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 was an excellent week for new books, partly because Friday was my birthday but also because a book I had pre-ordered and a couple of ARCs showed up. This weekend’s post is focusing on the birthday gifts because I covered the other three books in 30 Anticipated 2021 Speculative Fiction Book Releases a few weeks ago:

  • Midnight Doorways: Fables from Pakistan by Usman T. Malik
  • The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie Liu
  • She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

This will be the only Leaning Pile of Books post this month since the tenth annual Women in SF&F Month guest posts start on Wednesday. I’m very excited about this year’s event, and I’ll be posting more about it on Tuesday!

The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia A. McKillip - Book Cover

The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia A. McKillip

Since picking up her collection Wonders of the Invisible World in 2012, I have wanted to read everything World Fantasy Award–winning author Patricia A. McKillip has written. (And I am still thrilled that she wrote a Women in SF&F Month guest post in 2013!)

Though I have now read more of McKillip’s work—and discovered a couple of new favorite books in the process, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and The Changeling Sea—there is still a lot of her oeuvre left for me to read. But I’ve been regularly adding her books to my TBR, and now The Bards of Bone Plain is among those I’m looking forward to reading for the very first time.

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from The Bards of Bone Plain. (This is no longer McKillip’s latest fantasy book, although that’s what the description below says.)


The latest “rich, resonant” (Publishers Weekly) fantasy from the World Fantasy Award-winning author of The Bell at Sealey Head.

Eager to graduate from the school on the hill, Phelan Cle chose Bone Plain for his final paper because he thought it would be an easy topic. Immortalized by poets and debated by scholars, it was commonly accepted-even at a school steeped in bardic tradition-that Bone Plain, with its three trials, three terrors, and three treasures, was nothing more than a legend, a metaphor. But as his research leads him to the life of Nairn, the Wandering Bard, the Unforgiven, Phelan starts to wonder if there are any easy answers…

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson - Book Cover

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

The Bird King is Ms. Marvel co-creator and writer G. Willow Wilson’s second novel, a standalone historical fantasy book set on the Iberian Peninsula in 1491. Her first novel, Alif the Unseen, won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.

Buzzfeed News has an excerpt from The Bird King. (This is a book I wanted to read even more after looking at a sample, although I don’t think this is the same one I read.)


From award-winning author G. Willow Wilson, The Bird King is an epic journey set during the reign of the last sultan in the Iberian peninsula at the height of the Spanish Inquisition.

G. Willow Wilson’s debut novel Alif the Unseen was an NPR and Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and it established her as a vital American Muslim literary voice. Now she delivers The Bird King, a stunning new novel that tells the story of Fatima, a concubine in the royal court of Granada, the last emirate of Muslim Spain, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker. Hassan has a secret—he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls? As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate.

Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke - Book Cover

Hollow Empire (Poison Wars #2) by Sam Hawke

Hollow Empire is the sequel to Sam Hawke’s Aurealis, Ditmar, and Norma K Hemming Award–winning debut novel, City of Lies. The Tor-Forge blog has an excerpt from City of Lies and one from Hollow Empire.

City of Lies was one of my favorite books of 2018, an epic fantasy story following two siblings whose city is suddenly under siege for unknown reasons. The two narrators, a poisons expert/food taster and a spy, are both wonderful characters doing their best to pursue truth and justice in the midst of a bad situation. I found Kalina’s characterization particularly compelling, and you can read more why Sam Hawke wrote this woman “with a chronic illness who couldn’t fight to save her life” in her 2019 Women in SF&F Month guest post, “The Sewing Test.”


Moving from poison and treachery to war and witchcraft, Sam Hawke’s Poison Wars continue with Hollow Empire, a fabulous epic fantasy adventure perfect for fans of Robin Hobb, Naomi Novik, and Scott Lynch.

Poison was only the beginning…. The deadly siege of Silasta woke the ancient spirits, and now the city-state must find its place in this new world of magic. But people and politics are always treacherous, and it will take all of Jovan and Kalina’s skills as proofer and spy to save their country when witches and assassins turn their sights to domination.