A well-executed adventure that riffs on the darker aspects of European fairy tales.


A young woman must undertake a nightmarish quest for a possibly mythical artifact in this debut fantasy.

Eighteen-year-old Gisela Sauer once loved fairy tales, but she can no longer bring herself to believe in them. Since the death of her brother, Gisela has been forced to provide for her family, including her drunken father, her harried mother, and her special needs sister, Thora. The May Day festival—held in honor of her village’s patron goddess, Bergot—finds Gisela peddling milk and eggs in the town square. But May Day is not all dances and bonfires: Town tradition demands that each year eight young people be sent into the forest to search for the legendary Lost Crown to bring back as an offering to Bergot. Gisela considers it a death sentence, so, of course, this year she is one of the eight to receive a Black Letter summoning her for the mission. She has no choice but to go in order to protect her family from harm. At least the rakish lutist Brahm Wolf, who has made no secret of his affections for Gisela, is chosen as well. As Gisela quickly learns, magic is, in fact, real—and dangerous. She, Brahm, and their companions will have to navigate their way through obstacles from the very darkest of fairy tales in order to come back alive. Briar’s fantasy world, which is based on Germanic folklore, is rich and fearsome, as in this passage that Gisela narrates: “Snarling and snorting, the girl’s face transforms into a snout and her hands into clawed paws. A matted fur spreads over her skin as she cranes her neck to howl. Pawing into the ashes, the wolf darts for me.” There are a few elements that break the spell—the dialogue is completely modern, and some of the characters are a bit one-dimensional—but on the whole, the novel is immersive and fun. Gisela’s arc has some emotional heft, and the author isn’t afraid to tread a few steps into the horror genre. By the end, readers will hope that Briar will be back soon with another tale of the fantastic.

A well-executed adventure that riffs on the darker aspects of European fairy tales.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020


Page Count: 274

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2020

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Mark your calendars, this is the next big thing.


From the Between Earth and Sky series , Vol. 1

A powerful priest, an outcast seafarer, and a man born to be the vessel of a god come together in the first of Roanhorse’s Between Earth and Sky trilogy.

The winter solstice is coming, and the elite members of the sacred Sky Made clans in the city of Tova are preparing for a great celebration, led by Naranpa, the newly appointed Sun Priest. But unrest is brewing in Carrion Crow, one of the clans. Years ago, a previous Sun Priest feared heresy among the people of Carrion Crow and ordered his mighty Watchers to attack them, a terrible act that stripped the clan of its power for generations. Now, a secretive group of cultists within Carrion Crow believe that their god is coming back to seek vengeance against the Sun Priest, but Naranpa’s enemies are much closer than any resurrected god. Meanwhile, a young sailor named Xiala has been outcast from her home and spends much of her time drowning her sorrows in alcohol in the city of Cuecola. Xiala is Teek, a heritage that brings with it some mysterious magical abilities and deep knowledge of seafaring but often attracts suspicion and fear. A strange nobleman hires Xiala to sail a ship from Cuecola to Tova. Her cargo? A single passenger, Serapio, a strange young man with an affinity for crows and a score to settle with the Sun Priest. Roanhorse’s fantasy world based on pre-Columbian cultures is rich, detailed, and expertly constructed. Between the political complications in Tova, Serapio’s struggle with a great destiny he never asked for, and Xiala’s discovery of abilities she never knew she had, the pages turn themselves. A beautifully crafted setting with complex character dynamics and layers of political intrigue? Perfection.

Mark your calendars, this is the next big thing.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3767-8

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A gripping revenge story with enough twists to avoid becoming formulaic.


To get revenge for her family’s murder seven years ago, Lore must reenter a deadly contest from her past.

Leaving the conflict of gods and their hunters behind, Lore thought she had forged a new life. However, the Agon has begun again and brought with it an injured Athena, who promises her revenge on the one who ordered her family killed—in exchange for an oath binding their fates together. Lore must hunt down the god once known as Aristos Kadmou, with the catch that she only has eight days. Also, failure means the deaths of both Lore and Athena. Depictions of graphic violence and discussions of sexual assault are frequent, creating a tale as violent and unforgiving as its source material, albeit narrated through a feminist lens. Much like the heroes of ancient epics, Lore is a morally ambiguous but ultimately likable character, struggling to eliminate the monsters of her world while not falling into the brutality of her youth. She is contrasted with the idealistic Castor, her childhood friend and love interest, with whom she has plenty of chemistry. Bracken builds a rich world around a skeleton of ancient Greek mythology that is perfect to read on a dull weekend and sure to delight readers. Most main characters are cued as White; there are two men of color, both gay.

A gripping revenge story with enough twists to avoid becoming formulaic. (cast of characters) (Fantasy. 16-adult)

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4847-7820-3

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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