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ORDINARY MONSTERS

Epic in scope and size, this book sets itself up for many sequels to come.

In Victorian London, two foundling boys with unusual talents find themselves at the center of an ancient battle between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Charlie Ovid is a 16-year-old mixed-race orphan in Reconstruction-era Mississippi who has been convicted of murdering a White man. So far, he has been executed three times for his crime, but in spite of the nightly beatings inflicted upon him ever since, Charlie remains physically unscathed, his uncanny healing power a mystery even to himself. Marlowe is another orphan, found as a baby gently glowing in a freight train at a dead woman’s breast and raised by two adopted mother figures, the timid Eliza and the muscular, tattooed Brynt. “The shining boy,” as he comes to be called, is raised in the slums of London and then as part of a sideshow act in a traveling circus crisscrossing the American heartlands. His origins, his powers, and his fate are as much mysteries to him as Charlie’s cycle of suffering and healing, until they're each visited by Frank Coulton and Alice Quicke, a detective duo employed to find remarkable children like Charlie and Marlowe and bring them back to the mysterious Cairndale Institute in the far north of Scotland, where they will be protected and trained in the uses of their powers. Cairndale, a labyrinthine manor house on the shores of a dark, fathomless loch, turns out to be as full of secrets as the children themselves, and Charlie and Marlowe—along with a Japanese dustworker named Komako; Ribs, the invisible girl; and shy Oskar and the flesh giant Lymenion who sleeps under his bed—must unravel the true motives of their inscrutable guardian, Dr. Henry Berghast, before Jacob Marber, a figure of tremendous power who used to be an unusual child just like them, can tear apart the seal between the worlds of the living and the dead. A fast-paced novel whose action and intrigue make short work of its daunting page count, this tome is clearly set up to be Book 1 of a larger series. However, while the world is intricate and the characters finely drawn, there is such a sheer volume of people, plotlines, backstories, and lore being introduced that the autonomy of the novel itself suffers.

Epic in scope and size, this book sets itself up for many sequels to come.

Pub Date: June 7, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-83366-2

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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FOURTH WING

From the Empyrean series , Vol. 1

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

On the orders of her mother, a woman goes to dragon-riding school.

Even though her mother is a general in Navarre’s army, 20-year-old Violet Sorrengail was raised by her father to follow his path as a scribe. After his death, though, Violet's mother shocks her by forcing her to enter the elite and deadly dragon rider academy at Basgiath War College. Most students die at the War College: during training sessions, at the hands of their classmates, or by the very dragons they hope to one day be paired with. From Day One, Violet is targeted by her classmates, some because they hate her mother, others because they think she’s too physically frail to succeed. She must survive a daily gauntlet of physical challenges and the deadly attacks of classmates, which she does with the help of secret knowledge handed down by her two older siblings, who'd been students there before her. Violet is at the mercy of the plot rather than being in charge of it, hurtling through one obstacle after another. As a result, the story is action-packed and fast-paced, but Violet is a strange mix of pure competence and total passivity, always managing to come out on the winning side. The book is categorized as romantasy, with Violet pulled between the comforting love she feels from her childhood best friend, Dain Aetos, and the incendiary attraction she feels for family enemy Xaden Riorson. However, the way Dain constantly undermines Violet's abilities and his lack of character development make this an unconvincing storyline. The plots and subplots aren’t well-integrated, with the first half purely focused on Violet’s training, followed by a brief detour for romance, and then a final focus on outside threats.

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374042

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2024

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IRON FLAME

From the Empyrean series , Vol. 2

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

A young Navarrian woman faces even greater challenges in her second year at dragon-riding school.

Violet Sorrengail did all the normal things one would do as a first-year student at Basgiath War College: made new friends, fell in love, and survived multiple assassination attempts. She was also the first rider to ever bond with two dragons: Tairn, a powerful black dragon with a distinguished battle history, and Andarna, a baby dragon too young to carry a rider. At the end of Fourth Wing (2023), Violet and her lover, Xaden Riorson, discovered that Navarre is under attack from wyvern, evil two-legged dragons, and venin, soulless monsters that harvest energy from the ground. Navarrians had always been told that these were monsters of legend and myth, not real creatures dangerously close to breaking through Navarre’s wards and attacking civilian populations. In this overly long sequel, Violet, Xaden, and their dragons are determined to find a way to protect Navarre, despite the fact that the army and government hid the truth about these creatures. Due to the machinations of several traitorous instructors at Basgiath, Xaden and Violet are separated for most of the book—he’s stationed at a distant outpost, leaving her to handle the treacherous, cutthroat world of the war college on her own. Violet is repeatedly threatened by her new vice commandant, a brutal man who wants to silence her. Although Violet and her dragons continue to model extreme bravery, the novel feels repetitive and more than a little sloppy, leaving obvious questions about the world unanswered. The book is full of action and just as full of plot holes, including scenes that are illogical or disconnected from the main narrative. Secondary characters are ignored until a scene requires them to assist Violet or to be killed in the endless violence that plagues their school.

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374172

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2024

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