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 (usually unsolicited). 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.

Only one book came in the mail last week, but it’s one I’m very excited about!

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline Carey’s latest novel will be released on February 14 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). Tor.com has an excerpt from Miranda and Caliban.

This was one of my most anticipated 2017 releases, and I was especially thrilled to see this page inside my book:

Jacqueline Carey's Signature

Jacqueline Carey is a fantastic writer, and I’m very interested in reading her take on Miranda, Caliban, and Propero’s time on the island before the events of The Tempest. She wrote about Miranda and Caliban in her February 2017 update on her site.

 

A lovely girl grows up in isolation where her father, a powerful magus, has spirited them to in order to keep them safe.

We all know the tale of Prospero’s quest for revenge, but what of Miranda? Or Caliban, the so-called savage Prospero chained to his will?

In this incredible retelling of the fantastical tale, Jacqueline Carey shows readers the other side of the coin―the dutiful and tenderhearted Miranda, who loves her father but is terribly lonely. And Caliban, the strange and feral boy Prospero has bewitched to serve him. The two find solace and companionship in each other as Prospero weaves his magic and dreams of revenge.

Always under Prospero’s jealous eye, Miranda and Caliban battle the dark, unknowable forces that bind them to the island even as the pangs of adolescence create a new awareness of each other and their doomed relationship.

Miranda and Caliban is bestselling fantasy author Jacqueline Carey’s gorgeous retelling of The Tempest. With hypnotic prose and a wild imagination, Carey explores the themes of twisted love and unchecked power that lie at the heart of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, while serving up a fresh take on the play’s iconic characters.

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 (usually unsolicited). 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.

Two debut novels (both February releases) showed up in the mail recently, but first, here is a brief overview of posts from last week:

Now, the latest books!

Gilded Cage by Vic James

Gilded Cage (Dark Gifts #1) by Vic James

This debut novel will be released in the US on February 14 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). It’s already available in the UK.

Tor.com has an excerpt from Gilded Cage.

 

A darkly fantastical debut set in a modern England where magically gifted aristocrats rule, and commoners are doomed to serve—for readers of Victoria Aveyard and Susanna Clarke

NOT ALL ARE FREE.
NOT ALL ARE EQUAL.
NOT ALL WILL BE SAVED.

Our world belongs to the Equals—aristocrats with magical gifts—and all commoners must serve them for ten years.

But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of their noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty—but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

Kings of the Wyld (The Band #1) by Nicholas Eames

This fantasy debut novel will be released on February 21 (trade paperback, ebook). The publisher’s website has an excerpt from Kings of the Wyld.

 

GLORY NEVER GETS OLD.

Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best, the most feared and renowned crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld.

Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk, or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay’s door with a plea for help–the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for.

It’s time to get the band back together.

 

 

Since the beginning of 2016, I have been reading and reviewing one book a month based on the results of a poll on PatreonAll of these monthly reviews can be viewed here.

The February theme is one of my favorites: retellings! I love retold stories and reimaginings, and it sounded like a fun theme for the month.

The February book selections were as follows:

The February book is…

A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston

A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston

Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

I don’t know how I missed this book when it was first released in 2015, but I became aware of it toward the end of last year and have wanted to read it ever since!

The House of Shattered Wings
by Aliette de Bodard
416pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 6/10
Amazon Rating: 3.4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.6/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.41/5
 

Nebula-Award-winning author Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings, the first Dominion of the Fallen novel, won the British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel and was a finalist for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel. A sequel, The House of Binding Thorns, is scheduled for release in April.

The Great Houses War left Paris in ruins. Those who are fortunate belong to a House backed with magic and power that can protect its members. Most Houses are ruled by one of the Fallen, beings who literally fell to the Earth after being cast down by God. Though they have magic, they are vulnerable since they are literally made of power: their flesh, blood, and bones can make ordinary humans quite potent—and there are many desperate ordinary humans struggling just to survive within the city who desire that power.

When a new Fallen crashes to the ground in Paris, she’s first discovered by two gang members, one of whom convinces the other they should harvest her parts. The young Fallen’s terror and pain lead another Fallen to the spot: Selene, who became the Head of House Silverspires after the mysterious disappearance of its founder and her teacher, Morningstar. Selene fights with magic that should easily destroy both attackers, but the instigator’s companion absorbs her spell even though he’s not Fallen and is left behind by the other, being to weak to run after his efforts. This magic arouses Selene’s curiosity—she’s never experienced anything like it before—and she has this man, Philippe, brought back to her House along with the rescued Fallen.

Though held in House Silverspires against his will, Philippe can at least wander through it. In the course of his explorations, he encounters a cursed mirror that unleashes darkness and causes him to see visions of Morningstar. Soon after, shadows stalk the House, and people and Fallen die suddenly of unknown causes: the only clue is that they all have a wound that looks like a snakebite. Those within the House must unravel the mystery or the entire House may fall…

The House of Shattered Wings is a decent novel with a lot of strengths. Most of all, I loved the blending of different fantasy elements in this setting. Since Europe and the Fallen have been taking over the world, older magics have been fading but there are still remnants (perhaps more than the Fallen realize given that Philippe’s abilities are surprising and incomprehensible to them). Though the details of Philippe’s history in Annam are not fully explained, he was once a mortal who earned a place as an Immortal in the Jade Emperor’s Court—until he was cast out, making him somewhere between the two states. In addition to angels and spirits, the book also draws from Greek mythology.

It’s also a good story with some lovely prose, and the first half was extremely readable as it set up the world and introduced some intriguing characters:

  • Selene, a Fallen who tries to fulfill her duties protecting House Silverspires while feeling as though she’ll never be able to live up to her predecessor, the oldest and most powerful of all the Fallen: Morningstar himself.
  • Philippe, a former Immortal with a mysterious background stuck in France after he was forced to leave his homeland to fight their war.
  • Isabelle, the newest Fallen who can be by turns timid and fierce (or naive and wise).
  • Madeleine, the House alchemist who turned to the addictive substance angel essence after she was haunted by the death of someone she cherished and her own narrow escape from a coup at House Hawthorn.
  • Emmanuelle, the intelligent, empathetic House archivist and Selene’s partner (the other four are more major characters but I had to include her because I thought she was the most likable!).

However, my patience started to wear thin throughout the second half for one main reason: the narrative is bogged down by too much internal monologue. It’s told through the third person, mainly from the perspectives of Philippe, Selene, and Madeleine, and it seemed as though none of these characters could have a conversation or observe events without following it up with every single thought on what had just happened instead of moving the plot forward. At times, this much telling can work, but I didn’t feel it added much to their characterization. They did not have distinct voices, and most of these reflections were either simple observations or introspection that didn’t show much new about them.

Earlier in the book, this didn’t bother me as much since I was just getting to know the characters, but later it made them seem rather stale, especially since the dialogue was also rather to the point and did not exhibit personality. By the end, I found that the characters who were more in the shadows were more compelling than the main characters, all of whom had interesting backgrounds but did not have much complexity or multidimensional characterization. Even though I was disappointed in the politics between Houses since these conversations lacked tension or fun exchanges, I’m most likely to read the sequel in hopes of more about two of those characters in the shadows, Claire and Asmodeus. Claire, a shrewd older woman, is one of the few mortals to become head of a House and seems to be the type to play a long game. Asmodeus has mysterious motivations, and I am quite interested in learning more about why he has some of the whims he does.

The House of Shattered Wings is a promising first novel in the series, and it is a great story with some beautiful phrasing. However, the narrative is bogged down by too much introspection that doesn’t advance the characterization or add much insight (especially later in the novel), making it less engaging to read during the second part despite the excellent setting and prose. It succeeded in making me curious about the sequel but I’m not quite convinced I want to read it once it has been published.

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

This book is January’s selection from a poll on Patreon.

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 (usually unsolicited). 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 three books, but first, here’s last week’s review in case you missed it:

Now, the latest books in the mail!

Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker

Phantom Pains (The Arcadia Project #2) by Mishell Baker

This urban fantasy novel will be released on March 21 (hardcover, ebook, paperback). Borderline, the first book in the Arcadia Project series, has received many rave reviews and was featured as both a Publishers Weekly Staff Pick and a Library Journal Debut of the Month.

Mishell Baker’s website has an excerpt from Borderline.

 

In the second book to the “exciting, inventive, and brilliantly plotted” (Seanan McGuire, New York Times bestselling author) Borderline, Millie unwillingly returns to the Arcadia Project when an impossible and deadly situation pulls her back in.

Four months ago, Millie left the Arcadia Project after losing her partner Teo to the lethal magic of an Unseelie fey countess. Now, in a final visit to the scene of the crime, Millie and her former boss Caryl encounter Teo’s tormented ghost. But there’s one problem: according to Caryl, ghosts don’t exist.

Millie has a new life, a stressful job, and no time to get pulled back into the Project, but she agrees to tell her side of the ghost story to the agents from the Project’s National Headquarters. During her visit though, tragedy strikes when one of the agents is gruesomely murdered in a way only Caryl could have achieved. Millie knows Caryl is innocent, but the only way to save her from the Project’s severe, off-the-books justice is to find the mysterious culprits that can only be seen when they want to be seen. Millie must solve the mystery not only to save Caryl, but also to foil an insidious, arcane terrorist plot that would leave two worlds in ruins.

The Skill of Our Hands by Steven Brust and Skyler White

The Skill of Our Hands (Incrementalists #2) by Steven Brust and Skyler White

The Skill of Our Hands, the second novel in the Incrementalists series, was released last week (hardcover, ebook). Tor.com has excerpts from both books in this series:

  1. The Incrementalists
  2. The Skill of Our Hands
 

The Incrementalists are a secret society of two hundred people; an unbroken lineage reaching back forty thousand years. They cheat death, share lives and memories, and communicate with one another across nations and time. They have an epic history, an almost magical memory, and a very modest mission: to make the world better, a little bit at a time.

Now Phil, the Incrementalist whose personality has stayed stable through more incarnations than anyone else’s, has been shot dead. They’ll bring him back—but first they need to know what happened. Their investigation will lead down unexpected paths in contemporary Arizona, and bring them up against corruption in high and low places alike. But the key may lay in one of Phil’s previous lives, in Kansas in 1859, and the fate of a man named John Brown.

Additional Book(s):

The Masked City
by Genevieve Cogman
381pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 8.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.91/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.01/5
 

Note: This review contains what some may consider to be a spoiler for the first book. If you’d prefer to go into the first book without knowing the true identity of one of the characters until it’s revealed, you may want to avoid reading further and read my review of the first book, The Invisible Library, instead.


The Masked City is both Genevieve Cogman’s second novel and the second installment in the Invisible Library series—and it is every bit as delightful as its predecessor! These books follow the adventures of Irene, a spy for an organization outside of time and space known as the Library, and they are tailor-made for bibliophiles with literary references galore. When she was a junior Librarian, Irene traveled to alternate worlds collecting specific books required by the Library by any means necessary: sometimes she was able to simply purchase them, but other times she had to establish herself in that world and plan a heist. Her role as a member of the Library involves using her wits and ability with the Language, a tongue known only to Librarians that allows them to shape reality (though they must take care to put words together precisely in order to achieve the desired effect!).

At the beginning of The Masked City, Irene is now officially acting as Librarian-in-Residence to the Victorianesque world from her mission in The Invisible Library. This more stationary assignment is no less exciting than her jaunts to various worlds—while on a mission to procure a book from an auction, a rival attempts to poison her and then she and her apprentice Kai, a dragon prince, are attacked by werewolves after leaving the venue—and she continues to handle perilous situations with aplomb.

Irene and Kai have cause to believe the Fae were behind their encounter with violent werewolves, and shortly after this event, Fae libertine Lord Silver confirms their suspicions (though somewhat ambiguously since he’s taken an oath that prevents him from warning them outright). After their meeting with Lord Silver, Irene visits the Library to drop off the hard-earned book and do some research related to their current situation while Kai discusses recent events with their friend Vale, who also happens to be London’s greatest detective. When Irene returns from the Library, she intends to meet Kai at Vale’s, but instead she’s met with disturbing news: Kai has disappeared.

All evidence points to Fae involvement, and Irene must discreetly accompany some of them on a trip to an alternate world’s seventeenth-century-like Venice to have any chance of saving her apprentice before it’s too late. The problem with this course of action (besides the obvious problems of blending in and escaping with Kai) is that this world is so chaotic that it’s perfectly suited to the Fae, right down to having a tendency to conform to the narratives they wish for their own stories to follow. It’s a dangerous quest but the consequences of failure are not only personal but also political: a war between the Fae and the dragons could lead to the destruction of worlds, and neither side would spare innocents caught in the middle of their conflict.

Just like the first book in the series, The Masked City is immensely entertaining with delightful narration. Though it didn’t build on the mysteries introduced in the first book or have as much of Kai and Irene together as I would have liked, it made up for these absences in other ways and I enjoyed it every bit as much as the first book—even a little bit more.

The Invisible Library series is largely an ode to books, and the plot of The Masked City in particular revolves around the power of language and story. It’s concentrated on the Fae and reveals more about how they operate in a chaotic world suited to their nature as well as how it affects humans and the orderly nature of dragons. The Fae have a flair for drama and tend to see themselves as playing a role in a story, and when on a chaotic world, events tend to bend to fit their own narratives. I’m not entirely convinced by this: although it seems reasonable that a world suited to the Fae would work to their advantage, I also find it odd that a chaotic being on a chaotic world would tend to find their lives following patterns. Similarly, more powerful Fae become walking stereotypes, which also seems more predictable than I’d expect from a being of chaos. However, it didn’t bother me too much because this also led to Irene needing to use her knowledge of fairy tale traditions as part of her rescue mission.

As much as I loved the focus on storytelling, Irene herself is the highlight of The Masked City. Irene is competent, practical, responsible, quick thinking, and difficult to unnerve. Realizing she’s been given a glass of poisoned wine is not a cause for panic for her: it’s a mere inconvenience and a waste of a refreshing chilled drink. There are some situations—such as visiting a dragon king—that make her nervous, but she still keeps a clear head even when outside of her comfort zone. Though not perfect, Irene is analytical and rather self aware, and she never seems to take a risk without weighing the options and evaluating the stakes and consequences first. I appreciated these qualities in the first book, but I thought this novel gave an especially good sense of her character and priorities since she has to make a big decision based on different loyalties and duties. She’s not the type to dwell on whether or not she made the right call once she’s made a choice or shirk the repercussions of her actions, and I am even fonder of her as a character now.

Even though I missed reading about Kai and Irene working through an assignment together, I did enjoy the introduction of Zayanna, a flirty Fae woman whose scenes with Irene were great fun. Irene meets Zayanna while trying to blend in amongst the Fae, and she ends up getting Zayanna caught up in some of her troubles. Zayanna is quite unfazed by this: in fact, she is delighted by it and believes it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. She loves melodrama, wholeheartedly enjoys being caught up in adventure, and is quick to contribute reckless plans of her own.

It may not have delivered some of the answers I’d been hoping for after reading the first book, but The Masked City still delivered an amusing tale focused on a wonderfully capable heroine. The Invisible Library is becoming one of my favorite new series and I can’t wait for the fourth book (since I’ve already read the newly-released third novel, The Burning Page!).

My Rating: 8.5/10

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

Other Reviews of The Masked City: