Overall, a satisfying close to a long but worthy yarn.

THE FATE OF THE TEARLING

The Red Queen is off her head—and heads, it seems, will roll in this closing installment of Johansen’s Tearling trilogy.

The first volume of the Tearling triad, Queen of the Tearling (2014), struggled under the weight of its establishing requirements: Johansen had to build and populate a world, then wind her heroine up and get her going. The second, The Invasion of the Tearling (2015), propelled Kelsea to a place of power—and deservedly, since she had plenty of chops to lead her people against a constellation of bad guys from Mortmesne. This last volume finds Kelsea in a position of queen sacrifice, to borrow a chess metaphor: she’s turned herself over to the foe and is now in the Red Queen’s slammer, where a jailer patiently instructs her, “Women shouldn’t curse,” to which her reply is, “Get fucked.” That’s noblesse oblige, indeed. But, the world of the Tear being a place where all kinds of magick gets tossed about with abandon, things have a habit of going topsy-turvy all of a sudden; Kelsea finds herself sprung, sapphires back in hand, the Red Queen tugging at her “in an iron grip of terror”—a good time, one might say, to get some negotiating in. Will peace prevail? Who knows? Though Johansen leaves herself a little wiggle room to turn her trilogy into an ongoing franchise, Silmarillion-like, the end gets all liony, witchy, and wardroby—and, the most overworked plot trick of all, would seem to turn on a dream, or perhaps even a dream within a dream, requiring more than a little disbelief-suspension. Still, the writing is smart and tinged with a kind of rueful, bookish philosophizing throughout (“Religion always rode on the back of turmoil, like a jockey”), a touch above a lot of sword-and-sorcery stuff—but still very much bound up in the conventions of that genre.

Overall, a satisfying close to a long but worthy yarn.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229042-7

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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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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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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