A somewhat perplexing but engaging start to what’s sure to be an epic fantasy saga.



A princess explores her mysterious past in this debut fantasy.

Princess Cruentus Fate of Macellarius is a mere 7 years old when her father sells her to a brothel. But her twin, Prince Abyssus, has a theory that the king isn’t even their father; indeed, Fate remembers only the last two years of her life. Fortunately, the brothel’s madam and the other girls are kind, and Fate joins them in the Rebellion against the Council, which governs the empire of Mu. As the brothel won’t auction off Fate until she’s 16, she tries winning the affections of Prince Caeles Hero of Nitor so he’ll bid on her. But a potential marriage to Hero comes with its own set of problems. Since he’s “Tainted,” he reputedly spreads miasma (spiritual blood) that negatively affects others. Meanwhile, Fate gradually learns about her past, mostly through Abyssus’ journal. Though they’re supposedly both Ancients with elemental capabilities, Abyssus suspects they may be something else entirely. But even more answers may lie in Fate’s bizarre, lucid dreams in which interactions with gods and folklore characters seemingly are connected to her lost memories. Yin and Yang fill their series opener with cryptic passages and events, such as someone Fate has just met saying, “You and your brother have always been dear to me.” This book doesn’t answer all of the questions, though the ending wonderfully sets the stage for the authors’ planned 60-volume series. Still, there’s laudable character development in this installment. Fate feels a genuine fondness for Abyssus and Hero and discovers a rival for the latter’s affections. Menaces also crop up throughout (for example, a “gargantuan” and intimidating royal guard) along with instances of violence. The authors’ lucid prose frequently evokes the senses, particularly during Fate’s surreal dreams: “The sound of breathing echoed and trailed, then silence returned….Above her, stars twinkled, and beneath her feet, a dark swirling vortex spun as it reached down into endless black.”

A somewhat perplexing but engaging start to what’s sure to be an epic fantasy saga. (dedication, map, acknowledgements, author bios)

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-62253-877-5

Page Count: 380

Publisher: Evolved Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2020

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


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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A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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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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