An engaging and intricate fantasy that delivers plenty of political intrigue.


From the Shadow Sword series , Vol. 1

This debut novel weaves a tale of gods, ghouls, and forbidden magic.

Kaell, ward to Lord Vraymorg and bonded to the god Khir, is a warrior destined to spend his life killing ghouls. Aric Caelan is an Isles prince who is attacked by ghouls, who conscript him to poison Kaell. If Aric succeeds, his sister, Azenor, who is set to marry the king, will be spared. And then there are Heath Damadar and his alluring sister, Judith, who embark on a mission to find a bladesman for their own mysterious ends. They drug and question Pairas, one of Aric’s men. Each of these tales is stitched together against the backdrop of a fantasy world governed by a rumored false king and beholden to various gods. In this realm, cultists seek to bring about the resurrection of their true monarch, Roaran Caelan, now long dead. It is a dark kingdom, where ghouls—with their blond hair and beautiful features that do not match their bloodthirsty natures—are a threat to any defenseless village. Each chapter shifts its point of view to a different character, fleshing out the world in bits and pieces to create a tapestry that can only be seen once readers are able to step back and sit with the narrative for a time. Hartland’s prose is quite beautiful: “Butterflies danced in secret, sunlit groves where flame trees shed scarlet flowers.” But she does not shy away from vividly depicting the harsh realities of violence in this turbulent realm. While readers of high fantasy will likely delight in the rich machinations of this hefty volume, those less familiar with the genre may find themselves confused by the rapid back-and-forth perspectives as well as the lack of straightforward descriptions in the worldbuilding. Still, this detailed and lovingly crafted novel is an excellent series opener. The tale should especially appeal to fans of politics-infused fantasy narratives like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.

An engaging and intricate fantasy that delivers plenty of political intrigue. 

Pub Date: Nov. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-648-43720-8

Page Count: 629

Publisher: Dark Blade Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize

  • National Book Award Finalist


Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet