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Book Description:

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 duology 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 Keeper of Night, Kylie Lee Baker’s young adult fantasy debut novel, is the first book in a duology that will be concluded in The Empress of Time, scheduled for release this October. Though the story is set in the 1890s, it has very little to do with the human world of the time: it follows a non-human protagonist dealing with the two supernatural worlds she inhabits due to her Reaper father and Shinigami mother, starting in England and then moving to Japan.

With inspiration from Japanese folklore and Shinto mythology, it’s largely about protagonist Ren’s quest to destroy three Yokai so that Izanami, the Goddess of Death, will accept her as a Shinigami. It’s also about her relationship with her younger brother—a Reaper who didn’t fit in well because of his unusually gentle soul—and a stranger she meets in Japan—a former Shinigami with a deformed foot, cast out for being physically imperfect. But most of all, The Keeper of Night is about Ren’s desire to belong, and what she’s willing to do to earn a place among the Shinigami after being rejected by the Reapers.

Although this is a good story, it did take some time for The Keeper of Night to draw me in. The first 25% or so felt rushed as it gave an overview of what Ren’s life as a Reaper was like, and as a young adult soul collector, that meant it had to cover nearly 200 years of backstory in that time. It basically shows a (rather eventful) day for her with her collecting one soul; being sneered at and abused by the other Reapers, who consider her a Shinigami; making everything worse with her inability to control her light powers; and then fleeing with her brother, who refuses to leave her side.

That was certainly sufficient for making the point that being part Shinigami in a Reaper world was terrible, but I believe it would have benefited from further fleshing out the relationship with her brother that is important to this story. Ren’s first-person perspective conveys that she’s more accepting of her sibling’s softness and fears than her father and that he tried to compensate for his parents’ indifference to his sister, but it mainly tells about their bond: he’s not even introduced until Ren tells him she has to leave and he chooses to accompany her. Beginning with a clearer sense of why he was so determined to stick with Ren by showing more of their bond beforehand would have strengthened all that came later.

Ren’s first two centuries as a Reaper seemed to be glossed over in a hurry to get to Japan, but I also found the part set there far more engaging the start set in England. Her encounters with a variety of creepy supernatural beings and time in the underworld is entertaining, and I loved the legends involving the three Yokai she was supposed to defeat. There is a twist that is probably predictable to those familiar with the novel’s inspirations, but I don’t think it needs to be surprising: what’s important is Ren’s reaction to discovering the truth and all the devastation that ensues.

And there is devastation. My favorite part of The Keeper of Night (other than the mythology) is just how DARK it’s willing to go. Ren is one of those “morally gray” protagonists: one who is not as “bad” as the most villainous characters she meets, but also one who is often cold and selfish, driven by her obsession to be accepted by at least one of her supernatural cultures. Despite caring for her sweet-natured brother, she is also dismissive of him and unkind to him many times, and she ends up making some terrible decisions. But even while I was internally screaming “Ren, what are you DOING?!” at her latest bad choice, I understood her perspective and why it made sense to her. And in the end, Ren does have to face the consequences of her actions with a tragic-but-fitting conclusion that I absolutely loved.

Though this had an amazing ending and other strengths, it wasn’t more than a “good read” for me since it lacked nuance and characters with depth. Despite being the most fleshed out and gaining more dimension near the close of this story, Ren is still rather one note a lot of the time given so much of her narrative revolves around getting her heart’s desire. The only other prominent characters are her brother and their eventual traveling companion, the aforementioned former Shinigami, who wishes to aid Ren in her quest in hopes of gaining some favor with Izanami. These two bring out different sides of Ren, and this is not at all subtly done even though I did like where this went, as well as her brother—a kind soul, but also someone who is fierce when it comes to doing what is right.

It takes time for The Keeper of Night to build to its phenomenal conclusion, and this is a book I appreciated more when I reread a lot of it for this review with the knowledge of how it would all come together. But even before that, I still liked the darker aspects and the mythology—and had a lot of fun with all the creepy supernatural beings I met along the way.

My Rating: 7/10

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

Read an Excerpt from The Keeper of Night

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. Cover images are affiliate links to Bookshop, and I earn from qualifying purchases.

Last week one book came in the mail, and I purchased one—plus I downloaded an electronic copy of the book from last week’s post:

On to the other books!

Cover of The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne

The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne

The Book of Gothel will be released on July 26 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

Mary McMyne wrote about her love of fairy tales, folktales, and feminist retellings for Women in SF&F Month this year. Here’s an excerpt discussing this book and writing a Rapunzel retelling from the perspective of the witch:

When I first set out to write THE BOOK OF GOTHELI wanted to write a retelling that speculated about the historical roots of the Rapunzel folktale in medieval Europe. I wanted to breathe life into the female characters who were neglected in the Brothers Grimm’s version. The mother, who craves the herb and births the child, but then is never referred to again. (That poor woman! Where is she when Rapunzel gets her happily ever after with her twins and the prince? What happens to her?) The witch, whose motivations for kidnapping Rapunzel go unexplored. (Yes, she’s mad that the baby’s father stole an herb from her garden, but why in the world does she want the infant as payment? How evil is she?)

There’s a long and terrible history in Europe of women being persecuted for witchcraft, especially women who lived on the margins or didn’t fit into the conventional roles prescribed for them by the Church. Most of these women, we now know, were maligned because of factors outside of their control. Widows were especially vulnerable, for example, as were women living in poverty. As a storyteller, I wanted to turn the stories we tell about witches on their heads, to ask whether the witches of the Brothers Grimm were really as evil as they were made out to be. THE BOOK OF GOTHEL is my attempt to ask how the witch would represent herself.

I love retellings and reimagined stories, and I’m interested in seeing how the Rapunzel tale is reinterpreted in The Book of Gothel.


This dark, lush, and beautiful reimagining of the story of Rapunzel presents the witch’s perspective in this tale of motherhood, magic, and the stories we pass down to our children.

“Smart, swift, sure-footed and fleet-winged, The Book of Gothel launches its magic from a most reliable source: the troubled heart. Mary McMyne is a magician.”—Gregory Maguire, NYT bestselling author of Wicked

Everyone knows the tale of Rapunzel in her tower, but do you know the story of the witch who put her there?

Haelewise has always lived under the shadow of her mother, Hedda—a woman who will do anything to keep her daughter protected. For with her strange black eyes and even stranger fainting spells, Haelewise is shunned by her village, and her only solace lies in the stories her mother tells of child-stealing witches, of princes in wolf-skins, of an ancient tower cloaked in mist, where women will find shelter if they are brave enough to seek it.

Then, Hedda dies, and Haelewise is left unmoored. With nothing left for her in her village, she sets out to find the legendary tower her mother used to speak of—a place called Gothel, where Haelewise meets a wise woman willing to take her under her wing.

But Haelewise is not the only woman to seek refuge at Gothel. It’s also a haven for a girl named Rika, who carries with her a secret the Church strives to keep hidden. A secret that reveals a dark world of ancient spells and murderous nobles behind the world Haelewise has always known…

Told from her own perspective, The Book of Gothel is a lush, historical retelling filled with dark magic, crumbling towers, mysterious woods, and evil princes. This is the truth they never wanted you to know, as only a witch might tell it.

Cover of The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

The School for Good and Evil (School for Good and Evil #1) by Soman Chainani

Though Rise of the School for Good and Evil is a prequel, I heard it might be a good idea to read at least the first book in the series before starting it so I bought the Kindle version.

The publisher’s website has an excerpt and audio sample from The School for Good and Evil, and Rise of the School for Good and Evil was recently featured here.


THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL will soon be a major motion picture from Netflix—starring Academy Award winner Charlize Theron, Kerry Washington, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Yeoh, Sofia Wylie, Sophie Anne Caruso, Jamie Flatters, Earl Cave, Kit Young, and more! 

The New York Times bestselling School for Good and Evil series is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one. Start here to follow Sophie, Agatha, and everyone at school from the beginning!

This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good and Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy-tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and join the ranks of past students like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meanwhile, Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil.

The two girls soon find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School for Good, thrust among handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.

But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are?

Don’t miss the thrilling conclusion to the beloved series, The School for Good and Evil #6: One True King!

I’m delighted to welcome Leanna Renee Hieber back to the blog! Her work includes the timeslip novellas in the Time Immemorial trilogy; the futuristic, paranormal novellas in the Dark Nest Chronicles, beginning with her Prism Award–winning space opera novella Dark Nest; and the Gothic gaslamp fantasy books in the Strangely BeautifulEterna Files, and Spectral City series. (Plus she has written a couple of essays on Gothic fiction here, “Penny Dreadful’s Betrayal and the Complexity of Feminism in the Gothic Tradition” and “The Gothic as a Canary in Fear’s Coal Mine.”)

She is here today to discuss her upcoming contemporary Gothic romance novel, Ghosts of the Forbidden, which will be released just in time for spooky season on October 11. Read on to learn more about the first book in Glazier’s Gap—and to see the cover and step-back cover for Ghosts of the Forbidden created by In Churl Yo!

Cover of Ghosts of the Forbidden by Leanna Renee Hieber Step-back Cover for Ghosts of the Forbidden by Leanna Renee Hieber
(click to enlarge)

Greetings, friends! First off, thanks to Fantasy Café for being with me throughout the entirety of my career, from their review of my debut novel The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker (now revised with Tor as Strangely Beautiful) to letting me rant about Gothic tropes, to hosting me in several different capacities through the years. This site has remained such a wonderful resource for our genres. I’m so thrilled to present the fabulous covers of Ghosts of the Forbidden, which marks not only a new line of fiction for Castle Bridge Media but marks my debut in contemporary (gasp!) Gothic Romance. I’m known for Gothic, Gaslamp Fantasy set in the late 19th century. Thankfully, this category-length book merges all of my favorite things: Gothic shenanigans, haunted houses, handsome ghosts, quirky characters, past lives, unexpected found family, a sweet, sensuous romance and an eerie setting that is a character in and of itself.

When I was approached about the possibility of this book, I had to ask myself if I was ready to try a contemporary novel. (I worried I would be like the Steve Buscemi ‘how do you do, fellow kids’ meme but it’s me in full Victorian Mourning going ‘how do you do, fellow… 21st Centurians…’) But when I pitched the premise of ghostly lovers finding their way into a second-chance, I knew I had a concept that could bridge my lyrical, Victorian style into the present day. When I sat down to write this book, it just fell out as if I’d gone into a trance in a séance; the characters spoke to me vibrantly and I fell deeply in love with all of them. I hope you’ll love them, and this fictional town, as much as I do!

What I love about these covers is that the front cover gives you something fresh and modern, as this book is a contemporary voice, but the interior step-back cover (I’ve always dreamed of having a step-back!) is a nod to the book that the heroine, Lillian, finds that she’s inadvertently fallen into, full of details directly from my narrative. The step-back cover is a prime re-imagining of a 70’s Gothic paperback and as I really lean into my love of Dark Shadows in this book, it’s perfectly fitting. Huge thanks to cover artist (and talented author in his own right) In Churl Yo for creating a dynamic pairing that evokes the dual spirit of what I’ve written, with one foot in two eras.

Ghosts of the Forbidden cover blurb:

She should run. But can she?

When newly unemployed writer Lillian Anders tries to escape her personal demons by running off to Glazier’s Gap for a writer’s conference hosted by a reviving Gothic romance publisher, she lands right in the middle of her own Gothic novel. Her life begins eerily reflecting one of the early-’70s “women running from houses” books in the publisher’s archive. Striking 19th Century ghosts haunt darkened halls and carriage-house mirrors, startling Lillian with dangerous secrets. As a hungry, violent force lurks in the mountains and the abandoned silver mine, Lillian’s presence rekindles old flames and reopens aching wounds. When charming journalist Nathaniel Lynd arrives in town, he and Lillian forge an immediate bond when intimate memories surface from another century. Evil forces that killed star-crossed lovers in the past seek to destroy Lillian and Nathaniel in the present. It will take fortitude, ingenuity and unexpected help from the strange town itself to make sure the demons of the past don’t destroy a passionate future; destined to set old wrongs right.

About Glazier’s Gap:

Welcome to Glazier’s Gap, Colorado—a small, gossip-filled hamlet started by the mysterious owners of a now-abandoned silver mine whose unwitting rivalries set the town on a cursed trajectory. From an enormous luxury resort hotel destroyed years ago in a landslide—whose wreckage remains half-buried today—to unexplained fires in grand mansions, the town isn’t known for good luck. It’s a place with a bright side, though: tourists visit its rickety old ski resort, hike shadowed mountain paths and locals attend its small college. There’s even a defunct book publisher starting up again. But underneath it all: Glazier’s Gap is full of secrets and ghosts.

Every book follows a different person in Glazier’s Gap who falls into a supernatural love affair—like Broadchurch with phantoms, a romantic Twilight Zone in a beautiful, creepy town.


Ghosts of the Forbidden will be available via Castle Bridge Media ( on October 11th on Kindle, available for pre-order here (Ghosts of the Forbidden (Glazier’s Gap Book 1) – Kindle edition by Hieber, Leanna Renee. Romance Kindle eBooks @ and in paperback wherever books are sold! Paperback pre-orders will go live closer to release day.

Ghosts of the Forbidden is presently available on NetGalley for reviewers to request. Readers can also follow me on social media and sign up for my mailing list to be reminded on release day! Upcoming Appearances! – Strangely Beautiful Fiction: Leanna Renee Hieber

Cheers and Happy Haunting!

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. Cover images are affiliate links to Bookshop, and I earn from qualifying purchases.

One book came in the mail last week, and it’s another novel on my 30 Anticipated 2022 Speculative Fiction Releases list!

There have not been any new posts since last weekend’s feature (although I have been working on a review), but there is a Gothic novel cover reveal coming up on Tuesday!

Cover of The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi

The Final Strife (The Ending Fire Trilogy #1) by Saara El-Arifi

The Final Strife, the first book in an adult epic fantasy trilogy, will be released in the US on June 21 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). It will be published in Canada on the same date, and it will be available in the UK on June 23.

Saara El-Arifi discussed her upcoming debut novel a little on Goodreads, saying that it contains the following:

Friends to lovers (F/F)
A drug addicted chosen one who TOTALLY misses her calling
A tournament with awesome armour
A desert landscape with giant lizards that you can ride
Blood magic…that uses…blood
An insular world plagued by a nightly hurricane called the ‘tidewind’
A cruelly divided Empire where red-blooded reign, blue-blooded labour and translucent-blooded are maimed servants

She also wrote a bit about it last month in “Routes to my roots,” her Women in SF&F Month guest post highlighting Phillis Wheatley:

These are the challenges Phillis Wheatley faced, the ripples of which still permeate through writers of the diaspora today. My battle with my conflicting identities led me to creating a world that is wholly me. The Final Strife is set in a land that is both beautiful and broken. Plagued by issues of empire, while also celebrating arab and afro culture, queerness and gender non-conformity, it is the product of my lived experience. To truly know me is to walk a day in the Wardens’ Empire—the ruling country in The Final Strife.

If you’d like to try a sample, the publisher’s website has an excerpt from The Final Strife.


In the first book of a visionary fantasy trilogy with its roots in the mythology of Africa and Arabia that “sings of rebellion, love, and the courage it takes to stand up to tyranny” (Samantha Shannon, author of The Priory of the Orange Tree), three women band together against a cruel empire that divides people by blood.

The Final Strife is the real deal: epic fantasy turned on its head in the most compelling way imaginable.”—Kalynn Bayron, bestselling author of Cinderella Is Dead and This Poison Heart


Red is the blood of the elite, of magic, of control.
Blue is the blood of the poor, of workers, of the resistance.
Clear is the blood of the slaves, of the crushed, of the invisible.

Sylah dreams of days growing up in the resistance, being told she would spark a revolution that would free the empire from the red-blooded ruling classes’ tyranny. That spark was extinguished the day she watched her family murdered before her eyes.

Anoor has been told she’s nothing, no one, a disappointment, by the only person who matters: her mother, the most powerful ruler in the empire. But when Sylah and Anoor meet, a fire burns between them that could consume the kingdom—and their hearts.

Hassa moves through the world unseen by upper classes, so she knows what it means to be invisible. But invisibility has its uses: It can hide the most dangerous of secrets, secrets that can reignite a revolution. And when she joins forces with Sylah and Anoor, together these grains of sand will become a storm.

As the empire begins a set of trials of combat and skill designed to find its new leaders, the stage is set for blood to flow, power to shift, and cities to burn.

Book One of The Ending Fire Trilogy

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. Cover images are affiliate links to Bookshop, and I earn from qualifying purchases.

One book came in the mail last week, and it’s a novel on my 30 Anticipated 2022 Speculative Fiction Releases list!

The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez - Book Cover

The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez

This epic fantasy novel is scheduled for publication on August 30 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

The Spear Cuts Through Water is Simon Jimenez’s second novel. His science fiction debut novel, The Vanished Birds, was a finalist for both the Locus Award for Best First Novel and the Arthur C. Clarke Award.


Two warriors shepherd an ancient god across a broken land to end the tyrannical reign of a royal family in this new epic fantasy from the author of The Vanished Birds.


The people suffer under the centuries-long rule of the Moon Throne. The royal family—the despotic emperor and his monstrous sons, the Three Terrors—hold the countryside in their choking grip. They bleed the land and oppress the citizens with the frightful powers they inherited from the god locked under their palace.

But that god cannot be contained forever.

With the aid of Jun, a guard broken by his guilt-stricken past, and Keema, an outcast fighting for his future, the god escapes from her royal captivity and flees from her own children, the triplet Terrors who would drag her back to her unholy prison. And so it is that she embarks with her young companions on a five-day pilgrimage in search of freedom—and a way to end the Moon Throne forever. The journey ahead will be more dangerous than any of them could have imagined.

Both a sweeping adventure story and an intimate exploration of identity, legacy, and belonging, The Spear Cuts Through Water is an ambitious and profound saga that will transport and transform you—and is like nothing you’ve ever read before.

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. Cover images are affiliate links to Bookshop, and I earn from qualifying purchases.

It’s been a while since the last one of these features since April was the eleventh annual Women in SF&F Month series. In case you missed it, there were 17 guest posts by speculative fiction authors discussing a variety of topics: their experiences as a reader and writer, the ideas they explore in their work, worldbuilding, fairy tales/folktales and retellings, monsters, the types of characters they gravitate toward, and more.

And then, things came up the week before last, and I ended up having to work on the weekend instead of doing one of these posts.

It would take a long time to cover every book that has arrived since the end of March today, especially since my birthday is in April. So this week’s post will just include the latest ARC in the mail and a couple of other new books that I don’t believe I’ve discussed here before.

Cover of Rise of the School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Rise of the School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

This is a prequel to the New York Times bestselling School for Good and Evil books and the start of a new series set in the same universe. Rise of the School for Good and Evil will be available on May 31 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

Goodreads currently has a US-only giveaway of five print copies running through May 30.

I’ve been looking forward to the Netflix movie The School for Good and Evil coming out later this year, and fairy tale subversions are very much my cup of tea, so I’m excited to read this!


The battle between Good and Evil begins.

Two brothers.

One Good.

One Evil.

Together they watch over the Endless Woods.

Together they choose the students for the School for Good and Evil.

Together they train them, teach them, prepare them for their fate.

Then, something happens.

Something unexpected.

Something powerful.

Something that will change everything and everyone.

Who will survive?

Who will rule the School?

The journey starts here. Every step is filled with magic, surprises, and daring deeds that test courage, loyalty, and who you really are. But they only lead you to the very beginning of the adventures that are THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL.

Cover of Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip

Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip

Patricia A. McKillip’s The Changeling Sea and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld are two of my favorite books, and I love her writing in general, so I was delighted to get another one of her books for my birthday this year.


Fantasy author Patricia A. McKillip, the 21st century’s response to Hans Christian Andersen, has mastered the art of writing fairy tales — as evidenced by previous works like The Tower at Stony Wood, Ombria in Shadow, and In the Forests of SerreAlphabet of Thorn is yet another timeless fable suitable for children and adults alike.

In the kingdom of Raine, a vast realm at the edge of the world, an orphaned baby girl is found by a palace librarian and raised to become a translator. Years later, the girl — named Nepenthe — comes in contact with a mysterious book written in a language of thorns that no one, not even the wizards at Raine’s famous Floating School for mages, can decipher. The book calls out to Nepenthe’s very soul, and she is soon privately translating its contents. As she works tirelessly transcribing the book — which turns out to be about the historical figures of Axis, the Emperor of Night, and Kane, his masked sorcerer — the kingdom of Raine is teetering on the brink of chaos. The newly crowned queen, a mousy 14-year old girl named Tessera who wants nothing to do with matters of state, hides in the woods as regents plot revolution. The queen’s destiny, however, is intertwined with Nepenthe’s ability to unravel the mystery of the thorns.

Cover of Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Iron Widow (Iron Widow #1) by Xiran Jay Zhao

This was another birthday present I was quite excited about! I have heard such great things about this #1 New York Times bestselling YA science fiction novel, which reimagines the rise of China’s only female emperor, Wu Zetian.

Xiran Jay Zhao’s website has a free PDF sample from Iron Widow.


An instant #1 New York Times bestseller!

Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA readers.

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.