A dark, sometimes-insightful tale that mixes time-tested fantasy elements.

THE FROST KING

From the Proelium of the North series , Vol. 1

In this medieval-fantasy debut, an abused teenager finds refuge in a kingdom that holds secrets about her own destiny.

Sixteen-year-old Elizabeth DePerry lives in a convent run by Father Stroff, and it’s a hellish place for girls of all ages. She was placed there after her father failed to return after attempting to rescue his wife from kidnappers. Despite her misery, she loves the outdoors and her horse, Odin. One evening, Mother Maggie enters Elizabeth’s room to hear her confession of sins, and ends up abusing the teen verbally and physically. After retaliating with violence, Elizabeth escapes the convent with 11-year-old Alonna. The girls ride Odin northward and soon encounter a filthy band of human traffickers. Eventually, though, the Frost King of the North’s soldiers, led by Capt. Conry, rescue them and escort them to their kingdom. There, Elizabeth and Alonna meet the infirm King Joseph and his queen, Lady Victoria. Back at the convent, meanwhile, Father Stroff is controlled by a shadowy overlord with horrific intentions. His brother, Joshua, hunts for the convent escapees, even as the General in the South prepares for war against the North. The Frost King places his hope in Elizabeth because a witch, Ina, says that she possesses great power. He sends her on a mission to meet a dragon, after giving her special dragon-scale armor for protection. In this launch of a new fantasy series, debut author Reyes pulls readers into dark territory early, with Mother Maggie calling his protagonist a “whore” and worse. Although Elizabeth is a strong female character, the medieval setting, in which her life only gets worse until men change her fate, gives the narrative the quality of an old fairy tale. The Frost King exposes Elizabeth to a life of royalty, but when she receives magical training from Ina, the tale truly becomes her own. Frequently, Reyes provides marvelous moments of wisdom, as in the line, “Anyone doing what they love to do, can feel free anywhere they are in life.” However, the story might have benefited from smoother transitions between scenes and stronger copy editing (“She saw his water was green and filthy becoming angry her horse would be treated so”).

A dark, sometimes-insightful tale that mixes time-tested fantasy elements.

Pub Date: July 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-5004-1110-7

Page Count: 418

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2017

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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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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