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An often riveting yarn if you buy into the premise.

In the second of a series of fantasy thrillers that began with The Atlas Six (2022), new initiates of a secret magical society confront a web of dangerous conspiracies.

Atlas Blakely, Caretaker of the Alexandrian Society, collected his latest crop of initiates with the secret intention of using their magical talents to create a wormhole into the multiverse in search of a better world. His former ally, the time traveler Ezra Fowler, believes that Atlas’ quest will destroy their current world, and in an effort to stop him, he has kidnapped one of Atlas’ prospective initiates (and Ezra’s ex-girlfriend), Libby Rhodes, trapping her 30 years in the past. Meanwhile, the initiation ritual intended to unite the remaining group has only succeeded in driving the already contentious initiates further apart. As Ezra embarks on an uneasy alliance with the Society’s rivals and a furious Libby struggles for the knowledge and resources she needs to return to her present, the initiates pursue various arcane researches, try to understand why the library archives are denying them certain books, fight among themselves, and confront a number of threats from both inside and outside the Society headquarters. Although all of this sounds thrilling (and it is), the series is still primarily concerned with the interior of the characters’ heads (a situation complicated by the presence of two telepaths and an empath). These are broken, self-obsessed people who can’t stop either ruminating over their perceived flaws or pretending they aren’t there while simultaneously being annoyed by, poking at, and/or exploiting the flaws of their compatriots. The author highlights the dangerous selfishness of these behaviors with minor character Belen Jiménez, a Filipina undergraduate whom Libby meets and takes considerable advantage of in 1989 Los Angeles. Belen believes Libby (who’s supposed to be the most moral member of the Atlas Six) is a sympathetic friend who can boost her academic career; that misapprehension brutally alters the course of Belen’s life. The success of the book hinges on whether or not the reader finds these often unlikable protagonists sympathetic in spite of themselves, or at least interesting specimens of psychological damage.

An often riveting yarn if you buy into the premise.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-25-085509-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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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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From the Empyrean series , Vol. 2

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

A young Navarrian woman faces even greater challenges in her second year at dragon-riding school.

Violet Sorrengail did all the normal things one would do as a first-year student at Basgiath War College: made new friends, fell in love, and survived multiple assassination attempts. She was also the first rider to ever bond with two dragons: Tairn, a powerful black dragon with a distinguished battle history, and Andarna, a baby dragon too young to carry a rider. At the end of Fourth Wing (2023), Violet and her lover, Xaden Riorson, discovered that Navarre is under attack from wyvern, evil two-legged dragons, and venin, soulless monsters that harvest energy from the ground. Navarrians had always been told that these were monsters of legend and myth, not real creatures dangerously close to breaking through Navarre’s wards and attacking civilian populations. In this overly long sequel, Violet, Xaden, and their dragons are determined to find a way to protect Navarre, despite the fact that the army and government hid the truth about these creatures. Due to the machinations of several traitorous instructors at Basgiath, Xaden and Violet are separated for most of the book—he’s stationed at a distant outpost, leaving her to handle the treacherous, cutthroat world of the war college on her own. Violet is repeatedly threatened by her new vice commandant, a brutal man who wants to silence her. Although Violet and her dragons continue to model extreme bravery, the novel feels repetitive and more than a little sloppy, leaving obvious questions about the world unanswered. The book is full of action and just as full of plot holes, including scenes that are illogical or disconnected from the main narrative. Secondary characters are ignored until a scene requires them to assist Violet or to be killed in the endless violence that plagues their school.

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374172

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2024

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