A woman confronts the evil at the source of a powerful empire in this fantasy debut that draws from the history and culture of India's Mughal Empire.
Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of the governor of Irinah in the Ambhan Empire and an Amrithi woman, a member of a feared and despised race of nomads descended from spirits. She lives a sheltered and privileged existence despite her ongoing conflict with her stepmother, until she performs an unwitting act of magic. That draws the attention of the Maha, the apparently immortal and infinitely cruel man who founded the empire, and his worshipful disciples, the mystics. They coerce Mehr into marrying Amun, their Amrithi mystic. Although the other mystics loathe the Amrithi and Amun in particular, they need an Amrithi couple to dance the Rite of the Bound, a magical act that warps the dreams of the sleeping Gods to fulfill the prayers of the mystics, maintaining and expanding the empire, and extending the Maha’s life. Is there any way for these two to escape the vows that bind them and find their own way toward freedom, love, and the possibility of honoring their own traditions? One must hope that this book is a harbinger of a coming flood of other fantasies that draw on traditions and cultures outside the confines of Northern Europe. Certainly, a post-colonial narrative in which a minority is both exploited and forced to assimilate has painful relevance in our own world and time. And there is something undoubtedly refreshing about a form of magic that is expressed in gesture instead of words. Those accustomed to the usual run of epic fantasy will find familiar elements: an obviously evil villain set against a heroine who has an unpleasant stepmother and who, despite being the chosen one, is struggling against overwhelming odds. But Suri’s deft and textured characterization breathes new life into these elements; she even takes a tired and often cloying trope—the triumph of the power of love—and makes it seem genuine, painful, and beautiful.
The second installment of Chakraborty’s stunningly rendered Middle Eastern fantasy trilogy (The City of Brass, 2017), which can absolutely be read independently of the first book.
The setting is Daevabad, a legendary Eastern city protected by impervious magical brass walls and ruled by King Ghassan, whose Geziri ancestors overthrew the Daevas and captured Suleiman’s seal, which tempers magic. To this bubbling pot of tensions, the powerful djinn warrior Dara conveyed young Daeva healer Nahri; in the process they developed feelings for one another. Five years later, Nahri has much to ponder. During the tumultuous events with which the previous book culminated, Ghassan’s younger son, Ali, whom Nahri considered a friend, killed Dara and defied his father, an act for which he was exiled—a euphemism for "condemned to death." Ghassan forced Nahri to marry Ali’s elder brother, Muntadhir; the union is childless thanks to potions Nahri secretly consumes, yet, oddly despite those five years of marriage, the couple seem to know very little about each other. She chafes under the restrictions imposed by the increasingly cruel and arbitrary Ghassan, who’s threatened to slaughter the city’s Daevas unless she cooperates. So she doesn’t know that Ali, with his djinn’s ability to survive in the desert and magic conferred by the fearsome water-spirits known as the marid, still lives, nor that Dara has been summoned back to life and now is embroiled in a conspiracy to overthrow the Geziri and reclaim the city for the Daeva. Against the city’s richly immersive backdrop of suppressed and often contentious racial, familial, magical, and religious alliances and divides—although Chakraborty tends to forget how bewildering these can be, even with the helpful glossary—the conflicts, ambitions, schemes, and treacheries build powerfully toward what’s rapidly becoming the author’s trademark: a truly shattering conclusion.
As good or better than its predecessor: promise impressively fulfilled.
Elsa’s homeland can’t be located on a map: Veldana and its people exist as a result of scriptology, a craft whose practitioners can scribe new lands into existence.
Veldana is the creation of a white Frenchman, but Elsa’s mother, a Veldanese master scriptologist, advocated for her people’s autonomy and is now the fabricated world’s caretaker. (Among other colonialist acts, the creator scribed pregnancies against the brown-skinned Veldanese women’s will.) The dark-skinned, green-eyed, 16-year-old Elsa, also a brilliant scriptologist, will one day proudly inherit the responsibility. When her mother is abducted, Elsa leaves Veldana for Earth—the real world—to find help. Events lead her to a yet-to-be-unified Italy, where she finds herself a resident of the Casa della Pazzia (“House of the Madness”), a sentient residence for orphan pazzerellone, or “mad scientists.” Each student possesses one of three “madnesses”: alchemy, mechanics, or scriptology. There, the fiercely independent Elsa reluctantly finds allies: olive-skinned Italians Leo and Porzia and brown-skinned Tunisian Faraz. As the four get closer to finding Elsa’s mother and learning the reason for her capture, they discover an enemy who will stop at nothing to use scriptology as a weapon to “edit” the Earth. This debut novel is fully realized steampunk-fantasy, offering an alternate history that deftly and creatively adopts the politics of 19th-century Italy to create a compellingly unique world. Although the book uses the language of mental illness to describe its characters’ specific magical talents, in this world “mad” seems to carry none of the baggage it does in ours.
A young magician who cannot cast magic must prove himself in other ways in the first installment of a new fantasy series from de Castell (Tyrant's Throne, 2017, etc.).
Kellen is the oldest child of two powerful magicians in a culture that prizes magic above all. At 16, he needs to prove himself a worthy heir to his family name—but literally everyone Kellen knows can cast more magic than him, including his little sister, Shalla, a magical prodigy. Desperate not to embarrass his family or be relegated to the magicless servant caste, Kellen hones his other skills—trickery, guile, and creativity. But Kellen's attempts to game the system only buy him more trouble...though also an unpredictable ally: a foreigner named Ferius Parfax, who has her own tricks. In turn, this leads the Dowager Magus (widow of the recently departed ruler) to recruit Kellen to spy on Parfax. Kellen's questions, and loyalties, multiply quickly: Who is Parfax, and why is she here? Is his growing friendship and identification with her worth disobeying the woman whose influence is letting him advance in his magical tests? Who will be the new ruler? What dark secrets are being kept from Kellen? This last turns out to be most important, as Kellen learns long-forgotten truths about his society, with the aid of Parfax and a creature his own people believe to be a poisonous demon. All that Kellen believes about his world—and his own family—is called into question, but as old loyalties fall down around his ears, new ones emerge. Will those alliances be strong enough to guide Kellen into the man he can become without magic?
An intriguing system of magic, wry humor, and a twisting plot make for an entertaining series debut.
An unlikely teen is selected to attend Hogwarts-at-the-Pentagon.
Tom has spent most of his life casino-hopping with his ne'er-do-well father. His only real pleasure is virtual-reality gaming, and his mad skillz bring him to the attention of the U.S. Intrasolar Forces. In short order he is off to the Pentagonal Spire to train to become a Camelot Company Combatant: one of the elite teen "warriors" who pilot the remote spacecraft that wage World War III bloodlessly in space. The Indo-Americans and the Russo-Chinese are propped up by multinationals that fund the enterprise; the neural processors implanted in the kids’ brains—not to mention war itself—aren't cheap. Tom quickly makes friends (warm and funny boy, Asperger's-like girl, goofy boy) and enemies (vicious boy, borderline-crazy professor). He also comes to the attention of his mother's horrible boyfriend, an executive in a multinational that wants a pawn on the inside of CamCo. In addition to obvious echoes of Ender's Game and Harry Potter, debut novelist Kincaid weaves in hefty helpings of Cory Doctorow–like philosophy: "What, you think the American sheeple are going to question the corporatocracy?" Tom's father says memorably. With action, real humor and a likable, complex protagonist, this fast-moving, satisfying adventure also provides some food for thought.
Derivative and sometimes a little silly, but good fun nevertheless.
(Science fiction. 13-16)
Salvador Vidón is the new kid at Miami’s magnet school Culeco Academy of the Arts, but being at a special school doesn’t protect Sal from trouble.
Bullies are everywhere, but seventh-grader Sal knows just how to handle a difficult kid like Yasmany Robles. Obviously, you deal with a bully by opening a portal into another universe, taking a raw chicken from it, and planting it in the bully’s locker. But you cannot just go opening portals into other universes without some consequences. For one, Sal gets sent to the principal on only his third day at Culeco and in the process meets Gabi Reál, who isn’t buying Sal’s innocent-magician act. The more pressing issue is that when Sal opens portals, sometimes his deceased mother comes through from alternate universes where she still exists—Mami Muerta, in Sal’s words. But if you could bring your dead mother back, wouldn’t you? The story moves quickly, with lots of multiverse traffic, school hijinks, and strong, smart, diverse characters. Most are Cuban-American in various shades of brown, like Sal, Gabi, and Yasmany, and Hernandez effortlessly folds in multiple intersectionalities, including Sal’s diabetes and Gabi’s unusual, delightfully matter-of-fact family structure. Secondary characters receive as much care and love as the primary cast, and readers will find themselves laughing out loud and rooting for Sal, Gabi, and even Yasmany until the very end.
This book, drenched in Cuban Spanish and personality, is a breath of fresh air.
(Science fiction. 10-13)
Who can't love a story about a Nigerian-American 12-year-old with albinism who discovers latent magical abilities and saves the world? Sunny lives in Nigeria after spending the first nine years of her life in New York. She can't play soccer with the boys because, as she says, "being albino made the sun my enemy," and she has only enemies at school. When a boy in her class, Orlu, rescues her from a beating, Sunny is drawn in to a magical world she's never known existed. Sunny, it seems, is a Leopard person, one of the magical folk who live in a world mostly populated by ignorant Lambs. Now she spends the day in mundane Lamb school and sneaks out at night to learn magic with her cadre of Leopard friends: a handsome American bad boy, an arrogant girl who is Orlu’s childhood friend and Orlu himself. Though Sunny's initiative is thin—she is pushed into most of her choices by her friends and by Leopard adults—the worldbuilding for Leopard society is stellar, packed with details that will enthrall readers bored with the same old magical worlds. Meanwhile, those looking for a touch of the familiar will find it in Sunny's biggest victories, which are entirely non-magical (the detailed dynamism of Sunny's soccer match is more thrilling than her magical world saving). Ebulliently original. (Fantasy. 11-13)
The beginning of a new fantasy trilogy by Salvatore (Child of a Mad God, 2018, etc.), set in the Forgotten Realms and starring Drizzt Do’Urden, the renowned dark elf whose first name sounds like a comic-book electrical short circuit.
Created half a century ago as one of the settings for the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game, the Realms owe much of their popularity to Salvatore, who, over three decades, has set many of his novels therein, most of them featuring the said Drizzt. This time, in the present, Drizzt’s late father, Zaknafein, has been revivified. By whom? And why? The contending female rulers (males are subordinate—even the wizards) of the aristocratic houses of the Underdark city Menzoberranzan suspect the machinations of Lolth, the ambitious Demon Queen of Spiders. At first Drizzt doubts that Zaknafein is really who he says, and clearly believes, he is. Another problem is that the Menzoberranzan families loathe and despise Drizzt for siding with inferior races—dwarves and elves—against them, prejudices that his unenlightened father shares. Meanwhile, nearly five centuries in the past, Matron Malice Do’Urden commissions roguish mercenary Jarlaxle to capture and deliver brilliant and handsome young weapons master Zaknafein to warm her bed and sire the child who will become Drizzt. Jarlaxle, of course, will become friends with both Zaknafein and Drizzt and features in both threads. Despite all those decades of experience, much remains indestructibly, maybe even endearingly, ham-fisted about Salvatore’s work, from the clunky prose, clanking exposition, and abrupt switches in point of view to the barrage of names and facts that feels less like being informed and more like being clubbed over the head. Or perhaps the secret’s in knowing that the audience is fanatically loyal, expectant, well-informed, and highly forgiving—and that he really does deliver the thrills and spills, the battles and swordplay, the jolly banter amid dreadful danger, and the hissing, clawing, chortling, tooth-grinding malice of the villains.
In a fantasy world influenced by Indian mythology, a young princess lives in scorn because of the horoscope that decrees she will marry “death and destruction.”
But adversity breeds strength, and “dusky-complexioned” Maya has spent her childhood and adolescence reading mythology and history, spying on her father’s councils, and weaving magical stories for her beloved half sister. When her father asks her to sacrifice her life to save their kingdom, Maya has no choice. And then, at the moment she is to drink poison, a mysterious, handsome stranger appears and whisks her away to the Otherworld, the place of demons and magic. What follows is a play on the classic love-betrayal-redemption arc of Cupid and Psyche or Beauty and the Beast. Chokshi’s rich, descriptive writing weaves a lush web that almost hides the lack of character development; this is a book exclusively concerned with telling, and style overwhelms substance throughout. But a swoony romance, betrayal, and a journey to power and self-affirmation, with a slightly wicked, slightly funny animal sidekick in the best tradition (think Garth Nix’s Mogget as a crimson-eyed horse), work together to create a spell that many readers will willingly succumb to, flaws and all.
Richly imagined, deeply mythic, filled with lovely language with violet overtones: this is an author to watch even if she’s not there yet.
(Fantasy. 12 & up)