Despite many alluring parts, this one has to qualify as a disappointment, if only because of Bear's previous lofty standards.


Second part of the fantasy trilogy (The Stone in the Skull, 2017) set in the Lotus Kingdoms, splinters of the collapsed Alchemical Empire, where by night a cauled sun gives heat but little light, while days are lit by a brilliant ribbon of stars.

Anuraja, the malevolent, despotic, and ambitious ruler of Sarathai-lae, has captured Sayeh, the princess of devastated Ansh-Sahal. Now, his armies and sorcerers besiege the old imperial seat, Sarathai-tia, ruled by Sayeh's cousin, Mrithuri. A mighty river protects her city, and the rainy season's beginning, so Mrithuri considers her situation impregnable. But what if the rains sorcerously fail? And who among her closest confidants is a traitor? Sayeh, reasoning that she can help Mrithuri by subverting Anuraja, works her wiles on her guards without revealing her concern for her young son, Drupada, who's been kidnapped by Himadra, Anuraja's nominal ally. Himadra, surprisingly, proves to be solicitous of the boy's welfare. Elsewhere, the Gage, an immensely powerful brass automaton with a human soul, introspectively pursues his nebulous mission into a poison desert beneath an alien sky and provides spectacular travelogue. There's plenty of intrigue and interplay among the characters, who have real complexity and depth (with, oddly, one exception), while the lack of action surprises even the characters themselves. It's almost as if the plot's waiting for the author to catch up. Illogically, the good wizards quickly reveal their limitations while the evil sorcerers don't seem to have any—though a yet more powerful player may still be hidden. And once again Bear illuminates the narrative through her talent for linking landscape with character. Yet despite it all, there's a persistent sense that her attention isn't fully engaged.

Despite many alluring parts, this one has to qualify as a disappointment, if only because of Bear's previous lofty standards.

Pub Date: May 28, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7653-8015-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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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. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story.

Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who's a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt.

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31307-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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