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 very full mixed bag.


From the Empirium Trilogy series , Vol. 2

In the sequel to Furyborn (2018), Rielle and Eliana struggle across time with their powers and prophesied destinies.

Giving readers only brief recaps, this book throws them right into complicated storylines in this large, lovingly detailed fantasy world filled with multiple countries, two different time periods, and hostile angels. Newly ordained Rielle contends with villainous Corien’s interest in her, the weakening gate that holds the angels at bay, and distrust from those who don’t believe her to be the Sun Queen. A thousand years in the future, Eliana chafes under her unwanted destiny and finds her fear of losing herself to her powers (like the Blood Queen) warring with her need to save those close to her. The rigid alternation between time-separated storylines initially feels overstuffed, undermining tension, but once more characters get point-of-view chapters and parallels start paying off, the pace picks up. The multiethnic cast (human versus angelic is the only divide with weight) includes characters of many sexual orientations, and their romantic storylines include love triangles, casual dalliances, steady couples, and couples willing to invite in a third. While many of the physically intimate scenes are loving, some are rougher, including ones that cross lines of clear consent and introduce a level of violence that many young readers will not be ready for. The ending brings heartbreaking twists to prime readers for the trilogy’s conclusion.

A very full mixed bag. (map, list of elements) (Fantasy. 17-adult)

Pub Date: May 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-5665-4

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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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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