The Lost Plot is the fourth book in Genevieve Cogman’s delightful Invisible Library series, which follows the adventures of Librarian Irene Winters whose job involves traveling to various alternate worlds collecting books for an organization existing outside of time and space—and often requires plenty of deception and quick thinking on her part. Fortunately, Irene is competent and sharp-witted enough to consistently rise to the occasion even in the most ludicrous situations, and her practical-yet-amusing observations of the world and these frequent absurd predicaments is part of what makes these novels so much fun. The Lost Plot is every bit as entertaining as I’ve come to expect from this series, and I especially enjoyed its focus on the difficulty of impartiality—and on dragons!

With the work it does to maintain balance throughout the worlds, it’s important that the Library remains a neutral entity—which is why Irene is rather disturbed when she’s approached by a dragon hoping to enlist her aid in a political contest. A dragon queen has given two of her junior servants the opportunity to compete for the position of Minister by completing a series of tasks, one of which is procuring an original copy of Journey to the West found in a specific alternate world. Though the two candidates were explicitly forbidden from seeking the help of a Librarian, this dragon learned that her rival broke the rule and believes it’s only fair that she do the same under the circumstances.

Irene refuses to assist the dragon in her quest and informs her supervisor at the Library of the situation. Since she has proven to be rather effective at acting appropriately on her own, it’s decided that Irene should be the one to travel to 1920s-era America to find the Librarian who threatens their organization’s hard-won reputation for neutrality. However, the Library as a whole is greater than any one individual—and it’s made clear to her that if it becomes politically expedient to lay blame on a rogue agent, she could become a scapegoat…

If you’ve been following this site for a little while, this probably isn’t the first time you’ve seen the Invisible Library series mentioned: not only have I reviewed each installment, but each book has also appeared on my last three year-end favorites lists. Like its predecessors, The Lost Plot is incredibly engaging, and I think that readers who enjoyed the previous books will most likely find this latest novel worthwhile as well. Personally, I actually found it to be slightly better than the last one since it was less meandering (and more dragon-focused!).

Most of The Lost Plot takes place in an alternate version of America, mainly New York City after a brief stint in Boston, similar to the 1920s during the Prohibition. Irene and her apprentice, Kai, find themselves contending with cops and mobsters—plus a Fae sharpshooter serving as a mob boss’s right-hand woman, and of course, dragons! As usual, Irene has to overcome a variety of obstacles using her wits and a Librarian’s primary weapon, the Language, which can alter reality when used precisely. Irene not only excels at evaluating new situations and adjusting quickly but she also has fun with many of the challenges she faces: when she decides that she can use being mistaken for an infamous British mob boss to her advantage, she finds she rather enjoys playing this role. I love that she’s competent and adventurous but also self-aware enough to realize that her insatiable curiosity could be her downfall and that she can sometimes be more calculating than kind (which she doesn’t particularly like, but she has no delusions about it being a part of her).

The central theme of the novel is neutrality as Irene and her closest allies grapple with the complications that come with the expectation of being completely unbiased. Since this investigation involves dragons, Irene working with Kai—a dragon prince—can present some problems for both of them, and Irene sees firsthand how having close ties can compromise one whose duty relies on being impartial.

The Lost Plot is a diverting read with a wonderful setting that is less disjointed and more focused than the preceding volume in the Invisible Library series. The one thing I would have preferred was for it to be less of a standalone since it did not follow up on the revelations from the last book other than briefly acknowledging them, but at the same time, it’s not what I’d call a “filler book” since the end does have potential ramifications for future installments. However, it is another absorbing, compulsively readable adventure—and I can hardly wait to find out what trouble follows Irene in the next book!

My Rating: 8.5/10

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

Read an Excerpt from The Lost Plot (link below the cover image)

Reviews of Previous Books in The Invisible Library Series:

  1. The Invisible Library
  2. The Masked City
  3. The Burning Page

 

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (usually unsolicited). 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.

Last week brought some books in the mail, plus I visited a bookstore yesterday and it’s not possible to visit a bookstore and come away empty handed! I didn’t end up having enough spare time available last week to finish a review, so here are the latest arrivals.

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy #1) by S. A. Chakraborty

I’ve been wanting to read The City of Brass ever since I first heard about it so I had to buy it when I found it in the bookstore!

Tor.com has an excerpt from The City of Brass.

 

Step into The City of Brass, the spellbinding debut from S. A. Chakraborty, an imaginative alchemy of The Golem and the Jinni, The Grace of Kings, and Uprooted, in which the future of a magical Middle Eastern kingdom rests in the hands of a clever and defiant young con artist with miraculous healing gifts.

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of eighteenth-century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trades she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, and a mysterious gift for healing—are all tricks, both the means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles and a reliable way to survive.

But when Nahri accidentally summons Dara, an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior, to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to reconsider her beliefs. For Dara tells Nahri an extraordinary tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire and rivers where the mythical marid sleep, past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises and mountains where the circling birds of prey are more than what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass—a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.

In Daevabad, within gilded brass walls laced with enchantments and behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments run deep. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, her arrival threatens to ignite a war that has been simmering for centuries.

Spurning Dara’s warning of the treachery surrounding her, she embarks on a hesitant friendship with Alizayd, an idealistic prince who dreams of revolutionizing his father’s corrupt regime. All too soon, Nahri learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.

After all, there is a reason they say to be careful what you wish for . . .

Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler

Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler

I very rarely buy/read short story collections, but if it’s written by Octavia E. Butler, it’s a must read. This was actually the first time I’d come across a copy of Bloodchild and Other Stories in a bookstore, and I couldn’t resist purchasing it.

 

A perfect introduction for new readers and a must-have for avid fans, this New York Times Notable Book includes “Bloodchild,” winner of both the Hugo and the Nebula awards and “Speech Sounds,” winner of the Hugo Award. Appearing in print for the first time, “Amnesty” is a story of a woman named Noah who works to negotiate the tense and co-dependent relationship between humans and a species of invaders. Also new to this collection is “The Book of Martha” which asks: What would you do if God granted you the ability—and responsibility—to save humanity from itself?

Like all of Octavia Butler’s best writing, these works of the imagination are parables of the contemporary world. She proves constant in her vigil, an unblinking pessimist hoping to be proven wrong, and one of contemporary literature’s strongest voices.

The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum

The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum

The Coincidence Makers, which will be the first book by Israeli bestselling author Yoav Blum to be published in the US, will be released on March 6 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from The Coincidence Makers.

 

In this genre-bending novel, there is no such thing as chance and every action is carefully executed by highly trained agents. You’ll never look at coincidences the same way again.

What if the drink you just spilled, the train you just missed, or the lottery ticket you just found was not just a random occurrence? What if it’s all part of a bigger plan? What if there’s no such thing as a chance encounter? What if there are people we don’t know determining our destiny? And what if they are even planning the fate of the world?

Enter the Coincidence Makers―Guy, Emily, and Eric―three seemingly ordinary people who work for a secret organization devoted to creating and carrying out coincidences. What the rest of the world sees as random occurrences, are, in fact, carefully orchestrated events designed to spark significant changes in the lives of their targets―scientists on the brink of breakthroughs, struggling artists starved for inspiration, loves to be, or just plain people like you and me…

When an assignment of the highest level is slipped under Guy’s door one night, he knows it will be the most difficult and dangerous coincidence he’s ever had to fulfill. But not even a coincidence maker can see how this assignment is about to change all their lives and teach them the true nature of fate, free will, and the real meaning of love.

Part thriller, part mystery, part love story―Kirkus calls Yoav Blum’s The Coincidence Makers “a smart, unpredictable, and heartfelt adventure story.”

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

Alma Katsu’s next book, a historical horror novel, will be released on March 6 (hardcover, ebook).

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from The Hunger.

 

Evil is invisible, and it is everywhere.

That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the isolated travelers to the brink of madness. Though they dream of what awaits them in the West, long-buried secrets begin to emerge, and dissent among them escalates to the point of murder and chaos. They cannot seem to escape tragedy…or the feelings that someone–or something–is stalking them. Whether it’s a curse from the beautiful Tamsen Donner (who some think might be a witch), their ill-advised choice of route through uncharted terrain, or just plain bad luck, the ninety men, women, and children of the Donner Party are heading into one of one of the deadliest and most disastrous Western adventures in American history.

As members of the group begin to disappear, the survivors start to wonder if there really is something disturbing, and hungry, waiting for them in the mountains…and whether the evil that has unfolded around them may have in fact been growing within them all along.

Effortlessly combining the supernatural and the historical, The Hunger is an eerie, thrilling look at the volatility of human nature, pushed to its breaking point.

Additional Books:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (usually unsolicited). 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.

Last week was a terrific week for books in the mail since both of these new arrivals appeared on my anticipated speculative fiction releases of 2018 list.

Also last week, I posted a review of The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco. I loved Tea, the main character, and how Rin Chupeco told her story through two different perspectives and timelines—showing just how much can change in five years and adding fascinating dimension to Tea’s character.

And now, on to the latest books!

The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso

The Defiant Heir (Swords and Fire #2) by Melissa Caruso

The second book in the Swords and Fire trilogy will be released on April 24 (trade paperback, ebook).

This will also be Melissa Caruso’s second published novel, and I’m very excited about it since The Tethered Mage is an exciting, compulsively readable book that kept me up reading until 2:00 AM. I loved the world and characters, and The Tethered Mage was one of my favorite books of 2017.

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from The Tethered Mage. And if you missed it, Melissa Caruso recently wrote an excellent Twitter thread on fighting in ballgowns (with Disney princess examples!).

 

Across the border, the Witch Lords of Vaskandar are preparing for war. But before an invasion can begin, they must call a rare gathering of all seventeen lords to decide a course of action.

Lady Amalia Cornaro knows that this Conclave might be her only chance to smother the growing flames of war, and she is ready to make any sacrifice if it means saving Raverra from destruction.

Amalia and Zaira must go behind enemy lines, using every ounce of wit and cunning they have, to sway Vaskandar from war. Or else it will all come down to swords and fire.

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

City of Lies (The Poison Wars #1) by Sam Hawke

This epic fantasy debut novel will be released on July 3 (hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, audiobook).

Editor Diana Gill wrote a Behind the Bookshelf essay on the Tor-Forge blog in which she discusses what makes a book stand out from the rest using City of Lies as an example—and it sounds fantastic!

 

I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me… 

Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he’s a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state.

But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising…and angry.

Rin Chupeco’s novel The Bone Witch, the first book in a young adult fantasy trilogy, is the story of a powerful necromancer named Tea who was told her destiny was not to save the world but to change it—for better and for worse. Tea herself is introduced through the viewpoint of a bard, who finds her in exile about five years after she first discovered her magic, and his perspective alternates with hers as she relates her tale to him. As much as I enjoyed her narrative, the lovely writing, and exploring the world, it’s this storytelling structure and the dimension it adds to Tea’s characterization that truly make The Bone Witch a standout novel: at seventeen years old, she seems hardened compared to her younger self, yet it seems as though she has the same core personality traits and her values have simply shifted with her experiences.

The first glimpse of Tea seen through the eyes of the bard is a young woman effortlessly exerting control over one of the giant undead daevas capable of wreaking havoc throughout the world. She appears confident and mighty, and the scars she bears and the look in her eyes show she’s been through a lot, especially considering her age. After this brief scene showing the bard’s first impressions of Tea and a conversation in which she agrees to tell her tale, she begins her story. As a young girl, she never seemed particularly extraordinary and neither she nor anyone else realized she had power over the Dark—until the day twelve-year-old Tea unwittingly resurrected her older brother during his funeral.

Her first bout with necromancy left her rather drained, but fortunately, she was aided in her recovery by a woman named Mykaela, an experienced bone witch who became her mentor. Mykaela whisked Tea away from her quiet country life, along with her undead brother, and Tea began the journey to becoming an asha, a politically savvy woman who knows how to wield her magic, fight, use fashion to her advantage, and entertain through various arts such as dancing and music. However, she has a bigger challenge ahead of her than most asha due to being a rare bone witch, who are feared and hated by many.

Through her interactions with the bard, it’s revealed that much has changed since Tea first learned of her abilities. It’s fascinating to see just how different she is while simultaneously seeing how her nature combined with her background could have led to these changes. I loved that though Tea initially has a little bit of hesitation about being a bone witch, she’s quickly forced to admit to herself that she liked the taste of power—and that she continues to be self aware as she embraces her power and learns what she can about it, whether others would approve of her methods or not. Though she’s ultimately much harder and less merciful, she also still seems to be motivated by the same sense of justice exhibited by her younger self, and as her tale advances it demonstrates her increasing bitterness about the treatment of bone witches and the rigidity of asha traditions. Knowing where Tea ends up makes this novel far stronger than if it followed a linear path, and it also creates some suspense as it gradually fills in details about what happened in the past—as well as what exactly Tea has been planning while in exile, since that story is not yet finished, either.

Although the main protagonist and her characterization were my favorite parts, the lovely writing was another strength, especially in the bard’s more poetic sections. His perspective can be a bit melodramatic, but I found it quite readable and enjoyed how it often tied into the next part of Tea’s narration.

The world was also captivating, but I did feel that this is where the book faltered the most. It simultaneously provided lots of information about magic and history while not explaining enough, and it also seemed as though some elements were added because they were interesting or created tension rather than because they made sense in-world. For instance, everyone—from kings to common people—wears a heartsglass around their neck that shows their essence. To most, this just gives a general idea of who they are, but those with magic can learn to understand the subtle changes that most do not see. Though this can be useful in some situations, such as determining why someone is ill and how to cure them, it can also make people rather vulnerable when they interact with someone who can read what they’re truly feeling or exchange heartsglasses with a spouse. Perhaps I’ll feel differently once the trilogy has been finished, but right now, it seems as though the disadvantages far outweigh the benefits, making it hard to believe people would follow this system even though I rather like the general concept. Additionally, parts of the mythology could have been fleshed out a bit more, such as the Faceless and their operations. It would have improved one of the subplots to have a better idea of their place in the world and their goals beyond Being Evil.

Despite any quibbles, I loved The Bone Witch mainly because of its heroine and the storytelling structure that enhanced her characterization. The way it skillfully built up both parts of Tea’s story was mesmerizing, and I can hardly wait to continue both threads of her tale in The Heart Forger (coming March 20).

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Read an Excerpt from The Bone Witch

Read Rin Chupeco’s Women in SF&F Month Essay on Heroines (including Tea!)

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (usually unsolicited). 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.

Some rather intriguing books came in the mail recently, but first, here is the previous post in case you missed it:

  • Review of Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra, a novel set in post-apocalyptic Asia focusing on a heroine belonging to one of the Orders of Peace that upholds justice throughout the land. I absolutely loved the world, but I thought the characters and story were held back by mechanical plot devices.

I’m almost finished with a review of Rin Chupeco’s The Bone Witch that should be going up in the next day or two. (You may have already seen that I rather liked this one and am looking forward to the sequel.)

And now, some upcoming releases!

84K by Claire North

84K by Claire North

This dystopian novel by award-winning author Claire North will released on May 22 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook).

I’m rather curious about this one since I’ve been hearing great things about Claire North’s books, including The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and her 2017 World Fantasy Award–winning novel A Sudden Appearance of Hope. Claire North is also Carnegie Medal–nominated author Catherine Webb and Kate Griffin.

 

From one of the most powerful writers in modern fiction comes a dystopian vision of a world where money reigns supreme, and nothing is so precious that it can’t be bought….

The penalty for Dani Cumali’s murder: £84,000.

Theo works in the Criminal Audit Office. He assesses each crime that crosses his desk and makes sure the correct debt to society is paid in full.

These days, there’s no need to go to prison – provided that you can afford to pay the penalty for the crime you’ve committed. If you’re rich enough, you can get away with murder.

But Dani’s murder is different. When Theo finds her lifeless body, and a hired killer standing over her and calmly calling the police to confess, he can’t let her death become just an entry on a balance sheet.

Someone is responsible. And Theo is going to find them and make them pay.

Perfect for fans of speculative fiction such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Never Let Me Go, Claire North’s moving and unnerving new novel will resonate with readers around the world.

A Veil of Spears by Bradley P. Beaulieu

A Veil of Spears (Song of Shattered Sands #3) by Bradley P. Beaulieu

This epic fantasy novel will be released on March 20 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

The publisher’s website has samples from the first two books in the series:

  1. Twelve Kings in Sharakhai
  2. With Blood Upon the Sand

There is also an excerpt from Of Sand and Malice Made, a companion novella.

 

The third book in The Song of Shattered Sands series—an epic fantasy with a desert setting, filled with rich worldbuilding and pulse-pounding action.

Since the Night of Endless Swords, a bloody battle the Kings of Sharakhai narrowly won, the kings have been hounding the rebels known as the Moonless Host. Many have been forced to flee the city, including Çeda, who discovers that the King of Sloth is raising his army to challenge the other kings’ rule.

When Çeda finds the remaining members of the Moonless Host, now known as the thirteenth tribe, she sees a tenuous existence. Çeda hatches a plan to return to Sharakhai and free the asirim, the kings’ powerful, immortal slaves. The kings, however, have sent their greatest tactician, the King of Swords, to bring Çeda to justice for her crimes.

But the once-unified front of the kings is crumbling. The surviving kings vie quietly against one another, maneuvering for control over Sharakhai. Çeda hopes to use that to her advantage, but whom to trust? Any of them might betray her.

As Çeda works to lift the shackles from the asirim and save the thirteenth tribe, the kings of Sharakhai, the scheming queen of Qaimir, the ruthless blood mage, Hamzakiir, and King of Swords all prepare for a grand clash that may decide the fate of all.

Additional Books:

Rati Mehrotra’s debut novel, Markswoman, is the first book in a duology set in the world of Asiana, a post-apocalyptic Asia in which Orders of Peace uphold justice throughout the land. This book primarily follows Kyra, a nineteen-year-old belonging to the Order of Kali, as she learns more about herself, her world, and being a Markswoman while honing her abilities so she can avenge her mentor. Though it can be entertaining and has a likable main protagonist, I did ultimately feel that prophecies and mysterious instructions were overused as a means of driving the plot and Kyra’s actions—and if I do read the next book, it will not be because of a desire to find out how the cliffhanger ending resolves but because I want to explore more of the fascinating world Rati Mehrotra has created.

Centuries ago, the Great War poisoned the earth and water and changed the world forever. Out of the death and destruction left in its wake was born the Order of Kali, a group of women wielding blades forged from a telepathic metal that the Ones had brought from the stars. Only these Markswomen could lawfully take a life, and they only killed those guilty of the worst crimes in order to maintain harmony. Approximately 850 years after this system was first conceived, five Orders of Peace operate throughout Asiana (though, even 400 years after its foundation, some do not consider the newest of these Orders to be valid given that it’s composed of Marksmen).

After the murder of the rest of her clan when she was five years old, Kyra was discovered by the Mahimata of the Order of Kali, who became a second mother to her, and trained to become a Markswoman. Fourteen years later, the Mahimata has decided it’s time for Kyra to attempt the final rite of passage for all Markswomen: taking her first life. Though she faces difficulty in completing the task, Kyra succeeds in the end and is promoted from apprentice to Markswoman. However, upheaval in the Order of Kali shortly thereafter forces her to leave it all behind on a quest to follow where the Mahimata leads her—seeking both the good of her Order and vengeance.

Markswoman has a fantastic premise and world, and the first few chapters are an intriguing introduction to the characters and setting. We first meet Kyra when she’s just found the man who will become her first mark if she passes the test. Though Markswomen are supposed to remain neutral in their pursuit of justice, Kyra has long wished to kill this particular person: the bloodthirsty son of the one who murdered the rest of her clan. However, Kyra quickly learns that her dreams of vengeance did not prepare her for the guilt she feels when she sees the terror in her mark’s eyes, and she hesitates—nearly failing her mission.

In the end, Kyra succeeds with the help of her telepathic blade, forged from a special metal brought to the planet by the Ones from the stars. In addition to having been changed by the Great War hundreds of years ago, the world was also shaped by this and other alien technology even older than that, though the Ones have long since returned to their home, and Kyra’s assignment shows some of this influence firsthand. While sneaking out of the camp after completing her task, Kyra hears the telepathic guns that enabled these people to destroy her clan in the first place, calling to her to use them to kill them all for what they did to her family. These weapons were created in an attempt to replicate the metal brought by the ones since they forbade people from using it to create guns, and though they managed to imitate its abilities, it was twisted and evil—and, unfortunately, indestructible. Fortunately for Kyra, her knife helps her resist their temptation, and it also allows her to use the Transport Hubs (another ancient gift from the Ones) to teleport to another Hub closer to the caves of the Order of Kali.

After the first couple of chapters about Kyra, we meet the second main character, Rustan. Though the story is primarily about Kyra and told from her third person perspective, there are also a significant number of chapters dedicated to Rustan’s viewpoint (and some about others from the Order of Kali, but not many). Like Kyra, we first see Rustan encountering difficulties in his role as executioner; unlike Kyra, this is not Rustan’s first or even second time killing a mark, although it has been some time since his last. Rustan finds it unusually difficult to ignore this man’s pleas and declarations of his innocence, but he reminds himself this man committed patricide, hardens his heart, and does his duty. However, after he returns to his Order, he learns that the man was telling the truth: he was framed for another’s crime.

Both characters started with great potential, and I did find the parallels and contrasts between them interesting. They both end up having reasons to lose faith in their Orders with one being instructed to unjustly take a life and the other encountering betrayal within her Order. Though Kyra hesitated in the very beginning, she is largely steadfast and dedicated: she may no longer have faith in some individuals within her Order, but she continues to believe in the Order herself, the goddess Kali, and her teacher. Rustan, on the other hand, goes from being dutiful to struggling with his role: though he never completely gives up, he does sometimes try to run from his problems or, at the very least, considers doing so.

Despite being able to appreciate the world and character arcs as a whole, I did feel that the novel was hindered by its reliance on prophecy to drive the plot and Kyra’s actions. The Mahimata of the Order of Kali and the seer of Rustan’s Order of Khur both appear to have some knowledge of the future—when it’s convenient, such as the seer not realizing the man sentenced for patricide was innocent until after it was too late—and how they want it to play out. I ended up feeling as though the plot progression was following a cryptic instruction manual since Kyra’s larger actions were driven by secretive messages and lessons that will become useful later. This was frustrating to me because this manipulation was not at all subtle, keeping the story from unfolding naturally, and it also prevented Kyra from being a fully developed character in her own right when so much of what she did was influenced by others pointing her in a specific direction. Of course, she does have a choice about whether to follow a path or ignore it, and the fact that she so easily follows her teacher shows the trust and reverence she has for her, plus Kyra is clearly shown to be courageous and determined. However, having Kyra follow a course directed by others prevents us from learning which choices she’d make if left to her own devices and doesn’t allow us to see the full breadth of her personality—and frankly, makes the story less exciting.

My biggest issue was that this kept the characters from fully coming to life, but I also found the romantic subplots rather lackluster. Kyra’s journey takes her to the Order of Khur where she’s relentlessly pursued by a young Marksman who refuses to accept that she just wants to be friends, and of course, she and Rustan are attracted to each other. Rustan is charged with training Kyra in their ways of fighting (I did really like that each Order had different beliefs and ways of doing things), and there’s not a lot showing the development of those feelings before each of their thoughts are consumed with dreams of kissing the other. Though it’s not unrealistic since they did spend a lot of time together, I do prefer to read about relationships that show why two people are drawn together instead of seeming as though they are drawn together because they’re the two main characters (or because one of them doesn’t know any other women).

Markswoman is not at all a complete story so perhaps the second installment will address some of the problems I had, but as it is, I found it lagged at times after a strong beginning. The world is spectacular—my favorite parts were the brief sections between each part containing records of the Orders and world history—but the mechanical plot devices held back the characters and story. Though it was entertaining enough to finish reading, the setting was the only aspect that I found memorable—and if I do read the next book, it will mainly be because I want to spend more time in Asiana with its rich history and variety of Orders of Peace.

My Rating: 6/10

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