Immersive worldbuilding adds texture to this dark, intriguing tale about a fighter.

Carnifex

A PORTENT OF BLOOD

From the Legends of the Nameless Dwarf series , Vol. 1

In this fantasy novel, a dwarf grapples with deception and a stark destiny that could save, or ruin, his people.

The Nameless Dwarf first appeared in Prior’s The Resurrection of Deacon Shader (2009) and later in his own series, collected in The Nameless Dwarf: The Complete Chronicles (2013). Here, readers get the character’s origin story, including his name and how he came to lose it. Carnifex Thane wears the red cloak of the Ravine Guard in Arx Gravis but seldom faces real fighting in the safe and predictable city. A theft in the Scriptorium by a homunculus, or deep gnome, is alarming, however. Even more so is a frightening and deadly incursion in the mines by a creature that the toga-clad human Aristodeus calls a golem. If golems are real, maybe the legendary Axe of the Dwarf Lords is, too. Carnifex’s brother Lucius, a scholar, wants to mount an expedition to find the Axe, but the city’s do-nothing Council opposes the plan. Several losses send Carnifex to spar with baresarks (wild dwarfs) in the fighting circles of the lower city; feeling he has nothing left to lose, Carnifex makes the risky decision to follow his brother seeking the Axe and fulfill a fool’s prophecy: “You must forget in order to find the truth of who you are.” Prior weaves a fully realized world in this rich fantasy, from history, political structure, and family life to work, food, drinking (lots of drinking), and romance. The characters are also well-developed. Carnifex, for example, though a doughty fighter and drinker in the best dwarf tradition, struggles with a black-dog depression that “feasted on scraps of vitality, hunted for glimmers of hope and happiness.” Dwarf women play a larger and more vigorous role than in most fantasy novels, as when “hammering out a beat on the top of a long table, froth spraying from their whiskers.” But the book’s theology and competing truth claims are confusing for the reader as well as for Carnifex, making it hard to assess his choices.

Immersive worldbuilding adds texture to this dark, intriguing tale about a fighter.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5233-0191-1

Page Count: 310

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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

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THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

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. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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