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When Aelis arrives in Lone Pine, she’s struck almost immediately by the smell of sheep shit. This doesn’t bode well for her scheduled two-year tenure as the new Warden of the small farming village out on the border with orc country. Still, she has no way to contest her station, despite her wealthy heritage. The Lyceum where she studied wizardry saw fit to send her to Lone Pine, even if it doesn’t seem like a proper location for a Warden who specialized in Necromancy.

Truth be told, Aelis would rather be anywhere else. Any urban post. Somewhere closer to her friends and lovers from school. Anywhere were her contractually obligated housing isn’t a broken down, falling apart tower. Anywhere she might have people to protect who aren’t deathly afraid of her. But no. She’s in Lone Pine, and only Martin and Rus, the local innkeepers, have any tolerance for her presence. Almost everyone else shuns her and attempts to avoid her at all costs. It’s a rough start, to be sure, but it’s Aelis’s station, and she’ll do her job. She’s a Warden, after all, not just a wizard.

When a group of adventurers make their way into Lone Pine from a frontier excursion, cart laden with gold to spend in the small town, it seems like the fortunes of the villagers are about to change. However, a violent encounter shatters the peace and sends Aelis on a quest to track down the guilty party. Her journey will take her into the wilderness, and bring her face to face with threats both old and new.

Daniel M. Ford’s The Warden is out in stores today, and I highly recommend it to any D&D player or fantasy adventure fan, especially for those who’ve enjoyed Travis Baldree’s Legends and Lattes or Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth. It was an absolute treat to read, playing with tropes and expectations throughout the book. I’ve loved every minute that I’ve spent in this world, and I hope to get to visit it again soon.

My utmost thanks to NetGalley and Tor Publishing Group for access to an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Some family secrets are supposed to stay buried.

Sam’s having a rough time. Her post-graduate fieldwork in archaeological entomology is on hold, and so she makes the long trans-Texas drive from Arizona back to North Carolina to live with her mother until the work has funding again. Sam’s mother is living in her own mother’s old house now that Gran Mae is dead, and is happy to have Sam come back home for however long it will last.

The problem is that the house no longer feels like home for Sam. With blandly-painted walls (ugh, ecru), and familiar knickknacks out of sight, the house itself seems to be telling her that something is wrong. Never mind her mom’s behavioral regressions to the days of Gran Mae’s life, or the vultures that are hanging out in the neighborhood. There’s also Gran Mae’s rose garden, which, while stunningly beautiful as ever, is suspiciously devoid of insect life (trust Sam on this one, she’s an entomologist, after all).

Before long, Sam begins to have dreams of her grandmother, and remembers things she said. “The roses say to say your prayers,” and “the underground children will get you…” and not-so-startling fatphobia linger in her memory. But how much of that was real? All is clearly not well on Lammergeier Lane, and Sam is determined to find the answers. Negotiating Southern hospitality and prejudices and overcoming her own fears will be critical.

A House With Good Bones is a quick, fun horror read, y’all. T. Kingfisher has put together one fantastic ride. I loved following Sam on her journey through her family’s past as she strove to save her mom and herself from a disturbing legacy. Not to mention that I will never look at ladybugs (Coccinellidae) the same way again.

My utmost thanks to NetGalley and to the folks at MacMillan/Tor for an eARC of A House With Good Bones in exchange for a fair review. You can snag a copy for yourself starting on March 28th.

Babel, or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution is not only a hell of a title, it’s a hell of a book. Author R.R. Kuang (The Poppy War) has produced a brilliant alternate history in which The British Empire rose to power utilizing magic based on silver and linguistics. In the 1820s, a young man from Canton (Guangzhou) is taken from his life on the docks where he picked up bits of language from sailors and raised in London by a man named Professor Lovell. Re-named Robin Swift by his own love of English literature, the boy is drilled with lessons on Greek and Latin, preparing him for a new life at Oxford University.

When Robin arrives at Oxford to take his place at the Translation Institute, however, nothing is what he expected. His neighbor, Ramy, is immediately welcoming (perhaps because they’re both outsiders by virtue of their foreign birth), while the rest of the residents of their hall are less so. A dark conspiracy seems to be building involving a looming war between England and China, and Robin’s skills in the languages of both nations will play a part, whether he wants them to or not.

Kuang’s latest work is a brilliant novel exploring the dark sides of academia and colonization. Robin’s conflict between his heritage and his upbringing mirror the greater struggle between England and China. Class warfare and linguistics blur together as Robin navigates a world that is simultaneously much larger than he knew and much smaller than he could have imagined. You’ll have to read it to believe it.

Babel is out on store shelves as of yesterday. Check it out.

My utmost thanks to NetGalley and Harper Voyager for an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

Évike lives in a small pagan village surrounded by walking trees. Like all of the villagers, she lives in constant fear of the Woodsmen of King János Bárány. Every two or three years, the Woodsmen have come and taken one of the wolf-girls of the village so that her gift of pagan magic might be put to use by the king. The women never return. When Évike was a young girl, her own mother was taken, leaving her to be raised by the village seer, Vírag. Now 25, Évike remains the relative outcast of the village, as she never developed any of the four magic talents possessed by the women of her home. She can’t spark a fire with a word, she can’t forge a blade with a song, she can’t heal the injured, and she has no gift of foresight. Blame falls on her father, an outsider who left the village again before her mother was taken.

When Vírag receives a vision that the Woodsmen will soon return to the village, a drastic decision must be made. She knows that the king has sent them to retrieve Katalin, one of Évike’s peers, and a burgeoning seer herself. Fearing the fate of their village left with only one, elderly seer, Vírag calls Évike to her hut. Quickly disguising Évike and Katalin as one another, Vírag tricks the Woodsmen into taking the one wolf-girl without a hint of magic. Évike is understandably bitter, as Katalin was one of those who bullied her the most in their youth. Now she must pretend to be her as she’s taken away to the capital.

The wild forest around Évike’s village isn’t the only threat along the path to the capital, however, and monsters are very real. Soon all but the captain of the Woodsmen group sent for her are killed. Her deception is revealed, but instead of killing her for the lie, the Woodsman reveals one of his own. He isn’t a mere Woodsman. He is Gáspár Bárány, firstborn son of the king.

Évike and Gáspár forge an uneasy truce. If she helps him find the turul, a powerful source of magic that could save the king from the manipulations of his second son, he will help her search the capital for her own father and protect her people. Time is short, and the journey will be perilous, but it may be that their growing tolerance for each other hides something more…

Ava Reid has provided us with a masterful debut novel, a blend of Eastern European and Jewish history and folktale that is sure to delight older fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. Magic, monsters, and romance fill the pages, and the characters resonate with real-world people and events fantastically.

The Wolf and the Woodsman is available today.

My utmost thanks to NetGalley and Avon & Harper Voyager for an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

The following piece has been crafted for another one of Chuck Wendig’s writing challenges. We were given three lists of ten topics, for sub-genre, location, and included element. Thanks to the luck of random number generation, I ended up with erotic fairy tale, capital city of an ancient civilization, and a magical pocket watch. Here’s “Shambhala” for your reading pleasure. Or just pleasure. 😉



Edmund heard the watch before he saw her, long before he knew what it would come to mean. Nitya was her name, and the watch was hers.


His cell was cool, but comfortable, with a woven blanket to keep him warm at night. He didn’t know if the others in the expedition had been taken captive as he was or if they had been killed, but he could hear none of them if they were imprisoned. He could hear nothing but the watch.


On his first night in his cell, angry, refusing to sleep, he had seen her. Nitya walked the passage, and the sound had been overwhelming, though her bare feet padded silently on the floor. She had been the first person Edmund had seen since he had woken behind the cold bars, the first he’d seen since he had encountered the girl on the outskirts of the city.


The watch’s chain glistened in the moonlight, looping her neck once before vanishing from sight. Edmund knew that the watch itself hovered just below the curves of her breasts, though he found himself wondering how he knew. In that instant, she turned and smiled at him, dark eyes shining. “It had to be you,” a soft voice murmured inside his head as she turned to walk away.


He had been offered whatever treasure he could find in exchange for leading the expedition, and so he chartered a plane to Delhi, rode for over three hundred kilometers into the Himalayas, and found a small group of men who would attempt to guide him to the ancient city. The map that his financier had provided was in an ancient form of Sanskrit that few recognized and even fewer could interpret, but soon he was deep in the mountains in search of the mythical Shambhala.


On the second night, Nitya passed by his cell again, the sound of the watch the only noise. This time, he lay beneath his blanket and watched her until she passed from his sight, entranced by her beauty. She wore no jewelry, barring the watch looped about her neck, and was clothed in a simple sari. Again, she turned to face him, and once more he heard her words, though she never spoke aloud. “I knew from the moment that I first saw you.”


“Ask her who she is,” Edmund had said. The expedition had reached the top of a plateau, where an unbelievable sight had greeted them. A lush, verdant landscape opened before them, trees and ferns and flowers the like of which had never been seen were flourishing here in the harshest mountain range on Earth. In their midst stood a small girl, black hair cascading over her shoulders. She said nothing, but simply stood watching the men. Finally one of Edmund’s interpreters spoke up, speaking first in Hindi, then Urdu, and finally (after a suggestion from Edmund) Sanskrit. At this third attempt, the girl had smiled and raised one hand, as if in greeting. Edmund felt himself growing tired. The last thing he saw before his eyes closed was the flash of a golden chain about the little girl’s neck.


Could she possibly be the same girl? Edmund’s mind raced. The chain was the same. It had to be. It was the only possible conclusion. That meant, however, that Nitya had been responsible for the fate of his companions, whatever that might have been. The day passed in a confused blur of sleep and hunger. When he awoke with the moon on the third night, he found a small cup of water on the floor beside him. He sipped slowly, knowing that the ache in his stomach would only be worse if he didn’t pace himself.


She was coming. The moon was waxing, and Nitya was drawing near. The sound of the watch grew louder. Was it really the third night that he had been locked in this cell? Time seemed to lose its natural rhythm. Was the moon waning now? Edmund could no longer be certain of anything. She had passed into his field of vision, and once again she paused before him. “I have been waiting my entire life for your arrival,” she said without speaking. “My father, King Suchandra, told me that you would come, but he has been gone for over six hundred years, and the Kulika now rules here.” She smiled again. For the first time, she opened her mouth and Edmund heard her voice with his ears. “Hello, Edmund. I am Nitya. And it is time that you were freed.”


Edmund stood outside of the bars of his cell for the first time. Nitya stood beside him, an ivory and gold sari wrapped around her. “Welcome,” she said. “Welcome to Kalapa.”

“W…where am I?”

“Kalapa,” the woman repeated. “Capital city of the great realm of Shambhala.”

Edmund stammered again, confusion and disbelief mingling on his face. “S…Shambhala?”

“Is this not what you have sought? Was it not your wish to find this place?” Nitya’s voice was soft and mysterious, unmistakably feminine but with deep, dulcet tones and an accent akin to that of Edmund’s Sanskrit interpreter. When he said nothing, Nitya continued. “I see. You searched for my home, but you did not believe. You did not know that such a place could possibly exist.”


“What happened to the rest of my men?” Edmund demanded, finding his voice at last.

“They have been sent away, returned to their families with no memory of this place, or even of you, Edmund.”


“The watch,” she replied, reaching beneath the sari to reveal a golden pocket watch attached to the chain. “It grants me some control, within the boundaries of Shambhala.”


Edmund blinked and found that he was now standing in the middle of a sandalwood grove, an enormous mandala towering over him. Nitya was at his side.

“This was my father’s garden,” she said. “And now it is mine, to share with the one that I deemed to be worthy. So it is that I saved you from your companions and brought you here.”

“Were you the little girl that we met at the edge of the city?”

“I was,” Nitya nodded, “but when I saw you, saw that you were of your age, I knew that the form I had taken to greet you was too young to welcome you properly. The watch accounted for this as well. And now,” she continued, “I am ready.” Nitya crossed her arms, taking the edges of the sari and pulling them down, exposing the full, smooth curves of her breasts. “I have waited for centuries, Edmund. Waited for the one with whom I could share the fullness of maithuna.” The sari fell away from her body as she stepped toward him, placing a kiss on his lips. “Do you understand now?”


Edmund’s heart was racing as he wrapped his arms around her. “I came here to find  you, didn’t I?”

“You came here because I desired it,” Nitya whispered, unbuckling Edmund’s belt. “You came here,” she kissed his neck, “because I desired you.

“Why me?” Edmund was gasping as his arousal grew. Nitya’s hands reached into his pants, pulling them down.

“You have the kundalini,” she said. “The sleeping energy. It is only waiting for you to reach the proper understanding, to awaken, for release.”

Edmund lifted his shirt over his head and tossed it to the ground as Nitya’s hands came to rest on his back. “The energy is here,” her fingers traced lightly over the base of his spine, “but you are yet unprepared.”


Edmund lay naked on a bed of sandalwood, the moon now full overhead. Nitya knelt behind him, slowly massaging a fragrant oil into his skin. She chanted quietly in a forgotten tongue, her hands helping him to relax.

“If you fight, Edmund, if you are unprepared, the awakening can be most unpleasant. Breathe deeply now.” For what seemed like hours or days or months, her hands caressed him, until finally Nitya ran her index finger up his spine, placing a kiss at the back of his neck. Edmund felt a tingling race along his back, following the path Nitya had drawn, and his eyes flashed open. “Now.”


“Now,” Nitya whispered, “maithuna, the union.”

Edmund rolled onto his back as Nitya climbed onto him, slowing lowering herself and moaning with pleasure. The watch swung on its chain as Edmund kissed her breasts, as he tasted her, as he filled her. Time fell away as they came together, again and again, the moon waxing and waning above them as energy surged between their bodies.


“Your life outside of Kapala is now over, Edmund. Your time in the world beyond Shambhala is at an end, but your time with me is only beginning.”

Edmund and Nitya kissed beneath the pale glow of the moon.

“Then I shall stay,” he said. “I shall stay.”

Sometimes it’s the little victories that bring us the most joy. For me, one of the biggest such triumphs is knocking out a title from my “to-read” list. I’ve finally gotten it under control recently, though one of my coworkers at the library has described making progress on a reading list as a feat akin to slaying a hydra…

No, not the kind from “Captain America”

In my line of work, I’m generally adding a new book to my to-read list every other day. After a staff meeting a few weeks ago where one of my coworkers introduced us to the concept of the reading map via this example she created, I knew that I had to add yet another. You see, this reading map introduced me to Erin Morgenstern and her debut novel, The Night Circus. I was absolutely blown away by the book, which is a strange and fantastic combination of the magic competition presented in The Prestige and the environment presented in Something Wicked This Way Comes. Morgenstern weaves a tale of intrigue and romance as two young illusionists compete in a game with a mysterious circus serving as the venue. Celia and Marco are bound to the game by their masters, neither of them fully aware of the rules, including the fact that only one of them can survive. The Night Circus is a series of complex rings, much like the black and white striped tents that make up the titular location. I couldn’t put it down. Finishing it is one of those little victories. I can’t recommend it enough.

Next up on the reading list is another debut novel, A Once Crowded Sky. See you soon.