Happy book release day to Namina Forna! I’ve been excited about her debut novel, The Gilded Ones, ever since I read an excellent interview with her on Refinery29 discussing why she wrote a YA epic fantasy book in which women literally bleed gold, among other subjects—and I’m thrilled to have a guest post by her to share today!


The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna - Book Cover
Read an Excerpt


The most anticipated fantasy of 2021. In this world, girls are outcasts by blood and warriors by choice. Get ready for battle. 

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

The start of a bold and immersive fantasy series for fans of Children of Blood and Bone and Black Panther

The Importance of Feminist Boys in YA Literature

Some weeks ago, I was scrolling Twitter when I came upon a heinous tweet. It was written by a man, and it espoused some truly concerning thoughts regarding women. It was the type of tweet I would have usually rushed to correct, but before I could do so, one of my mutuals, a young African man, waded in. He battled the tweet-sogynist with facts and data. He was not just a feminist ally—he was a feminist himself.

Growing up in the hypermasculine cultures of Sierra Leone, West Africa, and Atlanta, Georgia, I saw precious little in the way of male feminists. Boys were supposed to be tough and strong. They weren’t supposed to be soft, weren’t supposed to cry, and certainly weren’t supposed to defer to women.

Somewhere along the way, this dynamic changed. Boys started to realize that the patriarchy was just as much a trap for them as it was for girls. It helped that there were new portrayals of heroes in books and film, particularly young adult and middle grade works.

Malik, one of the dual protagonists from this summer’s A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, is one such hero. A nervous, but sweet soul, he is understanding of his weaknesses and respects his reluctant partner in crime, the calculating princess Karina, knowing that she is both bolder and more ruthless than him—necessary characteristics to survive in the cutthroat city of Ziran, the main location in the book.

Other notable feminist boys include Peeta Mellark of the Hunger Games franchise—a much kinder and softer person than protagonist Katniss Everdeen; Peter Kavinsky in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before; Daniel Bae from The Sun Is Also a Star; and Rishi from When Dimple Met Rishi.

In film and TV, there’s Ang from Avatar: The Last Airbender, Otis in Sex Education—even Uber-masculine icon Mad Max has undergone a bit of a transformation in recent years. In Mad Max: Fury Road, he defers to protagonist Imperator Furiosa, even going so far as to hand a gun to her when he can’t get a shot right. Progress.

In my novel, The Gilded Ones, Keita, the love interest of my protagonist, Deka, is a soft boy with a hard shell. He has no choice but to be. The world of The Gilded Ones is brutal and deeply misogynistic, especially Otera, the empire in which my story unfolds. Otera is absolute theocracy: women are considered lesser than men and required to undergo a ritual to prove the purity of their blood—red for pure, and gold for impure.

Even worse, the alaki—girls who bleed gold and are stronger and faster than regular humans—are branded as demons and executed on the spot. That is, of course, if they aren’t bled first. Gold is gold, even if it comes straight from the veins.

Despite all this, Keita, a hardened warrior with the battle scars to prove it, develops a deep and abiding respect for Deka. He listens to her when she speaks, doesn’t try to change her, and genuinely cares for her as a human being. In a world where women are considered little less than property, he sees her as an equal, and that’s an important thing.

We have a long way to go when it comes to gender equality, but portrayals of boys in books and film are helping along the way. That, for me, is an awesome thing, because now, whenever I go on Twitter, I can always find a feminist boy there, ready to do the work of dismantling the patriarchy.

Photo of Namina Forna Namina Forna is a young adult novelist based in Los Angeles, and the author of the epic fantasy YA novel The Gilded Ones. Originally from Sierra Leone, West Africa, she moved to the US when she was nine and has been traveling back and forth ever since. Namina loves telling stories with fierce female leads and works as a screenwriter in LA.

It seems like it becomes harder to limit my anticipated speculative fiction book releases post to a semi-reasonable number of works every year, and it was incredibly difficult to narrow down my initial long list of titles coming out in 2021. But after scouring the web for early reviews, excerpts, and more information from the author and/or publisher, I managed to cut it down to 30 books that I think look especially promising. (Of course, a few of these books are also ones that I do not need to know much about yet because of the strength of their authors’ previous works!)

As always, this is nowhere close to being a comprehensive list of speculative fiction being published in 2021, and I’m sure I will hear of more books that sound noteworthy throughout the year. A couple of these books appeared on my list last year since they were originally scheduled for publication in 2020, and some of these may end up being pushed back as well. I did not include books I’m hoping to see over the next few months if I couldn’t find anything from the author or publisher saying it was scheduled for this year (such as the sequel to Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun, which would absolutely be near the top of a list like this one!).

This list is ordered by release date, if known, and these dates are US release dates unless otherwise stated. The first book on this list just came out this month, but the rest are upcoming.

Due to the length of this blog post, I’m only showing the first 6 books on the main page. You can click the title of the post or the ‘more…’ link after the sixth book to read the entire article.

Some cover images or titles link to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Hall of Smoke by H. M. Long - Cover Image
Hall of Smoke by H. M. Long
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: January 19 (Out Now!)

H. M. Long’s debut novel sounds right up my alley with its warrior priestess and meddling gods. The FAQs section on the author’s website has a brief description with a little about who may be especially interested in checking it out:

Hall of Smoke is an epic fantasy with a Viking flavour, packed with action, meddling gods, and an atmospheric world of pines and mountains and creatures that want to eat you.

Readers, if you’re a fan of Brian Staveley, Robin Hobb, Tasha Suri, and RJ Barker, you will love Hall of Smoke.

Gamers? If you’re into Skyrim, God of War, or Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Hall of Smoke is for you.

Binge-watchers? If Vikings, The Last Kingdom and Netflix’s Barbarians are your thing, Hall of Smoke will be too.

And how could I not want to read a book after catching a glimpse of the line “I was the first to offend the goddess this season” on the very first page?


Epic fantasy featuring warrior priestesses, and fickle gods at war, for readers of Brian Staveley’s Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne.

Hessa is an Eangi: a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, with the power to turn an enemy’s bones to dust with a scream. Banished for disobeying her goddess’s command to murder a traveller, she prays for forgiveness alone on a mountainside.

While she is gone, raiders raze her village and obliterate the Eangi priesthood. Grieving and alone, Hessa – the last Eangi – must find the traveller and atone for her weakness and secure her place with her loved ones in the High Halls. As clans from the north and legionaries from the south tear through her homeland, slaughtering everyone in their path Hessa strives to win back her goddess’ favour.

Beset by zealot soldiers, deceitful gods, and newly-awakened demons at every turn, Hessa burns her path towards redemption and revenge. But her journey reveals a harrowing truth: the gods are dying and the High Halls of the afterlife are fading. Soon Hessa’s trust in her goddess weakens with every unheeded prayer.

Thrust into a battle between the gods of the Old World and the New, Hessa realizes there is far more on the line than securing a life beyond her own death. Bigger, older powers slumber beneath the surface of her world. And they’re about to wake up.

Midnight Doorways by Usman T. Malik - Cover Image
Midnight Doorways: Fables from Pakistan by Usman T. Malik
Scheduled Release Date: February

Bram Stoker and British Fantasy Award–winning author Usman T. Malik’s debut collection is being released as a one-print run illustrated hardcover with artwork by Pakistani artists. I have been hearing lots of praise for these stories and it sounds like a gorgeous book!


From the winner of  The British Fantasy Award and The Bram Stoker Award

* Stranded by the Taliban in the ruins of a pre-Islamic city, a woman chaperoning a school trip faces ancient horrors as boys go missing and the fog rolls in.
* Two lovers are set adrift amidst rising floodwaters in 1960s Old Lahore
* A Lahori orphanage for girls is haunted by birds and eerie visions.

With a meticulously designed cover and beautiful black-and-white illustrations by seven different Pakistani artists, Midnight Doorways is a unique community project highlighting the scope of speculative art and literature in Pakistan.

On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu - Cover Image
On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu
Scheduled Release Date: February 2

Astounding Award—winning author E. Lily Yu’s short fiction has been selected for a dozen best-of-the-year anthologies, and her stories have been finalists for several awards, including but not limited to the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards. On Fragile Waves, her debut novel, is coming soon from Erewhon Books and sounded particularly intriguing to me because of its integration of fairy tales and storytelling and the mentions of lyrical, poetic prose.


The haunting story of a family of dreamers and tale-tellers looking for home in an unwelcoming world.

Firuzeh and her brother Nour are children of fire, born in an Afghanistan fractured by war. When their parents, their Atay and Abay, decide to leave, they spin fairy tales of their destination, the mythical land and opportunities of Australia.

As the family journeys from Pakistan to Indonesia to Nauru, heading toward a hope of home, they must rely on fragile and temporary shelters, strangers both mercenary and kind, and friends who vanish as quickly as they’re found.

When they arrive in Australia, what seemed like a stable shore gives way to treacherous currents. Neighbors, classmates, and the government seek their own ends, indifferent to the family’s fate. For Firuzeh, her fantasy worlds provide some relief, but as her family and home splinter, she must surface from these imaginings and find a new way.

This exquisite and unusual magic realist debut, told in intensely lyrical prose by an award winning author, traces one girl’s migration from war to peace, loss to loss, home to home.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna - Book Cover
The Gilded Ones (The Gilded Ones #1) by Namina Forna
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: February 9

Namina Forna’s debut novel is one of those books I was excited about last year that ended up being pushed back to this year. I’ve been eager to read this YA fantasy series since I came across a fantastic interview with the author at Refinery29, in which she describes The Gilded Ones as “a book of my anger about being a woman.” She expanded on that later in her answer by saying:

It’s just this idea that women, we are seen as objects. It doesn’t matter where in the world we are. That’s why women in my book literally bleed gold. If someone bleeds gold, then you can use that as a basic value, so that’s that metaphor right there.

(And I have a guest post by Namina Forna to share with you next month!)


The most anticipated fantasy of 2021. In this world, girls are outcasts by blood and warriors by choice. Get ready for battle. 

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

The start of a bold and immersive fantasy series for fans of Children of Blood and Bone and Black Panther

The Councillor by E. J. Beaton - Cover Image
The Councillor by E. J. Beaton
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: March 2

E. J. Beaton’s debut novel piqued my interest with the description “Machiavellian fantasy,” and I was only more intrigued by it after learning more about how the author’s study of Renaissance literature was a major influence in this interview at The Fantasy Hive.


This Machiavellian fantasy follows a scholar’s quest to choose the next ruler of her nation amidst lies, conspiracy, and assassination

When the death of Iron Queen Sarelin Brey fractures the realm of Elira, Lysande Prior, the palace scholar and the queen’s closest friend, is appointed Councillor. Publically, Lysande must choose the next monarch from amongst the city-rulers vying for the throne. Privately, she seeks to discover which ruler murdered the queen, suspecting the use of magic.

Resourceful, analytical, and quiet, Lysande appears to embody the motto she was raised with: everything in its place. Yet while she hides her drug addiction from her new associates, she cannot hide her growing interest in power. She becomes locked in a game of strategy with the city-rulers – especially the erudite prince Luca Fontaine, who seems to shift between ally and rival.

Further from home, an old enemy is stirring: the magic-wielding White Queen is on the move again, and her alliance with a traitor among the royal milieu poses a danger not just to the peace of the realm, but to the survival of everything that Lysande cares about.

In a world where the low-born keep their heads down, Lysande must learn to fight an enemy who wears many guises… even as she wages her own battle between ambition and restraint.

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine - Cover Image
A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan #2) by Arkady Martine
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: March 2

A Desolation Called Peace is the sequel to Arkady Martine’s Hugo Award–winning debut novel, A Memory Called Empire, which was also a finalist for the Nebula Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Goodreads Choice Award for Science Fiction, among numerous other awards. I’m about halfway through A Memory Called Empire now and am LOVING it—from the beautiful writing, to its appreciation of words and literature, to the exquisite details and politics, to the way it captures the loneliness and complications of suddenly finding oneself ambassador to a place one is visiting for the first time.


A Desolation Called Peace is the spectacular space opera sequel to Arkady Martine’s genre-reinventing, Hugo Award-winning debut, A Memory Called Empire.

An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.

Their failure will guarantee millions of deaths in an endless war. Their success might prevent Teixcalaan’s destruction—and allow the empire to continue its rapacious expansion.

Or it might create something far stranger . . .


Truth be told, 2020 was not the easiest year for concentrating on reading (or writing for that matter, which is why it took me so much longer than usual to get this post together). But it was a year filled with AMAZING books, and I am so grateful to every author on this list for their work, as well as many others whose stories helped me get through this year.

Cover images link to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Favorite Books of 2020

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K. S. Villoso - Book Cover The Ikessar Falcon by K. S. Villoso - Book Cover

Books of the Year
1–2. The Chronicles of the Bitch Queen #1–2 by K. S. Villoso
The Wolf of Oren-Yaro and The Ikessar Falcon
My Review of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro
Read Excerpts: Book One | Book Two

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro and The Ikessar Falcon were both re-released by Orbit Books in 2020 after having been self published, and the first book in this series was my absolute favorite book of the year until I read the phenomenal sequel, which is even better.

Set in an epic fantasy world whose “worldbuilding is a love letter to the Philippines,” the series is narrated from the first-person perspective of Queen Talyien, who has one of the best, most vivid, distinct voices I have ever read. Her personality shines through every page, bringing the world and events to life, and her opening line hooked me immediately:

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

Alternating between a fast-paced main story and eloquent introspection, Talyien’s tale explores her past and the events that shaped her—primarily those set in motion by her father, a warlord whose civil war ended with his newborn daughter’s betrothal to her enemy’s young son—and the impact they had. Talyien has always carried the weight of being her father’s daughter and shouldered the burden of those duties, and I really loved how I kept wondering just how self aware she truly was as she told her story, both because it added character-focused suspense and seemed fitting for a protagonist who never got to just be herself.

As wonderful as The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is, The Ikessar Falcon takes the series to the next level (and I have been having the hardest time writing a review of it because it’s so amazing I don’t know how to even begin to properly do it justice). It expands on the world and characters, it’s better paced, and it has more magic, adventure, dragons, and revelations. I think this series is epic fantasy at its very best, mainly because of Talyien, a complex character who seems real. Even when I wanted to yell at her for her decisions, I wanted to cheer for her author because the ways she frustrated me felt so very true to Talyien.

For more about Queen Talyien, you can read K. S. Villoso’s 2020 Women in SF&F Month essay on her.

Court of Lions by Somaiya Daud - Cover Image

New Release of the Year
3. Court of Lions (Mirage #2) by Somaiya Daud
My Review of Mirage
Read Excerpts: Mirage | Court of Lions

Court of Lions was one of my top anticipated 2020 releases after reading Somaiya Daud’s excellent debut novel, Mirage, and I loved it every bit as much—maybe even a little more. This Moroccan-inspired science fiction duology follows Amani, a young woman the Emperor has taken from her home and family due to her uncanny resemblance to his heir. She is then trained to be the princess’ body double, and while she experiences the cruelty that made her father want someone to pretend to be her during public events, she also comes to understand her struggles and vulnerabilities as she walks in her shoes. Amani realizes the princess’s demeanor does not necessarily reflect her heart and that it may still be possible for her to decide to be the better version of herself and work toward being better than her father.

Both Mirage and Court of Lions are thoughtful, beautifully written books with a lot of depth. The writing and characterization are superb, particularly how they intertwine to create a lyrical voice perfectly encapsulating Amani’s insight, empathy, and poetic soul. She has compassion, inner strength, and determination, and she considers potential outcomes before taking risks—and decides that the good she can do with her unique position is worth the potential danger of joining the rebellion against the Empire. But it’s a delicate dance as she also comes to care for the Emperor’s heir, a lonely young woman unsure of who she is as a daughter of both the conquered and the conqueror, and begins to develop a complicated potential friendship with her. This relationship is the heart of the books, and I loved how well-developed both characters were—and how the princess became more dimensional, sympathetic, and likable without brushing away her worse actions.

Court of Lions is a fantastic conclusion that continues to explore this dynamic and expands on the world’s history and lore, particularly by revealing more about the tesleet birds. This duology is something rare and special with its gorgeous prose and richly developed characters and setting.

For more about why she used a futuristic setting for this story, read Somaiya Daud’s 2019 Women in SF&F Month essay titled “Ideologies of Space.”

The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso - Cover Image

4. The Obsidian Tower (Rooks & Ruin #1) by Melissa Caruso
My Review
Read an Excerpt

The Obsidian Tower is the first book in a new epic fantasy series set in the same world as Melissa Caruso’s Sword and Fire trilogy (The Tethered MageThe Defiant HeirThe Unbound Empire). All three of those books were among my favorites during their respective publication years, and once again, Melissa Caruso has written one of the most absorbing books I read over the course of a year—and one that is especially notable for managing to thoroughly hook me during one of the times I’d most been struggling to read during the trash fire that was 2020.

Set about 150 years after the previous books, The Obsidian Tower follows Ryx, the granddaughter of a powerful Witch Lord. Given her heritage, Ryx should have awe-inspiring, life-sustaining magic like others in her family—but instead, she has to steer clear of plants, animals, and people because her power kills all that she touches. When she came of age, her grandmother made her the Warden of her castle with its Door to the mysterious black tower that tradition says must remain sealed, but everything goes wrong when a guest ambassador sneaks in, opens the Door, and dies by direct contact with Ryx when the latter tries to prevent her from further meddling.

This became one of those books that I could hardly put down—and better yet, I kept pondering the mysteries surrounding the Black Tower and Ryx’s magic and questioning which characters were trustworthy after I couldn’t avoid putting it down. The Obsidian Tower is an incredibly fun story with entertaining banter, plenty of family drama, and heartwarming friendships-in-the-making (and how I loved Whisper, the castle’s resident fox-like chimera).

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse - Cover Image

5. Black Sun (Between Earth and Sky #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse
Read an Excerpt

Black Sun, the first book in an epic fantasy trilogy inspired by the pre-Columbian Americas, shows what led to momentous events that took place in the holy city of Tova on the day of Convergence, when the winter solstice coincided with a solar eclipse. Though it’s not linear and does delve into previous years, it primarily focuses on the days nearing Convergence and follows four characters: a man whose mother told him he’d become a god, a sea captain with an affinity for water and a Song that can calm it, a Sun Priest in the midst of political intrigue and on the brink of betrayal, and a member of the Carrion Crow clan who has a giant crow companion.

Black Sun is fantasy storytelling at its best. It’s not fast-paced as it leads up to a big finale, but it’s an immersive book that had me riveted from start to finish. It’s a novel that feels much longer than it is, and I mean that as a compliment: there is so much worldbuilding and characterization packed into its pages that it’s awe-inspiring to realize it’s not a massive tome. As a corvid fan, I also loved that there was an avatar of a crow god and a crow rider, but my favorite character was the sea captain. (I knew I would be fond of her from her introduction, in which she woke up in an unfamiliar place and came to realize she was in jail…again.) This is an amazingly vivid book with a world and characters that feel real, further aided by details like the wonderful epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter.

The Empire of Gold by S. A. Chakraborty - Book Cover

6. The Empire of Gold (The Daevabad Trilogy #3) by S. A. Chakraborty
Read an Excerpt/Listen to an Audio Sample

The Kingdom of Copper, the second book in the Daevabad Trilogy, was one of my favorite books of 2019 (and remains my favorite book in this series), and I also very much enjoyed the series conclusion. The trilogy starts with a con woman living in Cairo in the eighteenth century, not knowing why she has unusual healing abilities and can understand languages she’s never studied. Then she accidentally summons a djinn who recognizes her as a member of the powerful family he served and informs her she’s only half human. He brings her to the djinn city of Daevabad, which was ruled by her ancestors until they were overthrown by the current royal family, where she meets the only other character to have a perspective throughout all three books: the younger of the king’s sons, an idealistic warrior who is usually either ardently admired or ardently despised for his deeply held principles.

I love the blend of history and myth and how real the author made both, from the practice of non-magical human medicine to the politics and factions within Daevabad, and the characters and lush writing are fantastic. The relationship between the two primary characters is well developed whether they’re currently on friendlier or rockier terms, and the vivid yet accessible prose pulled me into their stories and the entertaining family drama. The Empire of Gold is a satisfying conclusion to this trilogy, and it continues the trend of avoiding expected paths for characters in certain situations as it explores redemption and looking toward a more just world.

Omake by Karin Lowachee - Cover Image

7. Omake: Stories from the Warchild Universe by Karin Lowachee
My Review of Warchild (Warchild #1)
My Review of Burndive (Warchild #2)
My Review of Cagebird (Warchild #3)

Karin Lowachee’s Warchild series is character-driven science fiction at its very best, and it was wonderful to return to this universe and read more about these characters (and get a sneak peek at the next novel, Matryoshka, which focuses on Cagebird protagonist Yuri’s brother). Although a few of these stories are set before the novels, it would be best to read the previously published books first since these are largely character studies, many of which will not have the same impact without context. Karin Lowachee masterfully creates deep characters with distinct voices who have been through a lot of trauma—usually related to the war between humans and aliens and/or space pirates—and the worst of their experiences tends to be left unsaid in this collection, though understanding what they’ve been through helps understand who they are. I cannot recommend this series highly enough to fans of character-driven stories (but with the caveat that these do explore the effects of war on young people and content warnings include violence, sexual assault/rape, and child abuse/grooming).

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia - Book Cover

8. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My Review
Read an Excerpt

Silvia Moreno-Garcia intertwines Mexican history with the supernatural in her standalone Gothic horror novel following Noemí, a university student living in Mexico City in the 1950s. Noemí visits a mountain town inspired by the British-influenced town Real del Monte to check on her recently married cousin after she sent a letter rambling about poison, ghosts, and whispers in the walls of her new residence. There, Noemí finds herself staying in a creepy old mansion inhabited by a creepy family—both of which only become creepier the more time she’s in their presence.

Mexican Gothic keeps increasing the stakes with each chapter, growing more and more disturbing as Noemí learns more about the family her cousin married into and begins having strange visions and oddly realistic dreams herself. But as haunting as her experiences are, the revelations about how those horrors came to be are even more so, given that they were created because of an all-too-familiar disregard of others and their humanity. Mexican Gothic and its resourceful, loyal, determined heroine stuck with me and piqued my interest in reading more Gothic horror.

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart Book Cover

9. The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire #1) by Andrea Stewart
My Review
Read an Excerpt

The Bone Shard Daughter, the first book in an Asian-inspired epic fantasy trilogy, follows five different characters in an archipelago ruled by a mad-scientist-like Emperor who practices bone shard magic. His subjects are required to give him pieces of their bones that are then used to animate his constructs, creatures made from various sewn-together animal parts that follow his commands and help him run the Empire.

The five perspectives, which range from that of royalty to that of a bookseller who grew up on the streets, merge to show a bigger picture of what life is like in the Empire and the ill treatment of the common people. The Emperor’s daughter tries to regain her memories and uncover the secrets of her father’s bone shard magic while the bookseller gets herself and her girlfriend, a governor’s daughter, entangled in a revolution. Meanwhile, a woman awakens from a fog to wonder why she has no memories of life before the island she’s been living on with a group of people doing the same things every day, and a smuggler inadvertently gains a reputation as a legendary rescuer of children after he does so one time—and keeps agreeing to do so against his better judgment, largely due to the urging of the otter-kitten-like mystery animal he also rescued.

The opening lines of The Bone Shard Daughter made me want to read more, and I really appreciated how most of these stories did not feel like a beginning: these characters were already in the midst of interesting stories, and their situations just became more compelling from there. Although I also very much enjoyed the story of Lin sneaking through the castle and discovering the Emperor’s creepy secrets, my favorite story was that of the smuggler and the adorable animal companion who ends up bringing out the best in him—but in general, it follows characters who are trying to do their best and learn to do better in the process.

For more about the already established relationship between the governor’s daughter and the former street orphan, read Andrea Stewart’s 2020 Women in SF&F Month essay, “Happily Ever Aftermath.”

The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood Book Cover

10. The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A. K. Larkwood
Read an Excerpt

A. K. Larkwood’s debut novel, The Unspoken Name, is about an orc who was raised to be sacrificed to the Unspoken One—but when she’s about to meet her fate, a mage convinces her to come with him and live despite her concerns about upsetting the god. She trains as an assassin and serves the powerful, power-hungry mage who gave her a choice other than death, particularly by aiding him in his obsessive search for an artifact that would allow him to attain great knowledge.

The Unspoken Name drew me in immediately with its atmospheric depiction of life in the Shrine of the Unspoken One, and the different worlds explored via Gate-travel and the sweet romance that developed between the orc and a priestess were also highlights. But my favorite parts of this novel were the interactions between characters—particularly the dynamic between the main character and another one serving the mage, who despise each other but are often forced to work together anyway—and the frequent entertaining line of dialogue or narrative.

For more about why she chose to write about a non-human protagonist in The Unspoken Name, see A. K. Larkwood’s 2020 Women in SF&F Month guest post.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight books I got over the last week that sound like they may be interesting—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (the latter of which are mainly unsolicited books from publishers). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included, along with series information and the publisher’s book description. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

This week I’m highlighting two books I preordered, both of which are related to books that appeared on my favorite books of 2019 list. One of these technically showed up the week before last, but I didn’t post about it then because it was the only book to discuss and I was focusing on writing last week’s book review after having been busy with work projects for a little while.

And, in case you missed it, here is the latest new post:

  • Review of A Deadly Education (Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik — Since I loved Uprooted, I’d been looking forward to Naomi Novik’s latest book inspired by the Scholomance legend, but this one wasn’t really to my taste. Although I did enjoy the story and the dynamic between the main characters, it seemed that there was more explanation than story and I did not enjoy the rambling narrative style.

On to the new books!

The Burning God by R. F. Kuang - Book Cover

The Burning God (The Poppy War #3) by R. F. Kuang

The final book in Astounding Award–winning author R. F. Kuang’s debut epic fantasy trilogy is out now (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The Harper Collins website has a text excerpt and an audio sample from The Burning God, as well as excerpts and audio samples from the previous books in the series, The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic.

When I preordered it, I also signed up to receive an e-copy of The Drowning Faith, some scenes written from Nezha’s point of view. If you missed this, you can now download The Drowning Faith from R. F. Kuang’s website.

Also, R. F. Kuang wrote a Women in SF&F Month guest post shortly before the release of The Poppy War: “Be a Bitch, Eat the Peach,” in which she discusses the Chinese legend of the Moon Lady, her love of Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender, and a little about the women in her series.

The Poppy War was one of my favorite books of 2018, and I thought The Dragon Republic was even better so I’m looking forward to finding out how the series ends (and I am excited for Nezha’s viewpoint!).


The exciting end to The Poppy War trilogy, R. F. Kuang’s acclaimed, award-winning epic fantasy that combines the history of twentieth-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating, enthralling effect.

After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead.

Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much—the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges—and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation.

Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it?

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black - Book Cover

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories (The Folk of the Air) written by Holly Black and illustrated by Rovina Cai

This illustrated collection of Folk of the Air stories about Cardan is out now (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The Hachette website has an excerpt from How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories.

Rovina Cai’s artwork makes this look like a lovely book, and I’m excited about having more to read set in Elfhame!


Return to the captivating world of Elfhame with this illustrated addition to the New York Times bestselling Folk of Air trilogy that began with The Cruel Prince, from award-winning author Holly Black.

Once upon a time, there was a boy with a wicked tongue.

Before he was a cruel prince or a wicked king, he was a faerie child with a heart of stone. #1 New York Times bestselling author, Holly Black reveals a deeper look into the dramatic life of Elfhame’s enigmatic high king, Cardan. This tale includes delicious details of life before The Cruel Prince, an adventure beyond The Queen of Nothing, and familiar moments from The Folk of the Air trilogy, told wholly from Cardan’s perspective.

This new installment in the Folk of the Air series is a return to the heart-racing romance, danger, humor, and drama that enchanted readers everywhere. Each chapter is paired with lavish and luminous full-color art, making this the perfect collector’s item to be enjoyed by both new audiences and old.

Additional Book(s):

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Book Description:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the author of Uprooted and Spinning Silver comes the story of an unwilling dark sorceress who is destined to rewrite the rules of magic.

“The dark school of magic I’ve been waiting for.” Katherine Arden, author of Winternight Trilogy

I decided that Orion Lake needed to die after the second time he saved my life.

Everyone loves Orion Lake. Everyone else, that is. Far as I’m concerned, he can keep his flashy combat magic to himself. I’m not joining his pack of adoring fans.

I don’t need help surviving the Scholomance, even if they do. Forget the hordes of monsters and cursed artifacts, I’m probably the most dangerous thing in the place. Just give me a chance and I’ll level mountains and kill untold millions, make myself the dark queen of the world.

At least, that’s what the world expects. Most of the other students in here would be delighted if Orion killed me like one more evil thing that’s crawled out of the drains. Sometimes I think they want me to turn into the evil witch they assume I am. The school certainly does.

But the Scholomance isn’t getting what it wants from me. And neither is Orion Lake. I may not be anyone’s idea of the shining hero, but I’m going to make it out of this place alive, and I’m not going to slaughter thousands to do it, either.

Although I’m giving serious consideration to just one.

With flawless mastery, Naomi Novik creates a school bursting with magic like you’ve never seen before, and a heroine for the ages—a character so sharply realized and so richly nuanced that she will live on in hearts and minds for generations to come.

Given my love for Uprooted and enjoyment of magic school settings, I had been quite looking forward to the first book in Naomi Novik’s Scholomance trilogy, A Deadly Education. I was even more excited to pick it up after seeing this paragraph about its inspiration on the author’s website:

One of the oldest legends of a school for witchcraft and wizardry is the story of the Scholomance, a hidden institution said to be run by the Devil himself, where the students are cloistered for years, never seeing the sun while learning the darkest of arts. Ever since I first read about this mysterious place in my middle-school library, I’ve been imagining its story. Who are the students in its classrooms and why would they or their parents accept the price the school exacts?

However, I did not find the Scholomance imagined in A Deadly Education particularly compelling, and even though I did like the overall story and the dynamic between the two main characters, these were not strong enough to make up for the amount of dull exposition between the good parts.

The basic premise is that there are a few people in the world who possess magic, and monsters that are drawn to magic are especially drawn to teenagers that possess it. It’s supposed to be safest for these young people to spend their teenage years cloistered in this school without any teachers, which still has monster attacks galore but also has plenty of books and customized assignments allowing students to hone their particular gifts.

For El (short for Galadriel), that gift is an affinity for destructive magic, and as much as she tries to resist it after her great-grandmother prophesied of the horrors she would one day cause, the school keeps trying to push her in that direction. For instance, when she requests a spell for cleaning up the foul monster goo that is all over her room (thanks to Orion Lake’s penchant for monster killing), she receives one spell that would set everything on fire and another that would allow her to enslave people to do as she commands. (After several tries, she does get the type of spell she was hoping for, but it’s in one of the languages she finds most difficult.)

Although I didn’t find the worldbuilding convincing (especially that a bunch of powerful magic-users couldn’t have come up with a better solution than a still-very-dangerous school, at least given what has been revealed so far), I did appreciate that it explored who exactly has the connections and resources to benefit from such a system. I also like where I suspect the prophecy about El is headed, and once I got to know and understand her, I came to like El herself. At first, she was rude and grating, but as she started to form some friendships, her better qualities came to the forefront: her loyalty, her desire for justice, her disdain for others being treated as a means to someone else’s advancement without regard for them as people, her refusal to take the easier path when it clashes with her values.

It’s these best parts of herself that cause Orion to continue to seek her out even after he realizes she’s not actually an evil he needs to keep an eye on. Many of the people surrounding the school’s famed monster hunter see him as someone who can improve their chances of surviving to graduate without caring one whit about him, and sharp-tongued as El is, she is also the only one who treats him like a person instead of a hero. And El finds herself inexplicably fond of Orion in spite of herself, after she realizes he’s genuinely decent and not destroying monsters for glory.

The development of their relationship is fun, as is discovering just how powerful El is—and just how much destruction she could unleash—but these aspects are overshadowed by the many infodumps. El’s first-person perspective is filled with rambling, lengthy explanations of just about anything that comes up: the school and its history, the workings of magic, the various monsters and how to kill them, her past, what she knows about the other students from their families to their magical enclaves, and so forth. A Deadly Education seemed to contain more exposition than actual story, and neither the information conveyed nor the voice were engaging enough to carry it for me. Although I thought it mostly succeeded at making El’s narrative fit her character, I can’t say I enjoyed the long-winded style and the attempts at dark-but-casual-humor largely failed to amuse me. I almost put this book down on several occasions and it wasn’t until the last third or so that it seemed to be going anywhere—but it still didn’t go far enough that I felt like drudging through page after page of dull narration paid off.

Despite that, I actually am a little curious about the next book since I did grow to like El as well as the relationships she was building. I’m not so sure I’ll actually read The Last Graduate once it comes out given that I didn’t feel that the positives outweighed the amount of negatives, but I may give it a try if I hear that it has less explanation and more focus on moving the main protagonist’s story forward.

My Rating: 4/10

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

Read an Excerpt from A Deadly Education

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight books I got over the last week that sound like they may be interesting—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (the latter of which are mainly unsolicited books from publishers). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included, along with series information and the publisher’s book description. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Last week I was sent two ebooks to add to the TBR, but first, here are the latest posts in case you missed either of them:

On to the latest books, both of which sound fantastic!

Omake by Karin Lowachee - Cover Image

Omake: Stories from the Warchild Universe by Karin Lowachee

Omake: Stories from the Warchild Universe just came out in ebook last week. It also contains an excerpt from the upcoming fourth Warchild novel, Matryoshka, which is about Cagebird protagonist Yuri’s younger brother.

I absolutely love the character-focused science fiction books of the Warchild universe—Warchild, Burndive, and Cagebird—and am beyond excited about both this collection and Matryoshka. (Content Warning: These books deal with themes related to trauma and the effects of war on young people, and they include violence and child abuse/pedophilia.)


In the first collection of original stories based in the universe of the award winning novels WARCHILD, BURNDIVE, and CAGEBIRD, characters both familiar and new flesh out the worlds and lives impacted by a generational interstellar war. Included are the author’s story notes, a glossary of the striviirc-na language, and the first chapter of the fourth novel in the universe, MATRYOSHKA.

Winter's Orbit by Everina Maxwell - Cover Image

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Winter’s Orbit, a new version of Everina Maxwell’s debut novel that was originally published online under the title The Course of Honour, will be released on February 2, 2021 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

Tor.com’s announcement has a little more information with quotes from Everina Maxwell and editor Ali Fisher.


Ancillary Justice meets Red, White & Royal Blue in Winter’s Orbit, Everina Maxwell’s gut-wrenching and romantic debut.

A famously disappointing minor royal and the Emperor’s least favorite grandchild, Prince Kiem is summoned before the Emperor and commanded to renew the empire’s bonds with its newest vassal planet. The prince must marry Count Jainan, the recent widower of another royal prince of the empire.

But Jainan suspects his late husband’s death was no accident. And Prince Kiem discovers Jainan is a suspect himself. But broken bonds between the Empire and its vassal planets leaves the entire empire vulnerable, so together they must prove that their union is strong while uncovering a possible conspiracy.

Their successful marriage will align conflicting worlds.

Their failure will be the end of the empire.