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 gripping revenge story with enough twists to avoid becoming formulaic.

LORE

To get revenge for her family’s murder seven years ago, Lore must reenter a deadly contest from her past.

Leaving the conflict of gods and their hunters behind, Lore thought she had forged a new life. However, the Agon has begun again and brought with it an injured Athena, who promises her revenge on the one who ordered her family killed—in exchange for an oath binding their fates together. Lore must hunt down the god once known as Aristos Kadmou, with the catch that she only has eight days. Also, failure means the deaths of both Lore and Athena. Depictions of graphic violence and discussions of sexual assault are frequent, creating a tale as violent and unforgiving as its source material, albeit narrated through a feminist lens. Much like the heroes of ancient epics, Lore is a morally ambiguous but ultimately likable character, struggling to eliminate the monsters of her world while not falling into the brutality of her youth. She is contrasted with the idealistic Castor, her childhood friend and love interest, with whom she has plenty of chemistry. Bracken builds a rich world around a skeleton of ancient Greek mythology that is perfect to read on a dull weekend and sure to delight readers. Most main characters are cued as White; there are two men of color, both gay.

A gripping revenge story with enough twists to avoid becoming formulaic. (cast of characters) (Fantasy. 16-adult)

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4847-7820-3

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.

A DEADLY EDUCATION

From the The Scholomance series , Vol. 1

A loosely connected group of young magicians fight horrendous creatures to ensure their own survival.

Galadriel "El" Higgins knows how dangerous the Scholomance is. Her father died during the school's infamous graduation ceremony, in which senior students run through a gauntlet of magic-eating monsters, just to make sure her pregnant mother made it out alive. Now a student herself at the nebulous, ever shifting magic school, which is populated with fearsome creatures, she has made not making friends into an art form. Not that anyone would want to be her friend, anyway. The only time she ever met her father's family, they tried to kill her, claiming she posed an existential threat to every other wizard. And, as a spell-caster with a natural affinity for using other people's life forces to power destructive magic, maybe she does. No one gave Orion Lake that memo, however, so he's spent the better part of the school year trying to save El from every monster that comes along, much to her chagrin. With graduation fast approaching, El hatches a plan to pretend to be Orion's girlfriend in order to secure some allies for the deadly fight that lies ahead, but she can't stop being mean to the people she needs the most. El's bad attitude and her incessant info-dumping make Novik's protagonist hard to like, and the lack of chemistry between the two main characters leaves the central romantic pairing feeling forced. Although the conclusion makes space for a promising sequel, getting there requires readers to give El more grace than they may be willing to part with.

A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12848-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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