Sometimes too talky but richly detailed and expertly plotted. A grand entertainment.

CITY OF BLADES

“Don’t forget, it was their choice to get involved in this war”: Fantasian Bennett builds another world, convincingly, in which empires rise and fall and blood flows.

Less literarily allusive than its predecessor, City of Stairs (2014), this contribution to that worldbuilding epic is also more somber in tone, not that there isn't some good humor along the way. Turyin Mulaghesh, sometime general in the Saypuri army, is righteously ticked off to discover that someone in the bureaucracy is messing with her pension, luring her in for an unpromising mission: she’ll need to go to the ghost city of Voortyashtan, where a massive harbor project is underway to consolidate imperial power, and hang tight until the paperwork can get straightened out. But there’s more to it than that, for which reason Mulaghesh grumbles, “Why in hells would I want to do this?” Yes, hells, for when she’s not spitting out stronger curses, Mulaghesh talks like a teenager down at the mall or a Viking with a hangover (“If you’re not the kin of Sigrud je Harkvaldsson, then I am a dead fucking dog”). Bad things are happening in Voortyashtan, one-time home of the gods who fell in defeat to the empire; in its raw tribal violence and the unending atrocities clashing armies commit it might be another Afghanistan, though there are ghosts and gods in twilight to contend with, to say nothing of strange doings down beneath the surface of the planet. Shades of Outland, Dr. Lazarus! Yet the crimes are less cut and dried than all that, especially when a giant metal woman comes into the picture, “her hands…nothing but knives, long and curved and thin….” Bennett clearly has fun doing all the scene-setting and complicating that his tale involves, and while in the end this is a warning against the totalitarian impulse, it makes all kinds of detours into the dark hearts of men—and women, too.

Sometimes too talky but richly detailed and expertly plotted. A grand entertainment.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-553-41971-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA

A tightly wound caseworker is pushed out of his comfort zone when he’s sent to observe a remote orphanage for magical children.

Linus Baker loves rules, which makes him perfectly suited for his job as a midlevel bureaucrat working for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, where he investigates orphanages for children who can do things like make objects float, who have tails or feathers, and even those who are young witches. Linus clings to the notion that his job is about saving children from cruel or dangerous homes, but really he’s a cog in a government machine that treats magical children as second-class citizens. When Extremely Upper Management sends for Linus, he learns that his next assignment is a mission to an island orphanage for especially dangerous kids. He is to stay on the island for a month and write reports for Extremely Upper Management, which warns him to be especially meticulous in his observations. When he reaches the island, he meets extraordinary kids like Talia the gnome, Theodore the wyvern, and Chauncey, an amorphous blob whose parentage is unknown. The proprietor of the orphanage is a strange but charming man named Arthur, who makes it clear to Linus that he will do anything in his power to give his charges a loving home on the island. As Linus spends more time with Arthur and the kids, he starts to question a world that would shun them for being different, and he even develops romantic feelings for Arthur. Lambda Literary Award–winning author Klune (The Art of Breathing, 2019, etc.) has a knack for creating endearing characters, and readers will grow to love Arthur and the orphans alongside Linus. Linus himself is a lovable protagonist despite his prickliness, and Klune aptly handles his evolving feelings and morals. The prose is a touch wooden in places, but fans of quirky fantasy will eat it up.

A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21728-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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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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