As Juffin says, brightly, “this affair smells strongly of Forbidden Magic.” Just so—and a pleasure for those who like their...

THE STRANGER'S WOES

Max Frei, the cigarette-puffing gumshoe in an alternate, magical universe, is back in his namesake creator’s sophomore entry in the Labryinths of Echo series.

Echo is a sprawling city-state in which Frei the character finds it very easy to get himself in trouble. Frei the creator (The Stranger, 2009) is a Russian born long ago enough to remember the good old days of the Cold War, and there are international intrigues and intrapalace coups enough to assure that there’s trouble to be had. With sidekick Sir Juffin Hully, Frei the character, a lazybones layabout by inclination, finds the start of it in a coming-out party of sorts hosted by one General Boboota Box, late a victim of food poisoning engineered by who knows who and therefore an intimate of the local outhouses—indeed, unlike the rest of the homes of Echo, which “had at least three or four bathing tubs,” the General’s abode has “a dozen toilets of various heights gurgling a discordant welcome to the visitor.” And who did this dastardly deed? Well, Echo is a world of all sorts of plots, a sort of Krypton with tobacco and the counter-universe’s equivalent of vodka. If you have the sense that a shaggy-dog story is in the offing, you’d be right—and what a dog, and what a tail wagging it. Frei the creator takes obvious goofy pleasure in constructing and populating a place in which rival magicians duke it out, good and evil are not always easily identifiable and are sometimes rolled up in the same person, and where a contraption called a “baboom” is enough to put the fear in your garden-variety brigand. It’s all a great romp, and never mind that the logic of the place seems a tad off and various threads of plot get lost amid the fun. 

As Juffin says, brightly, “this affair smells strongly of Forbidden Magic.” Just so—and a pleasure for those who like their fantasy with a measure of slapstick.

Pub Date: June 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59020-478-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2011

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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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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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