A remarkable fantasy series opener built on bold characters and startling real-world parallels.

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INFERNO DAWN

THE FINAL NAME

In this fantasy, humanity has used technology to defeat several magical races, but total victory is not yet secure.

In the city of Silverfell, a man called Dryden visits the Silver Tongue tavern. There, beautiful elf women—and some men—sell their bodies alongside mugs of ale. Such is their plight after humanity used guns and mechanical might to defeat elves, orcs, and goblins almost a century ago in the Great War. Dryden meets Saya and Astanava, two elf women, while drinking. As he becomes hopelessly smitten with Astanava, he witnesses Earl Edard Kenton and his knights enter the tavern and harass Saya. Dryden’s secret—that he’s a Dartmoth prince traveling incognito—could halt the situation if asserted publicly. Instead, he attempts fisticuffs, which ends with him and Astanava landing in jail and Saya getting raped. Meanwhile, in the town of Osh, Fane Ganbaatar is an orc sheriff. Osh hosts the Book of Destiny in the temple complex of Issik Kul. The Book contains “a running list, thousands of pages long, of the...names of every person that would ever see the book, in chronological order.” One day, representatives of King Broderick Dartmoth come to inspect the Book. The endgame of Cole Wynton and his men is to confiscate and/or destroy all magical artifacts and weapons in Osh. Fane hopes to keep his enchanted ax a secret for as long as possible. And in the royal capital of Syerfordge, the king and his council plan to quell orc violence to the south once and for all—by firebombing the city of Angkor-Toll. In this dark series launch, Emrey (Millennium Stone, 2015, etc.) chooses a fertile time period, post–Great War, for the setting of his epic of heroism and race relations. As a royal, Dryden has access to era-specific technology, like a single-prop fighter plane and a Motor K automobile. He also has the privilege of springing himself from jail whereas the marginalized Astanava ends up at the mercy of Ser Dex Morton, a licentious prison warden. The author maximizes the scope of his narrative by having chapters follow Dryden, Astanava, and Fane down personalized alleys that converge after the stakes have risen. A humiliating flogging leads to Astanava’s accessing latent powers that Lt. Shpava, leader of an elf rebellion, deems invaluable. Angkor-Toll, once a hopeful city but now a ghetto, is filled with the downtrodden of every race. Blue and red fire dust, stand-ins for heroin and crack, have warped orc society and given King Broderick and his militant brother, Sawyer, their excuse for more war. Among the royal siblings, including Liliana, with whom Dryden is closest, only the globe-trotting prince argues that “dust is the problem,” not those addicted to it. Astanava’s transformation into a more empowered, if ghoulish, character is thrilling to behold. Fane and Dryden develop along entertaining, if slightly more predictable routes. Emrey’s greatest success lies in maintaining a shared spotlight for all three of his protagonists. On the verge of a second Great War, each character is poised to drive the sequel toward steeper dramatic heights.

A remarkable fantasy series opener built on bold characters and startling real-world parallels.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63393-845-8

Page Count: 434

Publisher: Koehler Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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