Epic, Wagnerian space opera that perhaps might have benefited from a few more liner notes.

THE DARK THAT DWELLS

In an SF–fantasy debut, adventurers, pirates, villains, hunters, and fugitives careen around a galaxy in search of powerful ancient artifacts.

Digman and Roddy, a husband-and-wife writing team, make their debut with a robust but complicated combination of science fiction and high fantasy, in which crumbling castles and dragons and wraiths share the stage with ray guns and spaceships. It takes place in the aftermath of a traumatic, galaxy-rending war between a pantheon of gods and entities of primordial evil called the Qur Noc. Now, rival space-going human kingdoms, uneasily at peace, scheme and skirmish using faster-than-light ships and “T-Gate” transport points—alien technology that mankind doesn’t even fully comprehend. However, these struggles merely provide background as potentially cosmos-shattering events happen in secret and on off-limits or outlaw worlds. Fall Arden, a freelance Ranger with a mystical sword and an automated quiver of multifunctional arrows, is one of several relentless characters taking part in a violent quest for ancient artifacts, which include a crystalline World Shard and a glyph that can tap into forbidden, ancient power. Another quester is Sidna, an “arcanist” or sorceress who’s one of a tribe of mages that defy the widespread, violent religion of Elcos. A Darth Vader–like Elcosian named Tieger, a fanatic in powered armor, serves aboard the fearsome dreadnaught Forge, and Ban Morgan is a soldier in one of the competing empires who took the blame for an atrocity committed by a prince in his squad and wants to redeem himself. There are also space pirates, a shape-shifting robot, an alien “voidstrider,” and other players. The various members of the ensemble cross paths, often violently, on doomed starships, in pocket universes, and in death-haunted temples.

Fantasy fans will easily recognize and savor the novel’s echoes of, tributes to, and occasional quotations from the Lord of the Rings series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the His Dark Materials books, H.P. Lovecraft’s works, TV’s Babylon 5, and, of course, all things George Lucas. However, the tale doesn’t feel as derivative as other contemporary SF–fantasy fare thanks to its narrative assurance, its ability to set up characters on a mythic scale, and its tendency to keep key details tantalizingly opaque. Hermes, a shape-shifting “artificial lifeform” of obscure origins who accompanies Fall, serves as a literal deus ex machina; he gets the protagonists out of seemingly hopeless jams, much as R2-D2 and Gandalf did in works that provided the novel’s inspiration. Some readers may wonder at the fact that major characters take incredible physical punishments and easily bounce back from grievous wounds while armies of ill-fated extras are summarily ripped asunder by bullets, blades, beams, or ravenous monsters. However, the action rarely stops, the mayhem is vividly rendered, and readers are treated to multiple plot twists and cliffhangers over the course of the book. Readers should be prepared to memorize a lot of names and Dungeons & Dragons–style esoterica, though; judging from closing pages, there may well be a sequel.

Epic, Wagnerian space opera that perhaps might have benefited from a few more liner notes.

Pub Date: July 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73426-142-4

Page Count: 519

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2020

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A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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Another triumphant story of a woman finding love among the sexiest aliens in the romance galaxy.

BARBARIAN LOVER

From the Ice Planet Barbarians series , Vol. 3

A hybrid community of aliens and humans faces growing pains and outside threats.

When taken from Earth by aliens, Kira was singled out in a particularly painful manner—a translating device was forcibly implanted into her brain through her ear. After being abandoned on an ice planet by their original kidnappers, Kira and the other human women are rescued by aliens from the sa-khui tribe. Kira, who was always shy and timid on Earth, now has a demanding new role as translator. She captures the attention of Aehako, a charming and charismatic alien who calls her Sad Eyes. Kira was an orphan on Earth, and she fears she will never have a family on her new planet. A symbiotic implant called the khui senses when an alien and human are the best match for producing children, an urgent need since the sa-khui have less than 40 remaining members. A childhood illness has left Kira infertile, and she is afraid to tell Aehako, terrified that her inability to have children will prevent them from being true mates. One day she hears the voices of the kidnapper aliens in her earpiece and realizes that she and the other humans are in danger of being retaken. Fearing they will use her earpiece as a homing beacon, she confides in Aehako, and they travel to the elders’ cave, where they hope to find technology that can save them. The romance between Kira and Aehako is sweet and satisfying. Frustrated with the overcrowding, they become leaders of an effort to open a second settlement. But most rewarding is Kira’s realization that she has intrinsic value simply for being who she is and not because of an earpiece or an ability to bear children.

Another triumphant story of a woman finding love among the sexiest aliens in the romance galaxy.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-54896-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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