A cathartic novel of royalty that emphasizes strong leadership.

UPON THIS THRONE

From the Second Son Chronicles series , Vol. 4

This fantasy series installment showcases the downfall of a despot and the long struggle toward normalcy for his survivors.

Lord Alfred has escaped the battlefield chaos wrought by his mad brother, King John, in the previous series entry, Pestilence (2020). He awakes in a cottage on Lake St. Anne in the Kingdom of Lakes, where his loyal horse, Star Dancer, carried him. There, Lady Gwendolyn, Alfred’s wife, reveals that the cottage belongs to her—a gift from her father to help in the event that her marriage goes irreparably sour. As Alfred recovers from the illness that’s swept the kingdom, Gwen prepares to give birth to their fourth child. After baby Alicia arrives, Alfred receives word from his friends Samuel and Richard that King John has been murdered—stabbed 12 times in his bed. Alfred and his family return to the castle, greeted by lords whom John had spurned during his horrible reign. At Alfred’s coronation, Lady Gunhild disputes Alfred’s claim to the throne, proclaiming that her young son, Gunderik, is John’s biological child. If Alfred is crowned, he’ll have to take creative measures to finance a kingdom that’s nearly broke, due to John’s carelessness. Taylor’s fourth Second Son novel revels in domesticity after the previous volume’s upheavals. John’s death occurs offstage, which helps to maintain a softer tone in a story that often places Alfred’s children in the foreground. As always, careful emotional details distinguish Taylor’s narrative; for instance, Alfred seeks to protect his son, young Prince Geoffrey, from knowing too early the royal weight that he’ll someday carry. Still, despite the relative calmness, Alfred must address several major problems, such as rogue priests, about which he says, “There’s a vast difference between a man speaking his mind and someone urging people to do harm to their fellow man.” These rabble-rousers, and the pestilence subplot, will seem timely to modern readers, particularly in the United States. The possible hidden location of John’s personal fortune adds mystery to the tale, and a kidnapping brings action. A clean-slate finale leaves room for fresh challenges.

A cathartic novel of royalty that emphasizes strong leadership.

Pub Date: Dec. 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68433-606-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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 marvelous plunge into a beautifully crafted adventure.

THE STARDUST THIEF

This debut quest fantasy is the first of a trilogy concerning the revival of an ancient struggle between humans and jinn.

Years ago, assassins in black murdered all of Loulie al-Nazari’s tribe; unaccountably, a wandering jinn named Qadir took her under his protection, posing as her human bodyguard. Today, Loulie hides behind the identity of the Midnight Merchant, locating and selling illegal magical relics. But now the sultan of Madinne has found her out and is forcing her to go on a dangerous desert quest to find the most ancient relic of them all—a lamp imprisoning an enslaved but incredibly powerful jinn—which he intends to use to commit jinn genocide. Along with Qadir, her designated companions are the sultan’s cruel older son, Prince Omar, who rules the deadly band of jinn hunters known as the Forty Thieves, and Omar’s most trusted thief, Aisha. Except that the prince on this journey is actually Omar’s younger brother Prince Mazen, a softhearted and sheltered storyteller whom Omar has blackmailed into taking his place with a magical disguise. Aisha also has her own mission from Omar, which she cannot share. Burdened with secrets, this unlikely quartet encounter many perils while learning new and deadly things about the nature of jinn and of themselves. Several recent Middle Eastern fantasies have explored the complex and bloody relationship between human and jinn (with obvious relevance to contemporary sociopolitics), each in a gloriously unique way. This one offers brief but clever nods to such classic tales from One Thousand and One Nights as “Aladdin,” “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” and the framing tale of Scheherazade, but then charts its own thrilling territory. Not only is the story exciting (although at least some of Omar’s plot will be obvious from early on), but the characterization and growth of the three human questers—and to a certain extent, the jinn Qadir—are extremely strong; all are driven to question everything they thought they knew and to consider whether that new knowledge will change their course of action.

A marvelous plunge into a beautifully crafted adventure.

Pub Date: May 17, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-36876-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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