Women in SF&F Month Banner

Women in SF&F Month opens today with a guest post by Ehigbor Okosun, whose upcoming debut novel I’m very excited about! Forged by Blood, the first part of a fantasy duology inspired by Nigerian mythology, is described as “full of magic and emotion and set in a highly atmospheric, complex world in which a young woman fights to survive a tyrannical society, having everything stripped away from her, and seeks vengeance for her mother’s murder and the spilled blood of her people.” It’s coming out on August 8, but while waiting for it, you can read the essay below, “Myth and Magic, Seen and Unseen.”

Cover of Forged By Blood by Ehigbor Okosun

Myth and Magic, Seen and Unseen

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

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

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

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

“I like these stories. But I never see them in our books. Not even the magic ones.”

I sigh, deflated. “Not everything has to be in a book to be real. And we’re real, you silly. If I poked you in the eye, wouldn’t you feel that?”

She shrugs. “Mum says no home stuff at school. No stories. No talking back even if the teacher says something wrong about me. English only.” She pauses, furrowing her brow in concentration. “Invisibility is the best protection,” she finishes, nodding. “Home stories are only real at home. If we bring them outside, people will smash them.”

“How will they do that?” I ask, defiant, remembering too, echoes of the same advice from my mum. Face your schoolwork. Stand out in test scores—nothing else.

“I don’t want the headmistress calling my parents. So I pretend I’m someone else,” she says. “I tried telling my classmate one of our stories, and she laughed at me. It hurt. So I keep the magic to myself.”

I don’t say anything after that, and with how quickly and slowly the world seems to move at that age, the moment fades. We go on to screaming and chasing each other until stern looks force us to bed. But I lie on the top bunk that night, heart thudding in my chest as the moon cuts through a twilit sky. I hold my hand out against her light, turning it this way and that, flexing. I think of how easy it would be to bundle the food containers stashed underneath the bed and creep out through the back door. Instead, I curl into a ball, whisper for the thousandth time that I am real, and the magic of the stories in my heart must be too.


When I finally get to writing what will become FORGED BY BLOOD, I am plagued with hope and fear. I draft in a few months. But writing seminars preach against that. I’m to put the draft away, let it sit for a year, or five, like some famous author once did. I can’t. My characters accompany me at every waking moment, arguing I don’t spend enough time with them because I’m working other jobs. I argue back that I gave up medical school, courted shame and dishonor, for them. They don’t care. They want to live. They breathe, beg, demand.

I attend my first writing course, a week affair. There’s one face like mine in twenty-five. Someone asks about my writing process while sneering at my age, wondering…
Whether I know anything about life;
If I’m fully Black;
And know the stats of BIPOC* writers;  (*Spoiler, they say something much ruder.)
Why I talk the way I do–Or if;
I’m Hopeful I’ll get lucky like that girl who writes about Orisha and is all over the news.

I read a sample of my work. The class falls silent. We don’t know how to critique this, they say.
But then—
“The protagonist is too—”
“Define what shuku is? I got the gist from the description, but—”
“Too mature. Adult.”
“Young adult. It’s fast-paced.”
“The language, it’s—”
“—confusing. Did the girl become a bird?”
“Isn’t this basically Akata Witch?”
A booming voice drowns all others, “I enjoyed it. I think we all enjoyed it.” Nods and hums around. “We don’t—at least I don’t know why. But I liked it. A lot.”
Then, “Is this inspired by your life?”

“Why do you write?” the instructor asks. I want to tell her it’s the wrong question. That I don’t so much write as tell stories, just like my father, and my grandfather. Like the great-grandmother who held onto scraps of who she was as her own people cast her into the sea, determined to reshape her into something less wild, unruly. I want to be clever. To prove I deserve to be here.

The instructor snaps on without waiting a beat. “We write to satisfy the ego,” she says. Everyone nods, assured, a few casting embarrassed glances like they’re confessing sins. Ego? I’m lost. Hot shame stinging my throat. If this was really about pride, some guttural urge to prove myself, I would’ve stuck to medical school and ochem maps. What would give my immigrant parents more bragging rights than a physician daughter who is also a writer? But the instructor abruptly shifts to the next question—what makes Harry Potter so beloved?


Ego. I mull the word again years later as I work on my edits near midnight. FORGED BY BLOOD is sold and has a publication date. I’ve sent some chapters over to my old friend. I’m struggling to keep awake when she calls me.

“I love it. I love that we get to see Dèmi vulnerable. Doesn’t stop her from doing things that will get her killed. But I get it. She can’t stop running. If she does, she might discover she doesn’t have the energy to keep going. I see her. I see all of us.”

“You see her? Us?” I parrot dumbfounded.

“Yes. This is the shit—oop—never mind I can say shit now—the shit we weren’t allowed to do. To be visible. Dèmi’s raised the same way. I mean, I get why. If people know she exists, they’ll kill her, snuff out what makes her who she is. But she’s still trying. She’s still there. And it’s not just her—it’s Nana, Yetundé, Cree—heck, even Mari is complex. Ugh. I shouldn’t mention Mari. You know I have a thing for bad girls though.”

I laugh, awestruck.

“Don’t get a big head now,” she clucks.


Ego. I hold the word. Caress it. Perhaps that’s the only English word that will satisfy. But I see more in it than pride. Ego is the desire to craft, create. The power of naming and delineating. The magic of making, of declaring existence.

It is breaking the unspoken mold set out for Black female protagonists. That they be fearless and badass and power through their circumstances without losing hope. That they be imperceptible beams that hold up the house itself, without whom the pillar would rot. It is screaming your existence, deciding to be seen—perceiving yourself. It is acknowledging that connection begins when we lock eyes with another, feel a welcome squeeze on the shoulder, have laughs that crescendo together, moments that say all we need to say.

So make your myths. Craft your stories. Hold your languages rich and worthy. Demand to breathe. Rest in the overwhelming bliss of knowing that you deserve to be. And always, turn out and look. You never know who might need your gaze, your words, your truth. It might be the person you never suspected, and sometimes, on wonderful days, it just might be you.


And for those who sit here, eaten up by disbelief, wondering; if the childhood story was real; if children could speak or think like that—ask yourself, what myths are you creating? Who do they serve? And why?

Photo of Ehigbor Okosun Ehigbor Okosun, or just Ehi, is an Austin-based author who writes speculative fiction, mystery thrillers, and contemporary novels for adult and YA audiences. Raised across four continents, she hopes to do justice to the myths and traditions she grew up steeped in, and honor her large, multiracial and multiethnic family. She is a graduate of the University of Texas with degrees in Plan II Honors, Neurolinguistics, and English, as well as Chemistry and Pre-Medical studies and is a Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentorship Award finalist. When she’s not reading, you can catch her bullet journalling, gaming, baking, and spending time with her loved ones. FORGED BY BLOOD, out on 8.8.23, is her debut novel.

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today is an especially wonderful birthday for me because I get to announce that the twelfth annual Women in SF&F Month starts tomorrow! For the last few years, April has been dedicated to highlighting some of the many women doing amazing work in science fiction and fantasy 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.

As always, they will be discussing a variety of subjects—the works and experiences that influenced their writing and ideas, the books and authors that showed them the power of fiction, representation, myth, history, 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 way back 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 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, so 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 about this year’s upcoming guest posts, which start tomorrow! This week will have new guest posts Monday through Thursday, and the schedule is as follows:

Women in SF&F Month 2023 Schedule Graphic

April 3: Ehigbor Okosun (Forged by Blood)
April 4: Malka Older (The Mimicking of Known Successes, The Centenal Cycle)
April 5: Elisa A. Bonnin (Dauntless, Stolen City)
April 6: Hadeer Elsbai (The Daughters of Izdihar)

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

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

Some of this is a little late since things have been busier than usual (my husband has been recovering from surgery), but better late than never! This weekend’s highlights include two books in the mail, an ebook purchase, and a digital ARC, but first, here is the latest post since one of these features in case you missed it:

  • Guest Post by Bitter Medicine Author Mia Tsai This contains information on Mia Tsai’s new xianxia-inspired contemporary fantasy novel and “The Case for Aftermaths,” an essay about her love of character-driven stories and aftermaths. (It also includes discussion of the endings of The Princess Bride, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Hunger Games trilogy.)

And now, the latest books on the TBR!

Cover of The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill

The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill

This novella, a reimagining of the Japanese folktale “The Crane Wife,” came out a few weeks ago. It’s available in hardcover and ebook, and Tor.com has an excerpt of the first chapter from The Crane Husband. Goodreads currently has a giveaway of 15 print copies for readers in the US and Canada, ending on March 31.

New York Times bestselling author Kelly Barnhill received the World Fantasy Award for her novella The Unlicensed Magician and the John Newbery Medal for The Girl Who Drank the Moon. She is also the author of the National Book Award finalist The Ogress and the Orphans and the novel When Women Were Dragons, which was a Goodreads Choice Award nominee in the fantasy category.

I’ve heard wonderful things about Kelly Barnhill’s work, especially The Girl Who Drank the Moon, and this novella sounds like just the type of dark fairy-tale-like story that’s right up my alley. (As I mentioned before, this post is a bit late and I actually started writing it last weekend. I’ve read a bit of the beginning of The Crane Husband since writing about it here, and I’m enjoying the prose and how creepily unsettling it is so far.)


Award-winning author Kelly Barnhill brings her singular talents to The Crane Husband, a raw, powerful story of love, sacrifice, and family.

“Mothers fly away like migrating birds. This is why farmers have daughters.

A fifteen-year-old teenager is the backbone of her small Midwestern family, budgeting the household finances and raising her younger brother while her mom, a talented artist, weaves beautiful tapestries. For six years, it’s been just the three of them—her mom has brought home guests at times, but none have ever stayed.

Yet when her mom brings home a six-foot tall crane with a menacing air, the girl is powerless to prevent her mom letting the intruder into her heart, and her children’s lives. Utterly enchanted and numb to his sharp edges, her mom abandons the world around her to weave the masterpiece the crane demands.

In this stunning contemporary retelling of “The Crane Wife” by the Newbery Medal-winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, one fiercely pragmatic teen forced to grow up faster than was fair will do whatever it takes to protect her family—and change the story.

Cover of The Chariot at Dusk by Swati Teerdhala

The Chariot at Dusk (Tiger at Midnight #3) by Swati Teerdhala

The final book in the Tiger at Midnight trilogy is available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook. The publisher’s website has a text sample and audio excerpt from The Chariot at Dusk, in addition to text and audio samples from the previous books in the series:

  1. The Tiger at Midnight
  2. The Archer at Dawn

I’ve been considering getting a copy of this for a while, and I finally purchased it when I had a few Kindle credits. Although I almost always buy print books, the first couple of books in this series were exactly the type of books I don’t mind reading digitally: fast-paced, compulsively readable, and just plain fun. Swati Teerdhala seems to love and understand what makes the tropes she uses—like a softer boy and a harder girl who bond despite being on opposite sides—work, and I also rather enjoyed the world, which has Indian and Hindu influences.

My reviews of the first two books are here:

  1. The Tiger at Midnight
  2. The Archer at Dawn

Swati Teerdhala also wrote the Women in SF&F Month 2019 essay “The Unlikeable Heroine,” which opens with some thoughts on Sansa Stark:

The first time I heard someone call a heroine unlikeable, I was confused. To me, this heroine, Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones, was a character I had been waiting a long time for. I saw her as someone flawed, someone who was simply trying her best.

She starts off as a young girl caught up in her own life and unaware of her surroundings. She was a little selfish, a little naive, a little too trusting. But she was also kind, clever, and tough. Sansa learns and changes over seven seasons, as she grows into a woman. A woman who is complex and so painfully human, I often wanted to cringe and look away in fear that she might expose my own shortcomings. But also a woman so strong in the face of tragedy and terror that she encouraged. Inspired me.

In short, a woman who was real.

She later discussed writing Esha, one of the two main protagonists in the Tiger at Midnight series, and how her attempts to make her “likeable” in earlier drafts were keeping her from being true to her character.


The sweeping, dramatic finale of Swati Teerdhala’s South India-inspired fantasy trilogy rounds out the epic, romantic tale of an assassin and a soldier fighting to save their country and their people. Perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir and Victoria Aveyard.

A queen at last. An empty palace. A kingdom to save.

Esha is reeling from Kunal’s betrayal, but she has a kingdom to rule from behind a thin smokescreen—pretending to be Princess Reha while she sends her most trusted soldiers to collect Reha and Kunal by any means necessary. Traitors, after all, must be punished.

But the Yavar are attacking from every front—tracking down Kunal and Reha in the remote mountains, kidnapping Harun—in search of legendary artifacts that will give them the power to break the precarious janma bond and release the destructive magic back into the lands.

Now that the race is on to find the missing artifacts, Esha must put aside her rage and work with Kunal again—but can she find the strength to forgive him, or will the Viper have her revenge at any cost?

Cover of Under Alien Skies by Philip Plait

Under Alien Skies: A Sightseer’s Guide to the Universe by Philip Plait

This book by astronomer and Bad Astronomy author Philip Plait (who also wrote articles of the same name) will be released on April 18 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). It sounds fascinating: a guide to what it would be like to explore various parts of the universe, including overviews of the moon, Pluto, black holes, planets with two suns, and more.


A rip-roaring tour of the cosmos with the Bad Astronomer, bringing you up close and personal with the universe like never before.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel the universe? How would Saturn’s rings look from a spaceship sailing just above them? If you were falling into a black hole, what’s the last thing you’d see before getting spaghettified? While traveling in person to most of these amazing worlds may not be possible—yet—the would-be space traveler need not despair: you can still take the scenic route through the galaxy with renowned astronomer and science communicator Philip Plait.

On this lively, immersive adventure through the cosmos, Plait draws ingeniously on both the latest scientific research and his prodigious imagination to transport you to ten of the most spectacular sights outer space has to offer. In vivid, inventive scenes informed by rigorous science—injected with a dose of Plait’s trademark humor—Under Alien Skies places you on the surface of alien worlds, from our own familiar Moon to the far reaches of our solar system and beyond. Try launching yourself onto a two-hundred-meter asteroid, or stargazing from the rim of an ancient volcano on a planet where, from the place you stand, it is eternally late afternoon. Experience the sudden onset of lunar nightfall, the disorientation of walking—or, rather, shuffling—when you weigh almost nothing, the irritation of jagged regolith dust. Glimpse the frigid mountains and plains of Pluto and the cake-like exterior of a comet called 67P. On a planet trillions of miles from Earth, glance down to see the strange, beautiful shadows cast by a hundred thousand stars.

For the aspiring extraterrestrial citizen, casual space tourist, or curious armchair traveler, Plait is an illuminating, always-entertaining guide to the most otherworldly views in our universe.

Cover of The Weaver and the Witch Queen by Genevieve Gornichec

The Weaver and the Witch Queen by Genevieve Gornichec

This historical fantasy novel set in tenth century Norway will be released on July 25 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). Popsugar has an excerpt from The Weaver and the Witch Queen., and Goodreads is currently running a US giveaway of 10 print copies (ending March 31).

This sounds fantastic, and I’ve heard such great things about Genevieve Gornichec’s first novel, The Witch’s Heart, which also has Norse influences.


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.

I’m thrilled to have a guest post by Mia Tsai to share with you today! Her debut novel, Bitter Medicine, is a xianxia-inspired contemporary fantasy book about a magical calligrapher descended from the Chinese god of medicine working with a half-elf security expert. It will be available in trade paperback and ebook next week—on March 14!


Cover of Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai
Cover Art by Jialing Pan
More Information & Book Excerpt



In this inspired contemporary fantasy, a Chinese immortal and a French elf navigate romance, family loyalty, and workplace demands. In her debut novel, Mia Tsai has created a paranormal adventure that is full of humor, passion, and depth.

As a descendant of the Chinese god of medicine, ignored middle child Elle was destined to be a doctor. Instead, she is underemployed as a mediocre magical calligrapher at the fairy temp agency, paranoid that her murderous younger brother will find her and their elder brother. Using her full abilities will expose Elle’s location. Nevertheless, she challenges herself by covertly outfitting Luc, her client and crush, with high-powered glyphs.

Half-elf Luc, the agency’s top security expert, has his own secret: he’s responsible for a curse laid on two children from an old assignment. To heal them, he’ll need to perform his job duties with unrelenting excellence and earn time off from his tyrannical boss.

When Elle saves Luc’s life on a mission, he brings her a gift and a request for stronger magic to ensure success on the next job—except the next job is hunting down Elle’s younger brother.

As Luc and Elle collaborate, their chemistry blooms. Happiness, for once, is an option for them both. But Elle is loyal to her family, and Luc is bound by his true name. To win freedom from duty, they must make unexpected sacrifices.

The Case for Aftermaths

I love endings. They’re easily my favorite part of the book both to read and write, so much so that when I read a book, I often peek at the ending well before I get there just to get a sense of what I should expect. It’s reassuring, in a way, to know that things will coalesce and turn out for good or ill. As a writer, I write toward my ending; I never start a project without knowing exactly how it ends.

Endings are predictable: the hero wins or loses following a stirring climax, which is often a confrontation of some kind. The reader walks away from the book (or the arc, or the chapter, or anything that might constitute an ending because books are full of endings) with the satisfaction of the win or the ache of the loss and many feelings, depending on the complexity of said win or loss. It’s often here that an author will stop the story (or start a new story) because it’s a logical place to stop.

But what I love more than endings are aftermaths.

I’m a character-driven reader and writer. No matter the magic and wonder in a book, especially in a fantasy, I’m drawn to the realities and contradictions of being human. We’re messy and flawed and have emotions we sometimes can’t control. We take action and then face the consequences of those actions. Characters in books go through so many traumatic events, events that form endings—and then very little is said about what happens immediately after. Sometimes, I think about the ending of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, where—spoiler alert, if you haven’t read it—he has his heroes ride off into the sunset, quite literally, allowing the reader to bask in the happy ending until “S. Morgenstern” inserts a series of awful things that happen five minutes later. Goldman then has to cut in to make sure the reader gets the satisfying ending that was promised.

Except I wasn’t that reader. I had questions, you see. How was Westley supposed to sit a horse after his ordeal? For that matter, how was Fezzik supposed to sit a horse? And aren’t they all being chased? Is that book two material?

I think about what happens next all the time because storylines are not lines, but cycles. Stories can be engines of perpetual motion, where every ending becomes a beginning. Where, after the big conflict, you sift through the ashes and find the seeds of growth. I like to joke, except I’m being very serious, that when I find a place of maximum pain in the story, I go and press on it a little more to see what happens. I write five minutes past the ending to see if there’s something more the characters can give. The instinct is to stop where it hurts, but sometimes, if you push further, you’ll find the scene extends in ways you hadn’t anticipated. That five minutes can turn into ten minutes, and then suddenly, there’s a new depth of emotion.

So: the aftermath. The denouement. I am invested in a denouement where the sun still rises on the next day. We don’t often get to see the climactic story events reverberating through the text, especially not in the direct thereafter, but those ripples are the story to me. I want to ask What now? and get an answer. I want to see how characters approach rebuilding, because that can be more difficult than the fighting, or how they heal their minds and spirits along with their bodies.

Two examples of aftermath stories come to mind: the Scouring of the Shire and the end of Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay. The Scouring of the Shire, when I first read it as a kid, felt tacked-on to me, as if it were just one more way for Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin to suffer. As a child, I loved the neatness of Sauron’s fall, of Aragorn’s crowning and wedding and Praise them with great praise! As an adult, though, I see the necessity of the Scouring. War exacts a heavy toll and nothing remains untouched by it, and I respect Tolkien for staying with his characters—and himself—and showing us the human toll. Likewise, in Mockingjay, we see (spoilers once again!) how life is not always happy for Katniss and Peeta, and how their new normal, for however long it stretches, is only bearable if they have each other.

This really hits, for me, at the heart of what it means to tell a story. No matter the trappings of the setting, no matter the cool factor or the ooh, shiny!, the story is about human emotion and connection at every level. An aftermath, then, is a way to extend those connections and get deeper insight on who the characters are, to reveal their frailties in the best and worst of situations.

I’ll admit, though, not everyone likes to see what comes after, especially if a story isn’t supposed to be that deep. And Western media likes to present solutions like they’re event horizons to be crossed. It’s much easier to imagine the big win will fix everything. But the reality of it is that nothing is tidy, not even in worlds where everything is made up. Embrace the idea of looking beyond the goal. Use an aftermath to show that the sun will still rise tomorrow. Give us aftermaths so we can process alongside our heroes.

Photo of Mia Tsai
Photo Credit: Wynne Photography
Mia Tsai is a Taiwanese American author of speculative fiction. She lives in Atlanta with her family and, when not writing, is a hype woman for her orchids and a devoted cat gopher. Her favorite things include music of all kinds (really, truly) and taking long trips with nothing but the open road and a saucy rhythm section. She has been quoted in Glamour once. In her other lives, she is a professional editor, photographer, and musician. Mia is on Twitter at @itsamia and on Instagram at @mia.tsai.books.

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

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

I added one new ebook to the TBR last week, and I received the book I mentioned I’d ordered in last weekend’s Leaning Pile of Books. Since I already discussed A Deadly Education and highlighted the rest of The Scholomance series in that post, I’m not going to cover my book purchase in this week’s feature.

In case you missed it, here’s what went up last week:

And now, a new book that sounds fantastic!

Cover of Song of the Mango and Other New Myths by Vida Cruz-Borja

Song of the Mango and Other New Myths by Vida Cruz-Borja

This short story collection was published by Ateneo de Manila University Press last year and is available in paperback and ebook. Depending on where you live, you may only be able to find the digital edition, which is currently available through Kindle Unlimited or for $4.99 on Amazon. The author’s website does have some information on how to get a shipping quote for a paperback if you are outside the Philippines.

There is also a Story Notes page with more background on each of these tales, which include “Odd and Ugly” and “Have Your #Hugot Harvested at This Diwata-Owned Café.”

Vida Cruz-Borja is also the author of the wonderful Ignyte Award–winning essay “We Are the Mountain: A Look at the Inactive Protagonist.”


A diwata brings a grieving slave’s brother back to life as a mango tree. Two writers write their ideal lovers into existence with ink from a mangkukulam. A kapre and a farmgirl play out a tale as old as time in Spanish colonial Philippines. A girl with a magical heritage must rescue a bumbling cartographer from the hidden city of Biringan. Maria Makiling opens a pop-up café with human heartbreak on the menu.

In Song of the Mango and Other New Myths, Vida Cruz-Borja brings stories woven from elements of classical myths and folklore from the Philippines and other parts of the world, as well as from visions of the modern and of the future. In worlds richly reimagined and reinvented, these “new myths” explore hidden depths from flawed characters who strive to search for a just and equal world, whether that may be in the realm of ordinary humans or the realm of magical creatures.


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

Note: This review covers the third book in a trilogy, and it contains spoilers for the previous books in the series after the fifth paragraph. You may prefer to read my review of The Obsidian Tower (book 1) or my review of The Quicksilver Court (book 2).

The Ivory Tomb concludes Melissa Caruso’s Rooks and Ruin trilogy, a standalone series set about 150 years after her Swords and Fire trilogy (The Tethered Mage, The Defiant Heir, The Unbound Empire). Rooks and Ruin follows Ryx, the appointed protector of her Witch Lord grandmother’s castle. For 4000 years, her family has been responsible for making sure The Door That Must Never Be Opened in the building’s Black Tower remains shut, but things go horribly wrong when a visiting ambassador breaks their millennia-long streak of success as guardians. To make matters even worse, Ryx—whose touch kills living things—accidentally comes into contact with the diplomat while trying to keep her from opening the Door, further enflaming political tensions.

This incident starts the series’ main story, which involves learning about what happened last time the Door was opened while trying to prevent the same horrors from happening again. Ryx also discovers the truth about her own strange magic that is so unlike the rest of her family’s powers, which bring life instead of taking it away, and grapples with self-acceptance.

I adored the first book in this trilogy, The Obsidian Tower. It’s filled with interpersonal drama with friends and foes alike gathered in the castle while a murderer runs rampant, and it kept me pondering who may or may not be trustworthy. It also did a fantastic job setting up the mysteries surrounding the Door and Ryx’s powers, and I could hardly put it down. Even better, I kept thinking about it after I did have to set it down.

However, I didn’t love the next book, The Quicksilver Court, the same way as the first. It’s still very good with some memorable scenes and lines of dialogue (and the great reveal about Ryx’s powers), but I didn’t find it nearly as riveting as the first book. The palace setting wasn’t as captivating as the family castle with its history and occasional rooms of bone, and the interpersonal connections were less compelling. This installment delved more into the pasts of Ryx’s friends in the Rookery, and I didn’t think these characters had enough depth or charisma to carry that amount of focus.

And though I found it to be more of a page-turner than the second book, The Ivory Tomb is my least favorite of the three. It’s a good, well-paced book with amusing dialogue, and I found it extremely readable after the first 40 pages or so. Yet, I also found that there weren’t parts or lines that stuck with me after I finished it. It just didn’t have that special spark that takes a story to the next level—and given that I felt similarly about parts of the previous book, I didn’t love this series nearly as much as Swords and Fire despite my love for the first book in the trilogy.

From this point forward, there will be spoilers for the first two books in this series.

The Ivory Tomb starts shortly after the end of the previous book, which revealed that all nine of the demons who nearly destroyed the world are once again running loose. Ryx is still trying to come to terms with the fact that she’s one of them—sort of—since her grandmother saved her life by letting one of the demons merge with her when she was deathly ill as a baby. This was one of the most benevolent demons but also one of the most destructive ones: Disaster. After Ryx learns that she’s part Disaster (which really explains so much), the memories of her life as a demon start to come back in bits and pieces, but there’s still a lot that she doesn’t remember from that time.

I have never liked amnesia as a story device. Fortunately, this novel’s brisk pacing meant there were enough other things happening that I kept turning the pages, and this case is at least a little different from the norm since Ryx retains her human memories. However, the holes in her memory contributed to my overall feeling that this could have been a stronger book. Ryx’s (very understandable) concerns about how her friends would react to the news that she was the legendary demon who nearly destroyed the world were compelling, but the fact that she couldn’t remember much of her personal history with the other demons made their interactions kind of lackluster.

A major part of this book’s storyline involves Ryx encountering the various demons who are wreaking havoc on the world. The others remembered her, for better or worse, but she tended to just have vague memories and feelings related to them. These interactions between Ryx and the other demons are a sort of family drama since she thinks of them as kin: she doesn’t necessarily like all of them, but she feels obligated to at least try to reason with them and work out a peaceful solution. However, I found this rather lifeless compared to all the human family drama in the first book, where it was clear why tensions existed between these people. There were obvious reasons they had messy relationships; it wasn’t just someone being shocked Ryx didn’t remember what happened between them, only for Ryx to eventually recall what had happened and fill the reader in after the fact. This probably would have worked for me if the new demons had more personality, but they’re rather one-dimensional beings named after their primary drive or power. Of course, this makes sense for these types of characters, but they still could have been imbued with some charisma that made them stand out more.

I couldn’t help but compare this to the Swords and Fire trilogy (although at least part of my preference for this series was due to the political drama and the way it played with fantasy tropes). Amalia, the protagonist, had no personal history with a lot of the Witch Lords she met, but they each had quirks and charm that made them captivating even if they only briefly appeared. But it was more than just that: the characters in the earlier series were more vibrant in general. The relationships Amalia had with people seemed better fleshed out and defined—including those with characters she met along the way, though to be fair, Ryx did have less people experience since exuding death made it difficult to get close to others—and the scenes and dialogue sparkled, particularly in the second and third books. Rooks and Ruin seemed more like it was going through the motions without giving it that extra shine, especially when it came to the characters in the Rookery. (I actually did like badass warrior Ashe and scholarly Bastian, whose little bits of dimension and duality worked better for me than the attempts made with the other two members. Even so, I didn’t find them nearly as memorable as many of the characters in Swords and Fire.)

But like I said earlier, I thought that The Ivory Tomb was a good book, as you can see from my rating. After the first few chapters, it kept me interested in finding out what happened until the very end, and I enjoyed it more than many of the books I read or sampled last year. It still had the same elements that I liked about the previous installment, particularly Ryx’s relationship with the mage Severin and the foxlike chimera who is more than he appears, Whisper. (I really liked Whisper. A lot.)

The Ivory Tomb just didn’t have that special spark, that tricky-to-define heart, that would have made the characters and story live in my memory as other books have—the way The Obsidian Tower did, or the way the Swords and Fire series did.

My Rating: 7/10

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

Rooks and Ruin Excerpts:

  1. The Obsidian Tower
  2. The Quicksilver Court

Reviews of Previous Book(s) in the Rooks and Ruin trilogy:

  1. The Obsidian Tower
  2. The Quicksilver Court