Overall, an enchanting fantasy treat.

THE KEEPER OF THE MIST

When a land concealed by blood magic can choose its own ruler, sometimes it selects a well-bred guy—and sometimes it anoints an unassuming working-class girl able to walk the line of diplomacy and defense while whipping up one mean layer cake.

Keri is a baker in Glassforge, a lovely town in the fecund land of Nimmira. Measuring, mixing, and making ends meet are her quotidian ingredients, until the magic of Nimmira decides that Keri, illegitimate child of the deceased lord, is next in line to rule. Nimmira is protected by a mist that keeps the land concealed from two bordering domains, but with Keri’s father’s death, the mist begins to fail, and for the first time, representatives from the neighboring lands cross the magic border. Under this neophyte Lady, will Nimmira be taken by the Bear soldiers of Tor Carron or absorbed by the malicious sorcery of Eschalion? And why is everyone in a tizzy when the Lady just needs to bake an indulgent cake to de-stress? Neumeier explores the importance of understanding the true talent, weakness, and intent of friend, foe, and self as Keri perseveres as Lady. The only blights in the delicious details of this horn of plenty are the frequency of malleable descriptives (“not exactly mist, and not exactly shadow”) and the failure to populate the book's medieval-esque setting with a notably diverse cast.

Overall, an enchanting fantasy treat. (Fantasy. 12-17)

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-553-50928-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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An entertaining fantasy set in a world that readers will want to revisit.

THESE HOLLOW VOWS

Brie risks the deadly land of the Fae to save her sister.

Brie doesn’t trust many people other than Jas, her eternally hopeful sister, and Sebastian, mage apprentice and Brie’s secret love (as if she had time for romance). Brie struggles to meet the payments for the magical contracts binding their lives to Madame Vivias, supplementing her cleaning work by stealing from the rich. While the land of Faerie tempts other girls with word of a castle, a lavish ball, and a fae prince seeking a wife, Brie mistrusts the creatures who capitalize on humanity’s greed. When Jas’ contract is sold to the fae, Brie braves the golden Seelie queen’s court, meets the noble Prince Ronan, and travels on to the Unseelie king’s shadow court. In the process she discovers love, historical secrets, atrocities, and her own hidden strength. While many elements regarding the fae and a love triangle will feel familiar to fans of the genre, and the magic could have been more fleshed out, discussions of power, inequity, trust, and hope expand the worldbuilding in refreshing ways. Similarly, consideration of the balance between truth and secrets, lies and stories, is intriguing as it’s applied to characters, relationships, and historical lore. Despite certain predictable reveals, the plot itself, which starts off slowly, picks up and is pleasantly convoluted with multiple satisfying surprises. Major human characters read as White.

An entertaining fantasy set in a world that readers will want to revisit. (Fantasy. 13-16)

Pub Date: July 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-358-38657-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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