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A GOOD RUNNING AWAY

From the Misplaced Mercenaries series , Vol. 1

A well-realized and lively caper.

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Pettway’s debut fantasy novel sees an odd couple of mercenaries flee their bloodthirsty fellows and take refuge by posing as royalty.

Keane and Sarah are members of Wallace’s Company, a band of mercenaries who engage in peripatetic looting, pillaging, and extortion throughout the Thirteen Kingdoms. Keane is a wisecracking rogue, and Sarah is the most formidable swordfighter among her 400-odd colleagues. The two have been inseparable since childhood. When Keane earns the ire of Harden Grayspring, the mercenaries’ lord marshal, he and Sarah take to their heels, pausing only to purloin the company’s wage box. Harden, a ruthless and unforgiving man, pursues them and brings the rest of the company along. While running for their lives, Keane and Sarah stumble upon an opportunity to do something foolhardy but, to Keane, irresistible—to take the place of the recently deceased Prince Despin Swifthart of Tyrrane, who had been traveling to the city of Treaty Hill and Forest Castle to meet and marry Princess Rance when he died. Unfortunately for Keane and Sarah, the deception leads them to be trapped in the royal household and held there by an unseen power. Also, King Rance despises Keane, as does the princess. Can he and Sarah survive to make their escape before their true identities are exposed—and before Harden brings the might of Wallace’s Company down upon the city? Pettway tells the tale in the third person from multiple viewpoints, devoting time not only to Keane and Sarah, but also to Harden and his right-hand man, Eli Whister. The antagonists are uncommonly complex characters, as a result, adding further realism to the convincing setting. The author sketches and hints at elaborate multiracial and multicultural societies without subjecting the reader to boundless exposition. The story moves at a good pace, helped along by characters’ banter, which can be a tad too glib at times but employs inventive (and vulgar) curses and insults. Readers’ enjoyment of this book will depend heavily on their appreciation of Keane as a lovable scoundrel, but it will likely appeal to connoisseurs of lighthearted fantasy.

A well-realized and lively caper.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-951445-02-7

Page Count: 298

Publisher: Cursed Dragon Ship Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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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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TRESS OF THE EMERALD SEA

Engrossing worldbuilding, appealing characters, and a sense of humor make this a winning entry in the Sanderson canon.

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A fantasy adventure with a sometimes-biting wit.

Tress is an ordinary girl with no thirst to see the world. Charlie is the son of the local duke, but he likes stories more than fencing. When the duke realizes the two teenagers are falling in love, he takes Charlie away to find a suitable wife—and returns with a different young man as his heir. Charlie, meanwhile, has been captured by the mysterious Sorceress who rules the Midnight Sea, which leaves Tress with no choice but to go rescue him. To do that, she’ll have to get off the barren island she’s forbidden to leave, cross the dangerous Verdant Sea, the even more dangerous Crimson Sea, and the totally deadly Midnight Sea, and somehow defeat the unbeatable Sorceress. The seas on Tress’ world are dangerous because they’re not made of water—they’re made of colorful spores that pour down from the world’s 12 stationary moons. Verdant spores explode into fast-growing vines if they get wet, which means inhaling them can be deadly. Crimson and midnight spores are worse. Ships protected by spore-killing silver sail these seas, and it’s Tress’ quest to find a ship and somehow persuade its crew to carry her to a place no ships want to go, to rescue a person nobody cares about but her. Luckily, Tress is kindhearted, resourceful, and curious—which also makes her an appealing heroine. Along her journey, Tress encounters a talking rat, a crew of reluctant pirates, and plenty of danger. Her story is narrated by an unusual cabin boy with a sharp wit. (About one duke, he says, “He’d apparently been quite heroic during those wars; you could tell because a great number of his troops had died, while he lived.”) The overall effect is not unlike The Princess Bride, which Sanderson cites as an inspiration.

Engrossing worldbuilding, appealing characters, and a sense of humor make this a winning entry in the Sanderson canon.

Pub Date: April 4, 2023

ISBN: 9781250899651

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2023

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