A tale fertile with fantasy concepts—with a plot displaying room to blossom.

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BIRTHRIGHTS

From the Revisions to the Truth series , Vol. 1

In this debut medieval fantasy, a young man learns how to trace—and, if need be, assassinate—targets both mundane and magical, all the while discovering his own special lineage.

Sixteen-year-old Whym Ellenrond from the RatsNest neighborhood of Riverbend is about to find out his future calling at the Choosing ceremony. He and his best friend, Kira Katona (whom he secretly loves), end up apprenticed in very different fields. She’s to become a tailor, while he takes on the role of seeker. The veteran Stern Sandoval, along with his senior apprentice, Kutan, trains Whym in the art of “catching criminals and bringing them back to face justice.” But no sooner does the trio enter the Wildes than a treacherous incident with its target, Ansel Brosz, show Whym that not all is as it seems in the Lost Land. Meanwhile, First Lord Artifis Fen and the Council of Truth wage war against the tribes of the Fringe even though the text of the Truth “wasn’t meant as a tool to govern.” One tribe, the Dragonborn of Welloch, hosts a young man named Quint, son of the Voice of the Oracle. He’s taught the tribe’s ways by Nikla, a smart, charming young woman who invigorates his religious skepticism. In this first installment of a series, McNeal rains misery on his characters from Page 1, where readers witness Stern’s father turning Whym’s great-grandfather over to the Council of Truth—thereby ending the initial wave of the Reformers Rebellion. At the narrative’s heart is a friction that consumes modern reality: religious interpretation and its place in government. Regarding the Truth and Jah (god), Whym says, “If you strip away the revisions, you’d have Jah’s pure message again.” Elsewhere along the seekers’ journey—through the Forgotten Forest and the Mysts—the author cultivates an elaborate mythos involving Faerie bloodlines. The seekers end up hunting something called the Steward, the last individual of a magical race. From there, a mechanism for unlocking magic—the Unum—links Faerie descendants to the power of the deity Amon. By the end, McNeal’s dense worldbuilding outpaces the rich drama of his worthy characters.

A tale fertile with fantasy concepts—with a plot displaying room to blossom.

Pub Date: June 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-945449-21-5

Page Count: 648

Publisher: Elevate Fiction

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2017

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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