This is a shelf-bending fantasy masterwork: as good as it gets.

THE VEILED THRONE

From the Dandelion Dynasty series , Vol. 3

The penultimate installment of Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty quartet—after The Wall of Storms (2016)—continues the grand-scale narrative set in the vast fantasy archipelago of Dara as two factions battle for control of the islands.

With the Lyucu invasion and occupation of Dara accomplished—and parties on both sides attempting to maneuver a peaceful path forward—the inhabitants of the islands find life increasingly difficult as Lyucu hard-liners, knowing that massive reinforcements are on the way, push for a world where the warriorlike Lyucu rule supreme and all others are essentially slaves. As the tensions rise, Princess Théra of Dara—daughter of Empress Jia—forsakes the throne to embark on a quest to the Lyucu stronghold of Ukyu-Gondé, trying to find a way to save her country and her subjugated people. But as years pass and Théra falls in love, weds native leader Takval, and has children, the question of what her country is and who her people are becomes complicated. Juggling dozens of main characters and multiple plotlines, Liu manages to keep the momentum brisk and the tension consistently high in this 1,000-plus-page novel. But the real genius here is the fusion of extraordinarily deep worldbuilding with profound (and timely) themes, which include cultural assimilation, identity, intolerance, and more. An extended sequence describing a contest between two popular restaurants battling for bragging rights, for example, is a master class in not only sensory description, but also allegory, as the sequence brilliantly illustrates larger themes explored in the saga—one owner has all the resources while the other must take advantage of ingenuity and innovative thinking to succeed. But ultimately, it’s Liu’s poetic style that makes this book so memorable: “We are embedded in strands of love and hatred, a web that glows in the sunlight of history, bedecked in pearls of blood and fragments of bone.”

This is a shelf-bending fantasy masterwork: as good as it gets.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4814-2433-2

Page Count: 1008

Publisher: Saga/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

FAIRY TALE

Narnia on the Penobscot: a grand, and naturally strange, entertainment from the ever prolific King.

What’s a person to do when sheltering from Covid? In King’s case, write something to entertain himself while reflecting on what was going on in the world outside—ravaged cities, contentious politics, uncertainty. King’s yarn begins in a world that’s recognizably ours, and with a familiar trope: A young woman, out to buy fried chicken, is mashed by a runaway plumber’s van, sending her husband into an alcoholic tailspin and her son into a preadolescent funk, driven “bugfuck” by a father who “was always trying to apologize.” The son makes good by rescuing an elderly neighbor who’s fallen off a ladder, though he protests that the man’s equally elderly German shepherd, Radar, was the true hero. Whatever the case, Mr. Bowditch has an improbable trove of gold in his Bates Motel of a home, and its origin seems to lie in a shed behind the house, one that Mr. Bowditch warns the boy away from: “ ‘Don’t go in there,’ he said. ‘You may in time, but for now don’t even think of it.’ ” It’s not Pennywise who awaits in the underworld behind the shed door, but there’s plenty that’s weird and unexpected, including a woman, Dora, whose “skin was slate gray and her face was cruelly deformed,” and a whole bunch of people—well, sort of people, anyway—who’d like nothing better than to bring their special brand of evil up to our world’s surface. King’s young protagonist, Charlie Reade, is resourceful beyond his years, but it helps that the old dog gains some of its youthful vigor in the depths below. King delivers a more or less traditional fable that includes a knowing nod: “I think I know what you want,” Charlie tells the reader, "and now you have it”—namely, a happy ending but with a suitably sardonic wink.

A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-66800-217-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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A high-concept adventure that doesn't think its readers are clever enough to get it.

THE GOLDEN ENCLAVES

After graduating from her monster-infested high school, a young witch determined to overcome her inclinations toward dark magic finds that she alone can stave off wizarding society's collapse.

After spending the last four years of her life locked up in the Scholomance—a school carved from interstitial space where mages' children go to hone their craft—Galadriel "El" Higgins returns to the real world heartbroken. Following their run through a gauntlet of monsters in a grisly graduation rite, her fake boyfriend–turned–true love, Orion, shoved her through the Scholomance's magical exit and did not follow. Fearing that Orion has been eaten by a maw-mouth—a creature that hopelessly traps its victims in a painful, never-ending dying process—El sets out to end his suffering forever. Getting back into the fallen Scholomance requires a huge supply of mana, as does killing a maw-mouth, and so El must first journey to the world's most powerful wizard enclaves in search of allies. This globe-trotting adventure quickly turns into a slog, however, as triumphs and tribulations flatten under the weight of exposition and poor pacing. Much of Novik's attention here feels severely misplaced. Rare moments of tension resolve too quickly for readers to feel their impacts, and the novel founders as El continues the infodumping habit previously seen in A Deadly Education (2020) and The Last Graduate (2021), sucking the narrative pacing dry with long-winded explanations that touch on everything from other characters' motives to her own powers. We learn a lot about one interesting character only to have her promptly disappear from the story for good. El's two sexual encounters with a female frenemy serve no purpose in developing either the characters' individual stories or the narrative as a whole. An enemy El assures us is "an evil monster" earns her redemption with little to no explanation, and everything readers already know—from the way El memorized her friends' phone numbers to the purpose and value of mana—is bound to be reiterated again and again.

A high-concept adventure that doesn't think its readers are clever enough to get it.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-15835-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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