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

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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