Rivals in the City by Y.S. Lee (The Agency #4): The last book in the Agency series! I liked how the story circles back to the first book, giving Mary a chance to reflect on her beginnings and how much has changed. We also get some scenes from James Easton’s point of view, which I don’t remember getting in previous books and which I liked. It gives a sense of how much he has been changed by his relationship with Mary, and the extent to which that has both widened his world and placed him out of step with the rest of society.
Black Dog Short Stories by Rachel Neumeier (Black Dog #1.5): Black Dog was absolutely a favorite book of mine and I was very pleased to find out that Rachel Neumeier was releasing these short stories. They’re essentially little character sketches set after the events of Black Dog (except for one). While you probably could skip them, why would you? The stories do a lovely of job of filling in the characters and dynamics.
The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan (Lady Trent #2): I had a mixed reaction to the first book in this series, but found it engaging enough to want to continue. The second I found mainly frustrating. Oddly, given the first person narration, I felt the story was strongest and most engaging in its worldbuilding aspects, with characters a distant second. Brennan is attempting to walk a tricky line of showing imperialist and racist attitudes without endorsing them, but I’m not sure she succeeds. For me, the portrayal not only of the Moulish but of the land and its environment seemed too deeply rooted in how foreign and strange it was. This combined with Isabella’s paternalistic attitude towards the Moulish made me feel fairly uncomfortable. I’m not sure if I’ll go on to read the third book or not.
Jaran by Kate Elliott (Jaran #1): Why didn’t I read this earlier? It’s a delightful example of character-based science fiction, with wonderful worldbuilding and characters. The plot is plotty enough to not distract from the real heart of the story, which is Tess and her journey. That’s a lot more coherent than I felt when I finished this one; there was a lot of fangirl flailing going on. I will absolutely be reading the next book.