Well conceived but deeply flawed.

THE UNFINISHED LAND

In this Elizabethan historical fantasy, a young apprentice fisherman finds himself pushed north by strange currents to a ring of magic islands.

After his uncle’s fishing boat is commandeered by Queen Elizabeth to help the English fleet defend the island against King Philip's Spanish Armada, Reynard Shotwood finds himself the sole survivor on the floating ruins of his uncle’s boat. Close to death after having spent days adrift at sea, he's pulled from the water by the crew of a Spanish war ship, itself severely damaged. Lost and in desperate need of food, the crew members are powerless to do anything as a current pushes them inexplicably north toward a ring of seven islands. Once on land, the men find themselves assailed during the night by vampiric creatures that consume time from their lives. Attempting to stay alive in a land of mythical creatures, Reynard discovers his arrival heralds great change for the islands’ inhabitants. The premise—a boy fatefully finding a mysterious land and beginning a magic-filled journey of self-discovery—has an undeniable hook. Additionally, Bear’s exploration of various mythologies is a strength, and the fusion of folklore and fantasy creates a dreamlike sense of wonder in many sequences. Sadly, though, the story has no real power or sense of immediacy. Reynard—who has no idea who or what he is—is reluctantly pulled along through the story, which is lacking in clarity and focus. This narrative murkiness, coupled with an overall lack of intensity, makes for a flat reading experience. Persistent readers, however, will be rewarded with an action-packed conclusion filled with bombshell revelations.

Well conceived but deeply flawed.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-328-58990-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

BOOK OF NIGHT

A former thief who specialized in stealing magical documents is forced back into her old habits in Black's adult debut.

Charlie Hall used to work as a thief, stealing for and from magicians—or rather, “gloamists.” In this world, gloamists are people with magical shadows that are alive, gaining strength from the gloamists' own blood. A gloamist can learn to manipulate the magic of their shadow, doing everything from changing how it looks to using it to steal, possess a person, or even murder. Gloamists hire nonmagical people like Charlie to steal precious and rare magical documents written by their kind throughout history and detailing their research and experiments in shadow magic. Gloamists can use onyx to keep each other from sending shadows to steal these treasures, but onyx won't stop regular humans from old-fashioned breaking and entering. After Charlie’s talent for crime gets her into too much trouble, she swears off her old career and tries to settle down with her sensible boyfriend, Vince—but when she finds a dead man in an alley and notices that even his shadow has been ripped to pieces, she can’t help trying to figure out who he was and why he met such a gruesome end. Before she knows it, Charlie is forced back into a life of lies and danger, using her skills as a thief to find a book that could unleash the full and terrifying power of the shadow world. Black is a veteran fantasy writer, which shows in the opening pages as she neatly and easily guides the reader through the engrossing world of gloamists, magical shadows, and Charlie’s brand of criminality. There's a lot of flipping back and forth between the past and the present, and though both timelines are well plotted and suspenseful, the story leans a touch too hard on the flashbacks. Still, the mystery elements are well executed, as is Charlie’s characterization, and the big twist at the end packs a satisfying punch.

Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-81219-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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A well-constructed prelude to what promises to be an interesting series.

THE ATLAS SIX

Dangerous intrigues and deadly secrets swirl around six ambitious young magicians competing for entry into a secret society.

In a world very much like our own, except that a certain percentage of humanity is born with magical powers, six extraordinarily gifted people in their 20s are invited to train for membership in the Alexandrian Society, which has carefully and somewhat surreptitiously preserved centuries of priceless knowledge since the (apparent) burning of the Library of Alexandria. At the end of one year, five of the six will be initiated into the Society, and the reader won’t be surprised to learn that the sixth person isn’t allowed to quietly return home. As the year advances, the candidates explore the limits of their unique powers and shift their alliances, facing threats and manipulations from both within and outside of their circle. For most of its length, the book appears to be a well-written but not especially revolutionary latecomer to the post–Harry Potter collection of novels featuring a darker and more cynical approach to magical education; these books include Sarah Gailey’s Magic for Liars, Marina and Sergey Dyachenko’s Vita Nostra, and Lev Grossman’s Magicians series. Blake also offers a significant dash of the older subgenre of students joining a mystical cult requiring a sacrifice, as in Elizabeth Hand’s Waking the Moon and Robert Silverberg’s The Book of Skulls. The character-building is intense and intriguing—such an interior deep dive is practically de rigueur for a story of this type, which depends on self-discovery—but the plot doesn’t seem to be going anywhere surprising. Then, the book's climax devastatingly reveals that Blake was holding her cards close to the vest all along, delicately hinting at a wider plot which only opens up fully—or almost fully—at the end, when it shoves the reader off a cliff to wait for the next book.

A well-constructed prelude to what promises to be an interesting series.

Pub Date: March 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-85451-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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