A genuine page-turner: dependable entertainment with no claims to profundity.

A PLAGUE OF GIANTS

From the The Seven Kennings series , Vol. 1

The author of Besieged (2017, etc.), kicks off a new doorstopper fantasy trilogy in which a peaceful continent suffers coincidental invasions by different giant races.

In this convincingly realized world, most races have their own particular magic endowment, or “kenning,” whose rites of passage few postulants survive; those that do learn that using their power overmuch causes rapid physical aging. A huge volcanic explosion drives the 12-foot-tall Hathrim (kenning: fire) from their homeland. Their leader, Gorin Mogen, long ago laid plans to illegally build a new city in the unoccupied forests of Ghurana Nent—a move neighboring Forn (kenning: plants) refuse to countenance. The Nentians themselves, preoccupied with internecine political struggles, have no kenning and can bring only armies to oppose the invaders. Until, that is, young Abhi survives an attack by wild animals and discovers he’s found the sixth kenning. A second race, meanwhile, called Bone Giants for the strange armor they wear, invades Bryn (water). They speak an unknown language, until Kaurian (air) scholar Gondel Vedd learns from a Bone Giant captive that his race seeks the (unknown) seventh kenning, insisting that the seventh will defeat the other six. All this is sturdily constructed and exceptionally well thought out, though don’t expect great characters. Hearne, totally unnecessarily, frames the entire narrative as a performance by Fintan, a Raelech (earth) bard personally involved in the action but distrusted by many, whose kenning enables him to take on the semblance of each actor in the drama. Dervan, a scribe writing it all down, provides still another entanglement with his own involved personal life. It’s all vividly described, moves briskly, and features a splendid climax that resolves the main issue while leaving plenty still to come. Most intriguing of all are the ways the various kennings interact, reminiscent of Fred Saberhagen’s Lost Swords yarns.

A genuine page-turner: dependable entertainment with no claims to profundity.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-345-54860-3

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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

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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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A magical mystery tour through the mythologies of all cultures, a unique and moving love story—and another winner for the...

AMERICAN GODS

An ex-convict is the wandering knight-errant who traverses the wasteland of Middle America, in this ambitious, gloriously funny, and oddly heartwarming latest from the popular fantasist (Stardust, 1999, etc.).

Released from prison after serving a three-year term, Shadow is immediately rocked by the news that his beloved wife Laura has been killed in an automobile accident. While en route to Indiana for her funeral, Shadow meets an eccentric businessman who calls himself Wednesday (a dead giveaway if you’re up to speed on your Norse mythology), and passively accepts the latter’s offer of an imprecisely defined job. The story skillfully glides onto and off the plane of reality, as a series of mysterious encounters suggest to Shadow that he may not be in Indiana anymore—or indeed anywhere on Earth he recognizes. In dreams, he’s visited by a grotesque figure with the head of a buffalo and the voice of a prophet—as well as by Laura’s rather alarmingly corporeal ghost. Gaiman layers in a horde of other stories whose relationships to Shadow’s adventures are only gradually made clear, while putting his sturdy protagonist through a succession of tests that echo those of Arthurian hero Sir Gawain bound by honor to surrender his life to the malevolent Green Knight, Orpheus braving the terrors of Hades to find and rescue the woman he loves, and numerous other archetypal figures out of folklore and legend. Only an ogre would reveal much more about this big novel’s agreeably intricate plot. Suffice it to say that this is the book that answers the question: When people emigrate to America, what happens to the gods they leave behind?

A magical mystery tour through the mythologies of all cultures, a unique and moving love story—and another winner for the phenomenally gifted, consummately reader-friendly Gaiman.

Pub Date: June 19, 2001

ISBN: 0-380-97365-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2001

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