A strong second entry and still a series to follow.

STORM AND STEEL

In the second part of The Book of the Black Earth, magic causes more problems than it solves for Horace, the foreign shipwright-turned–sorcerer and military adviser to the queen of a beleaguered city-state.

At the climax of the previous volume (Blood and Iron, 2014), Horace destroyed the Sun Cult’s temple, freeing Queen Byleth of Erugash from their influence. But the Sun Cult and three kings from neighboring Akeshian city-states plot to invade Erugash. In addition, the queen has ordered Horace to brutally suppress a slave rebellion helmed by his friend Jirom and Jirom’s lover, Emanon. While Horace struggles to persuade the queen to consider diplomatic alternatives and to master his powerful but increasingly erratic magic, a mysterious, malign force is engaging in magical assassinations. Could it have anything to do with Lord Astaptah, the queen’s secretive vizier and resident mad scientist? (Of course it could.) The Dances With Wolves/Last Samurai vibe that roiled Blood and Iron—whereby a white guy proves to be better than the darker-skinned natives at a skill they’ve been perfecting for centuries—is gratifyingly damped down here. Horace’s lack of finesse with magic, fielding the complex local politics, and managing his personal life show just how out of his depth he is. And kudos to Sprunk for raising the stakes by killing off major characters—if not the central ones, then at least ones we’d come to care about. There’s also a gratifying lack of certainty about how the story will resolve.

A strong second entry and still a series to follow.

Pub Date: June 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63388-010-8

Page Count: 515

Publisher: Pyr/Prometheus Books

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

GIDEON THE NINTH

From the Locked Tomb Trilogy series , Vol. 1

This debut novel, the first of a projected trilogy, blends science fiction, fantasy, gothic chiller, and classic house-party mystery.

Gideon Nav, a foundling of mysterious antecedents, was not so much adopted as indentured by the Ninth House, a nearly extinct noble necromantic house. Trained to fight, she wants nothing more than to leave the place where everyone despises her and join the Cohort, the imperial military. But after her most recent escape attempt fails, she finally gets the opportunity to depart the planet. The heir and secret ruler of the Ninth House, the ruthless and prodigiously talented bone adept Harrowhark Nonagesimus, chooses Gideon to serve her as cavalier primary, a sworn bodyguard and aide de camp, when the undying Emperor summons Harrow to compete for a position as a Lyctor, an elite, near-immortal adviser. The decaying Canaan House on the planet of the absent Emperor holds dark secrets and deadly puzzles as well as a cheerfully enigmatic priest who provides only scant details about the nature of the competition...and at least one person dedicated to brutally slaughtering the competitors. Unsure of how to mix with the necromancers and cavaliers from the other Houses, Gideon must decide whom among them she can trust—and her doubts include her own necromancer, Harrow, whom she’s loathed since childhood. This intriguing genre stew works surprisingly well. The limited locations and narrow focus mean that the author doesn’t really have to explain how people not directly attached to a necromantic House or the military actually conduct daily life in the Empire; hopefully future installments will open up the author’s creative universe a bit more. The most interesting aspect of the novel turns out to be the prickly but intimate relationship between Gideon and Harrow, bound together by what appears at first to be simple hatred. But the challenges of Canaan House expose other layers, beginning with a peculiar but compelling mutual loyalty and continuing on to other, more complex feelings, ties, and shared fraught experiences.

Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31319-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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Fantasy fans will love this fast-paced adventure, with its complex magic system, thoughtful hero and bold heroine.

A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC

From the Shades of Magic series , Vol. 1

A fast-paced fantasy adventure that takes readers into a series of interconnected worlds ruled by magic—or the lack of it.

Long ago, the doors between worlds were open, and anyone with magic could travel from one to the next. Now the doors are closed, and only a chosen few have the power to travel between Grey London, a world without magic, Red London, a world suffused with it, and White London, a world where magic is scarce, coveted and jealously guarded. As for Black London, the city consumed, no one would be so foolish as to risk a trip—not even Kell. Officially, he’s a royal messenger, carrying letters among the rulers of the three Londons. Unofficially, he’s a smuggler who collects artifacts from other worlds. It’s that habit that leads him to accept a dangerous relic, something that shouldn’t exist. And it’s when a wanted Grey London thief named Lila steals the artifact that the real trouble starts—for both of them. Schwab (Vicious, 2013, etc.) creates a memorable world—actually, three memorable worlds—and even more memorable characters. Lila in particular is a winningly unconventional heroine who, as she declares, would “rather die on an adventure than live standing still.” The brisk plot makes this a page-turner that confronts darkness but is never overwhelmed by it.

Fantasy fans will love this fast-paced adventure, with its complex magic system, thoughtful hero and bold heroine.

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7645-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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