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An electric work of epic fantasy.

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Three ambitious women struggle for control in a world descending into chaos in Holladay’s debut fantasy novel.

For the past five years, Alana Zaya has served unhappily as the queen of the jungle nation of Jaarin, where her sharp personality has won her the nickname “the Queen of Darkness.” She’s just received word that her mother, the queen of her homeland, Okaro, has just died. Alana is doubly pleased: she didn’t have much love for her mother, Emira (who recently tried to have Alana assassinated), and now she can return to her wind-swept island homeland and take its throne for herself. That is, if she can survive the trip across the wide Western sea. Elsewhere on the continent, Rae Toma is helping to lead a rebellion against Argos Vedros, the king of Siora, while serving as one of his royal guards. When an agent of the king manages to uncover her identity, Rae is forced to flee the country with an old friend, straight into a deadly collection of islands known as the Shatter. Witch-in-training Nur Del Sue grew up in the Shatter. Her father was a foreigner who washed up on an island—and vanished just as suddenly, with no explanation. Marked as an outsider by her people, Nur is desperate to prove herself. Fate has put these three women on a collision course, but will they help each other achieve their ambitions? Will bad things happen if they do? Holladay’s kinetic prose brings her characters to dramatic life, as here when Alana relishes a storm at sea: “Lightning splintered across the sky, and the rain fell harder, churning the ocean beneath them. Waves licked up the side of the ship like flames, spilling over the deck. She laughed. The sound came out of her with an explosion of joy. Yes. This was where she belonged.” Many of the elements of the setting and story will be familiar to fantasy fans; even so, Holladay’s worldbuilding is rich and subtle, and her protagonists are memorably bold. Readers will look forward to a sequel.

An electric work of epic fantasy.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2024

ISBN: 9781958607022

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Inimitable Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2023

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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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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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