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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Black is building a complex mythology; now is a great time to tune in.

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THE CRUEL PRINCE

From the Folk of the Air series , Vol. 1

Black is back with another dark tale of Faerie, this one set in Faerie and launching a new trilogy.

Jude—broken, rebuilt, fueled by anger and a sense of powerlessness—has never recovered from watching her adoptive Faerie father murder her parents. Human Jude (whose brown hair curls and whose skin color is never described) both hates and loves Madoc, whose murderous nature is true to his Faerie self and who in his way loves her. Brought up among the Gentry, Jude has never felt at ease, but after a decade, Faerie has become her home despite the constant peril. Black’s latest looks at nature and nurture and spins a tale of court intrigue, bloodshed, and a truly messed-up relationship that might be the saving of Jude and the titular prince, who, like Jude, has been shaped by the cruelties of others. Fierce and observant Jude is utterly unaware of the currents that swirl around her. She fights, plots, even murders enemies, but she must also navigate her relationship with her complex family (human, Faerie, and mixed). This is a heady blend of Faerie lore, high fantasy, and high school drama, dripping with description that brings the dangerous but tempting world of Faerie to life.

Black is building a complex mythology; now is a great time to tune in. (Fantasy. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-31027-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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

THE SWALLOWED MAN

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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