An energetic and captivating swords-and-sorcery tale that bodes well for the next book in the series.

THE MARTYR'S BLADE

THE CHRONICLES OF THE MARTYR, BOOK ONE

A powerful team investigates a string of mysterious massacres in this fantasy novel.

Trouble has come to the forests and mountains of northern Albyn. Rural temples, offshoots of the beloved central Temple in the thriving city of Bandirma, have become the sites of strange slaughters. Runes and symbols are written on the floor in blood, and desiccated corpses have been drained of their life force. Three potent emissaries from the Temple are sent to investigate: Lord Bradon, a mighty warrior leading an army; Sir Killock, a skilled and solitary knight  accompanied by his protégée tracker, the sly ex-thief Wyn; and Southern foreigner Lady Danielle d’Lavandou, who wields her family’s ancestral weapon, a blade that once smote the legendary Nameless King. The ritualistic murders seem to imply the return of the Crunorix, a death cult devoted to the Nameless King’s magi. Gifted with the ability to use magic Devices such as an enchanted battle hammer or a guiding amulet, the group pursues the cultists, leading it into an underground realm and dangerous battles with zombielike husks, deadly wights, and a dark force growing in power, not only in the mountains of Albyn, but also in the heart of the Temple itself. As the quest proceeds, Danielle and Wyn fall in love, a tentative pairing with grave implications for Danielle’s ancestral right to wield the Martyr’s Blade. In this series opener, Manners (The Artificer’s Tale, 2017, etc.) creates a complex world with a complete culture, religion, and history. His characters are broadly likable, and some of the novel’s highlights involve the banter between these old friends. Though Albyn, with its rogue-filled taverns and deep forests, will feel familiar to many fantasy fans, underground settings are intriguingly sinister and unique. The author fashions tunnels and caverns where time and space behave strangely and madness threatens intruders. Danielle emerges as a strong central character, formidable and confident while still vulnerable and thoughtful. Wyn spouts slangy sayings but the development of her interior life can’t quite match Danielle’s, which mutes the impact of their romance. In this intricate, if at times overloaded, story, the ritualists and monsters never become bracing villains. But a figure emerging near the end of this volume seems to promise a more striking opponent in the next installment.

An energetic and captivating swords-and-sorcery tale that bodes well for the next book in the series.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9972594-0-7

Page Count: 596

Publisher: Colquhoun Books

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2018

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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