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PRINCESS OF SHADOWS

THE GIRL WHO WOULD BE KING

A vivid, engaging, if bulky fantasy in which violence carries the day.

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An implacable young woman breaks royal boundaries in this medieval fantasy.

Gimlé is an island realm divided into regions of varying light. Arthur, King of the Light, Shadows, and Dark, rules from Triad Castle. He enforces the Code, laws written by Arthur the Hammer six generations ago. With Queen Sophia, his children are 10-year-old Aemond and 6-year-old Aeryn. When an upstart named Grayson begins preaching against the Code and inspiring rebels to pillage the realm, Arthur and his adviser Robert Darnald summon nearly 1,000 men from among loyal lands to stop the rebellion. Arthur’s force squashes the opposition, but a leading traitor named Murat escapes. Later, at a Council meeting of lords, Dux Bogdan Keseljevic says the Code is antiquated. He begins scheming for the throne, drawing Arthur once more into battle at the Citadel of Eternal Light. Upon Arthur’s battlefield death, Keseljevic becomes regent and demands that Sophia turn over the children. The royal family flees Triad, but only Aeryn escapes captivity. She reunites with Robert, vowing revenge against those who took her family. Growing up in the Shadows, Aeryn learns sword fighting and becomes a fearsome young woman. She forms lifelong friendships with Dux Chandrasejhar’s son, Rishi, and her companion Robyn Nakagawa. Unfortunately, Aeryn makes fresh enemies, too. Alexander’s engrossing novel is steeped in detailed medieval politics and battlefield tactics. The most prominent fantasy element is Gimlé’s strange, fixed relationship to the Eye—the planet’s star—which causes plants to move, “not with the wind, but so as to have the light of the Eye fall on the leaf.” The battles are depicted with vibrant gore, as in the line “Arthur’s next cut took off the arm that had been holding the shield.” But they do highlight Aeryn’s absence from much of the narrative’s first quarter. Though willful and imaginative, the protagonist is easily lost in the sprawling medieval panorama. Killing eventually becomes Aeryn’s signature talent as she seeks vengeance and possibly a new life. While the tale offers a rousing finale, it slights powerful queens throughout both fiction and history.

A vivid, engaging, if bulky fantasy in which violence carries the day. (map, character guide)

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-7361984-2-1

Page Count: 446

Publisher: Alton Kremer

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2022

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FOURTH WING

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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THE FAMILIAR

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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