An impressive foundation for a complex new series.

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RISING STARS

From the Rain of Stars series , Vol. 1

In this epic-fantasy debut, a group of humans, angels, elves, and a demon work to prevent all-out war in the layered realms of Celestia.

Nearly two millennia ago, the angelic hosts of Celestia joined with humans and elves to battle Asmod and his demons. Now, the War of the Races is bitter history, although Asmod is rumored to have a vengeful daughter named Helcol. Against this forbidding backdrop, a rebel demon calling himself Neil roams the land of Elyshaeza. He encounters the elf Shara, who’s been tasked with bringing Neil to the city of Notton to help catch a serial killer. Meanwhile, the celestial Shri plucks the scholarly human teenager Collie from her obscure village to help him research the War of the Races, hoping to learn all he can. Demons, also known as “kureida,” have recently been attacking the mortal plane and Celestia with apparent organization—a troubling sign. Shri installs Collie in the Solver, a 15-story structure where the monklike Ginjo dwell. One of them, Ligo, has become obsessed with a mirror that the fallen angel Kom brought back from the Hells. The waxing of this artifact’s power bodes ill for those in Celestia and the surrounding planes. All of these events comprise merely a portion of Lawrence’s dizzying epic. She churns several parallel narratives into careful motion, with Neil’s and Shri’s among the most compelling. She also places nuanced emphasis on some characters’ nonbinary genders (including the warrior Artemis, who’s called an “it”). Lawrence’s prose is dark and sensual but doesn’t resort to the overkill that plagues many other epic fantasies; one kureida, for example, has “two elongated faces that looked like they were in a perpetual scream.” Some of the episodic narratives link up, but there’s no true central action driving the plot. Instead, Lawrence provides a satisfying tour of her rich worlds, leaving sweeping tableaux for a future book.

An impressive foundation for a complex new series.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-5425-2784-2

Page Count: 376

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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Well-drawn characters and playful twists keep this thriller fully charged.

MALICE

This YA SF novel features a teen who must halt a virus that will kill two-thirds of humanity.

In Silver Oak, Maryland, Alice Sherman is a high school junior enjoying lunch near her campus basketball court. With her is Archie, her brother, a senior and science prodigy who likes equations more than his fellow students. Alice has been Archie’s one true friend since their mother left six years ago. Alice is about to catch up with Lalana Bunyasarn, her best friend, when a sudden “streak of electricity zaps through” her head. The agony intensifies until a Voice enters Alice’s mind, asking her, “Do you want this pain to stop?” The Voice then instructs her to go up to Bandit Sakda, a classmate playing basketball, and say that she loves him. Bandit is a beautiful Thai boy who’s talented and arrogant. Strangely, the Voice calls her Malice and says not to fall for him because “it’ll only make what you have to do later harder.” Eventually, Alice learns that the Voice belongs to someone from 10 years in the future who needs help saving humanity. A virus will be created by a person Alice knows that will wipe out two-thirds of the world population. Following the Voice’s directions can save everyone—except the person Alice is ordered to kill. Dunn’s (Star-Crossed, 2018, etc.) latest YA adventure offers increasingly tantalizing twists that gleam in succession like nested matryoshka dolls. Alice will charm readers with her quirks, especially her devotion to Chris Hemsworth of Marvel’s Avengers films. Tension builds as characters in the large cast, including crushworthy Zeke Cain and the brilliant Cristela Ruiz, become potential targets for Alice’s mission. Details about Thai culture add a splendid dimension to the narrative; for example, Bandit is pronounced “bun-dit” and means “one who is wise.” While the notion of a high school killer may not sit well with some, the author doesn’t use the device lightly. Her book takes a strong anti-bullying stance, doing so through an entertaining narrative that doesn’t resort to preaching. The author’s heart and craftiness make a sequel welcome.

Well-drawn characters and playful twists keep this thriller fully charged.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64063-412-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Entangled: Teen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Familiar territory plumbed afresh; fantasy fans should be pleased.

A GIFT OF POISON

From the The Kingmakers' War series , Vol. 1

A girl who has been dismissed and distrusted for most of her life must prove herself in this quest novel.

Briand Varryda dresses like a boy and is the unwanted ward of her uncle. Denied education and often even food, she realizes that her only friends are her cousin Bran and, sometimes, the soldier Tibus. Briand can look after herself: She’s good with a knife and light on her feet. But this time, she’s in real trouble. Briand has cleaned out one soldier too many at the card game Dubbok. When Tibus saves her from vengeful pursuers, he has no choice but to then turn her over to Kael, steward of her uncle’s castle—who has a reputation for cruelty and who, with the help of Bran’s loathsome tutor, Nath, is conducting secret experiments involving young noblemen and poisonous snakes. Kael gives her one last chance. Briand tries to go straight; she attempts to do the right thing. But when she intervenes in one of Kael’s experiments, she gets more than she bargained for. By passing a test meant for Bran, Briand becomes a “dragonsayer,” with “the ability to speak to and sometimes control animals of magic, particularly dragons.” From despised guttersnipe, she has now risen to being the kingdom’s last hope against the usurper prince and his deadly Seekers—but that’s no reason for her companions to think any better of her. In this short novel, Ellison (With Tide and Tempest, 2014, etc.) takes fantasy tropes and makes them feel original. The same achievement can be seen in characterization. Briand and all the others are easily recognizable types but still seem unique. Briand, in particular, is somehow not the typical orphan who makes good. This is made possible by the author’s no-nonsense prose and pacing and some astute worldbuilding. The necessary background details (with the exception of some that find their way into speech) are foreshadowed rather than dumped. This allows Briand to forge her own path and for the story to grip and take hold. Although this is the first book in a series, the plot is largely self-contained. Readers will be left with closure but still wanting more.

Familiar territory plumbed afresh; fantasy fans should be pleased.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5028-7264-7

Page Count: 286

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2019

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