A fantasy novel with bewildering lore but an appealing heroine and strong action scenes.

WARNING CALL

From the Black Pages series , Vol. 2

In this contemporary fantasy series installment, a young woman continues to explore her destiny as a magic user who can enter any fictional story.

“My name is Elana Black,” says this novel’s 20-something narrator; “I work in an indie bookstore…and oh yeah, I fight monsters. I am not reasonable.” Ever since she discovered her magical skills, including the ability to infiltrate fictional worlds and change them, she’s been studying magic with the Aos Si, a guardian figure who resides in “The Knowing” (the “land before creation”), and archery from Chalsarda, a warrior Elf. Now Freyja, the Norse goddess of love and war, wants Elana to kill her brother, Freyr; she believes that this will prevent Ragnarök, the destined final battle (and death) of the gods. However, Freyr knows of this plan and has chosen his own champion—a sorcerer named Kodran Osvifsson, who’s fictional in our world, and whose weapon is a dreadful, unstoppable monster called the Nuckalavee. A contingent of Fae called the Gardeners wants something from Elana, too. As if that weren’t enough, a prophecy regarding her missing childhood friend, Lucia Cruz, will soon be fulfilled—which, according to Elana’s vision, will mean the death of someone close to her. Bell (Empty Threat, 2017) gives his bookworm heroine a wryly wisecracking millennial voice: “hardly anyone else has worked retail while also training in archaic forms of combat, knowledge of magic, and enough studying that even I started to resent reading.” In-jokes about fantasy and sci-fi characters, including cheesy men who leer at women (“Everyone notices, and everyone is grossed out by it, okay?” says Elana), also amuse. The fast-paced, jam-packed plot becomes confusing, however, and it might have benefited from a slower pace to allow readers to consider its implications. For example, if all worlds are both true and fictional, then what exactly is the role of an author? Also, Bell overplays the fact that Elana keeps rejecting her friends’ offers of help.

A fantasy novel with bewildering lore but an appealing heroine and strong action scenes.

Pub Date: Dec. 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-979994-92-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2019

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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