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An expertly concocted mélange of sweet romance and sharp social commentary.

An intelligent and gifted young woman seeks to forge her own path despite considerable social and financial pressures in this feminist fantasy–meets–Regency romance.

Beatrice Clayborn’s father has gone deeply into debt to allow her to present herself properly at Bendleton’s bargaining season, when eligible unmarried gentlemen select their brides. But Beatrice doesn’t want to get married; she wants to make a bargain with a greater spirit and become a mage, supporting her family’s fortunes through her considerable magic powers. Unfortunately, only men are allowed to practice the higher magics; to prevent spirits from invading pregnant women’s wombs and possessing their babies, women are denied magical lore and are locked into collars that suppress their magical potential from their weddings until menopause. When Beatrice locates a grimoire that might offer the knowledge she seeks, it brings her into the orbit of the most eligible pair of siblings on the market, the wealthy and well-connected Ysbeta and Ianthe Lavan. Ysbeta wants Beatrice to teach her how to conjure and bargain with spirits, that she might also remain unmarried and pursue magic. Ianthe’s interest in Beatrice is more romantic in nature, and Beatrice fears those feelings might be mutual. Beatrice is faced with an impossible choice: Marry Ianthe and give up the magic she loves or pursue the dangerous and forbidden path to magery; meanwhile, various parties seek to prevent Beatrice from taking either option. As in Polk’s ongoing series The Kingston Cycle, magic represents a source of political and physical power that only a select group is permitted to wield. It’s a talent that can spring up in anyone but requires opportunities and training to flourish—and whether those are available depends heavily on gender, class, and finances. Obviously, such a concept has many parallels in our own world. The author’s penetrating social critique and deeply felt depiction of one woman’s struggle for self-determination are balanced by her charming take on classic Regency romance. The tropes of the story are such that we have a reasonable expectation that Beatrice will somehow find a way to realize her dreams, however paradoxical they seem in her milieu, but the author does a nice job of ratcheting up the tension and places enough obstacles in her protagonist’s way that the reader might almost believe that failure is possible. The resolution therefore feels well earned and is pleasingly served with a righteous blow at the smugly complacent preservers of the status quo.

An expertly concocted mélange of sweet romance and sharp social commentary.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64566-007-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Erewhon

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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From the Empyrean series , Vol. 1

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

On the orders of her mother, a woman goes to dragon-riding school.

Even though her mother is a general in Navarre’s army, 20-year-old Violet Sorrengail was raised by her father to follow his path as a scribe. After his death, though, Violet's mother shocks her by forcing her to enter the elite and deadly dragon rider academy at Basgiath War College. Most students die at the War College: during training sessions, at the hands of their classmates, or by the very dragons they hope to one day be paired with. From Day One, Violet is targeted by her classmates, some because they hate her mother, others because they think she’s too physically frail to succeed. She must survive a daily gauntlet of physical challenges and the deadly attacks of classmates, which she does with the help of secret knowledge handed down by her two older siblings, who'd been students there before her. Violet is at the mercy of the plot rather than being in charge of it, hurtling through one obstacle after another. As a result, the story is action-packed and fast-paced, but Violet is a strange mix of pure competence and total passivity, always managing to come out on the winning side. The book is categorized as romantasy, with Violet pulled between the comforting love she feels from her childhood best friend, Dain Aetos, and the incendiary attraction she feels for family enemy Xaden Riorson. However, the way Dain constantly undermines Violet's abilities and his lack of character development make this an unconvincing storyline. The plots and subplots aren’t well-integrated, with the first half purely focused on Violet’s training, followed by a brief detour for romance, and then a final focus on outside threats.

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374042

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2024

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From the Empyrean series , Vol. 2

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

A young Navarrian woman faces even greater challenges in her second year at dragon-riding school.

Violet Sorrengail did all the normal things one would do as a first-year student at Basgiath War College: made new friends, fell in love, and survived multiple assassination attempts. She was also the first rider to ever bond with two dragons: Tairn, a powerful black dragon with a distinguished battle history, and Andarna, a baby dragon too young to carry a rider. At the end of Fourth Wing (2023), Violet and her lover, Xaden Riorson, discovered that Navarre is under attack from wyvern, evil two-legged dragons, and venin, soulless monsters that harvest energy from the ground. Navarrians had always been told that these were monsters of legend and myth, not real creatures dangerously close to breaking through Navarre’s wards and attacking civilian populations. In this overly long sequel, Violet, Xaden, and their dragons are determined to find a way to protect Navarre, despite the fact that the army and government hid the truth about these creatures. Due to the machinations of several traitorous instructors at Basgiath, Xaden and Violet are separated for most of the book—he’s stationed at a distant outpost, leaving her to handle the treacherous, cutthroat world of the war college on her own. Violet is repeatedly threatened by her new vice commandant, a brutal man who wants to silence her. Although Violet and her dragons continue to model extreme bravery, the novel feels repetitive and more than a little sloppy, leaving obvious questions about the world unanswered. The book is full of action and just as full of plot holes, including scenes that are illogical or disconnected from the main narrative. Secondary characters are ignored until a scene requires them to assist Violet or to be killed in the endless violence that plagues their school.

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374172

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2024

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