A layered and emotional epic fantasy opener.

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THE ARENA

Ellis offers a debut fantasy novel set in a violent city that’s secretly controlled by magical forces.

In the city of Yddinas, Cael Brenion is a longtime champion arena combatant. One night, the bloodthirsty audience demands that he not only kill his current opponent, but soak his hands in the man’s gore. In his last moment with the enemy, the honorable Cael promises to provide for his opponent’s son; he also dedicates the match to his own younger brother, 12-year-old Breilyn, who lives with a foster family. At the local temple, high priest Agenayus prepares Cael and the other arena victors to place their hands in a holy fire to absolve their sins. However, Chancellor Rovert Orik intercedes and promotes Cael to Champion, an exalted status that only two other men in Yddinas enjoy, including Cael’s mentor, Braddw. Rovert is an insecure ruler who’s obsessed with having an heir despite his own failures in the bedroom. He encourages chancelloress Valeina to bed the man of her choice in order to become pregnant. Valeina, however, loathes Rovert and is determined to solve the riddle of Yddinas’ isolation from the northern realms, in part due to a mysterious, mirrorlike barrier. Only Agenayus, a powerful mage of the Suuroc race, knows the truth about mystical beings who live separately from humanity. For this series opener, Ellis marries the characters’ personal dramas to the fate of the city that they inhabit while also developing a grandly magical plot, which simmers in the background. Game of Thrones fans will savor the tightly controlled cascade of deceptions among the cast. The prose effectively reflects the hardscrabble existences of most of the people in Yddinas, as in the line, “A glare lingered between Cael and Breilyn, like two angry dogs fighting for the same tree to piss on.” When characters aren’t actually dueling, they cut each other with words, as when Rovert tells his wife, “You were a peasant, doomed to marry off into a middle-class family...and become another useless, spoiled hag.” The players’ bighearted gestures and delicious acts of evil are consistently riveting, and an intriguing, world-expanding finale makes the sequel unmissable.

A layered and emotional epic fantasy opener.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 393

Publisher: Mage Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: tomorrow

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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Great storytelling about the pursuit of extrajudicial justice.

ONE MINUTE OUT

Ninth in the author’s Gray Man series (Mission Critical, 2019, etc.) in which “the most elite assassin in the world” has his hands full.

Ex–CIA Agent Courtland Gentry (the Gray Man) has Serbian war criminal Ratko Babic in his gun sight, but when he decides instead to kill the old beast face to face, he uncovers a massive sex-slavery ring. “I don’t get off on this,” the Gray Man lies to the reader as he stabs a sentry. “I only kill bad people.” Of course he does. If there weren’t an endless supply of them to slay, he’d have little reason to live. Now, countless young Eastern European women are being lured into sexual slavery and fed into an international pipeline, sold worldwide through “the Consortium.” Bad guys refer to their captives as products, not people. They are “merchandise,” but their plight haunts the Gray Man, so of course he is going to rescue as many women as he can. The road to their salvation will be paved with the dead as he enlists a team of fighters to strike the enemy, which includes a South African dude who is giddy for the chance to meet and kill the Gray Man. Meanwhile, Europol analyst Talyssa Corbu meets the hero while on a personal mission to rescue her sister. “You don’t seem like a psychopath,” she tells him. Indeed, though he could play one on TV. Corbu and her sister are tough and likable characters while the director of the Consortium leads a double life as family man and flesh merchant. Human trafficking is an enormous real-life problem, so it’s satisfying to witness our larger-than-life protagonist put his combat skills to good use. There will be a sequel, of course. As a friend tells the wounded Gentry at the end, he’ll be off killing bozos again before he knows it.

Great storytelling about the pursuit of extrajudicial justice.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09891-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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