This striking tale whips up a fresh storm in familiar fantasy territory.

READ REVIEW

THE MOUNTAIN THRONE

BOOK I OF THE SINDATHI TWILIGHT TRILOGY

A debut fantasy sees a corrupt empire crumbling as enemies from within and without exact vengeance.

On the world of Urrael, the Sindathi Empire stretches across the continent of Terryth. In the 22nd year of Emperor Thelden III Arrigar’s rule, a column of Imperial Guardsmen breached the forested Kingdom of Sunset. They skirmished with the Aelfen people to retrieve a silver-haired boy, the emperor's bastard grandson. Ten years later, that boy is the princeling Drake, who’s been raised alongside Crown Prince Baildan and his twin brother, Cirrus, in the city of Arleon. Drake knows five languages and practices sorcery, but one subject with which he’d love to become better acquainted is the alluring handmaiden Leasha. Celebrating her 16th birthday, she, Drake, and her upstanding cousin Darius visit the Whirling Blade tavern. The fun ends when a drunken Baildan gives salacious attention to Leasha. Fearing that she’ll be manhandled, Drake lets loose a magical fireball that scorches the establishment’s ceiling. He’s found guilty of attempting to assassinate Baildan and is exiled to the far-flung posting of Icegate. Meanwhile, Darius, an Initiate in the Order of the Golden Path, is raised by the emperor to be Champion of the First Rank. His first mission as a soldier brings him to the hamlet of Ferrin, which revolts against Gov. Bravard. Darius is second-in-command under 1st Capt. Jarvis, who quells the rebellion with merciless violence. But when Darius learns that Bravard has been raping the girls of Ferrin, his role as a Champion becomes that much more urgent. Sterling’s lushly realized novel should scratch the itch for those awaiting more material from Game of Thrones mastermind George R.R. Martin. Terryth is an aggressively horrible place, bristling with religious and political complexities, mainly in service to Ryack, the Empire’s patron deity. Narrative sparks come from the ways in which Drake, Leasha, and Darius strive to assert their humanity with malicious forces coiling around them. As Drake imagines dying a traitor’s death, Sterling writes, “His mortal soul would be forbidden Ryack’s Aetherial embrace so that upon his expiration it would have no refuge from consumption within the Everdeep, that dread ocean of half-understood madness that awaits all who die heretics.” Fantasy elements never crowd out the human moments—which often involve suffering—but when scenes like the battle between Drake and the gigantic, hammer-wielding Vendigon occur, they bring the adventure a feverish, anything-can-happen vibe. Most riveting is Sterling’s portrayal of faith. When Darius faces Ferrin’s rebel Champion, Uldar, the man is able to summon the light and strength of Ryack because “the Order does not have a monopoly on righteousness.” While Drake, who is half-Aelfen, and Leasha, a young servant, know the hypocritical core of the Empire too well, it’s the honorable Darius whose hopes are dashed the worst. The finale to this first volume in a trilogy is staggeringly violent, made all the more effective because readers have seen the characters through both trial and mirth.

This striking tale whips up a fresh storm in familiar fantasy territory.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9992020-0-5

Page Count: 444

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

more