Despite some flaws, definitely a series to follow.

BLOOD AND IRON

A tradesman fleeing a personal tragedy is thrust into more elevated and considerably more perilous circumstances in the first of a political sword-and-sorcery epic by the author of Shadow's Master (2012).

Ship’s carpenter Horace is bound for the crusade to fight the Akeshian Empire when a strange storm wrecks the Bantu Ray and Horace finds himself marooned in Erugash, a city-state in Akeshia. He’s immediately captured and enslaved; his fortunes and his danger rise during another storm, which reveals that Horace possesses zoana, or elemental magic. Unchained and whisked to Queen Byleth’s court, Horace must quickly learn to master his previously unknown magic, which makes him both a power to be reckoned with and a target for rival nobles, the priests of the Sun Cult and other more covert forces who seek the queen’s downfall. Akeshia is somewhat based on ancient Egypt, and Horace clearly comes from a more European milieu; the assimilation of a white man into a dark-skinned alien culture and his superior mastery of an ability intrinsic to that culture whiffs faintly (and vaguely unpleasantly) of Dances With Wolves or The Last Samurai. And perhaps a bit too much is made of Horace’s nobility of character, used to explain why queen’s handmaiden (and foreign spy) Alyra and closeted-gay, enslaved soldier Jirom are both so drawn to him. But it’s undeniable that this novel is also sheer fun, with engaging, pulse-quickening action, sympathetic characters and intricate intrigue.

Despite some flaws, definitely a series to follow.

Pub Date: March 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61614-893-5

Page Count: 445

Publisher: Pyr/Prometheus Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2014

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A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA

A tightly wound caseworker is pushed out of his comfort zone when he’s sent to observe a remote orphanage for magical children.

Linus Baker loves rules, which makes him perfectly suited for his job as a midlevel bureaucrat working for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, where he investigates orphanages for children who can do things like make objects float, who have tails or feathers, and even those who are young witches. Linus clings to the notion that his job is about saving children from cruel or dangerous homes, but really he’s a cog in a government machine that treats magical children as second-class citizens. When Extremely Upper Management sends for Linus, he learns that his next assignment is a mission to an island orphanage for especially dangerous kids. He is to stay on the island for a month and write reports for Extremely Upper Management, which warns him to be especially meticulous in his observations. When he reaches the island, he meets extraordinary kids like Talia the gnome, Theodore the wyvern, and Chauncey, an amorphous blob whose parentage is unknown. The proprietor of the orphanage is a strange but charming man named Arthur, who makes it clear to Linus that he will do anything in his power to give his charges a loving home on the island. As Linus spends more time with Arthur and the kids, he starts to question a world that would shun them for being different, and he even develops romantic feelings for Arthur. Lambda Literary Award–winning author Klune (The Art of Breathing, 2019, etc.) has a knack for creating endearing characters, and readers will grow to love Arthur and the orphans alongside Linus. Linus himself is a lovable protagonist despite his prickliness, and Klune aptly handles his evolving feelings and morals. The prose is a touch wooden in places, but fans of quirky fantasy will eat it up.

A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21728-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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