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An engaging fantasy series opener that readies a capable hero to tackle whatever comes next.

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This epic fantasy debut features a squire’s journey to knighthood during a crusade against monstrous forces.

In the kingdom of Lortharain, 17-year-old Godfrey squires under his older cousin and knight, Sir Fallard. Godfrey’s parents are Duke Ulric and Duchess Regana of Bastogne. One day, as Godfrey acknowledges that he’s ready to be tested for knighthood, he and his training contingent stop in the town of Harv for the night. A rash of disappearances has struck the town, and Bishop Clovis presents Godfrey with the mission of destroying a vampire. Godfrey succeeds in the brave act and looks forward to being knighted by his father at their home, Fuetoile Keep. But King Wilhelm arrives at the keep with suspicious haste so as to knight Godfrey himself. The young man sees an avaricious glint in the king’s eyes and remembers his father’s words: “Some monsters are easy to see....Other monsters look like men.” Meanwhile, orcs and Nordsmen have combined forces to the north, intending to take over Azgald, Duchess Regana’s homeland. Godfrey joins a crusade drawn from many kingdoms to stand against this enemy. As war looms, two duplicitous figures filled with ugly ambitions hatch a sinister plot. Alvir of Clan Black Dragon and the sorceress Nera plan to resurrect the dragon Vozzab in their mad quest to rule all. Howard’s series opener introduces a determined, gallant protagonist who wouldn’t be out of place at King Arthur’s Round Table. Godfrey is chaste, dreaming of a girl he’s destined to court rather than hounding just anyone who might walk past him. After being wounded in battle, he meets Madeline, the daughter of Duke Tancred, and their chemistry is potent. Later, Godfrey has a dreamlike encounter with his primary deity, the sun god Loxias. He wakes with a prophecy on his lips, saying, “The crusade is for naught if the dragon now is slain not.” Though the author works with familiar elements, his rich prose renders them vibrantly, as with his orcs with “orange molten gems set in deep pits for eyes.” While this volume offers a complete, satisfying adventure, a strong foundation invites further installments.

An engaging fantasy series opener that readies a capable hero to tackle whatever comes next.

Pub Date: July 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-08-798204-5

Page Count: 414

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

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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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