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From the The Antasy Series series , Vol. 3

An immensely satisfying final volume in Carlton’s humans-and-insects saga.

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The conclusion to a fantasy trilogy in which embattled tiny humans vie with insects.

This final volume in Carlton’s epic Antasy series takes readers back to a world where people have evolved to insect size and are surrounded by terrifying predators on land and in the air. The first book, Prophets of the Ghost Ants (2016),introduced readers to a wretched human underling named Anand, who dreams of freeing his people from the terror of the Ghost Ants and eventually founds the new and enlightened nation of Bee-Jor. As the series progressed through the second volume, Prophet of the Termite God (2019),readers followed Anand’s journey through scenes of war, torture, and hairbreadth adventure. That adventure concludes in this final volume, in which the realm of Bee-Jor is tottering due to outside and internal threats, including one that’s represented by one of the book’s most intriguing characters: the mad Queen Trellana, who threatens the new nation’s very existence in these pages. This plot of this series entry involves a blinded and desperate Anand being captured by a mysterious group, among whom he makes new friends and allies while in captivity; meanwhile, he agonizes over his ignorance of what’s happening in faction-torn Bee-Jor, where war is looming and a tense situation isn’t being helped at all by Queen Trellana’s delusional histrionics.

Carlton skillfully manipulates readers’ feelings of anticipation about the fate of Bee-Jor and about Anand himself, and he does so right from the beginning of this complex volume. The saga of Anand, also known as “Roach Boy,” is still central to the sprawling narrative, but many other important plotlines converge in this concluding entry, which the author fills with engaging characters and gritty, often violent Game of Thrones–style action and realpolitik. Over the course of three books, the author has been pursuing this story with gusto and intense readability, often through the use of vivid, gripping language—as when Anand is in the midst of traveling, exhausted, and Carlton sets the scene by noting that “Night slithered in, as cold and damp as an earth worm.” Overall, this is an extensively fleshed-out world that’s raw and brutal but very satisfyingly imagined. Unlike in many other epic fantasy novels, the characters in this story (human and otherwise) really seem to live in this strange world; the internal consistency of the reality Carlton has imagined is solid to the last detail. This third volume is very much aimed at existing fans of the series; it begins with a large glossary of dramatis personae, but it lacks the kind of series-to-this-point recap that’s common in other fantasy tomes, and that’s sorely needed here; without it, there’s little chance that new readers can come onboard with this book. This is unfortunate, as the various aspects of Anand’s character are more effectively rendered in these pages than in previous entries, and Carlton’s handling of the multifaceted story has never been more confident.

An immensely satisfying final volume in Carlton’s humans-and-insects saga.

Pub Date: June 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-242979-7

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Harper Voyager Impulse

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

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Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

In 16th-century Madrid, a crypto-Jew with a talent for casting spells tries to steer clear of the Inquisition.

Luzia Cotado, a scullion and an orphan, has secrets to keep: “It was a game she and her mother had played, saying one thing and thinking another, the bits and pieces of Hebrew handed down like chipped plates.” Also handed down are “refranes”—proverbs—in “not quite Spanish, just as Luzia was not quite Spanish.” When Luzia sings the refranes, they take on power. “Aboltar cazal, aboltar mazal” (“A change of scene, a change of fortune”) can mend a torn gown or turn burnt bread into a perfect loaf; “Quien no risica, no rosica” (“Whoever doesn’t laugh, doesn’t bloom”) can summon a riot of foliage in the depths of winter. The Inquisition hangs over the story like Chekhov’s famous gun on the wall. When Luzia’s employer catches her using magic, the ambitions of both mistress and servant catapult her into fame and danger. A new, even more ambitious patron instructs his supernatural servant, Guillén Santángel, to train Luzia for a magical contest. Santángel, not Luzia, is the familiar of the title; he has been tricked into trading his freedom and luck to his master’s family in exchange for something he no longer craves but can’t give up. The novel comes up against an issue common in fantasy fiction: Why don’t the characters just use their magic to solve all their problems? Bardugo has clearly given it some thought, but her solutions aren’t quite convincing, especially toward the end of the book. These small faults would be harder to forgive if she weren’t such a beautiful writer. Part fairy tale, part political thriller, part romance, the novel unfolds like a winter tree bursting into unnatural bloom in response to one of Luzia’s refranes, as she and Santángel learn about power, trust, betrayal, and love.

Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

Pub Date: April 9, 2024

ISBN: 9781250884251

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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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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