An entertaining romance for sword-and-sorcery fans.

THE SCARLETT MARK

A MEDIEVAL ROMANTASY

A shape-shifting lord and a princess with snakelike powers battle a witch’s curse—and a potentially fatal attraction—in this debut fairy-tale romance.

Princess Scarlett of Velez and her sisters, Ruby and Rose, feel dispossessed because their younger half brother, Prince Lowell, will inherit the crown and gets all the attention of their father, King Rickard. The bigger problem, though, is their stepmother, Queen Cynara, a wicked sorceress who frames Scarlett for Rickard’s murder-by-cobra-bite. Sentenced to die poetically by another cobra bite, Scarlett survives and gets vaguely serpentine powers from the venom now flowing through her veins; Cynara then banishes her to Drum Manor, home of Lord Nicolai Graydon. Scarlett finds a gloomy, cobwebbed estate presided over by the preternaturally handsome and menacing Nicolai, who has his own history with Cynara: Sixteen years earlier Nicolai dumped her to marry an heiress, and she retaliated by annihilating the heiress with energy bolts and imposing a curse that causes Nicolai to turn into a black panther and tear out the throat of any woman who arouses him. Scarlett and Nicolai circle warily, each posing a sexily lethal threat to the other. Nicolai is indeed aroused by Scarlett, especially when he spies on her while she is undressing in her bedchamber; yet if he succumbs to his panther side and goes for her throat, her venomous blood will poison him. But Nicolai’s butler says that Scarlett may be able to lift Nicolai’s curse if she can cage him and teach him the meaning of true love. Lane’s yarn, the first in her Reign of Blood and Magic series, sometimes bogs down in ruminative longueurs as characters brood on their predicaments, but it features rousing magical action set pieces and sorcery that’s engrossing and creepy. (Rickard, it turns out, isn’t dead but doomed to eternal consciousness in a paralyzed body, which Cynara props up as a statue while he experiences helpless pain and humiliation from the insults visited on his inert frame.) Lane’s prose is sometimes rough—“Bon appetite”—but intense and evocative: “Round and round [Scarlett] went on the stone stairs, each step downward taking her closer to her final punishment….all too quickly she would fall silent, buried by wet mud in her grave.” The result is an imaginative fantasy that reprises the themes of "Beauty and the Beast" with feisty characters and richly intriguing witchery.

An entertaining romance for sword-and-sorcery fans.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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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 masterful debut from a must-read new voice in fantasy.

FOR THE WOLF

Twin princesses—one fated to become a queen, the other a martyr—find themselves caught up in an unexpected battle of dark magic and ancient gods.

Four hundred years ago, a Valleydan princess facing a loveless betrothal sought refuge in the Wilderwood with her lover, the Wolf. The legendary Five Kings—including her father and her husband-to-be—pursued them only to be trapped in the Wilderwood. Now, according to legend, the only hope of restoring the Five Kings to power lies in the ritual sacrifice of every Second Daughter born to Valleyda's queen. There hasn't been a second daughter for 100 years—until now. On her 20th birthday, Redarys accepts her fate and walks into the Wilderwood to become the Wolf's next victim only to find that the stories she grew up on were lies. The handsome man who lives in a crumbling castle deep in the forest is not the original Wolf but his son, and he wants nothing to do with Red or her sacrifice. Afraid of her wild magic abilities and the danger they pose to her sister, Neverah, Red refuses to leave the Wilderwood. Instead, she clings to the new Wolf, Eammon, who will do whatever it takes to protect her from the grisly fate of the other Second Daughters. Meanwhile, in the Valleydan capital, Neve's desperation to bring her sister home sets her on a path that may spell disaster for Red, Eammon, and the Wilderwood itself. Whitten weaves a captivating tale in this debut, in which even secondary characters come to feel like old friends. The novel seamlessly blends "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Beauty and the Beast" into an un-put-down-able fairy tale that traces the boundaries of duty, love, and loss.

A masterful debut from a must-read new voice in fantasy.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-59278-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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