A captivatingly complex villain stands out in this well-written fantasy series opener.

THE FINAL HEIR

Destiny goes awry as two teenagers—a warrior and a mage—fight a fearsome tyrant in this YA fantasy.

On Einar, life is fueled by the draod, or Power of Creation—an energy that permeates all existence. Mages who wear qilada, priceless relics of the First Heirs, can pull strands from this energy to weave spells of Destruction, Restoration, and Illusion. Though the secrets of making qilada have been lost, Einar is still ruled by seven Heirs whose powers are inherited after death by worthy successors. But a ruthless challenger has arisen: Mahzun, “the Usurper, the Wild Man, the Primal King, the Destroyer of Worlds.” He possesses a deadly magical weapon, the Eternal Blade, which he pulls from the draod at will. Wielding it comes at a price—torturous pain and injuries that have left Mahzun a scarred, grotesque figure of horror—but the Blade has the unique ability of allowing him to slay the Heirs and prevent their powers from being passed on. Six Heirs are dead; only Lord Dimitri remains, protected in a mountain fastness. Training in his service are two teenage friends: Zahara, a dark-skinned aristocrat and a highly talented mage, and Ekarath, a blond, blue-eyed, fair-skinned soldier who hopes to join Dimitri’s personal bodyguards. Knowing Mahzun is on the brink of victory, Dimitri gives Zahara and Ekarath the task of bringing a book of knowledge to Farban, an older hermit. They succeed, but Mahzun murders Dimitri, wins the war, and settles in to rule. Dimitri did manage to pass his powers on—not to Zahara but to Ekarath, who’s never cast a spell in his life. Though young and unprepared, the friends hold the only key to challenging Mahzun.

In his fifth YA fantasy novel, Monson offers one or two elements that have a familiar air. The draod is very much like the Force, and Farban recalls Obi-Wan Kenobi. But such resemblances are few, much outweighed by original and well-thought-out worldbuilding. For example, spellcasting is given more palpable reality through fabric-related metaphors such as strands, weaving, and knots. Battle scenes are crisp and exciting, and the plot ties in well with character development, as when Ekarath—a mere soldier, not an elite mage—struggles with imposter syndrome after he gains his new powers. But the real star of this show is Mahzun. Something like Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, he’s far and away the most compelling personality in this series opener. He sees himself as a liberator, not a tyrant—a “Savior of Man” who will free all Einar from its autocratic ruling class, a goal with democratic resonance. Several other elements give Mahzun added dimension, such as his soul bond with Aiya, his telepathic griffin mount; the relationship with his sister; and his torment by the silent ghosts of those the Blade has killed, visible only to him.

A captivatingly complex villain stands out in this well-written fantasy series opener.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2022

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

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BOOK OF NIGHT

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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An immersive tale of brave, vulnerable teens facing threats both real and fantastic.

ALL OUR HIDDEN GIFTS

An Irish teen grapples with past misdeeds and newfound ties to magic.

When 16-year-old Maeve discovers a deck of tarot cards stashed with a mixtape of moody indie music from 1990, she starts giving readings for her classmates at her all-girls private school. Though her shame over dumping her strange friend Lily during an attempt to climb the social ladder at St. Bernadette’s is still palpable, it doesn’t stop her from trying to use the tarot in her favor to further this goal. However, after speaking harsh words to Lily during a reading, Maeve is horrified when her former friend later disappears. As she struggles to understand the forces at play within her, classmate Fiona proves to be just the friend Maeve needs. Detailed, interesting characters carry this contemporary story of competing energy and curses. Woven delicately throughout are chillingly eerie depictions of the Housekeeper, a figure who shows up on an extra card in the deck, echoing the White Lady legend from Irish folklore. Even more disturbing is an organization of young people led by a homophobic but charismatic figurehead intent on provoking backlash against Ireland’s recent civil rights victories. Most characters are White; Fiona is biracial, with a Filipina mother and White Irish father. Roe, Maeve’s love interest and Lily’s sibling, is a bisexual, genderqueer person who is a target for intolerance in their small city of Kilbeg.

An immersive tale of brave, vulnerable teens facing threats both real and fantastic. (Paranormal. 14-18)

Pub Date: June 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5362-1394-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Walker US/Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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