Characters and humor make this magic-meets-steampunk novel worth checking out despite its shortcomings.

Married couple Isolde and Warren Wilby, Hexologists and private investigators, must solve a royal mystery before the kingdom collapses into chaos in the first book in a new series.

When the royal secretary interrupts the Wilbies’ teatime because the king is asking to be baked alive into a cake, it’s just a normal day for the magical investigators. It seems a blackmailer’s claim of an illegitimate heir is driving the king mad. Iz wants nothing to do with royalty, but Warren reminds her that an unrecognized heir creates a power vacuum, which means Luthland's vulnerable will suffer all the more. When a forest golem breaks down the cellar door and heads straight for the royal secretary, that seals the deal: The Wilbies take the case. Magic exists in the Wilbies’ world, one strikingly similar to London during the Industrial Revolution, and Iz is a student of hexegy—the casting of hexes. With Iz’s powers and Warren’s social skills, as well as a large cast of side characters that includes a librarian, a foodie dragon who lives inside a magic carpetbag full of relics, and an alcoholic imp, the mystery unravels into stranger and stranger revelations. If the Hexologists can’t solve the case quickly, it could tear the kingdom apart—literally and figuratively. While the book gets off to a promising start, with action and intrigue bathed in delightfully wry humor, the language soon begins to feel like it's had a wrestling match with a thesaurus. The pacing and clarity sometimes suffer from this cleverness, though the main characters are likable and what you’d expect from a quick-quipping husband-and-wife investigative team. They aren’t unique, but they are fun. If Bancroft had spent more time developing them instead of jumping from one side character to another and given them real obstacles instead of a too-convenient history/tool/hex to solve every problem that arises, this book could have been top-notch. As it stands, this magical tale—ultimately about classism and justice—should still find an audience in need of a chuckle and a mystery to solve.

Characters and humor make this magic-meets-steampunk novel worth checking out despite its shortcomings.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2023

ISBN: 9780316443302

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023


Warm and wonderful.

A prequel to the popular cozy fantasy Legends & Lattes (2022).

Viv is a fighter. It’s not just what she does, it’s who she is. So when she gets wounded during a battle with a necromancer’s skeletal wights, and her crew dumps her in a small seaside town to recover while they continue on after the necromancer, she is not happy about it. But soon enough, against her will, she’s drawn into the life of the town. There’s Fern, the unsuccessful bookseller, who has a knack for recommending exactly the right book. And there’s Maylee, the baker, who not only makes the world’s best baked goods, she actually winks at Viv. Before Viv knows what’s happening, she’s helping Fern out here and there, she’s reading—she’s involved. Meanwhile, there’s a pesky young gnome asking for an introduction to her mercenary crew, and a mysterious man in gray who looks like trouble. But Viv is leaving when her crew comes back through town. No matter what. This prequel gives readers a glimpse of Viv as a young orc, still committed to the fighter’s life, just taking an enforced break in a charming town populated by compelling, richly drawn characters, and the slightest hint of danger in the wind. Despite the lurking necromancer, the vibes are decidedly warm and cozy, and the plot is just as much about saving the bookstore and building relationships as it is about protecting the town from the man in gray. As a prequel, it can stand alone, but will certainly satisfy fans as well.

Warm and wonderful.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9781250886101

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023


A wonderfully enjoyable series opener.

YA giant Clare makes her adult debut with a whirlwind epic fantasy featuring secret plots, ancient magic, and hidden identities.

The nobility of Castellane know Kel only as Prince Conor’s aristocratic cousin and closest confidant, but a select few know the truth: Kel is an orphan plucked from obscurity because he bears a passing resemblance to Conor and proved able to handle being trained as Conor’s “Sword Catcher.” A Sword Catcher has all the typical duties of a bodyguard, but Kel’s responsibilities also include wearing a magical amulet that makes people think he’s Conor, allowing him to take the prince’s place at public events when the palace head of security deems it too risky for the prince himself. But when Conor becomes old enough to consider marriage, Kel learns that it will take more than hidden daggers to protect his charge. On the other side of Castellane society is Lin, a young woman who is a member of the Ashkar, a small community that's forbidden from living outside their walled community. The Ashkar are the only people who can still use magic, and even though using or even learning about most kinds of magic is banned, they are still feared and discriminated against by the rest of the world. Lin has worked hard to be allowed to study medicine even though she's a woman, but when her medical talents aren’t enough to help heal her best friend, she wonders if the answer lies in the study of forbidden magic. The tangle of political disputes and shadowy plots that leads to Kel and Lin crossing paths is not only thick enough to make the several hundred pages fly by, it will leave readers eager for a series full of twists and turns. Clare expertly balances the needs of a satisfying plot with dropping tantalizing hints of what’s to come in future installments. Her worldbuilding is instantly immersive, and the many characters are all detailed and memorable, so swapping between storylines flows easily for the reader.

A wonderfully enjoyable series opener.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2023

ISBN: 9780525619994

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023

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