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

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

One soon-to-be-released dark fantasy novel came in the mail last week: a sequel that I’m very excited about!

Cover of Two Twisted Crowns by Rachel Gillig

Two Twisted Crowns (The Shepherd King #2) by Rachel Gillig

The second book in The Shepherd King duology will be released on October 17 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook).

One Dark Window, the first book in this series, was one of my favorite books of 2022. It was one of the most fun, difficult-to-put-down books I read last year, plus I enjoyed the lore, the ending, and the monster/maiden dynamic. Rachel Gillig discussed the latter in her Women in SF&F Month 2022 essay, which begins as follows:

The monster/maiden dynamic is a familiar one. It wears many faces. It lives in all genres, particularly fantasy, dispersing itself throughout the subgenres. It’s been a favorite trope of mine since I watched Beauty and the Beast at the ripe age of five. But this blog won’t be about romance or tension between the monster and maiden. Rather, I’d like to reflect on, in writing my own monster/maiden book, the built-in constraints of the maiden, and how the foil of the monster can help undo them.

Part of why the monster/maiden dynamic is so successful is because it comes with integrated conflict—light against dark. The maiden and the monster are natural foils. Her virtue and beauty stand in contrast to the monster’s atrocities—physical or moral. Over the span of the story, it is often the maiden’s virtue that wins the day. Her goodness erodes the monster’s darkness.

Don’t get me wrong—I love these stories to my core. But in the world of fantasy, where a reader can escape so thoroughly into a book, I wanted to experience a different kind of maiden. One whose contribution is not merely to redeem others. A maiden who does not deliver the monster, but becomes one herself.

The rest of “Maidens, Monsters, and the Lines That Blur Between Them” can be read here.


In the dark, spellbinding sequel to One Dark Window, Elspeth must confront the weight of her actions as she and Ravyn embark on a perilous quest to save the kingdom—perfect for readers of Hannah Whitten’s For the Wolf and Alexis Henderson’s The Year of the Witching.

Gripped by a tyrant king and in the thrall of dark magic, the kingdom is in peril. Elspeth and Ravyn have gathered most of the twelve Providence Cards, but the last—and most important—one remains to be found: the Twin Alders. If they’re going to find the card before Solstice and set free the kingdom, they will need to journey through the dangerous mist-cloaked forest. The only one who can lead them through is the monster that shares Elspeth’s head: the Nightmare.

And he’s not eager to share any longer.

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

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

It’s been a little while since one of these posts since I bought some books right before or during vacation, and then I never went back and caught up. Here’s what has been posted since the last feature in case you missed it:

  • Review of Cassiel’s Servant by Jacqueline Carey This companion to Kushiel’s Dart following the same events from Joscelin’s perspective is my favorite fantasy book I’ve read this year. Once again, Jacqueline Carey has written a beautiful novel that shows why she’s a master storyteller.
  • Review of Witch King by Martha Wells I loved the idea of this standalone epic fantasy novel, a story about found family bound by a rebellion that follows a past storyline about how they became legends and a present-day storyline. But after an intriguing beginning, I found it didn’t hold my interest.

Due to time restraints, I’m not going to cover all the books I got right before or on my vacation. I decided to narrow it down to 2023 debut novels since I bought a couple of new releases and just got one coming soon in the mail from the publisher a couple days ago. All three of these were featured in my Anticipated 2023 Speculative Fiction Book Releases post.

Cover of The Hurricane Wars by Thea Guanzon

The Hurricane Wars (The Hurricane Wars #1) by Thea Guanzon

The Hurricane Wars, the first book in a fantasy romance trilogy by debut author Thea Guanzon, will be released on October 3 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). A large print edition is coming out on November 7.

The Harper Collins website has an excerpt and information on an upcoming author event, a virtual one hosted by The Novel Neighbor bookstore on October 3.

I’ve been excited for this since reading the book announcement for The Hurricane Wars, which says it’s “set in a Southeast Asian-inspired world and features a wartime enemies-to-lovers romance with plenty of magic, airships, strange beasts, and a marriage of political convenience between sworn foes.”


The fates of two bitter enemies with opposing magical abilities are swept together in The Hurricane Wars, the spellbinding debut in a fantasy romance trilogy set in a Southeast Asia–inspired world ravaged by storms, perfect for fans of Fourth Wing and A Court of Thorns and Roses

The heart is a battlefield.

All Talasyn has ever known is the Hurricane Wars. Growing up an orphan in a nation under siege by the ruthless Night Emperor, she found her family among the soldiers who fight for freedom. But she is hiding a deadly secret: light magic courses through her veins, a blazing power believed to have been wiped out years ago that can cut through the Night Empire’s shadows.

Prince Alaric, the emperor’s only son and heir, has been tasked with obliterating any threats to the Night Empire’s rule with the strength of his armies and mighty shadow magic. He discovers the greatest threat yet in Talasyn: a girl burning brightly on the battlefield with the magic that killed his grandfather, turned his father into a monster, and ignited the Hurricane Wars. He tries to kill her, but in a clash of light and dark, their powers merge and create a force the likes of which has never been seen.

This war can only end with them. But an even greater danger is coming, and the strange magic they can create together could be the only way to overcome it. Talasyn and Alaric must decide… are they fated to join hands, or destroy each other?

An exquisite fantasy brimming with unforgettable characters and sizzling enemies-to-lovers romance set in a richly drawn world, The Hurricane Wars marks the breathtaking debut of an extraordinary new writer.

Cover of Forged By Blood by Ehigbor Okosun

Forged by Blood (The Tainted Blood Duology #1) by Ehigbor Okosun

Ehigbor Okosun’s fantasy debut novel was released in August (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The Harper Collins website has an excerpt from Forged by Blood.

The author discussed stories and writing her book in “Myth and Magic, Seen and Unseen”:

Myth is shape-shifting eternity wrapped in godhood and shadow.

The first time I share a story with a friend, I am six or seven. She listens enraptured, pausing me now and then to ask questions or interject: Why doesn’t the tortoise fear getting hurt? Mami wata can only catch you if you jump into water alone. Should we pretend to sleep, and when our parents are abed, wander into the twilight in search of vengeful deer spirits?

We never did bring our offering of sticky buns and cold bean porridge to the moss-covered grove near the flat we’d all piled into for the weekend. We woke instead to promises of milk-smothered custard and packed our planned adventures away for another time. I did, however, spend the next two decades thinking of the last question she left me: “I love these stories. But they’re like us, aren’t they? They aren’t real.”

“What do you mean?” I ask, heart in my throat, belly so full of fear that she knows something I don’t.

The rest of Ehigbor Okosun’s Women in SF&F Month essay can be read here.


Ehigbor Okosun’s first book in an action-packed, poignant duology inspired by Nigerian mythology—full of magic and emotion and set in a highly atmospheric, complex world in which a young woman fights to survive a tyrannical society, having everything stripped away from her, and seeks vengeance for her mother’s murder and the spilled blood of her people.

In the midst of a tyrannical regime and political invasion, Dèmi just wants to survive: to avoid the suspicion of the nonmagical Ajes who occupy her ancestral homeland of Ife; to escape the King’s brutal genocide of her people—the darker skinned, magic wielding Oluso; and to live peacefully with her secretive mother while learning to control the terrifying blood magic that is her birthright.

But when Dèmi’s misplaced trust costs her mother’s life, survival gives way to vengeance. She bides her time until the devious Lord Ekwensi grants her the perfect opportunity—kidnap the Aje prince, Jonas, and bargain with his life to save the remaining Oluso. With the help of her reckless childhood friend Colin, Dèmi succeeds, but discovers that she and Jonas share more than deadly secrets; every moment tangles them further into a forbidden, unmistakable attraction, much to Colin’s—and Dèmi’s—distress.

The kidnapping is now a joint mission: to return to the King, help get Lord Ekwensi on the council, and bolster the voice of the Oluso in a system designed to silence them. But the way is dangerous, Dèmi’s magic is growing yet uncertain, and it’s not clear if she can trust the two men at her side.

A tale of rebellion and redemption, race and class, love and trust and betrayal, Forged by Blood is epic fantasy at its finest, from an enthusiastic, emerging voice.

Cover of The Splinter in the Sky by Kemi Ashing-Giwa

The Splinter in the Sky by Kemi Ashing-Giwa

Kemi Ashing-Giwa’s space opera debut novel was released in July (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). has an excerpt from The Splinter in the Sky.

The author discussed how family plays a role in her novel as part of this year’s Women in SF&F Month:

The Splinter in the Sky is a space opera spy thriller about a tea specialist-turned-assassin who embarks on a mission to save her sibling and avenge her fallen lover. It’s a story that examines the far-reaching effects of imperialism and colonialism, as well as the simultaneous commodification, absorption, and erasure of culture. It explores how systems of oppression—and the beliefs sustaining them—rise and fall. But most importantly, The Splinter in the Sky is a story about family.

I am a child of immigrants. My mother is from Trinidad, my father is from Nigeria. My mother’s mother moved from Grenada, and her father sailed to the Carribbean from China. (The “Ashing” in my surname comes from Hua Ching, which British officials found too difficult to pronounce.) My extended family is collectively fluent in five or six languages. (Not I, though. My first language was actually Spanish, but I lost all fluency because everyone spoke English to me after I was about five. Alas and alack!)

The rest of Kemi Ashing-Giwa’s essay can be read here.


An instant USA Today Bestseller

The dust may have settled in the war of conquest between the Holy Vaalbaran Empire and the Ominirish Republic, but the Empire’s surrender means little. Especially to a lowly scribe like Enitan, given her country’s continuing status as a Vaalbaran province. All she wants is to quit her day job and expand her fledgling tea business. But when imperial agents assassinate her lover and abduct her sibling, Enitan abandons her idyllic plans and embarks on a rescue mission, weaving her tea tray up through the heart of the Vaalbaran capital.

Her enemies are countless, clever, and powerful beyond measure. There’s a new God-Emperor on the throne, and her reign promises to change the star system forever. And as Enitan sinks deeper into the Empire’s bloody conspiracies, she discovers just how far she’s willing to go to exact vengeance, save her sibling, and perhaps even restore her homeland’s freedom.

As an Amazon Associate and Bookshop affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Having thoroughly enjoyed her Books of the Raksura, I was excited for a new fantasy novel by Martha Wells, her first in some time after writing several books in her acclaimed science fiction series, The Murderbot Diaries. (Although I thought All Systems Red was decent, I didn’t find it captivating enough to continue the series and much preferred her other books I’d read.) Unfortunately, Witch King fell far short of my expectations despite a strong start and some interesting ideas.

This standalone epic fantasy novel begins with the demon Kai awakening outside his body, not knowing what happened or how he got there—only that his old body appears to have been dead for about a year and one of his closest friends is imprisoned nearby. Fortunately, he’s able to inhabit the body of a recently deceased man and release his friend from her captivity, but she doesn’t remember any more about how they got into their situation than he does. The two then set out to uncover the truth about what happened to them and find the friend’s wife, and their search alternates with a past storyline showing how they came to be legends and companions.

When reduced to its bare bones, Witch King sounds great: a story of found family bound by their involvement in a rebellion, alternating between how they came together to defeat a Great Evil in the first place and a present-day storyline involving two of those characters trying to solve a very personal mystery. I was immediately intrigued by Kai’s present predicament and quest to discover who wanted him out of the picture and why, and I also wanted to learn more about the demons of this world, especially after reading about their pact with humans and Kai’s first experiences as a mortal. He came to the realm when he occupied the body of a recently deceased woman whose family wanted to ensure their line continued, leaving his true physical form in the underearth and gaining the power to drain life from mortals when he did so.

However, it was struggle to read after the first two chapters, which introduced the aforementioned parts that piqued my interest. Considering the massive size of my TBR pile these days, I probably would have given up on it if it had been a book by a new-to-me author. But since it was Martha Wells, I persevered and hoped that everything would suddenly come together and make me glad I stuck with it. Sadly, that never happened, though I continued to appreciate many of the ideas that went into this novel. I love when books explore how the story doesn’t end just because the heroes succeeded in their quest to change the world and how others may strive to undo what they fought so hard to create. There will still always be problems and conflicts between people (or demons or witches or whatever), and since this follows long-lived characters, it shows that later generations may not see things from the same perspective.

Given these concepts, Witch King was brimming with potential, but it was just so bland. The writing does its job, but it’s rather plain and overly descriptive when it comes to aspects like appearance and dress. I wouldn’t have had so much of a problem with this if I were more invested in the characters and their stories, but other than the occasional bit of snappy dialogue, they too were devoid of charisma: for a bunch of legends with historical significance and awesome powers, they were dull to follow. It didn’t feel like the story really delved into them as individuals, and given the focus on found family, it didn’t seem to dig into the intricacies of these relationships and what made them fit together. Of course, it’s not unrealistic that a group of people (or demons or witches or whatever) would find each other by being on the same side of a rebellion, a common cause that drew them together in the course of seeking justice, change, and their own survival. However, if I’m reading about a group like this, I want to see what really makes them mesh. The members of this found family clearly cared about each other, but I felt like they were mainly close because they were in the same place at the same time with the same goals—not because they had personalities that drew them together and made them lifelong friends.

Although I didn’t find it entertaining for the most part, I have some rather mixed feelings on Witch King. There’s nothing especially “bad” about its writing, plot, or characters, and it has an original world and some interesting concepts thrown into the mix—and that makes it better as a whole than a lot of books. Nevertheless, it lacks the sort of prose and personality that makes reading fiction so enjoyable, that special spark that makes a book compelling and difficult to put down. It was all too easy to put this one down after the very beginning, and as much as I loved the idea of it, it could be a tedious reading experience.

My Rating: 5/10

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

Read an Excerpt from Witch King

Read “Deconstructing Epics” by Martha Wells (her Women in SF&F Month 2023 guest post on Witch King and more)

As an Amazon Associate and Bookshop affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Cassiel’s Servant is the latest of Jacqueline Carey’s books set in the same world as her beloved Kushiel’s Legacy series, which introduced the land of Terre d’Ange, its pantheon, and the iconic heroine Phèdre nó Delaunay. This new novel covers the same major events as the first book in the series, Kushiel’s Dart, but it has a different entry point and voice since it’s narrated by another character. It’s told from the perspective of Joscelin, the young priest in Cassiel’s order of formidable warriors who is bewildered by his monastery’s assignment to guard the courtesan Phèdre. But his new charge is also a spy, and when she discovers secrets that threaten their homeland, the two are sent on a perilous adventure where their only allies are one other: Cassiel’s follower, dedicated to a life of duty and celibacy, and Naamah’s follower, dedicated to sacred sex work and destined to find pleasure in pain due to bearing the mark of another deity, the punisher Kushiel. And in the course of their struggle for survival, the monk and the courtesan fall in love.

It’s a familiar plot if you’ve read Kushiel’s Dart, but there are some differences given the change in perspective. Joscelin’s first-person narration is more straightforward and less melodramatic than Phèdre’s, and the first 20% or so is new story covering his life before he became her protector. It starts with the day two monks come to his home, hoping he’ll follow the tradition of middle sons joining the Cassiline Brotherhood and accompany them to the monastery. From there, it delves into everyday life as part of the order, training, and the friendships and rivalries he forges there. His formative years show his wholehearted devotion to Cassiel, the angelic companion who remained celibate to devote himself to protecting Yeshua’s son Elua, and his desire to emulate his dedication to duty. He certainly is the stickler for rules and vows met in the first book in the series, but he is also loyal to those he cares about, which sets the stage for his eventual growth into a more mature version of himself.

Although it has a different viewpoint and less ornate prose, Cassiel’s Servant is like Kushiel’s Dart in that it’s a beautifully written, heartfelt story built around epic events and complex characters I felt for. This novel set in an alternate version of our world has little actual magic but is more magical than many, and it’s my favorite fantasy book I’ve read this year. I love the setting Carey has developed and how the main characters’ society developed based on one key difference: Blessed Elua, who grew from the earth when Yeshua’s blood merged with the tears of Mary of Magdala. Although his grandfather the One God abandoned him, several angels—including Cassiel, Naamah, and Kushiel—left heaven to watch over him, becoming known as Elua’s Companions. He taught others to “Love as thou wilt,” and as demonstrated through Phèdre’s service, love is not bound by gender and all love is accepted as long as it’s consensual. In Phèdre and Joscelin’s time, descendants of these angels walk the land they settled (a version of France), and there are various houses embroiled in political intrigue. It’s a richly created setting, and even though other parts of Europe are more in line with their real-world counterparts, the cultures and people are all well realized. (Whether its because of this book itself or the time that has passed since I first read it, I appreciated that more here than in Kushiel’s Dart, where I found one of the more familiar lands less interesting.)

Once Joscelin and Phèdre meet, it does follow the same basic storyline as the first book in the series with the occasional scene or conversation that didn’t include the original narrator. I didn’t remember a lot of the details of Kushiel’s Dart, though some of it did trickle back to me as I read, but I didn’t find that to be a problem. That may be because the two main characters and their relationship was the most memorable part of the previous novel to me, but in any case, I loved reading Joscelin’s perspective. It’s still largely Phèdre’s story since she’s the one who becomes entangled in the bigger events and has the most influence, but I still found it compelling when viewed through the eyes of a character in a supporting role—and Joscelin is still an important part of it.

Both characters have different types of strength, and this showed how they complemented each other in the course of their journey. Phèdre’s strengths lie in her intelligence and wisdom: her knowledge of politics and languages, her intuition and perception, and her grasp of human nature. As a skilled warrior, Joscelin is able to fight and defend, but I thought this highlighted how much of his strength was in his ability to adapt: questioning his long-held beliefs and changing his perspective, coming to understand Phèdre, and becoming especially good at protecting her because he could anticipate her actions and reactions. He knew what kind of trouble this impulsive, reckless, brave, compassionate woman was likely to find, and I enjoyed seeing him go from disdaining her service to Naamah to realizing just how incredible Phèdre is and admiring the hell out of her.

Cassiel’s Servant is a beautifully written novel exploring the relationship between two of Jacqueline Carey’s most beloved characters, and once again, she’s demonstrated why she’s a master storyteller. It feels a bit like sacrilege to rate this higher than Kushiel’s Dart, but the best I can do is consider what I think and feel about a book at the time I read it. And whether it’s because of the book itself or the reader I am now, I had a slightly better experience with Joscelin’s story, mainly because I got into it immediately without the convoluted prose and early discussions involving houses and people that hadn’t been encountered yet. I just loved this book and these two characters, and maybe I’ll find that I feel even more strongly about Kushiel’s Dart when I do revisit it—which I am excited to do after reading Joscelin’s take on its events.

My Rating: 9/10

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

Read an Excerpt from Cassiel’s Servant

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

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

It’s been a little while since one of these posts, and there are a few new things you might have missed since the last one:

Now, on to the latest book—which was featured in my Anticipated 2023 Speculative Fiction Book Releases post!

Cover of Outlaw Mage by K. S. Villoso

Outlaw Mage (The Dageian Puppetmaster #1) by K. S. Villoso

I backed K. S. Villoso’s newest novel on Kickstarter, and my signed hardcover came in the mail a few days ago. This epic fantasy novel was released on August 1 and is now available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.

I’ve been excited about this book ever since I heard about it, largely because I LOVED K. S. Villoso’s Chronicles of the Bitch Queen trilogy (The Wolf of Oren-YaroThe Ikessar FalconThe Dragon of Jin-Sayeng). It’s a fantastic character-driven epic fantasy series that gets more complex with each book, and though it has a voice all its own, its intense first-person perspective makes me think it might appeal to those who love that about Robin Hobb’s Fitz books and its reflective passages make me think it might appeal to those who enjoy that about Guy Gavriel Kay’s work. It also has morally gray characters and is one of the rare series that made me like a character I didn’t much like at first.

I’m excited to read more set in the same world as Chronicles of the Bitch Queen, especially after reading a blog post K. S. Villoso wrote about Outlaw Mage‘s protagonist in relation to its main character:

I loved writing Talyien, and I loved people’s responses to her. She still remains the badass my heart wants to be. But Rosha is going to hit a little closer to home for me, and maybe for a few others out there who aren’t particularly athletic or at the very least, smart enough to know when NOT to go running into a battle, swords swinging. (I’m sorry, Tali). Sometimes the quiet ones want to set the world on fire, too. And that’s just as badass in my opinion.

One of my favorite character types is “quiet ones [who] want to set the world on fire,” and I’m so excited to see what K. S. Villoso did with Rosha.


Despite Rosha’s efforts, she will never fit in. To her classmates, she is forever an outsider, a girl from the fringes of the empire just lucky enough to have well-off parents. To her teachers, she is either a charity case or an exception to the rule that Gorenten just aren’t capable of performing complex magic. Worse, still, she is nothing but a status symbol to her father—a child gifted with magic to show his powerful friends that even people like them could belong in the empire. As if she doesn’t have enough problems already.

Haunted by the invisible rules that pull her dreams just out of grasp, she walks out on the eve of her final exams, throwing away her one chance at becoming an official mage of the empire. She practices magic outside the mage council’s grasp, one of the worst crimes anyone could commit.

Years later, her father’s shoddy business deals have finally landed him in trouble and he disappears without a trace. Rosha reluctantly enters the services of a rich sorcerer, his last known connection. The sorcerer’s sudden death leaves her stranded in a sea of enemies—and the knowledge that the man is the voice behind the ageless, faceless emperor. To protect herself and her family, Rosha must impersonate the most powerful man in the empire. As she becomes everything she has ever hated, she stumbles upon conspiracies that seek to break the empire from within…

Today I have a guest post by Essa Hansen to share with you! She is the author of The Graven trilogy, which begins with Nophek Gloss, described as being about “a young man [who] sets out on a single-minded quest for revenge across a breathtaking multiverse filled with aliens, mind-bending tech, and ships beyond his wildest imagining.” This science fiction story continues in Azura Ghost and was recently concluded with the release of the final book in the trilogy, Ethera Grave. I’m thrilled she’s here to discuss a favorite trope used in her series in “Creating Belonging While Finding Family.”


Cover of Ethera Grave by Essa Hansen

Creating Belonging While Finding Family

Found family—or chosen family—is one of my favorite tropes, and I’m pleased for this opportunity to gush about it. When I set out to write a found family in my debut science fiction trilogy, The Graven, it was to give myself the craft challenge of an ensemble cast. I was more of a discovery writer than a plotter back then, meaning I threw a space-faring crew together and swiftly fell in love with them as their story and history unfolded on the page. My favorite found families have a messy warmth: broken characters fitting together over time, jagged edges that mis-fit but are tumbled smooth by shared experiences, and an enduring care despite quarrels.

Found families tend to be comprised of misfits. Since I was worldbuilding a vast, varied multiverse where intermingling diversity is the norm, I could assemble a found family of different species, cultures, and backgrounds. Part of what makes misfit dynamics interesting is the friction from these differences of nature, opinion, and approach, and the bonding that bridges that dissimilarity through shared new challenges. Surrounding ourselves with only people like us can be stagnating. Often the most influential relationships of our lives are with those most different from us, who force us to develop our perception of the world and ourselves, and help us exercise empathy. Caiden, my initially teenage protagonist in The Graven trilogy, is navigating a great trauma and a foreign world, and relies immensely on the life lessons imparted to him by the family he’s found…even when he’s still too damaged to act on their wisdom.

There are two main ways to go about writing a found family: either bond strangers together as the narrative progresses, or start with an already established crew, frequently with one new individual thrown in. I opted for the latter because I love how the breaking of symmetry in a functional system can force positive change in unexpected directions, even resulting in more stability than before. Caiden’s presence reveals the crew’s hidden tension points as they form clashing opinions of him. It tills up layers of self-development they hadn’t realized were in dire need of working out. Even if a team isn’t quarrelsome, sometimes their easy equilibrium is more fragile than it seems, or that equilibrium has become a stagnation.

Cover of Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen Cover of Azura Ghost by Essa Hansen

Misfits are frequently also outcasts or set adrift from a blood family or organization or society, and find belonging again in the group they assemble around them. Caiden was raised in a world of convention, where everyone had a set function in the machine of industry; he had no culture or sense of community or even terms for “family.” When he’s uprooted from this system through traumatic events, he struggles to feel like he belongs anywhere. Everything is new and strange, and ignorance makes it dangerous. The stability he craves comes from the crew who adopts him and whose knowledge heals the impoverished imagination his isolated upbringing left him with. Caiden finds acceptance among them, and acceptance is the stepping stone toward belonging.

A family team is community, safety, depth, support—a space wherein you can be seen as your authentic self. It’s the ride-or-die relationships, the people you can confide in, be vulnerable with, friends who both have your back and will slap sense into you. The friends who will protect you from yourself. Some readers love found family stories because it’s a model of the family they’re still seeking. For others, it validates and resonates with the family they’ve chosen. For many, the attraction of found family is precisely that it does away with rigid definitions of what “family” is, freeing the family type unit from defined roles or hierarchy or being limited to biological ties. It represents deep bonds regardless of labels, encourages platonic love, and allows family to be who you choose rather than the group you were born into.

The very best aspect of my own writing/publishing journey has been the friendships I’ve made with other authors, many of whom feel like family to me. We’ve bonded in the pages, in the query trenches, in submission hell, and through the rough waters post-deal or post-publication. I’ve grown immensely as a writer and a human through their perspective and critiques. Found family isn’t just the people we build belonging with—it’s all the dimensions by which we share experiences, how we mismatch and how that stresses and redefines us in the best ways, as well as how we fit that was more necessary a feeling to find than we realized.

I hope those of you still in the process of “finding” will land where you belong soon.


**P.S. For some great found families in science fiction, check out: The Guardians of the Galaxy, Firefly, The Expanse, Mass Effect, The Salvagers trilogy by Alex White, and The Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers. And of course, my trilogy, The Graven, which has two separate found families brought together to prevent the collapse of a vast bubble multiverse.


Photo of Essa Hansen

Essa Hansen writes immersive fantasy and science fiction, and works in those genres in feature film as a sound designer for studios such as Marvel, Pixar, and Disney. She grew up in beautifully wild areas of California, from the coastal foothills to the Sierra Nevada mountains, before migrating north to the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Working her way through the fantasy disciplines, she has trained horses, practiced archery and Japanese swordsmanship, and is a licensed falconer. She now lives with her cat in the San Francisco Bay Area.