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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Dark, demanding, and delicious.


From the Hazel Wood series , Vol. 2.5

Twelve pitch-black original fairy tales form the backbone to an acclaimed fantasy series.

Fans of the Hazel Wood series know of Althea Proserpine’s cult anthology, the original stories whose characters escaped into our world. Featuring, among others, Hansa the Traveler, Twice-Killed Katherine, and, of course, Alice-Three-Times (whose tale’s much-speculated-about ending falls oddly flat), the stories feel both familiar—the first was already included in its entirety in the series opener and several others, in abbreviated and altered form—and revelatory, unfolding in all their rich, lush, macabre, and grisly glory. Despite their vaguely preindustrial Western European setting, these are anything but traditional folktales. While every protagonist is female, the themes are not explicitly feminist; rather, the overwhelming tone is savage, angry, bitter, and cruel. Most of the leads do achieve a vicious and vengeful sort of triumph, but only one even approaches a conventional happy ending. Relationships (exclusively heterosexual) are only an excuse for male lust, domination, and manipulation. Parents (especially mothers) are mostly neglectful, smothering, abusive…or dead. Death, often horrific death, is a constant presence, even as a literal character in several stories. Although this collection could well be read on its own, the unrelenting grimness can be wearying; it may be best appreciated for the context and commentary it offers for the preceding volumes. Tierney’s bold illustrations, many featuring stark, contrasting tones of red, black, and white, accentuate the mood. There is some diversity in skin tone.

Dark, demanding, and delicious. (Fairy tales. 16-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-30272-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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A thrilling romance that could use more even pacing.


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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