A fun, amusing, and innovative fantasy.

JOURNEY TO FIRE'S KEEP

From the The Return to the Temple series , Vol. 1

In this debut fantasy, two friends seek revenge after a tragedy.

Stephen and his half-elven friend Angelo live in the safe and beautiful town of Springsboro. But they leave on a casual hunting trip and when they return, the entire town is burned to the ground. There are no survivors. While hunting, Stephen and Angelo had taken cover from a mysterious storm that blew in. This was no ordinary tempest; it was magic, the workings of Asmodeious, a master sorcerer. Asmodeious is the one who torched Springsboro. Stephen and Angelo want to punish the culprit who killed their friends and family, and the two set out on a quest to find the murderer. What they don’t know is that Asmodeious and his half-orc apprentice, Diablo, live on the edge of a volcano and that the sorcerer knows more about Stephen’s latent power than the hero himself. For a novel hinging on retribution, this is a surprisingly funny book. If naming the sinister sidekick Diablo wasn’t enough of a clue that the villains would be over the top, the sorcerer is unapologetically evil, shouting things like “No one gets killed by Asmodeious and lives!” While the backdrop isn’t as melodramatic as the villains, Owens’ world is a refreshing take on elves and orcs. The inventive realm blends modern living with traditional fantasy elements. Stephen answers the door in his boxers before donning his hunting armor. And when Diablo casts a cauldron spell, the pot displays “a menu with three options: security, alarm, and browse.” The humor seems effortless, and each discovery of how modernity fits into the conventional fantasy landscape is a delight. Still, the story has some tonal problems. Owens is at his best with two extremes: humor and a more solemn tone that’s standard for a traditional fantasy. He employs the latter in this vivid description of mountains: “Passes were designated early in the history of civilization, and indeed even a few cities sprang up amongst the jagged peaks, clinging to the very rock like a lichen, every bit as sensitive.” But these extremes affect how readers view the characters’ emotions. It’s hard to take Stephen’s and Angelo’s grief over Springsboro’s destruction seriously and yet their deep sorrow is the tale’s catalyst. This is the first installment of a series, so perhaps the tone will even out in the sequel.

A fun, amusing, and innovative fantasy.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-66413-988-6

Page Count: 170

Publisher: Xlibris US

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

GIDEON THE NINTH

From the Locked Tomb Trilogy series , Vol. 1

This debut novel, the first of a projected trilogy, blends science fiction, fantasy, gothic chiller, and classic house-party mystery.

Gideon Nav, a foundling of mysterious antecedents, was not so much adopted as indentured by the Ninth House, a nearly extinct noble necromantic house. Trained to fight, she wants nothing more than to leave the place where everyone despises her and join the Cohort, the imperial military. But after her most recent escape attempt fails, she finally gets the opportunity to depart the planet. The heir and secret ruler of the Ninth House, the ruthless and prodigiously talented bone adept Harrowhark Nonagesimus, chooses Gideon to serve her as cavalier primary, a sworn bodyguard and aide de camp, when the undying Emperor summons Harrow to compete for a position as a Lyctor, an elite, near-immortal adviser. The decaying Canaan House on the planet of the absent Emperor holds dark secrets and deadly puzzles as well as a cheerfully enigmatic priest who provides only scant details about the nature of the competition...and at least one person dedicated to brutally slaughtering the competitors. Unsure of how to mix with the necromancers and cavaliers from the other Houses, Gideon must decide whom among them she can trust—and her doubts include her own necromancer, Harrow, whom she’s loathed since childhood. This intriguing genre stew works surprisingly well. The limited locations and narrow focus mean that the author doesn’t really have to explain how people not directly attached to a necromantic House or the military actually conduct daily life in the Empire; hopefully future installments will open up the author’s creative universe a bit more. The most interesting aspect of the novel turns out to be the prickly but intimate relationship between Gideon and Harrow, bound together by what appears at first to be simple hatred. But the challenges of Canaan House expose other layers, beginning with a peculiar but compelling mutual loyalty and continuing on to other, more complex feelings, ties, and shared fraught experiences.

Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31319-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.

A DEADLY EDUCATION

From the The Scholomance series , Vol. 1

A loosely connected group of young magicians fight horrendous creatures to ensure their own survival.

Galadriel "El" Higgins knows how dangerous the Scholomance is. Her father died during the school's infamous graduation ceremony, in which senior students run through a gauntlet of magic-eating monsters, just to make sure her pregnant mother made it out alive. Now a student herself at the nebulous, ever shifting magic school, which is populated with fearsome creatures, she has made not making friends into an art form. Not that anyone would want to be her friend, anyway. The only time she ever met her father's family, they tried to kill her, claiming she posed an existential threat to every other wizard. And, as a spell-caster with a natural affinity for using other people's life forces to power destructive magic, maybe she does. No one gave Orion Lake that memo, however, so he's spent the better part of the school year trying to save El from every monster that comes along, much to her chagrin. With graduation fast approaching, El hatches a plan to pretend to be Orion's girlfriend in order to secure some allies for the deadly fight that lies ahead, but she can't stop being mean to the people she needs the most. El's bad attitude and her incessant info-dumping make Novik's protagonist hard to like, and the lack of chemistry between the two main characters leaves the central romantic pairing feeling forced. Although the conclusion makes space for a promising sequel, getting there requires readers to give El more grace than they may be willing to part with.

A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12848-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more