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THE BOOK OF LOVE

This book has many enchantments and moving moments, but it would have been better, and more magical, if it were shorter.

A master of short fantasy offers her long-anticipated first novel.

Link has a genius for combining the mundane with the uncanny, diving into the dark currents where dreams grow and bringing up magic-encrusted jetsam, pearlescent ideas that coil and shock. The story takes place in a coastal New England town with the beautifully ambiguous, typically Link name of Lovesend. (Love’s end? Love send?) There, four teenagers—sisters Susannah and Laura, their bandmate Daniel, and Susannah’s friend Mo—are caught up in a struggle with deities who control access to death. As the book opens, Laura, Daniel, and Mo have been dead for months; in her grief, Susannah smashes her sister’s guitar. Soon, the teens, along with a mysterious companion, return from the dead, reanimated by their high school music teacher, Mr. Anabin. Another supernatural person, Bogomil, appears, taking various human and animal forms (a wolf, a rabbit). He writes a message on the music classroom blackboard with his fingernail: “2 RETURN 2 REMAIN.” Mr. Anabin gives the revenants a series of tasks, which they believe will allow two of them to stay alive while the other two, they presume, will die again. As they perform the tasks, readers get to know their families and personal struggles: Laura and Susannah’s father left the family when they were little, and the two contend with sibling rivalry and family roles (Laura’s the good girl, Susannah’s the rebel); Daniel, who has a compulsion to be liked, is a loving, caretaking big brother to a gaggle of mixed-race siblings; Mo, a gay orphan and one of the few Black kids in town, has lost his beloved grandmother while he was dead. Meanwhile, increasingly dramatic magical events transform their hometown—the weather goes hot and cold, carousel horses turn into wolves, the goddess of the moon erects a temple in the middle of the bay—as the characters rush endlessly back and forth, arriving at last at an almost mechanically tidy ending. Although all the fabulous Link elements are here, at more than 600 pages, the story is unwieldy and overexplained.

This book has many enchantments and moving moments, but it would have been better, and more magical, if it were shorter.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2024

ISBN: 9780812996586

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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THE FAMILIAR

Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

In 16th-century Madrid, a crypto-Jew with a talent for casting spells tries to steer clear of the Inquisition.

Luzia Cotado, a scullion and an orphan, has secrets to keep: “It was a game she and her mother had played, saying one thing and thinking another, the bits and pieces of Hebrew handed down like chipped plates.” Also handed down are “refranes”—proverbs—in “not quite Spanish, just as Luzia was not quite Spanish.” When Luzia sings the refranes, they take on power. “Aboltar cazal, aboltar mazal” (“A change of scene, a change of fortune”) can mend a torn gown or turn burnt bread into a perfect loaf; “Quien no risica, no rosica” (“Whoever doesn’t laugh, doesn’t bloom”) can summon a riot of foliage in the depths of winter. The Inquisition hangs over the story like Chekhov’s famous gun on the wall. When Luzia’s employer catches her using magic, the ambitions of both mistress and servant catapult her into fame and danger. A new, even more ambitious patron instructs his supernatural servant, Guillén Santángel, to train Luzia for a magical contest. Santángel, not Luzia, is the familiar of the title; he has been tricked into trading his freedom and luck to his master’s family in exchange for something he no longer craves but can’t give up. The novel comes up against an issue common in fantasy fiction: Why don’t the characters just use their magic to solve all their problems? Bardugo has clearly given it some thought, but her solutions aren’t quite convincing, especially toward the end of the book. These small faults would be harder to forgive if she weren’t such a beautiful writer. Part fairy tale, part political thriller, part romance, the novel unfolds like a winter tree bursting into unnatural bloom in response to one of Luzia’s refranes, as she and Santángel learn about power, trust, betrayal, and love.

Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

Pub Date: April 9, 2024

ISBN: 9781250884251

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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FOURTH WING

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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