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THE STONE IN THE SKULL

In an overcrowded field, another entry that stands head and shoulders above nearly everything else.

Hoping to build on the dazzling triumph of her Eternal Sky fantasy trilogy (Steles of the Sky, 2014, etc.), Bear embarks on a new trilogy set in the same universe.

The opening scene, in which a caravan heaves itself across the icy peaks of the Steles of the Sky, takes the narrative, literally and figuratively, out of familiar territory and into the Lotus Kingdoms, the contentious, broken shards of the once-mighty Alchemical Empire. Here, by night a black sun that gives heat but little light occupies the sky, while days are lit by a brilliant ribbon of stars. Against this spectacular backdrop Bear introduces an array of fine characters. With the caravan are the Gage, a heavy, immensely powerful brass automaton created by a now-dead wizard from the substance of a human being; his friend the Dead Man, a former bodyguard of the deposed Uthman Caliphate; and Nizhvashiti, a Godmade or priest with powerful magic. The Gage bears a message from the Eyeless One, the most powerful sorcerer of the world’s greatest city, to Mrithuri, rajni (princess) and priestess of Sarathai-tia. Mrithuri faces many threats to her realm, chief among them Himadra the Boneless, the bandit lord of a neighboring territory, and her cousin Anuraja, the malevolent old ruler of Sarathai-lae. Her only possible ally is another cousin, Sayeh, the widowed rajni of Ansh-Sahal, with her young son and heir, Drupada. This impending clash of armies, intrigue, and magic—in which, notably, most of the main characters are female—only later emerges as truly existential. It adds up to a panoramic drama that grabs and grips from Page 1 and, despite the more leisurely pacing, never lets go. It certainly is captivatingly different in style and substance than Bear's previous trilogy but no less vivid, absorbing, and thrilling.

In an overcrowded field, another entry that stands head and shoulders above nearly everything else.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7653-8013-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA

A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

A tightly wound caseworker is pushed out of his comfort zone when he’s sent to observe a remote orphanage for magical children.

Linus Baker loves rules, which makes him perfectly suited for his job as a midlevel bureaucrat working for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, where he investigates orphanages for children who can do things like make objects float, who have tails or feathers, and even those who are young witches. Linus clings to the notion that his job is about saving children from cruel or dangerous homes, but really he’s a cog in a government machine that treats magical children as second-class citizens. When Extremely Upper Management sends for Linus, he learns that his next assignment is a mission to an island orphanage for especially dangerous kids. He is to stay on the island for a month and write reports for Extremely Upper Management, which warns him to be especially meticulous in his observations. When he reaches the island, he meets extraordinary kids like Talia the gnome, Theodore the wyvern, and Chauncey, an amorphous blob whose parentage is unknown. The proprietor of the orphanage is a strange but charming man named Arthur, who makes it clear to Linus that he will do anything in his power to give his charges a loving home on the island. As Linus spends more time with Arthur and the kids, he starts to question a world that would shun them for being different, and he even develops romantic feelings for Arthur. Lambda Literary Award–winning author Klune (The Art of Breathing, 2019, etc.) has a knack for creating endearing characters, and readers will grow to love Arthur and the orphans alongside Linus. Linus himself is a lovable protagonist despite his prickliness, and Klune aptly handles his evolving feelings and morals. The prose is a touch wooden in places, but fans of quirky fantasy will eat it up.

A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21728-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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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. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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