A middling but occasionally intriguing dark fantasy.

THE SCIELL

BOOK 1 OF THE MERGING WORLDS TRILOGY

Johnson, in her debut, offers the first installment of a new horror-fantasy series.

Shade Harrellite is half-human and half-Del’Praeli, a species of shape-shifting, nocturnal supernatural predators. As such, she can use powers linked to the Energy of Lifeblood and the Bria of the Darkness. Chafing under the pressures of living under the rules of both human and Del’Praeli societies, Shade rebels in small but harmless ways. But when her journey leads her through a mysterious magical protection shield to Raesul, a village inhabited by nonhumans, she begins to learn the truth about herself, the Del’Praeli and the Darkness to which they’re all connected. She also starts to learn the secret of the non-human race, the Sciell, whose members each hold two consciousnesses, and about her own role in the destiny of her world. The tale follows the familiar formula of the coming-of-age tale as it reveals its secrets, but it does so with a welcome sense of enthusiasm. Johnson’s style is unpolished but somewhat reminiscent of authors Tanith Lee and Anne Rice, although it occasionally drifts into the portentous (“She stood, shaking as though fighting merciless emotions”). The pacing is slow, mostly because this is the first book in a series, intended to set up the characters, conflict and world. As a result, there’s less action in this volume than dialogue, but this is not a fatal flaw. The worldbuilding is competent, if undistinguished, with touches of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series in its character and place names. It also draws on popular monster-fantasy tropes similar to those seen in the works of Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris and others. However, it includes more modern terminology and ideas than other books of its type, which makes its setting a bit more distinctive.

A middling but occasionally intriguing dark fantasy. 

Pub Date: March 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-1495201738

Page Count: 387

Publisher: Aubey LLC

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2014

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With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally...

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NINTH HOUSE

Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story.

Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who's a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt.

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31307-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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