A kindhearted and capable hero headlines this engaging magic tale.


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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Prepare yourself for the long haul. This is expansive, emotionally complex, and bound to suck you in.


From the Roots of Chaos series , Vol. 2

Magic, dragons, and prophecy are welcome threads in a fantasy that extols the power of motherhood, friendship, and self-love to change the world.

This prequel to Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree (2019) has a similar scope to that 800-page fantasy, but dragon lore is less important here than the stories of people and events that become catalysts for The Priory's tale. Each chapter is grounded by a cardinal direction, lest you lose your bearings, with the four corners of the world home to central characters whom readers will get to know intimately. In the West lives Glorian, heir to the queendom of Inys. Her rule is based on the sacred Berethnet bloodline, whose power originates from the knight Galian Berethnet's banishing of the Nameless One, a giant fire-breathing wyrm birthed from the world’s core. In the East, Dumai lives on a mountain peak and trains as a godsinger, someone who harbors a human connection to the dragons the East worship as gods. In the South, Tunuva is a warrior of the Priory, a sisterhood that worships the Mother who is seen as the true banisher of the Nameless One. Their beliefs are so different and their societies so distanced that they don't know of the others' existence. And yet, when the balance of nature starts to waver, bringing whispers of new fire-breathing threats like the Nameless One, these women find themselves united by a common cause to save their people and seek truth about the higher powers at war with one another. This story is epic in scope, but its density is the sort that pulls you in. The biggest pull comes from the humanity displayed by the central characters, whose hearts ache for their children and their futures in a world fraught with turmoil. The fire-breathers bring more than destruction in their wake; they also bring a plaguelike sickness that will elicit sharp parallels to the Covid-19 pandemic. The very real struggles these characters face, whether they ride dragons or bear the suffocating rules of monarchy, make this a consuming read. While some fantasy tropes feel like they've only been added to the story's surface, the pages keep turning because of the heart-wrenching reasons that characters are driven to action. The heroes shine in their uniqueness, with diverse family dynamics interwoven throughout and representation ranging from queer lords and warriors to genderfluid alchemists. This prequel stands on its own, but a word of warning to people who have read The Priory: You'll want to reread it in order to benefit from the deeper knowledge of what came before.

Prepare yourself for the long haul. This is expansive, emotionally complex, and bound to suck you in.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-63557-792-1

Page Count: 880

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2023

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A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

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Narnia on the Penobscot: a grand, and naturally strange, entertainment from the ever prolific King.

What’s a person to do when sheltering from Covid? In King’s case, write something to entertain himself while reflecting on what was going on in the world outside—ravaged cities, contentious politics, uncertainty. King’s yarn begins in a world that’s recognizably ours, and with a familiar trope: A young woman, out to buy fried chicken, is mashed by a runaway plumber’s van, sending her husband into an alcoholic tailspin and her son into a preadolescent funk, driven “bugfuck” by a father who “was always trying to apologize.” The son makes good by rescuing an elderly neighbor who’s fallen off a ladder, though he protests that the man’s equally elderly German shepherd, Radar, was the true hero. Whatever the case, Mr. Bowditch has an improbable trove of gold in his Bates Motel of a home, and its origin seems to lie in a shed behind the house, one that Mr. Bowditch warns the boy away from: “ ‘Don’t go in there,’ he said. ‘You may in time, but for now don’t even think of it.’ ” It’s not Pennywise who awaits in the underworld behind the shed door, but there’s plenty that’s weird and unexpected, including a woman, Dora, whose “skin was slate gray and her face was cruelly deformed,” and a whole bunch of people—well, sort of people, anyway—who’d like nothing better than to bring their special brand of evil up to our world’s surface. King’s young protagonist, Charlie Reade, is resourceful beyond his years, but it helps that the old dog gains some of its youthful vigor in the depths below. King delivers a more or less traditional fable that includes a knowing nod: “I think I know what you want,” Charlie tells the reader, "and now you have it”—namely, a happy ending but with a suitably sardonic wink.

A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-66800-217-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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