An entertaining, if uneven, blend of fantasy action and soul-searching.



A prince vying for success in his father’s competitive kingdom sets out to slay a dragon in this fantasy adventure.

In the realm of Guaraci, 17-year-old Eldred is the son of King Alfred, ruler of the Deirans. He attends the Academy as a squire, where skilled young fighters eventually Bond with the Night Mother, a deity who bestows enhanced strength and speed. Eldred, however, is overdue to Bond, and Headmaster Tibbot thinks he probably never will. The teen is half Mercian, thanks to Queen Ghyslaine, and is relentlessly teased about his unusually tall stature. If he fails his trial at the Academy, Eldred won’t become a warrior and will disgrace the king. This pressure pushes Eldred to attempt to cheat his trial, which his father discovers. Meanwhile, a massive dragon has been attacking the Wretched, a conquered people from the north. Sammanus, one of the Wretched, arrives and begs Alfred for soldiers to help the city of Turicum kill the dragon. The king plans to send five Bonded warriors and five squires, including Eldred. Ghyslaine wants to spirit her son off to her Mercian homeland to become a lord in her brother’s court. Determined to be a full-fledged Deiran, Eldred refuses. But the challenges he’ll face alongside Alfred’s men in Turicum are complex and numerous. Bracher’s hero may be a teenager, but this series opener is not the typical YA fantasy. Eldred isn’t distracted by romance at the Academy or haunted by familial drama. The bone-deep tension that’s eventually revealed is that the Deirans are pugilistic xenophobes, possessed of a deadly hubris. Alfred tells Sammanus, “I will send an expedition of our finest to slay this beast, not out of any affection for the Wretcheds, but to prove our greatness.” Eldred befriends Sammanus and learns that the Sun People (as the Wretched call themselves) are more thoughtful, innovative, and caring than the Deirans. Bracher’s worldbuilding is engaging, but the novel’s first third, filled with militaristic unpleasantness, mars the launch. Eldred’s—and the series’—potential flowers by the finale.

An entertaining, if uneven, blend of fantasy action and soul-searching. (map)

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2022

ISBN: 979-8-7905-6537-3

Page Count: 342

Publisher: Independently Published

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

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A former thief who specialized in stealing magical documents is forced back into her old habits in Black's adult debut.

Charlie Hall used to work as a thief, stealing for and from magicians—or rather, “gloamists.” In this world, gloamists are people with magical shadows that are alive, gaining strength from the gloamists' own blood. A gloamist can learn to manipulate the magic of their shadow, doing everything from changing how it looks to using it to steal, possess a person, or even murder. Gloamists hire nonmagical people like Charlie to steal precious and rare magical documents written by their kind throughout history and detailing their research and experiments in shadow magic. Gloamists can use onyx to keep each other from sending shadows to steal these treasures, but onyx won't stop regular humans from old-fashioned breaking and entering. After Charlie’s talent for crime gets her into too much trouble, she swears off her old career and tries to settle down with her sensible boyfriend, Vince—but when she finds a dead man in an alley and notices that even his shadow has been ripped to pieces, she can’t help trying to figure out who he was and why he met such a gruesome end. Before she knows it, Charlie is forced back into a life of lies and danger, using her skills as a thief to find a book that could unleash the full and terrifying power of the shadow world. Black is a veteran fantasy writer, which shows in the opening pages as she neatly and easily guides the reader through the engrossing world of gloamists, magical shadows, and Charlie’s brand of criminality. There's a lot of flipping back and forth between the past and the present, and though both timelines are well plotted and suspenseful, the story leans a touch too hard on the flashbacks. Still, the mystery elements are well executed, as is Charlie’s characterization, and the big twist at the end packs a satisfying punch.

Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-81219-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.


A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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