A heroine’s trials make for a winding, bloody adventure with plenty of surprises.

THE PRINCESS OF AENYA

From the Books of Aenya series , Vol. 2

An epic fantasy focuses on a brutal usurper and a princess on the run.

At the age of 15, Radia inherits the throne of Tyrnael. Tyrnael has a long history of peace and tranquility, and it seems that Radia should be able to maintain this tradition. The people of Tyrnael rarely die of anything but old age. This all comes crashing down when Radia’s wicked brother, Zaibos, seizes control of the realm in a bloody coup. Radia has no choice but to flee with a loyal guard named Demacharon. But Zaibos is determined to see Radia destroyed. He goes so far as to task a reclusive assassin named Eros with bringing back Radia’s heart. So begins Radia’s journey as a hunted girl in a world that will hold some uncomfortable realities. She is no mere princess but an earthy, highly empathetic beauty who often sees little need for clothing and even less need for killing. In fact, Demacharon, though sworn to protect Radia, must also promise her he won’t kill anyone. Meanwhile, Zaibos is determined to expand his power while also crushing the spirit of anything breathing. He even makes use of simple, brutal subterranean creatures called bogrens. The bogrens, who have names like Grumblestump and Bloodsnot, seem to find nothing funnier than watching one of their own fall into underground magma. Don’t bother asking them if they know what the word “friend” means.

And so the forces of good and evil are pitted against each other in a story that includes extremes ranging from a child hearing a bedtime story to a number of ghastly forms of execution. If readers think this will be a simple tale of a kind princess (who says things like “If given a chance, people are generally good”) removed from power only to have her returned to glory after some cheerful hack-and-slash escapades, they are mistaken. Alimonos’ novel, his second book set in the world of Aenya, takes a number of unexpected, even wild turns, many of them involving combat, torture, or more information on the main players. The bad guys certainly have a lot of background. Zaibos establishes himself as a supreme villain, a tyrant who goes so far as to wear some elaborate, wartime headgear even in the comfort of his own throne room. Likewise, Eros proves a sophisticated part of the plot. With his deadly spiders and his love of his mother, he has more depth than readers might expect from a figure who makes his living by killing people. But some of the good guys are not quite as intricate. While Krow, an aptly named, speaking birdlike figure, may be a skilled sailor, his origins on the crew of an airship do not add much to the larger story. Nevertheless, the tale, with its many violent shifts, will have readers constantly wondering if there will ever again be peace in Tyrnael.

A heroine’s trials make for a winding, bloody adventure with plenty of surprises. (map)

Pub Date: Dec. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-61112-9

Page Count: 438

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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