A wild fantasy romp propelled by humor, horror, and heart.

A CROWN OF COBWEBS

A spider princess and her crew of misfits tangle with dark gods and the undead in this fantasy.

Spider Princess and reluctant bride-to-be Adrianna Morticia is about to wed dragon Prince Richard Valkanna, a long-arranged marriage (conducted by a lively corpse) that will join the two royal households after generations of enmity. The union will prevent a war and restore the spiders’ claim to their castle. Adrianna, whose shifts between spider and human form may make arachnophobes blanch, would much rather be back with her cadre of fellow adventurers (Ebbo, a diminutive “magick”-addicted islander; Clayton, a fashion-conscious golem; and Asakusa, a human in thrall to the demonic “Ways of the Dead” and in love with the princess). They fulfill missions for a powerful druid dwarf to benefit the multispecies City of S’kar-Vozi. Bent on preventing the wedding, Asakusa establishes a quick route to the remote spider castle using “Gates” to the paths where the dead of all faiths trudge and toil. Amid the chaos that Asakusa causes at the castle, Adrianna escapes, returning to her old life. She discovers that her three cohorts are facing a vampire baron, ravaging skeletons, and a monstrous half-crab, half-squid Kraken, all hell-bent on destroying S’kar-Vozi and adding its inhabitants to the skeleton army. Reminiscent of Terry Pratchett’s brand of dark, comical fantasy, this offbeat novel by SF/fantasy author Mitchell is divided into five tongue-in-cheek sections: “An Engagement of Abominations,” “A Tropic of Skeletons,” “To Snort One’s Soul,” “The Vegan of Vengeance,” and “A Homecoming of Horrors.” Leavened by wicked humor and genuinely moving scenes of reflection (Adrianna, unlike her spider kin, doesn’t suck the life fluids of sentient beings and relies on kindly, unexpectedly complex Clayton to be her moral compass), the tale features easily offended half-orcs, snake god worshippers, and a tiny but fearsome assassin. The story details Adrianna’s attraction to both the untrustworthy dragon prince and diffident Asakusa as well as such deliciously repulsive horrors as Asakusa’s maggoty, body-consuming “Corruption.” The author pays sly homage to fantasy icons like Tolkien (the term halflings is a slur here) and George R.R. Martin (an epic battle waged by the undead). Except for some unnecessary recapping here and there, Mitchell’s massive worldbuilding is a blast from start to finish.

A wild fantasy romp propelled by humor, horror, and heart.

Pub Date: July 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64456-152-2

Page Count: 500

Publisher: Indies United Publishing House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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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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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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