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A vibrant array of colorful characters guides readers through this absorbing fantasy.

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A warrior and his half-angel lover confront a powerful sorcerer threatening their war-torn land in this fantasy sequel.

Civil war has devastated the realm of Ilyar, as rebel forces have besieged its capital. Aleksei Drago, lord captain of Her Majesty’s Legion, couldn’t stop the rebellion but can still protect the queen. He sends her and the princess east—away from the revolutionaries—while he rushes to the enemy’s next targeted city. But it’s the man he loves, Jonas Belgi, who may need his help most. Jonas, the queen’s nephew, prince, and an angel-human hybrid, is up north with the Seraphima. He’s effectively a prisoner since the angels won’t let him leave, ostensibly protecting him from the Demon Bael. This evil Magus has already cursed Jonas with the “Demonic Presence.” If the Presence takes hold of Jonas outside the angels’shields, it could destroy the world. Aleksei plans to free his future husband, but the villains, unable to get their clutches on Jonas, go after the lord captain. He’s soon facing a “wind demon”—a deadly, nearly invisible entity. Elsewhere, someone has taken the princess while Aleksei and others fight to regain Ilyar’s capital. Both Aleksei, a fierce Hunter, and Jonas, a Magus, have formidable abilities. The prince is a shape-shifter, and his lover has the Mantle, an astonishing power that expels tendrils from Aleksei’s body that feed off others’ energies. All the while, Jonas fears he’ll lose control to the Presence, which will terrorize the world using him as its human host.

McIntire’s epic tale accommodates an extensive cast. But the story unfolds across a relatively small landscape, making the various subplots easy to follow. For example, the search for the princess entails traveling west to Fanj, and a menace awaits in the mountains along the way. Despite the lengthy narrative, tension remains high throughout; Bael and his ilk provide a constant threat, abducting some and killing others as the war rages. There’s action, too, though it’s often over in a flash, especially since the Mantle effortlessly dispatches villains. This curious being, which occasionally talks to Aleksei and demands to feed, somewhat resembles the Marvel character Venom. The lord captain’s indisputable strength fuses well with his devotion to Jonas; even with only a spattering of romantic interludes, his love clearly drives him. But supporting characters don’t let the two leads completely steal the spotlight. Katherine, Aleksei’s friend, braves enemy territory as a spy. Aleksei’s cousin Roux Devaan shows off his “Darting” skill, which allows him to “flicker from one point to another.” McIntire complements his characters and worldbuilding with lucid details: “The market had been built in the center of the village, a great open ring of small booths that appeared to have stood for decades….Above each booth was a strip of brightly dyed cloth, Fanja script painted roughly across it alongside pictograms, displaying the nature of the wares available.” Though the author ties up a few subplots, he leaves unresolved bits for the series’ third installment.

A vibrant array of colorful characters guides readers through this absorbing fantasy.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2021


Page Count: 661

Publisher: Black Dove Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2021

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Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

In 16th-century Madrid, a crypto-Jew with a talent for casting spells tries to steer clear of the Inquisition.

Luzia Cotado, a scullion and an orphan, has secrets to keep: “It was a game she and her mother had played, saying one thing and thinking another, the bits and pieces of Hebrew handed down like chipped plates.” Also handed down are “refranes”—proverbs—in “not quite Spanish, just as Luzia was not quite Spanish.” When Luzia sings the refranes, they take on power. “Aboltar cazal, aboltar mazal” (“A change of scene, a change of fortune”) can mend a torn gown or turn burnt bread into a perfect loaf; “Quien no risica, no rosica” (“Whoever doesn’t laugh, doesn’t bloom”) can summon a riot of foliage in the depths of winter. The Inquisition hangs over the story like Chekhov’s famous gun on the wall. When Luzia’s employer catches her using magic, the ambitions of both mistress and servant catapult her into fame and danger. A new, even more ambitious patron instructs his supernatural servant, Guillén Santángel, to train Luzia for a magical contest. Santángel, not Luzia, is the familiar of the title; he has been tricked into trading his freedom and luck to his master’s family in exchange for something he no longer craves but can’t give up. The novel comes up against an issue common in fantasy fiction: Why don’t the characters just use their magic to solve all their problems? Bardugo has clearly given it some thought, but her solutions aren’t quite convincing, especially toward the end of the book. These small faults would be harder to forgive if she weren’t such a beautiful writer. Part fairy tale, part political thriller, part romance, the novel unfolds like a winter tree bursting into unnatural bloom in response to one of Luzia’s refranes, as she and Santángel learn about power, trust, betrayal, and love.

Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

Pub Date: April 9, 2024

ISBN: 9781250884251

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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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

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