A resilient female protagonist braves the perils of wizardry, ancient cults, and college life.

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Lord of the Fallen

THE MALEDORIAN CHRONICLES

A teen girl who dabbles in magic finds herself immersed in a war between kingdoms and the gradual rise of a potentially dangerous cult in Forrester’s (Death Mage, 2015, etc.) YA fantasy novel.

It’s forbidden for Lady Elendria Orensal to study unsanctioned magic, which is reserved for wealthy nobles who can afford the admission fee into a magical order. The 17-year-old and her family of minor nobles moved from the war-ravaged south to Criswall in the northern Kingdom of Mar Thagroth. A first-year college student, Elendria’s amassed some knowledge of magic as well as a blinding-light spell she picked up from a witch back in her homeland, Maren Downs. One night she witnesses a cloaked man murder a young boy and is suddenly worried about her missing pal, Remi, a homeless orphan. Her search takes her to a temple full of atrocities, resulting in a harrowing experience she barely survives. Emerging cultists, who, like the priests from the temple, worship the Lord of the Fallen, Ba’al, threaten the likelihood of peace between Mar Thagroth and the southern kingdom, Jalinfaer. At the same time, Elendria soon realizes other young boys have become murder victims, possibly as some sort of ritual for the cult. She vows to find the killer(s), but a magic-boosting black stone may cause her to lose control. Forrester’s novel thoroughly blends the fantastical and the contemporary. The setting, for starters, is the quintessential faraway land (sorcery and kingdoms) with an indeterminable time frame allowing for modern touches: Elendria walks the campus like a typical college student. There’s a notable class struggle theme that’s fortunately never heavy-handed, showing a clear separation of the city and the slums Elendria traverses looking for Remi. Big reveals come later, involving Elendria’s elemental-magic skills and her ultimate decision to choose an alliance, because pinpointing the villains is far from simple. Elendria persistently displays strength, even when facing seemingly hopeless situations. Supporting characters are equally noteworthy, particularly bestie Lysha, who shares both a love of magic and—fingers crossed—a dorm room next year.

A resilient female protagonist braves the perils of wizardry, ancient cults, and college life.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5398-6836-1

Page Count: 394

Publisher: Amber Muse

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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

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THE WATER DANCER

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.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

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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