An absorbing, lush, and emotional fantasy tale with an exciting, tense finish.

Gown of Shadow and Flame

In this YA novel, an outcast girl with magical powers must save a tribe from headless monsters.

Celaise, 16, was betrayed three years ago by a man. Her own family nearly killed her, but she was rescued by the three-headed Lord of the Feast, who gave her the power to Feast on her opponents’ fear, using it to ferment magical Black Wine. With the Wine, she can make a protective gown, her True Dress, and transmit harmful illusions to enemies. Her Lord orders Celaise to complete a trial: she must discover what the Headless fear and wipe them out. These stony-backed monsters prey on beasts and people of the savanna, where Jerani and his tribe tend cattle in the shadow of their volcano goddess, the Angry Mother. Celaise longs to Feast on the tribe’s delicious fear (one boy’s terror, for example, smells “of candied papaya and fresh maize bread, dripping with caramel and peanut oil”), but she must concentrate on the Headless. To Jerani, Celaise looks like a goddess, perhaps the Angry Mother herself: “She was terrifyingly magnificent.” Meanwhile, Jerani’s father, who deserted the family to wander, returns as a Bright Palm—an extremist both immune to Feasters and devoted to killing them. Celaise must walk a knife’s edge as she tries to evade capture and save the tribe. Marling (Dark Lord’s Wedding, 2016, etc.) locates his story in a recognizable Africa-like landscape, an unusual and welcome choice for the Eurocentric high-fantasy genre. The tribe’s homely mooing cows make a surprisingly effective counterpoint to Celaise’s sometimes-abstract magic. The book’s style is a good match; many sentences are highly wrought, but Marling also achieves powerful effects from simple, well-chosen images: “Lightning the color of ivy tinted the cows’ fur a lime shade,” for example. The tribe’s culture feels thick and fully inhabited, populated with varied and three-dimensional characters. The romance, too, is well-handled; both Jerani and Celaise struggle with trust in ways that feel natural to them rather than being a contrived obstacle to their relationship.

An absorbing, lush, and emotional fantasy tale with an exciting, tense finish.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4810-4794-4

Page Count: 326

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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A thrilling romance that could use more even pacing.

THE STARS WE STEAL

For the second time in her life, Leo must choose between her family and true love.

Nineteen-year-old Princess Leonie Kolburg’s royal family is bankrupt. In order to salvage the fortune they accrued before humans fled the frozen Earth 170 years ago, Leonie’s father is forcing her to participate in the Valg Season, an elaborate set of matchmaking events held to facilitate the marriages of rich and royal teens. Leo grudgingly joins in even though she has other ideas: She’s invented a water filtration system that, if patented, could provide a steady income—that is if Leo’s calculating Aunt Freja, the Captain of the ship hosting the festivities, stops blocking her at every turn. Just as Leo is about to give up hope, her long-lost love, Elliot, suddenly appears onboard three years after Leo’s family forced her to break off their engagement. Donne (Brightly Burning, 2018) returns to space, this time examining the fascinatingly twisted world of the rich and famous. Leo and her peers are nuanced, deeply felt, and diverse in terms of sexuality but not race, which may be a function of the realities of wealth and power. The plot is fast paced although somewhat uneven: Most of the action resolves in the last quarter of the book, which makes the resolutions to drawn-out conflicts feel rushed.

A thrilling romance that could use more even pacing. (Science fiction. 16-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-328-94894-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Not everybody lives, and certainly not “happily ever after”—but within all the grisly darkness, Alice’s fierce integrity and...

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THE HAZEL WOOD

From the Hazel Wood series , Vol. 1

A ferocious young woman is drawn into her grandmother’s sinister fairy-tale realm in this pitch-black fantasy debut.

Once upon a time, Althea Proserpine achieved a cult celebrity with Tales from the Hinterland, a slim volume of dark, feminist fairy tales, but Alice has never met her reclusive grandmother nor visited her eponymous estate. Instead, she has spent her entire 17 years on the run from persistent bad luck, relying only on her mother, Ella. Now Althea is dead and Ella has been kidnapped, and the Hinterland seems determined to claim Alice as well. The Hinterland—and the Stories that animate it—appear as simultaneously wondrous and horrific, dreamlike and bloody, lyrical and creepy, exquisitely haunting and casually, brutally cruel. White, petite, and princess-pretty Alice is a difficult heroine to like in her stormy (and frequently profane) narration, larded with pop-culture and children’s-literature references and sprinkled with wry humor; her deceptive fragility conceals a scary toughness, icy hostility, and simmering rage. Despite her tentative friendship (and maybe more) with Ellery Finch, a wealthy biracial, brown-skinned geek for all things Althea Proserpine, any hints of romance are negligible compared to the powerful relationships among women: mothers and daughters, sisters and strangers, spinner and stories; ties of support and exploitation and love and liberation.

Not everybody lives, and certainly not “happily ever after”—but within all the grisly darkness, Alice’s fierce integrity and hard-won self-knowledge shine unquenched. (Fantasy. 16-adult)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-14790-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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