Refined swords-and-sorcery in the mold of J.R.R. Tolkien and Lord Dunsany.

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Aerion and the Sword of Heroes

In this debut fantasy, heroes and villains inspired by Norse deities prepare for battle over an enchanted sword.

To Aerion de Lorka, son of Lord Kent, sword fighting is as beautiful as music. On the morning of his seventh birthday, he enters the nearby temple of Tyr, the Norse god of courage and justice in battle. There, he decides to train endlessly to become a paladin—a holy knight who travels wherever his god bids. Meanwhile, in the “poorest part of one of the meanest towns in all the land,” destiny shapes a boy named Dar. He’s physically fit and mentally cunning, and a life of thievery and abuse only sharpens these traits. He creates an alter ego called the Purple Mask and plots his own father’s downfall. Once on his own, he discovers a shrine to Loki, Norse god of mischief and revenge. As Dar agrees to become that deity’s foul instrument, Aerion overcomes his slow beginnings as a squire. By age 18, he’s the kingdom’s most capable and admired knight. He’s accepted into the Brotherhood of the Blade to help protect Tyr’s legacy and the hero’s sword, created by Odin himself. Mortenson does an excellent job of keeping the gods in the background and their human agents on a steep, sprawling collision course. Throughout the narrative, Aerion and Dar each assemble like-minded colleagues, including the wizard Marseilles, the elf priestess Treena, and the poisoner Tox, among others. Tension mounts as Loki manipulates his greedy acolytes into stealing Tyr’s sword. Mortenson’s prose has a straightforward, lyrical quality in lines such as, “Shadow elves…looked as if someone had carved away at the smooth edges and made a weapon out of a thing of beauty.” Frequently, the theme of perfectionism pops up, and as Aerion becomes excessively devoted to prayer and obsessed with his own shortcomings, Tyr must reignite the paladin’s confidence: “Too fine an edge blunts too quickly.” After a cascade of action at the end, the story leaves room for further adventures.

Refined swords-and-sorcery in the mold of J.R.R. Tolkien and Lord Dunsany.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4602-4347-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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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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