A plodding sword-and-sorcery epic weighed down by strident metaphysics.

REALMS

: THE AWAKENING

The forces of light and darkness battle for control of a medieval-ish realm in this fantasy thriller.

For thousands of years, the world of Evanescia has been sunk in division and discord. Provinces that follow King Shinar of the heavenly realm of Glodoria square off against provinces devoted to King Dakar of the hellish realm of Dakaria, while inhabitants of the neutral provinces think that King Shinar and King Dakar are mere legends. They’re not, and the struggle between the two supernatural realms for the soul of Evanescia is heating up. The Shinarian Lord Johan of Braham starts having dreams about fighting an ominous foe, a sign of a long prophesied Great Awakening, and a young neutralist farmer named Ecel discovers his preternatural gift for slaughtering the savage Dakarian minions known as Dark Riders. The Dakarian general Kairas, a bat-winged Drakan fiend who motivates his underlings by beheading them, gathers his forces for an attack on Braham, while a host of angelic Shinlings from Glodoria flutters to its defense. There is swordplay and arrow fire and Dungeons-and-Dragons-ish arcana (“The witches can only be summoned by a Drakan with the rank of general or greater”), but the main action is spiritual rather than physical. Tilley’s teeming fictive world disguises a Christian allegory: invisible Drakan and Shinling adversaries are forever whispering competitively into the ears of mortals, tempting them to doubt and despair or fortifying them with faith and resolve. More than dragons and shape-shifters, the real danger characters face is their pride and will. The result is something like C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series dressed in Tolkien-esque heavy metal, but without the literary flair. Tilley’s prose is stiff and his dialogue stentorian–“May the Great King Shinar grant you wisdom, discernment, and strength to carry out your duties”–and his one-dimensional characters are crushed flat by their burden of symbolism.

A plodding sword-and-sorcery epic weighed down by strident metaphysics.

Pub Date: April 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4392-1407-7

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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