No fangs, capes, hissing or bats: just a wise immortal moved by vast pity.

NIGHT PILGRIMS

The latest entry in Yarbro’s impressive historical fantasy cycle, each independently intelligible, about the saintly vampire Count Saint-Germain (Commedia Della Morte, 2012, etc.).

The year is 1225, just after the Fifth Crusade. An uneasy stalemate prevails between Christianity and Islam, while the seemingly unstoppable Mongol armies of Jenghiz Khan threaten both Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Saint-Germain, here known as Sidi Sandjer’min, lives quietly in an Egyptian monastery with his servant, Ruthier, a ghoul and fellow immortal. Sieur Horembaud du Langnor, an arrogant and impetuous crusader from English-ruled Aquitaine, requires a guide for his pilgrimage south to remote Ethiopia, where he must pray at the Chapel of the Holy Grail. Since it is no longer safe for Sandjer’min to remain where he is, he agrees to help. Joining Sieur Horembaud will be a large assorted party, some of whom are fellow penitents: Sieur Horembaud’s shadow, the suspicious friar Frater Anteus; Torquil des Lichiens, a crusader dying of severe sunstroke; a nun, Sorer Imogen, and her young half brother Heneri; the English noblewoman, Margrethe of Rutland; and still others who hope to find valuable relics or gold. Among the dangers faced by the party will be the blistering heat that obliges them to travel at night, the annual rise of the Nile, as well as snakes, scorpions, wild beasts and bandits. For his part, Sandjer’min must translate for them, minister to their various wounds, injuries and illnesses, and try to prevent the pilgrims from turning savagely on each other. Once again, Yarbro offers a wonderfully rich historical backdrop, beautifully framed with a series of explicatory epistles, vividly drawn scenes and a notable cast of characters, to which the meandering plot fails to do justice.

No fangs, capes, hissing or bats: just a wise immortal moved by vast pity.

Pub Date: July 30, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7653-3400-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2013

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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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