A somewhat predictable but still inventive fantasy-series opener.



From the War for the Quarterstar Shards series , Vol. 1

This fantasy debut tells the story of a mercenary who’s forced from retirement by an evil horde, warlike kingdoms, and an ancient prophecy.

In the world of Wrae-Kronn, a warrior named Alaezdar has outrun his violent past and settled in Valeland. For nearly a year, he’s worked the farm of Tharn, the village’s founder. Although he’s still considered an outsider, Alaezdar is acquainted with Morlonn the Hunter, and Aaelie, the washerwoman’s daughter. He lives in fear, however, that members of Rager’s House of Renegades—his former employers—will track him down and exact vengeance for his murder of the villainous Red Blade. Also problematic is the nearby Kingdom of Triel, for which Tharn has agreed to mine iron ore that’s used to produce toxic “Goblin Touched” steel. When Ambassador Krostos demands higher productivity from the village, Tharn agrees. But to assure production, the ambassador wants to take a hostage who would live in Triel—specifically, the lovely Aaelie. Meanwhile, the prophecy of Dar Drannon, a godlike, elven being who was wounded by a fallen star, weighs heavily upon the land; Tharn believes that Dar “is in human form, but he doesn’t know who he is yet and he has not been awakened.” In this start of a new series, author McDaniel lays strong groundwork, filled with rousing concepts, such as Alaezdar’s magical sword, Bloodseeker, which can heal the hero’s wounds, and the witch Fyaa, who arrived in Wrae-Kronn via a magical gate at the supposedly defunct elven tower, Aaestfallia Keep. The dynamic between Aaelie and Rivlok, a young man who loves her dearly, adds to the tension after she confesses that Alaezdar “brings a newness, and change, and possibly adventure” to their cloistered lives. McDaniel does enjoy telegraphing plot maneuvers, as when Gartan the Dark of the Watchers Guild warns, “The 89th Bloody Fang Goblin tribe has called upon their dark god,” which will leave readers less than surprised at a later development. However, solid pacing, consistently fun inventions, and the hero’s desire to resist the “prophecy game” result in an entertaining journey.

A somewhat predictable but still inventive fantasy-series opener.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68433-114-7

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2018

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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