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AN ALCHEMY OF MASQUES AND MIRRORS

A very promising start, both for a series and a new author.

This debut fantasy is set in the Risen Kingdoms, where countries float in the air and people take airships from place to place, princes battle for a throne, and dashing musketeers defend feisty princesses.

In other hands, this would be a swashbuckling gaslamp romp, but author Craddock chooses to go darker. His princess, Isabelle des Zephyrs, cousin of His Imperial Majesty Leon XIV of L’Empire Céleste, is feared for her deformed hand and abused by her father and brother for failing to possess their family’s saint-given magic, the ability to drain the life from others with the bloodshadow. Her only refuges are her trusty protector, the musketeer Jean-Claude, and her secret work as a scientist and mathematician, pursuits forbidden to women on pain of death. Saintly lines are supposed to remain pure, so Princess Isabelle can’t understand why the younger prince of Aragoth, who bears his own royal family’s gift of traveling through mirrors, would wish to marry her; nevertheless, she welcomes the opportunity for a new life. Her journey to her betrothed’s side is certainly fraught with political intrigue (and assassination attempts), but as she seeks a place for herself in Aragoth, Isabelle quickly realizes that there's more than politics behind the union. One might question how a fantasy world so different from our own would develop ersatz French and Spanish kingdoms, but it’s no more implausible than the British medieval landscapes populating other epics. The skulduggery is pleasurably complex, the emotional stakes feel convincing, and the reasonably happy ending feels earned. And while Jean-Claude’s doggedness in protecting Isabelle is admirable, Isabelle is decidedly and enjoyably not a damsel in need of rescue.

A very promising start, both for a series and a new author.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7653-8959-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA

A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

A tightly wound caseworker is pushed out of his comfort zone when he’s sent to observe a remote orphanage for magical children.

Linus Baker loves rules, which makes him perfectly suited for his job as a midlevel bureaucrat working for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, where he investigates orphanages for children who can do things like make objects float, who have tails or feathers, and even those who are young witches. Linus clings to the notion that his job is about saving children from cruel or dangerous homes, but really he’s a cog in a government machine that treats magical children as second-class citizens. When Extremely Upper Management sends for Linus, he learns that his next assignment is a mission to an island orphanage for especially dangerous kids. He is to stay on the island for a month and write reports for Extremely Upper Management, which warns him to be especially meticulous in his observations. When he reaches the island, he meets extraordinary kids like Talia the gnome, Theodore the wyvern, and Chauncey, an amorphous blob whose parentage is unknown. The proprietor of the orphanage is a strange but charming man named Arthur, who makes it clear to Linus that he will do anything in his power to give his charges a loving home on the island. As Linus spends more time with Arthur and the kids, he starts to question a world that would shun them for being different, and he even develops romantic feelings for Arthur. Lambda Literary Award–winning author Klune (The Art of Breathing, 2019, etc.) has a knack for creating endearing characters, and readers will grow to love Arthur and the orphans alongside Linus. Linus himself is a lovable protagonist despite his prickliness, and Klune aptly handles his evolving feelings and morals. The prose is a touch wooden in places, but fans of quirky fantasy will eat it up.

A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21728-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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