Well-paced fantasy adventure, and not just for hardcore vampire fans.

THE PRIEST OF BLOOD

The opening of a historical fantasy series with a vampire as protagonist.

Clegg (The Machinery of Knight, 2005, etc.) begins his story in the era of the Crusades; the opening chapters take place in Brittany, the protagonist's birthplace. The bastard son of a peasant woman who ekes out a living as a prostitute, Aleric grows up in the forest, tutored by his grandfather to know the ways of birds. This skill gains him a place in the baron's entourage as a falconer—a title that replaces his given name. Life in the castle exposes Falconer to new dangers, including bullying from another young servant and harsh discipline from the huntsman, his immediate superior. But it is also a huge step up in the world, and allows him to give some measure of support to his mother and her ever-growing brood. Two events precipitate his fall from this state of relative prosperity: an affair with the baron's beautiful daughter, and the arrest of Falconer's mother for witchcraft. Attempting to parlay the daughter's favor into a pardon for his mother, Falconer oversteps and is sold into slavery as a foot soldier in the crusades. After many battles, he enters a ruined city inhabited by a vampire, and becomes one of the undead, at which point the real action begins. Clegg invests his vampires with a long mythological history, in which Falconer finds himself a central figure: the long-awaited messiah-like figure of the vampires. In fulfillment of the prophecies, Falconer and his vampire companions undertake an arduous (and suitably bloody) quest through a vividly drawn fantastic landscape. Meanwhile, back in Brittany, we learn that Falconer's beloved, now a nun, has been seduced into the service of the evil forces against which Falconer and his vampires are aligned. The conclusion sets the stage for further struggles.

Well-paced fantasy adventure, and not just for hardcore vampire fans.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2005

ISBN: 0-441-01327-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Ace/Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2005

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With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally...

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NINTH HOUSE

Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story.

Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who's a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt.

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31307-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

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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