Disappointingly derivative and awkwardly contrived; skip.

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THE DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

From the Nowhere Chronicles series , Vol. 1

A white British boy stumbles into the role of chosen one in this unimaginative urban portal fantasy.

Finmere Tingewick Smith has always lived a double life. Ever since he was left on the steps of London’s Old Bailey as an infant, he’s inexplicably spent his childhood secretly alternating years at two different schools, complete with two different uniforms and two different best friends. He has learned to blend into two completely different social environments without giving anything away. But on his 16th birthday, everything changes when Fin’s guardian is murdered. He learns that Judge Harlequin Brown was the leader of the (seemingly all-male) Order of the Knights of Nowhere, an organization dedicated to traveling between and protecting two distinct realms, The Somewhere (our known universe) and The Nowhere (the one of many parallel universes nearest to our own). When a Knight goes rogue, kidnapping The Nowhere’s Storyholder, a blonde woman, and throwing both universes into chaos, it’s up to Fin and his two best friends, upper-class white Christopher and working-class black Joe, to rescue the Storyholder and restore peace to the worlds. The third-person narration overflows with tedious information that distracts from and convolutes the plot. The few men of color and women who appear in the story are underdeveloped at best and stereotypical tropes or plot devices at worst.

Disappointingly derivative and awkwardly contrived; skip. (Fantasy. 14-17)

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4732-2189-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gollancz/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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“Cinderella” but with genocide and rebel plots.

ASH PRINCESS

From the Ash Princess series , Vol. 1

The daughter of a murdered queen plots to take back what is hers.

With her country seized and her mother, the Fire Queen of Astrea, murdered by invaders when she was only 6 years old, Theodosia has been a prisoner for 10 years, stripped of her crown, her people enslaved. Theo (renamed Thora by her captors) is at the mercy of the Kaiser—the fearsome ruler of the Kalovaxians—enduring his malicious whims in order to survive. But when the Kaiser forces Theo to execute her own father, survival is no longer good enough, and she finally takes up the mantle of queen to lead her people’s rise to resistance in a land saturated in elemental magic. Debut author Sebastian has invigorated some well-worn fantasy tropes (a displaced heir, an underground rebellion, and a love triangle that muddies the distinctions between enemies and allies), delivering a narrative that crackles with political intrigue, powerful and debilitating magic, and the violent mechanisms of colonization even as it leaves sequel-primed gaps. Some details—like Theo’s crisis of identity and Hamletian indecision—work well to submerge readers in a turbulent and enthralling plot; others, like racialized descriptions that fall short of actual representation (Atreans are dark-haired and olive-skinned, Kalovaxians are blond and pale-skinned) and the use of magic-induced madness for narrative shock and awe feel lazy and distracting among more nuanced elements.

“Cinderella” but with genocide and rebel plots. (Fantasy. 14-17)

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6706-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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Packed to the brim with intrigue and the promise of a third installment.

LADY SMOKE

From the Ash Princess series , Vol. 2

A rebel queen fans the sparks of revolution.

Picking up immediately after the events of Ash Princess (2018), Sebastian’s expansive sequel finds young Queen Theodosia—her title newly reclaimed—fleeing her country and throne. With her people still enslaved, Theo will need allies and an army to free them, and her aunt, the fierce and manipulative pirate Dragonsbane, insists that the only way to acquire either is if Theo marries—something no queen has ever done in Astrea’s history. Wracked by nightmares, guilt, and fear that she is losing herself (and more), Theo balks but, with few options open to her, grudgingly agrees to meet with suitors at a grand invitational hosted by the king of the opulent Sta’Crivero. Readers looking for further immersion and expansion of Theo’s world will not be disappointed here. The narrative suffers marginally from lengthy details picked up and soon put back down with no real service to plot or character development, but Theo’s first-person narration remains enthralling with emotional immediacy as she learns more and more about her world and the people (and cruelty) within it. Vengeance, political corruption, and mystery are the main drivers, and questions of trauma, empathy, and sacrifice hold the reigns as Theo grapples with emergent magic, inconvenient romances, and the crushing weight of her choices as a leader.

Packed to the brim with intrigue and the promise of a third installment. (maps) (Fantasy. 14-17)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6710-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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