THE TYRANT BARU CORMORANT

Those attuned to the author's singular methods will rejoice. Otherwise, this is demanding and ultimately overwhelming.

Third part of a doorstopper epic fantasy in which a woman seeks revenge against an evil and insatiable empire.

In the first book, The Traitor Baru Cormorant (2015), we learned the reasons why Baru Cormorant seeks to destroy the Imperial Republic of Falcrest and something of the depth and nuance of her plan. Book 2, The Monster Baru Cormorant (2018), exposed new vistas, churned bravely, and accumulated flab. Book 3 succumbs to bloat while setting up a sequel. Once, Baru was a protégé of the cryptarch Cairdine Farrier, one of the secret powers running the empire. Now a cryptarch herself, she realizes that he's been subtly controlling her from Day 1. Under his orders, she's sought out the Cancrioth, a people ruled by immortal tumors in human form, in order to use them as a weapon. The Cancrioth are concealing the Kettling, a hemorrhagic plague that could kill hundreds of millions. Baru undoubtedly could unleash the plague and destroy Falcrest, but millions of innocents would die too. Another way to achieve her goal would require more devious tactics but run the risk of Falcrest’s becoming the world's supreme power. To implement either strategy, Baru must first survive murderous threats from allies and enemies alike. As before, the storytelling is intense, deftly handled, ingenious, and often absorbing. Dickinson is, however, a writer blessed with an exceptionally fertile imagination who can't resist packing in everything—to the point where needless overcomplication all but sinks a narrative heavy with plot threads, timelines, gore, torture, conspiracies, violence, intrigue, and war. Less would have been far more digestible. The book does work impressively well as an allegory about modern politics, economics, and global power projection (mark the eerie though entirely coincidental thread about the Kettling). Yet the final confrontation, building through three enormously long, dense, involved books, doesn't actually come off—as drama or as catharsis.

Those attuned to the author's singular methods will rejoice. Otherwise, this is demanding and ultimately overwhelming.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7653-8076-0

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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

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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