Women in SF&F Month Banner

Women in SF&F Month opens today with a guest post by Nebula and Locus Award–winning author Samantha Millsand a giveaway of her upcoming science fantasy debut novel, The Wings Upon Her Back! Her short fiction has been published in Strange Horizons, Uncanny Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and others, and her stories have appeared on the Locus Recommended Reading List and the BSFA Awards longlist. “Rabbit Test,” her most recent short story, won the Nebula Award, the Locus Award, and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and it was included in The Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2023. The Wings Upon Her Back, which is coming out in trade paperback and digital formats on April 23, has garnered starred reviews from Booklist, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. More information on the book follows with more on how to win a copy below “The WIP of Theseus,” her essay about a question she explores in her debut novel.

Cover of The Wings Upon Her Back by Samantha Mills


A loyal warrior in a crisis of faith must fight to regain her place and begin her life again while questioning the events of her past. This gripping science-fantasy novel from a Nebula, Sturgeon, and Locus Award-winning debut author is a complex, action-packed exploration of the costs of zealous faith, ceaseless conflicts, and unquestioning obedience.

[STARRED REVIEW] “A triumphant debut novel.” —Booklist

[STARRED REVIEW] “This cathartic adventure will stay with readers long after the final page.” —Publishers Weekly

[STARRED REVIEW] “VERDICT Mills’s debut novel is complex and haunting, filled with beautiful prose and timely themes of political and religious upheaval and personal journeys.” —Library Journal

Zenya was a teenager when she ran away from home to join the mechanically-modified warrior sect. She was determined to earn mechanized wings and protect the people and city she loved. Under the strict tutelage of a mercurial, charismatic leader, Zenya became Winged Zemolai.

But after twenty-six years of service, Zemolai is disillusioned with her role as an enforcer in an increasingly fascist state. After one tragic act of mercy, she is cast out and loses everything she worked for. As Zemolai fights for her life, she begins to understand the true nature of her sect, her leader, and the gods themselves.

The WIP of Theseus
Samantha Mills

What is the heart of a story? This is something I think about a lot during the planning process, when the work is still shifting, clarifying, taking shape. It’s something I think about again during the editing process, when I’m chopping it apart, replacing/removing/combining characters, adding subplots. Is it still the same story it was at the start? At what point is it something new?

In 2020, Uncanny Magazine published a story of mine called “Anchorage.” The original idea was for a haunted apartment complex. It was going to be told from the perspective of a ghost wandering multiple floors, observing but unobserved, piecing together the story of this place. Then somewhere along the way I got bored and the setting changed to space, and instead of a ghost it was a robot. But I wasn’t satisfied with the robot, either, so it developed into something much more enthusiastic and strange. Also, now there was an anchorage floating around out there, and a persistent problem with lichen.

Is it the same story? I could still write the ghost story if I wanted to, and I don’t think anyone would say I was copying myself — even if deep down it would feel like I was exploring the same sense of isolation, the same story of an observer who loves the people she observes, but can’t connect with them in the way she really wants. Was it a new story as soon as I changed the setting? Did the anchorage make it wholly unrecognizable from the ghost story, or was it the lichen? Maybe I just keep telling the same handful of stories over again, with the settings changed and my perspective maturing over time.

As a society we’re drawn to retellings, too, but there’s a point where they evolve so far that the source material is barely more than a nod and a wink. Is The Lion King really Hamlet? If not, what tipped it over the line from remake to inspired-by? Perhaps more difficult to pinpoint: is every stage production of Hamlet the same Hamlet? Or is it a new play with every cast change, directorial decision, set design, degree to which the script may or may not be abridged?

If you watch the same stage run of the same script five nights in a row, is it new every night? Why or why not?

If we get real galaxy brain about it, we can conclude that yes, every tiny difference creates something unique and therefore different, tada, take that, check and mate.

But in practice, this simply isn’t true for reader experience, and reader experience is the world I’m living in! Swapping out character names isn’t enough to dodge a plagiarism charge, and even an earnestly written work can be branded derivative, cliché, too tropey even for its trope-lovers.

What makes an old story fresh? What makes a work of art satisfyingly different from the works that came before, whether accidentally or deliberately in conversation with them? We want to scratch the same old itches; we also want to be surprised and entertained. Make it familiar, but make it fresh, is the advice we’re often given as writers.

All of this goes into planning a new book. It has to be the same enough to fit on a shelf in one’s genre, but it has to be different enough to stand out. And in the course of editing, an author might tug it a little more in one direction or the other, weirding it up or dialing it back, attempting to find that sweet spot of familiar-but-fresh while still clinging to the story they are really trying to tell, at the heart of the thing.

I became so interested in this question that it leaked into the book that would become my debut, The Wings Upon Her Back. I wrote the first draft in 2017, pregnant with my second child, working by day and taking care of a toddler at night, feverishly trying to get something, anything on paper. That draft was about emotional abuse, an exercise in exorcism as I worked through lingering questions about a relationship that was nearly a decade in my past. Over the next several years my perspective matured, and subsequent drafts looked at the situation from more nuanced angles. It became less about a single moment in time, and more about cycles, the things we pass on, changes wrought over time. An essay crept into the text, a new thesis laid out in interludes between the main action.

I began to wonder if it was the same book I’d started with — and I began to wonder about myself. Was I the same person who had started the book? After years of parenthood, pandemic stress, and family tragedy, I barely recognize the life of the person I was in 2017. But I’m still me, aren’t I? I have a little more life experience every day. But I am also still eminently predictable to the people who know me best.

As I wrote the final draft, a meta-narrative crept in about slow transformations and the disorientation of trying to pinpoint moments of change. The characters ask each other directly: Is the person who wakes up the same as the one who fell asleep the night before? Or are we ever-evolving, an entirely new person from one moment to the next, unique iterations of a loosely connected core memory set?

Do we really change? is what I’m asking. Or are we every person we have ever been?

The main character of my novel, Zemolai, has to face her past in a very direct way. As a child, she gave up everything to serve a charismatic leader. Twenty-six years later, that leader has taken control of the city, and Zemolai must grapple with the fact that in her youthful idealism, she helped enable a fascist state. There is a moment in the book when she falls back on defensiveness — she was only a child when she joined the cause, after all. She couldn’t have known where it was going. And one of her new companions pushes back, “So when was the tipping point? Was there one day you were innocent, and the next day complicit?” It is a question that haunts Zemolai, and it is a question that haunts the book. Has she really changed? Or is she still caught in the same old story?

After years of cycling through ever-more inward-looking iterations of this book, I had to type The End for the last time and let it go to the printer. It’s frozen now, an amalgamation of all the things I ever wanted it to be. I hope you like where it ends up.

Photo of Samantha Mills
© Samantha Mills, 2023
Samantha Mills is a Nebula, Locus, and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award winning author living in Southern California. You can find her short fiction in Uncanny Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, Escape Pod, and others, as well as the best-of anthologies The New Voices of Science Fiction and The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2023. Her debut novel, The Wings Upon Her Back, is coming out in April 2024 through Tachyon Publications. You can find more, including social media handles and a full list of published work, at www.samtasticbooks.com.

Book Giveaway

Courtesy of Tachyon Publications, I have one trade paperback copy of The Wings Upon Her Back to give away!

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out Fantasy Cafe’s Wings Upon Her Back Giveaway Google form, linked below. One entry per household and the winner will be randomly selected. Those from the US are eligible to win. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Friday, April 19. The winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them after 24 hours has passed, a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).

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

Note: The giveaway link has been removed since it is now over.

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the thirteenth annual Women in SF&F Month! For the last several years, April has been dedicated to highlighting some of the many women doing amazing work in fantasy and science fiction on this blog, and the tradition continues this month. This site will be featuring guest posts by some of these writers throughout April with new pieces appearing weekly (usually on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays), and there will also be a couple of book giveaways.

As always, guests will be discussing a variety of topics—the questions and themes they explore in their work, the unique power of speculative fiction and imagined worlds, retellings, female mentors, female villains, found family, war, STEM, and more. I’m looking forward to sharing their pieces with you this month!

The Women in SF&F Month Origin Story

In case you are unfamiliar with how April came to be Women in SF&F Month here: It started in 2012, following some discussions about review coverage of books by women and the lack of women blogging about books being suggested for Hugo Awards in fan categories that took place in March. Some of the responses to these—especially the claim that that women weren’t being reviewed and mentioned because there just weren’t that many women reading and writing SFF—made me want to spend a month highlighting women doing work in the genre to show that there are a lot of us, actually.

So I decided to see if I could pull together an April event focusing on women in science fiction and fantasy, and thanks to a great many authors and reviewers who wrote pieces for the event, it happened! I was—and continue to be—astounded by the fantastic guest posts that have been written for this series. And I am so incredibly grateful to everyone who has contributed to it.

If you’ve missed the series before and want to check out some of the previous posts, you can find some brief descriptions and links for the past few years on the following pages:

This Week’s Schedule

I’m very excited for this year’s Women in SF&F series, which starts tomorrow with an essay and book giveaway! There are three guest posts this week appearing on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the schedule is as follows:

Women in SF&F Month 2024 Schedule Graphic

April 1: Samantha Mills (The Wings Upon Her Back, “Rabbit Test,” “Anchorage“)
April 3: Premee Mohamed (The Butcher of the Forest, The Siege of Burning Grass)
April 5: Eliza Chan (Fathomfolk, “The Tails That Make You,” “One More Song“)

Though this is later than usual, I once again scoured the internet looking for information on speculative fiction books that are scheduled for release this year and put together a list of works that I wanted to highlight. Just like the last few years, it was hard to keep the number of books featured in this annual post to a somewhat reasonable number given that there is so much coming out that sounds interesting. Yet after finding as much as I could on various titles when looking through descriptions, articles on the book or author, excerpts, and early reviews, I managed to narrow down this year’s list to 17 fantasy and science fiction books coming out in 2024 that look especially compelling to me.

As always, this is not even close to a comprehensive list of all the speculative fiction books being published this year: these are just the books I came across that sound most intriguing to me personally. (There are always books I hear about later in the year that I wish I had known about when putting one of these posts together!) Given my particular interests, this list includes fantasy inspired by legend and folklore, books that promise morally gray and/or villainous characters, novels with dark magic, stories containing dragons and/or other mythical creatures, a science fantasy, and more. I hope that those of you with similar tastes find some books here that sound appealing to you too.

These books are ordered by scheduled publication date, and these are US release dates unless otherwise stated.

Due to the length of this blog post, I’m only showing the first 6 books on the main page. You can click the title of the post or the ‘more…’ link after the sixth book to read the entire article.

Cover images link to Bookshop. As a Bookshop affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Cover of Medea by Eilish Quin
Medea by Eilish Quin
Read/Listen to an Excerpt
Out Now

This debut novel reimagining the story of Medea sounds excellent, and I was even more interested in it after reading this interview with Eilish Quin on The Nerd Daily. She discussed how she’s been fascinated by Greek myths and this particular character from a young age, what to expect from her first novel, her inspirations, and more. I especially loved what she had to say about retellings:

In my mind, the whole purpose of the retelling as a distinct genre is that it serves as a kind of radical reorientation. Retellings allow historically censored protagonists the space to break free from the contexts and biases which might have previously ensnared them, and permit readers the ability to exalt in novel forms of complexity. Retellings are meant to make us question the reliability of the narrators we are given, and consider the other elements of form which we might normally consume passively. I hope that my Medea makes people think critically about how storytelling, when proliferated in the interest of existing powers of oppression, can compound harm– that by doing something as simple as recentering a traditionally marginalized experience, exhilarating and vivacious narratives can spring up.

My fondness for retellings stems from how they can make us question the reliability of narrators and think more deeply about storytelling, so this sounds fantastic.


Discover the full story of the sorceress Medea, one of the most reviled and maligned women of Greek antiquity, in this propulsive and evocative debut in the tradition of CirceElektra, and Stone Blind.

Among the women of Greek mythology, the witch Medea may be the most despised. Known for the brutal act of killing her own children to exact vengeance on her deceitful husband, the Argonauts leader Jason, Medea has carved out a singularly infamous niche in our histories.

But what if that isn’t the full story?

The daughter of a sea nymph and the granddaughter of a Titan, Medea is a paradox. She is at once rendered compelling by virtue of the divinity that flows through her bloodline and made powerless by the fact of her being a woman. As a child, she intuitively submerges herself in witchcraft and sorcery, but soon finds it may not be a match for the prophecies that hang over her entire family like a shroud.

As Medea comes into her own as a woman and a witch, she also faces the arrival of the hero Jason, preordained by the gods to be not only her husband, but also her lifeline to escape her isolated existence. Medea travels the treacherous seas with the Argonauts, battles demons she had never conceived of, and falls in love with the man who may ultimately be her downfall.

In this propulsive, beautifully written debut, readers will finally hear Medea’s side of the story through a fresh and feminist lens.

Cover of To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods by Molly X. Chang
To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods (To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods #1) by Molly X. Chang
Scheduled Release Date: April 16

Molly X. Chang’s debut novel is supposed to feature tough choices, magic that comes at a cost, and a heroine who makes awful decisions because she cares so deeply—all elements I love to see explored in stories. The author discusses her book further in her note to booksellers on Instagram, including writing a flawed protagonist, drawing inspiration from the stories of the her Siberian-Manchurian ancestors, and refusing to make her heroine into more of a heroic “girlboss” than the desperate survivor she is, despite being told it would make it easier to get her novel published.


She has power over death. He has power over her. When two enemies strike a dangerous bargain, will they end a war . . . or ignite one?

“A thrilling tale of magic and murder, intrigue and betrayal.”—Cassandra Clare, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Sword Catcher

The gorgeous first edition hardcover of To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods will feature a poster, color endpapers, a custom-stamped case, and a foil jacket!

Heroes die, cowards live. Daughter of a conquered world, Ruying hates the invaders who descended from the heavens long before she was born and defeated the magic of her people with technologies unlike anything her world had ever seen.

Blessed by Death, born with the ability to pull the life right out of mortal bodies, Ruying shouldn’t have to fear these foreign invaders, but she does. Especially because she wants to keep herself and her family safe.

When Ruying’s Gift is discovered by an enemy prince, he offers her an impossible deal: If she becomes his private assassin and eliminates his political rivals—whose deaths he swears would be for the good of both their worlds and would protect her people from further brutalization—her family will never starve or suffer harm again. But to accept this bargain, she must use the powers she has always feared, powers that will shave years off her own existence.

Can Ruying trust this prince, whose promises of a better world make her heart ache and whose smiles make her pulse beat faster? Are the evils of this agreement really in the service of a much greater good? Or will she betray her entire nation by protecting those she loves the most?

Cover of The Practice, The Horizon, and the Chain by Sofia Samatar
The Practice, the Horizon, and the Chain by Sofia Samatar
Scheduled Release Date: April 16

This science fiction novella set in a university on a generation ship sounds fantastic, and I’ve heard such wonderful things about World Fantasy Award winner Sofia Samatar. Editor Emily Goldman discussed power as a theme and described The Practice, the Horizon, and the Chain as “‘The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas’ taken to whole new level” in the book announcement. Sofia Samatar also shared a bit about it there, starting with:

This book is for people who sit in meetings wondering why words like diversity, equity, access, inclusion, and even justice do not seem to be adding up to anything real. It’s for people whose time and energy are devoured by proposals and projects they hope will transform the places where they live and work, and who wind up drained and bewildered, gazing at the same old walls. It’s for everybody who experiences these things, in any kind of workplace, and especially for people who study and work in universities, because this story is set at a university on a spaceship.

It sounds as though it really delves into ideas related to power and academia, and I’m excited for this story’s release in April.


“I am in love with Sofia Samatar’s lyricism and the haunting beauty of her imagination. Her stories linger, like the memory of a sumptuous feast.”—N. K. Jemisin

Celebrated author Sofia Samatar presents a mystical, revolutionary space adventure for the exhausted dreamer in this brilliant science fiction novella tackling the carceral state and violence embedded in the ivory tower while embodying the legacy of Ursula K. Le Guin.

The boy was raised as one of the Chained, condemned to toil in the bowels of a mining ship out among the stars. His whole world changes—literally—when he is yanked “upstairs” and informed he has been given an opportunity to be educated at the ship’s university alongside the elite.

Overwhelmed and alone, the boy forms a bond with the woman he comes to know as “the professor,” a weary idealist and descendent of the Chained who has spent her career striving for validation from her more senior colleagues, only to fall short at every turn.

Together, the boy and the woman will embark on a transformative journey to grasp the design of the chains that fetter them both—and are the key to breaking free.

Cover of The Wings Upon Her Back by Samantha Mills
The Wings Upon Her Back by Samantha Mills
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: April 23

This debut novel by the author of the Nebula and Locus Award–winning short story “Rabbit Test” sounds excellent, plus I enjoyed the prose in the sample (linked above). Science fantasy tends to appeal to me, along with stories about characters coming to realize the truth about their world and the systems with which they were raised.


A loyal warrior in a crisis of faith must fight to regain her place and begin her life again while questioning the events of her past. This gripping science-fantasy novel from a Nebula, Sturgeon, and Locus Award-winning debut author is a complex, action-packed exploration of the costs of zealous faith, ceaseless conflicts, and unquestioning obedience.

[STARRED REVIEW] “A triumphant debut novel.” —Booklist

[STARRED REVIEW] “This cathartic adventure will stay with readers long after the final page.” —Publishers Weekly

[STARRED REVIEW] “VERDICT Mills’s debut novel is complex and haunting, filled with beautiful prose and timely themes of political and religious upheaval and personal journeys.”—Library Journal

Zenya was a teenager when she ran away from home to join the mechanically-modified warrior sect. She was determined to earn mechanized wings and protect the people and city she loved. Under the strict tutelage of a mercurial, charismatic leader, Zenya became Winged Zemolai.

But after twenty-six years of service, Zemolai is disillusioned with her role as an enforcer in an increasingly fascist state. After one tragic act of mercy, she is cast out and loses everything she worked for. As Zemolai fights for her life, she begins to understand the true nature of her sect, her leader, and the gods themselves.

Cover of Five Broken Blades by Mai Corland
Five Broken Blades (Five Broken Blades Trilogy #1) by Mai Corland
Scheduled Release Date: May 7

This is Mai Corland’s first adult novel after having published YA and children’s books as Meredith Ireland. Her upcoming fantasy novel draws some inspiration from Korean myths and legends, and she discussed Five Broken Blades a bit on Goodreads, including the following:

My killers are all morally grey. They are guided by love and/or revenge and please do note the trigger and content warnings, as there are many. However, the story pulls from my experiences as an adoptee, as someone queer, as someone with the same hearing loss described in the book. The diversity and global elements in the story reflect the diversity in our world and in myself.

She also clarifies that this book does not technically fit into the fantasy romance genre: although it includes multiple romances, it would work without those storylines.

The deception and betrayal mentioned in the book description and aforementioned morally gray characters driven by love and/or vengeance sounds right up my alley, so I’m rather excited about this one!


It’s the season
for treason…

The king of Yusan must die.

The five most dangerous liars in the land have been mysteriously summoned to work together for a single objective: to kill the God King Joon.

He has it coming. Under his merciless immortal hand, the nobles flourish, while the poor and innocent are imprisoned, ruined…or sold.

And now each of the five blades will come for him. Each has tasted bitterness―from the hired hitman seeking atonement, a lovely assassin who seeks freedom, or even the prince banished for his cruel crimes. None can resist the sweet, icy lure of vengeance.

They can agree on murder.

They can agree on treachery.

But for these five killers―each versed in deception, lies, and betrayal―it’s not enough to forge an alliance. To survive, they’ll have to find a way to trust each other…but only one can take the crown.

Let the best liar win.

Cover of I'm Afraid You've Got Dragons by Peter S. Beagle
I’m Afraid You’ve Got Dragons by Peter S. Beagle
Scheduled Release Date: May 14

This upcoming fantasy novel just sounds delightful. It’s described as whimsical, and I love the idea of a dragon exterminator who hates the job he inherited—especially the idea of this concept as written by New York Times bestselling author Peter S. Beagle.


From the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Unicorn comes a new novel with equal amounts of power and whimsy in which a loveable cast of characters trapped within their roles of dragon hunter, princess, and more must come together to take their fates into their own hands.

Dragons are common in the backwater kingdom of Bellemontagne, coming in sizes from mouse-like vermin all the way up to castle-smashing monsters. Gaius Aurelius Constantine Heliogabalus Thrax (who would much rather people call him Robert) has recently inherited his deceased dad’s job as a dragon catcher/exterminator, a career he detests with all his heart in part because he likes dragons, feeling a kinship with them, but mainly because his dream has always been the impossible one of transcending his humble origin to someday become a prince’s valet. Needless to say, fate has something rather different in mind…


If you’re a longtime visitor of this site, you’re probably aware of just how much I love Patricia A. McKillip’s writing, particularly her novels The Changeling Sea and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, which are two of my favorite books ever. Given that, I am delighted to have one hardcover copy of the upcoming 50th anniversary edition of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld to give away, courtesy of Tachyon Publications.

Available in both hardcover and digital formats on February 29, this new edition of the beloved World Fantasy Award–winning novel contains art by Stephanie Law and an introduction by Marjorie Liu.

Of course, it also contains the beautifully written story of Sybel, a mage who inherited a menagerie of legendary animals and became entangled in human affairs after years spent in seclusion. Imaginative and timeless, it’s a novel about power, choice, love, and hate that explores shadows of the soul and becoming what one fears most, yet it does not feel grim despite delving into these topics. With its elegant prose, fairy tale feel, and lovely moments of quiet humor, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a masterpiece of fantasy.

Note: The giveaway link has been removed since it is now over.

Cover of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld Special 50th Anniversary Edition
More Information

(Special 50th Anniversary Edition):

“Rich and regal.” —The New York Times

New introduction by Marjorie Liu (The Tangleroot Palace)
New illustrations by Stephanie Law (Shadowscapes)

Fifty years ago, the soon-to-be celebrated young author Patricia A. McKillip (the Riddle-Master trilogy) penned the tale of an iron-willed young sorceress. Brought vividly to life by McKillip’s gorgeously lush prose, Sybel is powerful and resourceful, yet headstrong and flawed. Sybel and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld continue to enrapture new generations of readers and writers.

Sybel, the heiress of powerful wizards, needs the company of no-one outside her gates. In her exquisite stone mansion, she is attended by exotic, magical beasts: Riddle-master Cyrin the Boar; the treasure-starved dragon Gyld; Gules the Lyon, tawny master of the Southern Deserts; Ter, the fiercely vengeful falcon; Moriah, feline Lady of the Night. Sybel only lacks the exquisite and mysterious Liralen, which continues to elude her most powerful enchantments.

But when a soldier bearing an infant arrives, Sybel discovers that the world of man and magic is full of both love and deceit, with the possibility of more power than she can possibly imagine.

Patricia A. McKillip was the beloved author of twenty-seven fantasy novels, including The Riddle-Master of Hed, Harpist in the Wind, Ombria in Shadow, Solstice Wood, and The Sorceress and the Cygnet. She received the inaugural World Fantasy Award for The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and later received the World Fantasy lifetime achievement award. She was also a three-time Mythopoeic Award winner. Her more recent works included the novel Kingfisher and the collection Dreams of Distant Shores.

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out Fantasy Cafe’s Forgotten Beasts of Eld Giveaway Google form, linked below. One entry per household and the winner will be randomly selected. Those from the US are eligible to win. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Friday, February 23. The winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them after 24 hours has passed, a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).

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

Note: The giveaway link has been removed since it is now over.

Happy (very belated) New Year! I had hoped to have this post up much earlier, but I got a bad cold starting on Christmas Eve and it just would not go away. I don’t think I started to feel normal again until about halfway through January. But late as it is, I could not pass up the opportunity to discuss my favorites of 2023 since I read some wonderful books and found something else fantasy-related that I absolutely love (which is covered in a special category I made just for this case, Media of the Year).

Blog Highlights in 2023

One of the biggest highlights of 2023 on this blog was the twelfth annual Women in SF&F Month, which was filled with amazing essays by speculative fiction authors discussing their thoughts, experiences, and work. It featured the following guest posts (which are eligible for nonfiction/related work awards):

There were also some additional guest posts or excerpts last year, such as:

If you enjoy lists, I also shared about my Favorite Books of 2022 and some Anticipated 2023 Speculative Fiction Releases. (And a heads up for those of you that enjoy giveaways, I’ll be giving away one of my favorite books ever next week!)

Favorite Books & Media of 2023

Once again, I reflected on what I read over the last year and came up with a list that feels right for my experiences with the books I read during that time. Though I was not as taken with some of my most anticipated books as I’d hoped (like this standalone by an author who has written other books I’ve enjoyed, this debut novel, and the conclusion to a trilogy that was not as well executed as the first two volumes), there were others that were highlights. This year, I had three clear favorites released in 2023 and two favorite trilogies released prior to that, as well as at least one honorable mention in each category.

I don’t normally discuss media other than books in these posts, but this year is unusual since I am utterly obsessed with something else fantasy-related that came out last year and could not resist including it!

Favorite Media of 2023

As a fan of the two games that preceded it (as well as D&D and Icewind Dale), I’ve been excited for Baldur’s Gate 3 for a while, but I did not expect to love it the way I do. I’ve now finished two multiplayer games and one single player game, and I am currently in the second act of my second single player game. Considering this is more than I’ve played any other, I think it’s safe to say this is now my favorite game of all time.

It’s just fun with a lot of entertaining dialogue and scenes, and it also has some beautifully done scenes and storylines, excellent acting, and a story that I appreciate more each time I play it. But what stands out to me the most about Baldur’s Gate 3 is the character development and growth that can happen depending on how you interact with and treat your companions, paired with the aforementioned excellent acting that makes them all the better. I didn’t really remember much about the characters from the previous games, but this one has some memorable ones with fantastic lines and journeys, including one character from the older games who I appreciate far more in this one. There are also a lot of wonderful animals and non-main characters, and the narrator (Amelia Tyler) does an incredible job.

My Drow Fighter/Bard from Baldur's Gate 3
Daenerys, Seldarine Drow Fighter/Bard (who does not bear much resemblance to her namesake other than a certain Ready to Unleash Vengeance Look)

It’s also made to replay: I come across new things each time I play it and a different main character can make for a different story, even if I do keep playing the Dark Urge and pairing my characters with the same companion. (Yes, I’m currently on my third Astarion romance. I just can’t help it. Of course, the award-winning performance by Neil Newbon is amazing, and his primary writer, Stephen Rooney, did an incredible job. I think he is the best written character with the best lines, and the way each act shows a new layer of characterization is perfection.) My last completed game followed a Seldarine drow fighter/bard who liked dramatics and intimidation, had a soft spot for innocents and animals, and became less hardened over the course of her journey, especially with how close she came to her found family. My current character is a high elf Oath of Vengeance paladin/sorcerer who is darker and more chaotic than the last, extremely loyal, and someone who cares fiercely when she does care—and she is making a huge mess of things because she’s terrified and would burn down the world for those she cares about. I’m having the best time shaping her story even when it hurts, and I’m already contemplating ideas for my next character.

If by any chance anyone who was part of the team that worked on Baldur’s Gate 3 comes across this: Thank you. You’ve created something truly special and unique, and this fantasy fan is grateful.

Favorite Books Released in 2023

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Cover of Cassiel's Servant by Jacqueline Carey

Book of the Year
1. Cassiel’s Servant (Kushiel’s Legacy) by Jacqueline Carey
My Review
Read an Excerpt

Cassiel’s Servant is a companion to Jacqueline Carey’s beloved first novel, Kushiel’s Dart, telling the same story from the perspective of a different character: Joscelin, the warrior-monk whose order assigns him the task of protecting the courtesan/spy Phèdre. While many of the novel’s events are familiar if you’ve read the first Kushiel’s Legacy book, the first 20% is new material covering Joscelin’s training and monastic life before his fate collides with that of his god-marked charge—and of course, his first-person voice fits his personality and viewpoint, meaning it’s much different from Phèdre’s narration. Joscelin is far less dramatic and verbose with a more straightforward, concise style.

This novel is yet another example of Jacqueline Carey’s prowess as a master storyteller (in addition to the Kushiel books, also see Starless). Although the prose is less embellished than the books narrated by Phèdre, it’s also beautifully written and I loved the exploration of the relationship between the two main characters. They have different but complementary strengths, and I particularly appreciated the evolution of Joscelin’s perspective as he reevaluates his beliefs and reforges them into something new, something that makes sense with the world he experiences once he’s no longer confined to the monastery. Though his attitude and views change throughout the story, they are true to him as a person who grew to have a more mature worldview once he was no longer isolated within one order that followed one system of beliefs—but it’s also done with nuance, without making all the monks who taught and raised him seem like “bad” people.

I just adored Cassiel’s Servant, and it’s my absolute favorite book I’ve read this year.


Cover of The Jasad Heir by Sara Hashem

Book of the Year Runner-Up
2. The Jasad Heir (The Scorched Throne #1) by Sara Hashem
My Review
Read an Excerpt

The Jasad Heir follows “Sylvia,” the heir to a demolished kingdom who has repressed her past self in order to hide her identity and survive. However, her plans of remaining in obscurity go awry when she catches the attention of Arin, the heir to the military kingdom that razed her homeland. As she does her best to keep him from realizing just who she is, Sylvia is forced to contend with the complicated feelings about her identity as the Jasad heir that she’s been avoiding—all while growing closer to the son of the man who killed her family.

The first book in an Egyptian-inspired epic fantasy duology, The Jasad Heir is great fun with its banter, dark humor, and wonderful character dynamics. Sara Hashem also clearly recognizes exactly what makes tropes like enemies-to-maybe-something-more-romantic and a protagonist hiding their royal lineage and magic work, and these common story elements are excellently executed. Sylvia is a fantastic narrator: her voice brims with personality and her stabbiness is expressed in new and creative ways instead of seeming repetitive, and she’s more complex than most characters I encounter with her prickliness, selfishness, loyalty, awareness of her flaws and shortcomings, and overall complicated relationship with herself. The contrast between Sylvia and her love interest makes the progression of their relationship all the more delicious. Arin is self-assured, confident, and manipulative—traits Sylvia finds simultaneously admirable and infuriating—but his facade starts to fall apart as he comes to care about this frustrating woman he’d once described as having the “temperament of a deranged goose.”

I found The Jasad Heir immensely entertaining, and I can hardly wait for the sequel (fingers crossed for a 2024 release!).

Cover of To Shape a Dragon's Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose

3. To Shape a Dragon’s Breath (The First Book of Nampeshiweisit) by Moniquill Blackgoose
Read/Listen to an Excerpt

To Shape a Dragon’s Breath is the first book in a new series set on an alternate version of Earth that followed a different path in history and has dragons. It follows Anequs, a young indigenous woman who discovers a dragon egg and bonds with the first dragon her people have encountered in ages. After her hatchling accidentally injures someone when startled, Anequs decides it’s her duty to go to the dragon academy on the mainland and learn all she can about being bonded to a dragon and how to prevent it from hurting others. Here, Anequs is thrust into a new world filled with social rules that make no sense to her, but instead of following a more traditional fantasy of manners arc—that of attempting to fit in with these customs or flouting etiquette here and there while building toward rejecting these ways in the end—Anequs constantly calls them out, loudly, and it is a delight. I was actually surprised by just how much I enjoyed this novel considering I tend to prefer characters that have internal conflicts, but I found Anequs’ security in who she was and what she believes to be refreshing. To Shape a Dragon’s Breath is a riveting story, and I am eagerly awaiting news of the sequel.

Honorable Mentions

Cover of The Battle Drum by Saara El-Arifi Cover of The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill Cover of Lone Women by Victor LaValle

The Battle Drum (The Ending Fire #2) by Saara El-Arifi
The Final Strife, the first book in this series, was my Book of the Year in 2022 with a world full of rich history that made it real, excellent protagonists, and pacing that kept me engaged. Although I didn’t love The Battle Drum quite as much, I still rather enjoyed it and am looking forward to the final book in the trilogy. (Even if I was extremely irritated by one character in the end. Yes, I’m looking at you, Anoor.)

The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill
This novella, a retelling of the folktale “The Crane Wife,” is dark and traumatic with lovely writing. It’s an honorable mention because it wasn’t a book I loved that stuck with me, but it is a really well done story that I admired even so.

Lone Women by Victor LaValle
Much like The Crane Husband, this short horror novel didn’t stick with me as much as I’d hoped but it’s also a book I think is really well done. It had some amazing lines that made me pause in appreciation and short chapters and fast pacing that kept me turning the pages, but I did discover that I much preferred the setup to the conclusion. That said, I did like the handling of the theme of letting go of toxic ideas instilled into one in their youth.

Favorite Books Published Before 2023

Cover of Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman Cover of Falls the Shadow by Sharon Kay Penman Cover of The Reckoning by Sharon Kay Penman

1. The Welsh Princes Trilogy by Sharon Kay Penman
Here Be Dragons, Falls the Shadow, The Reckoning

After reading Cassiel’s Servant, I wanted something that felt similarly epic, and I ended up deciding to pick up Here Be Dragons. (I would have just reread Kushiel’s Dart and then finished the rest of the trilogy, but due to some house issues, those were among a bunch of books that were packed away at the time.) Although the Welsh Princes trilogy is historical fiction rather than fantasy, I’d seen them recommended for fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, and now that I’ve read the series, I completely understand why with its blend of politics, drama, and complex characters.

Set in the thirteenth century, Here Be Dragons centers on the conflict between England and Wales, showing characters from both countries as people with both strengths and flaws that make them real (even though one side is portrayed as being more sympathetic than the other). It has a large number of characters, but the one who ties everything together most is Joanna, the illegitimate daughter of King John who is wed to the Welsh prince Llewellyn the Great. Joanna’s story is poignant because she loves them both and is caught between them: though most people see her father as a villain, it’s more difficult for her to view him that way since he was kind to her and made her feel safe for the first time as a child. As much as I enjoyed the entire series, which covers the conflict between Simon de Montfort and King Henry in the second book and that between Llewellyn II and King Edward in the third, Here Be Dragons is my favorite of the three largely because of Joanna.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik - Cover Image Cover of The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik Cover of The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

2. The Scholomance Trilogy by Naomi Novik
A Deadly Education, The Last Graduate, The Golden Enclaves

As you may recall from my review, I did not like A Deadly Education the first time I read it, so it’s amusing to me that this series made my list. I probably wouldn’t have read the entire trilogy if my husband hadn’t gifted them to me, saying he knew it was a risk given my opinion of the first but that he’d seen raves about these books and heard they got better. But I actually was curious because as much as I struggled with the voice and the amount of infodumping in A Deadly Education, I did find the main character memorable and also wondered if I might have had a better experience with it if I hadn’t read a digital version. (I much prefer reading print, and I also felt that format might have worked even better for me than usual in this case, given that the rambling sentences sometimes took up more than one screen.)

It probably worked better for me on a reread both because of reading it in paperback and knowing where it went, but whatever the reason, I enjoyed it a lot more the second time and read the entire trilogy back to back. El’s a great character: prickly but also loyal, someone with a strong sense of justice, someone who sticks to her values and hates that trying to survive magic school results in people treating others as a means to an end rather than fellow human beings. Her unique personality is what draws the class hero, Orion, to her (even though she is not happy with him whenever he comes to her rescue), and they have such a wonderful dynamic. I had an excellent time with all three books, especially the middle volume.

Honorable Mention

Cover of Dauntless by Elisa A. Bonnin

Dauntless by Elisa A. Bonin
This Filipino-inspired YA fantasy novel stuck with me largely because of how unique the setting was with its settlements amongst large sprawling trees and dangerous beasts. It just overall felt different from most of what I read, and although it’s a common general theme, I thought the author did a fantastic job with the “learning the world isn’t exactly what you’ve been taught all your life” storyline.


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.

It’s actually been a little while since there were any new books to feature, but an ARC and a finished copy showed up in the mail last week. In case you missed them, there have been two new reviews since then, which covered two books with enemies-to-love-interests arcs that I had very different reactions to:

  • Review of The Jasad Heir (The Scorched Throne #1) by Sara Hashem This was one of the most fun books I’ve read this year with its banter, dark humor, and fantastic character dynamics: a protagonist who has lost her sense of self in her struggle to survive as opposed to her calculating, self-assured enemy/love interest. Sylvia’s rage, voice, and stabby personality made this a delight.
  • Review of The Hurricane Wars (The Hurricane Wars #1) by Thea Guanzon This had a rough start before becoming more compelling for a few chapters, but it ended up being far too repetitive for my tastes. The two main characters did not have a lot of depth or nuance, and they just kept repeating the same basic scenarios that highlighted the same problems and misunderstandings.

On to the latest books!

Cover of Faebound by Saara El-Arifi

Faebound (Faebound Trilogy #1) by Saara El-Arifi

The first book in a new series by Saara El-Arifi will be released on January 23, 2024 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The Penguin Random House website has an excerpt from Faebound.

The biggest reason I’m interested in this novel is because The Final Strife, Saara El-Arifi’s debut novel and the first book in The Ending Fire trilogy, was my Book of the Year in 2022. Here’s what I wrote about it when reflecting on my favorite reads of the year:

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.

You can also read my review of The Final Strife here, and Saara El-Arifi’s Women in SF&F Month essay, “Routes to my roots,” here.

Given my love of the fae and how much I enjoyed this author’s debut novel, I’m very excited for Faebound—plus I was rather intrigued by the first few lines!


Two elven sisters become imprisoned in the intoxicating world of the fae, where danger and love lie in wait. Faebound is the first book in an enchanting new trilogy from the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Final Strife.

“A romantic fantasy of epic proportions, crackling with magic and passion.”—Samantha Shannon, bestselling author of The Priory of the Orange Tree

Yeeran was born on the battlefield, has lived on the battlefield, and one day, she knows, she’ll die on the battlefield.

As a warrior in the elven army, Yeeran has known nothing but violence her whole life. Her sister, Lettle, is trying to make a living as a diviner, seeking prophecies of a better future.

When a fatal mistake leads to Yeeran’s exile from the Elven Lands, both sisters are forced into the terrifying wilderness beyond their borders.

There they encounter the impossible: the fae court. The fae haven’t been seen for a millennium. But now Yeeran and Lettle are thrust into their seductive world, torn among their loyalties to each other, their elven homeland, and their hearts.

Cover of The Serpent & the Wings of Night by Carissa Broadbent

The Serpent & the Wings of Night (The Nightborn Duet #1) by Carissa Broadbent

This fantasy romance novel is the first book in The Crowns of Nyxia, a series containing three duologies starting with The Nightborn Duet. A new hardcover edition of The Serpent & the Wings of Night, which was originally self published, was just released last week. It’s also available in audiobook and ebook, and a trade paperback edition will follow in May 2024. The second book, The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King, will be rereleased in June 2024.

I’ve heard good things about this book (mostly on the Fantasy Romance Reddit), and after reading a sample on Amazon, I thought it looked intriguing.


The first book in the Wall Street Journal bestselling Crowns of Nyaxia series by Carissa Broadbent. Filled with heart-wrenching romance, dark magic, and bloodthirsty intrigue–perfect for fans of From Blood and Ash and A Court of Thorns and Roses.

For humans and vampires, the rules of survival are the same: never trust, never yield, and always – always – guard your heart.

The adopted human daughter of the Nightborn vampire king, Oraya carved her place in a world designed to kill her. Her only chance to become something more than prey is entering the Kejari: a legendary tournament held by the goddess of death herself.

But winning won’t be easy amongst the most vicious warriors from all three vampire houses. To survive, Oraya is forced to make an alliance with a mysterious rival.

Everything about Raihn is dangerous. He is a ruthless vampire, an efficient killer, an enemy to her father’s crown… and her greatest competition. Yet, what terrifies Oraya most of all is that she finds herself oddly drawn to him.

But there’s no room for compassion in the Kejari. War for the House of Night brews, shattering everything that Oraya thought she knew about her home. And Raihn may understand her more than anyone – but their blossoming attraction could be her downfall, in a kingdom where nothing is more deadly than love.

Read this FAQ to learn more!