A yarn that promises more than it delivers. Fans will be entitled to a small measure of disappointment.

SINS OF EMPIRE

From the Gods of Blood and Powder series , Vol. 1

A new sequence, following the outstanding Powder Mage fantasy trilogy (The Autumn Republic, 2015, etc.) and set in the same war-torn world—gratifyingly, some of the characters reappear—gets under way.

In a narrative that builds upon, but adds no fresh ideas to, the previous books, the scene switches to the land of Fatrasta and its capital city, Landfall. Here, the natives, called Palo, suffer under the repressive government of Lady Chancellor Lindet and her chief enforcer, the psychopathic Fidelis Jes, grand master of the Blackhats, the secret police. So great is the unrest that Lindet engages powder mage (one who ignites powerful magic by inhaling or ingesting gunpowder) Vlora and her army, the Riflejack Mercenary Company, to defend the city and keep order. Jes, meanwhile, orders Blackhat spy Michel Bravis to find the individuals responsible for stirring the Palo to rebellion. Lindet also has a secret project to secure a powerfully magical “godstone” abandoned by a long-vanished civilization—but why? Other important actors in the drama include Ben Styke, ex-colonel of the Mad Lancers (clad in impenetrable magic armor, they devastated opposing armies in the previous books), now falsely imprisoned for treachery by Jes, and the enigmatic Gregious Tampo, who seems far too well-informed and resourceful to be merely the lawyer he represents himself as. These sturdily drawn characters struggle, contend, and plot, not always in entirely convincing fashion, amid brief bursts of action. After 500 pages of this elaborate and often remarkable scenery-chewing, McClellan finally delivers the concluding furious, visceral, and relentlessly thrilling action that so delighted readers of the original trilogy.

A yarn that promises more than it delivers. Fans will be entitled to a small measure of disappointment.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-40721-2

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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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THE NIGHT CIRCUS

Self-assured, entertaining debut novel that blends genres and crosses continents in quest of magic.

The world’s not big enough for two wizards, as Tolkien taught us—even if that world is the shiny, modern one of the late 19th century, with its streetcars and electric lights and newfangled horseless carriages. Yet, as first-time novelist Morgenstern imagines it, two wizards there are, if likely possessed of more legerdemain than true conjuring powers, and these two are jealous of their turf. It stands to reason, the laws of the universe working thus, that their children would meet and, rather than continue the feud into a new generation, would instead fall in love. Call it Romeo and Juliet for the Gilded Age, save that Morgenstern has her eye on a different Shakespearean text, The Tempest; says a fellow called Prospero to young magician Celia of the name her mother gave her, “She should have named you Miranda...I suppose she was not clever enough to think of it.” Celia is clever, however, a born magician, and eventually a big hit at the Circus of Dreams, which operates, naturally, only at night and has a slightly sinister air about it. But what would you expect of a yarn one of whose chief setting-things-into-action characters is known as “the man in the grey suit”? Morgenstern treads into Harry Potter territory, but though the chief audience for both Rowling and this tale will probably comprise of teenage girls, there are only superficial genre similarities. True, Celia’s magical powers grow, and the ordinary presto-change-o stuff gains potency—and, happily, surrealistic value. Finally, though, all the magic has deadly consequence, and it is then that the tale begins to take on the contours of a dark thriller, all told in a confident voice that is often quite poetic, as when the man in the grey suit tells us, “There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict.” Generous in its vision and fun to read. Likely to be a big book—and, soon, a big movie, with all the franchise trimmings.

 

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-53463-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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