Timely, fascinating idea. Confounding execution.



From the The Women's War series , Vol. 1

High fantasy with a feminist perspective. Sort of.

Alysoon lives in Aalwell, the capital of Aaltah. Her mother, Brynna, was queen until Alys’ father, the king, set her aside for a new wife and sent her to live at the Abbey of the Unwanted. There, women are free to use petty magic—men are the adepts in this world—but they are also sold for sex. Alys’ husband has recently died, which means that she and her children are now dependent on her father even though "she still hadn't forgiven him," and her half brother. Ellinsoltah of Rhozinolm is a princess until a terrible accident makes her ruler. Everyone expects her to yield rule to the wise men around her, and they expect her to find a king consort soon, but Ellin finds sovereignty to her liking. Alys and Ellin are adjusting to their new lives when they learn that Brynna has worked a powerful spell that fundamentally transforms their world: “From now on, no woman will conceive or carry a child unless she wishes to of her own free will.” Once Brynna unleashes her magic…not much changes, at least not quickly. In this faux medieval world, the ability of women to control their own reproductive destinies should be a big deal. It’s baffling that it isn’t. Not only are men not freaking out about their loss of power, but it takes many, many pages before it’s clear that women understand that they can now enjoy sex with men without worrying about pregnancy. Part of the problem is one of perspective. We learn a great deal about the minutiae of Alys’ and Ellin’s lives, but we don’t know much about what’s happening beyond their chambers. Another issue is worldbuilding, an essential feature of fantasy. George R.R. Martin knows more about Westeros than he will ever tell us. Ursula K. LeGuin kept returning to Earthsea because she kept discovering new stories about the place even when she thought she was done. And of course, there’s the example of J.R.R. Tolkien. Glass’ Seven Wells seems more like a stage set than a real universe. This is, apparently, the first in a three-book series. One suspects there is enough material for one excellent novel in those three volumes.

Timely, fascinating idea. Confounding execution.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984817-20-4

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.


Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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