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THE FACTORY WITCHES OF LOWELL

Slender but still well-crafted and satisfying.

Sisterhood, love, and magic blossom in this timely tale of protest based on a historical incident.

In mid-19th-century Lowell, Massachusetts, the “mill girls” spin the thread and weave the cloth in the textile factories, all to the profit of the “Boston gentlemen” who own the mills where they work and the boardinghouses where they live. But when those very same gentlemen decide to raise the young women’s rent by a quarter a week, the women decide it’s time they had a say in their living and working conditions. Fierce Judith Whittier organizes the workers into a union and ensures their loyalty to the cause—and specifically, to their planned strike at the mills—with the help of her friend Hannah Pickering, a gentle and sickly Seer who bends her untrained magic into a spell that uses a lock of every woman’s hair to literally weave all of them into solidarity. Now the union members are magically compelled to maintain the strike, but what will they do when the mill owners’ agent, the hardhearted Mr. Boott, brings in new and more desperate workers to take the strikers’ places at the factories? As Judith and Hannah seek a magical solution to their cause, they both gradually realize that what they feel for one another is more than mere friendship. A feel-good message of a marginalized community battling amoral, exploitative capitalists might seem a bit obvious, but it also feels empowering during these uncertain times, when so many are still effectively disenfranchised. If the story has a flaw, it’s that it might’ve been richer with a higher page count and more development. The battle between the union and the establishment could have spawned additional twists and turns, more magic spells. Some more character development would also have been welcome; we learn a certain amount of Hannah’s history, but we learn very little about Judith’s backstory and even less about the other mill girls’.

Slender but still well-crafted and satisfying.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-75656-5

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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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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IRON FLAME

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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