The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight books I got over the last week that sound interesting—old or new, bought or received in the mail 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, along with series information and the publisher’s book description.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate of, and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

It’s actually been a little while since I’ve done one of these posts, largely because I was working on the two big annual posts and then getting Women in SF&F Month together. (If you missed any of the guest posts or book recommendations from last month, you can find links to all of them here.)

One book showed up in the mail last week, and I’m also covering one that arrived the week before last. Both of these books appeared on my list of anticipated 2024 speculative fiction book releases.

Cover of Goddess of the River by Vaishnavi Patel

Goddess of the River by Vaishnavi Patel

Vaishnavi Patel’s second novel, a reimagining of the Mahabharata and Ganga’s story, will be released on May 21 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

I’ve been looking forward to reading more by Vaishnavi Patel since reading her debut novel, Kaikeyi, which reimagines the story of the titular queen from the Ramayana. As I wrote in my review:

Kaikeyi is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I appreciated its focus on a compassionate but flawed heroine determined to carve a place for herself in a society that didn’t want her to be her true self as a woman with ambition: a queen and a warrior, a mother and a political adviser, an advocate for other women, and ultimately, someone who had a profound impact. It’s a fantastic debut—from the protagonist’s story and voice to the depth of her familial relationships to the more epic scenes involving gods and other supernatural beings—and I’m eagerly anticipating Vaishnavi Patel’s next novel.

This was a book that I appreciated and enjoyed but found I admired even more after finishing it and reflecting on it.

The author also shared about a trope she wanted to challenge through Kaikeyi’s story in her Women in SF&F Month guest post from 2022, “Divorcing the Evil Stepmother.”


A powerful reimagining of the story of Ganga, goddess of the river, and her doomed mortal son, from Vaishnavi Patel, author of the instant New York Times bestseller Kaikeyi.

A mother and a son. A goddess and a prince. A curse and an oath. A river whose course will change the fate of the world.

Ganga, joyful goddess of the river, serves as caretaker to the mischievous godlings who roam her banks. But when their antics incur the wrath of a powerful sage, Ganga is cursed to become mortal, bound to her human form until she fulfills the obligations of the curse.

Though she knows nothing of mortal life, Ganga weds King Shantanu and becomes a queen, determined to regain her freedom no matter the cost. But in a cruel turn of fate, just as she is freed of her binding, she is forced to leave her infant son behind.

Her son, prince Devavrata, unwittingly carries the legacy of Ganga’s curse. And when he makes an oath that he will never claim his father’s throne, he sets in motion a chain of events that will end in a terrible and tragic war.

As the years unfold, Ganga and Devavrata are drawn together again and again, each confluence another step on a path that has been written in the stars, in this deeply moving and masterful tale of duty, destiny, and the unwavering bond between mother and son.

Cover of Saints of Storm and Sorrow by Gabriella Buba

Saints of Storm and Sorrow (The Stormbringer Saga #1) by Gabriella Buba

This Filipino-inspired debut novel will be out on June 25 (paperback, ebook). This sounds fantastic, and it’s described as being my sort of book: “perfect for fans of lush fantasy full of morally ambiguous characters.”

Gabriella Buba also discussed it in her Women in SF&F Month guest post last month:

But Fantasy can ask all the what ifs of history: what if all the victors destroyed and time has lost still remained? It can fill in the gaps between the lines of racist reports written by Spanish clergy—Spanish that I read with more fluency than my stumbling Tagalog.

And so reading and then writing Fantasy became the vehicle by which I could safely unspool and grapple with the history of colonialism and imperialism that created the war, want, and waste that sent my Filipino family across an ocean.

Taking this fragmented pre-colonial history together with re-imaginings of myths and folklore, Saints of Storm and Sorrow is a Filipino-inspired Fantasy in which Lunurin, a bisexual nun hiding a goddess-given gift, is unwillingly transformed into a lightning rod for her people’s struggle against colonization.

It is Lunurin’s efforts to protect those she loves from the crushing realities and abuses of colonialism and its twin tools of greed and religion that ultimately awakens her Goddess and forces Lunurin to act, to break the status quo, and finally face the past she’s become so good at running from.

You can read “Fantasy Safe Spaces: Facing the Specters of the Past Now They’ve Come Back to Haunt Us” in its entirety here.


In this fiercely imaginative Filipino-inspired fantasy debut, a bisexual nun hiding a goddess-given gift is unwillingly transformed into a lightning rod for her people’s struggle against colonization.

Perfect for fans of lush fantasy full of morally ambiguous characters, including The Poppy War and The Jasmine Throne.

María Lunurin has been living a double life for as long as she can remember. To the world, she is Sister María, dutiful nun and devoted servant of Aynila’s Codicían colonizers. But behind closed doors, she is a stormcaller, chosen daughter of the Aynilan goddess Anitun Tabu. In hiding not only from the Codicíans and their witch hunts, but also from the vengeful eye of her slighted goddess, Lunurin does what she can to protect her fellow Aynilans and the small family she has created in the convent: her lover Catalina, and Cat’s younger sister Inez.

Lunurin is determined to keep her head down—until one day she makes a devastating discovery, which threatens to tear her family apart. In desperation, she turns for help to Alon Dakila, heir to Aynila’s most powerful family, who has been ardently in love with her for years. But this choice sets in motion a chain of events beyond her control, awakening Anitun Tabu’s rage and putting everyone Lunurin loves in terrible danger. Torn between the call of Alon’s magic and Catalina’s jealousy, her duty to her family and to her people, Lunurin can no longer keep Anitun Tabu’s fury at bay.

The goddess of storms demands vengeance. And she will sweep aside anyone who stands in her way.

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Thank you so very much to all of this year’s guests for the amazing essays and making April 2024 another wonderful Women in SF&F Month! Also, thank you to everyone who shared their posts and helped spread the word about this year’s series. It is always very much appreciated!

Although this year’s series has ended, I wanted to make sure there was a way to find all of the guest posts from 2024 for anyone who missed them during April. This was the thirteenth annual Women in SF&F Month, which is dedicated to highlighting some of the many women doing fantastic work in speculative fiction genres. Guest posts have included both discussions related to women in science fiction and/or fantasy and more general discussions about the genre(s) and what makes them special, experiences and influences, writing, and creating stories, characters, and/or worlds.

You can browse through all the Women in SF&F Month 2024 guest posts here, or you can find a brief summary of each and its link below.

This year, I also shared about 5 series I love that I think deserve more readers and more discussion in bookish/SFF communities. These recommendation posts and their links follow the guest post list.

Through May 3, there is a US-only giveaway for one of two books from Seanan McGuire’s New York Times bestselling, Hugo Award–nominated InCryptid series: either Discount Armageddon (the first book) or Aftermarket Afterlife (the thirteenth and latest book).

Women in SF&F Month 2024 Guest Posts

Buba, Gabriella — “Fantasy Safe Spaces: Facing the Specters of the Past Now They’ve Come Back to Haunt Us”
Saints of Storm and Sorrow author Gabriella Buba shared about using fantasy fiction to dig into troubling topics and how she grappled with things that grieve her, including colonialism and the loss of women’s rights, in her debut novel.

Chan, Eliza — “Into the Retelling-Verse”
Fathomfolk author Eliza Chan wrote about the appeal of retellings, from different versions of Spider-Man to folktales, and why she chose to use and rework a familiar fairy tale and different mythologies in her debut novel.

Chen, Amber — “Using Fiction to Empower Girls in STEM”
Of Jade and Dragons author Amber Chen discussed fictional representation of girls and women in STEM and incorporating this into her YA fantasy novel (and recommended a few SFF books with girls in STEM or girls wreaking havoc in male-dominated worlds!).

Dimova, Genoveva — “Female mentors in fantasy”
The Witch’s Compendium of Monsters author Genoveva Dimova wrote about being drawn to older women in mentorship roles, writing one in Foul Days and Monstrous Nights, and older female representation in media.

Leow, Amy — “Villains, Grey Areas, and What Women Can and Cannot Be”
The Scarlet Throne author Amy Leow discussed her love of unhinged, messy women and shared about creating her debut novel’s protagonist to be an evil, irredeemable character.

Mills, Samantha — “The WIP of Theseus”
The Wings Upon Her Back author Samantha Mills wrote about the heart of story and some questions about change and transformation that made their way into her debut novel.

Mohamed, Premee — “Speculative War and Writing What You Cannot Know”
The Siege of Burning Grass author Premee Mohamed shared about how she keeps writing fiction involving war and why she chooses to explore it in speculative settings.

Samotin, Laura R. — “Writing Found Families With Two-Dimensional Characters”
The Sins on Their Bones author Laura R. Samotin wrote about one of her favorite tropes and how she made her cast of characters well-rounded when incorporating it into her novel.

Women in SF&F Month 2024 Recommendation Posts

The Books of Ambha Duology by Tasha Suri
There are many reasons I adore these beautifully written, deeply affecting fantasy novels, but the most memorable to me is the two women who are the heart of each story: sisters with some of the divine in their blood. (Each of these books also has a lovely romance.)

Chronicles of the Bitch Queen by K. S. Villoso
This trilogy about a queen grappling with her role(s) in the world has everything I want in an epic fantasy series. I especially appreciate the author’s masterful use of voice and skill with creating unusually real, complex characters.

The Mirage Duology by Somaiya Daud
This gorgeous young adult science fiction duology about a young woman forced to be a princess’ body double has a wonderfully developed, complex female friendship as its main relationship focus. In addition to that, I adored the protagonist for her bravery, insight, compassion, and poetic voice/soul.

Swords and Fire by Melissa Caruso
This is a well-paced, entertaining epic fantasy trilogy with heart, humor, and sharp dialogue, and it takes some common story beats and tropes and does something a little different with them. The first book kept me up reading until 2:00 AM, and the next two books were even better!

The Warchild Mosaic by Karin Lowachee
This is my favorite science fiction series, largely because Karin Lowachee’s characters are more complex, flawed, compelling, and real than most fictional people. She is a master of voice, characterization, and ripping my heart out.

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This week I’m sharing about some series I love that I think deserve more readers and more discussion in bookish/SFF communities. Today I’m gushing about The Warchild Mosaic by Karin Lowachee, a science fiction series that currently contains the novels Warchild, Burndive, and Cagebird; the collection Omake: Stories from the Warchild Universe; and the novella Under the Silence. This is my favorite science fiction series, and Karin Lowachee is a master of voice, characterization, and ripping my heart out. (Yes, I consider the latter a positive quality.)

Cover of Warchild by Karin Lowachee Cover of Burndive by Karin Lowachee Cover of Cagebird by Karin Lowachee

Karin Lowachee’s Warchild Mosaic is character-driven science fiction at its very best. She’s adept at digging into the people she writes and making you feel deeply for them, and though they’re all dealing with traumas—sometimes similar ones, as they’re usually related to the war between humans and aliens and/or space pirates—they each have distinct voices, personalities, and reactions to all that they endure.

Each of the three novels in this universe has a different protagonist, but they do tie together with each expanding on the previous one(s) to show the bigger picture. Warchild, the first book in the series, has both my favorite story and my favorite protagonist in the series so far. This focuses on Jos, who was captured by the pirates that destroyed his merchant ship when he was eight years old. Although the captain of the pirate ship sold the other children he took, he decided to keep smart, pretty Jos for himself and mold him into someone whose attractiveness he can use for his own ends. Jos escapes about a year after his capture and is then trained by the assassin-priest who rescued him, who eventually sends him to spy on an enemy ship.

Warchild is an amazing work, largely because of Jos, his voice, and his complicated relationships with others on both sides of the war. The opening sequence starting with the attack on his ship is especially powerful, as it captures just how young he is, and the narrative choice to use second-person perspective for the earliest chapters set on the pirate ship adds urgency to the tenser parts while keeping Jos himself at a distance from the most horrific events of his life. Though this obviously deals with some heavy subjects, this is the least grim novel in the series: in part, because Jos would prefer not to remember what happened to him and therefore doesn’t go into detail about it, but also because there is some amusing banter among the ship’s crew and an emotionally satisfying (if somewhat rushed) ending.

The next book in the sequence, Burndive, took me longer to get into than the first book but still ended up being great (even if Ryan is my least favorite protagonist). Ryan is the son of a major character in Warchild, and he survives a horrifying shooting that he suspects was an attempt on his life due to his father’s actions at the end of the previous book. It’s largely about how this event affects him and his relationship with his father, who Ryan hasn’t actually seen much given that he’s usually in space. The highlights of this novel for me were the parts that tied in most with the previous book: seeing some of its characters and learning more about Ryan’s father. He’s hardened and ruthless but also compassionate, and I found him to be the most complex and fascinating character in this novel.

Cagebird, the rawest, most character-driven of the three novels, is my favorite after Warchild. Yuri’s story covers events that take place before, during, and after the previous two books, from how his planet was destroyed by war when he was a child to how he became the pirate captain’s new protégé after Jos escaped. Unlike Jos, Yuri is unaware of his situation on the pirate ship at first: he thinks he’s been hired to work on a merchant ship that seems far better than the planet for refugees he came from. Also unlike Jos, Yuri is candid about his painful experiences during his time on the pirate ship after he learns the truth about its captain and his plans for him, which start with geisha training. The work Karin Lowachee does with Yuri’s character study is phenomenal, and I loved that he started as rather unlikable (especially given the end of the previous book) and became more sympathetic: he’s been trapped and used, and this is a book that really digs into what shaped the protagonist.

Although I love the novels and their more in-depth focus on a few key individuals the most, Omake is also excellent. These stories showcase the author’s skill at writing a variety of people with distinct voices and making them feel real in a way few authors can manage. (The novels should be read first since many of these stories are character studies that will be missing some context otherwise.)

The recent novella Under the Silence, set after Burndive, is a lovely exploration of a changing relationship: one that’s delicate and difficult because of scars that make it impossible for someone to just be close to someone else, no matter how much they might want to be. Like with the other shorter stories, I didn’t love it the same way I did the novels, but I’m glad I read it. It has some gorgeous moments and beautiful lines that made me pause to admire them.

Karin Lowachee has the gift of creating characters that are more complex, flawed, compelling, and real than most fictional people. This is the main reason the novels in her Warchild Mosaic are some of my favorite books, and I’m eagerly awaiting Matryoshka and The Warboy.

Additional Reading on The Warchild Mosaic and Karin Lowachee:

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This week I’m sharing about some series I love that I think deserve more readers and more discussion in bookish/SFF communities. Today I’m raving about Swords and Fire by Melissa Caruso, a Venetian-inspired epic fantasy trilogy containing The Tethered Mage, The Defiant Heir, and The Unbound Empire. This is one of my favorite somewhat recent series for a lot of reasons, but basically, the first book kept me up reading until 2:00 AM and the next two books were even better.

Cover of The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso Cover of The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso Cover of The Unbound Empire by Melissa Caruso

The Swords and Fire trilogy is a well-paced, entertaining series with heart, humor, and sharp dialogue. I think it’s a wonderful example of how to write a trilogy that works from start to finish, and I love how it takes common story beats and tropes and does something a little different with them (such as the heroine’s overall arc and the love triangle that develops later in the series).

This wonderful series is one I frequently recommend to readers looking for fantasy books containing settings with gender equality or governments other than monarchies. Though characters can be discouraged from doing things due to their class, there are no restrictions or expectations based on gender, and same-sex relationships/marriages are accepted and common. The protagonist’s country is headed by a doge, elected for life by an assembly, and has a council comprised of both elected officials and representatives from ruling families.

Their nation seeks to prevent mages from taking over everything by pairing each of them with someone who can control their power: these “Falconers” can bind the magic of their “Falcons” if necessary or unbind it if needed. This is contrasted with a neighboring country that is divided into different territories that are each ruled by a Witch Lord, and this is explored more in the last couple of books after the first shows the intricacies of the Falcon/Falconer system (including why some mages hate it while others actually prefer it to the alternative).

The first book in the series, The Tethered Mage, starts with the protagonist Amalia inadvertently binding herself to a fire mage who lost control of her power and is on the verge of burning down the city. Given the urgency of the situation, there wasn’t time to ask a lot of questions—like if Amalia is perchance from a ruling family and therefore not supposed to be bound to a mage—but it’s apparent there’s a problem once the city is safe and Amalia is identified as a council heir. Amalia has tried to avoid politics, focusing her attention on scholarly pursuits instead (to her mother’s great chagrin), but this incident changes that.

One of the many things I love about this trilogy is how this part of her character arc progresses. Instead of escaping the shackles of expectation to pursue her own interests, Amalia embraces the role she would never have chosen for herself and makes it her own. She doesn’t try to think or make decisions just like her mother would but makes her own judgments and supports the causes she finds important. Throughout the course of the series, she becomes more politically savvy and discovers that her scholarly background can be a strength.

There are a lot of other great characters in this series, too. Zaira, the fire mage, is blunt and outspoken, and she never lets the other characters forget that she is one of the mages who is not happy about being a Falcon. (The development of her eventual friendship with Amalia is also a highlight in this trilogy.) All the Witch Lords who are introduced are quirky and memorable, and one of them is my absolute favorite character in this series: Kathe, the Crow Lord, who becomes Amalia’s ally in the second book. Despite their alliance, he keeps telling Amalia he can’t be trusted, but he’s just so charismatic that Amalia really wanted to trust him (and so did I!). The main villain, another one of the Witch Lords, is the irredeemably evil sort, but he’s more compelling to me than most of those types. He’s capable, he uses his magic in unexpected ways at times, and he doesn’t always rely on his power in his pursuit of continental domination: he also studies, experiments, and creates macabre horrors in the process.

Swords and Fire is an excellent series. I can’t recommend it highly enough to those looking for page-turners with banter and well-written dialogue, great relationships, interesting worldbuilding, and just overall well-executed, fun fantasy books.

Additional Reading on Swords and Fire and Melissa Caruso:

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This week I’m sharing about some series I love that I think deserve more readers and more discussion in bookish/SFF communities. Today I’m gushing about Mirage by Somaiya Daud, a Moroccan-inspired young adult science fiction duology containing the books Mirage and Court of Lions. In particular, I want to highlight the wonderful protagonist and the complicated female friendship that lies at the heart of both books.

Cover of Mirage by Somaiya Daud Cover of Court of Lions by Somaiya Daud

Mirage and Court of Lions are gorgeous novels, and they are some of the first books that come to mind whenever I think of books I’d love to see recommended and discussed more in SFF communities. These are beautifully written stories that explore colonialism and empire, rebellion, and the power of literature, and though they contain heartbreak, they are ultimately hopeful. I found these two books incredibly intense—not because they’re action-packed (they’re not), but because they are emotion-packed with a wonderful protagonist and a developing sort-of friendship at their center.

I wrote “sort-of friendship” because this starts as a rocky relationship, and furthermore, it’s not a relationship between equals since Amani, the protagonist, is forced to serve Maram, the princess, as a body double. Fearing that someone will assassinate his heir before she can take the throne, the king had his minions search for a look-alike to pretend to be Maram. They discovered Amani, who had an uncanny resemblance to the princess, and took her from her family and home moon to learn to emulate their future queen, from her mannerisms to her maliciousness and sharp tongue.

Amani is one of the best protagonists I’ve encountered in fairly recent speculative fiction, and I just adored her. She’s a woman of faith, a scholar, and a poet, and her beautiful voice is a perfect fit for someone with words and lyricism in her soul. She has courage and is willing to take personal risks if she decides the potential good is worth the potential consequences. Amani is also one of those “quiet” protagonists I admire so: she doesn’t have powerful magic or flashy skills, but she has subtle weapons like her wit and insight, her compassion, and her hope. A lot of her strength lies in her empathy and her ability to understand others, and this is the main reason it seems she may actually be capable of bringing out the best in Maram.

I really loved the slow build of the sisterly friendship that develops between Amani and Maram as the former begins to realize she’s actually developed some fondness for the princess. It never seemed as though Maram’s cruelty was swept under the rug or excused because of her difficult childhood, but it also shows how much of a struggle it’s been for her to survive within her father’s empire. Though her father is the infamous conqueror, her deceased mother belonged to the people he conquered, and as a result, Maram doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere. She’s alone, fearful of the half-sister who hungers to take her place, and thinks it necessary to hide any vulnerability. Amani is probably the first to clearly see and understand the person beneath the mask Maram presents to the world when most view her as a princess to be feared and obeyed, the daughter of the man who conquered the stars. Plus Amani tries to connect with her in a way no one else has, through the part of herself Maram doesn’t really know due to her mother’s death.

Though there are a couple of romances in these novels (including a sapphic one in the second book), the Mirage duology is primarily focused on Amani, Maram, and their platonic relationship. I found it to be an unusually stunning work of science fiction literature for its writing and characterization, and I hope that Somaiya Daud publishes more novels in the future. (I keep hoping and looking for more by her!)

Additional Reading on Mirage:

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This week I’m sharing about some series I love that I think deserve more readers and more discussion in bookish/SFF communities. Today I’m enthusing about Chronicles of the Bitch Queen (sometimes called Chronicles of the Wolf Queen) by K. S. Villoso, an epic fantasy trilogy told from the first-person perspective of a queen grappling with her role(s) in the world. In particular, I’m highlighting K. S. Villoso’s masterful use of voice and skill at creating unusually real, complex characters in this series.

Cover of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K. S. Villoso Cover of The Ikessar Falcon by K. S. Villoso Cover of The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng by K. S. Villoso

“They called me the Bitch Queen, the she-wolf, because I murdered a man and exiled my king the night before they crowned me.”

From the opening line of her narrative in The Wolf of Oren-Yaro, I suspected I was going to rather like Queen Talyien (and I did!). K. S. Villoso did an incredible job writing her voice and examining themes like womanhood, legacy, and identity in Chronicles of the Bitch Queen, a series that becomes more complicated as subsequent books delve further into the world, its magic, and various political factions. I was fascinated by the setting and its mysteries, delighted by the banter, and devastated at times, but what I appreciate most about this series is the incredible character work and how real K. S. Villoso made these messy, complicated people. (Yes, I consider being devastated by fiction a positive thing.)

Although she’s far from the only well-crafted character in these three novels, Queen Talyien (Tali) remains most memorable, as she should given she’s the heart of these books. The daughter of a ruthless warlord, Tali grew up hearing that her eventual marriage would bring peace to their nation, but that didn’t go well in practice: her husband left, and even people who know nothing about what happened blame her for his departure. The main story begins when Tali accepts her estranged husband’s invitation to meet across the sea five years after their falling out, but that ends disastrously: their dinner is filled with uncomfortable barbed comments about whose father started a war and whose uncle released a mad dragon into their homeland, and then assassins attack. As a result, Tali is separated from her travelling companions and must fend for herself in this unfamiliar place, and her journey leads to the discovery that she may not have known her father and his plans for her as well as she’d always believed—shattering her worldview and sense of who she is.

I loved Tali and found her fascinating from the very first book. She didn’t seem like the most reliable narrator—not because she was trying to be misleading, but because it seemed that she might be deluding herself due to a lack of self-awareness, or perhaps because she found it easier than digging deeply and uncovering the truth. However, she is someone who reevaluates her views throughout the series, and in the third book, I admired the bravery it took for her to do this and work toward active change. As I wrote in my review of The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng:

“Her story shows all sides of herself, her best and her worst, someone human and vulnerable who doesn’t always have the right answers—and she unflinchingly faces herself, acknowledging her imperfections and vulnerabilities as she lays them bare on the page, and keeps striving.”

I appreciated how K. S. Villoso delved further into all her characters in later books, and she even managed to make me go from disliking a character in the first couple of books to loving them in the end. (Before this, I’d only had this sort of drastic reversal in opinion happen with two book characters: Jaime Lannister in A Song of Ice and Fire and Malta Vestrit in Liveship Traders.) And even if I didn’t like Tali’s father, I found him extremely compelling, especially how he looms so large and somehow manages to be a major political player even 16 years after his death.

As I stated in my previous reviews, K. S. Villoso’s Chronicles of the Bitch Queen has everything I want in an epic fantasy series, and I believe it to be complex, character-driven fantasy at its very best.

Additional Reading on Chronicles of the Bitch Queen: