I’m delighted to welcome Leanna Renee Hieber to the blog! Her work includes the Strangely Beautiful, Eterna Files, and Spectral City series—plus the one she is discussing today, Time Immemorial, a trilogy of timeslip novellas coming out over the next few weeks. Set in the same universe as her Prism Award–winning space opera novella Dark Nest, the books in this series are being released in ebook and audiobook formats. Time Immemorial, the first book, is out today with Time Inescapable scheduled for release on June 22 and Time Indivisible following in July. Read on to learn more about the series and see the covers of all three books by series co-creator Thom Truelove!

Time Immemorial by Leanna Renee Hieber with Thom Truelove - Book Cover
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Read Time Immemorial or Listen to the Audiobook

Greetings Fantasy Café friends!

This delightful Café has been a part of my life and historical fantasy career since the very beginning. What a delight and honor it is to be here to showcase and cover-reveal a brand-new novella series that ties all my works together in an innovative way, beginning with Time Immemorial, arriving in digital and audio formats today thanks to Scrib’d / Bryant Street Publishing.

Time Immemorial, Time Inescapable and Time Indivisible are novellas that follow the lives of Elizabeth Marlowe, a woman living in 4 concurrent timelines and in each one, someone wants to kill her. Whether Iron Age Britain, 1882, World War II or the 24th century, something is hunting her. There’s a force working to take down not only her, but everyone she’s ever cared about through time.

The concept of Captain Liz Marlowe, co-created by my business partner Thom Truelove, began as a character sketch for a TV pilot. We’d begun work on a script and did some concept photos of the character in some of her different timelines, a character who was intended to be played by yours truly. Most folks know me as a novelist but I trained in theatre and my artistic career began and spanned many years on the professional stage.

During those early concept days, the awesome artist, writer and photographer Sebastian Crane staged and took these shots of me as Liz in several of the character’s different timelines. L’Bet is a druidic priestess, Lizzie is a Victorian scientist, explorer and Spiritualist, Captain Liz is a starship captain in the 24th century.

Leanna Renee Hieber as L'Bet, Druidic Priestess Leanna Renee Hieber as Lizzie Marlowe Leanna Renee Hieber as Captain Liz Marlowe
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Pictured (left to right):

L’Bet, Druidic Priestess, wielding ley line energy – Leanna Renee Hieber, photographed by S. Crane. Additional effects by Thom Truelove

Lizzie Marlowe, 19th Century adventurer & Spiritualist – Leanna Renee Hieber, photographed by S. Crane

Captain Liz Marlowe, 24th Century starship captain – Leanna Renee Hieber, photographed by S. Crane

The original project Liz was created for fell through, but the character was too good not to keep and run with. Some of Liz’s iterations had already begun popping up in my novels; Lizzie Marlowe “The Visitor” shapes Clara Templeton’s life in my Eterna Files trilogy. Marlowe’s starship captain self understandably would tie into my existing Dark Nest Chronicles of psychic space opera.

Liz stays connected from one life to the next by harnessing an ancient, mysterious energy. The concept of “ley lines” is a bit like thinking of Earth’s magical, spiritual and/or life-force energy having latitude and longitude. It was a concept re-popularized in 19th century mysticism and Spiritualism. By manipulating ley lines, Liz can assert a certain power and control over her environment. This becomes increasingly important as she’s trying to survive.

In writing this Time Immemorial set of novellas, sites and connections from my other books organically came into play. One doesn’t have to have read any of my work prior to jumping into this new series, so don’t worry if you haven’t. But if you are familiar with my work and remember a place called Athens Academy from my Strangely Beautiful series, I hope you’ll be glad to see it again. The building plays a key role in protecting our heroes, just as it always has. And just as Lizzie, “The Visitor”, played a vital part in Clara becoming the woman she is in The Eterna Files, Clara shows back up in Time Immemorial to help Lizzie in turn.

Writing a woman living in multiple timelines, time-slipping from one to the next in shifts of consciousness, was a huge puzzle and a unique challenge. The trick was, just like Liz has to master, staying in the moment. Liz takes her life one important moment at a time and that’s how I had to come to this narrative. That’s also how I read the audio books! The chance to perform Captain Liz after all, as the audio book narrator, was so gratifying.

Working with talented and insightful editor Julia O’Connell on this series was a huge help. Her blog, The Gothic Library, has well-established her eye for analysis and she helped me keep a sharp focus on what worked in the draft and what didn’t, honing in on Liz Marlowe’s core emotional needs, motivations and trajectory across the set of novellas. With a character as overwhelming as Liz, editorial guidance was critical.

Time Inescapable by Leanna Renee Hieber with Thom Truelove - Book Cover Time Indivisible by Leanna Renee Hieber with Thom Truelove - Book Cover
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I truly love the blend of mystical and astrological imagery Thom Truelove created as the cover artist for the series. Here’s Thom’s note about his choices for these covers:

“Sacred geometry almost accidentally occurs when rendering the Celestial. The arcs and stars in the covers of the Time Immemorial series were initially adapted from a page of an 1880 star atlas. The representation may be even older. Astronomers have lifted their heads to comprehend the Heavens since… time immemorial. And our hero in this saga was created to explore them. Astrologers looked upward for clues about ourselves and perhaps our fates; the incarnations of Liz are collectively on a comparable – if not parallel – journey, from her perspective in a far more practical and urgent manner. These covers are meant to capture all this thinking and as an invitation for you to join her.”

About Time Immemorial: A Dark Nest Adventure (via Scrib’d):

A masterful tale of multiple timelines; one woman, split between four lives…

Elizabeth Marlowe has always known she was different—even from others with psychic abilities. She doesn’t merely glimpse past or future lives, she lives multiple lives concurrently. She is L’Bet, a druid priestess holding out against the Roman invasion. She is Lizzie, a headstrong Victorian plumbing the depths of both science and Spiritualism. She is Beth, a Women’s Royal Air Force pilot fighting in World War II. And she is Captain Liz, a starship commander forging a path through the stars.

But being different comes with danger. Liz is determined to make it on her own, hiding her unusual ability from all but one trusted companion in each life. Yet, she is haunted by an ominous warning from her old mentor, Saire: Someday they’ll fear you. People fear what they cannot understand, and it is only a matter of time before those with psychic powers are targeted for their difference. When that happens, Liz will have to choose between her life of independence and saving the community she rejected long ago.

Return to the Prism Award-winning world of Leanna Renee Hieber’s Dark Nest trilogy with the start of a new series that spans eras and galaxies!”

We hope you’ll take us up on that invitation to join Liz and live in the moment, across time and space, taking life one critical choice at a time.

Cheers!

Leanna Renee Hieber

http://leannareneehieber.com
http://twitter.com/leannarenee
http://instagram.com/leannareneehieber

The Jasmine Throne
by Tasha Suri
576pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 10/10
Amazon Rating: 4.6/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.5/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.35/5
 

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Description of The Jasmine Throne:

A ruthless princess and a powerful priestess come together to rewrite the fate of an empire in this “fiercely and unapologetically feminist tale of endurance and revolution set against a gorgeous, unique magical world” (S. A. Chakraborty).

Exiled by her despotic brother, princess Malini spends her days dreaming of vengeance while imprisoned in the Hirana: an ancient cliffside temple that was once the revered source of the magical deathless waters but is now little more than a decaying ruin.

The secrets of the Hirana call to Priya. But in order to keep the truth of her past safely hidden, she works as a servant in the loathed regent’s household, biting her tongue and cleaning Malini’s chambers.

But when Malini witnesses Priya’s true nature, their destines become irrevocably tangled. One is a ruthless princess seeking to steal a throne. The other a powerful priestess seeking to save her family. Together, they will set an empire ablaze.

The Jasmine Throne, the first book in The Burning Kingdoms trilogy, was one of my most anticipated books of this year. Although I imagine I’d have wanted to read it based on the description alone, the biggest reason I was so excited for this book was that it was written by the author of Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash, Tasha Suri. Her first two novels were both beautifully written, emotional stories, and I wrote that she’s “a master of crafting poetic, quietly sharp introspection that cuts deep” in my review of her second book.

And The Jasmine Throne only made me feel even more strongly that this is the case—because as much as I loved her other books, I somehow loved her latest even more.

The Jasmine Throne is a bit different from her previous books since it explores the epic fantasy world from multiple perspectives, and it doesn’t have the same feel of hope shining through the darkness with its morally ambiguous main characters. Yet, The Jasmine Throne also has a lot in common with Tasha Suri’s earlier works. It’s a story about people who have had pieces of themselves stolen by an empire, and it has exquisite worldbuilding, both in the construction of society and the fantastic, magical aspects. It explores characters and a variety of interpersonal relationships with depth and nuance, and it has some of the most piercing, gorgeous prose I’ve ever read.

It’s epic fantasy at its very best, so devastatingly excellent and complex that it’s difficult to sum up in a mere book review. But I’ll do what I can…

Inspired in part by Indian epics like the Mahabharata and a conflict for a throne during the Mughal period, The Jasmine Throne is largely about different characters surviving and influencing their world despite the perils of the Empire, with a heavy emphasis on the additional obstacles of patriarchy for the women who are the heart of this story. It’s about the dangers of underestimating these women, even—or maybe especially—when they appear to have been stripped of their power. It’s about the different, subtler ways they navigate their world and how they can use being underestimated to their advantage: whether they are a maidservant, an imprisoned princess, or a wife and mother-to-be with a reputation for being gentle.

Priya, who works in the regent’s household, is a trained badass with a soft heart. She does what she can to help local children who have the rot, a plant-based disease that would be lovely with its sprouting leaves and flowers—at least, if not for the fact that this causes problems for human bodies, interfering with functions like breathing and eventually causing death. Priya was raised at the temple but has to keep this part of her past hidden, since she and the others like her were growing too powerful and were supposedly all burned for their abilities, and she usually avoids facing these memories. Yet, she ends up deciding to become a maidservant at the temple when the chance arises since she’ll be able to earn more money to buy sacred wood for the orphans.

Malini, the Emperor’s sister, has mastered manipulation. She constantly evaluates people, looking for how she can use them, and she shows each person whichever side of herself she believes will make them act as she wants. She’s ruthless and scheming, she can convincingly cry at will, and she is enraged that her brother banished her to a temple for refusing to walk into a fire and burn to death. She spends her days isolated and drugged, unable to wield her clever tongue or clear her foggy mind, but she remains determined to find a way to escape. When she realizes one of the maidservants at the temple is more than she appears, Malini sees an opportunity to use her to do just that—and evokes enough sympathy to be allowed one companion, Priya.

Although Priya and Malini are the two most prominent characters, there are other notable viewpoints, including that of the regent’s wife, Bhumika. She has a reputation for gentleness since she often takes in orphans, and though she does use her status to save people, her meekness is a guise. Her goal is to save as many as possible, but she also has a harder heart than her sister Priya and puts the survival of her and hers first: she does not believe that saving a life is worth the risk of exposing their shared history as temple children. Bhumika is calculating with her own spy network of loyal maidservants, and she has the wisdom to know when she should keep fighting and when it’s time to move on to the next plan. It’s difficult to pick one favorite character since there are four I really loved, but if I were forced to pick just one, it would be Bhumika.

Each character’s motivations make sense when viewed from their own perspectives, and all of them have enough dimension to be at least somewhat sympathetic, even if they end up doing some dark things by the end. I really appreciated this aspect, and I also found seeing these characters through each other’s eyes deeply compelling. Their relationships are complex, and I especially loved Priya and Bhumika’s sisterly bond. They care about one another, but they’re not close and there is tension that simmers between them due to their personal history.

Many of these relationships are not static, including theirs, and the evolution of theirs is wonderfully done—as is the romance that develops between Priya and Malini as they bond over stories, wants and wishes, and (eventually) the definition of “monstrous.” Priya is drawn to the elegant princess from the start, and being Priya, she of course wants to help her. Malini thinks Priya is unusually interesting, someone who is overlooked by most people but is so much more than she seems. But, being Malini, she also resents having actual feelings for someone that give her pause about using them the way she thinks she should.

The way Tasha Suri brings these characters to life is phenomenal, and she also makes the sense of place and the fantastic elements exceptionally vivid. She made me feel the terror of the dangerous climb up the “mountain of the dead” to the temple, and she made me see the intermingling beauty and horror of the rot. She made me fear the eerily quiet forest, the home of the sacred wood that slowed the plant disease but also an area where time did not flow the usual way.

This is a novel that seems to be setting up larger events for the next two books in the series, and it really escalates toward the end (which is filled with memorable scenes!). Regardless of pace, I found the entire book completely immersive, and I think that those later events were all the more impactful for the foundation so carefully laid before them.

The Jasmine Throne comes with my highest recommendation to those who share my taste for beautifully written, character-driven epic fantasy. Although I tend to come across several books a year that are exceptional, it’s rare that I come across one like this—a book that seems perfect to me in every way, one that is not only technically wonderful but also one that has my whole heart.

My Rating: 10/10

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

Read an Excerpt from The Jasmine Throne

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. 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. Book cover links are affiliate links to Bookshop, and I earn from qualifying purchases.

This post technically should have gone up last weekend, but it was postponed since I hadn’t been expecting to have any books to highlight then. One of these books showed up in the mail on Friday and I purchased the other later the same day, but I had already planned to spend my weekend blogging time on a post for the following Monday.

That post and the others that have gone up since the last one of these features are here in case you missed any of them:

  • Guest Post by The Promised Queen Author Jeffe Kennedy — Jeffe Kennedy discussed the illusion of “making it” as a writer and there being times career authors need to reinvent themselves.
  • The Best of World SF Giveaway and Excerpt — An excerpt from the introduction by editor Lavie Tidhar and a giveaway of a copy of this anthology, just released in the US last week. (Giveaway ends June 7; those from the continental US are eligible to win.)
  • Review of Hall of Smoke by H. M. Long — There were a lot of things that felt different to me about this story of a priestess of the Goddess of War trying to make things right after disobeying her goddess. I really appreciated that about it and enjoyed it overall, although there were a couple of stretches I found a bit dull in the first half and it didn’t have quite enough exploration of in-depth character relationships for my personal taste.

And now, the latest books!

The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker - Book Cover

The Keeper of Night (The Keeper of Night #1) by Kylie Lee Baker

Kylie Lee Baker’s debut novel, a dark YA fantasy about a soul collector in 1890s Japan, will be out on October 12 (hardcover, ebook). The Keeper of Night is the first book in a duology of the same name, and the second book is scheduled for release in fall 2022.

This book’s description intrigued me, and I only found it even more intriguing after reading an interview with the author at one of my favorite book blogs, The Quiet Pond. This Q&A was included with the reveal of the gorgeous cover created by Jessica Coppet and Kathleen Oudit, and Kylie Lee Baker discussed the cover art and the book’s inspirations, including Shinto mythology, Japanese folklore, and her own experiences:

“There are a lot of fantasy stories where someone is half human and half god, or half fairy, half monster, etc. As a biracial person, being torn between two worlds isn’t just a fantasy trope to me, but something I’ve dealt with my whole life. I wanted to create a character who was part of two different “species” (Reaper and Shinigami) but also two different races, in order to really intensely examine what it’s like to not belong anywhere. I wanted a protagonist who was powerful because of her mixed background, even if she doesn’t always realize it. So the idea for Ren Scarborough came first, and the rest of the book grew around her from my morbid love of stories about death and the afterlife, as well as the Reapers in Black Butler, one of my favorite shows.”

Read the interview on The Quiet Pond.

 

A girl of two worlds, accepted by none… A half Reaper, half Shinigami soul collector seeks her destiny in this haunting and compulsively readable dark fantasy set in 1890s Japan.

Death is her destiny.

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has been collecting souls in the London streets for centuries. Expected to obey the harsh hierarchy of the Reapers who despise her, Ren conceals her emotions and avoids her tormentors as best she can.

When her failure to control her Shinigami abilities drives Ren out of London, she flees to Japan to seek the acceptance she’s never gotten from her fellow Reapers. Accompanied by her younger brother, the only being on earth to care for her, Ren enters the Japanese underworld to serve the Goddess of Death…only to learn that here, too, she must prove herself worthy. Determined to earn respect, Ren accepts an impossible task—find and eliminate three dangerous Yokai demons—and learns how far she’ll go to claim her place at Death’s side.

The Orchid Throne by Jeffe Kennedy - Book Cover

The Orchid Throne (Forgotten Empires #1) by Jeffe Kennedy

The Orchid Throne, the first book in a romantic fantasy trilogy by RITA and RT Reviewers’ Choice Award–winning author Jeffe Kennedy, is available in mass market paperback and ebook (excerpt).

The Forgotten Empires trilogy was recently completed with the release of The Promised Queen, which comes after The Fiery Crown.

 

In the Forgotten Empires magic is forbidden, dreams are destiny, and love is the greatest power of all…Perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas, the lush romantic fantasy world of the Forgotten Empires series will sweep you away.

A PRISONER OF FATE
As Queen of the island kingdom of Calanthe, Lia will do anything to keep her people free—and her secrets safe—from the mad tyrant who rules the mainland. Guided by a magic ring of her father’s, Lia plays the political game with the cronies the emperor sends to her island. In her heart, she knows that it’s up to her to save herself from her fate as the emperor’s bride. But in her dreams, she sees a man, one with the power to build a better world—a man whose spirit is as strong, and whose passion is as fierce as her own…

A PRINCE AMONG MEN
Conrí, former Crown Prince of Oriel, has built an army to overthrow the emperor. But he needs the fabled Abiding Ring to succeed. The ring that Lia holds so dear to her heart. When the two banished rulers meet face to face, neither can deny the flames of rebellion that flicker in their eyes—nor the fires of desire that draw them together. But in this broken world of shattered kingdoms, can they ever really trust each other? Can their fiery alliance defeat the shadows of evil that threaten to engulf their hearts and souls?

Hall of Smoke
by H. M. Long
432pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 4.4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.56/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.88/5
 

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Hall of Smoke, H. M. Long’s Viking-inspired epic fantasy debut novel, follows a priestess of the Goddess of War as she tries to set things right after having failed her deity—and discovers there’s far more to her world and its pantheon than she’s been taught when she becomes entangled in a war between the gods of the Old and New Worlds.

Hessa was only a child when she learned she was destined to serve Eang, Goddess of War. During her fifth year, she killed two raiders attacking her family, though she did not not understand how she did so and could only remember the feeling of heat in her blood and mouth afterward. Later, Hessa was told she was one of those who possessed the goddess’ Fire, hot magic with a variety of purposes including slaying one’s enemies, healing oneself, and writing runes. She and a cousin with the same gift were sent to the Hall of Smoke, where the High Priestess trained them to wield their power.

The main story begins several years later with Hessa begging her goddess to spare her life. A few years before, Eang had tasked her with killing a man who would come to the Hall of Smoke, but on the day he arrived, Hessa welcomed him as a guest before she realized who he was—and could not bring herself to break Hearth Law and murder the kindly visitor when she realized he was the one she’d been commanded to kill. After being stripped of her priestess collar and banished from the Hall for her disobedience, Hessa went to a shrine to plead with her goddess for mercy. But she received no answer and as she continued to await one, attackers descended on the Hall and killed nearly everyone there, including her husband and the cousin she had grown up with—leaving Hessa as one of the last with Eang’s power, even though she’s no longer technically a priestess.

Hessa blames herself for the massacre, fearing that the timing is not coincidental and it would not have happened if she had just slain the visitor as her goddess willed. She determines to find the traveler she let live and complete her goddess-given task, hoping that she’ll then be forgiven and reunited with her husband in the High Halls one day.

But Hessa’s quest leads her to question much of what she thought she knew to be true about the gods and their history, and she begins to wonder how much faith she should have in Eang, a goddess who wants a man dead for reasons she will not reveal—a goddess who failed to protect her people and seems to be growing weaker.

H. M. Long tells a great story narrated from Hessa’s first-person perspective in Hall of Smoke, and I especially appreciated how it felt different despite having a lot of familiar elements. The various cultures and gods with rather human flaws and emotions could be interesting with their mysterious motivations, but other than Hessa’s goddess, they did not seem especially unique or fleshed out. Yet, Hessa’s tale of survival and discovery wandered down unexpected paths, and the execution of her story felt refreshingly different to me for a combination of reasons.

In part, I think that’s because death and destruction are treated seriously in Hall of Smoke. The book’s description calls Hessa a “battle-hardened priestess of the Goddess of War,” and though she certainly has fought and killed—and fights and kills in this novel, which does indeed have violence—she’s not the type of wisecracking, “edgy” protagonist with a penchant for dark humor that has become rather common. Sure, she can be hot tempered and quick to summon her magic at times, especially when near people she doesn’t trust, but she also tries to reign that in when she realizes what she’s doing (as long as she’s not actually in battle at the time). She and her people are shown to be protectors rather than aggressors, and Hessa doesn’t revel in dealing death: after all, her entire journey stems from her decision to disobey her goddess’ command and let someone live. Hessa was taken aback by the fact that the man she was told she was destined to kill was not an obvious bad guy who murdered children or some such thing, but instead seemed to be the amiable sort of person she thought was all too rare in the world—and she could not understand why her goddess would want him dead or bring herself to end the life of someone who seemed unusually kind.

She does later curse herself for what she sees as her weakness, thinking that he must have sent the horde that massacred her people and that they’d still be alive if she’d just done as she’d been told. But despite that and the book’s description mentioning her path towards revenge, I didn’t think Hessa seemed particularly vengeful, even after she decided she needed to do what her goddess commanded. The path toward redemption also mentioned seems more applicable: she wanted forgiveness from her goddess and the knowledge that she would be reunited with her loved ones after her own death more than anything. And perhaps it’s because she’s not consumed by a desire for revenge that she’s able to evaluate new information in the course of her travels and be (somewhat) open to realizing things may be more complicated than she’d thought. Though she is reluctant to let go of what she’s always believed, she’s also not so stubbornly set in her ways that she can’t reconsider and adapt her views when presented with new knowledge that she can’t deny to be truth.

Of course, that by itself doesn’t make this novel unique, and I don’t think I can adequately put into words all the factors that went into making Hessa’s story seem atypical to me. Her journey felt natural with its combination of her being swept into events bigger than her but also making some choices that had an impact, and it didn’t follow a pattern of her running into the same obstacles over and over again, constantly being in situations designed to showcase certain character traits: she just took things in stride and kept persevering. Hall of Smoke is very focused on Hessa and other characters come and go without getting a chance to know them well, yet she doesn’t do everything on her own and still has attachments and forms new ones—particularly with a friend who survived the massacre, whose newborn son Hessa vows to protect, and a man she meets in her travels, who remains a platonic friend without any hint of romance.

And that is a large part of why I liked but did not love Hall of Smoke: that relationships between characters were not explored in depth. My favorite part of reading tends to be learning about the characters through their interactions and various relationships with others, and even the friendships that were most central to this novel didn’t seem especially developed. Hessa obviously cared about those closest to her and would go to great lengths to help them, but I did feel like I was told more about her bonds with others than I saw them come to life on the page.

There were also parts of the novel that I found rather dull, especially during the first half. I really enjoyed the earlier chapters that focused on the more immediate aftermath of Hessa’s disobedience and how she came to be a priestess, as well as her run-ins with Eang’s mysterious, flirtatious son who believes he is a godly gift to women (not just because he is supernaturally beautiful but because he can provide them with children with a decent chance of being immortal, and parenting is so much less worrisome with an immortal child). But aside from those parts, there were stretches throughout the first half that were too heavy on traveling, meeting a lot of new people, and introducing a lot of different names of gods to be compelling to me, although I did like the parts that involved Hessa’s goddess and were more personal to her. That said, I did find the second part of the novel solidly engaging even though it had some of the same features, and I think that’s because later parts did seem more personal for Hessa, rather than merely expanding the scope of the world and revealing new information about it.

Hall of Smoke didn’t stand out to me as a must-read novel since it didn’t always keep me riveted, but I did appreciate the unpredictability of Hessa’s story—and the storytelling in this debut was strong enough that I am a bit curious about what will happen in the standalone sequel set 10 years later, Temple of No God, which is scheduled for release in January 2022.

My Rating: 7/10

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

Read an Excerpt from Hall of Smoke

Read H. M. Long’s Women in SF&F Month 2021 Guest Post, “Creativity in Crisis”

The Best of World SF: Volume 1 comes out in the US on June 1—tomorrow—and I am thrilled to be giving away a copy and sharing an excerpt from it today! This anthology contains stories by authors from twenty-three countries and includes works by Aliette de Bodard, Tade Thompson, R.S.A. Garcia, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Zen Cho, and more (see the book description below for a list of the stories, authors, and translators). Read on for an excerpt from the introduction by editor Lavie Tidhar and to learn more about entering the giveaway.

THE BEST OF WORLD SF Edited by Lavie Tidhar - Book Cover

About THE BEST OF WORLD SF:

Twenty-six new short stories representing the state of the art in international science fiction.

The future is coming. It knows no bounds, and neither should science fiction.

They say the more things change the more they stay the same. But over the last hundred years, science fiction has changed. Vibrant new generations of writers have sprung up across the globe, proving the old adage false. From Ghana to India, from Mexico to France, from Singapore to Cuba, they draw on their unique backgrounds and culture, changing the face of the genre one story at a time.

Prepare yourself for a journey through the wildest reaches of the imagination, to visions of Earth as it might be and the far corners of the universe. Along the way, you will meet robots and monsters, adventurers and time travellers, rogues and royalty.

In The Best of World SF, award-winning author Lavie Tidhar acts as guide and companion to a world of stories, from never-before-seen originals to award winners, from twenty-three countries and seven languages. Because the future is coming and it belongs to us all.

Stories:

“Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard
“Debtless” by Chen Qiufan (trans. from Chinese by Blake Stone-Banks)
“Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad
“Virtual Snapshots” by Tlotlo Tsamaase
“What The Dead Man Said” by Chinelo Onwualu
“Delhi” by Vandana Singh
“The Wheel of Samsara” by Han Song (trans. from Chinese by the author)
“Xingzhou” by Yi-Sheng Ng
“Prayer” by Taiyo Fujii (trans. from Japanese by Kamil Spychalski)
“The Green Ship” by Francesco Verso (trans. from Italian by Michael Colbert)
“Eyes of the Crocodile” by Malena Salazar Maciá (trans. from Spanish by Toshiya Kamei)
“Bootblack” by Tade Thompson
“The Emptiness in the Heart of all Things” by Fabio Fernandes
“The Sun From Both Sides” by R.S.A. Garcia
“Dump” by Cristina Jurado (trans. from Spanish by Steve Redwood)
“Rue Chair” by Gerardo Horacio Porcayo (trans. from Spanish by the author)
“His Master’s Voice” by Hannu Rajaniemi
“Benjamin Schneider’s Little Greys” by Nir Yaniv (trans. from Hebrew by Lavie Tidhar)
“The Cryptid” by Emil H. Petersen (trans. from Icelandic by the author)
“The Bank of Burkina Faso” by Ekaterina Sedia
“An Incomplete Guide…” by Kuzhali Manickavel
“The Old Man with The Third Hand” by Kofi Nyameye
“The Green” by Lauren Beukes
“The Last Voyage of Skidbladnir” by Karin Tidbeck
“Prime Meridian” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
“If At First You Don’t Succeed” by Zen Cho

Excerpted from the introduction of The Best of World SF, by Lavie Tidhar. Head of Zeus, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

They say the more things change the more they stay the same, but things do change, and science fiction has to change in order to survive. For too long, the future was dominated by one country and one viewpoint: the future was white, male and American, and it was going to stay that way: until it didn’t.

I look at The Best of World SF with something like awe, because it doesn’t feel real. As I write this, it isn’t yet real. I look to the future and imagine holding the book, reading the introduction. I have read anthologies and I’ve been published in anthologies but I never thought I would see one like this. The sheer breadth of talent from across the planet gathered here is something no one could imagine twenty years ago. Publishing certainly wasn’t interested. And it wasn’t just then. I spent ten years trying to get someone, anyone, to publish this book, or one like it. The last time I tried it took the publisher an hour to turn it down.

Less than an hour, if I’m being honest.

If you make yourself enough of a pain, eventually people notice. Or so I tried to tell myself. In 2008, I convinced my friend Jason Sizemore to publish an anthology of international speculative fiction. Jason runs a small press out of Kentucky, of all places, and is a stubborn man, and I told him he will make no money doing this but that it will be good. We put together The Apex Book of World SF out of string and sticks and polish and buttons and it came out in 2009. No one had done a book like that before, not in this way, not with an editor who himself didn’t belong to the Anglo world. And I was right: we didn’t make any money, but the book was good.

It was a ridiculous thing to do. And no one was interested. Reviewers didn’t even know how to talk about the book. It wasn’t exotic, it wasn’t strange: it was just a collection of stories written by people from places like Malaysia and China, Croatia and the Philippines, and the only thing they did share was that they weren’t a part of Anglo-American science fiction. And they were good.

So we did it again. I edited The Apex Book of World SF 2 in 2012. And then we did it again with The Apex Book of World SF 3 in 2014. We published writers no one had heard of – then. Aliette de Bodard and Tade Thompson and Lauren Beukes and Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Nnedi Okorafor’s in there. So are Hannu Rajaniemi and Amal El-Mohtar. Between them, now, these writers are science fiction. They have the awards and the hardcovers in the bookstores and the film and TV deals. It was easy to see this is how it should be, back then, because they were good. But then you’d talk to publishers and they’d say things like, ‘Oh, we don’t publish books set in Nigeria.’ And that would be the end of the discussion. I had never heard a more ridiculous thing. I went and wrote a science fiction novel set in Israel in the sure and liberating knowledge no one would publish it, and it came out from an independent press and won a couple of awards and ten editions in translation, at last count. And I had to face up to the fact that maybe the world really was changing.

Mahvesh Murad came on board to edit The Apex Book of World SF 4. I think she is the first editor from Pakistan to edit a genre anthology, and she went on to do more, and get nominated for a World Fantasy Award, though not for that book, because still no one cared.

Cristina Jurado came on board to edit The Apex Book of World SF 5, and it was great, and there we stopped. And I tried to sell a bigger version of those books to publishers large and small, and kept hearing that familiar ‘no’ – or, more commonly, not hearing anything at all. I watched those writers I published early on become established, and I watched talented new writers pouring in to the new magazines and the electronic publications, and they were terrific. Some of them are in this volume. And some of the old gang are here too.

Science fiction has to change to stay relevant. It deals in futures, after all. And the Internet was a great liberating force for those of us who lived elsewhere, who spoke English in a strange accent, who wrote in it as a second language or not at all. There are more translators now, enthusiasts mostly, but there are more places open to those stories now. They weren’t there before. The editors weren’t there and the publications weren’t there and we had to create them somehow. The future couldn’t stay uniform or it would die.

And we weren’t there. There was a time where every year Aliette de Bodard and me would be placed on the same panel at the same SF convention to talk about the same thing in front of the same people, and one year a guy accused me of taking publication spots from native speakers and why can’t we publish in our own countries? And the next year he repeated the question because he said he didn’t think I understood him the first time he’d asked.

But I did understand. And I never did that panel again after that. In fact I try not to do panels at all and let other people speak instead, and I refuse to talk about translation. I have my own body of novels now and my own awards, but for some reason I never get asked to talk about that – that privilege is still reserved for ‘proper’ writers. Things change, but slowly…

Lavie Tidhar is the World Fantasy Award-winning author of Osama (2011), The Violent Century (2013), the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize-winning A Man Lies Dreaming (2014), and the Campbell Award-winning Central Station (2016), in addition to many other works and several other awards. He works across genres, combining detective and thriller modes with poetry, science fiction and historical and autobiographical material. His work has been compared to that of Philip K. Dick by the Guardian and the Financial Times, and to Kurt Vonnegut’s by Locus.

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen AT fantasybookcafe DOT com with the subject “The Best of World SF Giveaway.” One entry per household and the winner will be randomly selected. Those from the continental US are eligible to win. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Monday, June 7. The winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them after 24 hours has passed, a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winner. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Update: The giveaway has ended.

I’m delighted to have a guest post by Jeffe Kennedy to share with you today! She has published more than 50 works, including The Twelve Kingdoms trilogy, whose final volume won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Fantasy Romance, and The Uncharted Realms, a series set in the same universe whose first installment won the RITA Award for Paranormal Romance. Her recent books include Dark Wizard, The Sorceress Queen and the Pirate Rogue, and her latest novel, The Promised Queen—the final book in the romantic high fantasy trilogy Forgotten Empires, which just released yesterday!

 

The Promised Queen by Jeffe Kennedy - Book Cover
Read an Excerpt

About THE PROMISED QUEEN (Forgotten Empires #3):

Claim the hand that wears the ring, and the empire falls.

Conrí, former Crown Prince of Oriel, claimed the hand that wears the Abiding Ring, but the prophecy remains unfulfilled. Queen Euthalia of Calanthe returned to her island kingdom, but broken in mind and body. With the blood of war unleashing ancient terrors, Calanthe isn’t the haven it once was.

Lia must use her magical bond with Calanthe to save their people while Con fights to hold off the vengeful Emperor Anure and his wizards. Con and Lia will have to trust in each other—and in love—to fend off ultimate disaster.

I remember vividly the first time someone told me I “had made it” as an author. It was summer of 2000 and I’d sold an essay to Redbook for a dollar a word. I’d been writing and publishing personal essays and creative nonfiction for about six years at that point and that $3,000 sale was the pinnacle.

It still is in some ways. I’ve never again made that much money on a work that short. I have novels that still haven’t earned that much.

But at that heady time, more than one person congratulated me. “Wow, you’ve made it!” they’d exclaim, as if I’d crossed some invisible finish line into a land where people would regularly hand me checks for my writing.

Reader: that did not happen.

The truth is, there is no such land. If you ask any author who’s been around a while about times their career crashed, was “over,” when they had to reinvent themselves, I can promise you they will have stories to tell. It is, in fact, one of my favorite questions to ask when I have the opportunity to listen to a career author talk about their life and work. Not because I’m a rubbernecker, but because I learn so much from those stories. At first, I hesitated to ask, feeling uncertain as to whether they’d be insulted or offended by the implication that they might not have sailed the literary seas with golden sails and treasure in the hold.

“Has there ever been a time,” I’d ask with careful phrasing, “when you had to reinvent yourself as a writer?”

Invariably, they laugh, roll their eyes, and say, “Oh, yes. Let me tell you…”

Listen to what they tell you, because the take-home message is always the same. “Making it” is an illusion. Authors who sell their debut book to great acclaim and showers of money? They struggle with later books. Authors who hit it big with a later book and finally, finally receive the attention their books so richly deserve? They spent years scrapping and reinventing before the lightning struck their diligently placed assembly of lightning rods. And they might have to do it again.

Even back in that celebrational summer of 2000, I knew I hadn’t made it. When people said so, I nodded and smiled. But the editor who bought that essay had left the magazine before the issue even went to press, and editor who replaced her brushed me off. I was going to need a lot more $3,000 essays to quit my day job—and most of them paid far less than that. Especially when, not very long after that, the internet billowed into an inferno of free written words. Paid writing gigs vanished almost overnight. Entire magazine and newspaper staffs were laid off. And a whole lot of them decided to try their hand at the blogging thing to make a living.

I kept at it, writing my essays, honing my craft, sending out queries. Going to work at my day job.

In 2004, my first book was published. A university press published my collection of my essays—including the one that had been in Redbook—to lovely acclaim and very little money. I was called “a writer to watch.” Agents contacted me about my next project. One that absolutely none of them liked.

Over the ensuing couple of years, I fought the rising panic at the feeling of an opportunity slipping from my grasp. Once again, I’d “made it”—and found myself nowhere at all. I kept working on my narrative nonfiction project, despite that I could see people’s eyes roll back in their heads when I described it. When my editor at the university press read it, she told me to put it in a drawer for a year, that I wasn’t ready to write it yet.

A year… and my opportunity well and duly lost. I’d never felt so far from having made it. I felt like I’d gone backward.

But, the only way to keep from going backward is to go forward. I kept at it. Because I’d been instructed to put my much-unloved narrative nonfiction project in a drawer, I played around with some fiction. And I sold some stories, then some novellas, then a novel, then a trilogy. Fifteen years after that $3K essay sale, I finally quit the day job.

I now have 56 published titles—including that first essay collection—and you know what? I still haven’t found that “made it” land where people just hand me money and I don’t have to worry about selling my writing. Interestingly enough, somewhere along the way, people stopped saying that I’d made it. Oh, every once in a while, an interviewer asks how and when I knew I’d made it. I try really hard not to snicker as I compose my expression and try to give a meaningful answer.

But when someone asks, “Has there ever been a time when you had to reinvent yourself as a writer?” Then I let myself laugh. I roll my eyes and lean forward. Let me tell you some stories…

Photo of Jeffe Kennedy
Photo by Pritschow Photography

Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning, best-selling author who writes fantasy with romantic elements and contemporary romance. She serves on the Board of Directors for Science Fiction Writers of America as a Director at Large.

Her recent works include the high fantasy trilogy The Chronicles of Dasnaria, in the same world as her award-winning fantasy series The Twelve Kingdoms and The Uncharted Realms. She is a hybrid author, and also self-publishes a romantic fantasy series, Sorcerous Moons. Her books have won the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2015 and won Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award in 2017. The Dragons of Summer, a novella in The Uncharted Realms series, was also a RITA finalist in 2019.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website, every Sunday at the SFF Seven blog, on Facebook, on Goodreads and on Twitter.