BLACK WOLVES by Kate Elliott

Reviewed yesterday over at

It reconfigures the landscape of epic fantasy, because its emotional focus is not—despite initial impressions—on kingship and legitimacy, inheritance and royal restoration. So much of the epic fantasy field accepts the a priori legitimacy of monarchy—or the a priori legitimacy of power maintained through force—invests it with a kind of superstitious awe, that to find an epic fantasy novel willing to intelligently interrogate categories of power is a thing of joy.

Books arrive!

There is a new postbloke on our route. This morning he rang the door at 0830. I thought I dreamed it, until I woke up properly and discovered the “we missed you, please collect your parcel” inside the letterbox.

Hello, shiny bookses!

Hello, shiny bookses!

That’s Greg van Eekhout’s DRAGON COAST, courtesy of Tor Books. Courtesy of Orbit, Kate Elliott’s BLACK WOLVES (woo!) and Lila Bowen’s WAKE OF VULTURES.

A finished copy!

A finished copy!

And here, courtesy of Tor Books, is a finished copy of Ilana C. Myers’ LAST SONG BEFORE NIGHT.

Links of interest

At The Book Smugglers, Kate Elliott on COURT OF FIVES: Inspirations and Influences.

At, Caitlyn Paxson on Five Canadian Books to Look for in Fall 2015.

Two from Archaeology Magazine:

New Kingdom Mummies Re-Examined


Underwater Mesolithic Monolith Discovered in the Sicilian Channel.

At, again, Natalie Zutter on COURT OF FIVES and the Importance of Making Race Explicit in YA Fantasy.

At io9, Remains of “Warrior Princess” Found Buried Alongside Dagger and Sword.

At the Wellcome Library Blog, Monica H. Green on Speaking Of Trotula.

Two reviews from NPR:

Genevieve Valentine on A WOMAN IN ARABIA by Gertrude Bell,


Carmen Machado on PRODIGIES by Angélica Gorodischer.

And on BBC Radio 4, Late Night Women’s Hour: Reclaiming The Nerdverse, with Zen Cho, Naomi Alderman, Helen Lewis, Lucy Saxon, and Linda Woodhead.

Several books recently read

Here are some books which I read in recent weeks.

Karina Sumner-Smith, Defiant. Talos, 2015. ARC courtesy of the publisher.

Read for review for Excellent sequel to a very good debut.

Kate Elliott, Court of Fives. Little Brown, 2015. ARC courtesy of the publisher.

A really excellent Young Adult fantasy novel. Will talk about it in a Sleeps With Monsters column, and also probably closer to the publication date if someone reminds me – it’s AMAZINGLY good fun, with interestingly crunchy bits. Also tombs. I am fond of tombs.

Elizabeth Wein, Black Dove, White Raven. Egmont UK, 2015.

Another excellent YA from Wein – not quite as heart-wrenching as her Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, but very good.

Stacey Lee, Under A Painted Sky. Putnam, 2015.

Historical YA debut. Two young women on the run for their lives in the 1849 American West. A lot of fun.

Sandra Barret, Blood of the Enemy. Ebook.

Fun fast not terrible space opera with queer women in.

Barbara Ann Wright, The Fiend Queen. Bold Strokes Books, 2015. E-ARC courtesy of the publisher.

Conclusion to series. Structurally off-balance, but entertaining enough.

Julie Cannon, Because of You. Ebook.

Lesbian romance. Not particularly great.

Gun Brooke, Advance. Ebook.

Lesbian SFF romance. Space opera. Terrible worldbuilding. Prose not-so-great. Characterisation could use work. Somehow it still entertained me.

A.J. Quinn, Hostage Moon. Ebook.

Lesbian romance with serial killers in. Neither great nor terrible.

A.J. Quinn, Rules of Revenge. Ebook.

Lesbian romance with spies in. Neither great nor terrible.

Merry Shannon, Prayer of the Handmaiden. Ebook.

Lesbian SFF romance. Fantasy, variant of epic. Worldbuilding on the naive side. Prose okay. Characterisation pretty good. Entertaining.

Rae D. Magdon, The Second Sister. Ebook.

Lesbian SFF romance. Fantasy, sort of fairytale retelling (Cinderella). Could have used better worldbuilding and smoother prose. Still entertaining.

Rae D. Magdon, Wolf’s Eyes. Ebook.

Lesbian SFF romance. Fantasy, starts out looking like a fairytale retelling, develops werewolves, turns into a variant on epic. Could have used better worldbuilding, smoother prose, and some more thought in its structure. Still entertaining.

M.B. Panichi, Saving Morgan. Ebook.

Lesbian SFF romance. Near-future solar-system science fiction. Could have used a stronger structure, and the romance felt rushed, but it was fun.

M.B. Panichi, Running Toward Home. Ebook.

Sequel to Saving Morgan. Very uneven pacing and I’m not sure it has a plot so much as a collection of incidents, but I found myself entertained anyway.

Heather Rose Jones, The Mystic Marriage. Bella Books, 2015. E-ARC courtesy of the publisher.


It’s not a romance, not structurally, though it appears to be being published as one: it’s a complicated novel of relationships, friendships, family, alchemy and intrigue. Jones has leveled up from Daughter of Mystery in terms of her skill with prose, narrative, and characterisation – and they were already pretty freaking good. The only point at which the novel weakens slightly is the climax: it is an effective climax-conclusion in emotional terms (although I really feel that one of the characters was a little short-changed), but in terms of concluding the current of intrigue underlying the novel, perhaps not so much.

I love it a lot. I am planning on writing a whole column about it.


Theresa Urbainczyk, Slave Revolts in Antiquity. Acumen, 2008.

A slight volume that nonetheless succeeds in providing a comprehensive – and enjoyably readable – overview of slave revolts in antiquity and their presentation in both the ancient sources and the historiography of slavery and antiquity. A useful addition to anyone interested in either slavery in antiquity or – particularly – the political situation during the late Roman Republic.


So many pretty books.

So many pretty books.


Ahem. Courtesy of Gollancz, Gavin Smith’s THE AGE OF SCORPIO and A QUANTUM MYTHOLOGY, and Alastair Reynolds’ POSEIDON’S WAKE. Courtesy of Talos, Eli K. P. William’s CASH CRASH JUBILEE. Courtesy of Tor Books, Will Elliott’s SHADOW, Ellen Datlow’s THE DOLL COLLECTION, and V.E. Schwab’s A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC. And courtesy of Little, Brown and Company, Kate Elliott’s COURT OF FIVES.

I, er, may have read most of that last already. IT IS AMAZING.

Books in brief: Bear, Elliott, Lin, Ross, Wells, Wright

Kate Elliott, Jaran, An Earthly Crown, and His Conquering Sword. Ebooks, Open Road Media, first published 1992-1993.

Read to cover in a later SWM column. It’s odd, sometimes, to come to a writer’s earlier work after their more mature stuff, and see the outlines of similar thematic concerns: much here is familiar, if in very different form, from the Crossroads trilogy. The through-line is more scattered, less developed, less well-defined – less, in all those respects that define a writer’s craft, mature – but these are still interesting novels, combining SFnal and fantastic sensibilities.

Ankaret Wells, Heavy Ice. Ebook, 2014, copy courtesy of the author.

Will be mentioned in future SWM column. A lot of fun, set in the same universe (but many generations later) as The Maker’s Mask and The Hawkwood War. As with my previous experience of Wells’ books, the first half is very good and then the conclusion rather less good at pulling all the narrative threads together than one might wish.

But still, very fun. I want to read more like this.

Barbara Ann Wright, A Kingdom Lost. Ebook, Bold Strokes Books, 2014. Copy courtesy of publisher.

Third in series, after Pyramid Waltz and For Want of a Fiend. Wright has not developed any further as a prose stylist, but her grasp of narrative and tension, already solid, has here improved. I am decidedly pro Epic Fantasy With Lesbians, so I was already inclined to look favourably upon this novel – unfortunately, Wright and her publishers have chosen to hang a cliffhanger right in the middle of the climactic fight/chase sequence, which is a bit Bad Show, Chaps in my books.

I’m still looking forward to the next installment, though.

Jeannie Lin, The Jade Temptress. Ebook, Harlequin, 2014.

Romance set in Tang dynasty China. Rather weaker, I think, than Lin’s previous books.

Deborah J. Ross, The Seven-Petaled Shield and Shanivar. DAW, 2013. Copies courtesy of the publisher.

Will be mentioned in future SWM column. I am a bit “meh” on these: they’re the first two novels in what seems like a not-particularly-imaginative epic fantasy series (trilogy?) but I can see how they might be more some other, less jaded reader’s cup of tea. However, I read three separate series in short order that featured clearly Mongol-inspired steppe nomads, and of these, Ross’s are the least convincing/interesting nomads. In some ways, reminiscent of a more consciously epic Mercedes Lackey – I think that is a good match for some of the sensibilities on display here.

Elizabeth Bear, Steles of the Sky. Tor, 2014. Copy courtesy of the publisher.

Will be mentioned in future SWM column. WOW. Masterpiece conclusion to an amazing trilogy. Bear’s books have only been in front of the public for about ten years: this may not mark the height of her potential powers. But wow. If she improves on this, if fate spares her to us for long enough? Forty years down the line, we may be talking of Elizabeth Bear as we talk today of Ursula K. LeGuin.

Sleeps With Monsters: Kate Elliott’s Crossroads Trilogy

A new installment of the column over at

Kate Elliott’s writing has long concerned itself with war, and most particularly, with the effects of war. Nowhere is this more apparent than in her Crossroads trilogy (Spirit Gate, Shadow Gate, and Traitor’s Gate, published by Tor in the US and by Orbit in the UK), which opens on a land long at peace, proceeds through brutal war, and ends in the aftermath.

Sleeps With Monsters: Kate Elliott’s Cold Steel

My latest column over at is mostly a review of Kate Elliott’s latest novel, Cold Steel:

Kate Elliott began her Spiritwalker trilogy in 2010, with Cold Magic. Cold Fire followed in 2011, and now Cold Steel has arrived to crown the ensemble. Elliott’s métier is epic fantasy, and her fantastic alternate Earth—from its glacier-shadowed Europa to the Taino-ruled Caribbean and the revolutionary free city of Expedition, and to the realm of the spirit world as well—is built with great consistency and complexity.

Sleeps With Monsters: Kate Elliott’s King’s Dragon

A new column up at, on Kate Elliott’s King’s Dragon:

I first read King’s Dragon, the opening book in Kate Elliott’s seven-volume epic fantasy sequence Crown of Stars, in the same year I started secondary school.

Returning to it after an interval of (give or take) thirteen years, I find an immense difference between my reactions as a thirteen-going-on-fourteen year old, and my reactions now, as an adult with more context for the genre

Linky is footsore

Natalie at Radish Reviews, “Sexism, SF, and Me”:

Ultimately, what I’ve learned from this most recent misogyny flare-up in science fiction fandom is that if you’re a woman in genre and if you speak up in a way that’s unacceptable to someone with more power, then you may find yourself being threatened with humiliation and sexual assault. Just so you know what your place is.

Kate Elliott, “Katharine Kerr’s Deverry sequence” (LJ):

Kerr’s world is not static. Her technique is subtle but assured as she unfolds how a culture changes over time. Villages become towns become cities. Warbands expand into armies. The political structure of the early kingdom shifts from more localized centers of regional power to a more centralized kingship. The spinning wheel is invented. When my spouse, an archaeologist, read Daggerspell, he said, “This is the best depiction of a chieftain-level society I’ve ever read.”

Everything Is Nice, Divided By A Common Language.

Grittiness and Sexuality in Fantasy

Foz Meadows has a very interesting post, On Grittiness and Grimdark:

[E]liding the genre’s political dimensions is especially problematic: grittiness is only a selective view of reality, not the whole picture. Yes, there’s pain and despair and suffering, but not exclusively, and when you make grit a synonym for realism – when you make an active, narrative decision to privilege specific, familiar types of grimness as universals – then you’re not just denying the fullness of reality; you’re promoting a version of it that’s inherently hostile to the personhood and interests of the majority of people on the planet. (And in that sense, it doesn’t seem irrelevant that the bulk of gritty, grimdark writers, especially those who self-identify as such, are straight, white men.)

If your idea of ‘grittiness’ includes misogyny (for instance), it’s more or less inevitable that your female characters will not only encounter systematic sexism, but necessarily be scarred by it, because if it were possible for them to remain unscathed by such an integral aspect of your preordained notion of grittiness, then by the rubric of gritty = honest, they would be unrealistic characters. Which means that, with the best will in the world, you’ve committed from the outset to writing women whose lives and selves are damaged by men – and while, as a female reader, I don’t object to encountering such characters, I do object to the assumption that these are the only female characters you can realistically write.

Grittiness has its place in fiction; as do representations of existing inequalities. But when we forget to examine why we think certain abuses are inevitable, or assume their universality – when we write about a particular prejudice, not to question, subvert or redefine it, but to confirm it as an inevitable, even integral aspect of human nature – then we’re not being realistic, but selective in our portrayal and understanding of reality.

Read it all. Read the comments. Then go read Kate Elliott on What Is Your Consensual Sex and Love Doing In My Epic Fantasy? (Livejournal.)

To my mind, we lessen the story we are telling about human experience if we do not include and see as worthy all of human experience, especially including positive depictions of sex and love. What kind of world do we vision if we only tell the ugly stories about such intimate matters?

(I believe it’s laziness and a puritan cultural streak that sees – consciously or subconsciously – sexual intimacy as something punishable that drives the ubiquity of the portrayal of sexual violence in fiction. But I’m a rabid man-hating hairy-legged feminist, so what do I know, y’know?)

A couple of other links:

Maureen Kincaid Speller takes Ghost Planet – of which I couldn’t get past the first page – apart:

Ghost Planet is novel as frightfully efficient storytelling machine, with all its plot points lined up neatly, its characters popped out of their moulds and trimmed, its language oiled and functional, the whole thing so overworked as to be stripped totally of absolutely anything that might make it interesting. It’s not terribly good science fiction, and it’s definitely a dull and predictable romance.

Meanwhile, the latest Shadow Unit is excellent. With poisonous spiders. Maybe I’ll get paid soon (*eyes Strange Horizons*) and have enough to donate.