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

PRINCESS OF SHADOWS

THE GIRL WHO WOULD BE KING

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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A well-constructed prelude to what promises to be an interesting series.

THE ATLAS SIX

Dangerous intrigues and deadly secrets swirl around six ambitious young magicians competing for entry into a secret society.

In a world very much like our own, except that a certain percentage of humanity is born with magical powers, six extraordinarily gifted people in their 20s are invited to train for membership in the Alexandrian Society, which has carefully and somewhat surreptitiously preserved centuries of priceless knowledge since the (apparent) burning of the Library of Alexandria. At the end of one year, five of the six will be initiated into the Society, and the reader won’t be surprised to learn that the sixth person isn’t allowed to quietly return home. As the year advances, the candidates explore the limits of their unique powers and shift their alliances, facing threats and manipulations from both within and outside of their circle. For most of its length, the book appears to be a well-written but not especially revolutionary latecomer to the post–Harry Potter collection of novels featuring a darker and more cynical approach to magical education; these books include Sarah Gailey’s Magic for Liars, Marina and Sergey Dyachenko’s Vita Nostra, and Lev Grossman’s Magicians series. Blake also offers a significant dash of the older subgenre of students joining a mystical cult requiring a sacrifice, as in Elizabeth Hand’s Waking the Moon and Robert Silverberg’s The Book of Skulls. The character-building is intense and intriguing—such an interior deep dive is practically de rigueur for a story of this type, which depends on self-discovery—but the plot doesn’t seem to be going anywhere surprising. Then, the book's climax devastatingly reveals that Blake was holding her cards close to the vest all along, delicately hinting at a wider plot which only opens up fully—or almost fully—at the end, when it shoves the reader off a cliff to wait for the next book.

A well-constructed prelude to what promises to be an interesting series.

Pub Date: March 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-85451-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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This novel’s magic goes far beyond the dragons.

WHEN WOMEN WERE DRAGONS

As women around the world inexplicably transform into dragons, a young girl struggles to take care of her cousin in 1950s America.

It’s indecent to speak about dragons, just as it would be indecent to talk about, say, menstruation or the burning, building rage that so many women feel day to day. Because it’s such a forbidden topic, to the extent that scientists who study the dragon transformations are silenced by the government, no one really understands why “dragooning” happens or how it works. When Alex’s Aunt Marla is among the thousands of women who all turn into dragons together on the same day in 1955, her beloved cousin, Beatrice, becomes her adopted sister. And when Alex is in high school and her own mother dies of cancer, her father sticks her in a cheap apartment and tells her she’s old enough to raise Beatrice on her own. Alex inherited her mother’s talent for math and science, and she struggles between her own rage at how her abilities are constantly diminished by the men around her and her resentment that her Aunt Marla became a dragon and abandoned her and Beatrice. But the older Beatrice gets, the more she longs to become a dragon herself, and Alex lives in terror that Beatrice will leave her behind. In lesser hands the dragon metaphor would feel simplistic and general, but Barnhill uses it to imagine different ways of living, loving, and caring for each other. The result is a complex, heartfelt story about following your heart and opening your mind to new possibilities.

This novel’s magic goes far beyond the dragons.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54822-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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