A vivid, engaging, if bulky fantasy in which violence carries the day.

PRINCESS OF SHADOWS

THE GIRL WHO WOULD BE KING

An implacable young woman breaks royal boundaries in this medieval fantasy.

Gimlé is an island realm divided into regions of varying light. Arthur, King of the Light, Shadows, and Dark, rules from Triad Castle. He enforces the Code, laws written by Arthur the Hammer six generations ago. With Queen Sophia, his children are 10-year-old Aemond and 6-year-old Aeryn. When an upstart named Grayson begins preaching against the Code and inspiring rebels to pillage the realm, Arthur and his adviser Robert Darnald summon nearly 1,000 men from among loyal lands to stop the rebellion. Arthur’s force squashes the opposition, but a leading traitor named Murat escapes. Later, at a Council meeting of lords, Dux Bogdan Keseljevic says the Code is antiquated. He begins scheming for the throne, drawing Arthur once more into battle at the Citadel of Eternal Light. Upon Arthur’s battlefield death, Keseljevic becomes regent and demands that Sophia turn over the children. The royal family flees Triad, but only Aeryn escapes captivity. She reunites with Robert, vowing revenge against those who took her family. Growing up in the Shadows, Aeryn learns sword fighting and becomes a fearsome young woman. She forms lifelong friendships with Dux Chandrasejhar’s son, Rishi, and her companion Robyn Nakagawa. Unfortunately, Aeryn makes fresh enemies, too. Alexander’s engrossing novel is steeped in detailed medieval politics and battlefield tactics. The most prominent fantasy element is Gimlé’s strange, fixed relationship to the Eye—the planet’s star—which causes plants to move, “not with the wind, but so as to have the light of the Eye fall on the leaf.” The battles are depicted with vibrant gore, as in the line “Arthur’s next cut took off the arm that had been holding the shield.” But they do highlight Aeryn’s absence from much of the narrative’s first quarter. Though willful and imaginative, the protagonist is easily lost in the sprawling medieval panorama. Killing eventually becomes Aeryn’s signature talent as she seeks vengeance and possibly a new life. While the tale offers a rousing finale, it slights powerful queens throughout both fiction and history.

A vivid, engaging, if bulky fantasy in which violence carries the day. (map, character guide)

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-7361984-2-1

Page Count: 446

Publisher: Alton Kremer

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2022

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A well-constructed prelude to what promises to be an interesting series.

THE ATLAS SIX

Dangerous intrigues and deadly secrets swirl around six ambitious young magicians competing for entry into a secret society.

In a world very much like our own, except that a certain percentage of humanity is born with magical powers, six extraordinarily gifted people in their 20s are invited to train for membership in the Alexandrian Society, which has carefully and somewhat surreptitiously preserved centuries of priceless knowledge since the (apparent) burning of the Library of Alexandria. At the end of one year, five of the six will be initiated into the Society, and the reader won’t be surprised to learn that the sixth person isn’t allowed to quietly return home. As the year advances, the candidates explore the limits of their unique powers and shift their alliances, facing threats and manipulations from both within and outside of their circle. For most of its length, the book appears to be a well-written but not especially revolutionary latecomer to the post–Harry Potter collection of novels featuring a darker and more cynical approach to magical education; these books include Sarah Gailey’s Magic for Liars, Marina and Sergey Dyachenko’s Vita Nostra, and Lev Grossman’s Magicians series. Blake also offers a significant dash of the older subgenre of students joining a mystical cult requiring a sacrifice, as in Elizabeth Hand’s Waking the Moon and Robert Silverberg’s The Book of Skulls. The character-building is intense and intriguing—such an interior deep dive is practically de rigueur for a story of this type, which depends on self-discovery—but the plot doesn’t seem to be going anywhere surprising. Then, the book's climax devastatingly reveals that Blake was holding her cards close to the vest all along, delicately hinting at a wider plot which only opens up fully—or almost fully—at the end, when it shoves the reader off a cliff to wait for the next book.

A well-constructed prelude to what promises to be an interesting series.

Pub Date: March 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-85451-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.

A DEADLY EDUCATION

From the The Scholomance series , Vol. 1

A loosely connected group of young magicians fight horrendous creatures to ensure their own survival.

Galadriel "El" Higgins knows how dangerous the Scholomance is. Her father died during the school's infamous graduation ceremony, in which senior students run through a gauntlet of magic-eating monsters, just to make sure her pregnant mother made it out alive. Now a student herself at the nebulous, ever shifting magic school, which is populated with fearsome creatures, she has made not making friends into an art form. Not that anyone would want to be her friend, anyway. The only time she ever met her father's family, they tried to kill her, claiming she posed an existential threat to every other wizard. And, as a spell-caster with a natural affinity for using other people's life forces to power destructive magic, maybe she does. No one gave Orion Lake that memo, however, so he's spent the better part of the school year trying to save El from every monster that comes along, much to her chagrin. With graduation fast approaching, El hatches a plan to pretend to be Orion's girlfriend in order to secure some allies for the deadly fight that lies ahead, but she can't stop being mean to the people she needs the most. El's bad attitude and her incessant info-dumping make Novik's protagonist hard to like, and the lack of chemistry between the two main characters leaves the central romantic pairing feeling forced. Although the conclusion makes space for a promising sequel, getting there requires readers to give El more grace than they may be willing to part with.

A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12848-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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