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From the Kagen the Damned series , Vol. 1

A vibrant, textured, and exciting admixture of subgenres that do not often play together.

In the first of a series, epic fantasy blends with eldritch horror and folklore as a man seeks vengeance for the destruction of an empire.

Kagen Vale, sworn protector of the young heirs of the Silver Empress, awakens from a night of debauchery to discover himself naked and weaponless as the forces of the long-defeated Hakkians slaughter the royal family and conquer the Silver Empire in the course of a single night. Tormented by his failure to save his charges and by a vision of his nation’s gods literally turning their backs on him, the apparently damned man wanders the countryside in a drunken and murderous haze while nursing vengeance against the usurping Witch-king, a sorcerer and disciple of Hastur, the sinister Shepherd God. Both the Witch-king and a desperate rebellious cabal are seeking Kagen, the former to capture and humiliate him, the latter because they believe Kagen is key to defeating the Witch-king, whose ambitions threaten the whole world. Meanwhile, having lost the protection of their destroyed empire’s faith, two nuns seek the help of other, older gods. Lovecraft-ian pastiche remains a popular, some might say overused, subgenre, but it’s usually presented in a more contemporary or recent historical setting rather than a high fantasy milieu as it is here. Maberry also blends in the mythology of Robert Chambers’ The King in Yellow as well as references to Tennyson’s poem “The Lady of Shalott” and Keats’ “La Belle Dame sans Merci.” While it’s difficult to garner any sympathy for the Witch-king and the gruesome god he serves, the author offers a shades-of-gray approach to most of the story, suggesting that not all the worshippers of the other Great Old Ones are evil, that the Hakkians had at least some justification for rising up against the Silver Empire, and that the Silver Empire’s seemingly gentle Garden faith had some fairly ruthless underpinnings. Various characters warn Kagen and the reader that things are not always as they appear, and one of the stunning revelations at the end should probably be obvious, but that foreknowledge doesn’t prevent the novel’s thrilling denouement from striking like a hammer blow.

A vibrant, textured, and exciting admixture of subgenres that do not often play together.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-78397-4

Page Count: 560

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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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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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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