Epic fantasy fans would be advised to find their literary escapism elsewhere.

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A SWORD NAMED TRUTH

Set after the events of Fleeing Peace (2011), the first installment of Smith’s new epic fantasy trilogy follows the adventures of a group of untested heroes as they begin to form an alliance of young rulers and magic users to stand against a looming invasion from a mythic evil.

With the forces of Norsunder threatening to enter the temporal world through rifts after having been vanquished more than 4,700 years earlier, Senrid, the newly crowned king of the politically unstable nation of Marloven Hess, Hibern, a highly talented mage student, and Liere, a young shopkeeper’s daughter who saved the realm in an earlier adventure, understand the grave danger a Norsunder invasion brings to all of Sartorias-deles. As the young heroes slowly begin to form their alliance with other leaders—like Atan, the 15-year-old queen of Sartor, the oldest country in the world—the villainous commanders of Norsunder, Detlev and his nephew Siamis, plot to put the entire realm under magical control. But while Smith’s signature realm of Sartorias-deles is richly described and full of narrative potential, the entire novel has an unfocused feel to it. The unwieldiness of the numerous plot threads slows the pace down to a crawl and, coupled with a conspicuous lack of significant action (particularly in the first 500 pages), gives the book a bloated quality. Readers may also be confused about the target audience of this trilogy. The main characters are all young adults, and the content—a looming magical war where entire populations could be wiped out—is decidedly dark. The tone, however, is strangely light, downplaying the violence and concentrating more on character dynamics. Ultimately, this long novel falls flat, with cardboard characters, excruciatingly slow pacing, and very little action: disappointing on almost all levels.

Epic fantasy fans would be advised to find their literary escapism elsewhere.

Pub Date: June 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7564-0999-9

Page Count: 656

Publisher: DAW/Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA

A tightly wound caseworker is pushed out of his comfort zone when he’s sent to observe a remote orphanage for magical children.

Linus Baker loves rules, which makes him perfectly suited for his job as a midlevel bureaucrat working for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, where he investigates orphanages for children who can do things like make objects float, who have tails or feathers, and even those who are young witches. Linus clings to the notion that his job is about saving children from cruel or dangerous homes, but really he’s a cog in a government machine that treats magical children as second-class citizens. When Extremely Upper Management sends for Linus, he learns that his next assignment is a mission to an island orphanage for especially dangerous kids. He is to stay on the island for a month and write reports for Extremely Upper Management, which warns him to be especially meticulous in his observations. When he reaches the island, he meets extraordinary kids like Talia the gnome, Theodore the wyvern, and Chauncey, an amorphous blob whose parentage is unknown. The proprietor of the orphanage is a strange but charming man named Arthur, who makes it clear to Linus that he will do anything in his power to give his charges a loving home on the island. As Linus spends more time with Arthur and the kids, he starts to question a world that would shun them for being different, and he even develops romantic feelings for Arthur. Lambda Literary Award–winning author Klune (The Art of Breathing, 2019, etc.) has a knack for creating endearing characters, and readers will grow to love Arthur and the orphans alongside Linus. Linus himself is a lovable protagonist despite his prickliness, and Klune aptly handles his evolving feelings and morals. The prose is a touch wooden in places, but fans of quirky fantasy will eat it up.

A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21728-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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