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A promising foundation of what could be a solid fantasy series, despite uneven execution.

This first installment in JCK’s Scythe YA fantasy saga follows two orphaned boys as they train to become warriors and discover life-changing secrets about their murky past.

Soekka and Sprenger are teenagers growing up in the village of Durado, one of the great “scythe” villages of Cascadia. They’re training to become scythes—“the apex of fighters in all the world”—and are at the top of their class, due in large part to instruction and mentorship from village leaders, who are covertly preparing the boys for roles in a mysterious future plot that involves the sustainability of the village. As their training progresses, the pair find out troubling information about their parents’ deaths in a recent war. Both boys, it seems, have connections to elite scythes who were paired with massive, mythical beasts—animal companions that were outlawed at the end of the war and thought to be all dead. Throughout, JCK strikes a tone that will appeal to YA readers, exploring themes that will be relatable to its intended audience—such as the power of family and friendship, finding one’s place in the world, and relying on others. The novel features a number of violent scenes, but they never feel gratuitous. Its greatest strength is its creative fantasy worldbuilding: Durado, for example, is a place that’s hidden among a forest of monstrous trees where the populace travels via a network of branches. The dynamic between the warriors and the mythical beasts, although it draws on a common fantasy trope, is well done and filled with potential. The narrative does, however, suffer from some noticeable flaws. Its latter half is action-packed and powered by a sense of immediacy. However, its first half is sluggish and has an overabundance of extended—and ultimately boring—sparring sessions and sequences of students practicing specific fighting forms. Also, a subplot involving a sick king and a bratty prince feels like an afterthought and is largely unexplored.

A promising foundation of what could be a solid fantasy series, despite uneven execution.

Pub Date: May 10, 2017

ISBN: 9780692286128

Page Count: 452

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2023

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From the Powerless Trilogy series , Vol. 1

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes.

The Plague has left a population divided between Elites and Ordinaries—those who have powers and those who don’t; now, an Ordinary teen fights for her life.

Paedyn Gray witnessed the king kill her father five years ago, and she’s been thieving and sleeping rough ever since, all while faking Psychic abilities. When she inadvertently saves the life of Prince Kai, she becomes embroiled in the Purging Trials, a competition to commemorate the sickness that killed most of the kingdom’s Ordinaries. Kai’s duties as the future Enforcer include eradicating any remaining Ordinaries, and these Trials are his chance to prove that he’s internalized his brutal training. But Kai can’t help but find Pae’s blue eyes, silver hair, and unabashed attitude enchanting. She likewise struggles to resist his stormy gray eyes, dark hair, and rakish behavior, even as they’re pitted against each other in the Trials and by the king himself. Scenes and concepts that are strongly reminiscent of the Hunger Games fall flat: They aren’t bolstered by the original’s heart or worldbuilding logic that would have justified a few extreme story elements. Illogical leaps and inconsistent characterizations abound, with lighthearted romantic interludes juxtaposed against genocide, child abuse, and sadism. These elements, which are not sufficiently addressed, combined with the use of ableist language, cannot be erased by any amount of romantic banter. Main characters are cued white; the supporting cast has some brown-skinned characters.

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes. (map) (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9798987380406

Page Count: 538

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2023

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Banter and sexual tension abound in this enjoyable enemies-to-lovers fantasy.

The underestimated sister of a soon-to-be queen has her own tale to tell in this companion novel to Levenseller’s The Shadows Between Us (2020).

Nineteen-year-old Chrysantha and her younger sister, Alessandra, who’s the fiancee of the Shadow King, don’t have the best relationship. Chrysantha has always been jealous of how easily Alessandra achieves success, while Alessandra thinks Chrysantha is a fool. For her part, Chrysantha uses this reputation as a facade and a means to an end while she patiently awaits the demise of her lewd—and wealthy—husband, the Duke of Pholios. With Chrysantha’s assistance, the 64-year-old duke dies, allowing his widow to drop the charade and focus on being independent and spending money according to her own whims and desires. That is, until distractingly handsome 18-year-old Eryx Demos arrives, claiming to be her late husband’s heir who’s ready to take control of the estate. Combining her objectives of outshining Alessandra at her royal wedding with enjoying some captivating arm candy and gaining Eryx’s trust in order to stab him in the back, Chrysantha takes up the job of molding Eryx into a proper duke. Chrysantha’s and Eryx’s wickedly charming personalities clash in the most pleasing and seductive ways, so that even though the plot feels repetitive at times, there’s still much to delight in. Chrysantha’s skin is “dark beige”; Eryx is “tanned” and has “tawny-brown hair.”

Banter and sexual tension abound in this enjoyable enemies-to-lovers fantasy. (Fantasy romance. 14-18)

Pub Date: July 9, 2024


Page Count: 336

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2024

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