A quasi-medieval YA fantasy follows three spiritually joined individuals.
Nicholson’s fictional debut takes place in the kingdom of Sylvaria and centers on an unlikely trio: there’s Eviona, a despised and semiferal orphan girl brought up by an evil guardian to think of herself as a monster; Dyre, the haughty and noble young hopeful heir to the kingdom; and Zefforah, a winged, horselike creature with a long lizard’s tail. The three separate beings are linked telepathically, sharing their conscious experiences except for the moments when they carefully “veil” themselves from each other. As the story commences, Eviona leaves her wild life and is taken in by a kindly couple, becoming friends with their young daughter. The family sends the two girls to the home of a wealthy relation, where they’re educated and initiated into the refined world of Sylvaria’s nobility. Eviona slowly emerges from her shell of neglect and self-loathing. Once cleaned, well-fed and well-dressed, she turns out to be a beautiful and unconventionally smart young woman, someone who naturally begins to make friends in her new town (including a smiling teenage boy named Jovan, who plays an important part in her drama). Her life has always been complicated by the fact that she, Dyre, and Zefforah share not only each other’s thoughts, but also each other’s sensory experiences (when one is struck, all three feel it). As the story progresses, she encounters more difficulties as the mysteries of her birth are cleared up in ways that change her path forever—and bring her into direct conflict with Dyre’s own ambitions. The author’s worldbuilding is at times shaky and nebulous, but the central device of her plot—the three-in-one consciousness of her main characters—is magnificently realized. In short, fast-paced chapters, Nicholson adeptly dramatizes Eviona’s blossoming; her maturation feels both genuine and heartwarming. At one point, she finally gazes at herself in the mirror she’s been assiduously avoiding: “My eyes were large blue pools, my hair sunshine, and my lips deep red cherries against pale peach skin. I’d seen others with similar features, but never imagined my reflection would hold such unbelievable beauty.” The book’s adult characters tend toward one-dimensionality, but the dynamic between Eviona and Dyre is grippingly drawn. The result is a remarkable narrative that should leave readers wanting more from this author.
A well-wrought and engrossing coming-of-age story about shared consciousness.
Walkley pits CIA agents against a maniacal Saudi prince intent on starting World War III in this debut thriller.
Delta Force operative Lee McCloud, aka Mac, finds himself in Mexico, trying to rescue two teenage girls kidnapped by a drug cartel. But things go from bad to worse when the villains don’t play by the rules. Framed for two murders he didn’t commit, Mac has two options: go to prison or go to work for a CIA black-op group run by the devious Wisebaum, who hacks into terrorists’ bank accounts and confiscates millions of dollars. However, there’s more going on than meets the eye; Saudi Prince Khalid is in possession of nuclear canisters, with which he hopes to alter world history. Khalid also dabbles in trafficking young women, and harvesting and selling human organs. When Wisebaum’s black-op team targets Khalid’s father, the action becomes even more intense. With so many interweaving subplots—kidnapped girls, Israeli undercover agents, nuclear weapons and a secret underwater hideout—it could be easy to lose track of what’s going on. But the author’s deft handling of the material ensures that doesn’t occur; subplots are introduced at the appropriate junctures and, by story’s end, all are accounted for and neatly concluded. Mac is portrayed as a rough and ready action-hero, yet his vulnerabilities will evoke empathy in readers. He finds a love interest in Tally, a hacker whose personality is just quirky enough to complement his own. All Walkley’s primary characters are fleshed out and realistic, with the exception of Wisebaum—a malicious, double-dealing, back-stabber of the worst ilk; the reader is left wondering about Wisebaum’s motivations behind such blatant treachery.
Despite this, Walkley’s beefy prose and rousing action sequences deliver a thriller to satisfy any adrenaline addict.
Tragedy turns into triumph in Carlson’s debut novel about a young woman who regains her self-confidence after multiple losses and years of dejection.
Before readers meet 28-year-old Jamie Shire, she has already hit rock bottom. Jobless, she drinks away her days on her best friend’s couch as she wallows in loneliness. Among Jamie’s troubles: Her mother died when she was a child, the only man she ever loved wouldn’t reciprocate, her unborn daughter died, and she continuously feels rejected by her father and brother. After a chance encounter with a wealthy woman at a coffee shop, Jamie accepts a live-in job researching philanthropic causes at Fallow Springs Estate. Reaching out to the house staff and eventually working with Darfur refugees afford Jamie some valuable context for her own pain; she’s able to gain confidence as she learns to stop fearing rejection and start pursuing her dreams. Throughout the novel, the author skillfully creates mood. In the beginning, when Jamie borders on depression, her emotional touchiness and oversensitivity will create an uneasy feeling in readers. But as Jamie slowly regains confidence, readers will also feel increasingly optimistic. Alongside the main character’s emotional struggle is the struggle faced by Darfur refugees, although this plotline doesn’t advance too far; yet details from Jamie’s trip to the refugee camp in Chad—the types of beer served at the aid workers’ bar or a depiction of a young refugee sitting blank-faced and tied to a pole because he might run away—effectively transport readers to faraway places. Jamie’s story will interest readers, but, with a weak ending, the story leaves many unanswered questions. Who is Jamie’s wealthy employer? Does Jamie’s work in Chad help anyone but herself? And what of the conflict Jamie feels between herself and the refugees, between the haves and the have-nots?
With so many minor questions left unanswered, Carlson’s captivating novel proves to be more about the journey than the destination.