For readers who find George R.R. Martin’s epic too much, here’s considerably less. Sequels are certain.


Lips meet, hearts blaze, blood gushes and kingdoms clash in this thoroughly predictable Song of Ice and Fire wannabe.

Chucking in requisite elements—a magic ring, crystals with “ultimate power,” a vague prophecy about a chosen one, hidden Watchers, societies frozen at a medieval level—“Rhodes,” otherwise known as paranormal romance author Michelle Rowen (Vampire Academy: The Ultimate Guide, 2011), centers her tale on teen characters in three adjacent lands who are swept into savage conflicts of both hearts and politics. Showing particular fondness for cut throats the author splashes both opening chapters and climactic battle with sprays of gore as, in between, impulsive Princess Cleo of Westeros Auranos falls in love with her hunky bodyguard before setting out incognito (in courtly dress) to wander impoverished villages in search of magical healing for her dying older sister; merchant’s son Jonas of Paelsia turns revenge seeker burning with hatred for the royals who murder his brother; and Prince Magnus of Limeros wrestles with “forbidden feelings” for his sister Lucia—whose growing magical powers make her the centerpiece of their bloody minded father’s schemes of conquest. Several of the sympathetic characters in the teeming cast suffer sudden death or at least inner strife that settles out in different ways, but all are recognizable types and any secrets they harbor are either telegraphed or clumsily manipulated to heighten romantic tension. The sex is all implicit or offstage, and even the hint of incest turns out to be illusory.

For readers who find George R.R. Martin’s epic too much, here’s considerably less. Sequels are certain. (Fantasy. 13-17)

Pub Date: Dec. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59514-584-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

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Bound to be popular.


From the Ember in the Ashes series , Vol. 1

A suddenly trendy trope—conflict and romance between members of conquering and enslaved races—enlivened by fantasy elements loosely drawn from Arabic tradition (another trend!).

In an original, well-constructed fantasy world (barring some lazy naming), the Scholars have lived under Martial rule for 500 years, downtrodden and in many cases enslaved. Scholar Laia has spent a lifetime hiding her connection to the Resistance—her parents were its leaders—but when her grandparents are killed and her brother’s captured by Masks, the eerie, silver-faced elite soldiers of the Martial Empire, Laia must go undercover as a slave to the terrifying Commandant of Blackcliff Military Academy, where Martials are trained for battle. Meanwhile, Elias, the Commandant’s not-at-all-beloved son, wants to run away from Blackcliff, until he is named an Aspirant for the throne by the mysterious red-eyed Augurs. Predictably, action, intrigue, bloodshed and some pounding pulses follow; there’s betrayal and a potential love triangle or two as well. Sometimes-lackluster prose and a slight overreliance on certain kinds of sexual violence as a threat only slightly diminish the appeal created by familiar (but not predictable) characters and a truly engaging if not fully fleshed-out fantasy world.

Bound to be popular. (Fantasy. 13 & up)

Pub Date: April 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59514-803-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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“Cinderella” but with genocide and rebel plots.


From the Ash Princess series , Vol. 1

The daughter of a murdered queen plots to take back what is hers.

With her country seized and her mother, the Fire Queen of Astrea, murdered by invaders when she was only 6 years old, Theodosia has been a prisoner for 10 years, stripped of her crown, her people enslaved. Theo (renamed Thora by her captors) is at the mercy of the Kaiser—the fearsome ruler of the Kalovaxians—enduring his malicious whims in order to survive. But when the Kaiser forces Theo to execute her own father, survival is no longer good enough, and she finally takes up the mantle of queen to lead her people’s rise to resistance in a land saturated in elemental magic. Debut author Sebastian has invigorated some well-worn fantasy tropes (a displaced heir, an underground rebellion, and a love triangle that muddies the distinctions between enemies and allies), delivering a narrative that crackles with political intrigue, powerful and debilitating magic, and the violent mechanisms of colonization even as it leaves sequel-primed gaps. Some details—like Theo’s crisis of identity and Hamletian indecision—work well to submerge readers in a turbulent and enthralling plot; others, like racialized descriptions that fall short of actual representation (Atreans are dark-haired and olive-skinned, Kalovaxians are blond and pale-skinned) and the use of magic-induced madness for narrative shock and awe feel lazy and distracting among more nuanced elements.

“Cinderella” but with genocide and rebel plots. (Fantasy. 14-17)

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6706-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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