THE TAINTED CUP

A rousing adventure for alt-fantasy fans.

Sherlock Holmes meets Game of Thrones.

Call Bennett’s latest a drawing-room mystery, albeit the drawing room is the size of a small otherworldly kingdom. It begins, natch, with a corpse. “You were informed that the nature of his death was an alteration, yes, sir?” So asks a military officer of young Signum Dinios Kol, a.k.a. Din, who’s noted that a tree has torn the unfortunate victim apart. Din works for an oddball private detective, Immunis Anagosa Dolabra, a.k.a. Ana, who combines the wiles of Irene Adler with the eccentricities of Sherlock Holmes, including his penchant for narcotics. Din suspects that members of the Haza clan, corrupt 1 percenters, are mixed up in the nastiness, for they’re in the way of acquiring some real estate in the area, and the victim was an impediment. The whole business is complicated by the fact that someone has been undermining the walls of the empire so that leviathans can slither in from the ocean and add their mischief to the evil doings of errant titans abroad in the land. Ana has a fierce temper and is more loquacious than the subdued but sometimes lethal Din: “I do so admire,” she tells him, “how you can be a flippant shit with a mere handful of syllables. Quite a talent.” Bennett borrows from his own Foundryside series for a detail: Where those books involved a strange art called “scriving,” here Din is an Imperial engraver, “altered to remember everything I experienced, always and forever,” handy when it comes to memorizing safe combinations and the exact wording of past conversations. With plenty of red herrings—beg pardon, red leviathans—and neatly imagined plot twists to work through, the reader fond of faux medieval neologisms and occasional grownup moments (“a glimpse of her body, and a winking tuft of pubic thatch”) will enjoy solving the mystery with our heroes.

A rousing adventure for alt-fantasy fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781984820709

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

FOURTH WING

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

IRON FLAME

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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