Lacking the grand heft of the trilogy, this is a pleasantly grim and emotionally complex divertissement that will give...

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SKULLSWORN

The beautiful, enigmatic assassin Pyrre, a supporting character in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne (The Last Mortal Bond, 2016, etc.), takes center stage in this prequel to the series.

Pyrre is an acolyte of Ananshael, the god of death. To become full priestess, she must kill seven specific types of people, one of whom must be someone “who made [her] mind and body sing with love.” Trouble is, Pyrre’s never been in love. Her quandary brings her to the conquered city of Dombâng, place of her birth and her desperate, miserable childhood. She hopes that her former lover Ruc Lan Lac, now the commander of the military police known as the Greenshirts, is someone she can truly love and then kill, in accordance with her Trial. But to catch his attention, she'll have to start a revolution. Falling in love isn't easy for Pyrre, but stirring up Dombâng's unrest is surprisingly so. Insurrection is always close to the surface of the barely pacified city, where hidden priests and secret worshippers seek to rouse the Three, the original, deadly gods of the delta who thrive upon blood and sacrifice and who may not be quite as mythical as many think. Pyrre, with her unusual attitude toward life and death, was always one of the most colorful and confusing characters in the original series, and it’s both enjoyable and illuminating to observe the development of her personality as the bodies pile higher.

Lacking the grand heft of the trilogy, this is a pleasantly grim and emotionally complex divertissement that will give pleasure to fans and tie up some loose ends—and can also be an accessible entree for new readers, who will undoubtedly go on to consume the rest of the series.

Pub Date: April 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7653-8987-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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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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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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