, setting, some humorous situations, and romance. Despite its length, it had me riveted from start to finish. I was sorry when it ended and very eager to find out what happens next! Because of that the conclusion is at the very top of my list of books I must read in 2013.

The Grail of the Summer Stars by Freda Warrington

The Grail of the Summer Stars by Freda Warrington
Release: April 2013

The third Aetherial Tales book is toward the top of my list because I loved Elfland, the first book. It was a beautifully written, character-driven story. I also enjoyed Midsummer Night, the second book, which had a different set of characters. In my interview with Freda Warrington in 2011, the book was still in progress but she did discuss some of her plans for it, all of which had me very excited about reading this one. She said that this book did have connections to the first two, although it’s still a complete story by itself also like the first two. She also mentioned there would be a little more Sam and Rosie and some more about Rufus’s past so I’m very interested in finding out a bit more about these characters as well!

Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear

Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear
Release: March 2013

Shattered Pillars is the second book in Eternal Sky, following Range of GhostsRange of Ghosts was one of my favorite books I read this year with an amazing world, well-developed characters, and gorgeous writing, and I’m looking forward to reading more.

Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs

Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs
Release: March 2013

Mercy Thompson is one of my three favorite urban fantasy series, and I’m so glad the seventh book will be released soon! I love Mercy for both her practicality and her sense of humor, and these books are always a lot of fun to read.

(Cover Not Yet Available)

Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews
July 2013

I simply cannot wait for the sixth Kate Daniels book. This is probably my very favorite urban fantasy series, mainly because I love Kate, her sense of humor, and how her character has developed over the course of the series. I also love the different mythologies and all the secondary characters. The way book 5 ended has me excited about the possibilities for this one since I’m hoping it will continue more of the story concerning Kate’s secret from the earlier books, which came to the forefront more in books 3 and 4 (which is probably largely why those are my favorites in the series).

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Release: June 2013

A new Neil Gaiman book is a cause for celebration! The Sandman comics are some of my favorite stories, and I also love The Graveyard Book and have enjoyed many other books by Neil Gaiman (like Anansi Boys and Neverwhere).

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord
Release: February 2013

This science fiction book is the only one on this list by an author whose work I’ve never read before. I’ve heard Karen Lord is a wonderful writer, though, and this book with its description about clashing cultures sounds really interesting.

Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire

Midnight Blue-Light Special & Chimes at Midnight by Seanan McGuire
Release: March 2013 & September 2013

Okay, I’m cheating a little here by including 2 books by the same author, but I can’t see leaving either of these upcoming titles by Seanan McGuire off this list! I had a lot of fun reading Discount Armageddon, the first book in the InCryptid series, and I can’t wait to read more about the vibrant family of monster hunters who left the Covenant of St. George to play by their own rules when it came to which cryptids should be exterminated. Of course, I can’t wait for the seventh Toby Daye book since that’s the third of my favorite urban fantasy series. It’s a series that just keeps getting better and better.

Emilie and the Hollow World by Martha Wells

Emilie and the Hollowed World by Martha Wells
Release: April 2013

The latest series by Martha Wells, The Books of the Raksura, is wonderfully inventive with endearing characters. This means any book she authored is one I’m interested in reading, and this young adult fantasy book sounds like quite an adventure!

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay
Release: April 2013

River of Stars takes place in the same world as Under Heaven but is set four centuries later. I really need to read more books by Guy Gavriel Kay. Tigana is one of my favorites for its characters, theme, and memorable scenes, yet for some reason I’ve only read one other book by him.

Which books are you looking forward to reading in 2013?


Every year around this time, Ana and Thea of one of my favorite blogs, The Book Smugglers, host Smugglivus.

Smugglivus 2012

I look forward to it every year; they get a lot of great author and blogger guests and I love their own end of the year posts, too! Today I’m over there discussing some of my favorite books I’ve read this year and the books coming out next year that I’m most excited about. I definitely recommend checking out some of the other Smugglivus posts if you haven’t already (hint: clicking the image above will show all the posts tagged Smugglivus 2012).

On December 31, a trade paperback/ebook special edition of Magic Bites, the first Kate Daniels book by Ilona Andrews will be released. This includes FAQs about the world of Kate Daniels, information on characters and factions, a faction quiz, some scenes from Curran’s point of view, and the prequel story “A Questionable Client” (about Kate and Saiman’s first meeting). It also has the best cover of any in the entire series, in my opinion.

Magic Bites Special Edition

This is the start to one of my favorite series, one that has some excellent character development as the series progresses. It also has action, the inclusion of several different mythologies, snappy dialogue, and wonderful secondary characters. Magic Bites isn’t my favorite book in the series (that would be the spectacular third book, Magic Strikes), but it’s also one I think I’d appreciate a lot more on a reread now that I know more about Kate and the secret she was so reluctant to divulge even to the reader.

Having just finished the Kate Daniels novella “Magic Gifts” and the related novel about Andrea titled Gunmetal Magic, I’m especially excited about this special edition. I love this series so much.

Read an Excerpt from Magic Bites

About the Special Edition of Magic Bites:


New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews invites you to experience the first novel in the “intriguing world” (Locus) of Kate Daniels with this special edition of Magic Bites

Kate Daniels is a down-on-her-luck mercenary who makes her living cleaning up magical problems. But when Kate’s guardian is murdered, her quest for justice draws her into a power struggle between two strong factions within Atlanta’s magic circles. Pressured by both sides to find the killer, Kate realizes she’s way out of her league—but she wouldn’t want it any other way…

This special edition includes in-depth information about the world of Kate Daniels, with descriptions of its characters and factions. Explore Kate’s Atlanta like never before with answers to FAQ and a quiz to find your place there. And don’t miss the prequel story “A Questionable Client,” as well as scenes of events in Magic Bites from Curran’s point of view.