A strong, thoughtful, and fast-paced follow-up that bodes well for future volumes.

JADE WAR

In the second installment of a political fantasy thriller series where “bioenergetic jade” provides magical energy, the conflict of two warlord/organized crime clans has global implications.

In the Hong Kong-like city of Janloon, the Mountain and No Peak clans have announced a public truce while each secretly tries to undermine the other for control of the city and their nation of Kekon, the only source of the jade. As jade smugglers both inside and outside the country threaten the clans’ mutual control over the mineral, political tensions rise between the neighboring nations of Espenia and Ygutan over a rebellion in Shotar, which leads both to seek more jade for their armies. Meanwhile, Hilo, the former Horn (chief enforcer) of the No Peak clan, struggles to master the tactics he needs to fill his late brother’s role as Pillar (clan leader). His sister, Shae, the clan’s Weather Man (chief advisor), has that tactical knowledge but lacks the clan’s complete trust; she’s also trying to juggle her clan responsibilities and her personal life, which includes a quiet romance with a nonclan professor. At the same time, their adopted brother, Anden, embarks on a new, jade-free life in Espenia but still manages to find trouble there, and Hilo’s jade-immune wife, Wen, secretly supports the clan through her own work as a spy. If they are to prevail against the ruthless Ayt Mada, Pillar of the Mountain clan, and the various other domestic and foreign threats, terrible sacrifices will be required, made willingly or not. The first installment, Jade City (2017), leaned rather heavily, albeit effectively, on some tropes and plot points from The Godfather, and it’s pleasing to see that the author has chosen a more independent path this time around. If there’s any thematic link between this book and Godfather II, it’s a common understanding that the outside world has a way of crashing into isolated communities and forcing them to adapt, so it’s best to be on the offensive, as well as a rueful acknowledgment that despite that understanding, relationships with those outside the community might not end well.

A strong, thoughtful, and fast-paced follow-up that bodes well for future volumes.

Pub Date: July 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-44092-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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

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NINTH HOUSE

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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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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