The Sleeping Prince – Melinda Salisbury

26625494This sequel to The Sin-Eater’s Daughter features a new narrator in close, single-POV first, so it actually feels like book one of a series, until the new characters meet up with the old ones about two thirds of the way through. This neatly avoids a lot of middle-book-of-the-trilogy problems, or at least postpones them to the last third of the book.

Where The Sin-Eater’s Daughter took place in the gilded cage of a royal palace, The Sleeping Prince starts in a tiny, impoverished border town in the neighboring democratic country. Errin is just trying to get by and take care of her cursed and dangerous mother after her father died and her brother (Lief from book one) disappeared. When war approaches with the titular Sleeping Prince, a figure from the distant past returning to wreak havoc, Errin’s village is evacuated and soldiers arrive. Errin soon learns about the dark side of her country as refugees are abused and the border closed.

Desperate for a mysterious potion that keeps her mother’s curse at bay, Errin blackmails her only friend–and when she relents, he seemingly betrays her. Alone, Errin sets out on a cross-country journey that sees her meet up with Twylla, the previous book’s heroine, and find out about her brother’s true fate.

517qzv8wvzl-_sy344_bo1204203200_One thing I really liked about this book is that Errin is ordinary, heroic, and specific all at once. She’s a skilled apothecary, this interest rounding out her character and providing her a way to make a living, but she can’t create the potion that cures her mother. She survives a cross-country flight on horseback, but it’s clear to everyone she meets that she’s barely holding it together and that she’d do better to ask others for help. She’s also prone to attacks of anxiety, though somewhat too conveniently, she never freezes up when it would be inconvenient for the plot. When she does things like blackmail her friend, it’s clear she’s acting out of desperation, and she does relent. It feels like a real case of a good person brought to doing bad things, rather than an attempt to make the protagonist edgy.

I also love the darkness of Salisbury’s world. The villainous queen of book one is missing here, but there’s the chilling, sadistic Sleeping Prince instead. The epilogue, in particular, is nightmare-dark before it offers the reader some hope for the next book.

It was also great to see a realistic democratic country in a fantasy world, with all the same injustices we see in real democracies, but still better than monarchy.
On the negative side, the Sin-Eater’s backstory as revealed in this book is too exculpatory–it makes her a bit boring compared to her earlier ambiguity. Also, a lot of information is crowded into the final third of the book, which I felt was not, until the very end, as strong as the first two thirds.

I can’t wait to see how it all ends in The Scarecrow Queen, due out next year.




The Swan Riders – Erin Bow

You may have noticed that I loved The Scorpion Rules. I loved this one too. It doesn’t come out till September, so you will have to wait to get your hands on it, or you could enter the Twitter contest run by the author to get an ARC.

My number one, somewhat idiosyncratic concern with the sequel was that Elián not be made a bad guy, though he often does things that run counter to how Greta does things and the flap copy hinted at violence on his part. Anyway, he remains a wonderful character and very brave, so I was happy. He and Talis even come to a sort of understanding, which is great.

This is very much Talis’s book, maybe even more so than the narrator Greta’s. Talis is the one who learns and grows, on whose choices the climax turns. Greta’s still great, dignified and selfless and clever, but she’s mainly dealing with the consequences of her choice to become AI in the previous book, rather than making new choices. Her big moments are more epiphanies than actions. Talis, on the other hand, is thrust into a brand-new, identity-altering situation, and learns a great deal as a result about what it means to be human, to be AI, and to love, until finally he has to make a choice.26409580

One thing that I think had improved from the previous book was the handling of race– where in the previous book many nonwhite secondary characters didn’t feel right, in this book, they’re more individual.

Some things I loved:
– Greta’s attempts to hang onto her memories and feelings as an AI, even though they risk destroying her. Talis can help her by taking away the memories’ emotional content, against her will if necessary, but as this goes on, Greta becomes less and less the person she was. “I have lost none of the data,” she repeatedly says, revealing how much she has truly lost.
– Sucking chest wound. Nope, not saying anything more about that.
– The scene where they pretend to torture Elián (and for real dislocate his shoulder). It was the right combination of funny, tense, and revealing of both character and plot.
– The complex motivations of the titular Swan Riders

I was a bit ambivalent about the very end, which I will do my best to discuss with minimal spoilers. Greta divests herself of unjust power, which is very, very important, but I’m not sure she has a plan for what comes next. And while it is morally incumbent on her to get rid of that power regardless, I would be happier if she made a plan for how to do so with the least bad consequences.

A side note: Greta is queer, but her girlfriend is off-stage (though a major motivating force) during this book. So don’t go in expecting more Greta/Xie. I think readers of the previous book will enjoy this one (I couldn’t put it down), but it’s important that they have the right expectations.



The Mirror King – Jodi Meadows

22909838Mild spoilers (on the level of character arcs) will follow.

I wasn’t terribly impressed with The Orphan Queen when I read it– it was full of implausible set-ups and obvious reveals– but I did like the debate on the ethics of violence. Wil, the protagonist, finds herself on the opposite side from her former mentor, Patrick, as he embraces a violent path to free their homeland and she, the rightful queen, decides she cannot follow.

I had a lot of sympathy for Patrick despite his ruthlessness. I hoped he would get a complex character arc in the sequel, and that was a large part of why I picked it up. The other big draw was the beautiful cover.

Patrick remains a complicated character, but his trajectory is simple and resolutely negative. I like ruthless characters with a few lines they won’t cross, like Patrick has, but in the end he goes too far even for me, maiming someone he perceives as having betrayed him. I wish we got to know him better, though.

I had issues with the way Wil, and the book, treat his militia. Having effectively freed their country from occupation without outside help, they are treated by Wil with suspicion rather than respect. Yes, they’re loyal to Patrick and not her, and their continued violence after victory is deeply misguided, but she barely tries to win them over (she converts one of them, but doesn’t really make an effort to appeal to the group as a whole). They’re treated by the book as basically equivalent to the followers of the former overlord, Prince Colin, a totally selfish man without redeeming qualities, whose followers are fighting to continue the occupation of another country. Both groups are problems for Wil and threats to peace– their differences are simplistically blurred. No one sympathetic agrees with Patrick’s side of the debate– Patrick himself is barely so.

What did I like? Ironically, in light of what I’ve said, I liked that Wil sees her job as stopping wars rather than making sure the right side wins. The argument about violence may not be portrayed as complexly as I had hoped, but it makes Wil an appealing character and shows a mature attitude towards war and rulership.

There were scenes where impending doom mixed with surprising action to horrify me– especially Tobiah’s wedding scene (I won’t spoil what happens). That was a brilliant scene. I wasn’t too fond of Wil having to take responsibility for what happened in that scene, as it seemed too much like her character was being developed by having her accept guilt for something that didn’t actually forfeit the reader’s sympathy and in which she had no ill intent.

I liked the humor. I also liked the exploration of free will in relation to magic, and the question of what makes a being human. I liked the scene where Wil declares herself queen.

And I couldn’t put the book down, despite my problems with it. I had to know how it all turned out.




Borderline – Mishell Baker

borderline-9781481429788_hrA really solid debut urban fantasy with a heroine with Borderline Personality Disorder. The author has the same disorder, and it’s integral to the character. As a whole, the book is very character-driven– Millie, our protagonist, has a very strong and sarcastic voice, and since her perceptions of others are often unreliable, many reversals and reveals in their characterizations come naturally.

My favorite character was the amazingly brave Caryl. What Baker does with her characterization is something that can only be done in fantasy. Caryl, deeply traumatized by her childhood, splits her emotions off magically into a small, invisible pet dragon when she’s working. So we see her both in the grip of her emotions and artificially separated from them. Caryl believes that her rationally-set priorities are more “her” than her emotions, which Millie doesn’t agree with.

The magic system is for the most part generic, the usual bits of Irish and Scottish fairy mythologies set in a modern day city. The notable differences are a) the concept of Echoes, fey and human soulmate pairs, driven by artistic inspiration rather than romance, and b) the fact that class differences among the fey are taken seriously, rather than the Court structures being window-dressing. The second issue in particular sets up some interesting conflicts which I am sure will be expanded upon in sequels.

One of my few quibbles with this book was that the Arcadia Project, the group that smooths relations between the worlds and which Millie and Caryl work for, while made up primarily of mentally ill people, only accepts mentally ill people who are not dependent on meds, which is a really weird worldbuilding choice. There are enough narratives in fantasy in which meds are a negative force, and in this case the reasons behind this exclusion weren’t explained very well. Of course, since the Arcadia Project is ethically a bit dubious, this might turn out to be just them misinterpreting the situation or being jerks.

My other problem was that a plot-crucial betrayal didn’t seem to make sense in terms of motivation– I just think it should have been set up better.

I really loved the exploration of Borderline Personality Disorder and how to live with a disease that makes one frequently make mistakes that hurt others. Millie describes the techniques she uses to deal with her rage and her problems perceiving others’ intent. Also, I ended up sympathizing with both Millie when she lashed out and those she was lashing out at, knowing simultaneously that Millie was hurting and that she was causing pain to others.

I highly recommend this book to those looking for a fast-paced urban fantasy, but know that it is not a light read per se; it deals with heavy themes and has a body count. All of which only made it more appealing to me.


The Winged Histories – Sofia Samatar

This is easily the best fantasy novel I’ve read since The Traitor Baru Cormorant.

9781618731142_bigIt shares many of that novel’s concerns- the protagonists include queer women of color, the plot revolves around an effort to break up an empire, and it will wreck you emotionally. But where the earlier book deals with a 19th-20th century style overseas empire, a violent rupture, The Winged Histories deals with a land empire, with the kind of foundational violence countries try their best to bury and forget. It’s also a gentler, more hopeful book, playing with tragedy without consummating it.

Structurally, Samatar’s novel is composed of three first-person narratives, one after the other, followed by a third person narrative. We know the circumstances of the composition of the first three narratives. The implication is that the fourth character’s tale is never recorded, that that point of view is lost to history. It contains the key which, unknown to the other three pov characters, unlocks many of the mysteries of their narratives. A powerful statement about what is and isn’t remembered.

I don’t want to spoil the ending of this book; it’s too powerful. I will say that some things come too easily– privileged outsider Tav integrates into a marginalized nomadic group and finds a lover, Tav’s country gains the independence she seeks for it even as her war plans crumble on other fronts. But there are always consequences shown on the page, nonetheless.

The book contains both f/f and f/m romances involving pov characters– I know that will recommend it to some of my readers. It’s a very character-driven book; I was left with a lot of unanswered questions at the end and yet felt that each of the characters had achieved a satisfactory resolution. It’s a sequel to A Stranger in Olondria, but I hadn’t read that book, which focuses on different characters, and didn’t feel lost at all.

The writing is lovely, even when it talks about ugly things. That’s a trick I’d like to learn, how to include crude and bodily realities without breaking the aesthetic spell.


The Cold Between – Elizabeth Bonesteel

pp98sulctikkxyeml1ap Elizabeth Bonesteel’s debut novel, The Cold Between, is blurbed by a RITA award winner and begins, after a prologue, with the main character, Elena, being picked up in a bar by the mysterious Trey Zajec (the picture to the left is from the excellent cover depiction of them). They’re soon having sex, in a lengthy scene that nonetheless reveals little about their characters. Is this sci-fi, romance, or both?

I can think of some excellent crossovers– Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honor being an example– but I was worried this book might prove “too much romance, not enough roller derby,” to borrow a phrase. I needn’t have worried. While Bonesteel doesn’t have Bujold’s flair for characterization, relying too much on telling about each character from the point of view of the others rather than showing, she’s a much smoother prose stylist. And the plot soon picks up, with murders, wormholes, and mysterious explosions. I also enjoyed the heroine being an army mechanic, an unusual occupation which comes in handy at various points.

The setting is a Russian-influenced future space colony, and I was amused to see some characters’ last names taken directly from Russian politics, like Putin and Limonov. While the villains of the story were too obvious for my liking, both in terms of their identities and their motivations, they did have a few redeeming qualities and interesting povs. For example, one villain refuses to be part of the heroes’ plans to thwart a technology that could be world-ending…or life-saving. I really liked that the hypotenuse of the love triangle, Elena’s captain Greg, gets to be a strong and likable character despite Elena not being attracted to him.

Ultimately, the weakness of this story is in the tell-don’t-show characterization. Rather than letting us see their attraction in their actions, Bonesteel has Trey and Elena mentally praise each other– a tactic that didn’t work for me in Graveyard Sparrow, either. Nor is the character development subtle. One particularly obvious quote: “His heart warmed, and all of his insecurity washed away as if it had never been.”

However, there’s plenty of action and tension, all in a very readable style, and Bonesteel ties up the plot while leaving plenty for the sequel to explore. I’ll probably be reading the sequel, Remnants of Trust, when it comes out later this year.

And as to the genre question? I’m waiting for later books to resolve that. The Cold Between doesn’t have the Happily Ever After or Happy For Now ending required of genre romance, but we’ll see what happens as the series goes on.



The Crown’s Game- Predictions

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Evelyn Skye’s The Crown’s Game (formerly The Tsar’s Game) is out in May, and if you remember my earlier post on the book, you’ll know that I was excited because it takes place in 1825 Russia, the year of the Decembrist Revolt, a failed rebellion by a group of liberal officers on the Senate Square in St Petersburg.

However, it’s clear this is an alternate Russia, with magic and also some changes in the imperial family. The tsar going into 1825, Alexander I, had no son, so the succession went to his youngest brother Nicholas, bypassing the middle brother Constantine, who had agreed not to take the throne. The confusion surrounding the succession provided an opportunity for the Decembrists.

In Evelyn Skye’s alternate Russia, the Tsar has a son, Pasha. This eliminates the confusing succession that provided an opportunity for the real-life rebellion. So I see several options here:

1) The rebellion breaks out, but in a different way, possibly caused by main characters Vika and Nikolai. This would create conflict for Nikolai, who is friends with Pasha.

2) Pasha leads a palace coup and/or joins a rebellion against his father, an action with ample precedent in Imperial Russia. Alexander I, for example, overthrew his own father.

3) The rebellion breaks out separately from the main characters’ actions, and they must decide their relationship to it.

Of course, since there’s a sequel coming, this all may be delayed to book two!

Evelyn Skye has asked me to include the following information about the book and THE GIVEAWAY!

About the Book:


Author: Evelyn Skye

Release Date: May 17th, 2016

Pages: 416

Publisher: Balzer+Bray

Formats: Hardcover, eBook

Find it: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love . . . or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear . . . the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

About Evelyn:

Evelyn Skye was once offered a job by the C.I.A., she not-so-secretly wishes she was on “So You Think You Can Dance,” and if you challenge her to a pizza-eating contest, she guarantees she will win. When she isn’t writing, Evelyn can be found chasing her daughter on the playground or sitting on the couch, immersed in a good book and eating way too many cookies. THE CROWN’S GAME is her first novel. Evelyn can be found online at and on Twitter @EvelynSkyeYA.

Website | Twitter |Facebook | Goodreads | Tumblr | Instagram

Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive an ARC of THE CROWN’S GAME. International.

Find the complete Tsar’s Guard Parade Schedule at Evelyn Skye’s website!

Recently Sold YA Novel: The Tsar’s Game by Evelyn Skye

Evelyn Skye just scored a six-figure deal for her YA historical fantasy set in 1825 Russia. The Tsar’s Game will be out from HarperCollins Balzer + Bray in 2016. And there’s only one reason to set a novel in 1825 Russia- the Decembrist Revolt. Hopefully that will feature prominently.

Here’s the summary:

Sixteen-year-old Vika Andreyev can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Eighteen-year-old Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters, the only two in Russia, and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakh hordes threatening Russia, the Tsar wants an enchanter by his side.

In the past, however, two enchanters have posed a problem. Too much ego, too much power, too much potential for betrayal of the Tsar. So the Tsar’s Game was invented, a duel of magical skill. The victor becomes the Royal Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected advisor. The defeated is sentenced to death.

The Tsar’s Game is not one to lose.

Of course, they both want to win. Until now, Vika’s magic has been confined to her tiny island home, and she’s eager to showcase her skill in the capital city of St. Petersburg. It also doesn’t hurt that the competition allows her to express her mischievous streak. Nikolai, on the other hand, is a study in seriousness. As an orphan with not a drop of noble blood in his veins, becoming the Royal Enchanter is an opportunity he could, until now, only dream of. But when Vika and Nikolai begin to fall for each other, the stakes change.

And then, the stakes change again, as secrets from both their pasts threaten to upset the balance of the Tsar’s—and the Russian Empire’s—power

The Game is so much more complicated than it looks.