This well-crafted epic fantasy about a mentor’s travels veers off the path at just the right moments.

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TAYLENOR

A novel follows a priest of the goddess Imn-ashu as she fulfills her duty as a Seeker and wields her faith against demons descending on the world.

Jaena travels the countryside searching for children who have inherited taylen, the ability to learn magic. The priest’s senses lead her to the village of Bless-us-goddess, where she quickly finds Wiel, a boy who she believes is a taylenor. Wiel’s parents object to Jaena's taking him away, but when she tells the boy the truth about his condition, he agrees to accompany her to a hospital. Unfortunately, the gift of learning magic is bittersweet: It comes with a deadly illness that only a few—like Mage Herrein, who employs Jaena as a Seeker—have ever survived. Jaena hopes that with her help Wiel will live and become a Mage instead of wasting away like countless others. On their journey, Jaena catches sight of a hulking, wolflike animal among the trees, which reignites her fear that demons have returned to the countryside. In theory, Mage Herrein can defend the city of Uthen, but his strength against demons and the Eastern Mage has been untested for over a hundred years. With the help of her charming friend Metten and the nobleman Halpen, who has a vestigial trace of taylen, Jaena tries to turn the dark tide that threatens to overwhelm the city as she guides Wiel to what she thinks is a safe harbor. In a welcome change to the typical hero’s journey, Lutz’s (Sword of Jashan, 2019, etc.) epic fantasy deftly explores the perspective of a guardian and mentor rather than a talented young charge. Jaena’s palpable sense of duty toward Wiel is a much more intriguing story thread than the catastrophes that serve as a call to adventure in many fantasy novels. The author delivers strong worldbuilding and a fast-paced plot, which serve the book well even when it edges toward standard fantasy fare. In addition, examinations of the characters’ complex emotions add depth when some of the twists in the tale are not hard for readers to foresee.

This well-crafted epic fantasy about a mentor’s travels veers off the path at just the right moments.

Pub Date: July 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-948374-17-0

Page Count: 263

Publisher: Hydra Publications

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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DUNE

This future space fantasy might start an underground craze.

It feeds on the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Martian series), Aeschylus, Christ and J.R. Tolkien. The novel has a closed system of internal cross-references, and features a glossary, maps and appendices dealing with future religions and ecology. Dune itself is a desert planet where a certain spice liquor is mined in the sands; the spice is a supremely addictive narcotic and control of its distribution means control of the universe. This at a future time when the human race has reached a point of intellectual stagnation. What is needed is a Messiah. That's our hero, called variously Paul, then Muad'Dib (the One Who Points the Way), then Kwisatz Haderach (the space-time Messiah). Paul, who is a member of the House of Atreides (!), suddenly blooms in his middle teens with an ability to read the future and the reader too will be fascinated with the outcome of this projection.

With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and it should interest advanced sci-fi devotees.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1965

ISBN: 0441013597

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Chilton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1965

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