A lengthy new fantasy series that gets off to an auspicious start.

ROARKE'S WISDOM

THE DEFENSE OF BLYTHECAIRNE

A hero kills a dragon: So what is he going to do now? 

One of the hallmarks of a remarkable fantasy world is that the tales the author tells feel like just the tip of the iceberg. For every story readers hear, there are 10 they’ll never know. Such is the case with Tolkien’s Middle Earth and George R.R. Martin’s Westeros. The same could be said of Hagenspan, the land in which Tompkins’ (Owan’s Regret, 2018, etc.) novel is set. Hagenspan, readers are told, once existed in the North Atlantic—perhaps during the Middle Ages; it was inhabited by men and women, trolls, dragons, and fairies, all of whom fought and loved, strove and died. Like Middle Earth and Westeros, Hagenspan is a sprawling, richly imagined realm peopled with dozens upon dozens of intriguing characters. This volume is the first of nine books in a series. (The author is currently writing the 10th.) Its hero is Sir Cedric Roarke of Lauren, Slayer of Dragons. True to his name, Roarke kills such a foul beast. But the ingenuity of Tompkins’ series opener is that the daring deed happens before the book even begins. The tale, then, grapples with all the unlikely questions that crop up in the aftermath. How does Roarke prove he killed the dragon? How does he protect the booty? Does he keep the castle the dragon stole? How does he pull off that feat? And on and on. In County Bretay, where the castle Blythecairne is situated, law and tradition dictate that the slayer of a dragon must hold the bastion in question for a full year before the warrior can lay claim to it and the surrounding lands. Roarke’s valiant efforts to do so take up the bulk of the story. The author is an assured fantasy writer, and his prose rolls on without affect or pretense (“Men would have called Roarke an adventurer, but it would not have been accurate. While it was true that he had experienced many adventures in his half-century of existence, he did not love sleeping on the ground, or eating bad food, or going without food at all”). And while Tompkins is building a medieval world, he never stretches for the faux feudal diction that has doomed similar, lesser efforts.

A lengthy new fantasy series that gets off to an auspicious start.

Pub Date: May 31, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5330-7870-4

Page Count: 274

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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