Timely themes and a gripping narrative draw the reader in and keep them there.

THE FINAL STRIFE

In the first of a trilogy, three women disturb the social order of a rigidly caste-based society poised on the brink of disaster.

The red-blooded Embers command, the blue-blooded Dusters work, and the transparent-blooded, mutilated Ghostings serve. Sylah is a secret Ember, stolen as a toddler by the rebellious Duster sect known as the Sandstorm, who left a Duster in her place and raised her to revolution. Soldiers slaughtered the Sandstorm, and Sylah has spent the past several years as an aimless drug addict and fighter in an underground betting ring. A fellow Sandstorm survivor reenters her life and encourages her to enter the Aktibar, the fierce competition to become an heir to the empire’s ruling wardens. Due to some poor choices, Sylah ends up training another competitor instead: Anoor, a young woman everyone believes to be the Warden of Strength’s daughter when in fact she is one of the Duster children left by the Sandstorm. As Anoor advances in the Aktibar, Sylah must decide whether to rejoin the new Sandstorm or follow a different path to rebellion. Meanwhile, Hassa, a trans woman Ghosting who’s a friend of Sylah’s, seeks freedom for her people, all the while hiding secrets which strike at the Empire’s very foundations. The concept of people having different blood colors seems implausible and basing prejudice on it, ridiculous; but then, this is the same genre in which enormous dragons fly and breathe fire in sheer defiance of physics, appearing in stories written by authors from a world that foolishly constructs prejudice around skin color. Racism based on blood color also leads to some interesting possibilities for “passing,” which the author exploits to their fullest extent. The message is hardly subtle, but our current climate does not support much subtlety, and this blunt allegory—which also draws from Ghanaian and Arabian tales—is crafted into a compelling story with sympathetic characters. The depictions of Anoor, overcoming both the naïveté of a woman brought up in a pampered bubble and the bruised self-esteem of an abuse victim, and of Sylah, battling confused loyalties and a devastating addiction, are particularly well done.

Timely themes and a gripping narrative draw the reader in and keep them there.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-35694-4

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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Fans of gothic classics like Rebecca will be enthralled as long as they don’t mind a heaping dose of all-out horror.

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MEXICAN GOTHIC

Moreno-Garcia offers a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror, set in 1950s Mexico.

Inquisitive 22-year-old socialite and anthropology enthusiast Noemí Taboada adores beautiful clothes and nights on the town in Mexico City with a bevy of handsome suitors, but her carefree existence is cut short when her father shows her a disturbing letter from her cousin Catalina, who recently married fair-haired and blue-eyed Virgil Doyle, who comes from a prominent English mining family that built their now-dwindling fortune on the backs of Indigenous laborers. Catalina lives in High Place, the Doyle family’s crumbling mansion near the former mining town of El Triunfo. In the letter, Catalina begs for Noemí’s help, claiming that she is “bound, threads like iron through my mind and my skin,” and that High Place is “sick with rot, stinks of decay, brims with every single evil and cruel sentiment.” Upon Noemí’s arrival at High Place, she’s struck by the Doyle family’s cool reception of her and their unabashed racism. She's alarmed by the once-vibrant Catalina’s listless state and by the enigmatic Virgil and his ancient, leering father, Howard. Nightmares, hallucinations, and phantasmagoric dreams of golden dust and fleshy bodies plague Noemí, and it becomes apparent that the Doyles haven’t left their blood-soaked legacy behind. Luckily, the brave Noemí is no delicate flower, and she’ll need all her wits about her for the battle ahead. Moreno-Garcia weaves elements of Mexican folklore with themes of decay, sacrifice, and rebirth, casting a dark spell all the way to the visceral and heart-pounding finale.

Fans of gothic classics like Rebecca will be enthralled as long as they don’t mind a heaping dose of all-out horror.

Pub Date: June 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-62078-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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