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THE SPELLSHOP

Kindness is king in this soft and breezy low-stakes cottagecore fantasy.

As the city of Alyssium and its vast library crumble and burn around her, a young librarian who’s spent 11 years sequestered among dusty bookshelves—with only a sentient, research-loving spider plant to keep her company—finds herself on the run.

After leaving the ruins of Alyssium’s great library behind—keen-eyed readers might notice the distinct parallels with the ill-fated Library of Alexandria—Keila makes her way across the open ocean to Caltrey, the picturesque island where she grew up, carrying Caz the spider plant and a boatful of spellbooks she could be punished for having taken. Hoping to lay low for a while and keep out of the locals’ hair, Keila moves into the long-abandoned cottage where her late parents raised her. What she doesn’t expect is to be welcomed by the locals with open arms; to meet her kind—and incredibly handsome—merhorse-riding neighbor, Larran; or to learn that the empire she left behind is draining the magic from her new home. The use of magic is strictly prohibited by the empire and is a punishable offense if you’re a member of the general population caught using it, but, determined to return some of the kindness that’s been shown to her, Keila decides to utilize her rescued spellbooks and opens a secret spellshop under the guise of making different berry jams. She proceeds to use the spells herself to help slowly return the island to its much more magical state. While Durst’s novel boasts a wide array of fantastic characters of both the human and nonhuman variety—Keila is described early on as having blue skin and hair—if readers are looking for any high-stakes conflict, intense political intrigue, or action-packed battle scenes in their fantasy novels, they won’t find them here. Similarly, the romance in this book is sweet but somewhat shallow. With this in mind, it’s a delightful, easily digestible palate cleanser with a story that feels like a whimsical, warm hug.

Kindness is king in this soft and breezy low-stakes cottagecore fantasy.

Pub Date: July 9, 2024

ISBN: 9781250333971

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bramble Books

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2024

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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

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TRESS OF THE EMERALD SEA

Engrossing worldbuilding, appealing characters, and a sense of humor make this a winning entry in the Sanderson canon.

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A fantasy adventure with a sometimes-biting wit.

Tress is an ordinary girl with no thirst to see the world. Charlie is the son of the local duke, but he likes stories more than fencing. When the duke realizes the two teenagers are falling in love, he takes Charlie away to find a suitable wife—and returns with a different young man as his heir. Charlie, meanwhile, has been captured by the mysterious Sorceress who rules the Midnight Sea, which leaves Tress with no choice but to go rescue him. To do that, she’ll have to get off the barren island she’s forbidden to leave, cross the dangerous Verdant Sea, the even more dangerous Crimson Sea, and the totally deadly Midnight Sea, and somehow defeat the unbeatable Sorceress. The seas on Tress’ world are dangerous because they’re not made of water—they’re made of colorful spores that pour down from the world’s 12 stationary moons. Verdant spores explode into fast-growing vines if they get wet, which means inhaling them can be deadly. Crimson and midnight spores are worse. Ships protected by spore-killing silver sail these seas, and it’s Tress’ quest to find a ship and somehow persuade its crew to carry her to a place no ships want to go, to rescue a person nobody cares about but her. Luckily, Tress is kindhearted, resourceful, and curious—which also makes her an appealing heroine. Along her journey, Tress encounters a talking rat, a crew of reluctant pirates, and plenty of danger. Her story is narrated by an unusual cabin boy with a sharp wit. (About one duke, he says, “He’d apparently been quite heroic during those wars; you could tell because a great number of his troops had died, while he lived.”) The overall effect is not unlike The Princess Bride, which Sanderson cites as an inspiration.

Engrossing worldbuilding, appealing characters, and a sense of humor make this a winning entry in the Sanderson canon.

Pub Date: April 4, 2023

ISBN: 9781250899651

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2023

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