Unreservedly recommended.

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THE GOBLIN EMPEROR

New fantasy from an author who, as Sarah Monette, wrote the Doctrine of Labyrinth series.

Eighteen-year-old half-goblin Maia, the despised youngest son of the Emperor, lives in wretched circumstances, exiled from the Imperial Court and overseen by his brutal cousin, Setheris. But then a courier arrives with the news that his father and elder brothers have been killed in an airship crash. Stunned and disconcerted, Maia must take his place as the rightful Emperor of the Elflands. Armed only with his quick wits, empathy and natural humility, his first task is to face down the arrogant and contemptuous Lord Chancellor, Uleris Chavar, and insist that he be crowned before his father's funeral. Alone and friendless, bewildered by the complex politics and economics of the court—and soon informed that his father’s death was caused by sabotage, not accident—Maia finds the burden almost unsupportable. He comes to rely on Csevet, the courier who becomes his secretary, for information and advice and on his guards Cala and Beshelar, who are sworn to protect him. Gradually he finds ways to solve intractable problems. He treats servants as people and women as equals, an approach that wins him many admirers but also enrages the more traditional nobles. Addison patiently and tellingly paints in the backdrop, mingling steampunk elements and low-key magic with imperial intricacies. There are powerful character studies and a plot full of small but deadly traps among which the sweet-natured, perplexed Maia must navigate. The result is a spellbinding and genuinely affecting drama.

Unreservedly recommended.

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7653-2699-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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If this first volume is any indication, James’ trilogy could become one of the most talked-about and influential adventure...

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BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF

Wrought with blood, iron, and jolting images, this swords-and-sorcery epic set in a mythical Africa is also part detective story, part quest fable, and part inquiry into the nature of truth, belief, and destiny.

Man Booker Prize winner James (A Brief History of Seven Killings, 2014 etc.) brings his obsession with legend, history, and folklore into this first volume of a projected Dark Star Trilogy. Its title characters are mercenaries, one of whom is called Leopard for his shape-shifting ability to assume the identify of a predatory jungle cat and the other called Tracker for having a sense of smell keen enough to find anything (and anybody) lost in this Byzantine, often hallucinatory Dark Ages version of the African continent. “It has been said you have a nose,” Tracker is told by many, including a sybaritic slave trader who asks him and his partner to find a strange young boy who has been missing for three years. “Just as I wish him to be found,” he tells them, “surely there are those who wish him to stay hidden.” And this is only one of many riddles Tracker comes across, with and without Leopard, as the search takes him to many unusual and dangerous locales, including crowded metropolises, dense forests, treacherous waterways, and, at times, even the mercurial skies overhead. Leopard is besieged throughout his odyssey by vampires, witches, thieves, hyenas, trickster monkeys, and other fantastic beings. He also acquires a motley entourage of helpers, including Sadogo, a gentle giant who doesn’t like being called a giant, Mossi, a witty prefect who’s something of a wizard at wielding two swords at once, and even a wise buffalo, who understands and responds to human commands. The longer the search for this missing child continues, the broader its parameters. And the nature of this search is as fluid and unpredictable as the characters’ moods, alliances, identities, and even sexual preferences. You can sometimes feel as lost in the dizzying machinations and tangled backstories of this exotic universe as Tracker and company. But James’ sensual, beautifully rendered prose and sweeping, precisely detailed narrative cast their own transfixing spell upon the reader. He not only brings a fresh multicultural perspective to a grand fantasy subgenre, but also broadens the genre’s psychological and metaphysical possibilities.

If this first volume is any indication, James’ trilogy could become one of the most talked-about and influential adventure epics since George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire was transformed into Game of Thrones.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2017-1

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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