An impressive fantasy debut that creates a solid foundation for (hopefully) a much larger narrative to come.

THE KINGDOM OF LIARS

From the Legacy of the Mercenary King series , Vol. 1

Martell’s debut novel is a shelf-bending adventure fantasy that chronicles the life—and looming death—of Michael Kingman, an ill-fated young man awaiting execution for the killing of a king.

Set in a secondary world—particularly noteworthy for a fractured moon whose pieces frequently fall to the planet, wreaking havoc on the populace—the narrative takes place largely in Hollow, a once-thriving kingdom now beleaguered by tragedy, treason, and an impending civil war. Michael is an outcast whose father was executed for infamously killing a child prince years earlier, and he's obsessed with finding the truth behind his beloved father’s death. A war hero, the king’s adviser, and a man of honor, his father would never have killed a child, especially a child he vowed to protect. But with the once-venerated name of Kingman now irrevocably tarnished, Michael, a con man doing what he needs to survive, is faced with the monumental task of restoring his family’s name. After an alcoholic nobleman nicknamed Domet the Deranged agrees to help Michael prove his father was framed in addition to teaching the young Kingman how to use his fledgling magical Fabrication skills, Michael slowly realizes that his father was just a pawn in a much larger game of politics and power. An obvious strength of this novel is Martell’s worldbuilding prowess as well as his utilization of magic, which is subtle but powerful. But while the multiple subplots surrounding Kingman’s father’s death create a knotty mystery, they do sometimes slow the book's momentum. Martell generally keeps the pages turning, however, with a story full of relentless action and more than a few jaw-dropping plot twists. The structure of the narrative—a character awaiting death sharing their life story—is a bit overused in fantasy (in The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons, among others), but the quality of the story more than makes up for it.

An impressive fantasy debut that creates a solid foundation for (hopefully) a much larger narrative to come.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3778-4

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Saga/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some White people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only White avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, White people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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