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THE GATHERER

Though the tale is dense with dialogue, the unique protagonist makes for an engaging companion on the journey.

Trzebunia’s coming-of-age fantasy novel follows a gifted young woman as a prophecy sets political machinations in motion.

Peregrine is 12 winters old. Her father, Sir Walter, is one of the King’s Knights in the realm of Moran. It may not be a typical routine for a young lady, but Peregrine spends her mornings training with a weapons master named Roth. She is also skilled in the use of healing herbs, and she can tell when someone is lying. Perhaps most impressive of all, though, is her ability to communicate with animals. Despite such talents, Peregrine doesn’t get along with her disapproving stepmother. Not that Peregrine goes around advertising her abilities—she mostly talks to her father about such things. It is he who points out that, while she is indeed a rare person, “It is the rarest gem that carries the most value.” When Peregrine’s father vanishes, she is, of course, concerned; to complicate matters, after he disappears, a girl from the neighboring kingdom of Din Sul shows up in the Moran woods. The girl, Tianan, is confused about how she wound up in this location—particularly since Moran’s relations with Din Sul have been strained for years. Meanwhile, in Din Sul, the emperor is told of a prophecy that indicates the emergence of two important powers. While one of these powers would appear to be someone like a king, the other is more mysterious: the Gatherer of Creation. Regardless of who this Gatherer turns out to be, the emperor has plans to harness both powers so that he can one day take over the land of Moran.

The novel doles out quite a bit of information early in the text: Readers learn of Peregrine’s routines, her abilities with various animals, the difficulties with her stepmother, and the fun she has with her sister. As pleasant a character as Peregrine is, there’s not a whole lot of action to compel readers’ attention until her father disappears, nearly 100 pages into the story. Much of the heavy page count is given over to dialogue; when the characters talk, they tend to talk a lot (a typically verbose passage reads, “I am not ashamed to tell you that I am a nobody, from nowhere, hidden my whole life in the middle of a forest down at the tip of the kingdom”). Peregrine is, nevertheless, an endearing protagonist, and not necessarily a character whom readers might expect to lead a fantasy novel. Sure, she’s trained in combat, but healing and communicating are more her bailiwick; after all, she can help a tree’s health by touching it. As she gets older and her abilities increase, she’s able to lead readers further into the unknown. And the book has a great deal of the unknown, beyond Moran and even Din Sul. Later on, Peregrine laments, “Had I had even one day of inner peace since my father had disappeared all those years ago?” This lack of peace helps the story maintain continuous forward motion.

Though the tale is dense with dialogue, the unique protagonist makes for an engaging companion on the journey.

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2024

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Jack Frost Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 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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IRON FLAME

From the Empyrean series , Vol. 2

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

A young Navarrian woman faces even greater challenges in her second year at dragon-riding school.

Violet Sorrengail did all the normal things one would do as a first-year student at Basgiath War College: made new friends, fell in love, and survived multiple assassination attempts. She was also the first rider to ever bond with two dragons: Tairn, a powerful black dragon with a distinguished battle history, and Andarna, a baby dragon too young to carry a rider. At the end of Fourth Wing (2023), Violet and her lover, Xaden Riorson, discovered that Navarre is under attack from wyvern, evil two-legged dragons, and venin, soulless monsters that harvest energy from the ground. Navarrians had always been told that these were monsters of legend and myth, not real creatures dangerously close to breaking through Navarre’s wards and attacking civilian populations. In this overly long sequel, Violet, Xaden, and their dragons are determined to find a way to protect Navarre, despite the fact that the army and government hid the truth about these creatures. Due to the machinations of several traitorous instructors at Basgiath, Xaden and Violet are separated for most of the book—he’s stationed at a distant outpost, leaving her to handle the treacherous, cutthroat world of the war college on her own. Violet is repeatedly threatened by her new vice commandant, a brutal man who wants to silence her. Although Violet and her dragons continue to model extreme bravery, the novel feels repetitive and more than a little sloppy, leaving obvious questions about the world unanswered. The book is full of action and just as full of plot holes, including scenes that are illogical or disconnected from the main narrative. Secondary characters are ignored until a scene requires them to assist Violet or to be killed in the endless violence that plagues their school.

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374172

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2024

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