A free-wheeling, clever, and joyful debut that should be on every fantasy reader’s shelf.

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SORCEROUS RIVALRY

From the Mage-Born Chronicles series , Vol. 1

In this fantasy series starter, a mage makes unlikely friends and foes while discovering his lineage.

Reshi was the youngest of seven illegitimate children sired by the king with his sorceress mistress, Laurana. After the Great Mage Hunt, Laurana was imprisoned and her children scattered. Reshi, who’s now around 20, grew up in an orphanage but now lives in a nameless town where he makes use of his shape-changing abilities. There is, however, a bounty on Reshi’s head as well as on the heads of his magical siblings, whom he’s never met. In the Broken Wing tavern, he watches Miss Chesawick provide a room for a strapping, young ex-soldier named Kestrel. In cat form, Reshi sneaks into Kestrel’s room as he sleeps and siphons some life force from him, which fuels his own magic. The next day, the traveler is none the worse for wear, so Reshi is intrigued. A bet with Miss Chesawick—who’s secretly a fairy—over whether he can make Kestral laugh results in the mage showing the warrior around town. Then vicious pigoblins attack, and Reshi fears for Miss Chesawick’s life, as pigoblins pose a major threat to fairies like her. During the battle, in which Reshi performs capably, Kestral realizes that his new acquaintance is a son of Laurana—and Kestral, as it happens, is a bounty hunter. Soon afterward, Reshi answers the telepathic call of his sister Cera. From her, he learns more about Laurana’s other children, including the war-hardened Kila and her monastic twin, Laki. Reshi and Cera decide to stick together to fight against bounty hunters. Their lives are further complicated by the fact that any sibling’s death releases their magic to the rest of Laurana’s surviving brood.

Nicol’s fantasy novel is set in a streamlined medieval realm that requires no map to enjoy, and it runs on a fiendish series of cascading betrayals. She employs a strict show-don’t-tell policy which keeps the storytelling crisp throughout the novel. In the playful opening chapter, for example, Reshi, the narrator, climbs onto Kestrel’s bed and licks his mouth—and readers don’t immediately know that he’s a cat as he does so. From there, readers learn the major characters’ backstories in tantalizing slivers. Kestrel has the potential to be Reshi’s romantic companion or his killer, and to that end, Nicol teases readers mercilessly, as when one of the warrior’s former colleagues regards Reshi and says, “You really do like the pretty boys, don’t you, Captain?” The character development throughout is excellent, and it shines all the brighter because Nicol eschews wordy descriptions of traveling, eating, and humdrum aspects of medieval life. The lengthy but discrete chapters create a satisfying, immersive narrative flow. The introduction of each sibling is thrilling, and Nicol shows herself to be unafraid to kill off characters before readers know them too well. Indeed, she has creativity to spare; an appendix includes additional “Mage-Born Bounty Information.” The magical and romantic cliffhangers at the end of the tale make the next volume unmissable.

A free-wheeling, clever, and joyful debut that should be on every fantasy reader’s shelf. (appendix)

Pub Date: April 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-73213-171-2

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Blue Feather Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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