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DRAWN IN ASH

A kindhearted and capable hero headlines this engaging magic tale.

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A mage uses her newfound political power to help others when she suddenly finds herself a dynasty’s queen in this fantasy.

Shopkeeper Everys scrapes together a living in her neighborhood of Fair Havens. She can only rely on herself, as all her family is gone save her hapless brother, who’s always short of “blades” (the local currency). She’s also a skilled mage, but those “dark arts” are unlawful in the Xoniel Dynasty. One day, without warning, royal guards round up Everys and other women and take them to the royal palace. Before Everys even knows what’s happening, King Narius singles her out, and the two are bound in marriage. Since the new queen has no official duties, she decides to do some good; rather than spend her hefty annual budget on clothes or furniture, Everys wants it to go to Fair Havens’ mostly poor residents. She continues to defy the way things are traditionally done, such as pushing for peace with a longtime enemy. It’s much easier to do once she realizes how much sway she has; Narius must be married for his reign to be “legitimate,” which Everys could ruin simply by leaving. At the same time, the palace’s “resident rabble rouser” struggles to keep her magic under wraps, but that hardly seems possible when assassins come after the royal family. Meanwhile, Narius, like Everys, didn’t have a choice regarding the marriage, as circumstances separate him from the woman he truly loves. But then he (and many others) can’t help but be mesmerized by the dynasty’s whip-smart and compassionate queen.

Otte’s worldbuilding is impeccable. Readers will recognize familiar fantasy elements in these faraway lands, such as feuding kingdoms and astounding feats of magic. But there are just as many guns as swords, along with technology (digital scribers and identity scanners) and aircraft (cloud skimmers). A likable and indelible woman leads the cast; Everys’ benevolence is an unmistakably genuine trait, so it’s not surprising when the queen stops Narius’ public opinion polls from sinking further. Everys’ potent magic comes complete with a superb visual. Some call her a “scribbler,” as she uses her ink-covered fingers (or whatever substance she can write with) to draw runes on various things. This sometimes leaves her with telltale signs of the illegal act she’s committed—stained hands or fingers. Everys’ engaging relationship and probable romance with Narius starts on bad terms; his royal lineage exiled her people, the Siporan, 400 years ago. Elsewhere, supporting characters shine, especially Narius’ handsome brother, Prince Quartus, and royal guard Redtale, an 8-foot Ixactl who sports gray skin and horns. They and others in the dynasty face such tense situations as terrorists setting off bombs in a city and seemingly aggressive acts from a neighboring land called Dalark. The story, which has series potential, also realistically shows the pitfalls of leadership. Everys helps so many, but one of her decisions inadvertently disregards an entire group of people, including someone she’s grown close to. Otte’s prose favors political discourse over action, although there are instances of combat and vigorous displays of Everys’ mage prowess.

A kindhearted and capable hero headlines this engaging magic tale.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2022

ISBN: 979-8985810301

Page Count: 422

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2022

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FOURTH WING

From the Empyrean series , Vol. 1

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

On the orders of her mother, a woman goes to dragon-riding school.

Even though her mother is a general in Navarre’s army, 20-year-old Violet Sorrengail was raised by her father to follow his path as a scribe. After his death, though, Violet's mother shocks her by forcing her to enter the elite and deadly dragon rider academy at Basgiath War College. Most students die at the War College: during training sessions, at the hands of their classmates, or by the very dragons they hope to one day be paired with. From Day One, Violet is targeted by her classmates, some because they hate her mother, others because they think she’s too physically frail to succeed. She must survive a daily gauntlet of physical challenges and the deadly attacks of classmates, which she does with the help of secret knowledge handed down by her two older siblings, who'd been students there before her. Violet is at the mercy of the plot rather than being in charge of it, hurtling through one obstacle after another. As a result, the story is action-packed and fast-paced, but Violet is a strange mix of pure competence and total passivity, always managing to come out on the winning side. The book is categorized as romantasy, with Violet pulled between the comforting love she feels from her childhood best friend, Dain Aetos, and the incendiary attraction she feels for family enemy Xaden Riorson. However, the way Dain constantly undermines Violet's abilities and his lack of character development make this an unconvincing storyline. The plots and subplots aren’t well-integrated, with the first half purely focused on Violet’s training, followed by a brief detour for romance, and then a final focus on outside threats.

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374042

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2024

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IRON FLAME

From the Empyrean series , Vol. 2

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

A young Navarrian woman faces even greater challenges in her second year at dragon-riding school.

Violet Sorrengail did all the normal things one would do as a first-year student at Basgiath War College: made new friends, fell in love, and survived multiple assassination attempts. She was also the first rider to ever bond with two dragons: Tairn, a powerful black dragon with a distinguished battle history, and Andarna, a baby dragon too young to carry a rider. At the end of Fourth Wing (2023), Violet and her lover, Xaden Riorson, discovered that Navarre is under attack from wyvern, evil two-legged dragons, and venin, soulless monsters that harvest energy from the ground. Navarrians had always been told that these were monsters of legend and myth, not real creatures dangerously close to breaking through Navarre’s wards and attacking civilian populations. In this overly long sequel, Violet, Xaden, and their dragons are determined to find a way to protect Navarre, despite the fact that the army and government hid the truth about these creatures. Due to the machinations of several traitorous instructors at Basgiath, Xaden and Violet are separated for most of the book—he’s stationed at a distant outpost, leaving her to handle the treacherous, cutthroat world of the war college on her own. Violet is repeatedly threatened by her new vice commandant, a brutal man who wants to silence her. Although Violet and her dragons continue to model extreme bravery, the novel feels repetitive and more than a little sloppy, leaving obvious questions about the world unanswered. The book is full of action and just as full of plot holes, including scenes that are illogical or disconnected from the main narrative. Secondary characters are ignored until a scene requires them to assist Violet or to be killed in the endless violence that plagues their school.

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374172

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2024

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