A world most readers will already know but a story told with affection and skill.

STEEL, BLOOD & FIRE

IMMORTAL TREACHERY, BOOK ONE

Humans and mystical creatures band together to stop an evil sorcerer in Batchelder’s debut, the first in a fantasy series.

Tarmun Vykers is a notorious warrior called The Reaper. He’s mercilessly beaten by men and left in the forest with his hands and feet severed. He finds an unlikely rescuer in Arune, the ghost of a being (called a Shaper) capable of magic. Vykers agrees to share his body with Arune in exchange for his extremities—even if they’re invisible. Before he can return to full strength, he’s captured by the Virgin Queen’s men. The Queen, despite being the one who ordered Vykers’ mutilation, needs the warrior’s help. A powerful sorcerer calling himself The End-of-All-Things is decimating the land and its people, and the Queen wants Vykers to halt the End’s advance. Aoife, meanwhile, seeks vengeance against her brother Anders (aka the End). One of the magical A’Shea, Aoife gives birth to beasts of the forest, such as a satyr, all of whom will soon join the fight against her wicked brother. Numerous prolonged journeys occur before the impending battle. But Batchelder maintains impressive momentum with short scenes, switching between, for example, Vykers and Long Pete, who, along with friends, joins the Queen’s military. There’s likewise distinction among the plethora of characters: Arune’s merely a voice in Vykers’ head but offers sage advice and takes over if necessary (rendering the warrior unconscious to avoid a fight he’d likely lose); and Spirk, one of Long’s traveling companions, clearly functions as comic relief. The fantasy treks through mostly familiar terrain, including magical swords and chimeras that fight alongside Vykers. But there are original creatures too, like the Svarren, which are misshapen, wart-covered humanoid beings. The plot, not surprisingly, entails a hefty amount of action, especially once it reaches the inevitable conflict between the End’s and the Queen’s armies. Intrigue, however, abounds when swords aren’t clashing: the chimeras may be untrustworthy, while at least one character is not what he or she seems. Vykers is a remarkable, indelible protagonist, an antihero as equally lethal as the End.

A world most readers will already know but a story told with affection and skill.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-1491091753

Page Count: 548

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

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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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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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