Excessive jargon and a gigantic ensemble break the spell of this well-meaning fantasy novel.

DEMONS OF THE ISLANDS

The mystical exploits of Sheer’An and company continue in this fourth installment of Ponder’s Cel’mystry series (The Only Road, 2011, etc.), which is the first to credit co-author Nash.

Sheer’An lives with a makeshift family of Busshidoe warriors, former slaves, and half-humans. She is a “First One in miniature...barely taller than a Gnome,” branded by the “Wyrd mark.” The family lives by “complex codes of honesty and honor that both the First Ones and the Busshidoe follow” and are bound together by one uncanny fact: “All of us have died at least once….” They often show solidarity; when Sheer’An travels to the Island colony to buy a musical instrument and encounters a discriminatory shopkeeper, her supernatural crew assembles to defend her by “creating some Chaos.” The shopkeeper, needless to say, reconsiders. The theme of prejudice reappears when the Shaougaun, the realm’s leader, starts persecuting religious islanders. After consulting the Great God, the gang receives orders to help the mortals resist. So begins one quest. Another starts when Redbow, Sheer’An’s brother, seeks to settle a grudge against the corrupt Conservatory, but must first seek out Clove Clearwater—a man “madder than a clan of Coppers on craze weed.” These tales are told from alternating perspectives. The authors show an obvious affection for their strong-willed characters, and Cel’mystry offers a rich and detailed world. But many readers will struggle to absorb the complex genealogies and mystical taxonomies, which frequently confuse more than please. “Mallandry here was blood bonded brother to Sheer’An’s father,” one character explains, “that makes her his relative by blood as well. As for me, Sheer’An addition is one of my own.” With so many complicated ties and unanswered questions about the world itself, many readers will have a hard time understanding what’s at stake in the characters’ quests, which unfold at a leisurely pace.

Excessive jargon and a gigantic ensemble break the spell of this well-meaning fantasy novel.  

Pub Date: June 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-1470186425

Page Count: 334

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2012

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A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

THE SWALLOWED MAN

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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