Next book


A profoundly felt story, unfortunately conveyed in somewhat stilted prose.

In the first of a series, a young woman with a deadly magical power chooses family, safety, and pragmatism over national loyalty.

Yang Ruying has been “blessed by Death”: She has the power to steal the life force from those she touches, although she pays a physical price for using her power. But the magical gifts she shares with some of her countrymen were not enough to protect the Empire of Er-Lang (which resembles a part of China) from occupiers traveling from another universe, where Rome never fell but developed high-tech weaponry and medicine over the centuries. A rash theft brings Ruying to the attention of the youngest Roman prince, Antony Augustus, who coerces Ruying into becoming his personal assassin. Antony claims that her killings on his behalf will ensure peace and a future for both their worlds. Ruying’s need to keep her grandmother, her rebellion-minded twin sister, and herself safe, plus her growing feelings for Antony, help to quiet her doubts, even as her guilt for the blood on her hands increases. Inspired by the Russian and Japanese occupation of Manchuria, the novel is an interesting look inside the mind of a collaborator; while Ruying hates the occupiers, she simply does not believe the rebel forces led by the mysterious Phantom have the power to defeat the Romans, and prefers to snatch what security she can in a bloody, desperate world. As a result, she works very hard to try not to think about what is happening to her people—especially those with magic. Readers may find the writing somewhat heavy going; the author is striving for a poetic style that doesn’t entirely land. For example, a distraught Ruying thinks, “A part of me that I couldn’t bandage or balm fissured slowly like thin ice cracking under weight, and the frigid blue waters beneath waited eagerly to drown me in their bitter depths.” The author also spends a great deal of time describing Ruying’s feelings—time that might be more effectively spent showing her actions as Antony’s assassin, which are more summarized than described in any detail.

A profoundly felt story, unfortunately conveyed in somewhat stilted prose.

Pub Date: April 16, 2024

ISBN: 9780593722244

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

Next book


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

Next book


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

Close Quickview