Thrilling while remaining both emotionally and logically true; readers will regret bidding farewell to Amalia and her...


Caruso completes her epic Swords and Fire trilogy (The Tethered Mage, 2017; The Defiant Heir, 2018), based in a Venice-like city at the heart of an empire where magic can be wielded like a weapon.

Sadistic (and, unfortunately, immortal and nearly invulnerable) Witch Lord Ruven of Vaskandar prepares to launch the large-scale invasion he’s been threatening for two previous books, infiltrating Raverra via the dangerous magical hybrids known as chimeras and an alchemical potion that puts the drinker, however reluctant, under his control. Meanwhile, Lady Amalia Cornaro, a young Raverran noblewoman with an unorthodox link to the fire mage Zaira, works to convince the Serene Imperial Assembly to pass a law freeing mages from government control, a tricky proposition given that mages are the Serene Empire’s best defense against the Witch Lords’ magic. She’s also still torn emotionally between Marcello, the Falconer Captain she loves, who is politically unsuitable as a husband, and a somewhat better match, Kathe, the mercurial and not entirely trustworthy Witch Lord she’s beginning to care for despite herself. The personal and the political converge explosively as Ruven’s plans come to dreadful fruition: He transforms Marcello into a chimera forced to obey his will and strike at Amalia where she is most vulnerable. Amalia must depend on both Zaira and Kathe to protect and support her as she puzzles out how to defeat this seemingly indestructible foe while trying to guard both her heart and integrity from further injury. Once again, Caruso admirably refuses to pull her punches, for the most part. Bad things happen to good people and choices have real consequences. The book convincingly and compellingly completes Amalia’s transformation from a shy, scholarly young woman reluctant to grasp the reins of power into a capable politician willing to do what is necessary and expedient even if it means a personal sacrifice. Caruso’s writing has also grown in complexity and nuance as the author has charted Amalia’s course.

Thrilling while remaining both emotionally and logically true; readers will regret bidding farewell to Amalia and her friends.

Pub Date: April 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-46693-6

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2019

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

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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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Self-assured, entertaining debut novel that blends genres and crosses continents in quest of magic.

The world’s not big enough for two wizards, as Tolkien taught us—even if that world is the shiny, modern one of the late 19th century, with its streetcars and electric lights and newfangled horseless carriages. Yet, as first-time novelist Morgenstern imagines it, two wizards there are, if likely possessed of more legerdemain than true conjuring powers, and these two are jealous of their turf. It stands to reason, the laws of the universe working thus, that their children would meet and, rather than continue the feud into a new generation, would instead fall in love. Call it Romeo and Juliet for the Gilded Age, save that Morgenstern has her eye on a different Shakespearean text, The Tempest; says a fellow called Prospero to young magician Celia of the name her mother gave her, “She should have named you Miranda...I suppose she was not clever enough to think of it.” Celia is clever, however, a born magician, and eventually a big hit at the Circus of Dreams, which operates, naturally, only at night and has a slightly sinister air about it. But what would you expect of a yarn one of whose chief setting-things-into-action characters is known as “the man in the grey suit”? Morgenstern treads into Harry Potter territory, but though the chief audience for both Rowling and this tale will probably comprise of teenage girls, there are only superficial genre similarities. True, Celia’s magical powers grow, and the ordinary presto-change-o stuff gains potency—and, happily, surrealistic value. Finally, though, all the magic has deadly consequence, and it is then that the tale begins to take on the contours of a dark thriller, all told in a confident voice that is often quite poetic, as when the man in the grey suit tells us, “There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict.” Generous in its vision and fun to read. Likely to be a big book—and, soon, a big movie, with all the franchise trimmings.


Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-53463-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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