I’m thrilled to have a guest post by Genevieve Gornichec to share with you today! She is the author of  The Witch’s Heart, a novel inspired by Norse mythology featuring “a banished witch [who] falls in love with the legendary trickster Loki.” The Weaver and the Witch Queen, her second novel, is coming out in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook in exactly one week—on July 25! I’m delighted she’s here to discuss creating its setting  in “Worldbuilding the Past: A Fantastical Viking Age.”


Cover of The Weaver and the Witch Queen by Genevieve Gornichec
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The lives of two women—one desperate only to save her missing sister, the other a witch destined to become queen of Norway—intertwine in this spellbinding, powerful novel of Viking Age history and myth from the acclaimed author of The Witch’s Heart.

Oddny and Gunnhild meet as children in tenth century Norway, and they could not be more different: Oddny hopes for a quiet life, while Gunnhild burns for power and longs to escape her cruel mother. But after a visiting wisewoman makes an ominous prophecy that involves Oddny, her sister Signy, and Gunnhild, the three girls take a blood oath to help one another always.

When Oddny’s farm is destroyed and Signy is kidnapped by Viking raiders, Oddny is set adrift from the life she imagined—but she’s determined to save her sister no matter the cost, even as she finds herself irresistibly drawn to one of the raiders who participated in the attack. And in the far north, Gunnhild, who fled her home years ago to learn the ways of a witch, is surprised to find her destiny seems to be linked with that of the formidable King Eirik, heir apparent to the ruler of all Norway.

But the bonds—both enchanted and emotional—that hold the two women together are strong, and when they find their way back to each other, these bonds will be tested in ways they never could have foreseen in this deeply moving novel of magic, history, and sworn sisterhood.

Worldbuilding the Past: A Fantastical Viking Age

One of my favorite quotes from The Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings, a chunk of a book by scholar Neil Price, is as follows: “history is nothing if not a suppositional discipline, sometimes akin to a sort of speculative fiction of the past.”

Unsurprisingly, as both a fantasy author and a history BA—as well as a Viking Age living history geek—I have latched onto these words, and Children of Ash and Elm is one of the many books I had on hand as I was drafting my sophomore novel, The Weaver and the Witch Queen: a fantastical reimagining of the origin story of Gunnhild, Mother of Kings, a tenth-century queen of Norway.

Weaver is essentially an alternate universe historical fanfiction set in the Viking Age, based on the Icelandic sagas. But how do you realistically build a world that may or may not have already existed, and that people may already have Opinions on? For Weaver, I asked myself a few important questions:

What are the parameters of the world?

Just like with fanfiction, in writing historical fiction or fantasy, you’re writing in a pre-existing world in which there are certain rules. There are basic things to research, like “what sort of technology did they have access to?” and “how did they complete this everyday task?” but there’s also the cultural mindset of the characters.

From the outset, I knew that I’d be bringing my own experiences as a woman in Viking reenactment into the mix, so how Weaver would engage with gender roles in the Viking Age was something I had to consider deeply. I could have very well repainted Gunnhild as some sort of warrior queen and it would have fit perfectly into our popular culture view of Vikings. So why didn’t I?

Because she wasn’t, and more importantly—she doesn’t have to be.

Free women in the Viking Age, especially those of a certain status, arguably had more agency than their counterparts in Europe at the time, and they had other ways of getting what they wanted without physically fighting, especially if they could play the games of honor and politics or had a certain skill set, as Gunnhild did. And in Weaver, the women around her also have their own means of determining their fates: Some of them can physically fight; others use their wit, their practical skills, and even their compassion to make themselves the stars of their own stories.

But if you are indeed into warrior women (and who isn’t?), there are also plenty of Viking and Norse-inspired novels starring shieldmaiden-type characters, such as The Norse Queen by Johanna Wittenburg (a novel about Queen Asa, the great-grandmother of one of the love interests in Weaver, Eirik Blood-axe), and the Hall of Smoke series by H.M. Long.

Which parameters can (and should) be changed?

One thing you may notice if you pick up any one of the Icelandic sagas is that they are heavy on prose and light on dialogue, and the dialogue itself may come off as stilted in some translations, or weirdly modern in others. In my early drafts of Weaver, the characters’ dialogue was very formal—and my beta readers weren’t big fans.

So in subsequent drafts, I tweaked this. Thus Weaver may stretch the boundaries of what is “accurate,” short of using modern slang—but to me, it was more important that my characters spoke and seemed like actual people, rather than having them speak and act stiffly and distantly in the name of historical accuracy. For you, it may be different—it’s all about your priorities and what you want your work to be! Historical fiction writers and readers have different tastes and different expectations, and adding a fantasy element further complicates things.

When you ask yourself the above questions, perhaps answer these ones too: Why am I telling this story? Do I want to attempt total historical accuracy, or veer from the path while still trying to maintain a sense of authenticity? And what roles do the ‘fantasy’ elements play in the story that I’m trying to tell? All are important things to think about when you’re crafting a fantastical tale of days long past.


Photo of Genevieve Gornichec by Daina Faulhaber
Photo Credit: Daina Faulhaber
Genevieve Gornichec earned her degree in history from the Ohio State University, but she got as close to majoring in Vikings as she possibly could, and her study of Norse myths and Icelandic sagas became her writing inspiration. Her national bestselling debut novel, The Witch’s Heart, has been translated into more than ten languages. She lives in Cleveland.

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

The Bone Shard War concludes The Drowning Empire trilogy, Andrea Stewart’s Asian-inspired epic fantasy series containing The Bone Shard Daughter and The Bone Shard Emperor. Set about two years after the end of the latter, the finale follows the same set of characters amidst various problems contributing to upheaval in the Empire: the return of old magics and prejudices against their users, sinking islands that kill and displace many, and different ideas about how the government should work and who should rule. It reveals more about the mysteries of the archipelagic Empire and its forgotten history, and it continues the story of the clash between those who disagree about how their issues should be addressed—and those who seek vengeance or power for themselves.

I very much enjoyed the previous books in this trilogy. The Bone Shard Daughter introduced engaging characters and set up intriguing questions surrounding the bone shard magic, animal companions, and sinking islands. The Bone Shard Emperor revealed more about these mysteries, focused on the difficulty of changing things for the better when there are underlying systemic problems, and further built the world and characters, making me appreciate the series even more. Though I would have liked these books to delve further into the complexities of the different islands’ problems and the characters, I also found them both absorbing and incredibly fun to read.

The Bone Shard War, however, was not as absorbing or fun to read as the previous books, making it my least favorite installment. I enjoyed the bittersweet-yet-hopeful ending and was glad I finished the series, but this novel had some issues in its execution, particularly with pacing. The first half had parts so dull that I often ended up setting the book down after reading just one chapter, and though the second half was harder to put down, it also rushed through its far more compelling events.

The first couple of chapters had me hooked because I was curious about what had happened during the two years between books, but it didn’t take that long to catch up. It seemed like the Empire and most of the characters were basically dealing with the same problems as before. Of course, it can take time to make change and resolve conflicts, but it didn’t ring true to me that people with major capabilities and strong personalities conveniently held back from doing anything too noteworthy between books—especially after everything that happened at the end of the previous installment. It felt more like a month or two had passed than two whole years in a lot of ways.

The bigger problem was that I just wasn’t all that interested in what was happening for some time. This was probably in part because many of the characters whose interactions I most enjoyed were apart in this installment, but I think my lack of engagement had more to do with the lack of new information. The previous books did a wonderful job of introducing more pieces of the puzzle that kept the mysteries of the world compelling, but the first half of this one largely went over things that had already been revealed without adding more. In particular, there was a quest involving the white swords that seemed too long, especially since it rehashed what we already knew about their importance from the previous book without teasing anything new and exciting about them along the way. This excursion did show more about the characters and paved the way for some growth, but it took too long to get there.

Once it did get to that point, I started to enjoy the book more, and in the end, I found it a mostly satisfying conclusion. The biggest questions about the world and magic were addressed (although I did want to learn more details about the bone shard magic and its origins), and the characters ended up in interesting places. However, the storylines were rushed, and one was a bit of a mess despite being the most fun to follow.

It seemed like the more entertaining a character’s section was, the more frustrating they were as people and vice versa. The previous book had made me more invested in Phalue and Ranami than the first, and I enjoyed reading about these two women working together as a married couple to better their island. However, I found their perspectives less engaging in this book since this great dynamic between them was lost given that they were apart most of the time. There was nothing that especially bothered me about their journeys or where they ended up (other than the pacing issues that existed for all the characters); I just didn’t find their parts all that riveting.

A couple of the other characters had more interesting stories once they got going in the second half, but it also seemed like too much of their development happened too quickly. I have mixed feelings about this because I appreciate that this series believes that people can learn, grow, and change—plus it did plant the seeds for the paths they took, and major events can make someone quickly evaluate their true feelings and who they want to be. But it also seemed like some characters went from being set in their ways to rapidly choosing differently, and it happened rather quickly.

As usual, Jovis was my favorite character to read about. He was the one who’d changed the most between books due to all he’d endured, plus he is bonded to Mephi, perhaps the most endearing creature in existence. His sections were the most interesting, but they were also intensely aggravating because he kept overlooking obvious solutions to his problems—even after finding the answer to the big problem he’d been dealing with for two years that had an all-too-obvious solution. I think the intent was for him to have given up, so lost in despair and an identity crisis that he forgot himself, but it wasn’t believable to me that it would take him two whole years to figure out something that should have come easily to him.

Despite my issues, I was still emotionally invested enough that my heart was shredded to pieces during some of the final chapters. I love it when stories make me feel truly devastated, and the heartbreaking parts of this bittersweet ending absolutely succeeded in that regard. (And after all the bitterness, it did end on an optimistic note.)

As much as I struggled through the first half of The Bone Shard War, I am glad I persevered so I could find out what happened to these characters and discover the answers to the burning questions I had about this fascinating world. I thought it was the weakest book in the trilogy, but the latter half is better than the first and it was satisfying to see how it ended—even if it could be a frustrating journey at times.

My Rating: 6/10

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

Read an Excerpt from The Bone Shard War

Read “Happily Ever Aftermath” by Andrea Stewart

Reviews of Previous Book(s) in The Drowning Empire Trilogy:

  1. The Bone Shard Daughter
  2. The Bone Shard Emperor

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 Bookshop.org, and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

This is a day late due to household chores and needing to make some blog upgrades over the weekend, but I wanted to highlight the two books that came in the mail last week. They are both debut novels that I’m very excited about—in fact, they were both featured in my Anticipated 2023 Speculative Fiction Book Releases post!

Cover of The Surviving Sky by Kritika H. Rao

The Surviving Sky (The Rages Trilogy #1) by Kritika H. Rao

Kritika H. Rao’s epic science fantasy debut novel will be released in the US and UK on June 13 (paperback, ebook).

Tor.com has an excerpt from The Surviving Sky, and the Titan Books website has information on where to buy it depending on location.

The author discussed the themes and trying to summarize all that went into The Surviving Sky in her Women in SF&F Month 2022 guest post, “In Defense of Questions”:

I always knew I was writing science fantasy, but in the early days of writing The Surviving Sky, when people asked me what my book was about, I—like many writers—fumbled the answer magnificently. After all, I was spending an entire book’s worth of words to answer that very question. If I could tell you what it was about in a few pat lines, I wouldn’t need to write that book.

Of course, since then, I’ve learned my loglines and my tropes, my tweet-length synopses and my clever metaphors. It’s a story about a husband-wife duo who are trying to save their marriage while they try to save their flying plant city from crashing into jungle storms. It’s a meditation on power and privilege, who we love, why we love, and the cost of love. It’s a critique of capitalism, a story about duty and shared human society, a reflection on our relationship to survival and our damaged environment, and an exploration into the way all of our actions impact our very consciousness. It’s very epic, very awesome, and it has EVERYTHING AAAA!

She also delved into the dynamic between the two main characters and the challenges presented by the married couple’s differing worldviews in her guest post:

I think this, in the end, was my favorite part of writing this book; the fact that I could pose questions, often from two very opposing perspectives with Iravan and Ahilya who are on opposite sides of the spectrum, without making a judgement call on the answer. While all the plot questions are answered, deeper questions like this are explored with many possible answers; and that answer, dear reader, is up to you.

My job as a writer is merely to incite curiosity—whether it is on theories of power or of consciousness. The way I see it—questions are far more interesting than answers. We forget the role of dialectics in knowledge-building when we engage in competitive debate—and my hope with The Surviving Sky is that readers are caught in the passions of the two characters and their opposing viewpoints so much that it makes them question their own point of view when it comes to the above themes amongst others.

I just love the sound of this book with its focus on a couple with different views, floating cities, and exploration of so many different things: capitalism, power and privilege, society, relationships with each other and the environment, and more. Plus it’s science fantasy!


Enter a lush world of cataclysmic storms, planet-wide jungles, floating cities and devastating magic in this first book of an explosive new science fantasy trilogy, perfect for fans of N.K. Jemisin, Tasha Suri and Martha Wells.

High above a jungle-planet float the last refuges of humanity—plant-made civilizations held together by tradition, technology, and arcane science. Here, architects are revered deeply, with humanity’s survival reliant on a privileged few. If not for their abilities, the cities would plunge into the devastating earthrage storms below.

Charismatic and powerful, Iravan is one such architect. His abilities are his identity, but to Ahilya, his archeologist wife, they are a method to suppress non-architects. Their marriage is thorny and fraught—yet when a jungle expedition goes terribly wrong, jeopardizing their careers, Ahilya and Iravan must work together to save their reputations. But as their city begins to plummet, their discoveries threaten not only their marriage, but their entire civilization.

Cover of The Jasad Heir by Sara Hashem

The Jasad Heir (The Scorched Throne #1) by Sara Hashem

Sara Hashem’s political fantasy debut novel will be released in the US on July 18 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook). It’s coming out in the UK on July 20 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

Gizmodo has an excerpt from The Jasad Heir.

I’ve wanted to read this Egyptian-inspired epic fantasy novel ever since I saw the acquisition announcement at Orbit Books, which says:

The Jasad Heir is an epic tale of scorched kingdoms, forbidden magic, and cunning royals. Sylvia is the heir of the shattered kingdom, Jasad. Forced into hiding after her family is massacred, she knows to keep her head down, remain alone, and never use her magic. But one act of kindness changes everything and Sylvia is thrust into a game with her fallen kingdom’s greatest enemy—a game that could resurrect her kingdom or leave it in ashes forever.

It has so many elements I love: forbidden magic, someone with a secret identity, a game between foes, and enemies who find they might actually not hate each other after all.


A fugitive queen strikes a bargain with her greatest enemy and becomes embroiled in a complex game that could resurrect her scorched kingdom or leave it in ashes forever In this unmissable Egyptian-inspired epic fantasy debut. 

Ten years ago, the kingdom of Jasad burned. Its magic was outlawed. Its royal family murdered. At least, that’s what Sylvia wants people to believe. The Heir of Jasad escaped the massacre, and she intends to stay hidden, especially from the armies of Nizahl that continue to hunt her people.

But a moment of anger changes everything. When Arin, the Nizahl Heir, tracks a group of Jasadi rebels to her village, Sylvia accidentally reveals her magic—and captures his attention. Now Sylvia’s forced to make a deal with her greatest enemy: Help him hunt the rebels in exchange for her life.

A deadly game begins. Sylvia can’t let Arin discover her identity, even as hatred shifts into something more between the Heirs. And as the tides change around her, Sylvia will have to choose between the life she wants and the one she abandoned.

The scorched kingdom is rising, and it needs a queen.

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 Bookshop.org, and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

One book I’m very excited about came in the mail last week, plus I’m finally catching up on some birthday books from April! But first, a couple of things:

On to the new book in the mail and the birthday books! (Most of them. I also got a copy of the new edition of Cagebird by Karin Lowachee, which is a book I love and reviewed here. I already have a copy, but I was gifted another one since there is something different about it: my review is quoted on the back cover!)

Cover of The Sun and the Void by Gabriela Romero Lacruz

The Sun and the Void (The Warring Gods #1) by Gabriela Romero Lacruz

This fantasy debut novel will be released on July 25 in both the US and the UK. The US edition will be available in trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook, and the UK edition will be available in hardback and ebook.

The author’s website has content warnings and character artwork.

SciFiNow has a chapter one excerpt from The Sun and the Void.

This novel appeared on my most anticipated books of 2023 post. In part, that’s because the Orbit acquisition announcement says the following about it:

Full of twisted family politics, dark magic, and fantastical beings, THE SUN AND THE VOID transports readers into a lush world inspired by the history and mythology of 1800s South America.

I love the sound of the historical and folkloric inspirations, family politics, and the dark god with tempting magic.


Two women embark on a unforgettable quest that draws them into a world of dark gods and ancient magic in this sweeping fantasy debut inspired by the history and folklore of colonial South America.

Reina is desperate.

Stuck on the edges of society, Reina’s only hope lies in an invitation from a grandmother she’s never met. But the journey to her is dangerous, and prayer can’t always avert disaster.

Attacked by creatures that stalk the mountains, Reina is on the verge of death until her grandmother, a dark sorceress, intervenes. Now dependent on the Doña’s magic for her life, Reina will do anything to earn—and keep—her favor. Even the bidding of an ancient god who whispers to her at night.

Eva Kesaré is unwanted.

Illegitimate and of mixed heritage, Eva is her family’s shame. She tries to be the perfect daughter, but Eva is hiding a secret: Magic calls to her.

Eva knows she should fight the temptation. Magic is the sign of the dark god, and using it is punishable by death. Yet it’s hard to ignore power when it has always been denied you. Eva is walking a dangerous path. And in the end, she’ll become something she never imagined.

Cover of The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty

The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi (Amina al-Sirafi #1) by Shannon Chakraborty

This novel is the beginning of a new trilogy set about 1,000 years before The Daevabad Trilogy. It was released in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook, and both the US publisher and the UK publisher have text and audio samples on their websites.

Shannon Chakraborty’s previous series (written under the name S. A. Chakraborty) made her an international bestseller and an Astounding Award nominee, and it was a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Series. The City of Brass, the first book in the trilogy, was a finalist for several awards, including the World Fantasy Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the Locus Award.

The second and third books in The Daevabad Trilogy were among my favorite books of 2019 and my favorite books of 2020, respectively, so of course I’m excited that there’s a new book set in the same world!


Shannon Chakraborty, the bestselling author of The City of Brass, spins a new trilogy of magic and mayhem on the high seas in this tale of pirates and sorcerers, forbidden artifacts and ancient mysteries, in one woman’s determined quest to seize a final chance at glory—and write her own legend.

Amina al-Sirafi should be content. After a storied and scandalous career as one of the Indian Ocean’s most notorious pirates, she’s survived backstabbing rogues, vengeful merchant princes, several husbands, and one actual demon to retire peacefully with her family to a life of piety, motherhood, and absolutely nothing that hints of the supernatural.

But when she’s tracked down by the obscenely wealthy mother of a former crewman, she’s offered a job no bandit could refuse: retrieve her comrade’s kidnapped daughter for a kingly sum. The chance to have one last adventure with her crew, do right by an old friend, and win a fortune that will secure her family’s future forever? It seems like such an obvious choice that it must be God’s will.

Yet the deeper Amina dives, the more it becomes alarmingly clear there’s more to this job, and the girl’s disappearance, than she was led to believe. For there’s always risk in wanting to become a legend, to seize one last chance at glory, to savor just a bit more power…and the price might be your very soul.

Cover of In a Garden Burning Gold by Rory Power

In a Garden Burning Gold (The Wind-up Garden #1) by Rory Power

This novel by New York Times bestselling author Rory Power came out in paperback earlier this year and is also available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. The Penguin Random House website has an excerpt from In a Garden Burning Gold.

The conclusion to this duology was just released earlier this month (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The publisher’s website also has an excerpt from this novel, In an Orchard Grown from Ash.

I somehow missed In a Garden Burning Gold until I heard some good things about it earlier this year that prompted me to look it up. A family with magic power sounded intriguing, so I added it to my wishlist—and was happy to receive a copy for my birthday!


Twins imbued with incredible magic and near-immortality will do anything to keep their family in power—even if it tears the family apart—in the first book of a mythic epic fantasy duology from the New York Times bestselling author of Wilder Girls.


Rhea and Lexos were born into a family unlike any other. Together with their siblings, they control the seasons, the tides, and the stars, and help their father rule their kingdom. Thanks to their magic, the family has ruled for an eternity, and plan to rule for an eternity more.

But Rhea and Lexos are special: They are twins, bonded down to the bone, and for the past hundred years, that bond has protected them as their father becomes an unpredictable tyrant—and his worsening temper threatens the family’s grip on power.

Now, with rival nations ready to attack, and a rebel movement within their own borders, Rhea and Lexos must fight to keep the kingdom—and the family—together, even as treachery, deceit, and drama threaten to strand the twins on opposite sides of the battlefield.

In a Garden Burning Gold is a vividly written, atmospheric saga that explores the limits of power and the bonds of family—and how far both can be bent before they break.

The Bone Shard Emperor
by Andrea Stewart
560pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 8.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.24/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.12/5

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

Note for readers new to this series: This review covers the middle book in a trilogy and contains spoilers for the previous book in the series. You may prefer to read my 8/10 review of the first book, The Bone Shard Daughter, especially if you are interested in the following:

  • Asian-inspired secondary fantasy worlds and/or island settings
  • Multiple perspectives
  • People growing and doing their best
  • Cute (really cute!) animal companions
  • Magic that comes with a cost, involving sewn-together corpses animated by commands written on bone
  • A palace full of secrets and mysteries, related to the bone magic and the Emperor who wields it
  • An already-established f/f romance between a commoner and a noble struggling with class differences

The Bone Shard Emperor is the middle book in Andrea Stewart’s Asian-inspired epic fantasy trilogy, The Drowning Empire, falling between The Bone Shard Daughter and The Bone Shard War. It continues the stories of the same characters from the first book, and it deals with the aftermath of Lin assuming her father’s place as Emperor of the archipelago.

The first book in this series was one of my favorite books of 2020 with creepy bone magic that animated creatures made from pieces of corpses, a palace full of mystery, an adorable animal companion, and characters who grew into better people. The second book was also one of my favorites of its publication year, though it did take longer to hook me than the first book did. But once it got going, it was difficult to put down, and I ended up enjoying it every bit as much as the previous installment. It just didn’t have the same immediate, gripping tension as the first book, which thrusts readers into Lin’s challenges with her father, learning his magic, and trying to recover her memories—and begins Jovis’s story with his flight from an island that rapidly starts sinking for unknown reasons.

However, I reread The Bone Shard Emperor to prepare for the conclusion that came out in April, and I found it was even better on the second read. I was riveted from start to finish, plus I had a great time with it for all the same reasons as the first read: the fantastic world, the engaging characters, and the (re)discovery of the past events that made people fear the return of Alanga magic. (While many revelations were predictable even on the first read, having an idea of what was coming worked for me in this case. It didn’t seem like the author was expecting to shock readers after dropping a bunch of hints, and it was fun to see precisely how everything unfolded and the characters’ reactions to it all.) Although Jovis and Lin remained my favorites, the second book had me more interested in all the characters’ stories than the previous one. Their sections are more compelling even when separate from the others, but they’re also more closely connected than in the first book, so there’s more insight into what they thought of each other.

I also appreciated this novel’s focus on the aftermath of replacing a terrible ruler with someone who actually cared about the people. Lin has a lot to deal with in her quest to do better than her father: the people who don’t know her and assume she’s just another version of the old ruler, the governors of the various islands who have their own individual ambitions and concerns, a rebel group that wants to remove her from power, and an army of the previous Emperor’s bone shard creations. (Oh, and there’s also her personal struggle with the realization that she’s not actually her father’s daughter but a replica he made in an attempt to recreate his dead wife. It’s a lot to take in.)

But in addition to all these challenges, there are systemic problems that can’t be resolved quickly or easily, and sometimes trying to make improvements causes new issues or upsets people resistant to change. For instance, Lin ends the Tithing Festivals that required people to sacrifice a piece of bone that would then be used to power a bone shard creature, and she destroys whatever constructs she can find. This is necessary because using someone’s bone shard for this purpose drains their life, but at the same time, not having creatures under her command makes it harder to protect her people from the destructive army sweeping through the islands. Also, some governors are reluctant to end the practice of mining witstone despite the fact that it may be linked to the sudden sinking of islands: it brings in money and allows quicker travel, and it’s not like mining has caused their islands to sink so it’s probably fine. It can be difficult for Lin to determine the right thing to do when there are so many conflicting interests and pressures to weigh, and she can’t trust or rely on anyone other than the intelligent animal she found and bonded with.

Phalue and Ranami’s story has some similarities to Lin’s since Phalue took her father’s place and the newly married couple is governing their island together. Their situation isn’t quite the same since they only need to worry about a single island’s people and at least they have each other—plus, it helps that their people actually like Phalue. But they can’t just make systemic problems go away through good intentions, either, and they also have problems with the rebel group, who has a strong presence on their island. Though Ranami was once involved with them, she has not been on good terms with them since they tried to assassinate her wife, and their methods of trying to force change hurts the common people. I found the challenges of governing and the focus on wanting to help the homeless orphans facing the same problems Ranami once had made for a more compelling storyline than they had in the first book. As much as I appreciated the exploration of a relationship between people with different worldviews in the previous installment, they could also be frustrating characters. Ranami was obviously right about the need to do better for their people, but the way she went about getting Phalue to pay attention by leading her to believe she’d been kidnapped by the rebel group seemed like a terrible idea. I preferred their story progression in this book, when they were working together and on the same page about the bigger things, even if they do have some differences of opinion as humans will—like how much to trust an orphan Phalue befriends.

In general, the main characters are people trying their best despite bad circumstances. Jovis—being, well, Jovis—got himself into yet another sticky situation by spying for the rebels as Lin’s new Captain of the Guard, and he finds himself more and more torn by this position. He didn’t need to remove the Emperor since Lin already took care of that, and Lin is actively making changes for the better: there’s no longer any need for him to save children from the Tithing Festivals. The more he gets to know Lin, the more he wants to trust her, and Lin finds herself in the same position. It’s hard for either of them to be open with anyone since they each have secrets that make them vulnerable, but they also share a secret that slowly brings them together: their bond with their animal companions that gives them powers. I loved both of their overlapping stories, reading what they thought of each other, and the potential for romance. (And even though Mephi is bigger now, Jovis’s animal companion is still the cutest. He has no boundaries, is always after food, and doesn’t yet realize that he can’t just take whatever he wants.)

The one exception to “main characters doing their best” is Nisong, the leader of the construct army, who has her own chapters but not as many as the others. As with Ranami and Phalue, I found her chapters more compelling in this book than the first, largely because of the parallels between her and Lin. Both were created as replicas of the Emperor’s late wife, and they’re both determined people who refuse to give up. Yet Lin tends to lead with her compassion, and Nisong puts her goals before those she loves in her quest to install herself as the new Emperor. It’s interesting to consider the experiences and choices that set these two apart and ultimately make them who they are.

As much as I appreciated how The Bone Shard Emperor deepened the world and characters, it doesn’t have quite as much depth as I would have liked. There’s certainly some complexity since it acknowledges that multiple things can be true at once, like how someone can be a good father but a bad governor or how someone can like Lin as a person but want to abolish the position of Emperor. But it also tends to keep the focus on a couple of main things without fully delving into the complications of various individuals or the social structure. This is not a bad thing since it’s largely why this novel is accessible and absorbing; it’s just why this wasn’t a 5-star book for me personally even though I very much enjoyed it and have an overall high opinion of it.

In any case, The Bone Shard Emperor does what the second book in a trilogy should do: it expands on the world and characters, answers some questions but leaves room for more speculation while waiting for the conclusion, and provides a fantastic reading experience. It absolutely succeeded in making me want to find out what happened next, and I dove right into the final book in the series right after my reread.

My Rating: 8.5/10

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

Read an Excerpt from The Bone Shard Emperor

Read “Happily Ever Aftermath” by Andrea Stewart

Reviews of Previous Book(s) in The Drowning Empire Trilogy:

  1. The Bone Shard Daughter

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 Bookshop.org, and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

An intriguing book came in the mail last week, plus I went to the bookstore and bought a book yesterday. A couple of books I’m excited for showed up in the mail yesterday, too, but I actually just highlighted those in my latest post:

  • The Essential Peter S. Beagle Excerpts & Giveaway This has some information on the two volumes in The Essential Peter S. Beagle, including one story excerpt from each volume. I’m also giving away two copies through May 26: a digital copy of both volumes (anyone can win) and a print ARC of Volume 2 (US only).

On to this week’s featured books!

Cover of The Battle Drum by Saara El-Arifi

The Battle Drum (The Ending Fire Trilogy #2) by Saara El-Arifi

Although I found a copy in the bookstore yesterday, this book’s official release date is May 23 in the US and May 25 in the UK (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The Penguin Random House website has a text excerpt from The Battle Drum, as well as a sample of the audio version narrated by Dominic Hoffman and Nicole Lewis.

The Final Strife, the Sunday Times bestselling first book in the series, was my 2022 Book of the Year. Here’s some of what I wrote about in that post:

Simultaneously thoughtful and fun, The Final Strife explores injustice amidst storylines about uncovering mysteries about the world, a newfound friendship with potential for romance, and a tournament that’s about a variety of types of strength, not just who can fight the best. This fantasy setting feels real and lived in due to having a rich history that’s fleshed out through the characters’ perspectives, oral stories, and epigraphs. With a prologue that drew me in immediately and wonderful worldbuilding, storytelling, protagonists, and pacing that kept me hooked, The Final Strife is easily my favorite book of 2022.

Given that, of course the next book in this epic fantasy trilogy inspired by Ghanaian folklore and Arabian myths was one of my most anticipated releases of this year.

If you want to check out the first book in this series, the publisher’s website also has a text excerpt and audio sample from The Final Strife. (And if you missed it before, Saara El-Arifi wrote “Routes to my roots” for Women in SF&F Month 2022.)


Murder. Secrets. Sacrifice: Three women seek the truth of the empire’s past. And the truth they find will have the power to ignite a war, in the sequel to The Final Strife, the continuation of a visionary fantasy trilogy inspired by the myths of Africa and Arabia.

Anoor is the first blue-blooded ruler of the Wardens’ Empire. But when she is accused of a murder she didn’t commit, her reign is thrown into turmoil. She must solve the mystery and clear her name without the support of her beloved, Sylah.

Sylah braves new lands to find a solution for the hurricane that threatens to destroy her home. But in finding answers, she must make a decision: Should she sacrifice her old life in order to raise up her sword once more?

Hassa’s web of secrets grows ever thicker as she finds herself on the trail of crimes in the city. Her search uncovers the extent of the atrocities of the empire’s past and present. Now she must guard both her heart and her land.

The three women find their answers, but not the answers they wanted. The drumbeat of change thrums throughout the world.

And it sings a song of war.

Ready we will be, when the Ending Fire comes,
When the Child of Fire brings the Battle Drum,
The Battle Drum,
The Battle Drum.
Ready we will be, for war will come.

Cover of Godkiller by Hannah Kaner

Godkiller (Godkiller #1) by Hannah Kaner

This novel was released in the UK earlier this year, where it became a #1 Sunday Times bestseller. The publisher’s website has an excerpt from Godkiller, and it is coming to the US on September 12 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook).

Hannah Kaner discussed her novel a bit toward the end of “Don’t damsel your fury,” her Women in SF&F Month guest post:

So, writing Godkiller, I wanted to write a woman who never learned how to be small in a world that didn’t expect it of her. The challenges and limits of gender and expectation, queerness and nuclear families are still important stories to explore, but in Godkiller I threw those challenges to the wind. Kissen is everything Electra or Lady Macbeth, Clytemnestra and Scheherazade may have, in my imagination, desired. She is furious at the world and not afraid to voice it. She doesn’t need permission to be aggressive, bloody-fists forward, stubborn as a donkey and larger than life.

She is everything that I wanted to read when I was young.

Godkiller is the first book in a trilogy and Hannah Kaner’s debut novel.


“Epic and intimate, tender and sharp, Godkiller is a triumph of storytelling and the beginning of a story that I can’t wait to follow.” – Hannah Whitten, New York Times bestselling author of For the Wolf

Enter a land where all gods have been banned, and one young woman is paid to kill those who still hide in the shadows—the explosive #1 internationally bestselling fantasy debut in a new trilogy for fans of The Witcher and American Gods.

You are not welcome here, godkiller…

As a child, Kissen saw her family murdered at the whim of a fire god. Now, Kissen makes a living killing gods, and she enjoys it. That is until she discovers a god she cannot kill: Skedi, a small god of white lies, has somehow bound his life to that of a young noble girl, and they desperately need Kissen’s help.

Joined by a disillusioned knight on a secret quest, the trio must travel to the ruined city of Blenraden, where the last of the wild gods reside, to each beg a favor.

Pursued by assassins and demons, and in the midst of burgeoning civil war, they will all face a reckoning. Something is rotting at the heart of their world, and they are the only ones who can stop it.