A joyously embellished and tightly guided epic fantasy thriller.

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THE KINGS' ASSASSIN

A fantasy debut sees a royal family under attack and a young prince who must defend the crown, his city, and civilization.

Prince Sillik, son of King Saldor, has been gone from Illicia for about seven years. Two months ago, he received a telepathic summons from his father implying an emergency. Sillik now approaches the city, which has “ruled the known world” for nearly 7,000 years. But on reaching home, he finds a sense of fear ascendant. He meets with his father’s principal advisers—Lady Briana, Lord Kenton, and Lord Gen. Greenup—and learns that Saldor is dead. Worse, Sillik’s three half brothers—Rendar, Crinthan, and Doran—have all been likewise assassinated. There’s no queen, because Sillik’s mother, Jenna, died during his birth, and he’s now the crown prince. Thankfully, he’s a Master of the Seven Laws, making him a formidable wizard capable of sensing the dark magic used to murder his father. He avoids a magical trap that someone placed on the throne itself and wonders whether his bitter uncles, Melin and Noswin, are involved in the chaos. When Sillik does learn who killed his father, and that the man escaped, he postpones his coronation. The prince is determined to track the murderer down. Clues found in the king’s dead hand—paper map symbols of the cities Colum, Nerak, and the Blasted Hills—point the way. Also deeply invested in the prince’s success is Lady Silvia, one of the Seven Gods of Law. If Sillik fails, the Council of Nine, which instigated the Demon War, wins. Opening a new series, the author is preaching the gospel of the genre. There are loving touches of the classics evident in the narrative’s every layer, from the political intrigue of Frank Herbert’s Dune to the vigorously structured culture in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern. The overarching theme of the positive number seven versus the negative number nine lends Cannon’s world a cosmic drumbeat that the characters dance to—and though it seems cloying at first, readers should grow to appreciate it as essential to the author’s vast arrangement. After intensive (and successful) worldbuilding, Cannon switches into thriller gear, and magical forensics factor in, as in the line “The energies from the duel still whispered discord. Fierce energies had been flung across the room and had eventually slain his father....Burned tapestries and melted stone showed how fierce the fight had been.” Characters possess the vibrancy to add to, rather than vanish within, a complex plot. Melin, concerned about Briana, loses his patience and asks the cool Sillik, “So are you bedding her or not?” And while a fantasy thriller filled with secret sects of killers among the healers would be fabulous, Cannon doesn’t settle for that. Sillik leaves Illicia to hunt for the king’s assassin, offering readers a broader scope. In the morally dank city of Colum, for example, the prince meets Renee, a charismatic, though guarded, woman battling injustice. Her appearance adds emotional depth to the finale while the epilogue is a triumph of detailed maneuvering that should entice audiences back for the sequel.

A joyously embellished and tightly guided epic fantasy thriller.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-984511-67-6

Page Count: 454

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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

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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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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